But­tler eyes chance to press fad­ing Test claims

The Observer - Sport - - SPORT | RUGBY LEAGUE - Stephen Brenk­ley

Barely a month to go be­fore Eng­land de­part for their Ashes de­fence and the mid­dle-or­der bat­ting is in a mess. Re­gard­less of whether it is of the selec­tors’ own mak­ing – and not all of it is – the play­ers sense it.

There are places still to play for and their feel­ing is that the one-day se­ries against West Indies, which starts on Tues­day, could yet play its part in who boards the plane for Aus­tralia. It has stirred Jos But­tler, for one, to con­tem­plate a win­ter in Aus­tralia rather than plane hop­ping round var­i­ous Twenty20 tour­na­ments.

“As we have seen, any for­mat of in­ter­na­tional cricket that you per­form in gives you a chance to be se­lected in other for­mats,” he said. “For a lot of guys this one-day se­ries is very good tim­ing, it’s be­fore a huge win­ter in all forms of the game and good per­for­mances won’t do you any harm.”

But­tler is a phe­nom­e­nal one-day crick­eter, a bats­man to com­pare with any in the world, the power, tim­ing and sheer tal­ent in­dis­putable. What­ever the old-fash­ioned purists cum cur­mud­geons may think, it is per­verse that he has not yet trans­lated these qual­i­ties into a sub­stan­tial body of work in the longer form.

First to be anointed as suc­ces­sor to Matt Prior in the Test side, But­tler was dropped in favour of Jonny Bairstow be­cause his bat­ting be­came so in­dif­fer­ent. Bairstow has seized the op­por­tu­nity and is prob­a­bly go­ing nowhere in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

With Ben Foakes of Sur­rey hotly tipped for the re­serve wick­et­keep­ing berth, it is pos­si­ble that the selec­tors have a longer term plan to pro­mote Bairstow in a frag­ile lineup and re­lieve him of the gloves. Still only 27, But­tler’s chances of res­ur­rect­ing his Test ca­reer may de­pend purely on his bat­ting (and, it has to be said, his stu­pen­dous field­ing).

Yet the key to longer form bat­ting has some­how eluded him. In a first-class ca­reer that be­gan in 2009 he has scored four hun­dreds, as many as he has in one­day in­ter­na­tion­als. In three matches this sum­mer, he has again strug­gled. “I have known my own game in one-day cricket for a num­ber of years,” he said. “In red­ball cricket it is still frus­trat­ingly some­thing I’m try­ing to work out.”

He is mildly equiv­o­cal on the mat­ter of the Ashes. There will be plenty of em­ploy­ment with­out the ten­sion, in the re­in­sti­tuted Bangladesh Premier League and per­haps in the Big Bash in Aus­tralia. “I was a child of the 2005 Ashes and that is still the best se­ries of cricket ever and I was part of an Ashes se­ries in 2015. For any English or Aus­tralian player you know what it’s all about and the Ashes is still the main thing.

“But there is so much ex­cit­ing cricket go­ing on world­wide now that you can be a part of. There is no point sit­ting at home wor­ry­ing about why you don’t get picked or feel­ing sorry for your­self.”

Short-form spe­cial­ist: Jos But­tler says he is still try­ing to work out red-ball cricket but has not given up hope of a Test re­call

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