Saturday, 15 March 2014

Jos Buttler's alternative future

'He is one of my favourites... he is a class act.'

When Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards rates a batsman it's fair to say that he may have something, and it's hard to argue with the great man when considering the extraordinary hand-eye talents of Jos Buttler. Richards himself was one of the first players to walk outside his off stump to the faster bowlers and flick the ball from his toes to the fine leg boundary. Buttler plays a new age, supercharged version of the same shot, and perhaps King Viv recognises his fearlessness. Buttler, in this early phase of his international career, either dominates or gets out.

In the generational turnover of talent England are in a downward cycle, and it's compounded by their rigid perception of what that talent should look like. A new way is coming, and it's only natural that players will make themselves known in a different manner - David Warner and Steve Smith are at the leading edge of the phenomenon.

England cannot afford to waste Jos Buttler, and by encouraging him to keep wicket they are not adding to his value but confining it. He should give it up. Anyone wanting to bat seriously in the top order in Test cricket can't keep wicket too. The matches are too close together, the series condensed by the demands of other formats. Even the masterly de Villiers can get no higher than five with the gloves, and, like Sangakkara, he's surely going to jettison them soon.

Buttler is a long way removed from such company but there is a glint of something special, as Richards has said. England have tacitly acknowledged an impending future of prosaic batting in their urge to have Eoin Morgan play Test cricket again. A top order that one day contains him and Buttler crackles in a different way.

The only prosaic part of Buttler's game is his keeping. It's painful to watch his unsuitable physique put through its stresses and his restrained character forced into its cheerleader role. The real giveaway though, is the sound. The ball whispers its way into the gloves of a natural keeper. In the West Indies, outfield throws smacked into Buttler's and then shivered uncomfortably down the stump mikes.

England have an odd attitude to keepers. For a side that believes in the advantage of marginal gains, they don't see them as coming from behind the sticks (I have an alternative theory). Graeme Swann, just out of the dressing room, probably gave away the current view on Buttler's position when he said on radio last week: 'Jos Buttler is not ready for the Test side as a keeper or a batsman... Jos needs two or three years with Lancashire. I think it could set him back to throw him in now.'

This at least is true. He should be offered the chance to fulfill his potential as a batsman, starting with a season of opportunity in first class cricket along with his international white ball commitments. England need to look again at Craig Kieswetter and also Steve Davies, who might become genuinely effective at seven in Test cricket and who are superior keepers.

Most of all, Andy Flower, in his position of almost unprecedented influence over coaching and theory, could think hard about exactly how the new generation of batsman are going to manifest themselves. It will almost certainly be in T20 cricket and the criteria for judging Test match potential should shift along with that.

There will always be the de Villiers and the Kohlis, the Sangas and the Pujaras, who are to the manor born. But the last decade has brought Pietersen, Warner, Steve Smith, Eoin Morgan, Shikhar Dhawan and others that began far less conventionally.

When the notion of David Warner wearing the Baggy Green was inducing not only ridicule but indignance, Virender Sehwag, avatar of modern batsmanship, said that he'd be a better Test player than he was a T20 hitter. 'All the fielders are around the bat,' Sehwag told Warner. 'If the ball's there in your zone, you're still going to hit it. You're going to have ample opportunities to score runs. You've always got to respect the good ball, but you've got to punish the ball you always punish.'

He wasn't far wrong, was he? It's not a bad place for Buttler and Flower to begin. 


3 comments:

Brian Carpenter said...

Thought-provoking as ever, Jon. It's a peripheral consideration really, but I particularly agree with what you say about the cheerleader role being unsuited to Buttler's personality. It's clear it doesn't come naturally to him.

I haven't seen enough of him keeping to make a judgement on his long-term potential - and there's the possibility of rapid improvement once he's working under Moores and keeping regularly - but it would be a shame if he was lost to Test cricket, or his entry delayed, because of deficiencies in that area.

Because, as is self-evident, he's a batsman of rare gifts.

Tim Newman said...

I remember a couple of years back Buttler got a run out against (I think) India, and he looked like "a rabbit caught in the headlights", as one commentator put it. Apparently he was crap, and Johnny Bairstow was the man.

Now Bairstow doesn't get a mention and Buttler is the man of the moment. I can't help thinking that England cricket is going into the phase that Australia went through: players are thought to be either brilliant or crap, but in fact are neither.

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