What the Selectors Saw (Or Didn’t See) in Buttler

England have just named their squad for the first test against Pakistan. Gary Ballance has replaced Nick Compton and Toby Roland-Jones has been called up as Anderson is injured. I expect the lumbering Jake Ball to replace Jimmy in the final XI but you never know.

Ballance’s recall is something of a surprise, as he only averages 34 this season with a single ton. I’m not surprised about Roland-Jones however, because he plays for Middlesex (wink, wink).

I sense that people are worried about Ballance’s recall. I am too. Apparently he hasn’t changed his technique at all since Australia sent him packing last summer – which seems more than a little naïve (not to mention stubborn). However, it’s something of a relief that he won’t be batting at 3. Or is it?

Unfortunately the plan is to move Root up to 3 (even though he doesn’t want to bat there) because apparently that’s where the best player is supposed to bat. Excuse me for laughing out load. This particular theory is complete and utter b*ll**ks.

History tells us that the best player sometimes bats 3 but not always. Did Steve Waugh bat 3? Does Steve Smith bat 3? Does Younus Khan? Basically batsmen should bat in the position that suits them best. Joe Root is a world-class number 4 or 5 but a pretty average opener. Moving him to 3 therefore makes about as much sense as playing Rooney in midfield.

However, one thing I believe the selectors have got right – even though there’s much gnashing of teeth about this on social media – is the omission of Jos Butter (who was widely tipped for a recall).

Now we all know that Jos is a brilliant limited overs cricketer. He’s up there with KP as the best improviser and showman we’ve ever had. I’m a massive, massive fan. I also like the way Jos comes across in interviews. He seems likeable, modest, and I wish him all the best.

However, I’ve been completely underwhelmed by Jos’ test career. He doesn’t move his feet well, he plays with too much bottom hand, and he looked mentally fragile against both Australia last summer and Pakistan in the UAE. I also think he might have a potential weakness against the short ball.

The only time Jos has really impressed me in his 24 test innings was against New Zealand at Headingley last year, when he made a battling 73 in a losing cause. His other four test half-centuries have come against feeble Indian and West Indian attacks. Gary Balance scored centuries for fun against these guys.

Buttler’s last 12 test innings, against Australia and Pakistan (proper test attacks) reads as follows: 27, 7, 13, 11, 9, 12, 1, 42, 23, 4, 0, 7. That 7 was in the UAE in October last year. That’s the last time he actually played a first class game! Therefore it makes no sense to recall him against the same opposition that exposed him so ruthlessly the last time he put on whites.

The truth is, no matter how much we all love Jos, he didn’t really deserve a recall. There are far more deserving candidates in county cricket who have put in the hard yards this summer. In fact, some of these guys are much more deserving of a call up than Ballance too.

James Hildreth, who is possibly the best batsmen of modern times never to play for England, has scored 721 runs at an average of 72 this year. Scott Borthwick has scored 585 at 59 and Dawid Malan 468 at 52. There’s also some bloke called Ian Bell, who’s made 438 runs at 49.

I guess what many observers are doing, of course, is assuming that runs against a poor Sri Lankan team in ODIs will translate to test cricket against a far better attack. Pakistan are no mugs. Mohammad Amir and Wahab Riaz are world-class operators who eat technically frail batsmen for breakfast. I expect Alastair Cook might struggle against them, let alone a guy who hasn’t played first class cricket for eight months!

What’s more, we should recognise that Jos has always somewhat struggled in red ball cricket: he actually only averages 32 in first class cricket with just four hundreds. Of the other 18 regular keepers in the country, only John Simpson (31), Phil Mustard (30), Andy Hodd (28), Ben Cox (28), Mark Wallace (29), David Murphy (29) and Tom Poynton (19) average less than Jos. What’s more, Chris Read and James Foster, two excellent keepers who have been ignored by England because their batting supposedly isn’t good enough, both average 37.

Although I realise that Jos is supremely talented, and he might one day make it as a test player, I don’t think the time was right to recall him – unless he was being picked primarily as a keeper (which is a different argument). England fly to India this winter for what could be a very tricky tour. Jos has never looked the best player of spin, so I think it’s best he focuses on improving his technique for now.

James Morgan


  • Buttler isn’t a test player, and neither is Jason Roy, Eoin Morgan, Chris Jordan, or half of the rest of the limited overs squad.

    Alex Hales shouldn’t really be either as it compromises his T20 game, but we’re a bit stuck for options and he appears to have made a reasonable transition, for now.

  • Toby Roland-Jones is worthy of his place. Just thought I’d mention that. (I was born in the shadow of Lords).

    Couldn’t agree more about Root and Jos Buttler also. It’s a very strange selection. I’m still missing Bell and I wish they would select a proper wicket keeper.

    There is not a lot more to be said. We will have to see how it all turns out. I could do with a dose of Neil’s optimism. ?

    • I think Roland-Jones is a good bowler. Always have. But is he international quality? I’m not sure – unless he’s improved since I last saw him live.

