Jos Buttler’s recall to the England Test side was a telling statement from the man now in charge of picking the team.
Ed Smith, England’s new national selector, gave us an immediate insight into his thinking by choosing a batsman who has not played a Test for 18 months, who averages only 31 in Test cricket, and who has not featured in first-class cricket this season.
I know from my time working with Ed in the Test Match Special commentary box that he is man who likes flair players – he is a big fan of tennis player Roger Federer, for example.
Buttler certainly fits into that category. Smith described him as a “one of the outstanding talents in world cricket”, and Buttler’s inclusion in a 12-man squad for the first Test against Pakistan starting next Thursday is a hugely positive move.
He is in sensational form – he has scored 548 runs at an average of almost 55 in the Indian Premier League, which included a record-equalling five successive half-centuries.
Anyone who has seen some of Buttler’s innings in one-day cricket – he is responsible for three of the five quickest England hundreds in history – will testify to how dangerous he can be.
There have always been doubts over whether he can translate that form into the Test arena, and this recall means he has got to knuckle down and show he has the technique and temperament for the longer form of the game.
But this is a great opportunity to get him back in the side, and the benefit of picking him now is that he is absolutely brimming with confidence. He is on the crest of a wave.
Buttler adds depth as Root steps up
Buttler’s inclusion as a specialist batsman at number seven means some reshuffling of the order.
One of Mark Stoneman and James Vince had to go, and Vince’s unbeaten 201 for Hampshire this week came too late.
Vince has had plenty of chances and has looked the part at times, but he has simply not scored the runs – three fifties in 13 Tests and an average of less than 25 say as much.
At number three, you have got to have a dependable technique, and we have not seen that from him.
Stoneman can consider himself very fortunate to keep his place, given that he has a highest score of 29 in seven County Championship innings this season. He is the one concern from my point of view. He must get runs – and he must get them soon.
Captain Joe Root has made no secret of not wanting to bat at number three, but he has volunteered to do so for the good of the team. It is another positive move.
Dawid Malan, who impressed over the winter, is more than capable at four, Jonny Bairstow will be fine to keep wicket and bat at five, and Ben Stokes at six makes for an impressive middle order.
If they can get opener Alastair Cook scoring runs again, the batting looks in decent shape.
Looking to the future
I also like the selection of Dominic Bess, the 20-year-old Somerset off-spinner.
With Jack Leach, who played in England’s most recent Test in New Zealand, sidelined by a broken thumb, they could have played safe by reverting back to Moeen Ali, a veteran of 50 Tests.
Instead Smith has picked a player who has only 16 first-class matches under his belt, although a bowling average of 22 suggests he has talent.
It remains to be seen whether Bess will play the first Test of the summer at Lord’s in what are traditionally seamer-friendly conditions, but his presence suggests England and Smith are looking to the future.
After Test series against Pakistan and India this summer, they tour Sri Lanka and West Indies in the winter, when spin will play a key part. It appears England are already planning for those trips.
Given that Bess has taken only one wicket this summer, the selectors have clearly seen something in his attitude on the county circuit and with the Lions. I know he is a strong character.
There was much talk when Smith was appointed that England selection would become much more heavily influenced by statistics.
However, judging by my time in the commentary box with Ed, he is not a man obsessed by data. He just watches the player and game for what it is – and makes his decisions based on that.
This is the sort of squad that I would have expected from him – both positive and forward-thinking.