Updated: Feb 20
Scrolling through Twitter on Sunday evening after seeing that Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler were going to open the batting for England was interesting to say the least. All of the pressure from fans, pundits and everyone else seemed to evaporate into thin air as mouths watered at the prospect of Jos Buttler opening the batting and going T20 mode. While it didn't work out as he departed for a three-ball duck, it was certainly eye-opening as to how quickly peoples opinions can change based on a simple scenario.
The way the Test match was set up on Sunday evening was perfect for someone like Buttler - quick runs needed to set up a victory charge. In my opinion, that explains one of the reasons why Buttler is in the team, to either counter attack after a top order collapse or to rub salt into the wounds of the opposition after being 300 runs ahead on the scoreboard. After seeing what he has done in franchise cricket around the world, I don't think anyone would complain about having Buttler in at number 7 for this purpose. During his test career, he has had to play numerous roles- the anchor, the steadier of the ship and the explosive counter attacker. Quite simply, Buttler suits being a counter attacker best.
After his return to the test side in 2018, which came about due to his phenomenal white ball form, Buttler seemed solid. He scored 6 50's and made his one and only 100 against India in the 4-1 series win. He constantly saved England from the brink of embarrassment and was very unfortunate to not win Man of the Series, losing out to Sam Curran. After having 2 years out of the test side, to average almost 45 was very impressive. The decline of Buttler since then has been puzzling with the red ball. In 2019 his average dropped to just 25 and this year he averages less than 19. Whilst 2019 could be explained due to his extensive role within the World Cup winning squad and the continuous collapse of England's top order against Australia in the Ashes, he doesn't have much excuse for his low average this year. England finally have a settled top order, who don't collapse nearly as much as in the past, allowing Buttler the opportunity to come in against tiring bodies and smack the ball to all parts, just like he does in white ball cricket. So why isn't he?
Part of me believes he's trying too hard to change his technique to be a test match cricketer. Buttler is world-renowned for having a strong bottom hand, which allows him to gain bat speed and play some absolutely phenomenal strokes. Since the New Zealand tour last winter, he seems to have gone into his shell. His strike rate for 2019 was 48.5, compared to 68.1 for 2018. Buttler is the type of batsman which you can't contain or train to have a certain style- he's made his way in franchise cricket by inventing new ways of playing the ball- ramp shots, reverse sweeps off fast bowling. He is the ultimate 360 cricketer on his day, which is more often than not in white ball cricket, so why can't he do it more often in Tests?
The only currency for a batsman is runs. Buttler in his last 12 innings has not past 50, which normally for a batsman signals the end of the road. Look at how ruthless the selectors have been with Joe Denly. So why isn't Buttler given the same treatment? For me, there is only 2 reasons - his keeping ability and his leadership qualities. Many people like to talk down on Buttler's ability behind the stumps, but of all keepers to keep wicket for at least 2 matches since 2018, Buttler has the best catching % at just under 97%, much higher than keepers such as Jonny Bairstow, Tim Paine and Rishabh Pant. He is a very underrated keeper and deserves a bit more credit than he gets, in my opinion. Secondly, his leadership also flies low under the radar. Having played 43 test matches and over 200 white ball games means that Buttler is no novice, and being vice captain on multiple occasions in tests and white ball fixtures shows that there is a leader in Buttler. For the first test against the Windies in Southampton, only 3 members of England's team had more than 25 caps: Ben Stokes, Jimmy Anderson and Buttler. His experience cannot be undervalued, otherwise this England team loses direction and a crucial, calming influence behind the stumps.
Call me a Buttler defender if you will, but you cannot doubt the fact that Jos Buttler is a phenomenal talent - a freak of nature, if you will. On his day, he can take the game away from you with the bat. But to be frank, he hasn't been on his day in Tests enough to justify his spot. I would keep him in for the final game against the West Indies, but afterwards, I believe we need to say goodbye to Jos Buttler the Test match cricketer. While he promises so much upside, we just haven't seen enough of it to justify him as the best wicket-keeper batsman option for England in Tests. He will go down as arguably our best ever white ball player, there's no need to tarnish that legacy with constantly playing him in test matches. Ben Foakes and James Bracey are more esteemed red ball players than Jos, so now is the time to start looking to the future.