Pressure for batting places hots up as Jos Buttler vaults to head of England's T20 queue

Jos Buttler brought up his hundred as the target neared Getty Images

It says something for England's strength in depth at present - in limited-overs cricket, at least - that players as accomplished as Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Alex Hales can no longer be considered automatic picks in the T20I side.

Before this match, there were already three men - Jason Roy, Bairstow and Hales - competing for the role of opener. News that Jos Buttler is to open the batting for England, with Roy confirmed as Buttler's opening partner - means Hales and Bairstow are pushed into a middle-order that is already overcrowded. By the time Ben Stokes returns - and he is expected to play in at least one of the T20 matches against India - the England selectors will have some tricky (and perhaps unpopular) decisions to make.

Buttler's promotion makes sense. He seems to have reached a stage in his career when he is able to unlock his undoubted talent on something approaching a consistent basis and, as Paul Farbrace points out, if you only have 120 balls in an innings, why leave your most gifted striker until there are only 20 of them left?

But much the same could have been said about Bairstow, who has made four centuries as opener in his last eight ODI innings. Or Hales, who has scored three of the top scores (and the only century) made by England players in T20I history, all as an opening batsman. And, if either of them are pushed to No. 3 or No. 4, where does it leave Root? And, indeed, Eoin Morgan? Once Stokes returns, one of them could be as low as No. 7.

For the next few days, at least, it seems Hales will bat at No. 3, with Root and Morgan to follow and Bairstow pushed to No. 6. That would leave Moeen Ali, once a feature of the top three in limited-overs cricket, at No. 7. Once Stokes returns, someone has to make way. And it could be that Root requires his bowling skills to retain a place.

"You need to get your best players in," Farbrace said as he explained the decision to promote Buttler. "With 120 balls, you need your best players facing as many balls as possible. If you get 60 or 70 in the first six overs you give yourself a great chance of winning any T20.

"This idea of people being finishers I don't necessarily agree with. The stat - and I don't know if it still holds true - is that in international T20 cricket, the No. 7 faces on average seven deliveries. The chances are the No. 6 won't face too many, either. There is danger when you have six quality batters in your top six you are almost wasting a batter."

The question might be asked: if England have such depth, why are their recent T20 results so modest? The answer, in part, is that it has been the format of the game to suffer as they have looked to rest and rotate. With no World T20 tournament until 2020, the team management have used recent series to give players a break and trial fringe candidates. They have slipped to No. 5 in the world rankings as a consequence but they could, if they win all their games in the next two weeks and see other results go their way, go back to No. 1. It probably pays to take those rankings with a pinch of salt.

It was noticeable that Root, for all his pedigree as a player, was one of those over-looked in the IPL auction. He has played relatively little in the format of late - his last T20I was in September - simply as the England management have chosen to rest him given his importance to the Test and ODI sides. So while Farbrace gave a robust defence of Root's T20 credentials, he did accept that the game could have "moved past him".

"The key thing with that is that this is probably the first time for a couple of years that we have had all of our many players available," Farbrace said. "We have rested people. With this series of four games in 10 days this is a great opportunity.

"The one thing about Joe is that he is so adaptable. You don't have to keep hitting sixes: you can hit fours as well and Rooty has shown he is quite capable of hitting boundaries. He has got the deft touches and flicks, too. You don't want everyone playing the same way. His hundred in the World Cup in Mumbai [it was actually an innings of 83] was as good as any T20 innings we have seen in the last few years. I think he is thoroughly looking forward to playing in these four games."

It would be tempting to credit Farbrace - who has taken the head coach position in an interim capacity - for the decision to promote Buttler. But it's not quite that simple. The team management - including Trevor Bayliss and Morgan - met on Monday to make the decision, noting both Buttler's success in the IPL and his previous stint in the role for England. In the one T20I in which Buttler has opened - against Sri Lanka in Southampton in July 2016 - he made an unbeaten 73 and finished as man of the match. Which rather begs the question: why has it taken so long to repeat the experiment?

"We actually talked about him opening before the World T20 in India," Farbrace said. "And then went away from it as we didn't want to make a change before the tournament - we've learned that mistake - so it's something that's been talked about for a while. And there are one or two others in our top six who wouldn't mind having a go at the top of the order as well."

Chief of those, you expect, is Bairstow.

"There is an argument for him opening the batting," Farbrace said. "He is in unbelievable form and striking the ball brilliantly. T20 is about picking people in form, on top of their game and being really confident. And we have a few in this group like that. You only need one - maybe two - to come off and you're getting a decent score.

"But equally, if he strides out to the wicket with eight overs to go, then he's quite capable of winning the game in those eight overs himself. Jonny could bat anywhere and he's proved that. He's nailed down the opening spot in ODI cricket and he'll be desperate whatever opportunity he gets to show he should be as high up the order as he can be."

No match against Australia requires extra context but, with Stokes to return within days, England's batsmen have a lot to play for in these next couple of matches.