Jos Buttler insists that his ambition is still to be “the best player I can, no matter what colour the ball is”, but says he has no qualms about missing England’s last five Test matches as part of the ECB’s rest-and-rotation policy, warning that if you treat the global schedule as “an endless piece of string, then at some point you are going to burn out”.
Buttler has been named in England’s T20I squad for the series against Sri Lanka, beginning in Cardiff on Wednesday, and he expects once again to open the batting alongside Jason Roy, despite having batted at No. 4 for Lancashire during his recent return to action in the T20 Blast.
But it was his absence from the Test series against New Zealand earlier this month that raised eyebrows, particularly in the wake of the postponement of this year’s IPL, the original reason why he had been expected to miss the two matches at Lord’s and Edgbaston.
Although New Zealand’s IPL players all made themselves available for the series – including Trent Boult, who had to miss the Lord’s Test while undergoing quarantine – Buttler remained sidelined even after Ben Foakes, his understudy, was ruled out with a hamstring tear. In the absence of their established wicketkeepers, James Bracey made an uncomfortable debut behind the stumps, as England slumped to a 1-0 series loss, their first on home soil since 2014.Buttler, however, played down any suggestion that the Test team is in crisis after four losses in five in his absence, included three on the bounce in India following a memorable victory at Chennai in his most recent appearance.
“Generally, things are never as good as you think they are and never as bad as you think they are,” Buttler said. “We played three fantastic games in the subcontinent and then hit some extremely tough conditions. India are a formidable force at home and went on to win that series. Any time you lose at home is disappointing – we’re a proud nation with a proud record at home and it was Rooty’s first series loss at home.
“It’s disappointing whenever you don’t play cricket you know what you’re capable of as a side. But in the past 18 months, two years, there have been some strides and I think the side is going in the right direction. Things are still in a good place. Any time you lose, there are question marks but I think some great things have been put in place and I’d still back everyone in that side to have a great summer against India.”
He also reiterated the importance of the ECB managing players’ workloads, even in an England home season – which is now very much an extension of the touring lifestyle, given the need for Covid-secure environments and the consequent long periods away from friends and family.
Jos Buttler’s return for Lancashire this month was his first game since September 2018 Barry Mitchell/Lancashire Cricket
Buttler has a two-year-old daughter, Georgia, born on the eve of the 2019 World Cup, and he said that it was vital for England’s top cricketers to retain a work-life balance, especially given their packed itinerary for 2021 – which still has a home Test series against India to come, followed by the T20 World Cup and the Ashes in quick succession.
“It’s always disappointing when you miss cricket,” Buttler said. “I was feeling in good touch and things were going well but I will retain that confidence if I get another chance. At the same time, what has been helpful as a player are the open discussions you have with the coaches and captains. Those rest periods are there because it probably allows you to throw yourself into everything when you are involved. If it’s an endless piece of string, then at some point you are going to burn out.
“I don’t think there’s any perfect answers,” he added. “In England we’re playing a lot of cricket, more than most, so it’s important for everyone to be looked after really well, and I think the ECB do a good job of that. We understand it’s a short career and you want to be available and play as much as you can, but in the current climate, with all the complications of Covid etc, I do think we have to look after our people.
“Simple things like playing in England, it used to be very easy to bring your family in, and get out and go home, and do those normal things. But the stresses and strains of the environments at the moment are different to what it used to be.
“I know there’s been some criticism from outside, but I think it’s a day and age where we’ve got to look after people and applaud the fact that the guys are trying to be forward-thinking and look after people. Is it perfect? No, of course it’s not, but I’d rather we look after our guys.”
There has been criticism too, that amid all the need for compromise, it is the England Test team that appears to have taken the hit on availability, with the white-ball squad at close to full strength, in spite of the injury absences of key players such as Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer.
And though Buttler is adamant he wants to be in the frame for both the India Tests and the Ashes, he also believes that in another World Cup year, the importance of getting the white-ball players used to their specific roles is paramount if England are to emulate their feat in 2019 and add the 20-over title to their list of global ICC trophies.
“It’s really important to get the squad nailed down,” he said. “Role clarity for people and the familiarity of playing together, I think that’s a marker of successful teams – they are ones that know each other well and are playing good cricket going into the tournament.
“That was something that helped us in the 50-over World Cup – going in confident, having played good cricket. So we need to focus hard on these next few T20s to make sure we put ourselves in as good a position as we can be when we get to the World T20.
“Naturally I am a better white-ball player than I am a red-ball player but I want to be the best cricketer I can be in all formats,” he added. “In terms of my own ambitions, I want to be the best player I can, no matter what colour the ball is.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
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