I don’t care much for high fashion. People who wear trendy stuff look like try hards. They’re suckers too. Why invest in something (and pay over the odds) just because it boasts a certain label and fits a fad? Call me old fashioned but I measure true value on whether something does its job well enough and how long it lasts.
I might be a boring traditionalist – I’m not exactly Prada and Armani’s target audience – but I use the same criteria when judging batsmen. Longevity at the crease matters most. And one should judge players on their productivity rather than anything else.
I’m rather perplexed, therefore, that Jos Buttler has not only retained his place for the Test series against the West Indies; England’s management have actually doubled down by making him vice captain. It’s as if they’re deliberately trolling cantankerous middle-aged sods like me.
Jos is still very much in vogue and there’s nothing me, you, Ben Foakes, or anyone else can do about it. Ed Smith and Chris Silverwood obviously don’t care that the case for Buttler’s inclusion is, like a crap Ralph Lauren miniskirt, skimpy at best.
People who’ve read TFT for a long time will know that I’ve got nothing against Buttler. I think he’s the best white ball player that England have ever had. I was initially against his recall to the Test team but began to change my mind after he learned to knuckle down and occupy the crease as 2018 progressed.
However, I’ve now lost faith again. Buttler was exposed by the Aussies’ high class pace attack for the second time in his career last summer, and it’s time to move on. He’s averaged just 23 in his last 13 Tests. Michael Carberry averaged 29 in 6 Tests against an even better Australian pace attack down under and was discarded forever.
But Carberry’s face didn’t fit. Buttler’s obvious does. In fact, Buttler’s face fits so well that England’s management just can’t bear to take him off. When he failed as a specialist batsman the selectors did everything possible to keep him in the team by making him wicket-keeper again – even though he’s clearly not one of the best ten keepers in the country. He might not be in the top twenty.
Yesterday England named 27 players for a 3-day warm-up game ahead of the Windies series. Four wicket-keeper batsmen were included (I don’t count Ollie Pope). Here are their first class batting averages: Bairstow 44, Ben Foakes 38, James Bracey 35, and Jos Buttler 32. Buttler therefore has the least impressive record.
But batting isn’t everything, of course. Purists would rather England picked the best keeper. Sadly, this isn’t Jos Buttler either. In fact, many judges would say that Foakes is the best, followed by Bairstow, Bracey, and then Buttler in last place again. Given Jos’s recent struggles in Test cricket, his inclusion therefore makes it rather difficult to argue that the England cricket team is a meritocracy.
Although Buttler has leadership skills – he looks the part and talks nicely which always goes down well in ECB circles – it’s getting harder and harder for Ed Smith to keep backing the signature selection of his tenure. Buttler simply has to start producing.
With Joe Root missing the first test to attend the birth of this child, I’ve heard it argued that England need Buttler’s experience and leadership skills. I’m not buying this though. Any team containing Stuart Broad and James Anderson has plenty of knowhow and wherewithal.
I’ve also heard it suggested that Buttler has been retained for the sake of continuity i.e. the men in possession should keep their places for now. Hmmmm. Let’s see whether they ditch Dom Bess for Moeen Ali first.
The other big news, of course, is that Ben Stokes will captain the side. Some of you will have mixed feelings about this but I don’t have a major issue with it. You can’t very well make someone official vice captain and then hand the reins to someone else when the regular skipper is out. What’s more, I don’t want to get into yet another discussion about events in Bristol. I’ve had a call from Ben Stokes’s lawyer in the past so please be careful what you write in the comments folks.
If you’d like to watch the warm-up game, which will be a Ben Stokes XI (well, 13 players to be exact) against Buttler’s XI (well, 14 players) then coverage will be available via the ECB website. It should be quite an interesting affair – not least because there’s genuine competition in the bowling department.
For the first time since, I really have no idea when, England’s three genuinely fast bowlers are all fit. Olly Stone, Mark Wood, and Jofra Archer are all set to play. What’s more, Zak Crawley, Joe Denly, Jonny Bairstow, and promising new boy Dan Lawrence will be competing for two batting places in the skipper’s absence. Who will bat at 3 and 4 in Root’s absence?
All eyes will be on the spinners too. My prediction? Bess and Leach will out-bowl Moeen but the latter will get the nod for the first Test anyway. Why? Because of reasons. The same reasons why Jos Buttler is (a) in the team, and (b) vice captain.
Neither player has produced in an England shirt for some time. And that’s a problem. England shirts are in danger of becoming must-have apparel that are only modelled by a select ‘chosen’ few.