This movie has a familiar feeling but right at the end Buttler did it
The batsman resurrected England and powered past 500 Test runs this season, writes Scyld Berry
If a film were made about this England Test team, the working title would have to be “Carry On Collapsing”. There may be data which shows that the ball has moved sideways more this summer than at any time in England since the home series against Normandy in 1066, when cannon-balls swung with the sea-breeze at Hastings to an even greater degree than James Anderson’s outswingers. Even so, Joe Root’s men love a collapse – and, just as much, a recovery.
Ever since their first Test of this season against Pakistan at Lord’s,
England have found someone to turn the tide.
Here it was Jos Buttler resurrecting England from 181 for seven, and he has been the main counter-attacker this summer, but half-a-dozen others can claim to have won tough situations, notably Sam Curran of the preternatural maturity. Thus the character of the individuals concerned, and of the team, develops – most promisingly, too, given the Ashes this time next year.
Buttler was so well supported by Adil Rashid – almost a specialist batsman in the second half of this series – and Stuart Broad that he did not have to play big shots until the last man in.
A couple of sixes in one over from Jasprit Bumrah took Buttler past 500 Test runs this season: a triumph for the England selectors, which more
than offsets the deterioration of Jonny Bairstow. They did not break Bairstow’s finger but they broke his sequence of success by over-promoting him to No 5.
For Buttler, unlike Bairstow, keeping wicket for England in Tests is not a fundamental part of his self-esteem.
Nor does Buttler have to live up to his father’s memory. Back in the field, Buttler has looked happy at cover and gully in his role as vice-captain – whereas Bairstow in the outfield at Southampton was a shepherd who had lost his sheep. The problem remains though that England are collapsing with a frequency which has to be cured before the Ashes, even if Australia’s pace bowlers cannot swing the ball so much as India’s fine trio.
In the first Test at Edgbaston, England lost their last seven wickets for 71 then their first seven for 87; in the third at Trent Bridge they lost their first nine wickets for 128; in the fourth at Southampton they lost
their first six wickets for 86; and at the Oval, after Alastair Cook’s defiance had ended and before Buttler restored order, England lost six middle-order wickets for 48.
A change of personnel and approach has to be part of the answer. Batting is problem-solving, and halting a collapse particularly so – a trend has to be halted immediately.
The conventional has not been working as England have been bowled out in a single session three times in two years, so it is time for somebody unconventional. Buttler himself can be regarded as partly unconventional as he has been recalled as a specialist Test batsman on the strength of his white-ball hitting.
The reserve batsman on England’s last tour was Liam Livingstone, Lancashire’s 25 year-old captain from Cumbria. Although he made 80 in a warm-up game in New Zealand, he did not make an appearance in the two-Test series, except for a few telling minutes.
One of those three occasions when England have been dismissed in a session occurred at Auckland. From all accounts, including Stuart Broad’s,
nobody in the dressing-room lost his rag as England were bowled out for 58 – and there was little response on the field either, as England went through the motions and lost by an innings, save in one particular.
In the first over of New Zealand’s only innings their left-handed opener Jeet Raval tried a single to get off the mark. Livingstone, on as sub, swooped in from cover and threw himself into the fray. He did not have many stumps to aim at, and missed, but it was a sign of character amid the submissiveness, evidence of the combativeness required in an international cricketer.
Only two batsmen have scored a century in both innings of an “A” Test: Kevin Pietersen and Livingstone, who did it in Sri Lanka in February last year. In his first innings he scored 105 off 137 balls.
After England Lions had collapsed – yes, collapsed – to 58 for four in their second innings, Livingstone hit an unbeaten 140 and Sri Lanka lost seven wickets in knocking off their target of 90.
Lancastrian grit, or unconventional Cumbrian, it is what England need in Sri Lanka this autumn.
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