A chance occurrence in the Indian Premier League changed the course of Jos Buttler’s career and set him on the path to T20 stardom.
Buttler has experienced a downturn in form in Test and ODI cricket, but a return to T20 cricket could signal a big turnaround.
The wicketkeeper-batsman discovered his calling for the Rajasthan Royals, who first used him as an opener. Unlike other formats, where batting down the order gives players greater freedom to express themselves, T20 cricket increasingly gives opening batsmen license to go after everything.
Buttler is the player who benefits most from that freedom, and if England send him up the order, the Proteas bowlers will have to get his wicket as soon as possible.
The tourists don’t lack for explosive batting power. Tom Banton has bullied bowlers in the T20 Blast, but hasn’t been able to dominate attacks in international cricket, yet. The Proteas will almost certainly turn to spin as soon as they catch sight of Jason Roy. Banton could be a natural counter to that, with his record against spin impressive.
Like Buttler, fellow keeper Bairstow is very dangerous in T20 cricket, but he too has suffered from inconsistent form of late.
Dawid Malan doesn’t get going as quickly as England like their openers to, which goes some way towards explaining why he struggles to get into the team despite boasting excellent numbers.
Buttler’s exceptional blend of brutality and innovation make him England’s best T20 batsman.
The question Buttler needs to answer is, have the stresses and strains of the last year impacted his ability to cut loose and dominate a T20 match?
If he does recover his best form, the Proteas will struggle to stay in the series.
Innovation is one of Buttler’s strengths, but his tendency to try something different almost every ball can work against him, and it could be what the Proteas look to exploit.
Like Roy, Buttler is also not always at home against slower bowlers, and the hosts might even want to consider playing two specialist spinners.
With Ben Stokes hovering down the order, England will be tough to beat, but Buttler is the man who could really make life difficult. His wicket will be one that Proteas skipper Quinton de Kock should put a premium on.
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