Jos Buttler is likely to be dropped for the final Test against Pakistan in Sharjah with Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, conceding that some players are relieved when removed from the pressure of international cricket amid a struggle for form.
That would mean a return to the gloves for Jonny Bairstow and a recall for James Taylor into the middle order, more than three years after his previous two caps against South Africa, but Moeen Ali is set to retain the opener’s role.
Since the start of the Ashes, Buttler is averaging 13.00 after his run was compounded by scores of 0 and 7 in the second Test in Dubai. Although he fell to a superb delivery from Yasir Shah on the final day, his first innings was ended by a flat-footed drive against Wahab Riaz and he appears bereft of confidence with the bat.
“It’s no secret that he has obviously been struggling a little bit,” Bayliss said. “It doesn’t mean that he’s not trying his guts out … and I’m convinced he will do well over a number of years. But as we all know there aren’t too many cricketers who have ever played the game who haven’t had a bit of time out of the team. But we haven’t made the decision yet, we will sit down in the next couple of days and discuss all of those points.
“My experience with players in the past is that sometimes it does become a bit of a relief, that they are able to go about their business without the pressure of having to perform in the next match or to worry about whether they’re in or whether they’re out,” he added. “Sometimes it can be that relief that allows them to put everything else out of their mind and just concentrate on getting back in the team.”
The other aspect for England to consider is that Buttler remains vital to the one-day and T20 set-ups. His last major innings was the 129 off 77 balls he made against New Zealand, at Edgbaston, when England crossed 400 for the first time in ODIs while there is also the World T20 in India on horizon; if England are to compete it is likely that Buttler would have to play a major role.
“What starts to creep in with anyone out of form, whether batter, bowler of fielder is that the mind starts to become cluttered and then a few little technique-type things start to creep in as well,” Bayliss said. “You have got be able to free the mind up to just go out there and concentrate on the ball. He’s certainly doing everything possible away from the game to get himself back into form so I’m hopeful it’s not too long before he is back into form because he is one hell of a player and very important for us going forward.”
England now have three days off before resuming training on Friday ahead of the final Test, which starts on Sunday. It is likely that Buttler will know his fate two days out from Sharjah so that Bairstow has time to prepare for a return behind the stumps.
It will be a tough prospect for Bairstow, who has twice kept in Tests when given the role on the 2013-14 Ashes after Matt Prior was dropped. The nature of modern touring is that he has had precious little time with the keeping gloves out in the UAE. He and Buttler shared the job during the second two-day warm-up match against Pakistan A, but he has not kept in a competitive fixture since the final County Championship match of the season, which finished on September 25.
“Every practice we have been to Jonny has been keeping,” Bayliss said. “We said that to him at the start of the series, that everyone has to have every part of their game up to scratch. Certainly part of his game is that he is a keeper and from that point of view he had to keep working on his keeping just in case of injury, loss of form, he had to be ready to go.”
Bairstow is also part of a middle order which has laboured during the first two Test: Nos. 5, 6 and 7 have only contributed one half-century – Ben Stokes’ 57 in Abu Dhabi – as the onus on England’s run-scoring has remained with Alastair Cook and Joe Root, the latter recapturing the No. 1 batting ranking after scores of 88 and 71 in Dubai.
However, Bayliss believes he has seen significant strides made among a couple of the young batsmen and singled out Stokes as someone who is showing signs of learning quickly in his first experience in Test cricket in Asia.
“If you look at the wider view I think we have actually done, not very well but we’ve shown enough from my point of view that I think the experience will do them the world of good going forward.
“Stokes for example, faced 70-odd balls and I think he has made strides. He is a guy who likes to play positive, aggressive cricket and on this tour as a bowler he has had to bowl a boring line and length and his batting he has had to get himself in and try to graft out an innings and to me it looks like he is trying to do that.”
Further up the order, Moeen has not been flush with runs either, making 48 runs in four innings during the series, but it appears unlikely that Alex Hales will be brought in at this stage and will instead have to wait for South Africa in late December where England’s opening merry-go-round is set to continue.
“You have to give some of these things a try and make a decision down the line about whether it has been a success or not,” Bayliss said. “My philosophy has always been I would like to give somebody one too many goes rather than one too few then you find out one way or another.”
For Buttler, that one too many has probably been and gone.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
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