Spending the night in your team hotel when it is part of the ground where you are playing, where you can look out of your bedroom and see the place where you have made critical mistakes which are probably going to cost your team the match: cricket was always the cruellest as well as most beautiful of games but this Covid-dictated refinement, of making you spend 24 hours a day at the scene of your misfortune, is a twist worthy of the Marquis de Sade.
Let England supporters hope Jos Buttler does not have restless nights after his three wicketkeeping errors: two of them when Shan Masood had scored 45, and a third - the simplest - when Yasir Shah had scored five. Buttler has scored one century in his 45 Tests. It will take another to erase the effect of his mistakes and give England the sizeable first-innings lead they will need to counter the disadvantage of batting last on a pitch which will misbehave as it is already so dry.
Overall it was England’s worst day of this abbreviated summer, because Pakistan do not play cricket in the uniform and predictable style that West Indies do, but on Buttler the spotlight will fall because the two mistakes which reprieved Masood were game-changing. Masood had been a walking wicket in England but has since taken several leaves from the notebook of Pakistan’s batting coach Younis Khan, the master at blocking a bowling attack into submission, then blasting it in the second half of his innings.
England’s finest wicketkeepers have had a certain rubberiness, and floppiness. They have been like puppets in that they have been able to flop and leap, jump and dive, twist and turn, as if jerked on a string. Alan Knott, Jack Russell and Ben Foakes have had this physiology, and it has set them apart when standing up to the stumps against spin on a turning or bouncing pitch, which is the litmus test of wicketkeepers.
Buttler has already had a bad Test when keeping to the off-spin of Dom Bess and Joe Root, in Port Elizabeth last winter, and changed his technique so that he touched the ground with his gloves when he crouched. At St George’s Park the challenge was the ball skidding through low; at Old Trafford it has been the ball bouncing abnormally, which is where that physical attribute of floppiness comes in useful, because it is all about opening up the hips to catch the ball leaping to either side.
Pakistan’s wicketkeeper Mohammad Rizwan showed how it should be done when opening up his hips and taking the zipping leg-breaks of Yasir Shah at chest height. Rizwan also let his hands give when the ball hit his gloves, as when catching Root, whereas Buttler’s hands did not give an inch when Yasir outside-edged that chance off Bess.
Here is another reason why Test cricket is the supreme format: every single element of a player’s make-up is examined. In some T20 internationals only half-a-dozen balls go through to Buttler: his main job is to catch the throw-ins and effect the run-outs. In 50-over internationals, when slogathons of 400 per side, again the wicketkeeper has little practice of what a Test keeper has to do - and over the years, as England’s white-ball keeper, Buttler got into the bad habit of not crouching low enough when standing up to the stumps.
The key mental component for a wicketkeeper is to want the ball. The goalkeeper goes for the ball in his penalty area; the real wicketkeeper wants the ball wherever in the field it might be, so he can grab it, and be empowered, as the engine of his team. But this is in red-ball cricket: in white-ball internationals there is not enough time for the keeper to keep grabbing the ball and attention, and choreograph his team in the field.
Last winter’s nightmare, and this week’s, must have been all the more of a torment for Buttler in that he would be desperate to help Bess, partly because Buttler is the ultimate team man, but not least because Bess plays for Somerset, with whom Buttler has a lingering affinity. And the psychological blows that a keeper suffers infect the whole side.
Buttler is one of those keepers who are made rather than begotten. As a lad, in addition to his batting, he opened the bowling for Somerset Under-11s. In their Under-15s he was still not keeping wicket, but bowling flat off-spin.
And all the time that he stares out of his hotel window, because he was in the England side in Sri Lanka in late 2018 as a specialist batsman, Buttler will remember the impeccable keeping of Foakes, who never missed a chance when standing up to Moeen Ali, Jack Leach and Adil Rashid on pitches designed to help the home side. How Foakes was here, there and everywhere behind the stumps and in front of them, hands always soft, leaping and diving, like a supremely prehensile puppet.