Buttler faces Test v IPL dilemma
Jos Buttler is facing a tricky decision over his future as he decides whether to fight for his Test place or appear in this year's IPL season.
Buttler was dropped from England's Test team during the tour of the UAE, having averaged 13 with the bat in the seven matches in which he played from the start of the Ashes. While he retained a place in the squad for the tour of South Africa, he has had to watch as his replacement, Jonny Bairstow, scored a maiden Test century in Cape Town to cement his role for the rest of the series.
But Buttler's limited-overs form has remained impressive. He smashed the quickest century in England's limited-overs history in November - it took just 46 balls - and it is understood by ESPNcricinfo that Kolkata Knight Riders, the club which Trevor Bayliss coached before joining England, are particularly keen to secure his services this year.
Initially Buttler was keen to return to Lancashire and attempt to win back his England place by performing well in the County Championship. But with Bairstow now assured of a prolonged run in the side and the ECB keen to see their players gain more experience of playing in overseas T20 tournaments such as the IPL or Big Bash, Buttler is rethinking that view.
While it is possible that Buttler and Bairstow could feature in the same Test side - for all his excellence with the bat, Bairstow has yet to totally convince with the gloves and at some stage could be picked as a specialist batsman - it seems unlikely in the short term.
The ECB are happy to leave the decision over whether to appear in the IPL to Buttler. Andrew Strauss, the ECB's director of England cricket, has suggested on several occasions that he believes that England players can benefit from exposure to such events and there are those who believe that Buttler may benefit from pursuing a future as a white-ball specialist.
But Butter, aged 25, retains Test ambitions and is reluctant to be typecast so early in his career. He also knows that, if he misses the first two months of the county season, there is no guarantee that he will displace the highly-rated Alex Davies, aged 21, as the Lancashire keeper.
It leaves Buttler at a crossroads: he can work on his red-ball batting in the relatively unglamorous world of early-season county cricket in the hope it leads to a Test recall, or take the riches on offer in the IPL. It may seem, at first glance, like a simple decision. But Buttler knows that, once he slips out of the Test reckoning, it may prove hard to work his way back. With the ECB increasingly aware of the benefits of players specialising between red- and white-ball cricket, his decision could define the future direction of his career.
The 2016 IPL season starts on April 9, a week after the final of the World Twenty20 in Kolkata, and ends on May 29, with players expected to report - subject to international duty - a week before the start. Players required for Test duty by England will be required to return to the UK by noon on May 6, with most non-Test players required to return by noon on May 17 to ensure their availability in the opening round of T20 Blast matches on May 20. Buttler could well be given special dispensation to remain in India for the entire tournament - as Kolkata Knight Riders are believed to have requested - at the discretion of the ECB.
The ECB, who are currently involved in a budget review which has required several employees to reapply for their jobs, no longer operate a system by which they return to players the portion of their salaries forfeited for their release from county or central contracts - as they did up to the 2015 IPL season. However, it is understood they are considering topping up payments should a low reserve price result in England players making a net loss on their involvement. In previous years, players have priced themselves out of the market by demanding a higher reserve price to ensure they did not lose out financially.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo