England's golden generation faces the end of an era

Once the dust settles, they will be remembered not for the lows of this World Cup, but the highs of the preceding seven years

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
10-Nov-2023 • 18 hrs ago
It is the end of an era. England will lose their status as reigning champions in both men's white-ball formats next Sunday, and the golden generation of players who underpinned their unprecedented limited-overs success will splinter. Saturday's fixture against Pakistan in Kolkata will be the final match of several storied ODI careers.
David Willey has already announced his international retirement, and while there is no incentive for others to follow suit - they all have central contracts which run until September 2024 or beyond - there is widespread recognition that England need to rejuvenate. After all, 11 of their 15-man squad are aged 30 or older.
Rob Key, their managing director, and Luke Wright, the national selector, have returned to India, and have been speaking to captain Jos Buttler and coach Matthew Mott about selection for next month's tour of the West Indies. England play three ODIs and five T20Is there, and are expected to refresh both squads.
The T20I squad may look a little more familiar, with a World Cup defence looming in June 2024, but players accept that it is time for a fresh start. Moeen Ali has described backing a new generation as "common sense", while Dawid Malan said on Friday, "Ultimately, when you get to a stage like this, you have to make decisions."
Malan is the second-oldest player in the England squad at 36, three months younger than Moeen, and is among those who believes Saturday could be his final international appearance. "I don't know what my future holds," he said. "Tomorrow could be the last game of cricket for England for me, and it could still be the start of another journey."
He laughed off the notion that he could be involved in the 2027 World Cup - "There's no way I'm running around at 40 years old!" - and said that he would accept England's decision if they opted to move on. "You're quite realistic when you get to a certain stage… I've enjoyed every moment of it."
Malan has been a regular in England's T20I side for the last four years and played at the last two T20 World Cups, but is not holding his breath about reaching next year's in the West Indies and USA: "I'd love to play - I still feel I can - but it's not my decision," he said. "There could be a total overhaul for both [white-ball teams]. Who knows?"
Long before this World Cup went up in smoke, England had earmarked the upcoming ODIs against West Indies as an opportunity to test their depth and select young players - and they will not play again in the format until September 2024 - when they host Australia. By then, the 50-over side could look very different.
Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root have both expressed a desire to play on until the 2027 World Cup, but have managed 372 runs between them in this edition. Neither has scored a half-century in the last month, and their form has demonstrated the pitfalls of coming into the tournament with limited relevant practice.
Chris Woakes said earlier this year that he would be "amazed" if he played another ODI after the World Cup, and looks certain to move on from the format. And while Mark Wood's three-year contract suggests that he will continue to be considered, his focus will primarily be on Test and T20 cricket.
For those players who never feature again, this will not be the ending they had pictured. England boarded their flight to India six weeks back with high hopes of defending their title, yet find themselves scrambling for a Champions Trophy 2025 spot. Their comfortable victory over Netherlands on Wednesday means that is nearly confirmed.
"We're seventh on the log, which isn't where we'd like to be at this stage of the tournament," Malan said. "We'd have hoped to come here pushing for a semi-final spot and preparing for that, but we just haven't been good enough… we're so disappointed in the fact that we are here, playing against Pakistan at Eden Gardens, and we're not in the race for it."
It is a tournament that England want to consign to history as soon as possible. They had reached the semi-finals of five consecutive men's ICC events - three T20 World Cups, a 50-over World Cup and a Champions Trophy - and had won two of them, but have lost six out of their eight games during this World Cup in India.
There will be extensive post-mortems over the coming days, weeks and months, identifying exactly what went wrong, and who, if anyone, is to blame. Perhaps the explanation is simple: that this has been one tournament too far for a squad that has passed its peak.
But their return to Eden Gardens for a floodlit training session on Friday - the venue where they came so close to winning the 2016 T20 World Cup - was a reminder of just how much they achieved. Six players from that XI - Root, Buttler, Ben Stokes, Moeen, Willey and Adil Rashid - are all but set to step out on the field again on Saturday afternoon, further highlighting how long this squad has been around for, and the fact that age is catching up with most of them.
But once the dust from this World Cup settles, this England team will be remembered not for the lows of the past six weeks, but the highs of the preceding seven years.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98