Jos Buttler clicks, but have England found key to unlocking his potential?

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Alexis Nunes, George Dobell and Osman Samiuddin take your questions after the first Test at Old Trafford (5:45)

Just when England were ready to change that stupid lock and make him leave his key, Jos Buttler goes and produces an innings like that.

By the time Chris Woakes joined Buttler on Saturday, England's position looked hopeless. Buttler's too. After an untidy performance with the gloves, he knew he was under pressure to perform.

Somehow, it appeared to focus his mind. Gone was the tentative, diffidence that has characterised Buttler's batting over the last 18 months or so. In its place was the Buttler familiar from limited-overs cricket: positive; inventive; destructive and focused.

That positivity was crucial. Having just seen Ollie Pope dismissed by an unplayable delivery that reared and took the glove, Buttler and Woakes knew that batting against a second new ball - due in 35 overs when they came together - was likely to prove deeply problematic. So they decided to take it out of the equation.

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That they did so in vastly different styles did England no harm at all. For while Woakes tended to give himself room to cut and drive through the off side, where he scored 63 of his 84 runs, Buttler upset Yasir Shah's plans with his quick footwork and ability to sweep and reverse sweep even out of quite substantial foot marks. He scored 38 on the leg side and 37 on the off.

There's risk inherent in such shots, of course. And there were a couple of top-edges which, another day, might have ended up in the hands of fielders. But these are the calculated risks that Buttler was picked to play and his fast hands and utter commitment to the plan proved equal to the challenge.

Besides, what was the alternative? Trust his defence and get them in singles? That's not Buttler's game. And it wasn't that pitch. By the time Pakistan did have access to the new ball, it was all too late. But it was telling that the stroke that brought victory - less a stroke and more of an edge, really - came from the 13th delivery with the new ball. It moved alarmingly and the edge would have gone to third slip had Pakistan been able to afford to have one. England's tactics were fully vindicated.

Let nobody be in any doubt as to the state of the surface. We had already seen Ben Stokes dismissed by one that reared out of the foot marks. At one stage Buttler was struck in the chest by a top-spinner that reared alarmingly; at another he top-edged a pull when the delivery seemed to stick in the pitch. It was desperately tough.

That there was not a single maiden bowled in the 33 overs the pair batted together isn't an especially flattering reflection on Pakistan's tactics. But it's difficult to save the singles when batsmen keep smashing boundaries. And Buttler, in particular, could give a whippet a decent race. More experienced captains than Azhar Ali would have been left scratching their head by this stand.

Equally, you can forgive Pakistan's spinners looking a bit flustered. To bowl into a foot mark and be reverse-swept for four is perplexing. To then bowl almost the same ball and be swept or driven is bound to leave a bowler confused. Shadab Khan looked intimidated and dragged a couple down. Buttler, rocking on to the back foot, pulled him for six as reward.

So, where does all this leave Buttler? James Vince, for example, was dropped after making 76 in his last Test innings. Will this 75 save Buttler?

Almost certainly. There was very little evidence England were prepared to move on from him anyway. It was actually his third good innings in succession, too. And while he's still short of runs in general as a Test batsman - this was his highest score since September 2018 - it was a reminder of the potential he possesses.

The problem here, though, is that Buttler is at the stage of his career where England would have hoped "potential" had been turned into "performance". Buttler is a dangerous batsman, for sure. In the way Jermaine Blackwood and Shahid Afridi might be described as dangerous. But he's 30 in a month and has been playing for more than a decade. That first-class average of 32.36 doesn't lie. If he's going to bat in the top six, or even top seven, such innings have to come much more often.

So, the fundamental issues remain. He doesn't score quite enough runs to justify a role as a specialist batsman and he doesn't keep quite well enough to provide the assurances England require there.

"Modest in victory, generous to rivals and selfless even when under personal pressure, you can see why England want Buttler around"

Maybe that's unfair. The keeping mistakes in Manchester were out of character. And it was revealed after the game that his father has been unwell recently and spent Friday night in hospital.

Generally he has been sound with the gloves and, standing back to the seamers, has taken some outstanding catches. The worry is his ability to stand up to spinners. And with England currently hoping to play seven Tests in Asia this winter, that's a weakness that could be exposed. An innings of 75, however classy, doesn't change that.

One option would be to recall Ben Foakes. Buttler himself said Foakes had provided him with a "wake-up call" as to the standards required at Test level.

That would leave Buttler fighting for a place as a specialist batsman. But we've been here before. The reason Buttler was given the gloves back in November was that he was struggling to retain his position on his batting alone. Woakes, for example, has the same number of Test centuries, more first-class centuries and actually saw England home on Saturday; nobody is suggesting he bats in the top six.

So it probably won't happen. Instead, England will hope Buttler's hard work with the coaching staff, and keeping consultant, Bruce French, will reap rewards. He certainly won't lack for effort or good intentions.

And that's another factor here. For Buttler's humility after his innings on Saturday was revealing. He knew he hasn't been contributing as much as he would have liked; he knew he owed the team a performance. But instead of unleashing a Denesh Ramdin-style rebuke to his critics, he accepted he "didn't keep well" and that he was playing for his place. Modest in victory, generous to rivals and selfless even when under personal pressure. You can see why they want such a character around.

Joe Root deserves some credit, too. Root's captaincy seems to attract quite a lot of criticism but it may depend on how you define the role. For while there may be reasonable quibbles with some of his tactics - that spell after lunch on day two, for example, when he bowled himself for a few overs instead of one of his four seamers - that is a tiny part of the job. More important, surely, is the ability to build a sense of shared purpose and unity within a squad; to instil an environment which is both hard working but relaxed; to get players playing for one another and the team more than themselves. The evidence suggests Root is rather good at that.

In recent days, it has twice emerged that a well-timed word here and there has made all the difference. In Southampton, Stokes found a note telling him to captain his own way; in Manchester, Buttler was urged to "remember who you are" as he went out to bat. Root might not always have handled Jofra Archer perfectly, but he seems to have learned from the experience to become a wiser, more empathetic captain.

Yes, Root isn't scoring the runs he would like, but England have now won six Tests in a row under his leadership. More than that, they've evolved from a point where they were at each other's throats a few years ago and were none too popular with opponents, either. Root is doing a lot right as captain. If he feels he needs Buttler as one of his trusted lieutenants, well, maybe he has a point.