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Match Analysis

Jos Buttler leads with feeling as England turn a corner in campaign

Captain's best day in the role comes at perfect moment to revive semi-final ambitions

Unlike in life, no-one in sport is afforded the luxury of mapping out their marquee moments. But not even Jos Buttler and an army of seasoned party planners could have orchestrated a better 100th T20I appearance.
A stellar 73 from 47 up top to overtake Eoin Morgan as the highest English run-scorer in this format, followed by some sharp decision-making in the field to defend a score of 179 for a necessary, statement win against the team of the World Cup so far.
Victory means England are still in control of their own destiny in Group 1. Hopes of T20 silverware are still alive, and the prospect of becoming the first team to hold both international white-ball trophies is back on the table. He was player of the match, too.
To have won by 20 runs belies the tension that existed for all but the final two overs of New Zealand's chase. Yet Buttler seemed to exude a refreshing calm throughout. Beyond seeing his side get over the line, this felt like the first time under his tenure that a group of established cricketers were moving to his rhythm.
There's not much to know about Buttler the batter that isn't already out there through his body of work across 310 innings in this code. A 58th score above fifty featured the usual domineering strokes after a slow start, punctuated by the odd "wow" moment, notably the back-foot baseball-slap six off Trent Boult for the last of his nine boundaries.
While he was out in the middle, Buttler's charges beyond the boundary were getting themselves in order. In the six days since England last took to the field, in their defeat to Ireland, Buttler and head coach Matthew Mott had discussed greater dexterity in a batting line-up of countless match-up combinations and differing strengths for hitting certain areas on these large Australian grounds. There has always been an underlying fear of playing things too smart. But at some point, perhaps catalysed by the washout against Australia, a simpler equation for a semi-final berth - win two games, no matter what - brought a combination of clarity and bravery.
Moeen Ali was promoted up to No.3 for only the second time in T20Is since 2015. When he fell, rather than just promote another left-hander, Liam Livingstone and Harry Brook came in next. Resident anchor Dawid Malan was pushed down, eventually coming in at No.8 to face the final delivery of the innings.
Having faced almost 40 percent of the balls in England's innings, Buttler took his learnings into New Zealand's. With Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi proving tough to get away, conceding two boundaries each from their four overs respectively, he went spin-heavy at the start. Moeen opened up, before Adil Rashid bowled in the powerplay for the first time since January 22, against West Indies - 20 matches ago.
Sam Curran was successfully used to remove the dangerous Finn Allen, who had been dismissed every 11 balls by left-arm seamers coming into this game. That average is now a little lower after Curran needed just three. And while Buttler wasn't the on-field captain during the recent tour of Pakistan, Curran would appear to be a major beneficiary of his new regime, with 20 of his 37 T20I dismissals coming in his last nine appearances since the start of that tour. In that period, no-one in the world has been more prolific at the death, with 12 wickets and an economy rate of 7.03.
Buttler's performance also featured another outstanding diving catch to get rid of Devon Conway, whom he had so nearly stumped in Moeen's opening over, in what his predecessor Morgan would describe as "a full day out". Everything went Buttler's way.
It's hard to talk about Buttler as an England captain without talking about Morgan. Heck, it's hard to talk about Buttler full-stop without Morgan talking, given the latter's seamless and welcome accession to the commentary box. And even if Morgan was anywhere other than pitch-side, his shadow would still loom large over this team given his totemic influence, much of it to Buttler's benefit.
But it is captaincy that will define this iteration of Buttler, and it was instructive to hear him talk about relying on gut feel to excel in the role on Tuesday.
"I think there's a really fine balance between doing your preparation against players," he said. "You can look at the numbers until the cows come home, really, in this day and age. I think the feel on the day is a really important part of that. My own captaincy journey is still pretty young, and as that evolves over time I think I'll get even more of a feel of exactly what I like.
"I came off today having batted and thought Moeen Ali should bowl the first over. I didn't think that leading into the game, really."
Having searched for his own way to lead, including giving up the gloves during his time with Manchester Originals in the Hundred to see if marshalling in the outfield was more his vibe, he finally seems at ease with the demands from behind the stumps.
He was typically humble in his assessment, and deflected the outright credit for the bowling changes that reaped immediate reward: Curran for Allen, Ben Stokes for Kane Williamson, Mark Wood for Jimmy Neesham, Chris Woakes for Daryl Mitchell and again Curran for dangerman Glenn Phillips. But it was evidently a by-product of Buttler hammering into his bowlers that they need to be ready and willing to bowl in any phase. It is probably why England have flipped from a team that chases targets to one that defends them under their new leader.
Things could have gone very differently, of course, as is standard in this format. Buttler was dropped on eight and 40, and Moeen's promotion only yielded five from six. On another day, Phillips could have won that game on his own, though on the other six days of the week, you'd assume Moeen would also have taken that simple catch in the covers on 15.
As it is, England have produced something close to a complete T20 performance by virtue of Buttler's most convincing display: leading from the front with the bat then wedding pre-prepared plans with instinct. In turn, they will have the comfort of knowing the scale of the win required over Sri Lanka in their final match of the Super 12, given it comes 24 hours after Australia have taken on Afghanistan in their own final Group 1 match.
Near the end of Sky's broadcast, Nasser Hussain, having lauded Buttler's captaincy, wondered aloud about Buttler's claim for the tag of England's best-ever white ball player, before correcting himself to say Buttler was "one of the two best", given who was stood next to him. "No," interjected Morgan, "he is the best."
Morgan will likely forever be England's most influential white-ball captain after the transformative nature of his seven years at the helm. But over the next couple of weeks, Buttler has a chance to lay claim to being the most impactful.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo