England's No. 3 obsession
Three years ago, Jos Buttler's then coach at Somerset, Andy Hurry, said of him: "He knows his game inside out, knows where he wants to hit boundaries. His one-day game is nailed on."
It struck me at the time as being an oddly unequivocal thing to say about a 20-year-old cricketer. You're supposed to use words like "promise" and "development" and "not yet the finished article" and yet here was a player's coach basically saying: "No, he's cracked one-day cricket. Not really any point working on that any more."
My interest was piqued, but then again, coaches always talk up their own players. A few days later Buttler hit 94 off 56 balls against Nottinghamshire, and not long after that, I saw him play. I've followed his progress ever since.
If you want someone to bat sensibly, Jos Buttler is probably not your man. If you want someone to bat like an insane person but yet somehow not get out, this is when he comes into his own. If you need four or five an over, there are plenty of better batsmen out there. Buttler's skill is that he can score twice as quickly without any apparent increase in the likelihood that he might get out. He is the perfect one-day No. 7, and after proving this with a glittering hundred against Sri Lanka, England are understandably keen to transform him into a failing Test No. 3.
This is the way it works in English cricket. Test No. 3s are the only batsmen who are truly respected and so all one-day batsmen are evaluated according to the Test No. 3 scale.
Kevin Pietersen was an astonishingly effective one-day No. 5, averaging over 116 and scoring at nearly a run a ball. He proved that he was more than capable of influencing a one-day game from that slot by hitting three hundreds and three fifties in his 12 innings there. England therefore swiftly moved him to four, where he was steadily effective and thence to three, where he averaged 28.85.
The argument that Pietersen should bat at three hinged on his being "England's best player" and in his absence Eoin Morgan briefly took on that role in one-day cricket. Morgan, however, was smart enough to almost immediately turn rubbish and so his sorties up the order have been at least temporarily halted while everyone turns their attention to Buttler instead.
English people don't know it yet, but they are starting to think that their one-day wicketkeeper could become a Test No. 3. They can't help themselves. It's an affliction.
If you're English, you'll deny that and say that you find the idea of Buttler batting at three in Tests ludicrous. However, your subconscious is a few steps ahead of you. It's currently laying the groundwork. These things need to be taken one step at a time, and so, driven by this primeval yearning for Test No. 3s, you're slowly trying to engineer a situation where the idea that Buttler should come in at first drop in the Ashes doesn't seem quite so ridiculous.
Read the rumblings: Buttler is good, he should bat further up the order and maybe he should be in the Test team. These tiny steps lead towards one destination. All roads lead to No. 3.
There's an irony in this, for England have only had one competent Test No. 3 in recent years and that was Jonathan Trott. When he was in the one-day side, all anyone could do was slag him off for batting like a Test No. 3.
Alex Bowden blogs at King Cricket