The story of how Jos Buttler with help of Ben Stokes won the World T20 for England


One of the first times when Jos Buttler showed that there was some life in him apart from in his wrists and the pale eyes was when he showed sustained anger at R Ashwin for running him out at the non-striker’s end.

Then in another IPL game, he would charge across from long-on to tell Rishabh Pant & Co. what he thought of them for trying to call back the batsmen over some umpiring dispute. It was measured, firm: the finger wagging and the head shaking.

Buttler was finally showing the world that he was human, a flesh-and-blood entity and not a batting machine. It was also a sign that he had a voice, he could question authority, stand for his team mates, he could be a leader of men. He was setting an example, leading from the front. After his 49-ball 80 against India in the semis, in the final he played a solid hand again. He scored 26 from 17 balls. When the Pakistan pacers were spitting venom, he stuck around so that the batters who followed him had it easy. He laid the foundation for England’s 5 wicket win over Pakistan.

At this World T20, he proved had in him to not only step into the big shoes of 50 over World Cup winning skipper Eoin Morgan but also make the England fans believe in something that wasn’t Bazballism and Stokesim.

“It could have been seen as we’re still trying to live in the Eoin Morgan era but very quickly Jos said this is a new team,” Ben Stokes said at the start of the World T20.

So what is this new England team all about? They bat aggressively just like Morgan’s days, they have lots of bowlers, just like Morgan deployed. What was it then that Morgan and the specialist T20 bowling coach Matthew Mott did?

Moeen Ali summed it up thus: “Under Morgs [Eoin Morgan] you had more of a set plan about who was going to bowl.”

He should know. In the game against New Zealand, at the changeover, Buttler suddenly told Mooen that he would be bowling first over. Until then Mooen hadn’t bowled a ball in the tournament and there had been no-pre game plan revolving his bowling. He gave just four runs.

“I came off having batted and thought Moeen Ali should bowl the first over. I didn’t think that leading into the game,” he said. “It’s important to see what’s in front of you and then trust your instincts,” Buttler would say.

Ahead of the semi-final against India, the plan was to bat first. Big game, let’s get the runs on board was the thought. But Buttler would have a close look at the pitch before the play and changed his mind.

“I think the majority of us were thinking: ‘It’s a great wicket, let’s go out and put a statement out there,’” said England’s coach Matthew Mott. “And he was really clear. He consulted and then he said: ‘No, I think this is our best chance of winning.’ And it proved a masterstroke.”

This is a good time to go to the Stokes comment, in particular to ‘very quickly Jos said this is a new team”.

He should know more than most as Buttler made a curiously strong decision of bringing back Alex Hales, the attacking opener, after Johnny Bairstow’s injury and Jason Roy going off the boil.

Hales was consciously ignored during Morgan’s reign for his conduct. Even as recently as when he was the Test captain, Stokes in a documentary about his life would not even take Hales’s name but refer to him as ‘then friend’ when he talked about the street fight outside the pub that had threatened to take down Stokes’s career. He probably felt that Hales had snitched in court, and hadn’t stood by him.

Buttler was clear that much water had flown under that bridge and the England team needed Hales’ firepower. Hales would say how he and Stokes had a long chat about this and that when he came back to the team. How much Hales incident was a thorn could be gauged by a recent Sky Sports video interview.

With Ian Ward interviewing, and Morgan standing next, Hales turns his face away from Morgan and only chats to Ward. Morgan too doesn’t say a word. Passions clearly unspent despite the years and the awkwardness would go viral. So would unadulterated joy when Hales rewarded that trust by absolutely thumping Indian bowlers in the semi-final.

Hales’s inclusion showed Mott and Buttler can be extremely pragmatic and it also marked the departure from Morgan’s reign. The line in the sand was erased and this was now clearly Buttler’s team.

For that matter Stokes’ role itself. When he came to the world cup, he hadn’t played a T20 game in 18 months. Buttler sat him down for a chat. “When we got here, before we’d even had a training session, he sat me down for five or 10 minutes and just said: ‘This is your role, this is what I want you to do,’” he said. “That 10-minute chat just made me really understand the way in which I can affect the game.” And Stokes would deliver what was required of him in that must-win game against Sri Lanka that put England into the semi-finals.

Tymal Mills, who is part of the squad but hasn’t played a game, has spoken in the BBC podcast how Buttler’s team is selfless and how it’s genuinely a happy space in the dressing room with players like him, who aren’t playing, pulling their weight around.

Mark Wood, who would not play in the semifinal due to an injury, would talk about it too: “CJ (Chris Jordan) came in without many games behind his back but everyone trusted and backed him. It would have been the same had you (Tymal Mills) had come in. We have a squad who everyone knows what they can deliver, trust in their ability, and there is no selfish behaviour. It’s easy to say in a podcast or tv interview but it’s genuine; everyone is scrambling for each other. I want to give back to you what you do for me. We all help each other. It’s a great place to be as a team.”

Wood would also talk about how Mott and Buttler had even anointed specialist fielders according to the bowlers in operation.

“We had specific kind of fielding positions: for each bowler, we will have a specialist fielder at each area. For me [Alex] Hales is the third man as he is a tall man. Sam [Curran] too was going from side to side,” Wood says. Mills too chipped in with a detail about Stokes. “Stokesy was literally doing deep square to deep cover between each ball. He had to run the width of Gabba each ball. You do want your best fielder at the right positions.”

And the bowlers too, obviously. Though even there, Buttler likes to change around.

“Under Morgs you had more of a set plan about who was going to bowl at the death,” Moeen said. “Now whoever is bowling well on the day is going to bowl at the death.”

On the day performance is key to T20, and Buttler, who plays in numerous T20 leagues, has a feel for the game.

Wood, who usually doesn’t bowl in the death as he has pace to rattle when it’s new, had to bowl a few overs near the end against Bangladesh. Buttler made that choice after Wood’s expensive first over, the third of the innings.

“I didn’t expect to be put into the stands first ball! I was thinking ‘oh my god what’s happening here’. I hate trying to crawl back into the game.” That’s what he had to do as Buttler told him he would now be bowling near the end. “Jos did well there. The pitch was ideal for Sam (Curran) to bowl mix-ups and I came on at the end and did okay.”

***

A day before the final, Buttler would talk about how it was his childhood dream to lift the world cup one day. The dream of playing cricket can itself be traced and attributed in some ways to Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and the fans of India and Sri Lanka at Taunton.

It was the summer of 1992, when Dravid would join Ganguly with India at 6 for 1. At some point, Aravinda de Silva, at fine-leg, would hear an earnest request for an autograph from a young boy. De Silva would take the Bic ballpoint pen from the boy and was about to sign when he spotted the bowler running to bowl. In a rush, he would pop the pen in his pocket, turn and run to his position.

“I never did get his signature, or my pen back, and I spent the rest of the afternoon in tears,” the boy would say 20 years later. It was Buttler. But that day, cricket would also offer a soothing balm. “It was just an incredible day,” he says, bravely putting ballpoint trauma to one side. “The Indian fans and Sri Lankan fans made it fantastic – the passion for World Cup cricket was very much in evidence. Ganguly and Dravid were something else. Ganguly got 183, and Dravid 150-odd,” Buttler once told GQ magazine. “I watched quite a few World Cup games that year, but nothing came close to that one, in terms of the impression it made on me.” Two decades later, that young boy would raise question marks about Dravid’s career as coach with a swashbuckling knock in the semi-final.

Perhaps, his most vital knock that saved his career was the one in 2015, a 46-ball hundred against Pakistan; the second fifty had come in 16 balls. Three weeks prior he had been dropped from the Tests and his white-ball career too was in jeopardy as a fifty hadn’t come in months.

He would inscribe ‘F**K it’ on his batting handle that morning before going out to bat. It best captured his mood and the context, then. These days, he might as well write ‘love it’ as he goes out to bat; the cricketing world certainly does.





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