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Jos Buttler: Changed role could give England captain the runs lift he so badly needs

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

There is more than one parallel universe in which Jos Buttler has not just opened the first few doors on his advent calendar in a hotel room in the Caribbean.

Had England's World Cup not gone so disastrously wrong, a fully second-string side might have made the trip to the West Indies and the skipper been afforded what increasingly looks some much-needed rest, for the ODI leg of the tour at least. There again, had there been a more trigger-happy leadership in place higher up the ECB chain of command, then perhaps his captaincy would not have survived the World Cup debacle at all.

As it is, Buttler has been given the chance to lead what England hope will prove phase one of a redemptive arc and has, to his credit, appeared desperate to do so. It cannot be easy, though, to move on, to inspire new faces and create the aura of a fresh start when, in terms of runs, his own personal World Cup hangover is yet to be shaken off.

A scratchy three from 13 deliveries in Sunday's opening defeat in Antigua saw Buttler pick up from his uncharacteristically poor run in India, where nine group-stage innings brought just 138 runs at 15.33, only one score in excess of 27 and, most tellingly of all, a strike-rate 20 runs below his ODI career average.

"It's disappointing, frustrating and gone on for a lot longer than I would have liked, but there's only myself who can score my own runs," the 33-year-old said yesterday.

If England are to re-emerge as a leading 50-over force over the coming cycle, then it figures that their greatest-ever white-ball batter will be key — and at this stage there is no suggestion that a turgid run of form is anything more permanent than that.

But this series matters, with England needing to stop the rot, prevent the narrative of an ageing team's World Cup failure becoming something more existential and provide evidence that a regeneration is under way before a nine-month gap between ODIs. To win it now, from 1-0 down, you would expect that a significant contribution from a player with almost twice as many runs in the format as the rest of his squad is probably a must.

The alternative, of course, is that Buttler could take himself out of the firing line. It was well-documented during the World Cup just how gruelling the last two years of his schedule have been, not only in terms of the amount of cricket played, but also how little of it has come at home.

Ahead of a five-match T20 series arguably even more important, given the proximity to next year's World Cup defence, there would be no shame in Buttler resting himself for the final two ODIs. It would open up a space in the line-up to run the rule over another of the next generation, either Ollie Pope or the extra specialist bowler that Sunday's side looked in need of.

That, though, does not sound likely: "I'm not going to score any if I hide away and don't get out there," Buttler added. "You keep working hard, you keep putting the effort in and trust that it will turn around."

What, then, can be done to spark a return to form? If Buttler is to continue as captain long-term, then perhaps passing on the gloves may be wise. With Pope only just back from a shoulder injury and Ben Duckett no more than an occasional 'keeper these days, Phil Salt is the only viable alternative in the squad — and the burden would be unfair on a player earning his first real shot at nailing down his own place.

At risk of reigniting the debate that once raged in England's T20 line-up, where Buttler has since proven outstanding as opener, moving up the order is another option. England believe the captain's best use in ODIs is at the death, and his World Cup form was, in some quarters, blamed on the fact that he so rarely got chance to bat in the final 10 overs, but it was only at the start of February that Buttler made his most recent one-day hundred batting at No5 and coming to the crease in the sixth over.

Buttler is too good to be thought of as a 'Goldilocks'-type, only able to thrive when the scenario is 'just right'. For all the emphasis on new talent, getting the best from their most rare must be just as big a priority for the new England.