Yes, Test cricket is different. Yes, it requires a different skill-set to the limited overs formats. But this ‘difference’ is receding with every passing season – and every switch-hit, reverse paddle and scoop that is effortlessly deployed.
After more heroics from Jos Buttler in the abbreviated format, many have been clamouring for the Lancashire keeper-batsman to be given another Test chance.
If given another opportunity, Buttler knows how he’s going to approach it this time around.
“I don’t think I’d be trying to bat time,” Buttler said of his likely Test gameplan. “Having had time out of the game and watching certain players in our team from the sidelines in South Africa and watching on the TV this summer – the way Jonny plays, the way Joe Root plays, the way Ben Stokes plays – they’re always trying to put the pressure on.
That’s the way English cricket has gone. It’s about scoring runs. It doesn’t matter how, it’s how many. You take your bat out there to score runs, so try to score them.”
England coach Trevor Bayliss backs Buttler’s plan of action: “He’d be better in Test cricket if he played like he does in the white-ball game. That would be devastating.”
The Aussie concedes “It will be an interesting selection meeting” ahead of the Pakistan series.
Nick Compton, who is taking a break from the game, will definitely need to be replaced in the side, and the England coach insists there is more than one name in the hat: “There’s Buttler, [Surrey’s Jason] Roy, [Ben] Stokes playing as a batter.”
Scott Borthwick, who has scored three hundreds and averages 58.50 in the County Championship this season, is another strong contender, with the Durham lad keen on adding to his sole Test cap.
The proposal of Ben Stokes playing as a specialist batsman is an interesting one.
Big Ben hit a career-best 256 in 198 balls against South Africa earlier this year, showing the world that he is not just a lower-order hitter.
But he has been trying to emulate that ferocious innings ever since, routinely getting out playing a loose stroke, before shaking his head and cursing the heavens.
But when Stokes’s bowling is an option he is a shoo-in, as he gives the side great balance as a fourth seamer. Playing him as a batsman will put more pressure on this particular string – but he is not a man short on confidence.
If Jason Roy or Borthwick comes into the side, they will have every chance of being a direct replacement for Compton at first drop.
If Buttler or Stokes come into the side, the top-order will need to do a bit of manoeuvring. It is likely that one of Joe Root or James Vince, currently number four and five respectively, would have to move to three.
Root has performed admirably at four, climbing to the summit of the ICC batting rankings last year, so both he and England may be reluctant to disrupt his elevation to world-beater.
Who should get the nod?
If pushed for a guess as to who England will opt for as Nick Compton’s replacement, there are two stand out names: Buttler and Borthwick.
Ben Stokes is an all-action, multi-formated all-rounder; playing him as a specialist batsman may be seen as luxury and the argument to rest him is a strong one.
Jason Roy has been a big hit in the shorter forms of the game but playing him in a Test match top three alongside fellow limited overs sensation Alex Hales may be seen as a little too forward-thinking.
Scott Borthwick would be the most like-for-like replacement for Nick Compton, especially if England resist the temptation of recalling Warwickshire captain Ian Bell or Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance.
But England – if Bayliss’s quotes are anything to go by – have a feeling that Jos Buttler could maybe, just maybe, find his feet at Test-level and go on to produce the kind of lower-order dashes that made Adam Gilchrist revolutionise the role of the wicket-keeper-batsman in the nineties and naughties.
In terms of Test match run-rates, the bar has been raised since the inauguration of Twenty20 cricket, but Buttler could be one of a small crop of batsmen in world cricket who could well and truly change the way batsmen – especially lower-order batsmen – approach the five-day game.
What’s more is that Test cricket needs batsmen like Buttler if it is to carry on thriving in the 21st century.
Do you back Butter’s bid for a Test recall? If so, would you play him as a specialist batsman or a wicket-keeper batsman?