When Jos Buttler was given a lifeline back into Test cricket last month, the widespread response was divided, to say the least. While some felt it was about time England made use of his outrageous talent in the longer format, others were of the opinion that he had not proved himself enough in red ball cricket to warrant selection.
What’s more, the most frequently asked question was, ‘what message does it send to County Cricket in failing to reward some of the best domestic performers on the circuit.’ And you would have been forgiven for pondering such a thought. Due mainly to IPL and other white ball commitments, Buttler had only played four first-class games in 17 months for Lancashire, during which his average read a mere 17.
Given the introduction of ECB’s new scouting system to provide more focus on County Cricket’s finer performers, as well as Ed Smith’s preference to use stats in selection decisions, Buttler’s selection left many scratching their heads. His previous two stints in Test cricket yielded little return with the bat and, in a current phase when England have been criticised for lacking patience in Test cricket, the addition of another ball-striker was not seen as entirely necessary.
Yet, Buttler is no normal batsman. This a man with a scintillating talent that can destroy any bowling attack on his day. And although it would have seemed easy for Buttler, like his fellow countrymen Alex Hales and Adil Rashid, to settle for a life of white ball cricket in summer and T20 globetrotting in winter, the 27-year-old never seemed to lose hope of a successful career in cricket’s toughest format.
He wasn’t the only one of such opinion, either. During Buttler’s IPL stint this year with the Rajasthan Royals, with whom he smashed 548 runs at 54.8, team mentor Shane Warne helped convince him further that he had the game to succeed at Test level. Such conversations included letting Buttler be Buttler. Play with the freedom that could affect the team in the positive way that Adam Gilchrist did at number seven for Australia for all those years.
Fast forward to the conclusion of the two-Test series against Pakistan, and Buttler has certainly begun his mission to prove the doubters wrong in impressive style. Scores of 14, 67 and 80 not out in three innings not only emphasised what he can offer to England at Test level but also his potential as a versatile player in all three formats. And for all the talk about Buttler having a license to play in an attacking manner, it was the maturity with which he played that stood out.
It was a remarkable difference from the pyrotechnics he served up for the Royals at the IPL and, considering the lack of red ball cricket behind him, the talent to make such a change was all the more impressive. This was a calm Buttler, withstanding the pressure that accounted for the top order batsmen above him and then accumulating runs when the bowlers tired and conditions became more benign for batting.
This is not the first time Buttler has displayed such abilities, either. His 76 from 137 balls against India in Mumbai during the winter of 2016 on a spinning track showed early signs that he is developing his game into a batsman for many more, if not all situations. In addition, in the previous Test at Chandigarh, Buttler made 43 from 97 balls whilst England’s top order once again failed to come to terms with conditions. After such promising performances, we didn’t see Buttler again in Tests after that series until this summer.
Buttler believes his stint at this year’s IPL was crucial to his current Test revival. “Those couple of weeks in the IPL gave me huge amounts of confidence,” he said. “To be in those pressure situations in India, playing in front of crowds, the pressure of being an overseas player. That showed me a lot about where I was at and where I can get to, so that gave me a lot of confidence. For me, not trying to worry about the colour of the ball definitely helps. Having put in good performances elsewhere and not putting as much pressure on myself.”
It says a lot about Buttler’s desire and motivation in not taking the easy way out and instead pushing for a Test place. National Selector Ed Smith felt that keeper/batsman was too good to leave out of the Test side and his decision to include him is, so far, proving an astute one.
Superstars like Jos Buttler don’t come around too often. And England’s decision to now utilise him in all three formats could be a game changer.