Opinion: Jos Buttler needs to prove his mettle in Tests to be considered England's greatest wicketkeeper-batsman
In the summer of 2018, England hosted Australia for a 5-match ODI series. The hosts were all over their arch-rivals as they won the first 4 fixtures comfortably and entered the 5th tie with the hope of inflicting a whitewash that shall scream humiliation for the years to come. The lush green pitch of Old Trafford welcomed the two sides and the ardent followers of English cricket treated it as some sort of finale simply because the side that had tormented them for so many years was now on the verge of suffering a whitewash. The visitors batted first and scored a meagre 205 and all looked in favour of the home side, but with England, it is rightly said that when the going gets tough, they get going and when the going gets easy, England become lazy!
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Australian quickies bundled out the English top order and things seemed to be tilting in Australia's favour when out came Jos Buttler, the hard-hitting batsman who had made a name for himself as one of the most destructive hitters of the world. The situation wasn’t really familiar for Buttler as he now had to keep his calm and sort things out in the middle instead of knocking the ball out of the park, doesn’t sound like a cakewalk does it?
At 50-5, the home side looked in serious trouble and it seemed like Australia had saved some face and avoided the whitewash but the mighty Buttler had other plans as he played out of his skin to score a remarkable 110 runs to take his side over the line and register a historic victory for England. Big Jos had announced himself as not just a one-trick pony as he played a sensible knock and was appreciated by the cricket enthusiasts all around the globe.
Buttler’s rise in the limited-overs format has been tremendous and it’s no secret that even the fiercest of bowling attacks are petrified when an on-song Jos Buttler takes charge. His style of play is well suited to the high-octane T20 format and the lethal Englishman is one of the most famous franchise players around the globe. His stint with Rajasthan Royals has helped him establish a decent fan base in India as well thanks to his deeds in the Indian Premier League. All in all, Buttler’s performance in white-ball cricket puts him in the elite bracket.
The real 'Test'.
Now turning our attention to the longer format of the game i.e. Test cricket then it is safe to say that the Lancashire man hasn’t been extremely successful with the bat. The type of match-winning performances he has delivered in LOI cricket are yet to be replicated in the longer format and Buttler's numbers support our argument to perfection. 2046 runs in 38 Tests at an average of 33 with just one 100, these numbers may be down to the fact that Buttler's role in the Test side is a different to the one in white-ball cricket, but that doesn’t hide the fact that the exuberant Englishman has struggled against the moving red ball.
England’s Test setup is in some sort of transition and Buttler signifies that. With 33 Tests under his belt, the flamboyant star might not possess that level of experience but his contribution in LOI cricket certainly makes him a senior member of this squad, one who needs to anchor his side in testing waters, one who needs to adapt to the conditions and score runs consistently, something which Buttler is yet to do in red-ball cricket.
England’s mercurial wicketkeeper-batsman has all the tools in his arsenal to thrive in the longer format simply because Buttler has that courage, the skill-set and the mindset needed to prosper in Test cricket but if there is one thing which he needs to work upon then that is consistency. He has often thrown his wicket away.
Great wicketkeeper batsmen like Kumar Sangakara, Adam Gilchrist and MS Dhoni have earned the 'great' tag by performing well in all three formats so if Buttler is to follow their path in becoming his nation’s greatest ever wicketkeeper-batsman then he has to make some changes and deal with the moving red ball precisely and confidently. It's high time for Jos Buttler to prove his mettle in Test cricket! He certainly has the skills, it is now time for him to adapt to the longest format.