England’s new wicketkeeper will be Jos Buttler, the Somerset lad who moved to Lancashire to better himself. It appears to have paid rapid dividends.
Buttler will become the 66th officially designated England wicketkeeper when he appears in the third Test against India, which starts at Southampton on Sunday. He replaces Matt Prior, who voluntarily stood down, perhaps before receiving a call from the selectors, because of chronic injury.
Although no one should doubt Prior’s substantial contribution to England’s cause across 79 Test matches, this is an exciting choice. Buttler had already displayed distinct elements of a rare talent before his exceptional innings of 121 from 74 balls in a one-day international against Sri Lanka at Lord’s in May. It was the work of a batting genius.
He is one of only two changes in the squad for the match. Simon Kerrigan, his county colleague, has been omitted despite not having played. It must have been something the left-arm spinner did in the nets.
No one else has paid the penalty for England’s miserable performance at Lord’s where they lost by 95 runs to go behind 1-0 in the Investec series with three to play. With Alastair Cook refusing copious advice to step down as captain and with the resolute support of his employers, it makes it extremely difficult to give anyone else the tap on the shoulder.
Thus, the underachieving senior players, Ian Bell, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Board, will all continue. England continue to feel they need their long and distinguished experience despite their poor returns so far. Anderson will play with his disciplinary hearing hanging over him.
There must be a chance that one or both of the spare fast bowlers in the party will play on Sunday. Chris Woakes has been in the squad for all four Test matches this summer and he could hardly have done worse than any of those who were so awry at Lord’s.
James Whitaker, the national selector, appeared to be aware of the general poverty of his team’s display at Lord’s, marked by a miserable start on the first morning and a woeful end on the last afternoon. He issued what, reading between the lines, seemed like a warning.
“The result at Lord’s was very disappointing,” he said. “One or two had encouraging performances. However, it is vital that the squad learns quickly and arrives in Southampton this week refreshed and ready to perform well in what will no doubt be another tough Test match.”
Whitaker must be aware, however, that until the issue of Cook is properly resolved it is difficult to address other matters. A loss and personal failure at the Ageas Bowl will make his position untenable, with so many former England captains suggesting that it has already reached that point. A win and a century would calm the waters.
Apart from his other problems, Cook may have to tread delicately with Buttler. After that Lord’s innings, Cook said unequivocally that Buttler was not yet ready for Test cricket. It may take some reassurance.
Prior has done the right thing in going but he leaves with valid questions about whether he was genuinely fit enough to play. It seems that he was struggling since his recall, which does not reflect well on selectors or medical staff. There is a case for looking more closely at the bowling resources, particularly Anderson and Broad.
Respectively, 96 and 71 matches down the line they have looked weary at times during the last two matches. Broad is suspected to be carrying niggles that may need surgical attention. Between them they are due a vintage day or two.
England squad: For third Test v India
Starts at the Rose Bowl on Sunday
A N Cook Essex; capt 29/106
M M Ali Worcs 27/4
J M Anderson Lancs 31/96
G S Ballance Yorks 24/5
I R Bell Warks 32/102
S C J Broad Notts 28/71
J C Buttler Lancs; wkt 23/0
C J Jordan Sussex 25/2
L E Plunkett Yorks 29/13
S D Robson Midds 25/4
J E Root Yorks 23/19
B A Stokes Durham 23/6
C R Woakes Warks 25/1