In the nick of time, England may have found the real deal. Jos Buttler’s brief but brilliant innings at Trent Bridge was being hailed yesterday as the first minor masterpiece of a conquering hero.
Such is modern sport but then such was Buttler’s intervention in England’s third one-day international against New Zealand on Wednesday night. His 47 no from 16 balls salvaged a pedestrian scorecard and made it unforgettable.
Buttler drove, ramped, carved, sliced and paddled, conjuring shots that were not in the lexicon until a couple of years ago. He put some of them in it. The Champions Trophy and Buttler’s part in it now cannot come soon enough.
England begin their quest to win their first major 50-over competition at Edgbaston tomorrow, the first of their 26 international matches against Australia in the next nine months — or 27 if both sides reach the ICC Champions Trophy final. Without Buttler the sense of anticipation might be a degree or two less.
Until this moment came, Buttler had struggled slightly to adjust to the demands of one-day international cricket. But then it should have been recalled that he did similarly in the Twenty20 version of the game, perhaps unsure if he could transfer intact his scintillating style for his county, Somerset.
After six low-key T20 innings, he transformed a match against South Africa at Edgbaston last September, smashing 32 from 10 balls. The Trent Bridge pyrotechnics amounted to a similar arrival at the party. In his six previous innings he had made a total of 54 runs.
Ashley Giles, the England limited overs coach, said: `I think he can do it over a longer period. I think what Jos needed was to do it once in 50-over cricket. It doesn’t mean he’s going to do it all the time but in T20 cricket once he crossed that hurdle once he looked a different player. I’m hoping that will happen again.’
His invention, his fearlessness, that touch of genius, made it necessary yesterday to resist suggestions that Buttler should immediately be elevated to the Test side on his way to receiving a knighthood. There is no doubt that at 22 he has the equipment to play in all forms.
Some of his Championship innings for Somerset this season have been made of staunch stuff. His unbeaten century against Warwickshire took 174 balls, his 85 against Middlesex 175. This shows he can adapt.
But it is still as a one-day batsman that this former pupil of King’s College, Taunton has struck fear into opposition attacks almost from his entry four years ago. Nobody who has made 1,000 runs in List A matches comes close to his strike rate of 130.47 and only Michael Bevan has a better average than Buttler’s 65.30.
His limited overs strike rates have gone up with every visit to the crease this summer — for Somerset 89 from 51 balls, 23no from 12, 54 from 25 and then performance for England, a rate of 204.8. He is in short a child of the T20 generation.
Giles said: `I think the batting order, playing an extra batter in Ravi Bopara might have given him a bit more confidence, it takes a little bit of pressure off him and gives him a bit more freedom.
`It doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the way we’re going to go. But Jos has shown in T20 cricket he is built coming in for five overs. Myself and Alastair Cook sat on the balcony and said 30 off ten balls would be nice, I’m not sure how he ended up but he exceeded all our expectations so I’m really chuffed for him.’
It has unquestionably put a spring in England’s step and in particular that of Stuart Broad and Steve Finn, the injured fast bowlers who appear to have come through their returns intact. But Giles knows that one innings neither makes Buttler’s career nor makes England a complete team.
`I’m certainly buoyed by it because it was a much better performance, it was still not anywhere near a perfect performance but maybe we’re not looking for that right now either. There are some big positives but we’ve certainly not played our A game yet but maybe we’re saving that.’ Tomorrow would be the perfect time for perfection.