India may be on the brink of victory, but today was all about Jos Buttler – Ben Jones reflects on the white ball specialist’s breakthrough Test innings.
Batting is all about balance. Balance between attack and defence, balance between your front foot and your back foot, between straight and square.
In Test cricket, Jos Buttler hasn’t always been able to find that balance.
In 2014, his first Test innings saw him batter 85 (83) against India, coming in with England well set, and he set about putting the icing on the cake. He played 33% attacking shots, well above the average for Test cricket, and generally batted like we all imagined Jos Buttler would in a Test match; the same way he did in ODIs.
After that rollocking start to his career, he found that the approach wouldn’t reap long-term rewards, and wound it back. In the 2015 Ashes, he scored slower than Ian Bell, Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali. His USP had diminished. He was batting how he thought he should.
Today, he batted like all imagined like Jos Buttler could.
He found a happier medium, leaving 26% of the deliveries bowled to him. None of the last 30 Test centuries made by Englishman have been made with such a high leave percentage. That’s a sequence which dates all the way back to Adam Lyth’s century against New Zealand, over three years ago. That’s an astonishing achievement for a man who until recently was almost absent from the red-ball game.
Yet he has retained that essential Buttler-ness. He will always be an attacking player, still a strokemaker who scores at a confident lick. That can’t – and shouldn’t – be coached out of him. In this innings, he scored 84 of his runs in boundaries, the equal most fours ever for a Test century. His technique was simple – leave the good balls, punish the bad ones. The right balance.
Indeed, since returning to the side he’s been hovering around it. His recall has, without question, been a success. He’s significantly improved as a player – his average in 2018 is 47.28, compared to 31.36 before being dropped – and has made continual contributions. He’s top scored in half of England’s innings. Since May, he’s played and missed at 4.9% of the balls he’s faced, the lowest figure for any England batsman. If England wanted him to add more control to his game, then he’s done exactly what they wanted, but whilst staying true to his instincts – in these last few months, nobody in England’s top six has attacked a higher percentage of their deliveries than Buttler’s 27%.
Twice this year, Buttler has seemed to take all the pressure on himself. Perhaps, when the commentariat default to the negative when discussing the effect of T20 batting, we can also nod and agree that it does teach players how to deal with pressure. It’s hard to argue that batting for Rajasthan this season, with tens of thousands of people staring on, is a less pressured environment than the dignified obscurity of the County Championship. When Buttler was batting at Old Trafford, shepherding the tail to seal England’s ODI whitewash of Australia, he never looked flustered, nor did he today.
It underlines why Buttler is a talent worth investing in. England aren’t flush with batsmen of any form, and are in no position to turn their noses up at someone like Buttler – because as today’s shown, the potential ceiling for his Test ability is huge. If this is Buttler’s arrival at a balance between attack and defence, then he could be about to explode in terms of run-scoring. Today could be a turning point for arguably the most talented English batsman of all time. That’s something to be excited about.
Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.