Grateful Mean

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Jos Buttler has said there are no perfect answers to the scheduling overkill that has led to him missing five of England’s eight Test matches this year in order to rest and with Twenty20 cricket seemingly prioritised.

A centrally contracted player for England in all three formats, Buttler’s itinerary thus far in 2021 sums up much of the wider frustration with the team’s rotation policy, having left the Test series in India for a scheduled break with the side 1-0 up and following back-to-back victories in Sri Lanka. Joe Root’s side have lost four of their five Tests since – the 3-1 defeat by India was followed by a 1-0 series loss at home to New Zealand – while Buttler has featured in all eight of the white-ball team’s fixtures and played in the Indian Premier League before its cancellation at the start of May.

“I don’t think there are any perfect answers,” said Buttler, who, having turned out for Lancashire in the T20 Blast, will be back in action on Wednesday when Eoin Morgan’s Twenty20 side begin a three-match series against Sri Lanka in Cardiff. “Of course it’s always frustrating to miss games. You wish you were available for everything. But in the current climate with all the complications of Covid etc, I do think we have to look after our people.”

Asked if too many fixtures are being scheduled – England play 16 Tests this year, along with 28 white-ball matches and a T20 World Cup – Buttler replied: “That’s probably a really good question for all the administrators, isn’t it? We play a hell of a lot and we understand it’s a short career and you want to be available and play as much as you can. But at certain times I don’t think it is possible – and I think Covid has complicated that even more.”

Buttler insists he wants to be the best player he can be in all formats but, despite averaging 50 with the bat in Test cricket since the start of last summer, acknowledges that his white-ball game is superior at present. It is something which makes his deployment this year all the more curious. Few are questioning the need for rest periods, given the current logistical difficulties and the strains of living in biosecure bubbles, more when these take place given the relative strengths of the two England sides.

Looking ahead he describes playing all five Tests against India this summer and the full Ashes tour in the winter as “the dream”, even if the fixture list remains “daunting” and there is uncertainty whether families will be able to travel with players to Australia, given the current border restrictions.

“That would certainly be a huge challenge,” he said. “Especially when you are accustomed to usually being able to take your family. I’m sure guys would find that tough. Hopefully there’s a positive solution that can be found.”

Asked if national duty will come first when this year’s IPL is completed in September and October in the United Arab Emirates – a direct clash with tours of Bangladesh and Pakistan – Buttler said he will be wherever Ashley Giles, the director of England men’s cricket, tells him to be. Right now Buttler claims to be refreshed by his time off and, as vice-captain and opening batsman in the Twenty20 side, keen to maximise the series against Sri Lanka and Pakistan in order to build a similar confidence to that developed before the victorious 50-over World Cup in 2019.

The upcoming block of white-ball internationals also features six one-day internationals and possible crowds of up to 50% capacity as part of the government’s pilot scheme for sporting venues. The England and Wales Cricket Board has confirmed the first three ODIs versus Sri Lanka at Durham (29 June), the Oval (1 July) and Bristol (4 July) are included in that programme, with the games against Pakistan at Lord’s (10 July) and Edgbaston (13 July) still to be confirmed. The ODI in Cardiff (8 July) is subject to separate discussions with the Welsh government.

Elsewhere the World Test Championship final lost its second whole day on Monday, reducing hope of a result between New Zealand and India. Only 141.1 overs have been bowled in the four nominal days of the match so far in Southampton, although a reserve day is scheduled for tomorrow. New Zealand will resume on 101 for two in reply to India’s 217.