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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

George Dobell

February 11, 2013

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

Jos Buttler is expected to keep wicket in the Twenty20s, New Zealand XI v England XI, Twenty20, Whangarei, February 5, 2013
Jos Buttler is the latest player to be identified as a solution to England's one-day wicketkeeping dilemma © Getty Images

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

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Un_Citoyen_Indien 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.

Posted by cabinet96 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.

Posted by gloves71 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.

Posted by gloves71 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.

Posted by gordinho 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.

Posted by Selassie-I 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...

Posted by CricketMaan 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!

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge 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. :)

Posted by jmcilhinney 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.

Posted by Somerset-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.

Posted by gordinho on (February 12, 2013, 11:08 GMT)

@ Front-Foot-Lunge, I think you'll find that Kieswetter and Prior both stem from SA (Prior did move to Eng at a young age). I think front foot lunge has a point when you consider over the past few years, you've had players like Strauss, Pieterson, Trott, Lumb and Dernbach all frequently featuring. So the point is you're hardly producing that much talent if 7 S Africans have been used in various formats in recent times. So if Aus are 5 years behind Eng, how many years are Eng behind SA? More relevant to the topic, Jos Butler does look a very exciting prospect but I don't think he is ready as a keeper for test match cricket. It's one thing standing behind the stumps for 90 minutes and quite another doing so for 2 days.

Posted by Stuart_online on (February 12, 2013, 10:38 GMT)

"highly unusual for a man who is not first choice with his county to keep wicket for England "

Can anyone recall if Alec Stewart was first choice for Surrey throughout his England keeping career ?

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (February 12, 2013, 10:22 GMT)

@Greatest_Game: Who are these people exactly? Prior's a Sussex man and Buttler's a Somerset man. Sounds like archiac, jealous reasoning to me. And in the starkest of contrasts, your Australia are a laughing stock, producing keepers who can't catch! Pull the other one mate. No wonder Aus are 5 years behind Eng.

Posted by   on (February 12, 2013, 8:31 GMT)

Rotation notwithstanding .......

Posted by Greatest_Game on (February 12, 2013, 6:28 GMT)

@ Front-Foot-Lunge. If England do, as you say, "produce so many good keepers," why have they been, for some time now, been using 2 keepers produced by South Africa. Are the SA produced keepers simply better than the English keepers - like the Saffer batsmen are. (Cook is the the exception that proves….)

Until the English team consists of players produced by England, don't make such empty boasts, and don't belittle the Aussies. For years they spanked England left, right & center, without importing players.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (February 12, 2013, 4:33 GMT)

@Tom McCormick on (February 11, 2013, 21:13 GMT), @skilebow on (February 11, 2013, 20:13 GMT), Bairstow was in the squad for the first T20I in India but was not selected while Buttler was the keeper for that game. Bairstow left that tour between the two T20 games. Buttler was indeed preferred to Bairstow on cricketing grounds for that first T20I at least and didn't do anything in that game to justify a change for the second.

Posted by Apocalypse_EX on (February 12, 2013, 3:56 GMT)

There's no topic for discussion here. Butler averages 57 in list-A cricket. He should be in the team. Bairstow is better off concentrating in first-class cricket.

Posted by Joshua_1985 on (February 11, 2013, 21:42 GMT)

George, I enjoy your articles but wanted to caution against your tendency to make very premature statements on the end of players' careers, or in this case, Bairstow emerging as a nearly man. I don't see any reason to suppose this - it is quite likely Root will open the batting soon and Bairstow is first in line at number six. These statements tend to underestimate the vagaries of chance, injury,retirements, loss of form to others, etc. For example, you stated it was quite possible Ian Bell had played his last one-day match for England; that Bresnan could have played his last game for england (he is struggling yes, but that is clearly premature); that it was possible Pietersen would never play for england again (to the spectator, this always seemed unlikely); that it is quite possible Bopara will never play for england again (I would wager he will). Most of what you say is sensible but you don't need these dramatic 'end of career' statements

Posted by JG2704 on (February 11, 2013, 21:41 GMT)

@hhillbumper on (February 11, 2013, 19:13 GMT) - re "what ever happens never bring back Kieswetter" - Why? Craig has been in a bad run of form and was rightly dropped but he has had decent knocks for England in the past and let's not forget he's been playing down the order recently - away from his natural position. Jos has the gloves at the moment and Craig has gone down the pecking order but if Craig does the business for Somerset and Jos/Jonny etc lose a bit of form why not? If memory serves me right he was the highest scorer/man of the match when we beat Aus in the t2o final when we won the trophy. Luke Wright is a perfect example of a guy who got dropped and a couple of years later has come back a better T20 player.

Posted by Jaffa79 on (February 11, 2013, 21:28 GMT)

People forget that whilst Prior is an amazing Test match keeper/batsman and currently the worlds best (that might change to ABDV if the keeping doesn't affect his batting in the long term. I suspect SA will revert to a specialist at some point though), that Prior has an ordinary ODI record. I don't think it is a bad thing for his longevity for him to stay as a Test performer only. There is an abundance of keeping talent in England as Buttler, Bairstow, Davies are all international calibre now whilst young Foakes seems like he could be something special too. James Foster, the best pure keeper in the world, has to be the unluckiest bloke in world cricket!

Posted by   on (February 11, 2013, 21:19 GMT)

Yay. the Buttler hype bandwagon continues! After the overblown nonsense parped about after he nailed the 'mighty' Wayne Parnell, now we have nothing speak like "Buttler is quickly developing into one of the most devastating finishers in world cricket ".

