Grounded Buttler confident he can succeed
Grounded, calm and realistic are not words one would usually associate with a 20 year old, but Somerset's Jos Buttler - called up by England for the first time on Friday - is all of the above. Buttler's thoughtful, almost self-deprecating manner is also at odds with the dynamic, explosive brand of batting that has turned heads on the county scene for the last two seasons and has now led to further honours in the international arena.
"I know there are a hell of a lot of good players in English cricket, English cricket is very healthy at the moment and there is a lot of competition out there," Buttler told ESPNcricinfo. "It's obviously nice to be thought of in that context."
Indeed, Buttler has been thought of as a future England cricketer for some time, and that with less than two full seasons of county cricket under his belt. His call-up seems to be the culmination of a veritably meteoric rise, Buttler's senior Somerset debut having come as recently as the end of the 2009 season, but even a cursory glance at the performances that led to his apprenticeship as a professional cricketer show that there's always been something special about him.
He broke several records at King's College in Taunton, thrashing 227 not out in a national schools game in 2008 - an innings that Dennis Breakwell, the former Somerset allrounder and coach and groundsman at King's College, said "warrants every accolade it can get" - and, almost inevitably, found his way into Somerset's Second XI. By the following year, a full-time county career beckoned and England Under-19 had come calling.
It was not until 2010, however, his first full season with Somerset, that his talents began to reach a wider audience. His maiden first-class century arrived against Hampshire in May, and in one-day cricket his clear-minded and quick-footed batting helped him to 440 runs, including a 37-ball 64 against Lancashire and a blistering 33-ball 90 in Somerset's annihilation of Glamorgan, at 55.00 in the CB40.
And then there were the Twenty20 knocks, most notably his 23-ball 55 in the midst of an unbroken 75-run stand, in just over six overs, with Kieron Pollard in the semi-final win over Nottinghamshire at the Rose Bowl. It wasn't the first time Buttler and Pollard had combined with explosive results, nor was it the last - their barnstorming 66-run partnership at at Trent Bridge carried Somerset through to Finals Day this season.
"Kieron is obviously one of the best if not the best Twenty20 player," said Buttler. "He goes around and he just does his thing. It's been brilliant to have a few partnerships with him. You know you can almost play with no pressure when you've got a guy like that at the other end. He's very cool and calm obviously and he passes that effect on to me and keeps me nice and calm.
"Obviously we're very different batsmen. Kieron can hit you pretty much anywhere, and hit you a long way. He can really put the bowlers off their game, which helps me too. It's been good fun batting with him, I've enjoyed it."
There's certainly something complementary in Buttler and Pollard's contrasting styles, and while Buttler has no trouble clearing the ropes when the situation demands it, he also has the priceless ability to manipulate the ball in virtually any direction. He's used the paddle scoop - a shot that he watched Tillakaratne Dilshan and others play with increasing regularity as a teenager - over the wicketkeeper's head to good effect in virtually every one of his match-turning limited-overs innings, and it's a shot he's worked very hard to perfect.
"I practice it, a lot. It started from just playing around in the nets, trying to work on different shots, and with one-day cricket you've got to have a good range of shots. One of those shots is trying to scoop it over the keeper's head, which I've had some success at. I want to be able to hit the ball through 360 degrees, so whatever field the bowler sets I can find a gap in it.
"There aren't any fielders behind the keeper, and if you can play that shot against yorkers, you take the yorker out of the game for the bowlers, and that's probably the most bowled delivery at the death of the match. Cricket has evolved, innovation has become a huge part of one-day cricket. So you pick things up, you try to copy them, and then use the shot to the best of your ability."
Having found his natural groove so early, Buttler has time on his side to expand his game - readily accepting that it could be 10 years before he realises his full potential - but there is already an enviable completeness to his limited-overs game. "He knows his game inside out, knows where he wants to hit boundaries," Andy Hurry, Buttler's coach at Somerset, has said. "His one day game is nailed on."
"I've had more success in limited-overs cricket so far," agrees Buttler, "which you might say is natural for a youngster who doesn't have much experience in the first-class game. But once I play a few more games I'll be able to find a way of going about a first-class innings and setting my own tempo. I think in one-day cricket the situation dictates to you how you have to play, so that's the way I look at it. Once I become a bit more mature with my four-day game, certainly I could have success in that as well."
His willingness to soak in ideas and lessons will surely stand Buttler in good stead, and he has a fine cricketing brain to pick and learn from in Marcus Trescothick, his captain at Somerset. "Having watched Marcus play for England, and now to be sharing a dressing room with him was quite surreal, to start with," admitted Buttler. "But he's a down to earth guy, a brilliant team-mate and a good captain too. He's great to talk to about different things and he's only too happy to help me and the other youngsters try and develop our games. He's been a huge asset for me and the other youngsters, and Somerset, as our captain."
Trescothick has spoken of his young charge in glowing terms, as has virtually every county hack on the scene, but the encouragement of others means nothing without self-belief. Fortunately, Buttler isn't lacking in that department either.
"I definitely feel ready [for the next level]. Why not? If someone's picking me for that, they obviously believe in me. And why shouldn't you believe in yourself as well? You have to.
"Playing for England is where you want to be. I'm no different from any other county cricketer, we all want to play for England. And Test cricket is the pinnacle of that. I'd definitely want to be involved in that. I know I've got a long way to go and a few things to work on, but if I can put in a few good performances and score some runs, hopefully that can happen."
Liam Brickhill is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo