Jos Buttler has hailed Joe Root’s performances in the last two Tests in Sri Lanka as “a masterclass”, and believes that everyone in the England squad – not to mention those watching back home – can learn from his example after a superb display of technical and physical prowess in Galle.
Root was unluckily run out by a direct hit from short leg off the final ball of the third day’s play for 186, his second hundred in consecutive Tests after making a match-winning 228 in last week’s series opener at the same venue. And Buttler, who was England’s next-highest scorer with 55 in a fifth-wicket stand of 97, was confident that the captain’s example would rub off on his dressing room, as they build towards both the climax of this match, and the forthcoming four-Test series in India.
“It was a quite amazing innings,” Buttler said. “To back up his double-hundred in the first Test, both physically and mentally, and to show the application to go and do it again. Today it’s been a masterclass in batting against spin, and it has been a great education for all of us, watching from the sidelines. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching him and we’re gutted for him to get out in that fashion at the end of the day.”
Nevertheless, the gulf between Root’s performances in this series and the rest of the England batting line-up has been stark – aside from Buttler, only Dan Lawrence with 73 in the first Test has so far passed fifty, and in England’s first innings of this match, Lawrence was one of three top-order batsman to fall in single figures to the left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya – alongside the openers, Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley, who have made 28 runs in six innings between them.
But Buttler insisted that the work that all the players were putting in, plus the lessons that they could glean from watching a batsman such as Root at the top of his game, could still stand them in good stead for the rest of the winter.
“Not just young players but older players and people watching from home can learn a lot from watching Joe Root bat against spin,” he said. “The dressing room is right behind those guys, it’s only a couple of innings and starting against spin is a different proposition.
“They are putting in an immense amount of work in the nets and it’s important those guys continue to trust their game. Once you get through that initial period it does change and become more comfortable. We’ve seen in both sides, once you get in, there are runs to be had on these surfaces. Those boys are working hard and everyone is right behind them. I’m sure everything clicking is just around the corner.”
A focus on conditioning, Buttler added, had been a significant part of Root’s durability in the first two Tests – particularly given the sapping heat of Galle – and he praised the efforts of England’s nutritionist, Emma Gardner, who has been present in Sri Lanka to help the team with their preparations.
“Sri Lanka is as challenging conditions as we face,” Buttler said. “So, again, that just adds to the magnitude of the efforts of Rooty’s innings, really. For the eight days of cricket so far, he’s been pretty much on the field. It seems a lot hotter, a lot more draining, than the first game, which had rain breaks as well, so we have to not just praise the tactical and technical aspects of his game, but the physicality and concentration to apply himself for so long.
“Fuelling correctly is a big part of that,” Buttler added. “We are very lucky that Emma [Gardner], our nutritionist, is out here and she’s brilliant at getting the right information to people about what they need to eat and drink; what things they need to take on and when.
“That’s been a big part of the performance so far and a great help for everyone to have her here guiding that side of things. We know the effects it can have on performance.”
Asked if Root’s motivation had been redoubled by a relatively lean 2020, in which he failed to make a Test hundred for the first full year of his career, Buttler acknowledged that he had seemed especially determined during their brief warm-up phase in Hambantota.
“You can talk about his under-performing, but it’s pretty good for others,” Buttler said. “He certainly sits at the top table of cricketers in the world, and the standards he sets himself and drives on to achieve is what makes him so good.
“That hunger to back up a double in the first game, to go and score another massive hundred, just shows where he is at with his game. Knowing how much he loves batting, having not been able to bat for a while and with the ODI tour in South Africa getting cancelled, he looks hungry in the middle.”
England will link up with significant reinforcements when they depart for India on January 27, ahead of the first Test in Chennai on February 5. On Sunday morning, the three absentees in Sri Lanka – Ben Stokes, Rory Burns and Jofra Archer – all touched down in India, where they will undergo six days of quarantine – with the prospect of individual gym work from day three onwards – before commencing full training next Saturday, five days out from the start of the series.
Buttler himself, however, will be heading in the other direction after the first Test. He has been rested for the final three Tests of the India tour, given his importance to England’s white-ball fortunes, with the five T20Is and three ODIs against India in March replicating the conditions that England can expect to face in the T20 World Cup at the end of the year.
“Like most people, there have been discussions with the selectors and the coaches, because it’s important to try and find gaps,” Buttler said. “No one wants to miss games but the ECB are looking after player welfare in such a strange time with the pandemic, and in such a busy calendar for English cricket. This year is important so that’s why.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket