Back in the early part of 2014, English cricket was at an all time low. Drubbed 5-0 in the Ashes, beaten 4-1 and 3-0 in the limited overs series, things looked grim for the future of the game in England. More than anything else, a boost in morale was desperately needed. The ECB tried to do this by sacking their best batsman [oh God, not this again – Ed]; 51allout went for the slightly different approach of praising the standout performers, namely Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. We’ll let you decide which approach was more productive.
Eighteen months on, things have come full circle. Australia are the shambles while England regained the Ashes with a game to spare, a game for which they basically turned up drunk. This – winning the Ashes, rather than being drunk – is in no small matter down to the performances of messers Broad and Stokes. But it certainly isn’t down to the performance of Buttler, who averaged 15.25 with the bat, with a top score of just 42.
This raises the obvious question: what exactly has happened to Jos Buttler the Test batsman?
In ODI cricket Buttler is well on the way to fulfilling the promise identified back before he became a big cricketing Judas and left Somerset for Lancashire, with two hundreds and seven half centuries in his first 59 matches, including an astonishing 129 from 77 balls against New Zealand back in June. Basically, all looks good. But in Tests things look very different, with Buttler retreating into his shell at a frightening rate. He had the lowest strike rate of all the grownup batsmen in the Ashes and looked, for want of a better phrase, as if he didn’t really want to be there, meekly walking off as soon as there was so much as half an appeal against him.
Perhaps the most worrying thing was that Australia didn’t even need any brilliant plans for Buttler. They just bowled normally at him and let him get himself out, usually by softly chipping the ball to cover. At least Moeen Ali’s obvious deficiencies against the short ball give the coaches something technical to work on; with Buttler it seems to be more of a job for a sports psychologist.
So what should be done? Of course, what’s probably happening is what we can call the ‘wicketkeeper’s cycle’, something that we’ve seen a number of times before: a young batsman-keeper comes into the side amidst great hype, scores a few runs while getting criticised for his tatty keeping, spends time learning to keep properly and utterly forgets how to bat. And, as such, the best thing to do right now is probably nothing at all.
That might sound odd – and it certainly never works when we suggest it to Editor Steve as our plan for the day – but stay with me on this, I’m getting there!
The absolute worst thing England’s army of coaches can do is to try and meddle with Buttler’s methods or, even worse, drop him. His keeping has improved massively over the last year, to the extent that the only real discussion around it during the series was about the superb legside catches he took, rather than any byes or missed chances. Travelling to the UAE will be a further learning experience, in particular standing up to the stumps for half the day and keeping to Adil Rashid’s legspin, but an important one nonetheless.
With the bat, Buttler’s talent has never been in doubt and one poor series doesn’t change that one bit; his technique remains as sound (and simple) as it always has been. We thoroughly expect him to score a bunch of runs in the upcoming ODI series against Australia and take that form with him going forwards. In years to come, this will just be remembered as the series where he learned about balancing his duel roles in the side – an important stepping stone – before going on to make about 6,000 Test runs. Honestly, we have that much faith in him.
Even if we did call him a big cricketing Judas. Plus one of us has a friend that once copped off with his sister. Sorry about that Jos.