Jos Buttler played the kind of innings on day two at Mumbai that demonstrates why he should be an automatic pick in all formats. England’s bowlers, though, lacked penetration.
India 146-1 (Vijay 70*, Moeen 1-44) trail England 400 (Jennings 112, Ashwin 6-112) by 254 runs
It was pointed out on Twitter during day two of the Mumbai Test that England and Lancashire’s Jos Buttler has played as many games at the Wankhede Stadium in 2016 as he has at Old Trafford. Seven apiece.
Seven is beginning to become a relevant number for Buttler. He is the first specialist batsman to be selected at No.7 for England since 2001. He’s at No.7, it could be argued, because England don’t necessarily trust him to play like a “proper” batsman.
His one-day excellence, as special as it is, hasn’t always been replicated in the first-class arena – when he’s played – and No.7 ends up looking like a convenient halfway house. You can’t have the gloves, because they’re Jonny’s and he’s doing bloody well, but you can have the position of a keeper, and with that the licence to play with a bit of chutzpah.
His ability to hit big has never been questioned but in his first run in the Test side he came unstuck, seemingly unsure how to play. After eight Tests he averaged 52.66. After seven more it was 30. The message now is clear: you be you, Jos.
That doesn’t mean all-out aggression, though. Speaking to All Out Cricket for an upcoming interview, Buttler said: “The big thing is the mentality I take into an innings. People have obviously talked about my approach in white-ball cricket versus red-ball cricket in terms of how I go about playing, but it doesn’t have to be about the rate you score at.
“It can be the mentality and confidence you take to the crease,” he continued, “and the mindset of looking to dominate. That can come in defence, as well. You can dominate the top of off-stump. That’s the kind of thing I want to do consistently… I don’t want to be a guy who just goes out, has a slog and if it comes off, it comes off, but I want to be aggressive.”
The passage of play that Buttler negotiated last night – 14 overs, ball turning, 39 runs, all the tension – is precisely the kind of challenge in Test cricket that he needs to crack. He showed he’s got the skill to absorb pressure as well as exert it.
Naturally, today his game evolved and he added a bit of his ODI shot-making to usher England to 400. It’s the kind of innings that might see him holding down a regular Test place. A word, as well, for Jake Ball, whose combination of northen longhandle and a touch of craft combined with Buttler to put on 54 for the ninth wicket. Precisely what England needed.
What England then needed was wickets. And they weren’t forthcoming. India went after Adil Rashid straight away, determined not to let him settle and with control England’s biggest weapon it went some way to blunting their efforts.
England’s attack in this game is made up of four seamers and two spinners. It’s the first time they’ve gone with that approach since Dhaka and the turning track suggests they’ve done it for the wrong game. That said, there’s no requirement to play a spinner if you don’t trust them. The stocks remain bare.
With wickets in such short supply you inevitably begin to throw the game forward. Will India comfortably overtake England’s total? Could the 2012 Mumbai Test (which saw 327 play 413 before a third-innings collapse of 142 settled things) be repeated? England will naturally be disappointed with how easy Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara found things today but England’s first-innings runs mean they’re never a million miles away from opening the door. It may well be shut immediately after – Kohli’s got to bat yet – but this is the subcontinent and the game moves quickly over here.
All the while, as long as India trail there remains the possibility that England could grab a few quick wickets. It might take something special like an inspired piece of bowling, a run-out or the intervention of Uri Geller but it could happen. England will hit the hay tonight hoping against hope; buoyed by some improvements in their batting but perhaps slightly concerned about what’s to come tomorrow.
All Out Cricket’s coverage of the India-England Test series is in association with Southall Travel