That’s a terrible headline. It labels Jos Buttler a T20 player when a key aspect of the point we’re about to make is that players shouldn’t be categorised.
Take a look back on most of the recent Test debutants and first-class performances have generally been trumping international white ball performances as a selection criterion. The team has become more specialised and more focused and while that may seem like a positive, we’re saying that it also makes it homogenous and that homogenous means worse.
In recent times, adaptability and innovation have come to be seen as being synonymous with ramp shots and reverse sweeps because these things are ‘new’ and easy to identify.
But that’s not the case. Flexibility, improvisation and lateral thinking are not the sole preserve of T20 cricket. The truth is that the shortest format is the one in which players face the narrowest variety of conditions and match situations, whereas Test cricket is the one in which they must adapt the most.
Successful Test teams need people who can come up with solutions to problems on the fly and if all the free thinkers are drifting towards T20, Test teams would do well to try and reclaim a few of them.
Here’s the Wisden link again so that you can read similar sentiments expressed in a greater number of words.
We’ve always said that Jos Buttler seems much, much safer at the crease – and a far more reassuring presence for England fans – when he’s just standing there spanking sixes, all bionic eyes and adamantium wrists.
We wrote about this in 2015 and Buttler himself seems to have been paraphrasing us all week when explaining his recent Test competence.
Buttler’s unique selling point is surprisingly reliable irresponsible batting. For most batsmen, risk increases exponentially with every attempted step up in scoring rate, whereas for Buttler, the relationship appears to be more linear.
When Buttler scores twice as quickly, he is perhaps twice as likely to get out. If anyone else tries to do the same, they’re about ten times more likely to get out.
Jos Buttler’s version of risky batting isn’t really all that risky when weighed against the likely returns, so it’s best if he feels that it is a legitimate and acceptable option.
During the last Test, TV coverage gave us a glimpse of the message “fuck it” on the top of Buttler’s bat handle.
We can already sense the meaning of the message being subtly twisted as people hear about it second and third hand.
What the message isn’t: Jos Buttler is not a carefree T20 specialist who doesn’t give a shit, expressing to the world how little he cares.
What the message is: Jos Buttler cares slightly too much and the message is a reminder to himself that only when he feels liberated can he give a proper account of himself.
(The ‘fuck it’ thing has been covered in loads of place this week. Our favourite piece was Ali Martin’s, because starting a mainstream media article with ‘Fuck it’ really unbalances any readers who don’t know why you’re saying it. An article that starts ‘Fuck it’ could go in a very surprising direction. Every time we’ve read ‘fuck it’ in one of these articles, we’ve heard it in a John Goodman voice in our mind’s ear. It’s funny to imagine that the full message might be ‘Fuck it, dude. Let’s go bowling,’ because bowling is one cricket thing that Jos Buttler has very rarely done. (Career record: two overs, no wickets for 12 runs.))
The other thing that happened in the last Test was that other people started batting like Jos Buttler.
That isn’t to say that Alastair Cook started ramping yorkers through his eyelashes. It was just that everyone started batting way out of their crease to negate the Pakistan bowlers’ swing and seam.
The results were ostensibly unspectacular, but most batsmen got some runs – which isn’t something you’ve often been able to say about England in recent times.
It strikes us that having a diverse batting line-up is very healthy as it means the team as a whole has access to a wider variety of ideas about how to score runs in any given set of circumstances.
As the divide between England’s red and white ball teams has become more pronounced, the Test team in particular has become a sterile monoculture of first-class specialists. Test cricket is the format in which you must be most adaptable and having different voices and different ideas within the team cannot be a bad thing.
Let’s take a look at how Test teams are picked and whether runs in other formats are relevant.
We’ll begin with a quick bit of background.
Doing well at one-day cricket for England used to be a common way of getting into the Test team. Players like Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss did well in coloured clothing and then effectively got promoted. Somewhere along the line, things changed.
Broadly coinciding with the IPL getting bigger and more influential, cricket in England seemed to factionalise. The value of white ball runs declined as far as England Test selection went and at some point seems to have come to be seen as wholly irrelevant.
There is certainly logic in picking your red ball side based on red ball performances, but it’s a question of emphasis. Practically speaking, if red ball performances are all you consider, then you’re effectively ruling out many of your most skilful cricketers.
