India v England: Muddled Test selection thinking highlights need for Jos Buttler to move on permanently – Chris Waters

WHEN I was about 12 and captain of my school cricket team I remember that I used to walk on to the field with a piece of paper in my pocket on which I’d scribbled down who was going to bowl each over in the innings.

England's Jonny Bairstow Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

It was, quite frankly, pretty pathetic.

The matches were 20 overs per side in the days before T20 was even a thing, and basically I would have the first opening bowler sending down overs one, three, 17 and 19, and the second opening bowler delivering overs two, four, 18 and 20, thereby ensuring that they were on at the start and end of the innings.

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The spinners – including the laughable leg-breaks of yours truly – would come on somewhere in the middle as the fixtures followed a familiar template.

England's Jos Buttler is better suited to the limited overs format. Picture: Andrew Matthews/NMC Pool/PA

On the one hand, this system ensured that there were no miscalculations on my part and that everyone bowled the right number of overs at roughly the right time in the innings, given their ability and bowling style.

On the other hand, of course, it was the sort of cringe-making and ludicrously inflexible system that only a 12-year-old could possibly have thought of, one basically designed to keep everyone happy no matter the quality of their performance or the game situation.

I mention this back-of-a-fag-packet process of captaincy (Mike Brearley, it wasn’t) only to draw the glaringly obvious parallel with the back-of-a-fag-packet process of selection currently being used by the England selectors.

In order to ensure that everyone has the right amount of rest (i.e., that they are fit and fresh for the IPL/T20), players are missing pre-arranged Test matches in a rotation policy that quite obviously pays no heed to individual form and/or the changing needs of the side.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Ben Foakes. Picture: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Consequently, Jonny Bairstow – fresh from having regained his Test place in Sri Lanka – missed the opening Test against India last week and will also sit out the second in Chennai today before returning for Tests three and four.

Similarly, Jos Buttler, after playing and keeping wicket last week, has now gone home and will miss the final three Tests before he returns for the white-ball leg of the tour, which is followed by the IPL.

It is a stunningly absurd and intransigent system, one which takes England’s supporters completely for granted (they do want to see England win the series, after all), and which is couched in the excuse that players need breaks from “biosecure bubbles” due to mental health concerns and the broader picture caused by Covid-19.

There is nothing wrong with that in principle, but the IPL is also played in a “biosecure bubble”, a contradiction England seemingly hope that no one will notice, all of which proves that money is the top priority here – not winning English cricket’s second-most important Test series behind the Ashes.

ALL CHANGE: England captain Joe Root speaks with coach Chris Silverwood. Picture: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Granted, we are not privy to the conversations behind the scenes.

Perhaps Buttler is spitting feathers that he is having to miss the last three Tests of a series that could have defined his legacy as a Test player; after all, that legacy does not amount to anything spectacular at present.

Perhaps others are red with rage that they are being parachuted in-and-out of the subcontinent this winter through this pre-determined selection madness.

Whatever the truth, if players are not desperate to play in a marquee Test series that is now also on free-to-air television, then that raises some serious questions and I personally doubt whether Buttler was dragged kicking and screaming to catch the plane home.

Look, fair play to Buttler.

He has done well in recent times and batted much better, although he still has only two hundreds in 50 Tests. He has kept wicket well and given his all.

But he is, let’s face it, a white-ball specialist, one of the best in the business in that respect and a man whose natural habitat is indeed the IPL/T20.

He is not, in my opinion, a Test player in the way that Bairstow is a Test player, or in the way that Ben Foakes could be if given a run.

That being so, and with this back-of-a-fag-packet selection process having brought matters to a head, I would argue it is now better for England to move on completely from Buttler at Test level.

Personally, I would rather that Bairstow played as the wicketkeeper/batsman, and I do not think he should have lost that role to Buttler in the first place.

The selectors clearly don’t see it that way, though, for just look at how they’ve purposely arranged things so that Foakes takes over the gloves this week in the calculated absence of Buttler and Bairstow.

But whether it’s Bairstow keeping wicket, or Foakes keeping wicket and Bairstow playing as a specialist batsman, surely it’s better now to have some continuity.

It is simply not acceptable for Buttler to have left this series after one game, especially when this contest is being played at the same ground just a few days later, and considering it is such a pivotal match as England look to establish an unassailable 2-0 lead.

It is not acceptable either that when Zak Crawley slipped on a marble floor and was ruled out of the first two Tests with a sprained wrist that Bairstow – who batted at No 3 in Sri Lanka – was not available to replace him in that position.

Nor is it acceptable that when Jofra Archer was ruled out of this game with an elbow problem that Mark Wood, his obvious replacement, was also unavailable due to England’s rigid rotation policy.

Why, if you didn’t know better, you would indeed think that the selectors really were scribbling it down on the back of a fag-packet like some silly 12-year-old.

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