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September 16, 2012
Even in the instant world of Twenty20, it takes some believing that a single over can change the mindset of a team, never mind the player involved. But the 32 runs that Jos Buttler took off one over from Wayne Parnell in the final dregs of the English summer has become emblematic for an England squad seeking proof that they have the capacity to win the World Twenty20.
Before his Edgbaston escapade, Buttler was just another skilful young player seeking to justify the faith shown in him. After one brief but violent assault he has instantly become one of the most talked-about players in town. "Which one is Jos Buttler?" is now a contender for the top ten questions in the hotel lobby, proudly ranked alongside other essentials like "is my room ready yet?" and "can you give me some change for the tuk-tuk driver".
For more than a year, Buttler's T20 career was stillborn. He had 10 caps, but in six innings had reached double figures only once. Those who had watched him at Somerset yearned for his ability to overflow. But he got out twice in Dubai to his signature ramp shot and as well as enquiring of the batting coach, he even asked the team psychologist, Mark Bawden, if he should keep playing it. Bawden told him to trust his instincts as sports psychologists tend to do.
Buttler, as he did in the aftermath of Edgbaston, spoke in Colombo of the confidence this has brought him, that he "feels calmer, more myself, more relaxed," that his ability to repay the faith has given him a greater sense of belonging. A few days before the biggest tournament of his life it could not be better timed.
"After the first one I hit, I thought 'this is good fun, I can enjoy this'," he said. "It was just one of those overs: he bowled it where I guessed and it just came off. I'm excited about gaining a bit of recognition or getting noticed. That can only be a good thing; it means you must have done something right for sides to know who you are."
But it is the positive impact that Buttler's innings has made upon the England team that is so striking. England admittedly are defending champions, but they do not play much T20 and have little involvement in IPL. As one of the last sides to arrive in Sri Lanka, they could easily feel like visitors rather than contenders.
Eoin Morgan, who in the absence of Kevin Pietersen is the batsman with IPL-cred, enthused about the wider impact of Buttler's innings. "It was absolutely brilliant," he said. "It gives everyone else around them belief that he can perform at any given time especially when it is to that extremity.
|The Pietersen imbroglio, Morgan said, was not a dressing room obsession, but neither was it a banned topic of conversation. "No, it's not like Voldemort, it's alright."|
"I've been watching Jos train for nearly a year now, and he's phenomenal. We've all been waiting for this to evolve. The fact it has now is awesome for his own confidence, knowing that he can pull out a performance like that, and it is also great for the team.
"It wasn't easy for him in Dubai where it was reverse swinging, and it was among his first couple of innings. There were a lot of contributing factors to why he didn't have a chance to go out and play the way he could. It is very timely he has now. Like anything, until you go out there and prove to yourself and you know inside you can perform, all the reassuring words run off your shoulders really."
The value of Buttler's assault is even more important if you accept Morgan's assertion that T20 is evolving so quickly that experience is often passed in the reverse manner, from young to old, rather like teenage sons showing fathers how to download an App. Morgan might pass on advice in team meetings about how to keep things simple, but he gets a lot back in return.
"Everyone that comes through, you learn a hell of a lot more from," he said. "You're always a generation behind when you're passing on experience. The way the game's going, people are always bringing in new things."
England play the first of two warm-up games against Australia in Colombo tomorrow, at Nondescripts CC, a club with a name that Buttler need no longer fear sums up his international career. Pakistan follow on Wednesday before Group A matches against Afghanistan on Friday and India two days later.
"I've played Afghanistan before, when I played for Ireland, and have been on a losing side against them, so I won't be taking them for granted at all," Morgan said. "They have a lot of up-and-coming players, and it's a potential banana skin for us. If we don't perform, there's a chance they could sneak over the line."
But survive that and England move to Pallakele for the Super Eights, to face - barring shocks - West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand and with the October monsoon approaching a little unsettled weather might help their cause, if not assist the batsman-friendly tournament for which the ICC must yearn.
"Pallekele is similar to English conditions - it does do a bit," Morgan said. "Research suggests it nips around which I'm not sure will be the most attractive Twenty20 cricket. But there's every chance of these conditions, especially with the rain around - which we're more used to after the summer we've had."
As for Pietersen-watch, he is about to arrive in Sri Lanka as an expert pundit for ESPN Star Sports. "I'd no idea he was coming," Morgan said. "I look forward to seeing it. It could be quite funny."
The Pietersen imbroglio, he said, was not a dressing room obsession, but neither was it a banned topic of conversation. "No, it's not like Voldemort, it's alright," he said.
As Stuart Broad, England's T20 captain, has occasionally been compared to Malfoy, this raises interesting possibilities. Harry Potter fans will tell you that Voldemort gives Malfoy a hug - an awkward, unfeely hug, but a hug nevertheless - in the final edition of Harry Potter. The first time he bumps into Stuart Broad, England's T20 captain, in the hotel lobby could be quite touching.
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