The last time Jos Buttler walked out to bat for England in his whites in Southampton, the scoreboard read a handsome 443-5. He was a tad nervous and rightly so, after all, it was his Test debut. Two hours later he trudged off to warm applause after smashing a quickfire 85 from 83 balls. Four years on, he returns to the venue as an England vice-captain and also a major obstruction for India if they are to level the series.
In his first Test, Buttler had the luxury of the top order laying the foundation for him, so he could play an aggressive knock. Four years on, he is the pivotal man in the England batting structure. No longer can he start attacking from the outset, as he now has the responsibility to guide the team. Add to that, the thumb injury to Jonny Bairstow means he might have to fulfill the dual role of a batsman and a wicketkeeper. England will rely on him heavily.
Importantly, Buttler is aware of his role in the side and has slowly learned to relish it. At Trent Bridge, in a lost cause, he could have succumbed easily trying to play his natural game, but he resisted all the temptation by showing plenty of application.
This was the new Buttler, no longer just the one-dimensional white-ball specialist capable of hitting the ball all over the ground. He is now the matured, accountable and dependable player that England will look at to guide them to victory in the upcoming two Tests.
It is a huge transition for a man that had lost confidence after his stunning Test debut. Buttler had not played a Test since December 2016 and even contemplated giving up on red-ball cricket and focusing strictly on white-ball format. At the time, it seemed the right decision. Buttler had elevated his batting to a new level in the limited-overs’ format, making him one of the most prized commodities in the T20 around the world. Also, the fact that Buttler had only averaged a tick over 30 in first-class cricket, and it appeared a correct decision.
But such is the beauty of cricket that an opportunity opens from the most unlikely avenues. Playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL), it was his talk with Australian legend Shane Warne that transformed Buttler. Speaking to The Daily Mail, Butter said “Confidence is the golden egg. At the IPL, Shane Warne was talking to me about Test cricket and he said ‘You are good enough to play it and it should be your ultimate aim.'”
Buttler was in golden form in the IPL and he was also fortunate to have a chairman of selectors in Ed Smith who was prepared to deviate from the English tradition and pick players based on form across all formats. Smith called Buttler and told him he is picking him for Tests at the start of English summer and since that phone call, Buttler has become a player that he was always destined to be.
Despite playing in the team with Alistair Cook and Joe Root, Buttler has suddenly become the most prized scalp for the opposition. Such is his stature, a couple of expansive shots and Virat Kohli has suddenly gone defensive against him. He is one player that India will fear, especially given his form and his mindset. He seems to be the only England player who has the belief and the ability to put pressure back on India.
Heading into the fourth Test, Buttler could well be asked to play resurrecting innings or rally with the tail to ensure England compete with India.
Buttler himself had admitted he is player who is driven by the fear of failure. Currently, with series on the edge, he is bound to feel that if he doesn’t replicate his success from Trent Bridge, his team could struggle.
In more ways than one, he has inspired the team by scoring a resolute ton in the second innings at Nottingham. It will be interesting to observe Buttler with gloves — provided Bairstow is unfit to do so — and how much it affects him mentally along with his batting. It has been a long time since he played for England as wicketkeeper-batsman and that too in an underperforming top-order.
On his Test debut, there was a sense of excitement when he went out to bat at picturesque Ageas Bowl ground. Over the next couple of days, he is bound to feel the burden of expectation. He is about to really understand what Test cricket is all about. He is expected to deliver, and how he performs in the next two Tests could well decide the fate of the series.