The question is no longer whether Jos Buttler should open for England in T20 cricket, but who should open with him.
With Buttler missing the final T20 on Tuesday to be with his young family after a masterful display to seal the series yesterday, where he played both starter and finisher, he gifts someone else — surely Tom Banton — another audition atop the order.
In this form of the game, everyone wants to open, Buttler included. The field is up, and the most deliveries are available.
England’s analyst Nathan Leamon has an algorithm that reveals the best position for each player to bat.
With the exception of Eoin Morgan, every England batsman’s best position — from Buttler to Ben Stokes via Moeen Ali — was at the top of the order. It is where almost all of them —and almost all of the young thrusters trying to break into the team, such as Phil Salt and Liam Livingstone — tend to bat for their counties.
Until now, the debate over Buttler’s position has been a reasonable one. He is England’s best batsman, and has a strong record over many years finishing the innings in white-ball cricket. He does that job better than anyone else in the country.
But it is also now crystal clear that he does the opener’s job better than anyone else in the country, too.
He bossed a small chase on Sunday, taking his time — he had 25 from 24 balls, then let rip — but there is also no batsman you would rather kick off a big chase, too. There is no one you would rather bat in any situation, frankly.
As a result of that, Morgan is said to be increasingly wedded to the notion that Buttler is now an opener, even if he was equivocal about the issue when asked on Sunday night.
Since moving up to open for Rajasthan Royals in the 2018 IPL, Buttler’s record is extraordinary: he has 15 fifties in 33 innings, with an average of 47 and strike-rate of 154. Australia spinner Ashton Agar’s relief he was not playing was clear. “It’s certainly an advantage for us that he’s not playing,” he said. “It’s tough [to bowl at him]. He’s a gun.”
The trick now for England is getting the rest of the batting order right — and Tuesday’s game represents a test of their much-vaunted depth, especially if Morgan’s finger injury, which was being scanned this morning, is serious enough to rule him out.
Clearly, there are plenty of candidates to open alongside Buttler. Banton will get his chance, the injured Jason Roy is the explosive option and Jonny Bairstow is always worthy of a place somewhere in the top three. Speaking of three, Dawid Malan seems to move closer to nailing that spot with every game.
If Morgan is unavailable, Livingstone or Joe Denly would likely join Sam Billings in coming into the XI for a game England must win to maintain the top T20 ranking they pinched from Australia on Sunday. Were one of them to shine, England could move a step closer to filling the role Buttler should now leave permanently behind: the finisher.