New national selector Ed Smith insists Jos Buttler will prove the “right player at the right time” on his return to England’s Test team.
Buttler was an unexpected inclusion – for his first Test in almost 18 months against Pakistan at Lord’s next week – in a 12-man squad that also contains uncapped off-spinner Dom Bess.
New national selector Smith, who revealed captain Joe Root would move back up to No 3, explained Buttler’s position at seven – two below promoted wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow – completes England’s re-deployment of skills.
Opener Mark Stoneman has survived in the first squad of Smith’s tenure, but previous No 3 James Vince’s omission comes despite an unbeaten double-century for Hampshire on the eve of the selection meeting.
Bess’s Tuesday-morning trip to Ikea – replete with fixtures-and-fittings disagreement as he and his girlfriend discussed sofas – received a welcome interruption from Smith. But Vince received a very different phone call to tell him why he had been dropped.
It is Buttler’s restoration, on the back of a brilliant run of Indian Premier League scores but no first-class cricket over the past eight months, which is most eye-catching.
Smith said: “The way we wanted to structure the side was to get the key run scorers in those positions – Joe at three, Jonny at five. Then the opportunity was there to do something different and exciting – and we took it.”
He is prepared to set aside Buttler’s mediocre record in 18 Tests to date.
“The decision has been made eyes wide open,” added Smith. “We feel it’s the right thing at the right time with the right player.
“It was a very strong feeling that we wanted to invest opportunity in Jos.
“His overall Test record, he averages 31....to some extent, that’s beside the point – because he’s evolved since then he’s become an even better player in the short form of the game.
“Overwhelmingly we felt that a player of his unique gifts...as a destructive batsman, fantastic competitive presence, dynamic athlete, someone who has leadership skills innate in him...who is playing with such confidence and flair, this was the right time. It’s the whole package with Jos. What he’s capable of, what the opposition knows he’s capable of.”
Smith will resist any temptation to advise Buttler how to approach Test innings.
“My job is not to tell people how to play,” he said.
“(But) the batting ability he has, not just power but also the touch, the finesse...Jos Buttler playing as he can play in Test cricket, that is something we’re very excited about.”
Smith also welcomed Root’s “excellent move” to volunteer as No 3 again, in the team’s best interests, and added Stoneman “deserves” to stay despite his tough winter.
He will leave the door open to Vince, but sustained improvement is necessary.
“James Vince playing well is a terrific player to watch,” he said. “When you see him bat well as an England fan – boy does he look a Test player. However, and this is what I said to him, (in) his cricketing history throughout his Tests and also levels below that, he has not produced the runs he should have done.”
For Bess, progress to the brink of a Test debut after just 16 first-class matches has been remarkably swift.
Recalling Smith’s phone call, the 20-year-old said: “I was actually in Ikea with my girlfriend. I’ve just got a new house, so we were looking for some sofas, and I was having an argument with my missus.
“A number popped up. So my girlfriend said, ‘take it, because you never know what could happen’. I took it, and the rest is history.”
England Test squad v Pakistan at Lord’s, May 24: Joe Root (captain), Alastair Cook, Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan, Jonny Bairstow (wkt), Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Dom Bess, Mark Wood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Chris Woakes.