England’s top one-day players simply don’t get to play much Championship cricket (in large part because they’re busy playing for England). We wrote about Mark Wood earlier this year, who is currently torn between two worlds, skiving off his IPL commitments to cram in a four-day game for Durham in the hope of keeping his Test place. He’s almost in limbo at the minute and at some point you feel he’ll have to prioritise one colour of ball.
The way the national side has been selected means that even those who don’t explicitly pick a format have effectively been asked to do so. Play white ball cricket if you want to play international white ball cricket and play red ball cricket if you want to play Tests. There isn’t really time to do both.
The problem for England’s Test team is that with more one-day caps up for grabs and more white ball opportunities worldwide, the short format choice is the more logical one. The Test selectors have therefore been picking from a greatly reduced pool of players. You could call it the dregs, if you were feeling unjustifiably brutal.
Whether you think he’ll make a good Test player or not, we’d argue that Buttler’s selection is good news as it softens the boundaries between the three different formats. We know others disagree, but it’s all cricket in our eyes and the longer the sport can remain whole, the better.
No format is an island; they lie on a continuum – so if T20 runs are inevitably worth less when trying to gauge Test ability, they are not irrelevant.
Jos Buttler has won his spot with cricket runs and the resultant implication that a whole bunch of other talented England cricketers haven’t been annexed by the white ball sides strikes us as being a broadly positive development.
Jos Buttler is not an overtly angry man. Few batsmen better expose the fallacy that attacking cricket and on-field aggression are somehow symbiotically linked.
As a batsman, Buttler demolishes via controlled explosions. He delivers a series of well-timed detonations and more often than not, the opposition implodes. Yet as a bloke, he makes you recalibrate the entry criteria for ‘softly-spoken’. It seems almost too obvious to point out, but his demeanour is as placid and undemonstrative as the professionals from whom he illiterately takes his surname.
In the second one-day international against Bangladesh, Buttler misplaced his rag. It’s usually as ever-present as that tatty red one Steve Waugh used to keep in his pocket, but when the Bangladesh players celebrated his wicket at him, he moved towards them and gobbed off rather than exiting the stage in silence.
At the post-match press conference, Buttler apparently suggested there was ‘history’ between himself and Bangladesh, but didn’t elaborate on that. This is the smartest thing to do because that way fans of both teams can conclude that the other side is in the wrong and everything can escalate until it no longer matters what precipitated the hatred, it only matters what happened most recently.
If you’re wondering what did happen most recently, it’s either Tamim Iqbal spurning Buttler’s handshake or Ben Stokes’ reaction to that, depending on which side of the argument you want to position yourself. The person who uploaded the YouTube video entitled Shame on Stokes: Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler Have Dishonest Behaviour With Tamim Iqbal is, we’ll assume, a Bangladesh fan.
Buttler also said, “Maybe you don’t know me as well as you think you do,” when asked whether this was the first time he’d lost his temper playing for England. That may be so, but it’s also fairly obvious that up until now he’s done a grand job of maintaining an unflustered exterior.
Whatever the cause, this was a plain old loss of control and anyone who thinks Combative Jos will be more effective than Glacial Jos clearly hasn’t been paying attention.
Stuart Broad wants to state his case for inclusion in England’s one-day side. Unfortunately for him, this is difficult as he doesn’t actually play one-day cricket. According to Ali Martin, Broad’s played one 50-over game for Nottinghamshire in the last 18 months.
The opposite applies to Jos Buttler, who is keen to return to the Test side. He somehow needs to make red ball runs to get back in, but the only way we can see that happening is if he paints one ahead of a limited overs game.
Then there’s Eoin Morgan, who’s basically just given up – he says he’s averaged three or four first-class games a year for the past six years and can’t see that changing. That’s not actually a huge amount more than we play and it’s a problem that’s doubtless compounded by being dismissed for single figure scores in the first couple of matches while he tries to remember what’s what.
Other than pigeons, few voluntarily enter pigeonholes. We’ve long had players retiring from one format to prolong their lifespan in another, but the specialist threshold seems to have shifted in recent times. If players in their prime are not exactly being forced to choose, then they are at least allowing themselves to be funnelled down a particular path because it’s so much bloody effort to do anything other than that.
