Ben Jones reflects on a day which was dominated by two of the most talented men in the world game.
We are constantly told about how Test cricket is a test of temperament, of character, and of mental strength. Yet at times, talent is all that matters, and today was certainly one of those days. Two players whose natural ability and flair isn’t always illustrated in their material returns put their mark on the match. Mohammad Amir and Jos Buttler defined the two major passages of play, the England collapse and their subsequent fightback.
The undoubted moment of the day was Amir’s dismissal of Jonny Bairstow. The ball which Amir sent down was magical, bowling a high-quality Test batsman through the gate, but the set up was just as impressive.
The previous ball was 143kph, or 89mph in old money. It swung just 0.5°, and seamed just 0.1°, so naturally Bairstow was setting himself for speed rather than movement. The wicket ball was then pitched 20cm wider than the previous, two metres fuller, and 9kph slower. Bairstow, who scores at 4.44rpo hitting the seamers through cover, could easily have mistaken the ball for a scoring opportunity. The fact that it swung in to arrive there complicates matters for him, the natural angle of the ball heading back in, working against the left-armer approach angle across him.
Then the ball landed, and seamed back in 1.8°. In the entire game, Amir has not found more seam movement than he did in that delivery. Jagging back into Bairstow, it went past the bat and clean bowled him.
It was a wonderful, thrilling reminder of Amir’s natural ability. He may only average 34.36 since his return to the international game, but his allure and appeal is clear – he’s a cricketer of moments, of breathtaking deliveries. His talent comes across best in individual instances of outrageous skill.
Of course, it didn’t help that the recipient of the demon ball was England’s wicket-keeper. In his first stint in Test cricket, six of Jonny Bairstow’s 14 dismissals against pace were LBW or bowled. He returned to the fold with a significantly different technique, wielding his bat high above his hips allowing him to come down on the ball more securely.
Yet recently, the issue has returned. In 2018 he’s averaging 7.00 to balls on his stumps from the quicks, and as the graphic below shows, it’s been an issue in England for a while. All of the bells and whistles of swing and seam were in many ways not necessary. As shown in the graphic below, the ball was bang in Bairstow’s dangerzone.
Bairstow’s dismissal had many calling the game as good as over, but England’s No.7 had other ideas. The other outstanding performance on Day 3 was a restrained, elegant half-century from Jos Buttler, vindicating his return to the team within one match of his return.
His half-century showcased the naturally attacking intent of his white-ball skills, attacking 31% of his deliveries, above the Test average of 24%. Yet this was allied with control and solid execution, his 9% false shots well below the average of 15% for the match.
On top of this excellent execution in attack, Buttler showed admirable patience. He left 21% of his deliveries, the most of any of his last 10 Test innings. In tough circumstances, he showed an ability to tough it out against an attack which undoubtedly sensed blood.
But was it really ever in question, Buttler’s red-ball ability? Sure, his Test record is patchy, but only one man has come into the side since his dropping and recorded a better average (Haseeb Hameed, who’s unable to break back into the side). If Test batting is built on a solid defence, then his record stands with the best – he’s dismissed every 158 defensive shots, compared to the average of 74. He is a batsman of unbelievable class in white-ball cricket, who has the potential to make an effective Test cricketer, and today he showed the restraint and poise to come good on that potential.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.