Jos Buttler looks increasingly at home in Test cricket in Sri Lanka but he must make the most of every opportunity with Ben Foakes waiting in the wings and the ECB keen to rest their stars
If Jos Buttler looked faintly irked as he walked off on Sunday after a skilful innings of 55, no one held it against him.
The manner of his dismissal was freakish enough: a reverse sweep that ballooned off his boot to short leg – possibly via the ground – and was ruled out by third umpire Lyndon Hannibal after Kumar Dharmasena had rejected the on-field appeal.
But Buttler might also have been thinking that, when it comes to Test cricket, he needs to make the most of every chance he gets right now.
Jos Buttler celebrates after hitting a half century in the second Test against Sri Lanka in Galle
This wouldn’t normally be a problem in an era of fattened fixture lists. Yet so seriously are England taking the duty of care to their all-format cricketers that he will now play a maximum of three Test innings between now and the home summer. Frankly, that’s rather more rest than rotation.
National selector Ed Smith flagged up a while ago the possibility that Buttler would hand the wicketkeeping gloves to Ben Foakes at some stage during the tour of India. The assumption was that they would get two Tests each, only for Smith to confirm last week that Buttler would be flying home after one game.
So while Foakes will get his chance at Chennai on February 13, and then again during the third and fourth Tests at Ahmedabad, Buttler is expected to be back in time for the white-ball matches in India in March – themselves preparation for another IPL stint with Rajasthan Royals.
And if England host New Zealand for a couple of Tests in June, it means Buttler will play two five-day matches between the end of the first game in Chennai on February 9 and the start of India’s return series at Trent Bridge on August 8. Burnout ought not to be a problem.
Buttler needs to make the most of every chance he gets with the ECB keen to rest their stars
That’s before the question of how much England will miss him next month. His half-century here, part of a crucial fifth-wicket stand of 97 with Joe Root, took his record since being given a go at No 6 in the third Test against West Indies in July to 417 runs at nearly 70.
Having enjoyed his best Test behind the stumps last week, he is looking increasingly assured with the bat, discovering his long-elusive tempo against the red ball and dealing calmly with Sri Lanka’s spinners. Of the eight England batsmen to fall to bowlers on the third day – Root was run out – Buttler alone did not succumb to the left-arm accuracy of Lasith Embuldeniya.
Instead, he got into a tangle against the off-breaks of debutant Ramesh Mendis. Before lunch, he had been given out lbw trying to reverse-sweep Dilruwan Perera, only for a review to show he had edged the ball. Now, the same stroke brought about his demise, in unusual circumstances.
Ben Foakes is set to take over for the tour of India with Buttler to return for white-ball games
Buttler was given not out at first after Oshada Fernando claimed the ricochet at short leg, but Sri Lanka asked for a review, and the first replay, from front on, appeared to show the ball bouncing straight off the batsman’s boot.
But when the side-on image came into play, things got more complex. That replay suggested two things: that the ball might have hit ground and boot at the same time before flying to Fernando, and therefore that the front-on slow-motion replay was missing a crucial frame.
Had Dharmasena given Buttler out in the first place, England could have had no complaints about Hannibal’s decision. Whether he had conclusive evidence to overrule his on-field colleague was another matter.
Buttler took it all in his stride, as he tends to. But England batsmen get few chances to win a Test series on the subcontinent, and he is fast running out of time.
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