World Cup

India vs England: Jos Buttler game for small, but significant, role

In ‘normal’ times, Jos Buttler, England’s first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman in long-form cricket, would have featured in all four Tests in India. But as things stand, he will be rested for the final three, only to return for the subsequent five-match T20I series. With a spot in the World Test Championship final theoretically still up for grabs (England need to blank India 3-0 to stand a chance), and given the squad’s inexperience of playing in India, wouldn’t the visitors be better served having Buttler for the entire duration of the Test series? A combination of factors seems to have prompted the selectorial call.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) believes the upcoming T20I series gives them the perfect opportunity to prepare, fine-tune their skills, and chart a blueprint for the T20 World Cup, scheduled in India later this year. This is why they have yielded to their limited-overs captain Eoin Morgan’s request to have their strongest squad for this leg of the tour. Buttler being vital to England’s T20 World Cup hopes, it’s no secret they want him fresh at the back-end of the India sojourn.

While this may seem like a pragmatic approach, there are many who reckon that Buttler, a seasoned IPL regular, would get hardened and battle-ready for the ICC event by facing some of the finest Indian and international recruits in the T20 league. “I think the IPL does give you familiarity with the wickets. If you haven’t faced someone like Jasprit Bumrah, who has a bit of unique action, it can be a bit of a problem. It takes some (time) getting used to it,” Buttler said during a virtual press conference from Chennai.

Preparation for big event

Even as he spelt out the benefits of playing in the IPL, the five-match T20 series against India, Buttler argued, is equally important, since it gives a relatively young team ample time to gel together and get familiarised with their respective roles.

“We had a very settled team during the ODI World Cup, as guys had played for a long period of time, and I think that was a huge plus for us going into that tournament. As far as this T20 side is concerned, we haven’t had time to play together as a group and get familiarised in the respective roles, so to play against a brilliant side like India gives us the perfect preparation for the World T20,” he said.

Buttler defended England’s rotation policy, which he says was necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic and a packed international schedule. While terming India-England as one of the premier series in a cricketing calendar, he said fielding the strongest playing XI every game wasn’t possible in these uncertain times.

“You want your strongest team out every time, but unfortunately, that doesn’t seem possible at the moment… It’s certainly a challenge but people around the world are going through tough situations. You do find it challenging having to stay away from your families, being in quarantine and locked up in hotels. ECB has been forward-thinking in rotating players for this series,” he explained.

On a professional level, Buttler would have loved to have played a longer role in the Test series against India, given that he is in the midst of a rich vein of batting form in red-ball cricket. He conjured up a career-resurrecting 152 against Pakistan in Southampton in the final Test of the English summer, followed by significant knocks of 55 and 46 not out in the second Test against Sri Lanka at Galle. He was equally proficient behind the stumps, accounting for nine catches and a stumping in the two-Test series there.

Perspective is everything

Getting rotated out of the Test squad could surely hamper his momentum, but Buttler isn’t perturbed. If anything, he looks at the positives. “It’s certainly a challenge but people around the world are going through tough situations. The pandemic has had people whose world has been turned upside down and we are very fortunate to play cricket and do our job that we love,” the flamboyant stroke-player chimed.

The 30-year-old is confident that England can pull off an upset against a buoyant Indian team in its own backyard. For that, they will seek inspiration from their success on these shores eight years ago, when they won 2-1. Buttler underscored the need to bat for long durations and recalibrate their target totals if they wanted to test the Indian bowlers.

“There are times when the ball seams and swings in England and a big first-innings score can be 300,” he said, adding: “But in India, if it’s a fantastic batting wicket then a good score in the first innings is 600-650. (Captain Joe) Root was a good example of us doing that in Sri Lanka with a double hundred and a 180 (186). He showed us that you have to make the most of your first innings.”

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