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How Jos Buttler made the scoop the cornerstone of his audacious batting

This excerpt from a new book on England's twin white-ball triumphs explores how the current limited-overs captain's high-risk, high-reward approach to batting changed his and the team's game

Jos Buttler has struck at over 200 playing his trademark scoop  •  Getty Images

Jos Buttler has struck at over 200 playing his trademark scoop  •  Getty Images

Most sports dressing rooms are hierarchical; junior players naturally defer to senior ones. But when Jos Buttler first broke into the England team in 2011, just before he turned 21, a funny thing happened: the established players turned to the newcomer, wanting to know how he played his scoop.
"He did it so easily that the senior players would be asking how he does it, where he puts his hands, how low he gets, how far inside the line of the ball you want to be," recalls Andy Flower, England's coach when Buttler debuted. "That was rare. The level of innovation in international cricket accelerated from there."
Chris Woakes first encountered Buttler in county cricket in 2010, when Buttler was 19. "He was like the wonderkid coming through," Woakes recalls. "He played the scoop a lot: that was his shot. How he could hit sixes from the crease was another thing I remember quite vividly.
"He was very pioneering. I feel like Jos - that instinct and the way he was going to play his own way - was beyond his years. Jos changed the game. He definitely changed the way England play."
To bowl to Buttler with a white ball is, in essence, to accept having one fielder fewer. The reason is his scoop, one of the most outlandish shots in the game.
In 2009, when Buttler was 18, England hosted the T20 World Cup. Sri Lanka's Tillakaratne Dilshan was Player of the Tournament after scoring three half-centuries; one shot he played stuck in Buttler's mind more than any other. Against Australia at Trent Bridge, Dilshan unveiled what became known as the Dilscoop: facing Shane Watson's fast-medium bowling, he got down on one knee and flicked the ball over his own head, over the wicketkeeper, and over the boundary for a one-bounce four.
International batters had played similar paddle-sweeps before, but Dilshan's resonated with Buttler. "I saw Dilshan doing it and it just made sense," he told the Times in 2018. "There are no fielders there behind the keeper. If you make cricket as simple as you can, it is about hitting the ball where the fielders aren't."
"Jos' instinct and the way he was going to play his own way was beyond his years. He changed the game. He definitely changed the way England play"
Chris Woakes
When it was first popularised, the scoop was the embodiment of new-age ingenuity: a high-risk shot to be played only by the most impudent players. In Buttler's hands, it has become something else: a pragmatic, high-percentage option, like most batters once considered a leg glance. When he played the scoop in T20 from 2018 until the end of 2022, according to the data analytics company CricViz, Buttler averaged 50.50 and had a strike rate of 239. No one scored more runs with the scoop in this time; indeed, since CricViz began tracking T20 matches in 2006, no batter has scored more runs with the scoop than Buttler. He also uses it to great effect in ODIs: by June 2023, he had scored 131 runs from scoops, and been dismissed just once.
In essence, Buttler's scoop is two things at once: a phenomenal shot in its own right; and, by forcing captains to use a fielder to try and cover it, a way of enhancing the rest of his game by opening up more gaps elsewhere in the field.
"Every time you look up, there's always a gap that you feel he can access," says Chris Jordan, who has bowled to Buttler in the IPL. "That's what makes him so difficult to bowl at."
Nathan Leamon is best known for his work as England's analyst, but he also has one of the least enviable jobs in cricket: planning to dismiss Buttler while working for Kolkata Knight Riders. "Because I'm English, people specifically come to me and say, 'How are we going to bowl to Jos?'" Leamon reflects. "The only suggestion is to get him out early."
The power of Buttler's scoop is such that "You feel like you've only got eight fielders - and only got four on the boundary - for the whole of his innings," Leamon explains. "You have to keep fine leg back - and quite fine - otherwise he scoops. And when he scoops, he strikes at 200-plus. Jos almost never gets out to it, and he just scores runs for fun when he plays it. He basically takes one of your fielders off the field. And if the boundary's short, he'll play it even when the guy's back, and just hit it for six over his head."
Buttler has called the scoop his favourite shot - a judgement rooted in the shot's effectiveness more than its audacity, as he told Wisden in 2019: "There's never a fielder behind the wicketkeeper. Even if you don't play it, the bowler is factoring in that you might."
And so understanding the scoop is essential to understanding Buttler's greatness. The scoop is a window into Buttler's art, a magnificent stroke in its own right - and, such is its effectiveness, a shot that enhances the entire rest of his game.
As a fast bowler runs in, Buttler shimmies his left shoulder, making his body as loose and relaxed as possible. When he scoops, his right foot acts as a decoy; he steps outside leg stump before pushing himself back towards the off side. "I've worked on making it a smooth movement," he told Sky Sports in 2018. "That backwards press gets me into a nice rhythm, almost trying to roll underneath the ball."
Buttler watches the ball closely onto the face of his bat, avoiding using his wrists unless facing a slower ball. "I'm trying to let you [the bowler] bounce the ball off my bat. I'm trying to use your pace," he said. If Buttler uses his wrists to flick the ball up over the keeper, "my timing and everything else has to be perfect. Whereas if I'm just holding the bat there… I'll use all your pace."
Unlike Dilshan, Buttler stays upright while playing the scoop. Batters play most shots on instinct, but the scoop is premeditated; by staying upright, Buttler can play it to short balls as well as full ones. Really, Buttler doesn't have one scoop but several: by holding the bat at a different angle, he has also developed a reverse scoop, over third man rather than fine leg.
AB de Villiers, the legendary South African batter and Buttler's childhood hero, was an adroit exponent of the scoop himself. Buttler's skill playing it, says de Villiers, lies in his control. "He gets in a really good position, and his head is still," he explains:
"He has his eyes parallel to the ground and gets his head out of the way; you never want to get your head in line with the ball knowing that if you miss it, you're going to get knocked out.
"He never tries to over-hit it. It's just a little flick to help it along, to use the pace of the bowler. He approaches it in a very basic kind of way. Sometimes, he gets a bit lower; sometimes, he stands upright, almost expecting a hard-length delivery. It's an instinctive shot, and a shot where you almost read the plans of the bowler and the captain, knowing what they're trying to do."
Buttler's scoop relies on his hand-eye coordination, nurtured playing racket sports as a boy. He developed the shot through his creative, meticulous practice - he is renowned for his experimentation, using different grips, angles of the bat and moving his feet when training against yorkers.
"There are no fielders there behind the keeper. If you make cricket as simple as you can, it is about hitting the ball where the fielders aren't"
Buttler on his reasoning behind playing the scoop
When facing Sri Lanka's Lasith Malinga, with his low, slingy action, Buttler would put his hands lower on the handle to create an angle to attack the ball with the middle of his bat, rather than merely dig it out; he would also change his grip, opening the face to angle wide yorkers past third man. Buttler's relatively light bat gives him control, enabling him to whip his hands through the ball.
Unlike most English batters, Buttler does not play with a high front elbow - once again, highlighting the role of unstructured free play in his development. "I have a very natural, bottom-handed grip," he told Sky Sports in 2018. "That's just me being myself… I've found a way to accelerate my bat through the ball, and that comes quite naturally with the way I hold my bat."
Whether playing the scoop or more conventional shots, there is a smooth, uncluttered simplicity to Buttler's approach. "The thing that stands out the most for me with Jos' batting is the power he creates with a relatively short and compact backlift," de Villiers observes.
"There's not a lot of twirls, twists and turns in his backlift, but he always finds a way to surprise the fielders and the bowlers with the amount of power that he creates by playing it late under his eyes and letting his forearms and wrists do the rest."


