As the T20 World Cup digested the role of Jos Buttler in England’s eight-wicket pummelling of Australia on Saturday night, the superlatives were running dry.
One of the best in the world, said Eoin Morgan. A genius, reckoned Liam Livingstone. Even Australia’s captain Aaron Finch had to concede, through slightly gritted teeth, that his side had been on the end of an ‘outstanding knock’.
On Sunday, leg-spinner Adil Rashid added his voice to the hosannas: ‘We’re very lucky to have him in our team.’
Jos Buttler played a vital role in England’s eight-wicket pummelling of Australia on Saturday
England captain Eoin Morgan (right) described Buttler as ‘one of the best in the world’
Buttler himself tends not to beat his own drum, but even he was happy to analyse the state of mind that had allowed him to butcher Australia for an unbeaten 71 off 32 balls, with five fours and five sixes – most several rows back at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium.
‘Once you get in that hitting mode, it is just allowing yourself to keep going,’ he said. ‘Sometimes you think you’ll rein it back in, and then you catch yourself being half-hearted.
‘So with the position we were in, it was more that I was just going to keep going – and keep trying to take advantage of being in a good zone.’
With England preparing to take on Sri Lanka on Monday in Sharjah, where victory will all but guarantee their place in the semi-finals, Buttler has emphatically underlined his reputation as one of the white-ball wonders of the age.
In fact, ever since taking a breather from T20 international cricket in 2019 to focus on the 50-over format, he has been unstoppable in the 20-over game.
In 19 matches between February 2020 and Saturday night, he has scored 724 runs at 55, with a strike-rate of 145, eight fifties and 30 sixes. By every measure except strike-rate, he is ahead of all his team-mates. In an England side full of shock and awe, it is quite a feat.
While Australia’s bowlers took turns to look helpless, Buttler remained impassive as he finished with the competition’s only score over 50 made at better than two runs a ball.
‘The mental side of things is something I try to work on a lot,’ he said. ‘I try to have complete trust and access that zone. It’s nice to put your hands through a few again, and have some fun and freedom.
Buttler was happy to analyse the state of mind that had allowed him to butcher Australia
He finished with the competition’s only score over 50 made at better than two runs a ball
‘You practise it and the confidence stays. The adrenaline is going, but you’re still trying to remain quite level in your brain, and relaxed in the top half.’
It seems bizarre now to recall the debate, not so long ago, about Buttler’s best place in the order. The stats look more unequivocal with every innings.
As a T20 opener, he has 988 runs at nearly 55, with a strike-rate of 149 and 11 fifties. In other positions lower down the order, it’s 996 at 23, a strike-rate of 133 and four fifties. Case closed, you would think.
And his partnership with Jason Roy has been one of the driving forces behind England’s No 1 ranking. Four times this year already they have begun with a half-century stand, including Saturday’s pulsating 66 off 6.2 overs, of which Roy’s share was 21.
‘You get quite inspired by Jason at the other end when he is running down first ball against Hazlewood and running down against Cummins,’ said Buttler. ‘These are top bowlers and the way he can impose himself is inspiring.’
His partnership with Jason Roy has been one of the driving forces behind England’s No 1 ranking
The correlation between a one-off T20 clash and a potential 25 days at the Ashes, still over five weeks away, may be tenuous, but with Australia’s Test-match pace attack – Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins – in operation on Sunday, might Buttler have laid down any kind of marker?
‘I don’t know,’ he smiled. ‘Maybe I should try and play the same way – I might be a bit more successful.’ But the innings can have done no harm? ‘No,’ he agreed.
Mark Wood and Tom Curran remain 50-50 to be available for Monday’s game as they recover from ankle and knee injuries respectively, but England will consider giving David Willey his first match of the tournament after fellow left-armer Tymal Mills had an off-day against Australia.
Mills went for 45 in his four overs – none of his team-mates conceded more than 23 – and Morgan may decide to see whether Willey can find any early swing in the Gulf air.
His team have not lost a T20 game against Sri Lanka since 2014, and in June beat them 3-0 at home. It would be a major surprise if they knock England off their stride now.
Buttler insisted his knock against Mitchell Starc did no harm ahead of the Ashes this winter