'Fun' Buttler can enlighten England
English cricket has been short on uplifting experiences of late. Jos Buttler provided one at Lord's on Saturday.
In the last three months there have been two innings by England batsmen in white-ball cricket that have set a new standard: Alex Hales' 116 off 64 balls in the World T20 and now Buttler against Sri Lanka when he thrashed 121 off 74 balls, England's fastest ODI hundred, albeit in defeat.
Speaking immediately afterwards to TV, Buttler said the innings - and his 133-run stand with Ravi Bopara - had started as "fun" with the target so distant. Crucially, though, the fun - or freedom - never goes out of Buttler's batting. When the chase became realistic he did not freeze or start to overthink. It took the equal skill of Lasith Malinga to stop him.
"I think we were so far behind that nobody gave us a chance which took the pressure off us," Buttler said. "It gave us the chance to play with a lot of freedom and once we got on a roll we thought we were getting in a good position here and with ten overs to go we thought we were in the box seat. If Ravi and me had been there at the end we would have won the game but someone like Malinga coming back at the end it was always going to be really tough."
Both Hales and Buttler have central roles to play in the rebuilding of English cricket, but both are being held back from progressing to their respective "next level". There has been a reluctance to elevate Hales to the one-day side - he only made the current squad as injury cover for Alastair Cook - and now it has been confirmed that Buttler will not be a contender for the wicketkeeper's spot in the Lord's Test against Sri Lanka if Matt Prior is unavailable.
Overlooking Hales for the one-day side is actually more baffling than the caution shown over Buttler, although both players have recently shown the ability to do things that few England cricketers possess.
It is widely accepted that Buttler's keeping is raw - not least by the player himself - and that is as important to his future as a Test cricketer as his batting, although in the last decade England have not always put the importance of glovework on a par with the batting element of their keeper.
Buttler has made errors behind the stumps this season for England. He dropped a simple catch against Scotland and missed a tougher leg-side stumping in the Durham ODI against Sri Lanka.
His first-class batting average remains modest too, at 32.61, but this season for Lancashire he tops their averages having made 252 runs at 42.00. He is missing a century but his runs have often come after the poor Lancashire top-order has been removed for 100 or fewer.
However, echoing what Cook said after the Lord's match, although insisting conversations have not been had, Buttler was eager to dampen expectations.
"It is a pretty easy assumption to make looking at my game and where I am as a player. I am not ready for Test match cricket," he said. "It is my hope and ambition to turn into something who is talked about as a Test cricketer as quickly as I can.
"Test match cricket is completely different format. I average 32 in first-class cricket and if I wasn't playing one-day cricket I would not be at the forefront of anyone's mind. My glovework needs to improve too to be a Test match cricketer. I am 23. I have plenty of time to work on those things.
"I am getting better. This is probably the best start I have had to a first-class season. I am starting to learn my method in four-day cricket. I made the change to Lancashire to improve my wicketkeeping and do it full time. You have to remember it takes time. You want to accelerate your development but you want to be realistic as well."
If the player does not feel he is ready it is a non-starter to select him, but Buttler is a modest person. He is also the type of cricketer to reignite the debate of when outstanding natural ability should, perhaps, over-ride the need for a lengthy audition at domestic level. It is worthy to give Buttler his time at first-class level, but he will not need long.
And not that selectors should select on what the public want to see, but Buttler injects some much needed joy, exuberance and expression to English cricket.
"Certain guys are earmarked to play Test cricket and based on someone's opinion they think they can do it," Buttler said. "It would be great if that was the case for me but in the meantime all I can do is keep improving. I have so many areas to improve at a fast rate and it is down to me to do that."
There is little doubt that he will make it. Those at Lord's on Saturday who wonder why it is not sooner rather than later will just need a little patience. It will be worth it.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo