If Rajasthan Royals do make the playoffs this season, they will thank the rains in Delhi on May 2, which arrived during their game against Delhi Daredevils and reduced their chase to just 12 overs. With just 72 balls to play to get to a target of 151, Royals rejigged the batting order and promoted Jos Buttler, who had been languishing in the middle order until then, to open the innings. Though Royals lost that game narrowly, they have been on a roll recently, winning three on the trot. Much of the credit for that belongs to Buttler, who has scored two unbeaten 90s in consecutive winning chases, against Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians.
In five innings at the top of the order, Buttler has passed 50 each time, becoming only the second batsman after Virender Sehwag to score five successive fifties in the IPL. In these five innings, he has amassed 389 runs in 236 balls at a conventional strike rate of 164.83; in seven innings in the middle order earlier, he had scored 120 at a strike rate of 126.31.
When viewed through the prism of Smart Stats, ESPNcricinfo's new suite of metrics which take into account match context, Buttler's numbers in the last couple of weeks are even more impressive. In April, when he batted in the middle order, Buttler's Smart Strike Rate - a metric which takes into account the match strike rate and the scoring rate at the other end when he was batting - was a mere 114.72. His Smart Runs Index (SRI), which compares the smart runs scored by the batsman in an innings with the average smart runs scored historically by other batsmen at the same point of entry, was -3.59, which means he was performing below par in the historical context.
Since moving to the opening slot, his Smart Strike Rate has zoomed to 200, and his Smart Runs Index is 65.13, which means he has outperformed the average batsman who has come in at the same stage, by 65 runs. That is a huge improvement on his earlier numbers. In fact, in terms of SRI, Buttler is on top of the IPL charts in May, seven ahead of Rishabh Pant, and 25 ahead of KL Rahul, the two other batsmen who have been in top form this season.
In the last five matches, Buttler has scored a whopping 50.1% of Royals' runs scored off the bat, while the average run rate for their opening partnerships has increased to 11.42, the best among all teams in this period. Before he started opening, the run rate was 7.82, fifth among all teams.
Royals took a while to figure out the best slot for Buttler, but luckily they have done so in time for them to mount a strong challenge for the playoffs. With two games to go and everything to play for, they need Buttler to continue his outstanding run.