England news February 11, 2013

Would somebody call the Buttler?

Such is the uncertainty surrounding England's one-day wicketkeeping that a few hours before the first match of the tour few knew Jos Buttler had been favoured to Jonny Bairstow

It says much for the uncertainty surrounding the position of England's limited-overs wicketkeeper that, only an hour or two ahead of the first warm-up game on their tour of New Zealand, even members of the team were unsure who was going to keep wicket.

Certainly Jonny Bairstow thought he had a good chance of winning back the gloves, so it came as a disappointment when Ashley Giles, England's new limited-overs coach, told him otherwise. Instead Jos Buttler retained the position he had won in India just before Christmas and is expected to keep throughout the T20 series.

Some think Buttler will continue as keeper in the ODI side; others think Bairstow will return. Few would be surprised if Matt Prior was recalled ahead of the Champions Trophy. The position could hardly be more open.

Buttler and Bairstow, 22 and 23 respectively, could spend much of the next decade competing for the gloves in various England sides. Bairstow is the more experienced but Buttler's batting is currently regarded as most indispensible and his wicketkeeping is seen by some as having more potential.

While it is highly unusual for a man who is not first choice with his county to keep wicket for England - Craig Kieswetter finished the 2012 season, at least, as Somerset's first choice - Bruce French, England's wicketkeeping coach, speaks highly of Buttler's natural hands while few could fail to be impressed by his explosive batting in the dying overs of limited-overs games.

It was that skill that won him selection ahead of Bairstow in India. Armed with surprising strength, remarkable bat speed and a broad range of strokes, Buttler is quickly developing into one of the most devastating finishers in world cricket and seems more likely than most to ensure the plundering of 50 or so from the final four or five overs.

While questions remain about his keeping and his ability to play longer innings when required, England seem to think he can learn on the job and may well be prepared to suffer the odd inevitable setback as they look to build towards the 2015 World Cup. Buttler is seen as one for the future.

Much the same could be said about Ben Foakes. The 19-year-old was fast-tracked into the England Lions squad as the only specialist keeper on the limited-overs tour of Australia despite having never scored a List A run, but is clearly a player of immense potential who might be considered as worthy of similar long-term investment as Buttler.

None of which bodes particularly well for Bairstow. Indeed, even at such a young age, he might be emerging as the nearly man of England cricket. Unfortunate to be forced out of the side for the first Test in India by the return of Kevin Pietersen despite an excellent end to the South Africa series, Bairstow then slipped behind Joe Root due to the latter's superiority against spin. Unable to return to India for the ODI section of the tour due to family illness, he was subsequently unable to capitalise on Kieswetter's loss of form and saw Buttler take advantage and now finds himself on the fringes in all three formats.

Bairstow will continue to challenge for selection even if it is as a specialist batsman but, unless he takes the gloves, he is unlikely to be considered a first-choice selection in either Test or ODI cricket.

He might take some encouragement from history. He will know that county cricket is littered with keepers - the likes of Prior, Kieswetter, Chris Read, James Foster, Phil Mustard and Tim Ambrose - who have been used and discarded by the England selectors and he will know that his chance may come again.

"There's no easy way into the side at all," Bairstow said as he reflected on his position ahead of the second T20I in New Zealand. "Everyone is jostling for positions, whether that be batting, bowling, in the spin department or wicketkeeping. We know the strength and depth we've got within the squad is a very good place to be.

"Jos has got the gloves at the moment and I'll keep working hard, like I have been every training session to do my best if the opportunity arises to step in and try to take that chance. I'm working hard on my keeping every day."

Such competition for places is, in many ways, good for England. It banishes complacency and obliges players to continuously seek personal improvement. It could help the team and the individual players to new levels of excellence.

But it also takes careful management. Not only can a battle for selection cause resentment in the dressing room - players often talk of relishing the competition but they would not be human if they did not, in part at least, also detest it - it can also encourage fickle selections.

At some stage, England need to stick with one option and allow them to bed into the side over a considerable period of time rather than continuing to look five years into the future. Buttler is the latest with an opportunity to win a long-term opportunity, but experience would suggest little is permanent in the world of a England wicketkeeper.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • N on February 13, 2013, 13:32 GMT

    The way I see it, it's a little premature to refer to a man who has played just 3 ODIs and 20 odd T20s as someone "quickly developing into one of the most devastating finishers in world cricket". Only the ODI format fully demands that thrilling mix of resourcefulness and skill that is required of a true finisher, so it remains to be seen whether Mr. Buttler can in fact join that league of extraordinary gentlemen with Dhoni, Bevan, Hussey, de Villiers, Klusener, Razzaq and Flintoff for company.

