The T20 World Cup has been played to a very particular soundtrack. The stadium DJs have been most noticeable, filling every macroscopic pause in play with overamplified banter and snippets from a curiously curated playlist – the inclusion of Mysterious Girl, the 25-year-old Peter Andre hit, in particular takes some explaining. Those in the ground also have to deal with constant roaming food and drink hawkers plying their wares, and then of course there are the fans themselves, who vary enormously in number and volume depending on their nation. But in England’s thrilling victory against Australia on Saturday Jos Buttler inspired another, rarer sound: collective groans of awed appreciation.
It is one that has been heard in Dubai before. “There was actually a game that we were talking about while he was going bananas out there, where he scored a 46-ball hundred where very similarly, he just seemed to hit the middle of the bat over and over again,” Eoin Morgan said on Saturday night, remembering the fourth game of a 50-over ODI series in 2015 against Pakistan – a series played, like this World Cup, in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai.
“That’s a while ago now but every time you come and play here there are obviously great memories,” Buttler said. “We were in the same dressing room as well on that day. It just has a nice feel about it, remembering that sort of day. So absolutely that gives you confidence, to know you are coming back to a ground where you have probably played your best innings.”
The first inkling that Saturday was going to be Buttler’s night occurred in training 24 hours earlier. “I had a great practice. Some of the practice wickets have been a bit tricky but on Friday I managed to have some great practice,” he said. “I think all the batsmen enjoyed it. It’s nice to put your hands through a few, have some fun and freedom. I had a lot of fun at practice and took that into the game today.”
The confidence the 31‑year‑old gained in that session flowed straight into Saturday night’s match, an innings that reached its apogee in the sixth over when two Mitchell Starc deliveries were deposited just a few seats away from each other in the top tier of the stands. “Practise it and the confidence stays,” he said. “Adrenaline is going but you’re still trying to remain quite level in your brain and sort of relaxed in the top half. When guys are bowling fast, you have that level of adrenaline. We got to the fifth over with no wickets down and that allows you a licence really to attack.”
After seeing him hit 71 runs off 32 balls, Liam Livingstone said: “It was a pleasure to just sit there and watch a genius at work.” Livingstone said Buttler was “the best hitter of a white ball in the world”, a description echoed by Adil Rashid. “He’s done that many a time over the years,” Rashid said. “It’s the variety of shots he’s got, the power he’s got, the fearlessness, putting bowlers under pressure. All this combined makes him one of the best white-ball batsmen in the world.”
Buttler’s innings helped to establish England’s superiority in Group One of the Super 12s not just on points but also, and by a massive margin, on net run rate, their three successful run chases having been polished off with 34, 35 and then 50 balls to spare. With two games remaining, starting against Sri Lanka in Sharjah on Monday, their position in the semi-finals already looks secured, but the players insist there will be no loss of focus.
“That’s part and parcel of the job, that’s what we are required to do as cricketers and professional sportsmen,” said Rashid. “Our mindset is exactly the same whoever we play against, there won’t be anything different. We don’t look too far ahead, we don’t think about winning the World Cup. That is still a long way away. We’re just thinking about the next game, which is Sri Lanka, and doing the job there, and then next game from there. We won’t look too far ahead and think about the final and stuff.”