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June 4, 2014

How best can England use Buttler?

Jon Hotten
Jos Buttler could be the man to put bums on seats  © Getty Images
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An alpha male with a bat in his hand, Jos Buttler is proving far more obliging off the field. It's hard to imagine the Kevin Pietersen of 2005, whose fastest-ODI-hundred record Buttler bludgeoned past at Lord's, agreeing that he wasn't quite ready to play Test cricket.

Buttler appeared happy to defer to Alastair Cook's view, only to find Peter Moores rowing back towards him before the final ODI of the series in Edgbaston. The mixed messages are symptomatic of England's uncertainty. They are like men standing on the edge of a cold swimming pool, bracing themselves to dive in. Buttler - and the rest of us - will know on Thursday whether they have taken the plunge.

It's easy to get caught up in day-to-day minutiae in arguments like this one, and yet Buttler seems to represent something more symbolic and long-term than a selection choice for the first Test of a summer. In part, he is the future rushing towards England, a country yet to embrace the increasingly porous boundaries between formats and the new career paths that players will take. More importantly, Buttler, with his good-natured acceptance of England's desire for him to keep wicket, has put a rare resource entirely in their hands.

It's stating the obvious, but a wicketkeeper competes for one spot in a team. His opportunities are numerically more limited than a batsman or bowler, and contracted further by the need not to keep chopping and changing in his position.

Buttler's career isn't being enhanced by his keeping, but mitigated. He is not a natural behind the sticks. His body shape isn't particularly suited to the role, and his unassuming character means he will have to use a lot of mental energy in imposing himself on both his fielders and the opposition. The truth is, he will never be anything other than adequate at the highest level.

His batting is another matter altogether. He has something rare and precious there. Viv Richards picked him out almost immediately as a talent, and that talent needs to be nurtured. He should be free to develop properly as a batsman who can occupy England's middle order in all formats for many years. He is a fine ground fielder too.

At 23, Buttler is not going to take the decision for himself, so England need to take it for him. He is potentially too valuable for his career to be risked in this way. Wicketkeepers who are good enough to win selection as batsmen usually end up doing so. Sangakkara and McCullum have given the gloves away, and who can blame them? The mental demands are too great in the modern game, and the schedule too condensed. A lack of form in one discipline can affect the other too much, as Matt Prior's downward spiral proved.

England have lots of choice in the position, so to force Buttler into the mix almost feels perverse. It's an overly clever solution to a simple problem, and Buttler is trapped by it. I'd be willing to bet that if he surrendered the gloves now he'd be in both white-ball teams anyway, and in the Test side within two years.

After Pietersen, England need a box-office player, a man who'll put bums on seats and then get them back off again when he bats. Jos Buttler could be that man. England need to think hard about how best to use him.

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Posted by Ascharya on (June 8, 2014, 21:28 GMT)

@Greatest_Game Well said! Took the words right out of my mouth!

Posted by Greatest_Game on (June 6, 2014, 20:20 GMT)

"How best can England use Buttler?"

Teach him the laws of cricket, how to listen and respond to a fair warning, and how not to get needlessly run out match after match.

He seems to do okay at the alpha male batting part, but that is no good if he does not know, or can't understand, the laws of the game. Not being able to heed a simple & direct warning, & getting himself needlessly run-out, twice in a row, suggests that he was not taking the game & his opponents seriously, or that he has a very limited memory span. Not being able to remember for more than five minutes could be a hindrance when playing the five day game!

Could the perception that he has an "unassuming character" be masking the possibility that he has more of an unassuming intellect, and that in decoding that lies the answer to how best England can, or cannot, use him?

Posted by shillingsworth on (June 4, 2014, 16:23 GMT)

Pietersen consistently averaged 50 plus in four years of county cricket. Buttler isn't even close. Since he's played plenty of times as a specialist batsman, the wicketkeeping angle is a red herring. It would have been rather difficult to argue that Pietersen wasn't 'ready for test cricket' in 2005. In Buttler's case, the argument seems rather more obvious.

Posted by py0alb on (June 4, 2014, 12:37 GMT)

Buttler, Hales, Morgan, we've got some great short format batsmen and potential star names to match the heights of Bell and Pietersen.

Its just such a shame the selectors don't have a clue what they're doing.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jon Hotten
Jon Hotten is the author of Muscle and The Years Of The Locust, neither of which is about cricket, and writes the blog The Old Batsman, which is. @theoldbatsman

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