Bairstow, Buttler and England’s Wicket Keeping Crossroads

Both Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow have failed to grab England's wicket keeping position with both hands

Both Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow have failed to grab England’s wicket keeping position with both hands

Between 2009 and 2013, England enjoyed the luxury that was Matt Prior, picking the Sussex wicket keeper for almost every single test match played during those years. Prior ascended to the role of vice-captain before an achilles injury cut his career short in mid-2014, and his game changing, counter-attacking style of batting at number seven in the order enabled England to play without a genuine all-rounder during their golden era under Andy Flower. Prior averaged over 40 with the bat during his test career and his wicket keeping also improved immeasurably after he was recalled to the team in early 2009, making him one of the best if not the world’s best keeper-batsman for a time.

However times have changed, and since Prior was originally dropped during the ill-fated Ashes tour of Australia in late 2013 Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler have both donned the gloves, neither with enough success to end debate about the position in both the short and long term. Both have appealing attributes with the bat; Buttler has played a number of influential innings in the shorter formats of the game, albeit not recently, while Bairstow comfortably passed 1,000 first class runs last summer despite featuring in only half of Yorkshire’s Championship fixtures. Yet both have serious flaws with the gloves, and this has served to exaggerate criticism over their place in the team when either has suffered a barren run with bat in hand.

Both Bairstow and Buttler remain fine fielders, which makes it even more frustrating when they make the occasional mistake with the gloves on, but ultimately it is their performances with the bat that have led to England’s current wicket keeping dilemma. In 34 test innings Bairstow averages 26.40, while Buttler averages 30 after 24 knocks. As a point of comparison, over a decade ago the silk gloved James Foster mustered an average of 25.10 in his 12 test innings, while providing far better work with the gloves than the current Bairstow and Buttler combination.

This begs the question; would England be best served by returning to a specialist keeper? Perhaps the answer is yes, but the options in the county game are few and far between. Foster himself still captains Essex, but he will turn 36 before next summer begins and has played his first class cricket in division two during recent seasons. Chris Read, another excellent gloveman who never quite made the test grade with the bat, is 37 and his ship has also sailed. Younger ‘keepers of prominence include Ben Foakes of Surrey and Sam Billings of Kent, and they would appear to be the next two cabs off of the proverbial rank. Foakes has appeared on multiple England Lions tours and averages 36 in first class cricket, while Billings has been capped at ODI level by England. Billings possesses a first class average of just 31, however, and Foakes only kept wicket on a semi regular basis for Surrey in 2014 thanks to the presence of captain Gary Wilson.

Ultimately, it figures that both Bairstow and Buttler will be given at least one more opportunity each before anyone else is given a go by Trevor Bayliss, but both will be aware that with James Taylor’s emergence alongside Joe Root in the middle order that the only way either of them will find a way into the side is by assuming the gloves. England will need at least one to finally come of age in the test arena if they’re to adequately replace Prior, and in the process plug the huge gap that has emerged in the lower middle order.

England v India ODI Series: 5 Things to Watch

Alex Hales looks set to make his ODI debut against India

Alex Hales looks set to make his ODI debut against India

Following England’s stirring comeback in the test series against India, the three lions will be looking to press on against the same opposition in the 50-over format with the ODI World Cup in Australia just around the corner. Here are five things to keep an eye on as the five game series gets underway:

Is Alex Hales the man for England in all three formats?

Previously viewed as just a twenty20 specialist, Alex Hales looks set to earn his first ODI cap against India and there have even been whispers a profitable series could catapult him into the frame for a test spot. Hales imperious form of late has seen him notch centuries in both four day and one day cricket, and the man himself has admitted he’s in the best form of his young career. England have often been criticised for being dull and unimaginative with their team selections; should Hales force his way into the test team as a David Warner-esque bully at the top of the order it would certainly represent a change of philosophy from the England hierarchy.

Which England all-rounder will stake a claim for the role?

The omission of Ravi Bopara from England’s 15 man squad came as a surprise; however with Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes all selected the hosts still have a range of options to choose from when it comes to all-rounders. Ali has the best record as a batsman in domestic cricket and his status as a spin bowler also factor in his favour, while Stokes’ impressive showing amongst the chaos in Australia last winter and his aggressive attitude make him an appealing option. Woakes, meanwhile, has steadily and somewhat quietly improved since his test debut at the Oval last August against Australia, adding a yard of pace and impressing as captain of the England Lions last winter. All three could have a role to play in the ODI series and with places on the plane to Australia for the World Cup up for grabs every single one of their moves will be closely monitored.

Can Virat  Kohli bounce back from a disastrous test series?

Kohli, the golden boy of Indian cricket, staggered to a batting average a shade over 13 in the five test series, failing to live up to his billing as one of crickets most exciting young players. His technique was revealed to be far from watertight against quality seam bowling, the likes of which was provided by James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Kohli also struggled with the short ball, a flaw that needs to be corrected if he’s to ever transfer his ODI form into the test arena. There is no doubting Kohli’s prowess in the shorter format, however, so don’t be surprised if he responds in a big way over the coming couple of weeks.

Who will man the number three position for England?

After Jonathan Trott departed the Ashes tour of Australia last winter, Gary Ballance laid claim to the coveted number three role in the test side and hasn’t looked back following a sterling summer in the format. It’s unclear, however, whether Ballance will get the chance to man the role in the ODI’s, or if he’ll even be selected. Ian Bell is set to move down the order to accommodate Hales at the top of the order alongside captain Cook, so the Warwickshire man is one alternative for the number three slot. Team director Peter Moores could even spring a surprise and fill the role with wicket keeper Jos Buttler, who does seem slightly wasted at number seven. Whoever gets first dibs on the position will be keen to impress, with a plethora of one day games scheduled over the winter culminating in the 2015 ODI World Cup.

Will Alistair Cook rediscover his one day touch?

Despite regaining form in the final three test matches of the summer, Alistair Cook still failed to reach three figures and a run of poor scores in the limited over games could lead to renewed questions about his position in the one day side. Cook’s once paced batting style doesn’t count in his favour at the best of times and the inclusion of Alex Hales indicates that team management want to play a more aggressive brand of cricket, as does the promotion of Jos Buttler to the test side. Cook deserves the chance to lead the side in a World Cup, but he might not make it that far if England are humiliated in this series by the current world champions, or if he himself doesn’t trouble the scorers.

Who do you think will win the ODI series between England and India? Leave a comment or tweet @fredjstanley to have your say