After 17 years away, England were welcomed back to Pakistan with a flurry of warm applause for their captain, Jos Buttler, as he spoke about the floods that have devastated the country in recent months.
“We know the tough times that the people of Pakistan are facing with the floods,” Buttler said. “We hope that our being here to play some exciting games of cricket will be a small tonic to help raise spirits, and help shed some light on what is happening.” Buttler revealed that the England players agreed between them to make a five-figure donation to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, and that the gift will be matched by the ECB.
Buttler, who was still bleary-eyed from his overnight flight, has never been to Pakistan before, but said that he had learned that “sport has a great power to give a distraction at times of need” from his experiences playing in the IPL during the pandemic.
“It won’t be enough, but any small part we can play is important,” he said. “Especially here, now, in Pakistan, with the England team back after a long period of time. The people of Pakistan have been starved of international cricket at home so hopefully, even in the midst of tough times with the floods, we will be able to play a small part in uplifting them.”
His words went down well. It may be the only ovation Buttler gets for a while: he is still recovering from a calf injury, and he says the best case scenario is that he will be available for the last two of these seven games. But he wanted to come on tour anyway, stating: “Coming back to Pakistan after a long time, I felt like it was important to be here whether I played the games or not.” The ECB caused a lot of irritation and offence to the Pakistan Cricket Board when they pulled out of a two-match series this time last year; Buttler’s experience and diplomatic touch will be crucial on what could be a fraught tour.
Part of the reason England withdrew last year was that the New Zealand team who were touring Pakistan at the time left midway through the series after they received what was described as a “specific, credible threat” to their security. The West Indies and Australia have both visited since and, like them, England will spend their time here living with a suffocating level of security, including being guarded by a cordon of 7,500 soldiers. It will be a tour soundtracked by sirens, metal detectors, motorcycle outriders and the thrum of the helicopter that will follow the team coach.
Buttler also wanted to come because he has one eye on the upcoming T20 World Cup, and his nascent relationships with England’s coach, Matthew Mott, and his new assistant, David Saker. “Just being around the guys is important. Whether fit to play games or not, I felt there would be a lot of value in me being here.”
It’s an odd squad, with five uncapped players who aren’t part of the World Cup as well as three older ones – Chris Woakes, Mark Wood and Alex Hales – who will be, but are trying to find their feet after a stretch of time out of the team. Wood and Woakes are both returning from injury. Hales hasn’t played for England since he was dropped in 2019.
Hales was exiled by Buttler’s predecessor, Eoin Morgan, because of what he described as Hales’s “complete disregard” for their team culture. The decision to drop him was taken together by a group of senior players, and Buttler confirmed that he had canvassed opinion in the squad before he agreed to recall him as a replacement for Jonny Bairstow. “I spoke to lots of the senior players to make sure that no one would have any issues with Alex being back in the team if we wanted to select him,” he said. “No one did. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, I think. It’s been a long time and I am sure Alex is a different person.”
He is certainly more experienced and, given that he’s spent a lot of time in the past three years playing franchise cricket in the Pakistan Super League and the Big Bash, is well equipped for the winter ahead. Buttler said it was a “unanimous decision” to bring him back.
“I just wanted to double-check,” he added. “I had my own view but I wanted to just make sure that everyone was on the same page. Everyone was, so that’s great. I just looked forward to having him back in and around the group and it won’t be long until Moeen Ali is taking the mick out of him again or whatever, and all will be well.”