The spectre of Kevin Pietersen has loomed large over the England cricket team ever since his ignominious fall from grace.
As one of the most outrageously naturally talented batsmen the England team has been fortunate enough to include among their ranks this should be no surprise, but perhaps we may finally be seeing the emergence of a player who can cast off the shadow thrown by the almost guaranteed invocation of Pietersen’s name every time the England teams do anything less than cover themselves in glory.
The man who looks to be rising to this challenge is wicketkeeper-batsman Jos Buttler. A player very much in the mould of Pietersen, with a glorious array of strokes and Pietersen’s knack for the unconventional, Buttler has the promise to be every bit as good for England as Pietersen was, if not even better. However, he has so far struggled for consistency.
It is this lack of consistency that recently saw him dropped from the England Test side in favour of Nottinghamshire’s diminutive batsman James Taylor, with Jonny Bairstow taking on keeping duties for the final game of the recent Pakistan series.
While Taylor and Bairstow are both fine players, neither quite capture the imagination in the same way that Buttler does, though it would be particularly unfair to suggest that Taylor does not deserve his spot in the England side given his outstanding and gritty performances so far.
While Buttler may yet to have fully justified his place in the Test side, there is no doubting his value to the England ODI and T20 sides. In both these formats, Buttler’s incredible powers of invention and remarkable ability to find the boundary in even the tightest of field settings are a godsend for Trevor Bayliss and his England coaching team.
This was perhaps best displayed in the ODI series against Pakistan. On a pitch notable for its relatively slow rate of scoring, Buttler smashed an incredible 46 ball century, easily the quickest 50 over century scored by an England batman and the equal seventh fastest ODI century of all time.
Even more incredible is the fact that Buttler now holds the record for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd fastest ODI centuries by an England cricketer. If any statistical proof was needed of the contribution that Buttler can make to a successful England ODI team then this surely provides it.
Buttler’s ability to play inventive shots is also a crucial asset for the ever-improving England T20 side. After a dismal few years of T20 cricket for England, ever since their victory in the World T20 competition in 2012, the side has seen a remarkable revival and at the time of writing are on a five match winning streak in the format. Alongside a host of other talented limited overs batsmen, such as Alex Hales and Sam Billings, Buttler adds a whole new dimension to England’s T20 side that was previously only provided by the maverick talent of Pietersen.
The dream for England fans and coaches alike is that Buttler can regain the form he showed in his early Test career where he looked every inch like a young English Adam Gilchrist, as well as achieving the kind of consistency in the shorter forms of the game that would make him one of the world’s most feared batsmen. England coach Trevor Bayliss will be hoping that Buttler’s rest from the Test team will give him the time to rediscover the carefree style that brought him so much success in his early Test career.
It may be presumptuous to boil Buttler’s problems down into something so simple, but to many onlookers it would appear that the solution to Buttler’s issues in Test cricket is to play as he does in limited overs cricket. If he can find a way to do so, then Test bowlers across the world had better look out.
Photo courtesy of Nic Redhead