One of the most undervalued characters in a Test winning side is the wicket-keeper who performs with the bat. For years now, we can see that the teams constantly at the top of the Test rankings always seem to boast of a batsman who could also keep wickets, rather than a keeper who could also bat.
Alan Knott, Rod Marsh, Andy Flower, Adam Gilchrist, Mark Boucher, Kumar Sangakkara are some exemplary names who’ve been part of highly successful teams, with a lot of that success due to them. Latest to the list would be Matt Prior, a very rare talent who, in my book, was arguably one of the finest English players in the last 20 years. Matt Prior was the engine of an ego-centric English team and he gelled everyone else together, creating a monstrous side who were briefly the number one ranked team in Tests. Since then, all eyes rest upon one wunderkind, Jos Buttler.
England face a much tougher battle in UAE than the friendly conditions against the Aussies back at home. Their strongest players, who look solid with their technique and can acclimatise to the dry conditions, are Alastair Cook & Joe Root.
This seems to be the strategy to accommodate the extra bowler in UAE conditions. But I’m going with a different player, hopefully with a different strategy, who could be “the” batsman to pull England out from the misery of the Pakistani bowlers. I'm going to say Jos Buttler could be the difference between the two sides.
England are well guided with the expertise of Mahela Jayawardene as a batting consultant, who was very well versed with the art of negating spin by moving around the crease, making the bowler change his length which in turn helps the batsman play the gaps at will. Hopefully, Jos Buttler has spent the maximum time for him for two reasons:
1. This might be his last straw to grasp at, as Jonny Bairstow is constantly breathing down his neck (and that brings James Taylor into contention as well).
2. If England really are looking to win Tests, they need that typical Jos Buttler assault from the lower middle order.
Cook’s soldiers beat Australia and re-instilled the masses’ faith in them, but this tour is way tougher in every aspect. Their constant struggle against spin, their ever-changing batting order and their lack of a genuinely threatening off-spinner in the mould of Graeme Swann are just some of their bugbears.
They face a rampant Pakistan side with an impeccable record at their 'home' UAE grounds. As a matter of stats, they are yet to be beaten here in Abu Dhabi in seven matches so far. There really isn’t much going in England’s favour if you look at their previous tour here in UAE, getting blanked 3-0 where Saeed Ajmal, Abdur Rehman & co. ran riot.
This time, a less experienced English batting line-up face an Ajmal-less line-up but the threat of Yasir Shah still looms over them. Yasir’s injury in the pre-warm ups is a big plus for England, but more importantly for Jos Buttler, one less spinner to deal with.
Owing to some woeful overall cricket by both sides in the Ashes, England didn’t come out and triumph comprehensively and they are one of the worst away-starters in Tests to boot. Not to drag him everywhere without valid reason, but let’s just say for a fact that Kevin Pietersen would have been an invaluable asset, especially in a place like UAE where players like KP can pull out a magic wand and change the complexion of the game before Misbah could put his worrying hand on his forehead. Cook is clearly a threat, Root will be key, but Jos Buttler, for his own career’s sake and with England’s pitiful away performances, really has to come up good.
Hope as hell that he turns out to be the Kevin Pietersen that England needs, not the one it deserves.