England hope Buttler medicine works for Bell
Every comeback requires a fall. Jos Buttler admitted that being dropped from the Test team had helped to clear his mind before a stunning return to form in the final ODI against Pakistan and England's coach, Trevor Bayliss, has held out similar hope for Ian Bell, after he was left out of the squad to tour South Africa.
Bayliss could have been talking about either player when discussing how Buttler's record-breaking hundred had helped seal a 3-1 win in the ODIs: "An old mate of mine, an Australian selector, a few years ago said to me, 'There's nothing like a good dropping to get a player back on track'."
Bell is, of course, much further down his career pathway and may not find county cricket quite so reinvigorating after a rare winter break. Bayliss suggested he had "all confidence" that Bell could make another return, though the odds are against him doing so in quite the same fashion as Buttler, who followed up a reassuring 49 not out in the third ODI by breaking his own England record with a 46-ball century in Dubai.
No one predicted that Buttler's wheel of fortune would spin quite so violently but Bayliss was confident that the advice from his selector friend had been borne out.
"It's not that he wasn't trying hard enough but I think when he was left out there was a definite relief come over him and it just allowed him to get away, refresh his thinking and I think it's done him the world of good, to be quite honest," Bayliss said.
"No one ever likes to get dropped but he's shown what a good team man he is, that Test match he got dropped for he was out throwing balls to his team-mates. He's an important part of this team and squad and all credit to him, you just love it when guys like that can come out and do what he did."
Buttler's innings was the type that "very few in the world" could play, Bayliss said, offering established stars AB de Villiers, Glenn Maxwell and Virat Kohli as contenders. Buttler himself wasn't quite sure how he had turned things around so quickly and the performance also left Bayliss at something of a loss.
"First time I've seen him do something like that live, I'm not sure I've got the words to describe it," he said, "but it was fantastic."
He did not go so far as to suggest it would guarantee Buttler an immediate return to the Test side, with Jonny Bairstow having taken over behind the stumps, but predicted his time would come again in the longest format.
"I think he'll play a lot of Test cricket for England as well. He's such a talent I'm sure he'll be able to adapt his game to the longer form, he's done it in the past. He's just been through a bit of a period that most cricketers who've played the game have been through, and it's great to see him come out the other side."
The future for Bell is far less clear. England's joint-third most-capped player in Tests will be 34 next summer, although he has indicated he will play on and fight for a recall. An average of 28.69 in eight Tests since Bayliss took charge cost Bell his place for the South Africa series and in his absence someone else - likely one of Alex Hales, Nick Compton or Gary Ballance - will get the chance to stake a claim at No. 3.
"The discussion point was obviously his experience, I think we do need experience in the team [but] where we ended up was that he hadn't been scoring runs over the last year or two, periodically anyway, and it was thought to give him a bit of time away from the game and refresh as well, but also to give some newer younger guys that opportunity," Bayliss said.
"Looking at it going forward, Belly's certainly got it within him to get back in the team for sure but it's an exciting opportunity for these younger players coming in to make a go of their careers.
"I think he would probably admit that he's gone through a bit of a lean trot just recently but it's not as if he's been missing out altogether, he's very close, I think … I've got all confidence in him that he'll make a comeback and do what he needs to go to get back in the team."
Bayliss also touched on the absence of Liam Plunkett from the South Africa party, with the Yorkshire quick overtaken by Chris Jordan, Chris Woakes and Mark Footitt despite not playing a match so far in the UAE. Competition for places, as Buttler has shown, is far from a bad thing.
"We've got two or three guys that have come back from injury that, at this stage, we think are in front of Liam," Bayliss said, "and obviously Footitt coming in gives us something different, being left arm and able to swing the ball. It is tough on someone like Liam who's been in and around the squads for the last year or so but unfortunately that's just the way the game is at the top level.
"He's a guy that people love having around in the team and he gives you 100% every single time he's on the training paddock and every time we pick him. He'll be disappointed I'm sure but I know he'll be doing everything he can to get back in the squad."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick