England don’t do things the easy way. If an English cricket team were to spend the weekend on a camping trip it would be all going swimmingly before turning into a slasher movie involving an escaped convict.
They had this game in their pocket when Sri Lanka were 15-4 in the third over. Somehow, they went into the last over with a serious chance of losing the game. In fact, with three overs to go Sri Lanka looked to be the favourites. Angelo Mathews made a brilliant 73 that was almost enough, it was certainly enough to have England running breathlessly through the woods with that convict in the shadows.
England ended up winning a game they looked to have lost that they should have already won, and that was thanks to two superb last overs from Chris Jordan and Ben Stokes. England have made a semi-final of the World T20 for the first time since they won the whole thing in the Caribbean in 2010. While those last two overs from Jordan and Stokes, and the opening overs from Willey helped England defend 171, the reason they got there was Jos Buttler.
Every cricket fan in the world should love Buttler.
As he launched a six over long-on off the bowling of Dushmantha Chameera, the camera panned onto the Kotla crowd who were screaming their approval. Buttler had moved to 61 not out from 31 balls as he set up a winning total for his side. People around the world are starting to get onboard the Jos bus – destination worldwide adoration.
The problem that Buttler has is that he is English, and anyone who isn’t an England fan hates England. Understandably so; they are the old colonial masters, the country than ran the world and the sport for so long. But all of that happened a long time before Jos Buttler was born. It really isn’t his fault.
Aside from the cricket that Buttler plays, he is just so nice. He comes across in interviews as humble, well-mannered and decent. There are no histrionics or arrogance. He is almost too pleasant but it is impossible not to like him either as a sportsman or as a cricketer.
There is no batsman in the world more exciting than Buttler. Over the last two years he has made four ODI hundreds, each of them coming at a strike rate of 140 or more. He is the exact opposite of England white-ball players of the past; he is capable of winning a game of cricket in a matter of overs and does so with breath-taking consistency.
Buttler has a maximum of two more innings at this World T20. After that it is the IPL with the Mumbai Indians. English success at the IPL has been limited; Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara have played but haven’t always been first-choice players. The only man that has ever been an IPL superstar is Kevin Pietersen. If the IPL side are picking on the basis of merit, Buttler should be the second.
Today he walked to the crease with England in a decent position of 65-2 in the 11th over but they had lost Joe Root, the lynchpin of this England batting line-up. He needed to score quickly but another wicket just then could have seen England lose their way.
The thing that impresses you most about Buttler is not the runs he scores or how quickly he gets them, it is that he scores them quickly without seeming to take any real risks. Today he got off the mark with a reverse swept four that he hit so hard you wondered how he didn’t break his wrists.
When Buttler is on song he is unstoppable, there hasn’t been as naturally aggressive England batsman that has been developed by its coaching system.
Away from Buttler, there were others that allowed England to achieve victory, some of whom were there much-maligned seam bowlers who kept it tight and took wickets as the spin of Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali was marmalised.
Then there was Jason Roy who played an innings of rare restraint. Before today he had never faced more than 22 balls in an innings in T20 international. His career high score came in the group match against South Africa where he made 43 from 16 deliveries. Today he scored 42 off 39 in a knock that set a platform for Buttler’s fireworks.
This remains a flawed England side. The bowling is weak and inconsistent. The batting is exciting but capable of implosion. Despite that they are in a semi-final. T20 cricket is massively unpredictable. Knockout T20 cricket is even more unpredictable. Quite what this England team will throw up from here on out is anyone’s guess.
But two wonder innings from Buttler in this tournament England could pull off the most unlikely of victories.