Remember Jos Buttler? He’s almost certainly played his last Test… hasn’t he?

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As Jonny Bairstow prepares to play his 100th Test and Ben Foakes closes in on a nice fresh cap for his 25th, we can’t help but think of the third prong of England’s red ball wicketkeeping trident – the missing prong, the ghost of a prong – Jos Buttler. In particular, we’re thinking that we’re never going to see this most self-defeatingly overthinking Test batter kept from his mental black hole by the magical ways of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum. Are we?

Don’t worry, we’re not launching a campaign or anything. We don’t even have much of an opinion, if we’re honest. It just strikes us as a grave misfortune of timing that Buttler should seemingly have reached the end of the Test road when player management seems to have become so acutely well-tuned to his particular failings.

The trident

We once referred to Bairstow, Buttler and Foakes as an embarrassment of adequacy. This was a little unfair, in that each is in his own way exceptional. At the same time, they’re all lumbered with enough weaknesses that whoever was picked as keeper in any given match, one of the other two always seemed a better option to a sizeable number of people.

Looking back, there has been no winner, only a series of short-to-medium-term victory lease agreements.

If anything, the real wonder of Bairstow making it to 100 Tests is that he has somehow done it when rivals have acquired bags of caps themselves. Foakes is now 25 Tests into a career that nevertheless feels sentenced to eternal infancy, while Buttler snuck in 57 matches – which is more than the likes of Herbert Sutcliffe, Jack Russell and Jonathan Trott.

It’s been a right old jumble. Bairstow himself always seems to have been up against someone, even when it wasn’t a wicketkeeper. And as recently as May, Foakes was being given the old heave-ho.

A Buttler return doesn’t currently feel likely though – not least because of all of his other England commitments.

The great locking and unlocking

There’s a low grade tragedy here; a missed narrative opportunity. Buttler was always a batter who seemed foiled by his habit of bringing new gameplans and preconceptions to the crease, while the Stokes-McCullum approach has been all about attaining a Zen-like commitment to doing whatever the hell you feel like doing.

This is the alchemy we’ve been looking for, right?

“Imagine a Jos Buttler who can play like that!” has always been the dream – because it hasn’t even required an extraordinary leap of imagination to picture it, what with all those flagons and flagons of white ball genius we’ve already quaffed.

And our notion of a Stokes-McCullum incarnation of Jos Buttler is surely the most perfect example of this hankering yet. It seems sad to think this latest hypothetical won’t be tested. We say that not just because coach and captain’s skeleton key might unlock Buttler Deluxe, but also because there’s every chance it wouldn’t.

The gratifyingly thought-provoking phenomenon of excellent cricketers who don’t do that well in Test cricket

While it’s fun to imagine a fully realised, levelled-up Buttler laying waste to bowling attacks in the longest format, it’s also been fascinating to dissect why it’s never really happened. What is it about the rhythms, psychology and open-endedness of Test cricket that can leave ostensibly exceptional cricketers wallowing in mediocrity?

Is it technical, emotional, attritional? Is it being unable to plot a path when there are so many more variables and possibilities? These discussions are absorbing, but they can only really be had when we’re being presented with new data. For that to happen, cricketers like Jos Buttler have to play.

For many, there isn’t much left to learn about Buttler the Test cricketer, but surely the stripped back, unencumbered mindset that switched England from being unable to make 200 in an innings to routinely blazing records in fourth innings run chases was one last experiment it would have been nice to run.



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  1. There is nothing mysterious about this – the number of players who excel in (or deliberately choose to play in) only one format is only going to increase. The volume of cricket being played is way too high to afford players the down time to dig deep, fix flaws, and get better. If someone is a T20 genius, going forward it’d make more sense for that player to get insanely good at that one skill rather than being passable in three. The real question (although it appears harsh) will soon be not why Buttler played only 57 tests, but why he even played them.

    1. The thing about having the final word on something is that you’re not really supposed to do it at the outset, Deep Cower.

      You’ve delivered altogether too many conversational dead ends with that comment. Could you please leave things a little more open-ended to invite debate, or at least postpone your comment until things are dying down?

      Funnily enough, we actually wrote something very similar, specifically about Jos Buttler, within the piece linked below.

  2. Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound like it’s an open and shut case (which it certainly is not), though I do see why one would think that reading my previous comment.

  3. If Buttler had succeeded in test cricket then we would have been in the era of josball (or buttball) rather than bazball

  4. It seems this is a reflection of mortality and regret. As per bloody usual, amirite?
    Only Sachin was born perfect, the rest of us are bound to an endless reflective cycle of trying to identify the reasons for our flaws and adapting in light of those reflections.
    But the journey does not take us to a destination, it is just a journey. And that is because we are always running out of time.

    1. Sachin did not bowl left-arm wrist-spin so was not, in fact, perfect.

      Now time to duck beneath the safety of the barricades 🙂

  5. Busy morning.

    Looked at test score – saw that England were 160-something-for-three and thought, “hopefully I can catch a few minutes of England making hay in the final session once I have got a bit of urgent work out of the way”.

    Got a bit of urgent work out of the way.

    Looked at the test score again.


      1. Strangely, I have recently been working on several late Renaissance songs that can be sung in the round, like you do, and one of the catchiest ones is this song: Hey Ho, To the Greenwood:

        When I first heard it, the song conjured up in my mind a beautiful walk through a deer park, such as Richmond or Petworth. Then it dawned on me what such a song, c1600, was talking about.

        Hey ho.

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