Jos Buttler’s extraordinary run of form started with his sparkling run in IPL 2018. © Getty
Jos Buttler has had a brilliant 12 months. He has successfully re-established himself in Test cricket after looking like he might be lost to that format for good at one stage, and has continued to confound mere mortals with the white-ball even more consistently than he had before. He has arguably been England’s more reliable batsman for the last year and if Virat Kohli is India’s most prized asset, Buttler is England’s.
The Englishman’s fine run of form started at last season’s IPL, when he scored five consecutive half-centuries for Rajasthan Royals at the top of the order. He hasn’t looked back since. Now, heading back to India to play for the Royals in this year’s tournament, England’s white-ball wicket-keeper is determined to maintain his standards, refusing to think about reigning himself in order to peak for the World Cup and Ashes later this year and using Kohli’s gargantuan appetite for runs as motivation.
“The idea of peaking isn’t really an idea that sits naturally in my mindset,” Buttler said. “Sometimes you hear people talking about going to another level. Why can’t you just stay at peak level? Someone like Kohli scores a hundred every game. He doesn’t think: ‘Ah, that was okay, I’ll peak at some point’. Just do it every day. That’s the sort of mindset I’ve been wanting to hit.”
Last year, Buttler spoke about how the IPL had given him the chance to see how high-class operators go about their business. He had noticed that the best players kept their preparation consistent and thorough no matter the form they were in or the runs they had scored or what other distractions they had to deal with. They kept doing the things which gave them the best chance of success no matter what.
In a tournament as busy and unrelenting as the IPL, that focus is a necessity. It also helps with the expectation that Buttler will encounter this year. “You have to deal with that chaos,” he said of the tournament. “It might be the timings of things. It might be training’s not perfect. We’re very lucky in England: everything’s very structured. But in India you have to deal with chaos, and I think that helps dealing with expectation.
“Being an overseas player is a new experience as well. You’re one of four, rather than one of 11. Someone like [MS] Dhoni… is coolness personified most of the time. A lot of the time, it’s making sure you show that externally, even if you’re not on the inside. And a lot of trust in your ability, that allows you then to let your subconscious take over in the middle.”
As well as the lessons he has learned in the IPL, Buttler’s improved consistency can also be attributed to the natural development most players go through as they get older and earn more experience. The 28 year-old has now played more than 220 international matches and with that comes more confidence and more understanding that when things do go wrong, there will always be another chance, another innings.
“I think I have an innate inner confidence,” he added, “one that I don’t feel I need to prove all the time. There will be times throughout your career when it does dip a little bit. Whether it’s from within, or something you guys have written. How do you deal with those things? How do you protect your confidence when people from the outside are questioning you?
“But it can help you, or you can take it personally. Younger versions of yourself, particularly. Cricket takes so long. There’s a lot of airtime to fill. Guys have to talk about someone’s technique for half an hour. Further down the line, you know how to deal with it. And it doesn’t affect you as much as it might have done.”
There will be plenty of questions thrown at England over the next few months as they attempt to win their first ever global 50-over tournament when they host the World Cup. They will begin the tournament as favourites but after their blip in West Indies, where they drew the recent series 2-2, some have questioned whether they are quick enough to adapt when things aren’t going their way.
Despite what Buttler called a “middling” tour, he is confident England will not shy away from their all guns blazing approach in the summer. “It won’t be a side that plays cautiously that wins the World Cup,” he said. “Even in knockout games, it will be a side that plays some brave cricket and smart cricket. If we’re at a crossroads, we’ve been going down the positive route.”
For now, though the IPL is Buttler’s main focus. “It was always a tournament I was desperate to play and do well in. I remember a training session that Mumbai Indians had at a university, and they had a 20,000 seater stadium half-full. Just to watch training. The TV rights are not far behind being worth the same as a Premier League football match. When you get your head around that, you start to understand how big a tournament it is. You can’t ignore the magnitude of the IPL, and the reach it has.”