Self­less But­tler needs to find the right gear

Eng­land will stand by their keeper in the hope he builds on his soli­tary Test cen­tury by adding pa­tience to his tal­ent

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cricket - By Scyld Berry CHIEF CRICKET WRITER

Not since the 1980s have Eng­land tol­er­ated a wick­et­keeper av­er­ag­ing less than 20 with the bat. Yet in the seven Tests since he was of­fi­cially in­stalled in­stead of Jonny Bairstow, Jos But­tler has av­er­aged 18.

So, But­tler could do with a good third Test at Emi­rates Old Traf­ford in three ways: with the bat, with the gloves, and with the re­sult, ie Eng­land win and re­gain the Wis­den Tro­phy. But even if none even­tu­alises, But­tler could still hang on to his place: it was the same na­tional se­lec­tor, Ed Smith, who in 2018 of­fered Bairstow the poi­soned chal­ice of bat­ting at No5, when no keeper had ever made reg­u­lar runs so high ex­cept Zim­babwe’s Andy Flower, to make room for But­tler’s Test re­call.

It is one of the mys­ter­ies of this age that a bats­man so tal­ented as But­tler has gone to the wicket 77 times in a Test and scored only one more cen­tury than most of you and I would have done. Some­times he has been the wick­et­keeper, some­times a spe­cial­ist bats­man; some­times he has made a coun­ter­at­tack­ing 50 which has been as ef­fec­tive as a hun­dred in chang­ing the course of a match. Nev­er­the­less, a sin­gle Test hun­dred, and But­tler is only a cou­ple of months from turn­ing 30, and the graph is head­ing down­ward.

Too of­ten But­tler has been self­less in the in­ter­ests of the Eng­land team as he has per­ceived them, do­ing him­self and his av­er­age no good. The typ­i­cal But­tler Test in­nings has been a quick 30, in­clud­ing a six that has soared miles, as Eng­land’s tail has been blown away. Most of his pre­de­ces­sors would have opted for hold­ing up an end, hop­ing to find a tail-en­der to stick around and, if noth­ing else, a neat not-out 20.

Be­lat­edly, But­tler seems to have re­alised he has to play him­self in for the first 20 balls be­fore un­leash­ing. He has tried bat­ting in Tests as he does in white-ball in­ter­na­tion­als, but only Ben Stokes is good enough to blast Test bowl­ing from ball one. Spoilt for choice in hav­ing so many gears, But­tler has yet to work out how to use them.

But­tler vol­un­teered to open last Sun­day evening, and dragged on for a duck. It was the same mis­take Eng­land made in the fi­nal ses­sion of the Abu Dhabi Test of 2015: when time, not the num­ber of overs, de­ter­mines the amount of bat­ting Eng­land have, send in a pair of right-handers or of left-handers. Do not mix them, be­cause it gives the op­pos­ing cap­tain the ex­cuse to waste even more time by chang­ing the field and costs an over or two.

The stan­dard of English wick­et­keep­ing has be­come so high – much credit to Bruce French, the keep­ing coach, the one who av­er­aged 18 back in the late 1980s – that most Test se­ries pass with­out Eng­land’s keeper miss­ing a catch stand­ing back; per­haps one drop a year.

What dif­fer­en­ti­ates keep­ers is the turn­ing pitch, which this one is likely to be, by English stan­dards.

In his last game on a turner, at Port El­iz­a­beth last win­ter, But­tler had a shocker – 16 byes – when keep­ing to the off-breaks of Dom Bess and Joe Root, hardly mys­tery spin­ners.

But­tler since then has cor­rected his mis­take – he would not bend down low enough – and has changed his set-up when stand­ing up, so that he now touches the ground with his gloves be­fore ev­ery ball, to make him­self stay down.

Keep­ers of­fer dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties as they be­come the ful­crum of their side in the field. Some of­fer bus­tle and en­ergy in the style pi­o­neered by God­frey Evans, such as David and Jonny Bairstow, or Matt Prior. Oth­ers em­u­late Alan Knott, such as Ben Foakes or Jack Russell or James Foster, and pol­ish their team’s out­cricket by mak­ing a wild throw melt into their gloves: th­ese are the keep­ers be­got­ten not made. No data can quan­tify the im­pact of this chore­og­ra­phy, or bal­let, but it has to be valu­able in sat­is­fy­ing spec­ta­tors and daunt­ing op­po­nents.

But­tler does nei­ther. Of course he makes his catches and takes throws tidily enough. The value he adds be­hind the stumps is the ad­vice to his cap­tain and the quiet en­cour­age­ment to bowlers and field­ers. He is one of Eng­land’s Test tri­umvi­rate with Root and Stokes, as sig­nalled when he was made vice-cap­tain to Stokes in Southamp­ton.

But Eng­land can­not for­ever make do with twen­ties and thir­ties from their keeper/bat: the side lack a core. They had one when there were three world-class all-rounders, but in the past cou­ple of years only Stokes has kicked on, while Moeen Ali has fallen by the way­side and Bairstow has been shunted around, then omit­ted. He was av­er­ag­ing twice as many runs as But­tler of late, un­til that which did not have to be fixed was bro­ken.

All-too fa­mil­iar: Jos But­tler is bowled by West Indies’ Alzarri Joseph dur­ing the first Test for nine runs

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