  • oscar on February 13, 2013, 8:04 GMT

    @gloves71 Good thing England aren't trying to convert a batsman into a keeper then, isn't it? Buttler has been a keeper all his life. Just because he's good enough to play for Somerset as a batsman alone, meaning both he and Kieswetter can play, doesn't mean he's not a keeper.

  • Martin on February 13, 2013, 2:11 GMT

    @gordinho Actually AB just equalled the record for dismissals in a match. Know who also holds that record? And against which team he did it? A truly great keeper.

  • Martin on February 13, 2013, 1:59 GMT

    Have we learned nothing from the wicket-keeping farces of the past? You cannot teach a batsman to keep. But you can improve a keeper's batting. None of these keepers will ever come close to the skill of the 'real' keepers. But this fact seems to be continually overlooked in the search for the next Adam Gilchrist. It ain't gonna happen. Even Gilchrist would have struggled to perform consistently with today's workload. Give it up. Start picking proper keepers again. Start with Prior - still not the best but he has proved himself at international level... and he can certainly bat.

  • Gordon on February 12, 2013, 16:00 GMT

    @Front-Foot-Lunge, actually S African mate, the team that beat your team full of 'superstars' 2-0 in your own backyard. If Prior is as good as you say then why not play him in all formats? I'd also argue that AB deVilliers is a better keeper/ batsmen, the stats would suggest he's not a country mile behind Prior as you'd suggest, I mean his batting average is significantly higher and he did just equal the world record for most catches in an innings, but hey ho. All the best for the rest of the NZ series.

  • Rayner on February 12, 2013, 14:12 GMT

    I think the article stating that the management "discarded" Keiswetter is a little harsh, to be honest he was good on the flat tracks of WI in the T20 WC, but he can't play the moving ball for toffee, and he's had 9 months of not performingto prove it. What shoudl the management have done? persisted with him with vein hope that he would eventually work out how to play it on the job? or get him back to the counties to learn his trade better?

    As for the Aussie fans claiming Matty P to be a "product" of SA, he was born while his family were away for work, and unless you are trying to tell us all that he learned his cricket at the age of 2, he's quite clearly a product of the English county system. Let's not get into the list of non-aus born australian players, like the player most Aussie fans seem to be touting at the moment - Khawaja. Let's also not get into the fact that CA are sending ALL of your young players overe to the counties to learn their cricket...

  • Sriram on February 12, 2013, 13:06 GMT

    Keeper condurum continues globally, Buttler or Bairstow, Wade or Haddin, Prasana or Chandimal, Thomas or Ramadin, Kamran or Sarfraz, AB or Tsolekile, Watling or Ronchi..seems like the only unquestioned at this time is Mushfiqur and Dhoni, though that is more to do with missing 2nd in command!

  • j on February 12, 2013, 11:52 GMT

    @gordinho, That's the reason logic like that doesn't make it off comment boards like this and into open discussion with current//former players and administrators of the game: Many grew up watching Prior playing for Sussex, and your logic is because his father was on business in SA at the time of his birth he shouldn't be considered English? That is so logic from five years ago, you must surely be an aussie fan with 'stuck-in-the past' dead arguments like that. LOL, What a load of tripe, just because England have the best keeper/batsman in the world by a county mile (just ask your fellow aussie fans how he got on against you guys!) you scrape the barrel, ignoring reality (766 anyone?) for self-created fantasy. Meanwhile, England prepare for a back-to-back thrashing of Australia that will be just another milestone in England's five-year-long dominance over Australia, a dominance that looks set to continue for another ten at least. Carry on. :)

  • John on February 12, 2013, 11:50 GMT

    I didn't see the NZ innings in the second T20 just completed so I don't know if there were any blemishes with the gloves but Buttler was definitely the shining light on a dark night for the England batsman. His first of what I expect to be many limited-overs fifties to come. I'm not sure whether he'll ever be a Test cricketer but he looks like becoming a start in the shorter formats.

  • Richard on February 12, 2013, 11:16 GMT

    Let's start by saying that I'm an enormous admirer of Jos Buttler and, like Andy Plowright (previous contributor), I'm a Somerset fan. My admiration is slightly tempered, however, by a disappointment that Buttler hasn't "kicked on" to yet become what I'd call World Class. I realise that he's still young (22) and has plenty of potential but the 19 year old I saw at Taunton in August 2010 battering an awful Glamorgan attack for 90-odd not out from 30 balls to all parts of the river and the car park, hasn't become a 20-something who regularly hits tons. I hope that in time we come to regard Jos Buttler as one of the all-time greats, 2013 is the year in which he needs to kick on.