Jos Buttler England World Cup
Jos Buttler, soaring high in the air… can he take England to their first World Cup title? © Getty Images

British fans have lately been in a cheerful mood. Despite a shock defeat against Scotland, their men’s cricket team have established a firm grip on the No. 1 spot in ICC ODI rankings and have just completed the second 5-0 win in their limited-over history. The fact that it has come against the old enemies has made the win even sweeter. A big part of the fan base is already excited for the 50-Over World Cup, scheduled at home and with less than 12 months to go.

Many of these fans kept their hope of lifting the World Cup for the first time on the shoulder of a certain Jos Buttler. Michael Vaughan is definitely one of them. Vaughan considers Buttler the X-factor, an essential part of any champion team. He thinks Buttler gives England their best chance to have a shot at the World Cup.

Buttler has certainly done enough in the past few months to justify the billing and hype around him. He has always been a special talent who used to suffer from lack of consistency. However, he seems to have turned the table in recent months. Curiously, Buttler’s good show started in IPL, not the most popular tournament among the English cricket management.

Buttler was one of the first English T20 superstars encouraged to play in IPL (in 2016). This, despite the fact that it led in him missing county games. This was the time when England were trying to change their approach and point of view towards limited-overs cricket post their gloomy first round exit in 2015 World Cup. Buttler repaid the faith by playing key role for different T20 franchises he represented. He also became one of the key match winners for England limited over team, last 15 days being the case in point.

Before that, Buttler had started indifferently in the IPL 2018 for his new franchise Rajasthan Royals. The Royals, making a comeback after two years of suspension, selected a peculiar squad during the auction, one with five first-choice openers with options for both domestic and overseas batsmen.

Buttler started the 2018 edition as a middle-order floater and was moderately successful. The Royals, having an indifferent season, finally asked Buttler to open in their eighth match, against Delhi Daredevils. This was the opportunity Buttler was waiting for. In a rain-affected chase he scored 67 off 26 deliveries with 7 towering sixes. Although he could not take the Royals to a win he gave a hint of what to come. He scored fifties in each of his next four matches with two unbeaten scores in the 90s while chasing to take Royals in the Playoffs single-handedly.

His good form in IPL was rewarded by a Test call-up against Pakistan after a gap of more than 18 months. In the first Test England were blown away by the young Pakistani quicks, but Buttler was one who put some resistance in the second innings along with skipper Joe Root and debutant Dom Bess.

He did even better in the second Test. His unbeaten 80, along with some penetrative bowling from English trio of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes, resulted in an easy England win. Buttler, dropped from Test cricket well over a year ago, was named Man of the Match.

Buttler was rested for England’s one-match assignment in Scotland and was hence not part of England’s unceremonious defeat. He returned fresh against the Australians and remained a thorn in the flesh in their bid to win the ODI series.

Buttler was appointed captain in the second match, where Eoin Morgan sat out. He celebrated the occasion with a 70-ball 91 to propel England to 342, a target well out of reach for the poor Australians. Luckily for Australia, Buttler did not score too many in the third ODI in Trent Bridge, else the first 500 in limited-overs history would have been achieved at their expense. However he returned to form in the next match with an unbeaten 54 in 29 balls from No. 6, to chase a tall target with ridiculous ease.

But Buttler saved his best for the last. The Old Trafford crowd was treated to one of those low-scoring thrillers, a common occurrence in the 1990s but a rarity these days. It should not have been the case, for Australia got England on the ropes with 114 for 8 chasing 206. The Australians might have thought that they had finally turned the table on an otherwise wretched tour. They had probably hoped to prevent the.

But Buttler had other plans. Coming to bat at 27 for 4 he was not affected by four more dismissals at the other end. He formed a brilliant partnership with Adil Rashid. Knowing perfectly well that he would have to do the bulk of the scoring, Buttler mixed caution with aggression and added 81 with Rashid with the latter contributing just 16.

England still required 11 when Billy Stanlake held on to Rashid’s top edge. Thanks to some nervy but determined defence from Jake Ball, Buttler finally took England across the line and ensured more pain for new Australian coach Justin Langer. In between all this, he reached his sixth ODI century with a six of Stoinis in the very next ball after Rashid’s dismissal.

Interestingly, this was the first time Jos Buttler batted more than 100 deliveries in an ODI. All his previous centuries came at strike rates better than run a ball. However, this will be the one he will cherish the most. The Indians are coming and will definitely offer a sterner contest with a superior bowling attack, and Buttler will love to test his skills as all these matches are merely preparations for the big prize waiting in 2019.