England ring for Buttler
Jos Buttler is likely to win a major opportunity to kick-start his career in the fourth ODI of the series against India. Buttler, the 22-year-old from Somerset, is not first choice wicketkeeper for his county team but, through some eye-catching performances with the bat and a succession of setbacks that have afflicted his rivals with the gloves, he now has an excellent chance to secure a place in the side.
With a maximum of eight ODIs to play, including this match in Mohali, before England begin their Champions Trophy campaign, the timing is far from perfect for England. Buttler is not only learning his trade as a keeper - as recently as a few weeks ago, England were expressing reservations about his glove work and suggesting it was not ready for international cricket - but as a batsman. He has played just one previous ODI, in the UAE, and in it failed to score a run. This opportunity represents a major promotion.
He owes it, in large part, to the misfortune of others. Most pertinently, England appear to be losing faith with Craig Kieswetter. While his statistics since being moved into the middle-order at the start of 2012 are far from awful - Kieswetter has averaged 30.62 at a strike-rate of 78.27 - he has not fully convinced, either. While the failure to register a half-century in that period is forgivable as middle-order batting is often about impetus or rebuilding and leaves little room for personal milestones, Kieswetter has lacked the subtly required for ODI cricket; struggling to rotate the strike or pace the innings. In short, he remains a batsman who tends to either block or slog with precious little in between. The lack of improvement has been frustrating.
Kieswetter may consider himself unfortunate. Asked to make himself into an opening batsman by England, he was subsequently moved back down the order to accommodate a faltering Kevin Pietersen during the series against Pakistan in the UAE, a move which did pay off when Pietersen scored two hundreds, and failed to adapt to his new role.
Aged 25, he has the time and talent to come again though when he looks around county cricket and sees Phil Mustard, Chris Read, James Foster, Tim Ambrose, Steven Davies, Matt Prior, Geraint Jones, Marcus Trescothick, Paul Collingwood and Virkam Solanki - all of whom who have kept wicket for England in addition to Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and Kieswetter - he may reflect that his turn, like that of those before him, has come and gone. Continuity of selection has not always seemed to apply to the position of keeper.
The absence of Bairstow, currently in the UK due to a family illness, is also relevant to Buttler's promotion. Bairstow, an original selection for this series who last year replaced Kieswetter during the World Twenty20, is almost certainly better qualified to take the gloves than Buttler and, having shown himself a more than capable batsman, would surely have won this call-up had he been in India. While the hope remains that he will be able to travel to New Zealand, that is yet to be clarified. Besides, if Buttler takes his chance, the position may be taken for some time.
It is odd how history has repeated itself. In similar circumstances, just ahead of the 2011 World Cup, England lost confidence in Steven Davies during the CB series and recalled Prior. It would be no surprise if they did the same thing ahead of the Champions Trophy. Prior may well be playing the best cricket of his life at present but, after three half-centuries in his 68 ODIs, he cannot claim he has not already enjoyed an opportunity to establish himself.
Buttler is a cricketer of rich potential. Blessed with a wide range of strokes, power and an ability to improvise, he has earned a reputation as a devastating finisher of an innings. In the longer-term, he has aspirations to be far more than that and his remarkable List A batting average of 58.42 suggests a substantial talent. With Bairstow absent he had another opportunity in the Twenty20s before Christmas and responded with a match-winning in Mumbai. It was, however, an innings of just seven deliveries. His role in ODI cricket is likely to be a little more akin to a marathon than that sort of sprint.
So this call-up owes more to his potential than his achievement. Certainly it would be asking a great deal of him to keep wicket in an important global event before he has established himself as first choice keeper with his county. In the longer-term it seems inevitable that one of Kieswetter or, both of whom play for Somerset, may have to look beyond the county if they are to fulfil both aspects of their careers.
The wicketkeeping position is not England's only problem in ODIs. But while their batsmen have underperformed, there is little doubt over the identity over the top five for the Champions Trophy. The real uncertainly concerns the identity of their fifth bowler and, ideally, allrounder. Jade Dernbach has all but bowled himself out of contention - Stuart Meaker must be worth a look in this game - while the reputations of Tim Bresnan and Chris Woakes have not been enhanced on this trip to date.
What more the England selectors think they can learn from watching Bresnan is unclear - he is clearly not the player he was before elbow surgery in December 2011 - but Woakes may be worth another chance. While his bowling may lack bite on flat wickets, he has the batting skill to hurt opposition sides.
The disappointment for England is that they went into this series with a fair idea of the identity of nine of their first choice 11 for the Champions Trophy and, as yet, have failed to find other suitable candidates. Buttler, at least, may have a chance to fill one of those positions in Mohali.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo