At his mercurial, destructive best, Jos Buttler is unstoppable.
Brutal boundaries, 360-degree stroke play and intelligent finishing are the ‘X-Factor’ attributes you associate with Buttler, backed up by a withdrawn yet intense persona and an intuitive knack for the game.
However, the Lancashire man continues to divide opinion, on more than one count.
I am on hand to breakdown some of the questions surrounding Buttler, and provide my humble opinion.
Should Buttler be playing test cricket?
Buttler is a white-ball specialist, there is no denying that.
He has scored five of the quickest 11 ODI centuries ever made for England, including the fastest two, as well as their second-fastest T20I half-century. He played a huge role in the 2019 World Cup victory, and will be a key part of Eoin Morgan’s plans if England are to challenge for the T20 World Cup later this year.
But test cricket is a different story altogether.
It was his white ball form that won him a recall, following the appointment of new national selector Ed Smith in 2018. As a specialist batsman at number seven, he was given a license to play his natural game ahead of India’s tour of England.’
He appeared to justify his selection, scoring three half-centuries and his maiden test ton as his England side battered the world’s number one test team 4-1.
After his exertions last summer, however, his averages have dwindled. Buttler has managed just 22.05 since the start of the Ashes, and his highest total against South Africa was a meagre 29.
The red-ball quickly exposes any technical flaws in the defence of a batsmen, and with Jos Buttler’s priorities at the other end of the spectrum, he is certainly not your typical test cricketer. After 41 tests, you would expect Buttler to be coming to terms with the longest format, but instead it appears he is only in decline.
It’s reminiscent of Moeen Ali, who after a poor summer made the decision to bypass test cricket. Buttler appears to be in a similar rut. I don’t think he’s got long left.
He’s been selected for the upcoming tour of Sri Lanka, and for me it should be his last chance.
The fact is, he’s not contributing enough. He’s been given all the tools, but it’s just not quite come to fruition, and as pressure on Buttler has increased his performances have only declined further.
The line has to be drawn somewhere, and competitions for places is getting fiercer. Pope and Sibley appear to be secure in their spots, while Crawley has also impressed. There is also a case to be made for a five-pronged seam attack, particularly looking forward to the next Ashes in Australia. Should Moeen Ali come out of red-ball hibernation, the option of another all-rounder is also appealing.
He’s an unbelievable player, a major part of the changing room and has a skillset that no one else has. ‘The Jos Buttler experiment’ has been well worth persevering with. He’s the kind of player who makes you want to buy a ticket, but his numbers simply need to be better in order to justify his continued selection.
We’re all rooting for him.
Should Buttler open the batting for England in T20s?
It seems the England faithful are evenly split on this very topical debate.
Buttler – as one of England’s best ever white-ball cricketers, if not the best – is capable of taking the game away from the opposition in the space of an over. He can outwit the most skilful bowlers with an unrivalled variety of creative and brutal shots in his armoury, ready to deploy in the blink of an eye. Teams are scared of Lancashire’s premier player, and justifiably so.
Despite being known for his ability as a finisher, he has largely opened the batting for England in T20s, following his promotion and subsequent success up the order for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL in 2018.
Since then, he has been enjoying the best T20 form of his career, with an average strike rate of 150. You can pop upstairs to the toilet and by the time you are back in the living room England are 70/0 from six overs.
You can certainly understand the logic. You want your best players to face as many balls as possible. Buttler himself has spoken about how he prefers to open.
But other players can do it just as well, without restricting the middle order of the team. Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow are a well-established white-ball opening pair. They are the perfect choice, having done it so impressively at the ODI World Cup, and both of them are heavily inclined towards positive striking from the first ball.
Dawid Malan is a top order batsman with three T20I centuries under his belt. Tom Banton is also knocking on the door. There are people who can do as good of a job as Jos Buttler can in that position.
England need Buttler to be batting at the death. Alongside Eoin Morgan, he is capable of propelling England’s score to uncatchable figures, or chase down the impossible scores. He can see off a game in a way that no one else in the squad can. Should he open, he is less likely to do that.
His averages might be better, but the results of the team are likely to be worse overall. The first T20 in South Africa, clinched by just one run by the hosts, was the fourth T20 in a row where England failed to chase down their target.
Buttler would best serve England in a floating role. They should move Bairstow alongside Roy, with Buttler at three. He is not likely to face considerably less balls, but is more likely to be there at the end.
If an early wicket falls, Stokes should be the next in. He is the most able to negotiate a tricky innings and act as a lynchpin for an innings heading in the wrong direction. In all other circumstances, Buttler should be next to the crease.
It’s a no brainer. You lose nothing at the top, but gain infinitely lower down.
Photo from Lancashire CCC.