Jos Buttler‘s promotion to the vice-captaincy of the England Test team sustains his remarkable resurgence over recent weeks.
Heading into this English season, Buttler’s best hopes of a Test recall were in scoring heavily for Lancashire in the final weeks of the county season. But that hurdle was skipped. Instead, he was recalled for the early-summer Test series against Pakistan on the back of some excellent form in the IPL and now, just two Tests later, finds himself as not only Joe Root’s right-hand man but identified, it would seem, as a future England Test captain.
That was the impression given by Root at the pre-Test press conference, anyway. “Looking at very long term – I’m thinking five to 10 years – I see him as someone who can really drive this team forward,” Root said. “I see him as a crucial part of that.
“He is obviously vice-captain of the white ball sides. He thinks extremely well about the game and has a lot of respect in the dressing room.”
Root was at pains to stress that Buttler’s elevation should in no way be portrayed as a slight of James Anderson. Anderson was appointed to the role ahead of the Ashes – where he did an admirable job in trying circumstances – and retained the position for the Pakistan series.
But he is 36 and Buttler is 27. It is pretty obvious who is the better long-term bet as captain should Root step down or be removed from the role.
“It’s not a reflection on anything Jimmy has done,” Root said. “It’s not a way of pushing him out of this team. He’s still a massive part of driving it forward over the next couple of years.
“We’re looking way down the line. This is 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 in a better direction than we have been going.”
It is worth noting, however, that the appointment has been made only for this series. Ben Stokes was vice-captain until the end of the 2017 summer – which means Buttler is the third vice-captain within 10 months – and could be again if he is cleared of the charge of affray that he currently faces.
And Buttler, for all his talent, still has some questions to answer over his suitability for Test cricket. He has played 20 Tests, after all, without making a century and his first Test innings – an unbeaten 85 against India in July 2014 – remains his highest.
The England management clearly have great faith in his talent, however, and by making this appointment no doubt hope his own self-confidence may be boosted further.
He has a decent record as a captain in the limited-overs formats already. England have won three of the four ODIs in which he has captained – including a really impressive performance as leader in Bangladesh when Eoin Morgan declined to tour due to security fears – and, in those games, he has averaged 78.66 with the bat. He seems to revel in the responsibility.
Buttler’s elevation is also consistent with England’s current policy of respect for limited-overs performances. Just as Adil Rashid has been selected largely on the basis of the maturity and confidence he has exhibited in white-ball cricket, so Buttler has been promoted on the back of the calm positivity and leadership skills he has demonstrated in limited-overs cricket. He has never captained a side at first-class level.
“The limited-overs teams have had huge amounts of success and it would be wrong not to tap into that,” Root said. “We’re not trying to replicate it, but this gives us a different way of looking at things and maybe grabbing a few things from the one-day side.”
It’s a different route to the vice-captaincy, for sure. But most of what Buttler does has been different. As he keeps showing, that doesn’t mean it won’t work.