Rob Key: “England are not getting the best out of their best cricketer in all formats [Ben Stokes], the hero from Headingley. His game is more suited to batting earlier on in the innings”; watch the fourth T20I between India and England, live on Sky Sports Cricket, 1pm, Thursday
Jos Buttler played a starring role in England’s convincing third T20I win over India on Tuesday, but has his knock finally ended any debate over where he should bat in the order?
Buttler smashed a career-best 83no off 52 balls in England’s eight-wicket win, while he now averages 51.23, with a strike-rate of 153.10, at the top of the order in T20I cricket – with seven of his 11 fifties coming since his promotion.
Sky Sports’ Rob Key, however, stated before the game he felt Buttler’s best position is still as a middle-order ‘finisher’ and stood firm in his opinion after his match-winning innings.
“You’re making it out that I don’t think he can play,” Key said. “I said at the start that he would score some runs there [opening] and make me look stupid,
“I completely see what England are doing, and I think ‘fine’. After he scores fifty, give me as much stick as you like, but I won’t change my mind.”
England bowler Stuart Broad believes though: “It puts the debate to bed; he opens the batting in the World Cup.”
“He is our best white-ball cricketer,” Broad added. “He wins games of cricket for England and you want him facing as many balls as possible.”
Ahead of the T20 World Cup in India in October later this year, Key and Nasser Hussain discussed Buttler’s position as part of a wider talk on how England’s batting lineup is shaping up as the tournament moves ever closer.
Also, up for debate was Dawid Malan’s place in the side, with the No 1 ranked T20 batsman in the world yet to really fire in his first series in India; could there be room for potential returns to the team for Joe Root and Alex Hales? And are England getting the best out of their superstar all-rounder Ben Stokes?
What did Key say on Buttler before the game?
Rob Key: “This series is all about [England] trying to find out the roles for their best players, put all the pieces in the right spot
“And that’s interesting, because I would never have Buttler down as an opener. I know his record is fantastic and he will probably now smash a hundred in this series, but there are so many other options.
“I would have never put him up there in the first place. I’m not saying I’m right on that, but if I was an opener for England, I would love the fact that Buttler is still to come in.
“I wouldn’t bat him at six, I would have him floating. I think that role works with a player as good as Buttler.
“If seven or eight overs have gone, and one wicket goes down, ‘in you go, Jos’. You don’t wait to bring him in then, but it’s a case of having a point where it’s ‘Buttler time’.
Is Dawid Malan under pressure?
Nasser Hussain: “Malan, historically, in his first 20 balls, doesn’t go big, but he catches up and goes ballistic after that – he is the number one ranked T20 batsman in the world for a reason.
“But the problem with those stats is, he has done it in Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa, where the pitches stay good for 20 overs so he can catch up. In India, he can’t afford to be using up deliveries in the powerplay and then get out.
“Malan has absolutely earned the right to play all of these five games and then go away to Kings XI Punjab in the IPL and work out a method [of batting in India].
“I would bank on him learning and getting better, but if he doesn’t, England might have to think about changing it.”
Rob Key: “I feel that Malan, no matter what he does, is under pressure. He could argue that’s ridiculous, his record is so good – yet, still, after one bad game we’re talking about him.
“This is what they [England] have to try to work out somehow. Who is the best opener? Where does Alex Hales slot in, if he comes back? Malan, does he play?
Who are England’s other options they could bring in?
Nasser Hussain: “They could go for Hales, who is an explosive player in the powerplay. In world cricket this year, he has the second-best strike-rate in the powerplay, at 179.
“Rumours are that things are thawing a bit between Hales and [captain] Eoin Morgan, but other rumours are he isn’t getting back in. I don’t know the story, but he can bat in a powerplay.
“Another option is Root. If England want a Virat Kohli type to knock the ball around; he is a brilliant player of spin and, in the last T20 World Cup in India [in 2016], he averaged 50 at a strike-rate of nearly 150.
“A third option is Stokes. He looks like he needs a role in T20 cricket. He is batting at number six, and is England’s sixth bowler.”
Could Stokes be moved up the order?
Rob Key: “England are not getting the best out of their best cricketer in all formats [Stokes], the hero from Headingley.
“If you look at Stokes’ stats in international T20 cricket, the one thing that is striking to me is, he hasn’t even scored a fifty.
“The way he can play, one of England’s most destructive and powerful players, and yet he hasn’t got a fifty.
“You have to look at the positions in which he bats, as generally he is coming in later on in T20 cricket.
“In the IPL, he has two hundreds. One of them as an opener, while one came at number five in the order, but he was batting inside the first two overs.
“His game is more suited to batting earlier on in the innings. We need to find a way somehow to get more out of Stokes.”