Jos Buttler: 21st Century Twenty20 Template?

For those who haven’t seen much of Jos Buttler before, and are marvelling at the cameos which he has already delivered in his brief spell in international cricket, then you’ve missed out. Anyone who has watched Somerset play over the past three years will be ahead of the curve already because in the murky world of County Cricket, Buttler stood out like a beacon.

Even from an early age, he was unveiling the ramp shots he plays with remarkable ease, hitting full balls over the boundary rope for fun and keeping up with Somerset’s other notable big hitters – Trescothick, Pollard, Kieswetter and Trego. He has always played, as Scyld Berry notes here, a 360 degrees game with no limit to his ability to lift the ball over the boundary from any angle. All the while, he has executed with an icy veined veneer, giving little away to the opposition about which way he is about to hit the ball, eerily reminiscent of the best finishers. The only question was whether his talent would transfer to the international stage and so far, while the returns haven’t been particularly big, the signs are looking very good.

England has rarely seen a player capable of doing what he, potentially could do. English players have always previously trended towards the orthodox, leaving innovation and audacity to the other Test nations; few have ripped up the coaching manual and displayed such a range of stroke as Buttler. In that regard, he could well be a template for what is the future for English batsmen in the age of T20.

He was only 12 years of age when the first Twenty20 match was played in June 2003 so it’s no exaggeration to say that he’s grown up with cricket’s shortest format everywhere.  His generation is the first which will have developed from an early age with Twenty20 as their possible raison d’etre. Whereas in the past, young players would have been developed with first class or Test cricket as their sole career option, Buttler’s generation live in a very different world.

The ultimate question remains whether he will make the step up in Test cricket in the future, his domestic first class record is inferior to his shorter form one and questions have been previously raised about the robustness of his defensive technique. Nor is there much precedent for the great finishers of one day cricket stepping up successfully in Test cricket. But unlike his predecessors, who knows whether Buttler will even need to step up anyway such is the prevalence of T20 cricket.

But those are questions which will be answered as his career unfolds. For now, we must simply enjoy him for what he is: a young player capable of playing audacious strokes and hitting powerfully around the wicket and finishing an innings with a flourish. England have seldom had few players like him before, though one wonders if he is simply a sign of things to come; a template for how young players will play in the years ahead.

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Ian Bell: England’s man for all forms of the game

It’s one of the oldest phrases in the book, but what the hell: “Like a fine wine, Ian Bell seems to get better with age.”

At the moment England can’t get enough of Ian Bell, Ashes centurion, slayer of the Australians, now nicknamed “The Terminator” by Shane Warne and recent match-winner of their latest tour game against the Prime Ministers.

Certainly this is a far cry from the hellish experience he suffered four years ago in Australia where one felt he was surely being pushed to within one step of a breakdown such was his torment at the hands of a mighty fine Australian outfit.

Yet that was a different Ian Bell, certainly compared with the authorative, commanding batsman who now regularly accepts centre stage for England though who is rarely afforded it.

Indeed after two years of middling success and a constant barrage of criticism over a whole range of things such as his inability to score a ODI hundred, his inability to score a Test century on his own, and his ability to find such weird ways to get himself out when well set, perhaps now the time finally has come to accept Ian Bell for what he has finally become.

Because he is now probably England’s best batsmen, perhaps in any form of the game. Sure Kevin Pietersen has the extravagance and ability to dominate even the best bowlers, but his double century not withstanding he has still to regularly hit big scores consistently to match up to his talent.

Cook and Trott may have the numbers-Cook the most runs recently, Trott the highest average-but neither particularly dominates. They both set themselves up, to nudge and to nurdle-more to infuriate a bowler than to cow them. Strauss is now more of a dasher-a more dominating and better batsman but not quite as effective a run scorer as in his early days in Test cricket.

All the while there is Bell who in a sense fits the bill of all.

Certainly style is not a problem, as he has a game the purists dream of. His cover drive is nigh on glorious, all high elbow and a lovely fluid movement of the bat while he also sweeps like the best of them.  He now dominates bowlers, not in a Jacques Kallis powerful kind of way, but more through cashing in on poorer balls, threading eye of the needle drives around the park and forever looking to move his feet to come down the track to spinners as if his name were Sachin and he came from India.

Yet he has coupled this with a stick ability that makes him respected. Lest we forget that it was Bell who kept Collingwood company for much of his rearguard action in South Africa, that it was he who played lone hands to keep England competitive when they were down in Perth and in Brisbane.

The question now for him is what next. Exciting times these are for England’s Test number six. One would venture a place at number five in the World Cup will beckon, though don’t be too surprised if a move to open comes about if Davies fails to hit his straps.

He has played that role with moderate success before but he is more than capable of playing it better now as he keeps the scoreboard ticking, can clear the boundary if needed and plays both seam and spin well-something which neither Davies or Kieswetter can state confidently.

Then there is the Twenty20 team. Bell hasn’t been part of that for a long time, but stated after his ton for the tourists against the Prime Ministers XI that he fancied a bit of T20 for England. So here’s a mad idea-make him captain once Collingwood eventually retires and slowly but surely integrate him into the team.

His batting easily surpasses Collingwood, he has captaincy experience with Warwickshire and appears to thrive on it, and his ground fielding-though not Collingwood-esque-is still probably amongst the best in the world-a vital part of T20 cricket.

In Test matches, he’ll almost certainly take on the number five position-as a key pivot in this England team-and may ultimately end up back at number three where he so wants to be in a couple of years.

One wouldn’t doubt him to do it, because after years of struggle things finally look like their paying off for Ian Bell, who now surely must be England’s man for all forms of the game.

