“You’re never 100% secure…”
Graham Gooch believes that Jos Buttler’s performances for England in test cricket have been “below the standards he would aspire to,” and that as a result his role in the England test side is not secure.
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, and the World Cup winner has struggled for form for some time. He has averaged just 22.05 since the beginning of the Ashes, and his top score in England’s tour of South Africa was a dismal 29.
In front of the crowd at The Epstein Theatre, Gooch asserted that Buttler, despite acknowledging that Buttler is “an integral part of the England setup in every format of the game,” is under threat due to his drop off in form.
“At international level you have to perform, and I think in the test matches his performances have been below the standards he would aspire to.”
England’s selectors have picked Ben Foakes for the Sri Lanka tour, a wicketkeeper-batsmen who is not only cast in the same mould as Buttler but has also enjoyed previous success on the sub-continent; Foakes has averaged 41.50 across 10 innings. Those with an eye for technique would also say that Foakes is a more natural test batsmen.
However, Gooch is of the opinion that Buttler would not have been in the squad if the England setup did not intend on including their ‘X-Factor’ batsmen and thinks that he can be a “long term exponent for England in every format.”
Despite this, the OBE believes Buttler faces an uphill struggle to keep his place in a competitive group of players.
He said: “In international cricket you’re never 100% secure, you can’t just play on your reputation. But you’ve got to perform in every format.
“In one-day cricket, he’s one of the first names on the team sheet, for T20 and 50 over cricket, but in test cricket there’s a few choices so his place is never secure, nor is anyone else’s if they don’t perform.”
“He’s one of the first names on the team sheet…”
In T20 cricket, once again Buttler is the centre of fierce debate, but this time for different reasons. Far from his place in the side being in doubt, the ‘keeper-batsmen is the premier option for captain Eoin Morgan.
The discussion has centred around where the Lancashire man should be batting in the order. He has opened the batting in recent times, following success in that position in franchise cricket, and while Gooch believes is sound reasoning.
“Generally I would say you give your best players the most opportunity. So, the reason for putting him up front is you give him the whole twenty overs in front of him.”
However, others claim that Buttler is England’s best attribute is finishing games, and that others – namely Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy, who have had unrivalled success as a partnership in ODIs – can fulfil the role just as well, if not better.
Former England captain Gooch’s point of view is that it’s an issue very much up for debate, and that it should be subject to experimentation in the build up to the next major tournament.
“It’s debatable whether that’s the right tactic because he’s a very good finisher as well. I mean he’s probably a victim of his own skills because he can either bat up front or he can finish well.
“What they’re doing is testing out a few options, to find out what they think their best line-up is come the T20 World Cup in September. So, they’re giving him a go there. Whether he ends up there I don’t know but I’m sure in white-ball cricket wherever he bats he can impact the game.”
“I’m not really in line with that selection…”
Another of Lancashire’s England hopefuls selected for the Sri Lankan tour is Keaton Jennings. The opening test batsmen featured for England against India in 2018 and enjoyed particular success on the subcontinent.
However, his struggles playing swing in home conditions lead to him being dropped, and the South African born batsmen has been on the fringes ever since.
Graham Gooch, who has previously worked with the England squad as a batting coach, says that Jennings’ previous success in Sri Lanka is the role rationale behind his selection.
He said: “[He] did very well in Sri Lanka 18 months ago and that’s why they’ve picked him for these two test matches.”
Conversely, Gooch was emphatic in his disagreement with the decision, believing that he has not earned his spot compared to the other options.
“England are potentially making a rod for their own back. The issue they will have is if he gets a hundred there, they’ve caused themselves a problem coming into the summer.
I don’t think Keaton Jennings has done enough in test matches against the likes of pace-orientated teams to secure a place ahead of someone like Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley who have done really well.”
“It’s always good to see youngsters come into a side…”
Gooch also had his say on two more of Lancashire’s impressive performers who have both earned themselves England appearances in recent times.
Matt Parkinson, in particular, has caught Gooch’s eye, and thinks that he is certainly one for the future, even if he did not get much of a look in whilst on tour in South Africa. However, he warned that the young leg-spinner will have to develop his game.
“I think they took him as a young player learning the experience but when you’re playing one spinner in a team. I think he’s got a future, but he needs to keep working on his game.
“As a leg spinner he’s always going to be a handy performer in one-day cricket, because you like wrist-spinners in one-day cricket. So, he’s just got to develop his game. He’s a young cricketer and he has time on his side.”
Saqib Mahmood is another exciting prospect, a young pace bowler who went straight to the top of Joe Root’s shortlist after becoming leading wicket taker at last summer’s domestic one day cricket tournament.
He struggled to impress initially in New Zealand, averaging 11.50 for just one wicket from four overs in the second T20. But he made a considerable impact when helping England square the ODI series at 1-1 against South Africa in January, taking the key wicket of Reeza Hendricks.
Gooch could only speak positively of his chances. He said: “I don’t really know Mahmood that well, but he’s a good young cricketer, they obviously think he’s got talent and potential so it’s always good to see youngsters come into a side.”
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