Jos Buttler was unwilling to risk the fitness of several of his England side with the World Cup around the corner after the first of four dress rehearsal matches against New Zealand ended in a resounding defeat.
Caution was adopted over Jonny Bairstow’s shoulder niggle while Jason Roy succumbing to a back spasm on Friday morning meant Harry Brook formed a makeshift opening partnership with Dawid Malan at a hot and sticky Sophia Gardens.
All-rounders Moeen Ali and Sam Curran plus express fast bowler Mark Wood were also conspicuous by their absence from this series opener between two teams who contested the dramatic 2019 World Cup final and will play the first match of this year’s extravaganza against each other on October 5 in Ahmedabad.
To compound England’s woes, Adil Rashid struggled with cramp after bowling three overs and did not come back into the attack until New Zealand had decisively gained the upper hand, with unbeaten centuries from Devon Conway and Daryl Mitchell securing a comprehensive eight-wicket victory.
Buttler said: “Fingers crossed, he’s OK. Adil Rashid has been so good for us for so long as he’s been a member of this squad. Hopefully, he’ll be fine. We’ve had just a couple of niggles around.
“Jonny had a little injury in the last T20 (on Tuesday). He would just need a few more days and we didn’t want to take a risk on him. Jason picked up a little injury sort of on the way in.
“Woody’s still building back up. Again, someone we don’t need to take any risks with. He’s really crucial member of the squad and is unique with the skill he offers.
“Fingers crossed he can get some cricket under his belt, but we don’t need to rush it at all. Getting him fully fit and ready for travelling to India is the priority.”
As for whether he knows his XI for the World Cup opener, Buttler said: “You always have an idea but the best laid plans sometimes change. There’s plenty of time and you have an idea but things can change.”
Buttler top-scored for England with 72 off 68 balls in Cardiff while Ben Stokes amassed a resolute 52 off 69 deliveries in his first ODI in 14 months, having reversed his retirement for the World Cup.
There were also fifties for Malan (54 off 53 balls) and Liam Livingstone (52 off 40), heartening innings for the pair who may be looking over their shoulders as Brook seeks a route into England’s final World Cup squad.
The Yorkshireman, who was called up late as batting cover for this series, had an opportunity to push his case and while he made a pedestrian 25 off 41 balls in his first List A innings opening the batting and was upstaged by Malan’s fluent knock, Buttler is happy with Brook’s adaptability.
“He’s a quality player, he can bat anywhere,” Buttler said.
“It’s a great effort for him, from not being in the squad at the start and now being called up for as injury cover and then parachuted in to open the batting.”
England’s 291 for six after they were asked to bat first on a tricky pitch appeared respectable and Buttler thought they were “just above a par score”, but they had no answer to a staggering, unbroken 180-run stand in 152 balls from Conway and Mitchell.
Conway rebounded from three single-figure scores in the drawn T20 series to post a classy 111 not out from 121 balls while Mitchell was at his belligerent best in his unbeaten 118 off 91 deliveries.
He hammered Livingstone for the last of seven sixes over the shorter straight boundaries as New Zealand won with 4.2 overs to spare to lay down a marker for the rest of the series.
“It’s certainly not the World Cup, for us it was a great opportunity as a group to play against a quality side,” Conway said. “We’ve got another three opportunities to do that.
“We thought (England’s total) was slightly above par, actually. The way Daryl came out was awesome. He really put his foot down, showed intent and then certainly made my job pretty easy at the other end.”