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The Bairstow and Buttler debate for the English cricket team

England have a conundrum with their keeper selection in limited-overs cricket but is Bairstow ripe to replace Buttler yet?

SENIOR ANALYST
Feature 26 Jun 2017, 20:25 IST
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DHAKA, BANGLADESH - OCTOBER 03:  England captain Jos Buttler and Jonathan Bairstow warm up during a nets session at Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium on October 3, 2016 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Buttler and Bairstow are giving the England selectors quite a headache

England have a catch-22 situation with two of their wicket-keepers, Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow, in a neck to neck race for spots in the limited-overs team. England thumped South Africa in the three match T20 series that concluded on Sunday with significant contributions from Jonny Bairstow in the first two matches. The Yorkshire man seems set to show the selectors that he isn't a one-dimensional batsman anymore and could easily do a Buttler in the limited-overs teams.

That said, Jos Buttler has been one of the pioneers of England's resurgence in ODIs since the 2015 World Cup. He has been a vital factor in turning England's 250ish totals to 300+ scores with his power hitting down the order. An able finisher with 360° shots in his repertoire, Buttler is undoubtedly way ahead of Bairstow in terms of variety in shots. 

But the resurgence is almost complete now with England boasting of some amazing One Day players in Alex Hales, Jason Roy, Eoin Morgan, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali. Bairstow has been grabbing chances by the scruff of the neck of late and his performances are sure to extend England’s limited-overs selection meetings by a few more minutes.

His Test performances have been dazzling, to say the least. To put things into perspective, Bairstow is seven runs behind Joe Root as England's highest run-scorer in Tests since 2016 in three innings fewer than the talismanic no.3. 

Extra cover: 5 unsung T20 heroes of England and South Africa

Buttler, on one hand, is supposedly having a less than sparkling 2017 in ODIs. The wicket-keeping batsman has made just 243 runs in 12 innings this year at an average of 27.00. Bairstow, on the other hand, has made 232 runs in five innings at an average of 77.33. He was on fire in the T20s against the Proteas as well, maintaining a strike rate of 148.61. 

So has the time come for the dynamic Buttler to be sidelined in favour of Bairstow in all formats? 

Let us look at this from a different perspective. 

In terms of runs and averages...

There is little doubt that Bairstow has upped his game in the shorter formats. An accumulator and a good striker of the cricket ball, Bairstow has transformed his Test form into ODI cricket of late. Although he is yet to make an ODI hundred, the Yorkshire batsman has been making runs at will whenever given the opportunity. Buttler was superb for England in 2016 but has had a less than par 2017 thus far. That is not to say he has been poor by any stretch of the imagination.

A look at the duo's performances across series since 2016 will give a better idea

Bairstow's first ODI series in 2016 was when Sri Lanka toured England for a five-match series. He played in three of the five games, scoring just 54 runs and averaging 27. Buttler, on the other hand, notched up a fine 93 and totaled 180 in the series at an average of 90. 

CARDIFF, WALES - JUNE 25:  England batsman Jos Buttler hits out during the 3rd NatWest T20 International between England and South Africa at SWALEC Stadium on June 25, 2017 in Cardiff, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Jos Buttler is an intimidating presence in the England lower middle-order

The Pakistan series was also a good one for Buttler, as he smashed a 90* in one of the two games he featured in. Bairstow had less of an impact in the two games he played in, although he did make 97 runs at an average of 47.0.

The Bangladesh tour was a disastrous one for England in Tests but the ODI team fared slightly better. The two keepers had contrasting series, with Bairstow averaging just 16.66 while Buttler made 145 runs at an average of 48.33. 

2017

The Indian tour was a poor one for Buttler as he made just 52 runs across three games while Bairstow hit a half-century in his lone game in the series. 

When England toured West Indies in March 2017, Buttler was woeful and averaged just seven in the series in which he played three games. However, those numbers became better as he made a half-century in the series against South Africa. Bairstow never played the Windies series but scored a half-century in his lone appearance in the South Africa series.

TAUNTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 23:  England batsman Jonny Bairstow hits out during the 2nd NatWest T20 International between England and South Africa  at The Cooper Associates County Ground on June 23, 2017 in Taunton, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Bairstow played some mesmerising shots in the 2 T20s against the Proteas

The Champions Trophy saw Buttler play a match-winning knock in the game against the Kiwis, a valiant 61* coming down the order. Bairstow once again featured in just one game, the all-important semi-final, where he opened the innings and made 43. He also played a series against Ireland before the South Africa series and made a 72* in one of the two games. Buttler never figured in the series as he was rested.

As we see, the numbers are skewed in Buttler's favour in 2016 while Bairstow has made his presence felt in the few games in 2017. One could say that a more consistent run in the team would have favoured Bairstow but the team composition is pretty packed at the moment, so the opportunities are bound to be few and far between.

Bairstow - series records since 2016
 MatchesRunsHSAverageSR
SL IN ENG in June 2016 55429*27.088.52
PAK IN ENG in Aug 20162946147.078.99
ENG IN BAN in Oct 20163503516.6667.56
ENG IN IND in Jan 20171565656.087.5
IRE IN ENG in May 201728272*-138.98
SA in ENG in Jan 20171515151.076.11
CT 20171434343.075.43
      

Now, let us rewind a bit and go through all the series since 2016 in terms of strike rate. 

In terms of strike rate...

A glance at the numbers and the difference between the two players is evident. While Bairstow's strike rate has hovered around 75-80 in different series, Buttler has struck at a rate above 100 in five of the seven series he figured in. In the Pakistan series, it even goes up to 167.85. 

The position they bat in also plays a role in the strike-rate. While Bairstow has batted at the top order, Buttler usually walks in with a platform set by the likes of Root and Hales and capitalise on them. That has surged his strike rate to an extent. However, being the impact player that Buttler is, he has played quite a few match-winning knocks in the past two years. 

Buttler - series records since 2016
 MatchesRunsHSAverage SR
ENG IN SA Feb 2016515410538.5137.5
SL IN ENG June 201651809390.0118.42
PAK in ENG in Aug 20169490*94.0167.85
ENG IN BAN in Oct 201631456348.33119.83
ENG IN IND in Jan 20173523117.3386.66
ENG in WIN in Mar 2017321147.067.74
SAF in ENG in May 201737665*38.0118.75
CT June 20174946194.0108.04

Bairstow, on the other hand, is an accumulator and prefers to milk the bowlers before going for the big ones. The two recently concluded T20s against Proteas was an exception though as Bairstow looked intent on proving a point with his big hitting. However, there is little doubting his strength which lies in occupying the crease, much like in Tests.

Impact player vs Accumulator

This debate is more about an impact player vs an accumulator in the shorter formats. Buttler is a match-winner in his own right while Bairstow is someone who sets up the platform for the blitzkrieg later on. A look at the England ODI batting line-up makes things clearer. 

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  England batsman Jos Buttler in action during the 2nd Royal London One Day International between England and South Africa at The Ageas Bowl on May 27, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Being an impact player, Buttler is indispensable to the English

Jason Roy, the aggressor at the top, is an X-Factor player for the English and despite his recent form, is still the first choice opening partner for Alex Hales, who is in every way irreplaceable in this current England line-up. Little needs to be said about Joe Root, who is the mainstay of England's batting across formats. 

Eoin Morgan has cemented his spot in the eleven with brilliant performances at no.4 and has also been a revelation with his captaincy. Stokes, Buttler and Moeen Ali walk in at 5, 6 and 7. Stokes and Ali are all-rounders and are vital for the balance of the side although with Chris Woakes coming in, Ali is dispensable at times. 

This leaves just two spots for Bairstow to come in. One, by replacing Ali which seems the more feasible option although it would push Stokes and Buttler by one position down in the batting order. The second one is what this whole debate is about. Given the rate at which modern cricket is going, a Buttler-esque player is indispensable making Bairstow an option that England need to use only when needed, which is exactly what they have been doing.

These numbers should seal the deal. Out of the 18 scores buttler has above 50 in ODIs, 16 have come at a strike-rate greater than 100. Despite Bairstow's bumper year and Test form, Buttler is England's first choice keeper in limited-overs cricket and should remain the same for the sheer match-winning quality he possesses. 

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