It took Rajastjhan Royals an eternity to promote Jos Buttler to the opening slot. To be exact it was seven matches or in IPL terms — half the season. Even the England coaching staff has been contemplating the option of Buttler opening the batting in T20 cricket for a couple of years, but resisted the temptation due to rich resources at hand in Alex Hales and Jason Roy.
The Royals had played musical chairs with their openers D'Arcy Short, Ajinkya Rahane, Rahul Tripathi and even Ben Stokes had been tried in the opening slot. Buttler opening the batting also fitted in with Shane Warne’s psyche of allowing the best batsmen in the team to face the maximum deliveries of balls.
But one wonders if Buttler would have slotted in at the top of the order had it not been for the truncated match against the Daredevils two weeks ago. With the Royals required 151 from 12 overs, Buttler was shoved up the order to take advantage of the power-play and finished with 67 from 26 balls. It was the innings that kick started his IPL.
Since opening the batting Buttler’s scores had read 67, 51, 82, 95* and 94*. He is arguably the in-form player in the competition. The manner that he has executed his shots and timed the ball it seems like he has had answers to all the plans.
Mumbai Indians on Sunday night had placed four fielders inside the ring from backward point through to the wicket-keeper. There was also a sweeper cover on the boundary in front of square on the off-side. The plan was to starve him of any width outside the off-stump against the left-arm angle of Mitchell McLenaghan. Buttler, however, curbed his natural instincts. Instead of giving himself room and hitting the ball through the off-side, he decided to play nice and straight and also decided to give himself a few sighters.
It took Buttler five overs to hit his first boundary. In the space of next seven balls, he had hit another four. The mantra was the same. Hit the ball nice and straight. Against the leg-spinner Mayank Markande, he urged on the side of caution and only decided to loft him into the stands once. That one hit too came over wide long-on.
Butler was sticking to his principles of playing in the ‘V’ and placing the ball in areas the Mumbai Indians did not expected him too. Nearly 55% of his runs came in the ‘V’ and importantly he did all the damage in the latter part of his innings to finish the game for the Royals.
Before the match the Royals were touted as the one-man army and many expected the law of averages to finally catch up with Buttler. But with five fifties on the trot, his confidence is growing and his belief is rising. If Buttler’s first innings as an opener against the Daredevils was a belligerent knock played with complete freedom, then his knock against the Mumbai on Sunday night was calculated and strategic assault.
The Englishman has galvanised the Royals teams and put them in the hunt of securing a playoff spot. Buttler’s form is yet to rub off on the other members of the teams, but ever so slowly the confidence is building in the camp.
From all indications it also seems like Buttler is enjoying that extra responsibility of scoring the majority of the runs. After all, he is earmarked as a leader in the England set-up and has already captained the ODI and T20 teams in the past 12 months. He does not seem to feel the extra burden of pressure and with each innings, he has shown great maturity and his risk taking has reduced. On Sunday, he showed he can overcome the opposition bowling plans and score runs in areas that are not regarded as his strong zones.
Perhaps the only reason Buttler had been held back from batting higher in the batting order at the start of the season was due to the lack of experience in the middle order. Add to that the ordinary form of Stokes and there was more impetus on Buttler to dig the team out of the doldrums with each passing game.
Since opening the innings, he is no longer asked the job of resurrecting the innings, but he is laying the foundation for others to prosper.
Buttler and Jofra Archer have played a key role in changing the fortunes of the Royals. With two more games left and keeping in mind the current form of Buttler there is every chance the Royals could even qualify for the playoffs, a task that looked improbable ten days ago.
The Royals now head to Kolkata to take on the hosts on Tuesday in what is a virtual eliminator. The pressure will be on and one missed chance could end the season. The form of Butler could just prove to be decisive. He looks unstoppable at the moment.