England vs India: Jaunty Jos Buttler ‘can become a match-winner in Tests’

 

The Ageas Bowl

Ian Bell has backed Jos Buttler to become England’s regular match-winner in Test cricket after the young wicketkeeper made a spectacular impact on his debut.

Buttler made an uncertain start to his innings, surviving giving chances in the slip cordon on nought and then on 23. Thereafter, however, the 23-year-old displayed the range of strokes he has often exhibited in limited-overs cricket, scoring 85 from just 83 deliveries.

Buttler will have tougher challenges than that presented by a listless India bowling attack but this was still a hugely encouraging first innings in Test cricket, as he helped England post 569 for 7 declared. Bell’s 167 – his first Test century for nearly a year – was the bedrock of England’s innings, and Bell revealed he had helped the Lancashire player keep his cool as the nerves jangled early on.

“It looked like he was thinking a bit too much at the start of his innings,” said Bell. “He nicked one that didn’t quite carry to slip and we spoke about playing the way he normally plays, with the natural instinct he has.

“After he got off the mark with a nice back-foot punch for three, he looked like the Jos Buttler who plays county and one-day cricket. That’s the player he has to be for England.

“If we can set platforms for him, he will move the scoreboard on and get us into winning positions. We know how much potential he has. The hundred he scored against Sri Lanka [in a one-day international at Lord’s in May] was as good a century as you’ll see in 50-over cricket.

“There will be different challenges in Test cricket and he’ll have to find a different way if he comes in when we’re in trouble, but if we have a platform, he is as exciting a player as there is.

“He is a laid-back guy, which is good, and that is how we want him to stay. We want him to be aggressive, play aggressively and have no doubts about anything. There is a nice balance to his game that enables him to play well against both pace and spin.”

Bell’s century ended a relatively poor run of form in five-day cricket and when he reached three figures with a six down the ground off Ravindra Jadeja, the Warwickshire batsman looked to the heavens.

He later told the BBC that he was remembering his grandfather, William, a strong influence early in Bell’s career who died recently. When he turned his mind again to the state of the game, Bell expressed optimism about England’s chances of levelling the five-match series 1-1.

Ian Bell hits a straight six to reach his century Ian Bell hits a straight six to reach his century (AP)

India lost Shikhar Dhawan before the close and were 25 for 1 at stumps, needing 370 to avoid the follow-on. Bell was named England’s Player of the Year earlier in the summer, an award which has recently prefaced an unhappy period for the winner. The batsman hopes this effort will break the curse.

“It was in the back of my mind,” he admitted. “I feel I’ve been playing well but finding strange ways to get out. It was nice to go through to a big hundred and, hopefully, we’re now in a good position to push this game forward.”

The India seam bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who ended the day with 3 for 101, was a little less charitable about Buttler’s innings. He said: “At times, he was really smashing the ball, but he was lucky at times and the wicket was really easy for batting.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Pietersen will play for Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash, Australia’s Twenty20 franchise competition, later this year. He has signed a deal to play in the next two editions.

Pietersen’s effective sacking by England in February means he is now a T20 freelance cricketer. He has a contract with Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League, is currently playing for Surrey in the English domestic T20 and will also have a stint in the Caribbean Premier League with St Lucia Zouks.

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