New Delhi: While most of the names in England's squad for the first Test against Pakistan were along expected lines, a couple stood out. Dom Bess, a 20-year-old off-spinner from Somerset who has played just 16 first-class games, was one of them, while the other was that of Jos Buttler.
“It was quite a lot of a surprise,” Buttler admitted during an interaction on Monday. “It (Test cricket) wasn't particularly on my radar. But, through a change of selectors, I've been afforded an incredible opportunity. It's a fantastic surprise and an incredible opportunity. It feels like another debut, really.”
Buttler, a regular in the England one-day international and Twenty20 International teams, last played a Test back in December 2016 against India in Chennai. The numbers from 18 Test matches weren’t great, unlike in limited-overs cricket, but Buttler had even considered quitting white-ball cricket to focus on the long format.
From England’s point of view, with Jonny Bairstow doing the wicket-keeper batsman’s job extremely well in Test cricket, Buttler was out of the picture.
Until now, following Ed Smith taking charge as national selector.
Bairstow is still there, set to bat at No.5 and don the big gloves against Pakistan at Lord’s, while Buttler is slotted to come in at No.7.
Till the other day, 27-year-old Buttler was smashing bowling attacks at the Indian Premier League 2018 for Rajasthan Royals. Now, he will be out in England’s whites, getting ready to play his first first-class game since September 2017 – he doesn’t have a century since 2014 in first-class cricket, a format he averages 31.51 in.
“I wasn't resigned to not playing Tests again, but I was very aware that it might never happen,” said Buttler. “I knew I was going to be available for a lot of Championship cricket for Lancashire at the end of the summer, so that was a real focus of mine for targeting red-ball cricket. But you always think that maybe that race is run and it will never happen again.”
Buttler's Test numbers don't do justice to the kind of talent he possesses. In 18 matches, between July 2014 and December 2016, he has scored 784 runs at 31.36 with a highest score of 85 that came on debut against India in Southampton.
But Buttler has remained a staunch supporter of Test cricket and has expressed his desire to make a mark in the five-day format on more than one occasion in the past.
“Test cricket is the ultimate format and I think it always will be for players of my generation,” said Buttler. “You get that feeling talking to everyone – they still feel Test cricket is best. Virat Kohli signing for Surrey to get used to playing in England shows that Test cricket is still at the forefront of players' minds. It's still the pinnacle.”
Though away from the red ball, Buttler has been in outstanding form coming into the first Test. His numbers for Rajasthan, where he scored 548 runs in 13 outings – including five half-centuries on the trot – is proof of his touch.
Confirming that he has been asked to play a similar brand of attacking cricket in the Test match as well, Buttler hopes that he is able let his instincts flourish.
“Hopefully I can entertain. From the conversations I've had with Joe Root, the captain, and Ed Smith, the selector, they very much want me to play the way that suits me and in the fashion they believe will get the best out of me in that No. 7 role. They want me to play in the way I play in white-ball games,” he said.
“For me, it's about expressing myself, trusting my instincts and allowing that to flourish rather than fighting it. I'm not just going to go out there and slog, but I am going to try to be positive. There have been some great cricketers from all generations who have done it their own way. That's what's been asked of me – to play in a way that suits me.”
England haven't had the best of times in red-ball cricket over the past few months. They lost the Ashes 4-0 in Australia and then went down 1-0 in a two-Test series in New Zealand.
A lot of England's problems in Test cricket recently have stemmed from their fragile top-order batting, which has led to Smith dropping James Vince and Root moving up to No.3 for the Lord’s Test.
With Moeen Ali out too, Buttler's selection is set to lengthen the batting order and provide it some impetus.
Smith, while announcing the squad, had said that Buttler's ‘unique gifts’ as an attacking batsman were the reason for him getting the nod over some other contenders.
“Overwhelmingly, we felt a player of his unique gifts, the way he is playing at the moment and what he brings to the team as a destructive batsman, as a fantastic competitive presence, as a dynamic athlete, as someone who has leadership skills innate in him and as someone playing with such confidence and flair, we all felt this was the right time to reintroduce Jos to the Test team and I am very excited about him,” said Smith at the time of announcing the squad.
Buttler has a job on his hands, then, as England plot a turnaround in their Test cricket fortunes ahead of what is set to be a busy and tough summer.