Jos Buttler has admitted to having doubts over his worth as a Test match cricketer. Even after a score of 75 that helped England to a remarkable chase of 277 against Pakistan, he accepts he still has work to do.
By his own admission, the Test might have finished a few hours earlier had he taken the two chances to remove Shan Masood when the opener was on 45. The drop and missed stumping would cost England dearly as Masood went on to score 156 in Pakistan’s first innings of 326.
He was able to make amends on day four at Emirates Old Trafford, playing a crucial part in a 139-run stand with man-of-the-match Chris Woakes, who finished 84 not out. But despite the satisfaction of overseeing a three-wicket win with his 17th half-century – his one and only century came in defeat – he did not shy away from his errors earlier in the match.
“Yes, certainly at times,” he answered when asked if he was wondered if he had what it takes at Test level. “There have been some lonely nights thinking about it. But runs aside, if you are a wicketkeeper in this team, you have to take chances. You have to keep better than I did in the first innings.”
“I know that. I don’t need other people to tell me that. I expect it of myself and to play international cricket for England there’s a level required. I know I have to be better. Those are plain hard facts. The only thing that you can do to achieve that is hard work. Hard work and belief.”
Beyond Buttler’s own anxieties was the news late on Friday evening that his father had been admitted to hospital. He has had a few health scares – not Covid-19 related – but was in good enough shape to deliberately delay his admission until the play on day three had come to a close. Following a few procedures and scans, he was signed off to return home on Saturday evening.
To his credit, he was able to take it all in and go out and play the way he did. His captain, Joe Root, was particular effusive: ““It says a huge amount about him as a person to carry that and be able to either use it, or park it. To have that external pressure as well, I’m chuffed to bits with him.”
For Buttler, dealing with those emotions and indeed the worries that come with dips in form has been something he is learning to deal with.
“It is difficult, especially in this day and age with the likes of social media,” said Buttler. “You’re sat in your hotel room and don’t leave the ground. But I think it’s important to acknowledge those thoughts. It would be very unnatural to not be thinking those thing.
“It’s more about acknowledging them and trying to let them go and let them pass. And then let the positive thoughts you have, try and cling onto them a bit more. Show that character I feel like I’ve got within myself and that competitive spirit.”
Before walking out to the middle with England 106 for four, 171 still to get, Root told Buttler to believe in himself and treat this like an ODI chase. The captain is not the only one who wishes white ball form upon Buttler in red ball cricket. And it is no slight to say one of the most talented limited overs batsmen of his generation will never quite replicate that quality in Test cricket. Here, though, his two worlds aligned perfectly.
“A game like today really suited me and suited my eye, as such, in terms of the run chase and breaking it down to more of a one-day game and trying to tick runs off and get us to the finishing line. Those things kind of suit me.”
Though Woakes saw England over the line, and took four wickets in the match, he reserved special praise for the role Buttler played in ensuring their plan was executed to perfection.
“Me and Jos spoke and thought that if we could get a few runs quickly and build a partnership that way, that was the way to go. We wrestled back a bit of the initiative, especially at the start when we scored quickly, and we just felt that was the way to go.
“In a way (being 117-5) made up our minds for us, it played into our hands in the end. The idea to take it to them and put them under a bit more pressure, particularly in that position felt like the right thing to do and, looking back in hindsight, it was the perfect thing to do. A great partnership with Jos, I was playing second fiddle at one stage, just letting him do his thing.”
England will now head down to Southampton on Monday to move into the Ageas Bowl bubble ahead of the second Test which begins on Thursday. Sussex seamer Ollie Robinson has been called up to join the training group after originally being released from the bubble to play for his county.
Though the four-day finish means Sunday is now a day off, the use of the same XI for two Tests in a row will mean some rotation ahead.