The England men’s team are at the top of the One-Day International rankings, something not many would have expected after their utterly dismal performance at the 2015 World Cup where they had an embarrassing exit in the group stage, looking uncomfortable among the likes of Australia, India and South Africa who were catching up with the times of smashing it hard.
But fast forward to 2018, and England have won two hotly contested ODI tours against Australia and New Zealand, and are among the favourites for the World Cup next year.
There’s one man at the centre of this revival – Jos Buttler.
The soft-spoken and mellow wicketkeeper from Taunton, now plying his trade with Lancashire along with James Anderson, burst on to the scene when Ashley Giles picked him over Craig Kieswetter for the 2012 tour of India. From then on, his talent for big hitting and blowing the opposition out of the water was evident.
Holding the record for the three fastest ODI centuries scored by an England batsman briefly captures what this unassuming cricketer can do to strong bowling attacks. It’s no mere coincidence that Buttler’s rise in white-ball cricket has come simultaneously with the resurgence of England.
According to Buttler, there is another factor that has aided England’s rise – their acceptance of the Indian Premier League.
“There’s been a big culture change probably I think coincides with the IPL as well. There are 12 English players now. I think this is the most we’ve ever had here so the IPL has been a lot more accepted,” explained Buttler in a chat with Wisden India.
Indeed, England’s presence at the IPL has come a long way since purists snubbed Kevin Pietersen’s yearly journey to Indian shores in April and May.
Aside from Buttler, Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer at Rajasthan Royals, the English contingent at the IPL also includes Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes (Royal Challengers Bangalore), Liam Plunkett and Jason Roy (Delhi Daredevils), Sam Billings, David Willey and Mark Wood (Chennai Super Kings), Tom Curran (Kolkata Knight Riders), Alex Hales and Chris Jordan (Sunrisers Hyderabad).
“It’s going to benefit ourselves and as a country, our team and guys experiencing the conditions and atmosphere and pressure,” said Buttler. “I’ve learnt a huge amount individually from the IPL and I’m sure everyone else has as well, so I think there’s been a big change in England about sort of taking white-ball cricket as seriously as red-ball cricket and I think that’s showing in the results for us as well.”
The coaches and mentors available for many of these players to learn from is a veritable feast of international and Indian talent ranging from Ricky Ponting to Virender Sehwag. Buttler’s childhood dream came true when he was bought by Rajasthan for Rs 4.4 crore, because it meant linking up with one of his cricketing heroes – Shane Warne.
While Warne’s experiences on the wrong side of the 2005 Ashes were at the top of Buttler’s list of things to ask, the England batsman ended up in awe of Rajasthan mentor’s confidence no-nonsense attitude.
“I think when you come across these great players, it’s just that amazing attention to detail and how fast his mind works and the things he picks up around the group and about different players in the opposition,” explained Buttler. “It really gets you thinking about these things that you’ve not necessarily thought about.
“He gives so much confidence to the group, just the way he talks, straight-talking, really gives guys confidence which is all you really want from anyone is in these franchise competitions when you’re together for a quite short period of time. You can get the guys feeling confident in the way he acts, in the way he gets his messages across.”
In the IPL, players are bound to pick up on little things that their overseas teammates might do to give them an extra edge while meeting at the international arena. Do Buttler or Stokes keep a little notebook of all the things that Ajinkya Rahane might be doing in preparation for India’s tour of England?
“Maybe,” laughed Buttler. “Despite it being the age of video analysis, first-hand experience always counts. But of course, we get to know those players as well and there might be something that you pick up about them and they might pick up something about you as well so you’re always constantly trying to improve.
“During a match maybe, Stokes might say ‘Let’s try this against Ajinkya’ to Rooty (Joe Root). If it works, then it’s good for us otherwise I don’t know if there’s anything specific.”
Besides the obvious monetary perks and the opportunity of working with legendary former cricketers, competitions like the IPL have helped reduce the animosity experienced on the international stage. Buttler agrees, but stresses that the competitive nature has in fact increased.
“That’s what Shane Warne was discussing… I think nowadays the players know each other a lot more. It’s obviously not like before, you get together with the opposition, have a beer after the game,” he said.
“Whether that creates a different atmosphere in international cricket, probably does but at the same time, we’re such highly competitive professionals that we’re always going to… It probably makes it even more competitive, you’re trying to outdo someone you know well or you’ve had battles with in the nets and you both know each other well. Shared knowledge as well adds another dimension to the game.”
Moving on to his international career, Buttler said a preference for Jonny Bairstow in Tests hasn’t yet convinced him of abandoning all hope for red-ball cricket, and explained he has no intention of going down the road laid out by Hales and Adil Rashid, for the time being.
“Really happy with my situation at Lancashire to play red-ball cricket, available for a lot of it this summer with Lancashire so that’s a big goal of mine is to do well there,” he said. “It’s interesting for those two guys that made that decision, not something I want to do just yet.
“I haven’t actually thought about giving up keeping. It’s so important for me to try and have two strings in my bow. You see in cricket nowadays, you’ve got guys who can keep wicket who are fielding anyways so I don’t think it’s making me a worse batsman. There’s no reason to stop doing it so I just keep trying to improve my skills, scoring runs.
“In professional sport, an opportunity can come in all manner of ways and things can change very quickly so you just have to be ready when that opportunity comes your way.”
In the end, the game is all about enjoyment for Buttler. Whether he is setting up an ODI innings for a big finish or smashing 82 in 58 balls in order to help his team stay alive in the IPL, the aggressive nature of his batting will never diminish.