Sensible cricket is at the heart of both Somerset and England’s recipes for success

Two games in 24 hours witnessed two thoroughly proficient performances of limited overs cricket as first England beat Pakistan and then Somerset defeated Essex in their Pro40 Semi-Final to set up a final against Warwickshire at Lords.

Both teams are enjoying a prolific time within limited overs cricket, England fresh from being crowned T20 World Champions have emerged victorious in series over Bangladesh and Australia, while Somerset reached the Twenty20 Finals Day only to be pipped by Hampshire and are now in the Pro40 final-not to mention being genuine contenders for the County Championship.

On paper there are plenty of similarities between the two teams, both are incredibly fit, well organised and drilled. Both are well led both in terms of captaincy and with the bat, England by Andrew Strauss, Somerset by Marcus Trescothick.

Both also contain versatile bowling attacks, with real quality spinners in Graham Swann and Murali Kartik, and explosive young talent in Eoin Morgan and Steven Davies, and for Somerset Jos Buttler and England’s very own Craig Kieswetter.

Yet the key for both teams, beyond the sheer depth of talent at their disposal, is that both harness it in the right way-using their talent to full, something which both team’s could have been accused of not doing in the past.

The buzz word around each team has been sensible cricket, not so much approaching matters in a cavalier matter but approaching it with a methodical, calculated approach while also performing their key skills under pressure.

Take England, who have yet to concede more than 150 runs in a T20 innings in almost 2 years, and Somerset, who lost only two of their 16 T20 matches and just two of their 11 Pro40 games. These are not statistics achieved through chance, but through rigorous effort and a methodical, common sense approach.

Certainly, the improvements in both lie in the powerful management both on, and off the field-both by their coaches Andy Flower and Andy Hurry, and on the field with Strauss and Trescothick.

The coaches are particularly key, Flower built on the base which was constructed by the well-meaning, but under-respected Peter Moores, who laid the foundations for this success. So too, as Hurry and Trescothick built on the base constructed by Justin Langer during his time as captain.

Langer, a keen workaholic whose career outlasted many more talented batsmen as a result, helped introduce the kind of work ethic and fitness work which were unpopular among certain maverick players like Ian Blackwell, but which has proved beneficial to the likes of James Hildreth and Peter Trego who are thriving, as are the team.

It is about managing resources, covering every base, rigorously planning ahead, and ensuring that skills are performed under even the most pressured of environments. These may sound purely like plain common sense, but that is the very notion which is at the heart of their success. Sensible cricket, which as both England and Somerset are proving, is also successful cricket.

Hampshire’s Impressive Young Stars Continue to Lead the Way in Twenty20

A season which was fast going off the rails for Hampshire has all of a sudden begun to pick up speed at just the right time as Dominic Cork’s team find themselves in the Twenty20 finals day for the first time at their home ground after a storming victory over Warwickshire at Edgbaston.

Cork, who has played a huge part in the resurgence of this side after taking over the captaincy from Nic Pothas mid-way through the season, has found himself saddled with a young team in the absence of a number of senior players.

For one reason or another, be it international duty or injury, he has been forced to do without Simon Jones, Nic Pothas, Dimitri Mascharenas, Kevin Pietersen and Kabir Ali for large parts of this campaign, yet in their absence Hampshire’s young stars have begun to find their feet in impressive fashion.

None was more impressive than young batsman James Vince, whose unbeaten 66 was the key factor in his side’s victory and was an innings which was audacious as much for its startling maturity than its majesty.

Impressive performer

The man-of-the-match hit the headlines last year after former England coach Duncan Fletcher compared him with Michael Vaughan. The comparisons may be a touch premature, but they are now without reason. In terms of his shot selection, the sweetness of his timing and the sheer composure at the crease, Vince has a lot in common with the former England captain.

While he may not have garnered the praise of either Ben Stokes or James Taylor, Vince has quietly and efficiently got on with doing what he does best, making runs. While he has not yet got the big scores, he has a happy knack of scoring runs whenever he is at the crease-and as he showed today-is capable of making them at the right time.

But there are others, especially left-arm spinner Danny Briggs, the third highest wicket taker in the competition with 27 wickets at an average of 14.29.

Today he took three vital wickets and showed plenty of nous and accuracy, something which will undoubtedly have impressed the watching Ashley Giles.

Giving it a tweak

He also managed to out bowl the vastly more experienced Imran Tahir, and had former England captain Michael Atherton purring in the commentary box.

Those two were the decisive men today for Hampshire, but there were also decisive contributions from wicketkeeper Matthew Bates,who kept wonderfully both standing up and back from the stumps, and left arm seamer Chris Wood, who despite failing to pick up a wicket had the vastly experienced Darren Maddy in all sorts of trouble at times.

It is worth remembering that were their more experienced men available or had Michael Lumb not endured such a dismal run of form, then these four young men may never have played in the first place.

But it is also testament to the quality of the Hampshire academy and the work that goes on behind the scenes that these players, along with the missing Liam Dawson, are capable of performing so well on the big stage when called upon.

Though they too will pay compliments to the roles of some of Hampshire’s experienced men in their success. Throughout the team there is a real team ethic, and a supporting influence, which perhaps starts from Cork but has permeated throughout this team.

Led by opener Jimmy Adams, the first ever batsman to score over 600 runs in a domestic T20 season, and backed by solid contributions from Michael Carberry and Neil McKenzie in the middle order and with the nous of experienced campaigners Abdul Razzaq, Daniel Christian and Neil Ervine.

Altogether it makes for a potent T20 mixture, and one that appears to be serving the Hampshire Hawks well.

Come finals day they ought to be tough opposition for whoever they come up against, and if Cork and his team do succeed on their home patch, don’t be surprised if it’s their young stars who are once again leading the way.