England v Sri Lanka, Champions Trophy, Group A, The Oval June 11, 2013

Buttler ready for unorthodox duel with Malinga

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Jos Buttler's whirlwind 47 from 16 balls against New Zealand at Trent Bridge last week was one of the most brilliantly unconventional innings ever played by an England batsman. In its dexterity, strength and quick-wittedness, it had reminders of racquet sports and baseball with a spot of cricket thrown in.

If Lasith Malinga is reverse swinging the ball at the end of England's innings at The Oval on Thursday and Buttler is on strike, he could be about to face his greatest challenge of all.

Buttler's knock at Trent Bridge was not as much an innings as an escapade, a tricksy collection of outlandish shots, as dapper as they were mischievous. In less than half an hour at the crease, he surely joined Kevin Pietersen and Eoin Morgan as the type of England batsman to whet the appetite of many an IPL owner - if only they could find a way to get England players on the field.

Buttler is suddenly the England batsman the world wants to see - but next up comes Malinga as England seek to overcome Sri Lanka and all but assure themselves of a place in the Champions Trophy semi-finals.

He will attempt to unveil his collection of scoops, swivel scoops and reverse scoops, with an occasional straight slug for good measure, against the bowler with the thickety hairstyle of the jungle and a yorker that can be suitably ferocious.

Buttler did not sound as if he is about to forego the challenge as he prepared for practice in the refined atmosphere of Dulwich College, an independent school in south-east London, where there were more artificial practice strips - a casual count brought 15 - than in any county ground in the land, as well as a square of first-class standard.

"Any shot is harder against reverse swing, but the scoop is a big part of my game," Buttler said. "I practise it a lot and if I feel the situation is right I won't be afraid to play it.

"I played against Malinga in the Champions League for Somerset against Mumbai and also in the World T20. I didn't score many against him in the Champions League.

"He's a world-class bowler and everyone knows how good he is. But I'm confident I can put in some good performances against him. He's different, but he's been around a while so people are more used to him now than when he first came on to the scene."

Mention to Mahela Jayawardene, the great protector of Sri Lanka cricket, that Buttler and perhaps Eoin Morgan too might unveil their scoop shots against Malinga and he smiles at the prospect. He knows it would stretch batting ambition to the limit.

Jayawardene himself does not pretend to have the capacity to do it, and there are few more serenely talented players in the game, and he has never seen Tillakaratne Dilshan - Buttler's TV inspiration when he joined Somerset as a raw teenager - attempt it either.

"Well, let them try it and we'll see," he grinned. "It is a big chance if you want to go for it. It is a calculated risk and a few guys have tried. Some have come off and some haven't and some have got hurt.

"I wish them all the best with it, I wouldn't do it against Malinga but if they want to do it then that is up to them. I remember a few tried and got hit on the toe and hit on the wrist and all that stuff so you've got to be very, very careful.

"I don't play it. Dilshan doesn't play it against him either, not at all and not in the nets. Why would you want to do that? That is ridiculous."

Buttler is committed to far more than novelty these days. He is now absolutely committed to developing his wicketkeeping and his steady improvement, although he has a long way to go, is slowly changing perceptions.

Paul Nixon, a former England keeper, dismissed Buttler and Jonny Bairstow in January as having a long way to go before either could be regarded as a regular gloveman for England in one-day cricket. Five months later, Nixon has floated the possibility that Buttler could develop into the long-term successor to Matt Prior.

"Keeping wicket is a huge part of my game and there's a lot of scope for improvement still. I'm excited about that," Buttler said. "The nature of my game means I'm going down the wicketkeeping route."

If Somerset do not satisfy his ambition to keep in Championship cricket early in the season, he will face a tough decision about whether to remain with the county when his contract expires. "Decisions will be have to be made and there will be talks, but at the moment I'm only focusing on the Champions Trophy," he said.

Buttler has also adopted a more meaningful approach to his batting in the Championship. He has dutifully reined himself in all season during a traumatic start for Somerset and, although it does not yet seem entirely natural to him, the result has been 426 runs at an improved average of 42.60, including a century and two near misses.

"I had a sit down and looked at my Championship cricket," he said. "It's pretty obvious that I've underperformed so far. Maybe I had been using one-day cricket as a bit of an excuse, to say I'm a one-day player and shot maker, those kind of things.

