Are you enjoying the first Test? I certainly hope so. Here’s Abhijato’s latest musings to add to the festivities …
Buttler and Pant sounds like the name of a sitcom which never takes off.
In this hypothetical show, Rishabh will be the Indian still getting used to life as he takes up a job at the local police station. ‘He’s got heart,’ a senior officer would declare before taking retirement – an ice-cool leader called MS – who did the same job Pant is now about to continue.
‘He needs to have the temperament too,’ someone will point out.
‘Don’t worry, he’ll grow one with time.’
And to accompany our protagonist would be another man. An agent of the game more experienced and more world-weary, but still young enough to be learning the ropes of the profession himself. ‘What’s a Buttler doing in a police officer’s clothes?’ the antagonist with a questionable sense of humour would ask to undeserved applause from the studio audience.
And then, the titular duo would turn to the camera and ask, ‘But aren’t audiences banned for the first two Tests?’
Some critics will love this for its metanarrative threads and self-awareness in the middle of an existential crisis for humanity; others will call it pretentious. But what none would see coming is how soon this partnership will end – the Buttler will have to leave production after the pilot episode, after all.
A lot has been made of the context surrounding the upcoming series between India and England, but not much has been said about Buttler and Pant. This is in part because of the former’s early departure which will open up a spot in the for Ben Foakes after almost two years. The prodigal son shall return despite doing no wrong. And no matter what he does, he knows he’ll be out of the production’s priority list once the main man shows up again.
A similar parallel can be drawn in the Indian camp. While the immediate plan of the management remains different – which offers no respite to their precociously talented keeper-batsman Rishabh Pant – the side-lining of Wriddhiman Saha is considered blasphemous by many Test pursits.
The Indians had devised a clear strategy over the past two years. Rishabh Pant would be the one keeping abroad, whenever the pitches would favour seam more than spin. He has always been more comfortable keeping to pace bowlers than to the tweakers. And while this strategy has never been complied with completely – both Saha and Pant have played in the same series, like their last one too – there is going to be a changing of gloves from the elderly domestic statesman to the young superstar in the upcoming series.
Rishabh Pant won’t be playing as a specialist batsman since India prefer playing five bowlers at home. He simply needs to make it work with the gloves on his hands to justify keeping them. All eyes shall be set on him – if he doesn’t compensate for the occasional dropped catch or sloppy leave allowing the batsmen to steal a bye, it won’t be long before the local media starts calling for his head again.
It is no secret that Pant is the darling of the Indian team at the best of times, and the villain at the worst of times. He is more than an unwitting scapegoat. Saha remains an asset to an Indian side which let go of his prime years in favour of playing MS Dhoni in all formats of the game. Pant has a long time to figure out what he wants to do, some critics will opine. Keep him as an understudy to Saha in the subcontinental nets and utilise his world-class skills while he’s still around.
While there remains merit to the argument, it doesn’t find any support on the back of Pant’s momentous tour of Australia, where he came close to winning the match for his team in the second Test, and actually winning it for them in a finale for the ages. He is here to stay. Hopefully, the management considers his growth in temperament while evaluating the merits of giving him as long a rope – or a videotape – as he needs to deliver the perfect shots.
Pant’s English counterpart Buttler has a similar security which he will be giving up to head back home for reasons no one can fault him for citing. Foakes is a Sahaesque keeper-extraordinaire, pushed to the sidelines for no fault of his own, like an Emmy Award winner relegated to cameos in the aforementioned show. Buttler has grown to the lead’s role now. For the better or for worse, the show will be fundamentally changed if he leaves.
And he will, which necessitates asking – Will Pant and Buttler survive this extreme reboot even before it was able to get on its feet?
‘Give ‘em their own show, these two characters. Call it Saha and Foakes,’ a producer will eventually call up Silverwood Productions to suggest. Two shows will mean more episodes to put out for an expectant world, and more money to earn along the way. ‘They’re the perfect people for a period piece. Or a show where they’re trapped inside a satire without knowing it.’
‘That’s a nice idea. But India A and England Lions won’t be playing each other anytime soon.’
‘Crikkit? What’s that?’
‘You watch football, don’t you?’
‘I call it soccer.’
‘Of course you do.’
The executive on the other side of the phone will put down his receiver now. He’ll look back at his director and ask, ‘Hey Joe, you think Foakes will be able to compete with Pant for screen time?’
Mr Root will smile with the confidence of a man on top of the world. ‘He’ll be just fine.’
Still feel if Buttler goes through a bad time Foakes will be the bridesmaid as Bairstow looks like he’s now returned to the red ball fold. Presently though both are batting pretty well at test level and with such an inexperienced top order you need that balance of experience. Will never understand why a specialist position is compromised in cricket. In rugby, specialists like scrum halves are rarely replaced by a non specialist and in footie you never replace a keeper with a non specialist alternative to increase your outfield potential on the subs bench, so why do we do it in cricket, especially when spin, the most testing of all bowling for keepers is going to play a major part. Jack of all trades has never worked at test level. England side’s historically are littered with their wreckage. Having a positive attitude will not help you develop the survival mentality which is so often crucial in test cricket. Quick 20’s and 30’s rarely make a significant impact in the red ball game. Getting in and then getting out is a greater sin than getting out early for a top batsman. With all their experience can we ever trust a Buttler or a Bairstow not to throw their wickets away in tight situations. Gooch showed the way by becoming equally adept at attacking or defending, as the situation demanded. I see little sign of Buttler or Bairstow coming to terms with their defensive frailties, whereas Stokes has worked hard at tightening his technique, so it’s perfectly possible even in today’s mix and match to adapt your approach.
I agree with this, especially your comments on Stokes. I admire players who work on their game and, if necessary, reinvent themselves. Going back in time, Amiss did so spectacularly, as did Gooch and, as you say, Stokes. I would also put Sibley in that category : he’s really working at his game and improving all the time.
Also, let’s have a big shout out for Silverwood for rejuvenating Root. Root looks a totally different individual since he took over from the hapless Bayliss and much of that is down to management, both on and off the field.
Yes it’s good to see such a rarity as Sibley coming good, especially as a Warwickshire man who saw him come on the scene with good red ball technique and then have it messed about by Giles and his white ball philosophy, so he ended up working everything to leg and finding off side play more difficult. He seems to be rediscovering a more all round game, though his off side scoring is still restricted. He’s always had a good temperament for red ball cricket though.