Jos Buttler has hinted that Harry Brook could yet force his way into England’s final World Cup squad after his 41-ball century in the Hundred this week, but stressed that Ben Stokes’ return to ODI cricket as a specialist batter “changed the dynamic” for selection.
Brook was a surprise omission from England’s 15-man squad last week and responded by hitting 105 not out from 42 balls for Northern Superchargers at Headingley on Tuesday night. He walked in at 10 for 3 after 20 balls, and the next-highest score was just 15.
As things stand, he is likely to travel to India as a reserve but England are allowed to change their provisional 15-man World Cup squad until September 28. Four years ago, they made two late changes to their squad, with Jofra Archer and Liam Dawson replacing Joe Denly and David Willey.
Brook is part of England’s squad for a four-match T20I series against New Zealand starting on Wednesday, and Buttler entertained the idea he could still force his way into the squad through performance alone. “There’s still a long time before everyone is meant to get on the plane, so we’ll wait and see what happens,” he said.
Harry Brook hit a 41-ball century on Tuesday night•ECB/Getty Images
“We all know Harry’s a fantastic player and we saw what he can do the other night,” Buttler added. “It’s not like it’s a surprise: we know what a brilliant player he is, he’s just the unfortunate one at the moment to not be in that squad at the moment.
“Of course, Ben Stokes coming back and being available just as a batter sort of changes the dynamic a little bit. Ben’s a fantastic player to be able to welcome back, so it’s a really tough selection.”
Several members of England’s provisional squad have had quiet tournaments in the Hundred – including Liam Livingstone, perhaps Brook’s nearest equivalent as a power-hitter – but there is no obvious like-for-like switch which would maintain the balance of the squad. Livingstone’s ability to bowl both off- and leg-spin could be crucial to England’s chances on India’s pitches.
“There’s been [a lot of] players performing really well over a period of time,” Buttler said. “That’s where we’re at the minute.”
Buttler, who will captain Manchester Originals in the knockout stages of the Hundred this weekend, said that the calibre of players England could afford to leave out should be framed as a positive: “We’re blessed with a lot of strength in depth, and talent.
“[There are] excellent players not in that provisional squad at the moment. It’s been the nature of England squads in the white-ball teams over the last few years really, which is a great sign for us. They’re good problems to have.”
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Buttler is the only batter in the tournament who has outscored Brook, leading the run-scoring charts with 298 in eight innings. He has scored at a strike rate of 143.26, occasionally playing within himself in order to negate the early swing that has been a feature of the tournament.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good and enjoying my batting,” he said. “It’s certainly swung about a little bit more than sometimes it does, so I’ve been just trying to adapt. I’m a pretty experienced player now. You always want to get off to a fast start and take advantage of the Powerplay, but some days it might be that that’s the hardest time to bat.
“Even in such a short game, there’s still time to do that. In a Test match, it might be [that you] soak it up for an hour or something, but in a T20 or the Hundred, it might be just three or four balls that you need – and that’s okay. Something I’ve learned over time is you can still have those little phases of getting in.”
Buttler missed the end of the Hundred last season with a calf injury, but will play against Southern Brave in the eliminator on Saturday and is relishing the prospect of leading Originals into the knockout stages of a tournament he believes has gone “from strength to strength”.
“These are the games that you want to be involved in: a chance to try and get into the final,” he said. “It’s going to be a great night at The Oval, sold out. We’ve played some really good cricket to earn the right to be in this position and now it’s about trusting that again to play with the same freedom, even though it’s an eliminator match.”
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98