When the squad for the first Test of England’s summer against Sri Lanka is announced on Thursday, Jos Buttler will not be waiting for a call. Instead he will be preparing to play for Lancashire – possibly alongside Andrew Flintoff, the man he calls a “superstar” – in a Twenty20 Roses match against Yorkshire on Friday.
On Saturday Buttler brought Lord’s to life with an innings of sustained destructive quality that has rarely, if ever, been seen by an England player in a one-day international. And that is the key for Buttler’s immediate future: in a one-day international.
Later that evening, in the aftermath of a defeat that left an oddly warm glow because of what the Buttler did, Cook wrote off his chances of being in Thursday’s squad. One day, said the England captain, Buttler will be a Test player but not yet. With mounting concern over Matt Prior’s fitness the wicketkeeping spot appears wide open, just not to Buttler and that is a stance he cannot disagree with.
“I’m probably not ready for that, that’s my honest opinion and I guess that’s the opinion of others as well,” said Buttler. “Test match cricket is completely different format – I average 32 in first-class cricket and if I wasn’t playing one-day cricket I doubt I would be in the forefront of anyone’s mind when it comes to Test cricket.”
He now averages more in one-day internationals than he does as a first-class cricketer. Buttler moved north from his home county of Somerset this winter on the promise of being Lancashire’s first-choice keeper – a promise made by Peter Moores, then still Lancashire’s coach – and so getting the first-class game time to build a Test case.
“My glove work needs to improve as well to be a Test cricketer but I’m 23, I’ve got plenty of time to work on those things,” said Buttler. “I’m getting better. This is probably the best start to a season I’ve had in first-class cricket. I’m starting to learn my method in four-day cricket. I’ve made the change to Lancashire to improve my wicketkeeping and do it full time.
“You have to remember it takes time. You can’t be a finished article at 23. You want to accelerate your development as quick as you can but you have to be realistic as well. It’s a pretty easy assumption to make looking at me as a player and where my game’s at – I’m probably not ready for Test cricket. It’s my hope and my ambition to turn into someone who is talked about for Test match cricket.”
On Saturday all the talk was about him as a one-day cricketer. England were in a hopeless position when he and Ravi Bopara came together at 111 for five. The task was to score at nine an over across 20 overs against an attack steeped in experience at this form of the game. It was that experience that told in the end but it deserves to be billed as the Buttler show. It is the power he gets into his shots that is so remarkable, that and the fact that those shots would be recognised by any free-scoring players from years gone by. They are classic in their construction, brutal in their execution.
“That’s the best I’ve ever played, no doubt about that,” said Buttler of scoring the fastest ever one-day hundred for England, eight balls quicker than Kevin Pietersen’s 69-ball effort. In all he faced 74 balls for his 121. Where, he was asked, does that power come from?
“I don’t know. Swing hard I guess,” said Buttler. He played squash when younger and believes that has helped. “Speed through the ball is what you are looking for – hand speed through the ball. There are some basics you have to abide by no matter what you are doing. There are certain things that are a given – watching the ball is something that is under-rated.”
The end result was defeat for England and they face a decider at Edgbaston tomorrow. It has been a rollercoaster of a series. Saturday was the highpoint with Kumar Sangakkara’s quality batsmanship, Lasith Malinga’s bowling and Buttler’s one-man blast after the batting blunders of the previous two games. On the evidence of the four preceding games what will happen in Birmingham is anyone’s guess, but it will be worth watching, just as Buttler’s batting should be for years to come. England have found a man who can empty the bars again.