Will the real Jos Buttler please pad up?
Praising Buttler for trying to bat like Joe Root is like praising Dom Sibley for trying to bat like Virender Sehwag.
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Missed opportunities. That was the talk around Jos Buttler after the second Ashes Test in Adelaide this week after he dropped catches off the timber of both Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschange (twice). But the drops were minor stumbles compared to the grassed clanger that is Buttler’s Test career as a whole. A career that can be summed up by the words of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, the bloke who wrote the bible on missed opportunities (The Remains of the Day – about a butler with one T), who said, ‘There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.’
The Buttler we all know
In the week David Lloyd hung up his microphone (put down his microphone? Unplugged it? Stuffed it away in a drawer?), two words ring true for jaded Jos that Bumble often said was the best advice he ever got, simply – Be yourself. But who is the real Jos Buttler? Can anyone legitimately make the argument that the Buttler we’ve seen in the 55 Test matches he’s played is the real JB?
The real Buttler is the fella labelled (correctly) as England’s greatest ever white-ball cricketer.
The master constructor of limited-overs innings. Look no further than his 100 against Sri Lanka in the recent World Cup, or back to the last time England toured Australia and his magnificent unbeaten ODI ton at the SCG. Two innings of pure cricketing genius where he took time to build the house before launching the fireworks out through the skylight. So the question is; why has his Test career been so un-genius?
The missed opportunity of Buttler’s Test career is the failure by team England to properly define a role that best suits his abilities. His current role is to try and bat like a classical top-order player, even though as a pure batter in Test cricket he averages 35.68 with just one century.
But ever since Buttler was recalled to the Test team in 2018 he’s been praised for how he’s tried to bat Properly (Capital P), for essentially how he’s tried to bat like Joe Root, but praising Buttler for trying to bat like Joe Root is like praising Dom Sibley for trying to bat like Virender Sehwag.
Batting is an individual effort masquerading as a team sport. It all comes down to tempo. Every batter has a tempo they need to bat at to be successful and in Test cricket, Buttler has not been able to find his, or perhaps, he’s not been allowed to find it. He’s tempo-less. 007 without a licence to kill.
Detrimentally, what the England team have failed to consider with Buttler is the tactical mindset of What do the opposition least want us to do? Take the example of Rishabh Pant, England (and everyone else) would like nothing better than for him to come out and shoulder-arms (as the Aussies say) and play for his off pole. What they don’t want him to do is play like Rishabh Pant because they know the real Pant can turn a game quicker than…well, anyone.
So the question England now need to ask is if Buttler is not going to play like Buttler then why does he play at all? Ben Foakes keeps wicket like a wizard DJ behind the decks, and his Test batting average is similar to Buttler’s, whilst Jonny Bairstow is also better with the gloves and averages 37.37 with five centuries as a keeper-batter (Buttler averages 30.92 with one century). Yet Buttler’s upside is far more tantalising.
The potential for more
Buttler’s role could and should be that of Game Changer where a positive 40 is more important than a churned out 70. The middle-to-lower order player that can wrestle back momentum and counter-attack with the tail, essentially, the English Adam Gilchrist.
Of course, there are situations, like the 5th day at Adelaide, where that kind of approach is a no-no, but those situations are the extreme, not the norm. And yes, Gilchrist played in a far better team (I can’t stress ‘far’ enough), but as a keeper-batter Gilchrist got his runs at a strike rate of 81.95. In comparison, Buttler goes at a click of 54.55. In 2021 his strike rate is just 43.13.
Seriously, is there a pundit on the planet that can justify Buttler batting at such a low rate? The answer of course is obvious. Buttler going at a rate of 43.13 is like one of the big England quicks bowling off spin…oh. But the point is Jos Buttler batting at a lick of 43.13 is not Jos Buttler, we may as well call him by another name, maybe Joe Butler, one T, like the profession of the narrator in Ishiguro’s novel, the hollow hero ruing life’s spilt nicks.
If England don’t learn their lessons fast, Jos will have a novel of his own to write.
So, will the real Jos Buttler please pad up?
By James Knight