At the start of the summer Jos Buttler was plying his trade in the Indian Premier League and one of England’s most gifted batsmen appeared to be locked into the gilded cage of white-ball specialism despite still harbouring hopes of a Test return.
But with the national selector, Ed Smith, granting this wish for the two-match series against Pakistan, in a bold move that eschewed the conventional cricketing logic of needing strong county returns, Buttler now finds himself just an injury to Joe Root away from leading the side after he was named the new vice-captain for the visit of India.
Jimmy Anderson steps down from the role he has held since the arrest of Ben Stokes in Bristol last September and in his place comes a batsman who plays as a specialist No 7 and is still to register his maiden Test century from 20 stop-start caps to date; on paper it appears a remarkable show of faith from the team management.
And yet with Buttler having long been the consigliere to Eoin Morgan in England’s soaraway one-day side – even leading them to an impressive 2-1 win in Bangladesh when the captain opted out on security grounds – Root is now keen to cash in not only on the 27-year-old’s ability to take down bowling attacks but his cricketing brain too.
“He thinks extremely well about the game and has a lot of respect in the dressing room, and looking at very long term – I’m thinking five to 10 years – I see him as someone who can really drive this team forward,” said Root. “It might be that he has only been back [in the Test side] a couple of games but I think he can offer a huge amount with the way he conducts himself and leads, as well as what he does with the bat.
“It might be a slightly bold statement but I see it as a great opportunity and it gives us a different way of looking at things, maybe grabbing a few things from the one-day side; not trying to replicate it but obviously they’ve had huge amounts of success and it would be wrong not to tap into that.”
Root, speaking ahead of Wednesday’s series opener at Edgbaston, was also keen to stress that the move was no reflection on the job Anderson has done, nor a case of paving the way for him to be phased out of the side despite having this week turned 36 and with a shoulder injury currently being managed.
Indeed Root tipped England’s record wicket-taker to be a “massive part” of the team for “the next few years”. It is becoming apparent, however, that Anderson, Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad are viewed as senior players but not the central core of the Test dressing room, with Root, Stokes, Buttler and Jonny Bairstow now the main pillars instead.
Root, whose 18-month tenure in charge of the Test team has faltered somewhat after two home wins against South Africa and West Indies last summer, added: “It’s a chance for us to grab a core group of players who are playing across all formats to really drive this team in a strong direction and a better direction than we have been going.”
Buttler was tipped as Test captaincy material by Smith back in 2017, when the national selector was a newspaper columnist. But his promotion for this series alone, rather than indefinitely, perhaps points to both his ongoing bid to cement a spot permanently and the fact that Stokes may yet be considered for a return to the role depending on the outcome of next week’s court case in Bristol (he has pleaded not guilty to a charge of affray).
Root conceded as much upon naming his new deputy – “that’s a decision for after this series and a decision that’s made over my head” – but for now his second-in-command is a player with the Midas touch this summer, averaging 67 across all formats, and one whose softly-spoken demeanour masks an impressively ruthless approach to the sport.