Matches (17)
ENG v WI (1)
MLC (2)
Asia Cup (2)
WCL 2 (1)
LPL (1)
TNPL (1)
ENG v SL (U19) (1)
T20 Blast (8)
Match Analysis

Jos Buttler plays opener and finisher to keep debate about best role bubbling

England may have fewer options at finisher but Jos Buttler's form as an opener makes him look irresistible

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Opening the batting in T20 cricket usually involves a trade-off between scoring quickly and consistently; batsmen either look to fly out of the blocks and make the most of the hard new ball and the field restrictions, or get themselves set and take an innings deep.
For most opening batsmen, it is a binary choice: Jason Roy, for example, chooses the former, while Babar Azam opts for the latter.
But Jos Buttler is not like most opening batsmen. Since his promotion to the top of the Rajasthan Royals order in May 2018, Buttler has scored 1414 runs in 33 innings, averaging 47.13 while maintaining a strike rate of 153.86. No wonder so many of his team-mates refer to him as a "freak".
If that record isn't enough in and of itself, consider this. Many astute analysts considered Sunil Narine's promotion to open to be a seminal moment in how T20 cricket is played, such is the disregard he shows for protecting his wicket while swinging from the hip.
And yet, since midway through the 2018 IPL, Buttler has kept pace with Narine, with his 153.86 strike rate only fractionally slower than Narine's 154.57; meanwhile, Buttler's average is nearly three times higher.
It was a surprise, therefore, to look up 10 overs into England's run chase on Sunday and see Buttler with 25 runs to his name from 24 balls. But from that point he exploded into gear, hitting one boundary in each of the next three overs and two in the 14th to keep England ticking towards a below-par target.
Even as three wickets fell around him in the space of 22 balls, he looked at ease, and finished the game off with a towering six into the top tier of the Ageas Bowl's pavilion. While Buttler forged his reputation as a short-form player thanks to his range of inventive strokes - reverse sweeps, laps and paddles - he has scored in orthodox areas throughout this series, with bottom-handed slaps through cover and presses through straight midwicket. Here, his most productive shot was the cover drive.
"It was one of those wickets where I felt like you needed some balls under your belt to get used to the pace of it," Buttler said. "Once I came through the Powerplay, the game was set up like a one-day chase.
"Irrelevant of me opening, I saw it as if I was coming in in the middle order in a one-day game and the equation was to chase those runs down."
Therein lies the reason England have decided that Buttler is the man they want at the top of the order in T20 cricket. His role in the side has been a constant debate over the last two years, not least with young, talented openers queuing up in the wings: should Buttler get England off to a bright start, or see them home at the back end? In this innings, he managed to do both.
And yet, the question continues to be asked. Eoin Morgan reiterated on the eve of this series that he saw England's first-choice top three as Buttler, Jason Roy and Jonny Bairstow, but was equivocal in the post-match presentation.
"We'll continue to look at options," he said. "I think we'd be doing everybody a disservice if we didn't. He's obviously a world-class player, and our job is to get the best out of him in the best position. Whether that's at the top or down the order, only time will tell."
"It probably is my favoured position to bat in T20 cricket," Buttler said. "I've had most of my success at the top and I think that is natural: the top three in T20 cricket is best place for anyone. We probably have eight or nine guys who would stick their hand up to bat in the top three.
"I'm very happy there, but I'm also very happy to do what the team needs from me. I have played a lot of my career in T20 and one-day cricket batting in the middle so I am very comfortable doing that as well. It's for the coach and captain to decide."
There is merit to the line of thought that Buttler should shift down into the middle order. After all, they have an abundance of top-three batsmen, with the identity of their finisher much less clear.
But with Morgan himself enjoying a late-career flourish with the bat, Moeen Ali showing signs of his best form again and Ben Stokes still to return, England's middle-order options suddenly look significantly more appealing.
As a result, recasting Buttler as a finisher would be like Manchester City asking Kevin de Bruyne to play up front to accommodate a lesser player in midfield; compromising a strength in order to cover a minor deficiency. By his own admission, Buttler is hitting the ball as well as ever: anything that might jeopardise that would surely not be worth the risk.
As Buttler took England across the line on Sunday, Stuart Broad tweeted that he was "England's best-ever white-ball cricketer". On this evidence, it was hard to disagree.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98