Jos Buttler has no taste for revealing his innermost thoughts to a hungry press pack. So it was little wonder that he was cagey on his return to the Test team, after a match off to attend the birth of his second daughter, Maggie.
Buttler will take back the wicketkeeping gloves after Jonny Bairstow slipped into the caretaker role at the Oval – generally going about his business unobtrusively, but dropping Shardul Thakur in the first innings on 43.
Asked if he could understand any frustration that Bairstow felt about the forever dangling gauntlets, the softly spoken Buttler deadpanned: “Yeah, I can I guess, but I’m not a selector, I’m not the captain and I don’t pick the team, so maybe those questions should be aimed elsewhere.”
On Wednesday, Root talked of his vice-captain in glowing terms, describing him as “integral to what we are about” even if Buttler’s form with the bat has not been as crunchy as it can be. “Certainly, I haven’t played my best by a long stretch,” Buttler agreed. “Certain things have been cancelled, picking up an injury … but you as a player have to put the work in, to train hard and give yourself the best chance when you get in the middle, to be there for a long period of time.”
Old Trafford is a familiar sight to England; it became almost their second home last year as one of the two grounds chosen to host men’s international cricket during the summer. Buttler knows it well too, last playing here in July as part of the Manchester Originals team. “Its a pretty good wicket here, a little bit drier than some as the weather has been good over the last while.” (A tumultuous downpour followed a few hours later.) His return to the Test setup should be a comfort to England: a veteran of victory at Headingley rather than the Jasprit Bumrah-inspired bruising at The Oval.
For Buttler, watching at home, the memories of that match are more mellow. “It was a fantastic Test for the neutrals and our team played some brilliant cricket for large parts of that game but couldn’t quite get it done. As a group we’re determined to win this Test and level the series. Spirits are high and there will be one last big push for a must-win game. Spirits are still good in the group.”
Although this Test series is still in the balance thoughts are already drifting to the winter, with the future of Ashes unknown. Buttler has been the most outspoken with his doubts about travelling with Covid restrictions and bubble life. He is hoping for a more detailed steer in the next week or two. “It is going to sneak up quite fast. Covid has been a big challenge for everyone and it’s challenging for administrators to put the right plans in place. Everyone is just waiting for more clarity and it’s difficult to make a decision when you don’t know what decision you have to make.”
As the man who whipped the bails off to beat Martin Guptill’s despairing dive on that frenzied last ball of the Super Over in July 2019, Buttler knows what it takes to be a champion. Could he see the squad announced for the T20 World Cup this autumn replicating that England 50-over victory? “Yes, I certainly believe so. It’s an exciting squad and I think the strength in depth of white-ball cricket is fantastic. You look down at those names in our squad and there’s some brilliant players and some match winners. We’ll get on the plane together very excited about that challenge and going out there to try and win that tournament.”