It’s been a winter so long that Neil Young will probably write a song about it. England are about to emerge from their darkest hour and head for home, where no doubt an open-top bus full of people holding rotten fruit will be waiting. And who can blame the manky-tomato bearers, for if ever a squad deserved to be humiliated further, it’s this bunch of bastards. But there are some members of Team England – as nobody calls them anymore now that they’re shit – who deserve to escape death by salad. Ben Stokes is one and Jos Buttler is another.
There are two principal reasons for nominating Buttler as one of the few bright sparks amidst the clapped-out, broken-down flat battery of England’s trip down under. Firstly, it solves one of England’s longest-running selection dilemmas and secondly, it presents an exciting option for the Test team.
Our inaugural World Cup Ladder placed Buttler at No. 11, meaning he was the 11th choice player, not that he should be eleventh in the batting order. Following the recent ODI series, it’s safe to assume that in the second version of the ladder (expected soon, once Editor Steve has fixed the family filter at the 51allout internet cafe and we can no longer find nudey pics of Margot Robbie) Buttler will have climbed dramatically. A year out from the tournament, and England know who their wicket-keeper will be. When have England ever known who their first-choice, medium/long-term keeper is in the limited overs side? Probably not since Alec Stewart’s retirement in 2003, i.e. two World Cups, four Champions Trophies and four World T20s ago. Even when winning the 2010 Twenty20 event, England’s keeper was a rookie: Craig Kieswetter hadn’t played an international T20 before the tournament began.
Up until the end of last summer’s Champions Trophy Buttler had batted 11 times in ODIs and made more single digit scores than double digit ones; his highest scores were 47* and 21. Since then he’s batted in a further eight innings (so an admittedly small sample), but with lowest scores of 4, 5 and 34*. It seems that the less doubt there is about his position, the better he has played – though of course this corresponds with getting older and wiser. Happily, his actual keeping also looks reliable, although he’s not really had to stand-up to much spin in recent times. As such, England can shape, re-shape and inevitably re-shape again the rest of their team, safe in the knowledge that Buttler at seven – or six – is going to be there in 12 months hence. No luck Jonny! Or Craig!
The Test team is a completely different matter though. We hope and pray that the blessed Matt Prior regains the gloves for the summer, hopefully with at least a smidgeon of good form behind him. Associated with this, we’ve already stated that Jonny Bairstow needs a whole summer of playing cricket in order for England to assess his true ability and also for the poor patsy to actually remember what it’s like. Hopefully, in the interests of having long-term options, he can have a good sunburn-free season under Yorkshire’s clouds. This leaves a gap for Prior’s under-study – or if situation dictates, a space in the team for any wicket-keeper to fill. None of the options automatically trigger optimism, however loudly followers of Surrey, Essex and Nottinghamshire advocate their own glovemen. Therefore, Buttler must have a damn good chance.
Last season Buttler rarely kept wicket for his county. Now though he has headed up the M5, turned on to the M6, stopped off at Knutsford services for a piss and a Gingster’s, got lost on the edge of Manchester and finally arrived at Old Trafford. Keeping wicket for Lancashire (and for England in the limited overs) should see him continue to improve. Furthermore, we expect his batting average to rise from 31.73 at present. To some extent though, his average doesn’t matter: nobody truly expects England to be so atrocious at home against Sri Lanka and India, but there is still a high chance that they will be plagued by mental frailty, naive batting and poor fielding. A change in tactics may be appropriate, especially now that the emergence of Stokes gives England options that hitherto they did not have. Jos Buttler is far from a traditional Test match batsman, but perhaps a young, exciting and uninhibited “gun player” (copyright – N. Hussain) coming in at No. 7 is the kind of novel, outside-the-box, blue-sky, mind-cloud, inspirational selection that can shift England into a more positive gear.
So England have penned in their World Cup keeper and have found a possible candidate for the Test team. A lot has changed in the last four months – and not all for the worse. The Buttler has certainly done it – if “it” is changing our perception of him and giving England some exciting new possibilities in the future.