All this for a man whose highest international score is 33*.

I'm a Somerset fan. Buttler has immense potential. He also has a massive amount to learn, as a first class average of 30 shows. Becoming a world beater involves doing in under pressure in hard conditions, not hitting a popgun Kiwi attack about on a junior sized outfield.

Posted by Kula_Bowls_Inswing on (February 11, 2013, 21:14 GMT)

"[Bairstow] might be emerging as the nearly man of England cricket". He's 23! This statement comes across as a rather contrived effort to find an angle. Bairstow scored runs against the SA pace quartet in a test and that a couple of months after he had been forced to go away and work on facing the short ball. Clearly, he's one of the most promising young batsman in England. If anything, not keeping might help him: he could bat in the top 5 for England in tests.

Posted by   on (February 11, 2013, 21:13 GMT)

"It was that skill that won him selection ahead of Bairstow in India."- nothing to do with the fact that Bairstow wasn't available then?

Posted by TripleCenturian on (February 11, 2013, 20:58 GMT)

Bairstow is too good to throw to the scrap heap at the age of 23 and with England's rotation policy, number of games and option of playing both him and Buttler he still has plenty to play for on the international arena. If he has half the fight of his Dad to go with a bit more ability then he will be fine. If not, Yorkshire will welcome him back with open arms and he can score runs aplenty for us foe the next decade. Calls for Foakes are very premature. How many games has he played so far?

Posted by Aussiesfalling on (February 11, 2013, 20:58 GMT)

@Trickstar I hadn't seen that much difference between Buttler and Bairstow for 50 over cricket, but the stats you provided and the view you have of Bairstow being a better option for the longer game leads me to conclude that Bairstow may be a better bet than Buttler for the ODI side because, as we all know, ODI cricket with all the changes to regs is now more like Test cricket than T20 cricket. So, if Matt Prior falls under a bus, Bairstow should be the one to bring in for the Champions Trophy. Thanks Trickstar, that helped a lot.

Posted by Trickstar on (February 11, 2013, 20:27 GMT)

Even as a Yorkshire fan I can say without any doubt Buttler should be wicket keeper batsman for both one day formats for England. Jonny is very similar to Prior in that he's a much better test batsman than one day player and Buttler's the opposite. Jonny averages 27 in list A, Buttler averages 57 at a s/r of 119, those stats are incredible and should make the 50 over side on batting alone. Also in T20 Buttler averges 26 @139 s/r, Jonny averages 18 @ 116. The thing about Buttler is that he's a natural athlete, you can see it when he's fielded for Somerset & England, he an awesome fielder and you can see in much the same way de Villiers has done that because he's a natural athlete he can be a good keeper given practice and time, although he looks pretty good as it is. Jonny should just concentrate on his first class game and look to be next in like for when Prior retires.

Posted by subbass on (February 11, 2013, 20:17 GMT)

Have seen nothing to worry me about Buttlers keeping, which is harsh on Bairstow but he ought to still play as a batsman so he still makes my best T-20 side. But yes, you need clarity on a specialist position like the keeper..

Posted by skilebow on (February 11, 2013, 20:13 GMT)

"It was that skill that won him selection ahead of Bairstow in India" - Wasn't it Jonny going home due to a family illness that won Buttler selection? Jonny wasn't there was he?

Posted by Aussiesfalling on (February 11, 2013, 20:12 GMT)

Butler's batting ability over 5 overs at the end of an innings is an asset, particularly in T20 cricket. However, in ODI cricket, with the new fielding restrictions, any half decent batter can do that job. The real job that needs to be done in ODIs now is rescuing a side that has gone 60-4 against 2 new balls, the sort of job that Matt Prior is still easily the best at.

Posted by   on (February 11, 2013, 20:09 GMT)

good death batter especially, not sure i'd go with him permanently for the odi team as there are quite a few questions over his technique. Definitely should be the t20 keeper for the foreseeable future. Hhillbumber- Kieswetter is still only 25 he has time to improve and may come back stronger like Prior did to the test team, either way he will have to score a lot of runs to get back into the squads. Also will be interesting who keeps for Somerset this season with Kieswetter and Buttler both playing.

Posted by Front-Foot-Lunge on (February 11, 2013, 19:59 GMT)

What player Jos Buttler is, a powerful six hitter, a lightning & talented bat, a proven international player. And a great keeper too: England produce so many good keepers, the difference between them and Australia couldn't be larger. In fact it's a Gulf. The aussies are content with a poor keeper and using a seamer as their spinner, England are just years ahead of mediocrity such as that. Jos Buttler should be given a go at no.6 in tests, he'd excell in the middle order if given the chance.

Posted by   on (February 11, 2013, 19:54 GMT)

The problem is that we might end up like Australia where at the moment nobody is sure what the best team is. The batting order is up in the air, the fast bowling is any four from ten and nobody is sure who the spinner is. In the meantime the squad system is causing uncertainty.

Posted by TurningSquare on (February 11, 2013, 19:27 GMT)

I've been watching the progress of Jos from his debut with Somerset. This kid is one of the most naturally gifted, strikers of a cricket ball I have seen coming through in a long time, a la Adam Gilchrist. Yes I'm an England fan but I'm also a world cricket fan and can appreciate talent from any nation. Expect big things from him in the future and best of all his keeping won't affect his batting prowess.

Posted by hhillbumper on (February 11, 2013, 19:13 GMT)

what ever happens never bring back Kieswetter. Back someone young and give them time.You could do worse than Bairstow but Buttler is good as well. Has the potential to play at a much higher level.

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