Good for Ed Smith. The new national selector can’t just rock a fine pair of sunglasses, he can make bold decisions. Though quite how bold it was to pick Jos Buttler, arguably England’s most gifted cricketer, is a matter of opinion. It would have been remarkable if one of the world’s best players, and a phenomenal striker of a cricket ball, had been left on the sidelines for the Pakistan Tests. Smith has brought an adventurous spirit to this England team, after years of excessive caution.
Buttler has illuminated the Indian Premier League for the Rajasthan Royals, who will be scowling into their Cobra beers after losing their best player. The purists will be saying he is just a white-ball basher, but however you look at it, his IPL run has been extraordinary. He hit five consecutive fifties opening the batting, an IPL record — three of them being 95, 94 and 81.
And it is clear from seeing the games that his open, sunny nature has an inspirational effect on the younger Indians in his team. One of my favourite Buttler stats is that he broke more or less all schoolboy records at King’s College Taunton, notably scoring 227 not out in a 50-over national schools tournament. He is now wonderful to see in action — one of the few batsmen in the world you would drop everything to watch, along with Kohli, A.B. de Villiers, and maybe Kane Williamson. To his great credit, Smith has given him free rein to play his natural game: to treat the Test like a white-ball match.
Lord’s next week is the place to be. I think it is a great pity James Vince won’t be playing — he scored an unbeaten double hundred for Hampshire the other day — and is a treat at the crease once he has managed to avoid nicking to the slip cordon. Mark Stoneman can think he is pretty lucky still to be playing, and I would like to see Surrey’s Ben Foakes given a chance, though it’s not as if England are short of wicket keepers/batsmen.
Amid the more bizarre ramblings at the end of a very unbalanced Premier League, Alan Shearer — to whom full respect mostly — took the view that Manchester City had to win the title again next year before we could consider them a great team. Eh? That has to be complete nonsense. One of those groundless nuggets of football wisdom that people trot out, like the need to keep it tight for the first 20 minutes. City broke just about every record you can think of, so quite obviously they are a great team, probably the best football side ever to have played in this country. Why do they need to do it again before we can say that? On the Shearer argument, the Brazil team of 1970 were rubbish because they didn’t do it the next time too. And as for England in 1966 — well, very average, they just didn’t push on.
Judging by the past season though, it won’t be too long before every minute of every football match is reserved for applause to commemorate some person or some event, with no spare seconds left over to applaud something commendable that’s actually happened on the pitch. At Old Trafford last Sunday there was a minute’s applause at 26 minutes, presumably as a tribute to Alex Ferguson’s 26 years in charge; the usual 58th-minute marking of Munich; Watford’s 72nd-minute acknowledgement of Graham Taylor, who died at 72, and a couple of other numeric-related clapping sessions (one at 68, for I guess the year of United’s first European Cup triumph over Benfica). This is all very well and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of sentiment. But shouldn’t fans limit the number of remembrances in any one match, or concentrate on paying inner tributes while outwardly pursuing the normal verbal savaging of opposition fans and official incompetence? Much more fun.