"They were an easy way out and it was a lazy attitude, so I've sat down and thought of a way to transfer into four-day cricket. I was doing myself an injustice because I'm a better player than that. I've been happy with my Championship form so far this year.

"I do get as much pleasure from making runs in the Championship. It's great to be adaptable and show that to other people who may question that element of my game."

But that is for the future. Malinga was narrowly fought off by New Zealand, who inflicted a one-wicket defeat on Sri Lanka in Cardiff on Sunday, leaving them desperate to overturn England and maintain a realistic hope of reaching the semi-finals.

David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • latecut_04 on June 13, 2013, 9:48 GMT

    Leave Malinga alone for Heaven's sake.He may not be able to replicate efforts against Kiwis everytime.Ofcourse plans need to be made about how to counter him but that is different.Need of the hour for SL is other bowlers lifting their performance and Kulasekhaa gettiing a game.Othrwise minus Maling magic they wont stand a chance against English methd and discipline especially bowling

  • dummy4fb on June 13, 2013, 9:02 GMT

    It is good for the game.having contest between bat and ball. I recon it is a respect to the great bowler. Butler has his own mind set and strategy over the tough bowler GOOD LUCK TO HIM and looking forward to the contest

  • rmaganti on June 13, 2013, 8:11 GMT

    I think they should ban all shots that are not conventional. Reverse sweep, switch hit and anything which is not in the purists book. These shots are a disgrace to cricket.

  • JG2704 on June 13, 2013, 8:06 GMT

    @Partyman on (June 13, 2013, 0:07 GMT) Maybe Jos should not do any interviews as folk put 2 and 2 together to make 5 on these boards. He was asked questions and answered them honestly. He has not said anything disrespectful re LM but is not going to say stuff like "Oh no I think I'll just block him" Also would you not say that he was under some sort of pressure to score very fast runs in the 3rd ODI vs NZ when the batsmen before him scored at a pedestrian pace and vs India he and Morgan saw the side home to a last ball T20 win?

  • Partyman on June 13, 2013, 0:07 GMT

    Jos Buttler needs to be keep quiet and let his bat do the talking. A couple of knocks in not so pressure situations, and all of a sudden he is talking himself up! I thought he was a genteel West country lad, not a obnoxious type. You come up with a substantial knock on Thursday, I will bow to you. But in due course he will realise these kind of words come back to bite you sooner rather than later. Ask Warner what happened to him last summer after vowing to take on Swann! He barely lasted when Swann came on to bowl! Having said that, I sincerely hope Buttler puts one over the Sri Lankans come Thursday.

  • jb633 on June 12, 2013, 21:16 GMT

    @Trickstar- i bow down to your superior knowledge. So exactly how many ODI tournaments have we won playing with this conservative approach? The approach is good against average sides with wafer thin batting but do you really think we will beat India and South Africa by setting them 250 on a decent wicket? India are the team to beat and are leading the way with their method. The pitches are getting lower and slower as the games go on and they have wisely realized that with no seam movement they can target the first 10 overs and maximize their scoring whilst the ball is hard and coming on to the bat. Against Aus the approach was fine because they didn't have any spinners and could not utilize the slow nature to the extent that say Pakistan did against SA. I like Trott as a cricketer but think we need to adapt to the surfaces we are producing and stop leaving all the hitting to a 15 over period.

  • Cricinfouser on June 12, 2013, 19:45 GMT

    @PrasadGunawardane - Buttler gave due credit to Malinga but he's hardly going to talk down his own chances ahead of a match is he? Given the choice, he'd probably prefer to talk after the match but that's outside his control. I see nothing boastful, let alone ridiculous in his comments. @samincolumbia - You seem to have missed the point. Ugly it may be but the skills required to execute it are indeed extraordinary. Try it yourself and see how you get on.

  • cabinet96 on June 12, 2013, 19:09 GMT

    Have to love the people who talk about Buttler's hype being generated from one innings. Maybe County Cricket really is dying, because a lot of people don't seem to watch it.

  • CrickFan82 on June 12, 2013, 17:54 GMT

    Malinga is a champion bowler and Butler is very exciting batsman compared to the traditionally technically correct batsman England have produced. It should be a nice contest, looking forward to it.