There are very few cricketers in the world that are as exciting as Jos Buttler. Of the all players that have scored 2000 runs in ODI cricket for England, he has the fifth best average. But that isn’t the really impressive thing about his record in ODI cricket; it is his strike rate.
He scores his runs at 120.29 per 100 balls. The next best by an England player with 2000 runs is Eoin Morgan with a strike rate of 90.72. The three fastest ODI hundreds that have ever been made by an English player all belong to Buttler.
His record in white-ball cricket is just ridiculously good. And it was with that in mind that Buttler packed his kit bag and went to play for the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL). With Buttler having lost his place in the Test side over the winter, it was a controversial move, and one that some saw as Buttler giving up on his ambitions to play for England in all formats. He was off bashing "maximums" in India rather than grinding out first-class runs for Lancashire in front of empty stands, where the few spectators that were there had their winter thermals on. He certainly didn’t see it that way, saying as much when he spoke to ESPNCricinfo during the IPL.
"Trevor Bayliss [England head coach] and Andrew Strauss [director of England cricket] are forward-thinking guys and place a lot of importance on white-ball cricket. I spoke to Trevor about going to the IPL and asked, 'Do you feel that is me saying I don't want to be a Test match cricketer?' He said, 'Of course not.' According to Trevor, it is not closing any doors. One of the main things Trevor has always said is, no matter what form of the game you are playing, the basics are exactly the same. No, I don't feel like I am putting an end to my Test aspirations."
Buttler has had a fantastic 12 months — playing in the IPL, scoring runs for England in ODI and T20 cricket, getting the job as captain for the white-ball leg of the Bangladesh tour and being selected for all formats for the winter tours. However, losing his Test place was a massive setback.
When Buttler was dropped during the tour of the UAE, where England were playing Tests against Pakistan, it was a completed justified decision. With Jonny Bairstow in the team and scoring runs, it made sense for him to be given the gloves and bringing in another batsman. In those Pakistan Tests in the desert, Buttler managed just 34 runs in the four innings that he played.
The thing is, no one has nailed down the spot that Bairstow vacated when he became the Test keeper. Ian Bell has been done away with, Gary Ballance has struggled, James Vince has come and gone, James Taylor has been forced to retire with a heart condition.
As a result, Buttler stands a very good chance of being in the middle order for England in India. The prospect of a batting line-up that includes Ben Duckett, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Buttler is mouth-wateringly exciting. There was a time when England’s Test team was full of plodders that would end up getting selected for one-day cricket, now we live in an opposite reality, where success for England in ODIs is what gets you selected for the Test team.
While it is exciting, it is also a risk. Buttler’s Test career had moments of brilliance, but mostly it was entertaining failure. He doesn’t have a horrific record in Test cricket, he scored his runs at an average of 30 and managed five fifties in his 15 Tests, but he has not found a way to turn his phenomenal talent into consistent returns at Test level.
If Buttler does bat at four for England in India. there is a good chance he will be walking out to bat in the first few overs of the innings with England two wickets down with less than 10 runs on the board. While there is no doubting that Buttler has the ability to succeed at Test level, there is a huge difference in turning it into results.
The drive to have Buttler playing for England in every format is entirely understandable, he is a once-in-a-generation talent that can destroy opposition attacks. If Buttler bats as he is capable of for two sessions, England will rarely lose. But often the idea of something is a lot better than the reality.