On the 15th May, the new England national selector Ed Smith announced his first England squad since taking up the role. In that squad was Dom Bess of Somerset and, more surprisingly, Jos Buttler of Lancashire (insert relevant franchise here). The decision to select these two players has been characterised variously as great, exciting, bold, and imaginative by members of the Nazi media of the UK.
Obviously one retches seeing tweets embedded in an article, but these aren’t randomers in the street okay? These guys have press cards – they’ve been to cricket matches – you wouldn’t believe how much hardcore leather on willow action these peeps have seen. Their opinions, whether we agree with them or not, matter. Particularly when we want to bitch about them. Anyway, back to Bess and Buttler, the new chain of pubs taking over test cricket. We’ll start with the latter.
If you hadn’t heard, that freak Jos Buttler has been biffing big sixes all across India. Name an Indian city and Jos will have biffed a six there. Kolkata? Biffed. Jaipur? Biffed. Delhi? Definitely biffed. Mumbai? Of course he’s had a biff there! Such has been the recent destructive nature of Buttler’s biffage that he’s forced his way into the England test side. It’s hard to argue that Jos is not in form – he’s amassed five 50s in his last six t20 innings. Ed Smith has seen that form, he’s seen it alright, and he’s pushed his imagination to a bold and exciting new realm and said ‘we need a counter-attacking batsman at number 7’. Ben Stokes and his fastest ever 250? Not attacking enough. Nah, Buttler’s the boy. More importantly too, with Moeen Ali out of the team (for the time being one imagines), we need to fill that spot of flaky, can be good but fails more often than not batsman in the lower middle order. You’re meant to think that Bess is the replacement for Leach, who had originally replaced Ali, but really, Buttler’s the long-term replacement for Ali the batsman. England had so much success with that sort of batsman in the lower order, they simply had to return to that model. If imagination and excitement mean doing what was done before, i.e. picking a man we’ve picked before with a penchant for playing aggressively and sticking him down the order to give him ‘licence’, then put away the Tame Impala and hide the acid, we’re in for a hell of ride. Buckle up kids, we haven’t even got to the nitty gritty of Buttler’s consistent failure to actually ever succeed in first-class cricket. The statistics do not make great reading – not for the longer formats at least.
Gotta love numbers in a table. In truth, selecting a man with a test average of 31 at a staggering rate of 55 (stinks of counter-attacking) really is very bold. What’s really exciting though is that his test figures are curiously consistent with his first-class figures, as if those actually have any bearing on how he will play in test cricket. If he hadn’t been picked before it might be imaginative. If England wanted to be really be imaginative and had picked a player who could counter-attack, but hadn’t been tried before, there is one chap they could have gone for – Jason Roy. I mean, he’s only actually had consistent success doing exactly what Ed Smith wants Buttler to do for England.
It’s interesting to see that he not only has a higher average than Buttler, but that’s also at a much quicker strike rate – not to mention he has twice as many hundreds and as many 50s (in only one more innings too). Too obvious probably. To be fair to Smith though, Dom Bess is actually an agreeable and exciting selection – though it’s still not imaginative. Bess has only been one of the more highly-rated spinners plying their trade in the County Championship over the past year, and was probably the next logical selection after Leach got injured. It’s probably too soon for Amar Virdi, Liam Dawson’s such an excuse, and the cricketing world just isn’t ready for Ollie Rayner. Bess has consistently performed well for Somerset when picked, as reflected in his statistics, and deserves a go (unlike Mason Crane).
Look though, we could harp on forever about how the statistics suggest that there maybe better options than Buttler, and that evidence indicates he’s not equipped to play the test format, but this is a selection based on gut and instinct okay? Forget numbers, we want guys who can biff big sixes. Ignore the different conditions those sixes were scored in. Ignore the batsman-friendly setup of the t20 format. Just wait for Mohammad Amir to bowl full-toss after full-toss in the first test as he attempts to ‘execute his yorkers’ because the fielding restrictions have all but forced him to do it. Buttler will be dispatching him to all parts. Just wait. The imagination runs wild.