The impact of this on fans is significant and appalling: it means we have to try and remember more cricketers. If we were interested in paying attention and remembering lots of things, we’d have gone and got a law qualification or something.
After watching Jos Buttler hit over a third of the deliveries he faced for boundaries against Pakistan, it’s tempting to wonder whether maybe, just maybe, he might do well to shelve his watchful, deliberate approach to Test batting. It seems to us that he’s much, much safer at the crease, and far more reassuring for England fans watching, when he’s just standing there spanking sixes, all bionic eyes and adamantium wrists.
For Buttler, getting down on one knee and ramping the ball over the wicketkeeper is ‘playing responsibly’. When he tries to play the ball on its merits, he suddenly looks all too frail. Forget it, Jos. Most people have to respect the bowling, but you don’t. In fact it’s very much advisable that you don’t. Disregard the merits of the ball, disrespect the bowling. We promise to vilify you if you’re dismissed playing a forward defensive stroke and we’ll overlook all caught-at-cow-corners.
But how you persuade a batsman to employ such an approach is another matter altogether. It’s not like England are telling Buttler not to bat like this. We daresay someone involved with the side’s noticed that he plays rather better when he’s liberated. The problem is you can’t just say ‘play positively’. We’ve covered this before. You somehow need to persuade the person in question that this is what you want and that they will benefit from that approach. Even if those are a given, as they perhaps are in this case, it’s still not an easy matter putting it into practice.
Test matches are different. The range of possiblities is far greater and your range of options as to how to approach an innings is far greater. One-day cricket – particularly in the later overs – is gloriously simple. There is no batting clarity quite like the batting clarity you have at 300-4 with five overs to go.
People often talk about a batsman’s ‘natural game’. Strikingly, they rarely refer to a deadbatting grinder when they use this term – it’s always the quick-scorer. This leads to many people concluding that when such a batsman isn’t lofting every third ball into the stands, they’re somehow having a different approach imposed upon them.
It happened in the World Cup when many assumed that Peter Moores wasn’t allowing certain batsmen to ‘play their natural game’. This was bollocks. He didn’t tell them not to – quite the opposite – he simply failed to create an environment in which they felt free enough to do so. The gleeful carnage is not the default. It’s only natural in certain circumstances.
With so many options, so many ways of unpicking the puzzle before you, a batsman can find himself caught in some noncommittal middle ground in Tests (and shortly afterwards, he might find himself caught in a more literal sense.) One of the keys to Test batting is to find a way of navigating all of this; of somehow imposing clarity on your own brain.
The main thing preventing Jos Buttler from taking his one-day batting ability into Test matches isn’t the coach or ‘management’ – it’s Jos Buttler’s brain. If you think that the brain is an unnatural extra element when it comes to the act of batting, then yes, it is indeed preventing him from playing his natural game.
The other way of looking at it is that Jos Buttler isn’t so naturally predisposed to the thought processes necessary for Test cricket as some are. He might bat like some otherworldly warlock in the shorter formats, but he’s naturally confused and awkward when presented with more options. Hopefully he can learn to overcome this. Jos Buttler’s unnatural Test batting would certainly be worth waiting for.
Yeah, why not? It’s not like he’s scoring any runs at the minute. We’re also a great believer in the redemptive power of “I could do better than that.”
Have you ever found yourself believing you weren’t qualified to carry out a given task, only for someone else to complete it in your stead and do a really shitty job? Other people being crap at things is a real confidence booster.
Ideally, Jonny Bairstow would come in and do an excellent job as England wicketkeeper. Then again, he might not. In that event, Jos might well think: “I may have an odd first name and one too many Ts in my surname, but by the Beard of Grace I had my moments in Test cricket. Maybe I could have more moments.”
At that point, he’d turn into Sanath Jayasuriya only with more hair.
Plus it’s not like he’d be fully dropped, sentenced to 300 hours of county cricket. He’d still be in the team for the shorter formats where everything seems so effortless for him. Without Test failure grinding him down, we have every reason to believe that Buttler would at some point return to being England’s best one-day batsman.
Once he has, and having been vastly superior to his team-mates for a period of time, he’ll doubtless start to feel pissed off about not playing the longer format. Mark our words, a surly sense of being unjustly overlooked combined with poor form from your replacement is the recipe for Test success.