Jos Buttler: A long term prospect?
By his own admittance, the 2015 Ashes series was not Jos Buttler’s best. But where some of the 24-year old’s teammates came under fire for their runs of poor form, Buttler has been afforded a tremendous amount of good will.
Is it simply a bad run of form early in his Test career? Or are people hoping this young keeper can offer something more than is actually within him?
Buttler’s naturally swashbuckling style have made him an exciting prospect, particularly in the shorter formats. He is the kind of cricketer who can bring fans to their feet, and quickly turn a game on its head.
Buttler’s style is also one which might be described as ‘death or glory’ at times, however. A dynamic talent to send in at number seven during a run chase or when seeking a late surge when setting a target, but one which does not always pay off.
In one day games, this can be forgiven somewhat. In Test cricket, England may soon need to start asking for more from their wicket keeper.
Expected to star for Lancashire at this weekend’s T20 Blast Finals Day, Buttler has amassed 1,463 runs in 50 ODI innings for England, at a strike rate of 114.74 with a moderate average of 34.02. Not terrible stats for a lower middle order batsman of Buttler’s style by any means.
His corresponding Test numbers are also respectable, with an average of 35.05 and a brisk 58.14 strike rate.
Not converting the starts
What’s concerning is not whether Buttler can make a start, but whether he can convert those starts into bigger scores. Or whether he can dig in when required.
The Somerset native struck 85 from 83 balls during his Test debut vs India last summer; an innings in which he came to the crease at 420/5. More suitable conditions there could not have been for Buttler perhaps.
Buttler then scored a measured 70 in the Fourth Test at Old Trafford, as England won by an innings and 54 runs, before adding another 45 runs to his burgeoning Test career at The Oval, as England again won by more than an innings.
A plethora of one day cricket followed. Limited over series with India, Australia and New Zealand all came prior to the 2015 World Cup, meaning Buttler played 26 One Day Internationals before his next Test appearance came in Antigua in April.
A tidy 59 not out in what might be described as a ‘winning draw’ (so, a draw…) at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium was to be the highlight of that tour for Buttler, who also posted scores of 67 and 73 across the two-Test series against New Zealand in May.
Not horrendous numbers by any stretch. Five half centuries in twenty innings providing evidence of the talent Buttler has and the reason many are understandably - and, at this stage, rightly - supportive of him.
Choosing over Lyth and Ballance
The next phase of Buttler’s Test career is key, however. His natural talent seem to have afforded him far more leeway than Adam Lyth and, perhaps more notably, Gary Ballance received this summer.
Whilst Lyth scored 107 against New Zealand at Headingley, the 27-year old managed just 115 runs in nine innings against Australia this summer and seems unlikely to be in the Test side to face Pakistan this Autumn.
Ballance on the other hand, has four Test centuries, at an average of 47.76, and scored 61 in the First Ashes Test at Cardiff before being dropped following England’s dismal defeat at Lords.
It is fair to say Ballance has not had a great summer either, with that 61 the outlier in a run of scores that reads 18, 23, 1, 0, 29, 6, 61, 0, 23 and 14 dating back to the Third Test in Bridgetown. But the Yorkshire batsman did put up scores of 122, 77 and 81* in consecutive innings against the West Indies prior to his dip in form.
It perhaps suggests some imbalance in the selection process. Buttler, like Ian Bell perhaps, survived based on past showings and the notion ‘form is temporary’. Lyth was given the summer to find form, and maybe deserves some patience and perseverance, but ultimately struggled and it would not be a surprise to see him lose his place as a result; while Ballance was ousted for ‘technical reasons’ after a run of poor scores.
Need Big Runs
Perhaps it is unfair to compare Buttler’s run of bad form to the trials and tribulations of upper and middle order batsmen. His role on the team is a little different. But in the modern game perhaps no less important. Wicket-keepers are expected to act as sixth, seventh or eighth batsmen.
The difficulty for Buttler is that he seems to be caught between two ideals at present. Potentially having the offensive talents of an Adam Gilchrist or MS Dhoni, but perhaps lacking the graft of a Brad Haddin.
Dhoni should perhaps be the example which Buttler aspires to. Someone who plays largely on the attack, but with an ability to hold an innings together when required.
This is where Trevor Bayliss and England may need to intervene. To decide whether they are happy to let Buttler play his natural game, and accept the consequences when things don’t pay off in Test matches, or to try and reign him in – knowing that may impact on his ability in the shorter formats.
Right now, Buttler seems caught between two ethos. Which will only be detrimental to both himself and England. As we saw this summer as he averaged just 15.25 against Australia - only Lyth and James Anderson ranked lower among English batsmen.
In the mid to long term, if Buttler is to drift between the cavalier and the conservative, perhaps tough decisions are needed until he finds his way. Hovering in between does neither party any favours.
With Johnny Bairstow replacing Ballance in the England line up, there is, theoretically, an alternative wicket keeper available already; and Kent’s Sam Billings is now on the radar following his call-up to the One Day squad for the series against Australia (though Bairstow has been, bizarrely, omitted from that squad).
This isn’t a call for Buttler to be ousted at this point, patience is a virtue that has paid off time and time again in world cricket. But equally, sentiment cannot get in the way either. Sometimes even the best need to take a step back to make strides forward. Take Joe Root, now the top-ranked Test batsman in the world, who lost his place in the side – albeit briefly - during the 2013/14 tour of Australia.
This winter will not only be a test of how far England have come, but Buttler too. To top Pakistan and South Africa at home, Alastair Cook’s side will need to be at their best, no passengers.
One bad series does not make Buttler a passenger. But it has highlighted some of the question marks that surround his game. Set him a challenge to rise to.
His glove work has improved without doubt, now it’s time for his batting to do the same if he is to reach the potential he looks to have.
Having the backing of the England selectors will certainly help - a luxury not afforded to many in recent years.