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News Analysis

Vice-captaincy gives Buttler a voice

There was some surprise when England's new vice-captain was announced, but he was a personal choice of Eoin Morgan and there are sound reasons behind the decision

George Dobell
George Dobell
Jos Buttler watches Lendl Simmons sweep, England v West Indies, World Cup warm-up match, Sydney, February 9, 2015

Jos Buttler's role as wicketkeeper gives him an ideal view to help advise Eoin Morgan, or even lead the side if needed  •  AFP

"Is that a clerical error?" the journalist asked. He had just read that Jos Buttler had been appointed England's vice-captain for ODI cricket and presumed, on the basis of Buttler's modest manner and quiet voice, that he was not captaincy material.
But you do not have to bellow for your words to carry weight. England - and Eoin Morgan in particular - rate Buttler highly. They rate the way he reads the game and his tactical nous. They like his self-confidence and his calm under pressure. They see in him the selflessness, the bravery and the work ethic of a natural leader. He sets a good example and, like Morgan, he is keen to take a positive approach.
In recent days, Buttler has spoken to the media several times. It has been noticeable that, behind the facade of that soft voice, his words carried a harsh message: he was not interested in excuses; he was not interested in talk of England's potential. It was time for him, and this England team, to perform. There were not many soundbites or quotable moments, but it was impressive nevertheless. More substance than style.
The decision does come as a surprise, though. There are several within this England team who have more captaincy experience - most obviously Stuart Broad - and several who might have been presumed more obvious captaincy candidates. Buttler, who has never captained Somerset or Lancashire at senior level, has leapt in front of them.
His role as wicketkeeper is relevant. From his position behind the stumps, he has the perfect view of how the bowlers are performing, where the batsmen are aiming to hit and can communicate that easily to Morgan, who usually fields in the point region. Matt Prior filled a similar role in the Test side - usually unofficially - for several years.
The difference is that, in the Test team, Alastair Cook reasoned that appointing a vice-captain might be counter-productive. He argued that he wanted all the senior players to contribute and felt that, if only one were appointed as his lieutenant, it might discourage the others from offering their ideas. There will be no official vice-captain on the Test tour to the Caribbean.
Perhaps England are trying to encourage Buttler, too. Despite having been in the England set-up for three-and-a-half years - he made his international debut in a T20I in August 2011 - and despite having played 49 ODIs, those inside the camp suggest that Buttler is still, at times, reluctant to offer his views unless asked. His voice, even around those with whom he feels comfortable, remains soft unless especially passionate or riled.
But this appointment is not a gesture. It means that, should Morgan suffer an injury or an over-rate suspension, Buttler will captain England. It could easily happen in this World Cup. Perhaps in a knockout game. For a man with so little captaincy experience - a few Somerset U-13, U-15 and U-17 games and one match for England U-18 - that could be quite a challenge.
There is no reason to think he will not cope, though. His career to date has been typified by his impressive performances under pressure. His role as a batsman in this England side means he is always being asked to rescue or accelerate and, while he has not always succeeded, he has never looked overwhelmed or out of his depth.
That quiet manner? That calm and modesty? They mask a fierce ambition and a burning passion. That he does not feel the need to ostentatiously exhibit that should not be interpreted as a sign of weakness. It is a strength. Time may well tell us that England - and Morgan in particular - have chosen well.
The alternatives
England's official T20 captain - for now - and the last man to lead them to success in an ODI series (in the Caribbean last February), Broad has strong leadership credentials. But it is understood that he will be rested increasingly often in the ODI format and that, following the last World T20 event, his appetite for captaincy waned considerably. A decision will be taken about the T20 captaincy after the World Cup.
While Root remains highly thought of within the England camp - not many 23-year-olds score six international centuries in a year as Root did in 2014 - and must be considered favourite to succeed Cook as Test captain when the time comes, there are some reservations about giving him too much responsibility too early. While his cricket brain is highly rated there have been one or two whispers about relative immaturity and his work-rate in training.
Taylor still has to prove himself at this level with the bat - though the early signs are encouraging - but has impressed with his calm, his maturity and his leadership qualities in the brief time he has been around the squad. Impressive as limited-overs captain at Nottinghamshire, he leads from example in training and speaks with insight and confidence in team meetings. Promotion at this stage might be premature, but he is a potential England captain in all formats.
Bell has proven himself a strong, dynamic leader at county level. But the man who is a giant at Warwickshire is considered - not necessarily accurately - as somewhat timid within the England environment. Having only recently won back his place in the team, a decision was taken to allow him to concentrate on his batting. With more ODI runs than any England batsman, he is still expected to provide leadership with the bat.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo