Jos Buttler relishes 'best performance' as England surge into World Cup final

Hunch at the toss pays off as England deny India the advantage of chasing a total

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Jos Buttler, England's captain, believes his team is ready for the challenge of taking on Pakistan in the T20 World Cup final in Melbourne on Sunday after bouncing back from the adversity they faced in a faltering group-stage performance to crush India by ten wickets in their semi-final.
Buttler himself sealed the performance at Adelaide Oval with a six off Mohammad Shami's final ball of the 16th over, to finish unbeaten on 80 from 49 balls as he and Alex Hales (86 from 47) completed England's third win in a row, after a defeat against Ireland and a wash-out against Australia had left their progression hanging in the balance.
"[The Ireland game] feels a long time ago," Buttler said during the post-match presentations. "The character we've shown to get through the tournament since then, and put in our best performance today, has been amazing. We came here excited, it was a really good feeling when we came in. A group effort from 1 to 11. We always want to start as fast as we can and be aggressive."
If there were nerves going into the contest, then England hid them well, with Chris Woakes' early dismissal of KL Rahul setting the tone for a tight powerplay and a first ten overs in which India were restricted to a sub-par 62 for 2. Hardik Pandya's fast-finishing 63 from 33 appeared to have justified the cautious platform-laying, but by the time Hales and Buttler had responded with 63 for 0 in six overs, the rest of the chase was a formality.
"It was our best performance so far in the tournament, and to do it on a day like today is incredibly satisfying," Buttler added. "You couldn't ask for a better run-chase. Adil Rashid was down at No.11 today, and that gives us the freedom to come out aggressive, that depth. Hales was tough to bowl at today, he used the dimensions of the ground, and we complement each other perfectly. He was a brilliant partner today."
The ease of England's victory belied the agonising that was required before the start of play - both with the need to change their XI for the first time in the tournament following injuries to Dawid Malan and Mark Wood, and with the dangers of adjusting to Adelaide's shorter square boundaries - a favoured hunting ground for Virat Kohli in particular across all formats.
"I ummed and aahed over the toss for a long while, actually," Buttler told Sky Sports. "What I'd do if I won it. Someone showed me a stat that no one's won the toss and won here, so I was hoping to lose it. But my gut feel said to chase today. Against India, I feel like sometimes they're a bit more dangerous when they know exactly what they have to do. It worked today. It might not have worked another time, but I'm glad that I went for it today."
That tendency to pace a chase was best exemplified by Kohli's magnificent performance against Pakistan in their final-ball group-stage win, but their loss to South Africa in Perth followed a similar route to this game, with a ponderous top-order display leaving too much ground to be made up by one man, Suryakumar Yadav on that occasion, compared to Pandya today.
And it was Yadav's threat in particular that gave Buttler the most pause for thought in the build-up to the match, given that he came into the game with a tally of 225 runs from 116 balls in the tournament to date, with no discernible weakness against any particular bowling type. This time, however, Rashid extracted him for 14 from 10, caught at deep point in the midst of a magnificent spell in which he conceded just one boundary, and that from his very first ball.
"The conversations with the analyst [were interesting]," Buttler said. "I think he's his favourite player, he loves him! But cricket only asks you to take one chance. And even if he had got 40, that would have been a win today. He plays a high-risk game. He takes the game on, he plays with huge freedom, and sometimes that allows chances. It was the perfect ball from Rash to get him."
Rashid entered the attack for the final over of the powerplay, and was bowled out by the end of the 12th, having strangled India's intent through the middle overs for figures of 1 for 20. In the process, he avoided one of the match-ups that might have caused a dent to his figures, with the left-handed Rishabh Pant preferred to Dinesh Karthik due to his love of taking down the ball turning into his body.
"That's why we used him early as well," Buttler said. "He bowled the best I've seen him bowl in a long while today. He bowled on the seam, he tried to spin it hard. We knew we had to get those guys out, and I thought he was the best chance to do that. To pick up the key wicket of Surya is such a huge performance from Dilly today."
England's main wicket-taker on the night was the recalled Chris Jordan. He has been hampered by a finger injury, and his most recent outing against Australia last month had gone at 13 an over. But Buttler backed his vast experience and was rewarded with three precious wickets, even though he had to bear the brunt of Pandya's late onslaught.
"[Wood and Malan] weren't fit to play, so that forces your hand," Buttler said. "Chris Jordan has been a mainstay of the team for a long time, with huge experience, and the dimensions of this ground I thought suited him better than someone like David Willey. I don't think he was thanking me too much for bowling him three overs straight through there at the death, so to come in your first game of the tournament and bowl at Hardik at that stage of the game, I thought was an incredible effort."
Buttler could not confirm whether Wood or Malan would be fit for the final, but he admitted that their injuries were "good headaches to have" in the circumstances. Phil Salt, Malan's replacement, was not needed on the night, but Buttler added that he had been relishing his opportunity, after making a hard-hitting 88 from 41 in Pakistan last month, and was sure he'd have taken on the short, square boundaries if he had been given a chance.
It will be Pakistan in England's sights once more, come the final. A repeat of the 1992 World Cup final at the same venue, and more immediately, a continuation of a compelling rivalry this winter, with the ledger reading 4-3 in England's favour after back-to-back wins in Lahore.
"They are someone we've seen quite a lot of recently," Buttler said. "They found some great form at the right time, but at the moment, we're just excited to be in the final. After the stress of trying to get through the group stages, we wanted to come here and enjoy tonight, show off our talent, and we'll try and do that in the final as well."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket