Jos Buttler has revealed that he instigated his move into the Rajasthan Royals middle order during the IPL after starting the tournament in his preferred role as an opener.
After missing the first game of the season while in quarantine, Buttler reached double figures in six of his first seven innings at the top of the order, but only once managed to score more than 22, in an innings of 70 off 44 balls in a heavy defeat against eventual champions Mumbai Indians.
But with Ben Stokes backed as an opener after his late arrival from New Zealand, and Robin Uthappa struggling for form in the middle order, Buttler told the Rajasthan management that he thought he should shift down into the position he filled for the bulk of his T20 career and has mastered in England’s 50-over team.
“It actually probably came from myself saying I didn’t think our team had the right balance,” Buttler told Sky’s IPL Cricket Show. “I thought we were lacking a bit of experience in the middle, and I thought we were a bit top-heavy. [We were] losing games and it felt like there were a couple of games we didn’t quite close out when we were in good positions, and I felt like if we had had a bit more experience in that position, maybe we would have got over the line.
“Rahul Tewatia had a great season for us with the bat, being a bit of a finisher, but I felt like a more experienced guy alongside him would have balanced our team a bit better. It was an offering, really, from myself to say: I haven’t had the runs I’d have liked at the top and I’m quite happy to move. I thought for our team, it looked a better balance having a more experienced player in the middle as well.”
Buttler made 160 runs in five innings in the middle order, including a match-winning 70 not out in a successful chase against the Chennai Super Kings, but was ultimately unable to drag them into the playoff stage.
“It’s where you have the most balls, it’s where I feel I affect the game the most, and I feel like I’ve had more success at the top of the order and impacted more games in a positive way. I think it’s the best place to bat in T20 cricket, isn’t it?”
Buttler feels that opening is his best role in T20
Buttler’s batting position in England’s T20I team has been a talking point ever since he began to open on a regular basis in 2018, and that will only intensify as next year’s T20 World Cup comes closer into view.
ALSO READ: Buttler plays opener and finisher to keep debate bubbling
Following his promotion for Rajasthan against the Delhi Daredevils in May 2018, Buttler opened in 40 of his next 41 T20 innings, the exception being a single knock at No. 4 for Lancashire in the 2018 T20 Blast. During that period, only Aaron Finch could match him in scoring 1000 runs as an opener at an average of 40 and a strike rate above 150.
Since the 2016 World T20 final, Buttler averages 40.83 and strikes at 151.96 as an opener in all T20 cricket, compared to 26.18 and 132.69 from No. 3-6. While almost every player has a better record at the top of the order, since the role allows them to bat for six overs with fielding restrictions in place, the contrast in Buttler’s is particularly stark.
In an England shirt, he averages 51.00 at the top of the order with a strike rate of 157.73, but with a logjam of opening options and fewer middle-order specialists in contention, there remains a school of thought that he would be better used as a floater or a finisher.
On Wednesday, Buttler reiterated his view that opening is the best place to bat in T20, and he seems likely to continue in the role for England during their three-match T20I series in South Africa next month. He also said that there are still areas he felt he could improve in the role, most notably guarding against post-powerplay lulls when facing spin.
“For myself, and actually for probably 90% of anyone who plays T20, [I] would say batting at the top of the order is the place to bat,” Buttler said. “It’s where you have the most balls, it’s where I feel I affect the game the most, and I feel like I’ve had more success at the top of the order and impacted more games in a positive way. I think it’s the best place to bat in T20 cricket, isn’t it?
“I feel like I can really affect the game at the end of the innings as well, [so sometimes I] come through that opening bit and then go into a gear where I think ‘I’m going to wait now until the back end where I know I can do more damage’, or ‘I’m desperate to get to the back end’. But when you’re opening that isn’t particularly your job.
“I find coming out of the powerplay sometimes as an opener, naturally the field spreads and a spinner may come on, the pace of the games changes and that can slow you down from quite a boundary-dominant phase of the game in the powerplay. The real learning for me is how to keep that intensity and be really role-specific. The ideal as an opener is to bat 20 overs, but there should be guys in your side who are tuned in to do the back end and your game allows you to really affect the front of the match.”
If England did choose to use Buttler in the middle order, there would be no shortage of options to replace him at the top: nine of their 15-man squad for the series have opened the batting in the IPL at some stage in their career, while one of the other six, Dawid Malan, did so for England as recently as last winter.
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