But­tler de­serves an­chor role after su­perb counter-at­tack

Bats­man is still learn­ing to play Test game but should stay in the No6 spot after an­other re­silient dis­play

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Fourth Specsavers Test - Scyld Berry CRICKET COR­RE­SPON­DENT at the Ageas Bowl

Jos But­tler has given Eng­land straws to which they can cling on the fourth day of this fourth Test, by top-scor­ing for the fourth time in his coun­try’s 10 Test in­nings this sum­mer. Thanks to But­tler and Sam Cur­ran build­ing on the grunt-work done by the up­per or­der in wear­ing down the bowlers, Eng­land could even be in the as­cen­dant if the fore­cast cloud re­turns for In­dia’s run chase.

Eng­land’s Test line-up may re­sem­ble ever more closely a suc­ces­sion of square pegs in round holes, but two el­e­ments crys­tallised dur­ing their hard-fought, if far from glam­orous, sec­ond in­nings. One is that Joe Root has to be al­lowed to bat in his favoured po­si­tion of No4, and the other that But­tler has to bat at six.

Not so clear is where Jonny Bairstow fits in, once the mid­dle finger of his left hand has re­cov­ered. But Bairstow him­self could hardly have made more ap­par­ent his dis­taste for be­ing a spe­cial­ist bats­man: one swish and he was gone, dis­en­chanted, in an ex­per­i­ment which can­not be al­lowed to con­tinue when the Oval Test starts on Fri­day. Bairstow is wounded men­tally as well as phys­i­cally by not be­ing Eng­land’s wick­et­keeper­bats­man.

But­tler, on the other hand, is a less com­pli­cated in­di­vid­ual. He is still learn­ing the process of play­ing him­self in against Test bowl­ing, has yet to dis­ci­pline him­self when tempted by the ball out­side off stump at the out­set but, once in, But­tler has scored happy runs whether he is keep­ing wicket or not. As in­deed he should score runs, bat­ting down the or­der in a sum­mer where the new ball has swung im­pos­si­bly for open­ing bats­men, and as Eng­land’s vice-cap­tain.

Con­sis­tency is never go­ing to be the hall­mark or yard­stick of a swash­buck­ler: what mat­ters is the num­ber of match-win­ning in­nings he plays.

In his six Tests since his re­turn to Eng­land’s side, But­tler has played at least one – when he took the Head­in­g­ley Test away from Pak­istan, who were 1-0 up, in his un­beaten 80 of 101 balls – while his 69 against In­dia could prove to be his sec­ond. Two match-win­ning in­nings in six Test matches, that is a ra­tio of which any of the great counter-at­tack­ers through the ages would be proud.

Eng­land were steeped in gloom when But­tler came in upon the run-out of Root, be­ing five wick­ets down with a lead of less than 100. Alas­tair Cook and Keaton Jen­nings had ra­di­ated de­fi­ance but not con­fi­dence, as if their Test fu­tures were on the line, which they are; pro­mot­ing Moeen Ali to No3 was a gam­ble worth tak­ing, on a one-off ba­sis, to let Root feel at home at four; and Bairstow had de­parted after his swish, no doubt to re­play again in his mind the fum­bles which But­tler had made be­hind the wicket.

Ben Stokes used to bat with the same pos­i­tive, even bel­liger­ent in­tent that But­tler now has, but that ba­ton was passed dur­ing the third Test at Trent Bridge, when Stokes and But­tler shared Eng­land’s face-saving stand in their sec­ond in­nings. Stokes, in his two Tests since his trial, has gone into his shell: he has con­trib­uted his share of runs, all right, 125, but at two runs an over in ef­fect, off 389 balls. The all-rounder, who scored 258 in Cape Town, has been wear­ing bowlers down for But­tler to at­tack.

But­tler shared half-cen­tury stands first with Stokes, then with Cur­ran. Hav­ing been a mod­ern merry-gor­ound, this se­ries turned into a tra­di­tional Test at a tra­di­tional tempo, be­low three runs an over. Ravi Ash­win saw to that by hold­ing one end – lack­ing his nor­mal body ac­tion and pivot, but still steady – while In­dia’s four pace bowlers took turns in try­ing con­ven­tional then re­verse-swing.

Southamp­ton’s crowd has yet to es­tab­lish an iden­tity, as this is only the third Test, but af­ter­noon sun and car­a­vans sell­ing beer – not to men­tion But­tler – gen­er­ated an ever-more op­ti­mistic at­mos­phere be­fore the sec­ond new ball.

Even Vi­rat Kohli lost some of his an­i­ma­tion as Eng­land clawed them­selves into a 50-50 po­si­tion, be­cause when In­dia chase their tar­get, Moeen – be­ing fully fit – will present more of a chal­lenge than Ash­win.

Al­most un­be­liev­ably, after But­tler had been dis­missed leg-be­fore by Ishant Sharma’s in­swinger and the sec­ond new ball, Cur­ran – far from fail­ing as he was en­ti­tled to do – played yet an­other in­nings of the ut­most ma­tu­rity to see Eng­land through to the close. As with But­tler, and in ac­cor­dance with the dry sur­face, Cur­ran’s con­fi­dence was trans­lated mainly into drives through ex­tra cover. An­other 19 runs, in­deed, and Cur­ran will over­take But­tler, whose ag­gre­gate is 260, as Eng­land’s lead­ing run-scorer in this se­ries.

Will it be 3-1 to Eng­land, or 2-2? What­ever hap­pens in the rest of this match, it would seem that Bairstow – once he is fit again – has to be Eng­land’s wick­et­keeper-bats­man at No7, where he can carve through the off side as he does in ODIs.

But­tler will re­vert to No6, as a spe­cial­ist and spe­cial bats­man.

Lead­ing role: Jos But­tler cel­e­brates his im­por­tant half-cen­tury at Southamp­ton

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