Jos Buttler is from another planet. Or it would seem. When most England batsmen struggled against Sri Lanka on a tricky Sharjah pitch, Buttler was unfazed. He negotiated the early phase with abundant caution before launching into a blistering array of shots in the slog overs.
His century, the first of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, is just reward for his patience and exuberant strokeplay. Buttler now has a century in each of the three formats: Tests, One-Day Internationals and T20 Internationals. His first T20 International ton puts him in a club with three members from England: Alex Hales, Liam Livingstone and Dawid Malan.
Buttler’s knock against the Sri Lankans was a masterclass in playing quality spin bowling on a slow pitch with low bounce. Initially, the England opener was content to push for singles, especially when Maheesh Theekshana was skidding his off-breaks and carrom balls. That was no time for bravado.
Worse was to follow. Sri Lankan leggie Wanindu Hasaranga was on a roll, dismissing Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow. At one point, England lost two wickets in three balls. Best time to attack, some generals would say. But not Eoin Morgan. Pragmatism was the England captain’s chosen route. Morgan and Buttler knuckled down to pass through the treacherous phase.
How the game changed in the slog
Buttler played out the spinners with care while Morgan struggled to regain his timing. But Buttler never let go a bad ball unpunished, as he waited for the time to launch himself.
At the halfway mark, when 10 overs were bowled, England were dawdling at 47/3, and the match seemed to be slipping from their grasp. A total of 120 looked more realistic. But the pitch is prone to change in the second innings, and batting would become significantly easier. So unless England racked up more than 150 on the board, they didn’t have much hope of bundling out Sri Lanka.
Morgan and Buttler shifted gears, and when the 112-run stand ended in the 19th over, England were on course to a good score. Buttler’s first 50 came in 45 balls, but the second took only 22 more as he unleashed shots down the field and over square-leg. It was simply stunning.
Sri Lankan bowlers did their best, but they were outplayed by a batsman of the highest class. A batsman capable of wearing the spinners down and attacking at the opportune time. The match belonged to Buttler.
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The English opener could well be the best T20 batsman in the world now. His takedown of the Australian pace attack in the previous game was breathtaking. His range-hitting skills are incredible, with some of the sixes clearing 100 metres.
If the attack on the Australian was Buttler at his blazing best, the knock against the Sri Lankans revealed a lesser-known dimension to his game: an ability to graft and wear down the opposition.
In Buttler, England have a winner.