The planned Test Series between England and the West Indies, which was originally scheduled to take place between 4-29 June, has been saved from cancellation with three matches set to go ahead in July. Attention now turns to the form of key players heading into the series, with particular pressure on the shoulders of Jos Buttler.
— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) June 3, 2018
Buttler, still one of England’s finest short-form players, has been struggling with the bat in Test cricket for some time; averaging just 25.1 runs per innings in 2019. By way of comparison, Buttler averaged 47.6 runs per innings in one-day internationals last year, as he helped lead England to World Cup glory. Such is his mastery of the short-form of the game, the England selectors have been desperate to replicate his success in the Test arena. Having made his debut in 2014, however, and with an overall test average of 31.74 runs, patience may be beginning to wear thin.
Jonny Bairstow, his long-time rival for the role of wicket-keeper, has not inspired much confidence with his form with the bat in recent years – but the England selectors retain a great deal of faith in him. After he was dropped for the Test series against New Zealand in 2019, the national selector Ed Smith said, “I think there’s a real opportunity for him to reset and focus on how he can go about becoming that really top Test match player.” His subsequent recall for the Winter series against South Africa illustrates the regard in which he is held and, although he has played in numerous Tests alongside Buttler, the selectors may feel that there is only room for one out-of-form wicket-keeper batsman.
Despite this, a series against a West Indies side ranked 8th in the world, without a Test series victory in England since 1988, and with three key players declining to take part in the tour, should offer Buttler plenty of room for optimism as it presents a golden opportunity to regain the blistering form he is capable of.
England’s expected dominance is certainly reflected in the latest cricket betting; where they are 1/3 to take victory in the first Test, beginning on 8th July. With no crowds allowed during this series, Buttler can hope to play without spectator pressure, and re-discover the level of Test match batting which led him to his highest score of 106 against India at Trent Bridge in 2018.
Buttler himself believes the delayed start to this series may have long-term benefits to the physical and mental health of the players. An indication perhaps that he feels re-energised by the break and ready for the intense demands of Test cricket. A highly-regarded figure, former England captain Alastair Cook has described Buttler’s talents as ‘unrivalled’, whilst the current ODI captain Eoin Morgan has called him a ‘freakish’ batsman with a ‘gear not many others have’.
There is no doubting the mercurial talent of Jos Buttler, and the England selectors understandably want to give him every chance to fulfil his extraordinary ability at Test level. But make-or-break time is now on the horizon, and it may well arrive in this Test series.