World Cup exit my fault for focusing on Tests – Key

Rob Key said he should be blamed “more than anyone” for England’s failure at the World Cup because he prioritised Test matches over the 50-over format.

The defending champions finished seventh out of 10, with their hopes of reaching the semi-finals ended by six defeats in their first seven games.

Key defended captain Jos Buttler and gave coach Matthew Mott his “full backing”, conceding he had not allowed them to prepare with their best team.

“That’s not their fault,” Key said.

“I feel like it’s harsh if I turn around and blame the captain and coach when I hold myself accountable for that.”

England’s managing director spoke at length to the media on Sunday morning, 12 hours after England exited the World Cup with a consolation victory against Pakistan in Kolkata.

While giving a a purposeful defence of Buttler and Mott, Key admitted England had “got a lot wrong” in India, lost their identity and “overthought” tactical decisions.

Since winning the T20 World Cup in November last year, the only time Mott and Buttler had their full-strength 50-over side available was in a series against New Zealand in September.

For series against Australia, South Africa and Bangladesh, players who play in both the Test and white-ball teams were selected for the red-ball format when there was a clash in the schedule.

“It’s hard for me to be critical of Jos Buttler and Matthew Mott when I’m the one who, every single time the decision has been made for whether or not we focus on 50-over cricket, Test cricket or T20, I’ve always chosen Test cricket,” admitted Key.

Having won the World Cup in 2019, England came into this tournament among the favourites but they were bottom of the table until wins over the Netherlands and Pakistan in the final week.

“I made the mistake of thinking that actually it will be alright when we get there and that’s not been the case,” Key said.

“You sort of made the assumption that, without playing lots of 50-over cricket, actually this is such a good team that will just slip into old habits and away we go.”

‘This will be the making of Mott but if it isn’t we move on’

England’s dismal World Cup started with a defeat by New Zealand. There was the brief high of victory over Bangladesh but that was followed by a string of losses against Afghanistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Australia and India.

They were bowled out in all five of those games, as a batting line-up that powered England to the title in 2019 failed miserably.

Key said they went away from the aggressive style that had previously brought them success.

“We have to get back to defining every single role. Who do we want, who is the best player to fulfil that role,” he said.

While supporting Mott, Key said the Australian had to get every player “playing to their potential”.

He added: “We’ll have some pretty honest conversations and say, right, what are you going to do to improve this. But he gets my full backing and an opportunity to try and turn it around.

“This actually should be the making of those two [Buttler and Mott] as a partnership.

“If it isn’t, it isn’t and you move on but we have to make sure some good comes out of what has been a very poor World Cup.”

‘We underestimated conditions’

Key also admitted England “overthought” important decisions.

After dew aided New Zealand’s chase in England’s opener, Buttler opted to bat second on a slow pitch in Delhi and were spun out by Afghanistan spinners.

Their victories in the final two games came when they batted first and scored more than 330 runs.

“You look at the way that the last couple of games we played, if we won the toss, we had a bat,” Key said.

“We didn’t know that at the start. We weren’t married to a way of what was our best way to go about things and that was due at times to a lot of overthinking.

“We almost probably felt like we’ve got a good understanding of things here, when the dew comes down and then it actually becomes easier to bat.

“But that wasn’t the case if you didn’t get through to the dew, if you were six or seven down by that time. So I think we underestimated how tough it was going to be in those conditions and we got a lot wrong.”

‘We needed local knowledge to inform us about Mumbai heat’

Their most glaring mistake came when they chose to chase against South Africa, thus subjecting themselves to fielding in the worst of Mumbai’s 37.4 degrees centigrade heat and high humidity.

Key said they would have benefited from a coach with “local knowledge” in the dressing room.

“When you get to somewhere like Mumbai, and it all seems so simple now, you’re worried about dew and all of this stuff,” Key said.

“Actually someone who knows these conditions really well says ‘by the way, it’s hotter than the sun out there; make sure you have a bat’.

“We got so caught up in what was going to happen five or six hours down the line.”