Over 2021 and 2022, Buttler attained new heights of T20 batting. Across the two World Cups, he scored more runs than anyone else, averaging 61.75 with a strike rate of 148. In between times, Buttler hit four centuries in an IPL season, equalling Kohli's 2016 record.
By April 2023, 60 players from the 12 Test-playing nations had made 500 runs in T20 internationals when opening. Of this group, Buttler had the second-best average and the fourth-best strike rate. T20 batters have traditionally been on a continuum between consistent players and destructive ones; Buttler defies this trade-off.
Buttler had played 44 T20Is as an opener, averaging 49.20 with a strike-rate of 152 - both significantly higher than when he batted in the middle order. As in his scoop shot, he had found a way to combine an artist's audacity with an accountant's reliability.
He does not stand out for his record alone; his style is just as distinctive. England were so long the tortoises in white-ball cricket. In Buttler, they have found a hare - a player at the heart of the game's evolution.
"One of the incredible things about Jos Buttler's career was that it's very rare an England player pushes the envelope in any sport," Ed Smith, England's national selector from 2018-21, observes. "Think of the leading British sportsman in other sports in the last 20 years. Even when they've been exceptional it's seldom been on the grounds of creativity, originality. In the case of some of England's white-ball players, Jos being pre-eminent, they were doing things that made the rest of the world think, 'Wow, let's do that.'"
Brian Lara's status as one of the greatest batters in history is unquestionable. Yet, after watching the T20 World Cup in 2022, he recognised just how much the art of batting had evolved since his international retirement in 2007.
"The game has moved on," Lara told us. "A lot of people say, 'This guy from the past is a much better batter.' You look at the shots that these guys are playing now. It's incredible what they're doing. I must say that the game has evolved, has developed, and these guys are crazy, crazy good. If I was to transport myself into the spirit, I feel yes, I would survive, I'd do well, but I'd love to develop a few more shots, the ramp and the reverse-sweep."
Unprompted, Lara picked out one moment that captured the essence of modern batting: Buttler in the 2022 T20 World Cup final, reacting to a brilliant spell from Naseem Shah by scooping - that shot again - a delivery outside off stump over fine leg for six.
"You don't do things like that," said Lara with a disbelieving smile. Jos Buttler does.
This is an edited excerpt from White Hot: The Inside Story of England Cricket's Double World Champions, by Tim Wigmore and Matt Roller, available now via Bloomsbury (UK)

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. Tim Wigmore is deputy cricket correspondent at the Daily Telegraph