Jos Buttler, arguably the most dynamic batsman England has produced, has insisted he still hopes for a return to Test cricket. With 18 Tests to his name and yet only six half-centuries, there is unfinished business with the red ball for the limited-overs vice-captain.
While he has a successful Ashes campaign to his name after 2015 – “not that I performed very well, but I’m lucky enough to have that” – Buttler admits to wanting more from the longest form of the game.
His statement comes a week after his ODI team-mates Adil Rashid and Alex Hales became the first two canaries down the white-ball-only mine, seeing how far their careers can go on limited-overs contracts at Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire respectively. The phrases bandied about after both announcements was that “more will follow”.
In an interview two weeks ago Buttler predicted a time when T20 may be cricket’s only format. Those comments led to suspicions he would be next. While admitting he has thought about adopting Rashid’s and Hales’s stance in the past, Buttler is content with the options now open to him.
“At the minute, I’m very happy with my situation,” he said. “It’s obviously the right decision for them, and an exciting decision for them. But for me at the moment, I’m quite happy.”
When pressed on whether that means he still harbours Test ambitions, he was affirmative and pragmatic: “Yes, it does. I haven’t played a great deal of red-ball cricket recently. Whether that opportunity comes [depends on] performance.
“I think at the back-end of this year I’ll be available for quite a lot of Championship cricket – so if I’m going to get back in that’s when I need to score runs.”
For many, there will be comfort in Buttler’s words: a player with the franchise world at his feet still pining for five days of grind. His point about needing domestic red-ball cricket to get him back into contention is not necessarily one that has applied to him in the past: dropped from the Test side in October 2015, he returned in November 2016 against India, despite playing only one first-class match for Lancashire, against Middlesex, scoring 16 and 26.
At present Buttler averages 31 in Tests, in keeping with his body of work in the first-class game. But there is scope to put across a more compelling case for the Test tours to Sri Lanka and West Indies next winter.
He is away for the start of the summer with Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League and, should they make the final on 27 May, will only return to the UK and move directly into preparation for England’s 13 limited‑overs games against Scotland, Australia and India. The last of those – an ODI against India – takes place on 17 July, theoretically freeing Buttler for Lancashire’s final six Championship matches.
Wednesday sees England walk out at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui for the first time, needing to cancel out New Zealand’s opening win in Hamilton on Sunday. Victory by three wickets in the first ODI put the hosts 1-0 up in the five-match series.
Buttler, top-scoring with 79, his 15th ODI half‑century, was a bright spot. So, too, the return of Ben Stokes: the all‑rounder’s two for 43 almost turning the match in his first international appearance in five months. “It’s fantastic to have him back,” Buttler said. “Having got that one game out of the way, he’ll go from strength to strength throughout the series. Just having him back around is a great asset to the group.”
England’s close-fielding was slack in defeat and among the areas requiring improvement. The dimensions and slick outfields of these boutique grounds require immaculate standards. “Defending the boundary and shot-stopping in the ring – that’s an area we need to improve,” Buttler said.
Mark Wood, who missed the match after complaining of soreness in his troublesome left ankle, went for a precautionary scan on Monday. It is likely he will sit out the second ODI, too.