Jos Buttler is having the time of his life. At a low-scoring T20 World Cup, he keeps hitting the heights, annihilating Australia one day, subduing Sri Lanka the next. He looks supremely comfortable. And he has bad news for his opponents: he’s not done yet.
Buttler has been lauded often enough. In 2015, he scored a 46-ball century against Pakistan in an ODI in Dubai that team-mates still talk about.
Three years later, in a home 50-over series against Australia, he played — in his view — as well as he ever had. But to bat as he has this past fortnight — on the global stage, with England aiming to become the first team to simultaneously hold the one-day and T20 trophies — feels like the next level.
Jos Buttler has been in terrific form for England at the T20 World Cup in the UAE so far
The 31-year-old is looking to win the T20 World Cup after winning the 50-over version in 2019
As usual, his murderous batting is the precursor to softly spoken modesty. No sooner has he admitted how pleasing it was to ‘play your best cricket across two games’ than he is adding: ‘More importantly, we’re four from four.’
Scratch below the surface and he is clearly enjoying the ride. After anchoring England’s mini-chase of 56 against West Indies with an unbeaten 24, he followed 18 against Bangladesh with an alpha-male 71 not out off 32 balls against Australia and a skilful unbeaten 101 off 67 against Sri Lanka.
Ahead of tomorrow’s final group game against South Africa, he has 214 runs for once out, a strike-rate of 154, and the world at his feet.
Can he pick a favourite shot so far? ‘Probably the first straight six off Adam Zampa to get to 50 against Australia,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘It’s one of the biggest hits I’ve had. I was nowhere near it, a six-or-out wild swing, but I managed to get it out of the middle.’
The ICC’s virtual tape measure reckoned it was 105 metres, longer than two Olympic swimming pools. More proof that he has morphed into Buttler 2.0 came two days later on a sticky Sharjah surface against Sri Lanka’s spinners.
With Eoin Morgan unable to get the ball off the square, the onus fell on Buttler, who responded with a nuanced innings that, a few years ago, may have been beyond him.
Buttler spoke about his never-ending bid to improve as a batsman and wicket-keeper
Central to Buttler’s success is his mental equilibrium, a subject he likes to read up on
‘Earlier in my career, I wouldn’t have tried to soak up the pressure as much,’ he says. ‘I would have tried to force the issue.
‘Senior players used to tell me: “Once you’re more experienced, you’ll make better decisions.” I never believed it. I thought, surely you can either do it or you can’t? But now I understand exactly what they meant.’
Buttler, now 31, is mid-innings for an international cricketer and hungry to improve.
‘When people say, “you’ll never play that well again”, I find that hard to get my head around. If I’m never going to experience that feeling again, what’s the point in keeping going?
‘It’s really important for me to believe I can get better and that my best cricket is ahead of me.’
Central to his success is his mental equilibrium, a subject he likes to read up on — most recently Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday.
‘There’s a chapter in that about fear and how it paralyses you,’ says Buttler. ‘I saw a quote from Rafael Nadal about how losing is not his enemy, but the fear of losing is. That’s what it’s all about.’
Buttler has taken inspiration from Rafael Nadal, who said the fear of losing is his biggest enemy
After the World Cup come the Ashes starting next month, Buttler’s first Test tour of Australia
In that respect, Buttler has been a student of Indian captain Virat Kohli. ‘I looked at him for a period and thought: it can’t be his day every day just because he’s better than everyone else technically.
‘Obviously, he’s extremely fit. But it must be the mentality he has which allows him to be so consistent, and there are a number of guys like that — Steve Smith, Rooty, Kane Williamson. It always seems to be their day, you know. Roger Federer is another one I love. He’s emotionless: you can’t tell if he’s winning or losing.’
After the World Cup come the Ashes, Buttler’s first Test tour of Australia, and a chance to improve a five-day record — two hundreds in 92 innings and an average of 33 — that he regards as ‘frustrating’.
He adds: ‘My scope for improvement is much larger in Tests. I don’t feel like I’ve made the contribution individually in Test matches as I have in one-day cricket.’
His hundred against Sri Lanka meant he was the first England player to reach a century in all formats. Now, he wants to feel truly world-class in all three.
Buttler has also studied Indian captain Virat Kohli in a bid to become one of the world’s best
‘That’s always my aim,’ he says. ‘I want to be one of the best players in the world. I certainly feel like I’ve got the potential.
‘I’ve had more than enough opportunities and plenty of backing. I’m desperate to repay that faith.
‘The Ashes is going to be the toughest challenge I’ve faced, but that’s exciting. It’s why you play. It’s going to be tough, but when it’s tough that’s what makes the good times even more rewarding.’
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