      What surprises me is the timing of this call up. His bowling average in the championship this year is 29, which is worse than his overall career record (which is very good). Therefore, I’m not quite sure why he’s suddenly in the running now when he’s been in better form before but been ignored.

    • Toby Rowland-Jones is not worth a place and I agree entirely with James subtle(!) dig about Middlesex. I have watched several (but not all) of the potential bowling replacements this year including Ball and Rowland-Jones. Whilst Ball is interesting (but no more), Rowland-Jones is a gentle paced bowler who does a bit with the ball – making you wonder why Woakes, who was faster and got more movement to start with, was ordered to add pace. It seems to be one rule for some, another for others. I noticed the selectors comment about his wickets this season. If selection is on this basis why not Keith Barker who has more wickets at a much cheaper rate and 400 runs at 40 average (and he would provide leftie variety). I am not advocating Barker, but simply pointing out that some players, Barker included, must wonder if home club has become the main criterion for selection when T R-J gets the nod.

  • I think Roland-Jones is in the squad as cover for Ball who has a bit of an elbow injury. If he plays, he’ll be England’s first double-barreled player since Norman ‘Mandy’ MItchell-Innes in 1935. Mitchell-Innes made 5, didn’t bowl, dropped out of the next match with chronic hay fever and didn’t play again. He did live to the age of 92 though!

    • That fact that it’s his home ground might also have been a factor. Like James says… :) #Middx.

  • I’m glad ballance is in the squad. Yes he hasn’t set the world alight this season but, scoring runs in county cricket isn’t the only measure of a batsman. I have found it rather frustrating that we have in the last year tried guys who do not have as good a record as ballance and haven’t played test cricket before which is always risky. People like to write off ballance because they see his back and across method as timid, however, when he used to bat five he used it for increased fluency as it gives him a base to strike the ball. I expect him to bat 5 and I think he is perfect for the job.

    • I completely agree that Ballance is a natural 5. Number 3 just didn’t suit his game.

  • How funny is it too that ballance who averages 50 at 3 is told to change his technique whilst James Vince is told he has a brilliant technique. A technique is a method for scoring runs. Gary ballance scores runs, even when he is out of form…

  • Would Tymal Mills be worth a look? I know he has this potential career ending injury but surely, he could bowl, say 3 or 4 x 3 over spells in a day? He has a lot of talent – it’s a shame he can’t do Test cricket. Obviously he would need closely managing, but maybe Cook just isn’t the type of captain for that sort of stuff – or any stuff come to that. The Aussies managed Shaun Tait for a while before he wound down to T20 only.

    • It’s a good point. In a 5 man attack you can afford a shock bowler who only gives you 10 overs per day. The problem with Mills is that I don’t think he’s even available in 50 over cricket. His body is that fragile. It’s a shame.

    • No.
      It would be asking him to risk his career, I think.

      One of the reasons to be grateful for 20/20 is that it gives us a chance to see talents like Mills despite his injuries.

  • Ballance has been tried and found wanting – wouldn’t it be a better option to see what Borthwick could do? Another bowling alternative is hardly a drawback.

    I agree about Buttler and Hales in test cricket. Hales’s batting in ODIs has suffered from him trying to adjust to Test demands. Vince has a better technique, as I’ve said before, but I am beginning to doubt his mental toughness.

    • I forgot the wicket-keeping. Buttler is probably slightly better than Bairstow, though not as good a Test batsman. The last time I saw Foster keep (in a one-day match on TV – I can’t remember if it was 50 or 20 over) he had a bit of a nightmare; his reflexes are possibly not what they were. Who is the best pure keeper in English cricket at the moment?

  • It’s really simple. Top hand good technique + mental toughness is a run scoring recipe. Ballance hadn’t got it.

    As the team is in transition and held up by Root really in the top 5 (against top quality opposition) selectors must go for the longer term fix and nurture those with the right recipe so they can make the transition. Chopping and changing had never worked except to build negative and unnecessary psychological and media pressure to perform that few can withstand.

    That is what Lehmann did for Australia: he created the positive cocoon in which players (athletes) can perform well. Where is Vince?

    That said, people like Butler and Maxwell et al are specialist ODI players.

    Let’s not kid ourselves. 5 days is not the same as 50 overs, ever. And the long game is in transition on many levels just like England’s eleven. And we haven’t really discussed a post-Jimmy/Broad world, which to out it mildly is like Christchurch on a good day

  • I agree that Root should stay at 4. I also agree that Balance, although I like him as a bat, seems to be a no5 rather than no3. That means the real issue is finding a replacement for Compton. There is one solution which would solve this problem and another – Sam Billings. Billings has opened for Kent in the past and demonstrated decent technique against the new ball – I am not sure why he has tended to bat down the order more recently and I know he has played very little FC cricket this year, but good technique is more important. And, of course, Billings is a real keeper – not the top club standard of Bairstow and Buttler. Why not try Billings, either at 3 or in the old Alec Stewart role opening with Hales at 3. There is little to lose and much to gain if it works.


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