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Match Analysis

Jos Buttler finishes the job as England's opener as Yuzvendra Chahal takes the heat

Dominance of legspinner in the powerplay establishes agenda in comfortable England win

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Close your eyes and think of Jos Buttler batting in a T20 game. Which shot is he playing: shuffling across to the off side and scooping over fine leg? Or creaming a reverse-sweep through backward point?
Based on his innings in Ahmedabad on Tuesday night, it should be skipping down the pitch and crashing a legspinner over long-on. While Buttler is best known for his unorthodoxy in limited-overs cricket, it was his dominance while playing conventional shots that put England ahead of the game in their run-chase, and kept them there throughout their cruise to an eight-wicket win.
Buttler's record against Yuzvendra Chahal has been a mixed bag across his T20 career. He has struggled to score fluently against him in the IPL in particular, scoring at less than a run a ball, and in the first match of the series, Chahal trapped him lbw with the second ball he bowled to him.
In that light, it was no surprise to see Virat Kohli bring his legspinner into the attack early, with England 16 for 0 after three overs and India searching for an early wicket to help defend a middling target of 157. Perhaps the expectation was that Buttler would look to get off-strike by nudging him around, knowing he had never taken him down in the past, but he saw things very differently.
"I felt it was a great opportunity to try and attack him," Buttler explained. "The ball had swung a little bit for the seamers and was standing up so I felt like spin was going to be the best time to attack in the powerplay. With the fact that he's had success against me before, he might not have expected me to attack him, so it felt like the right thing to do and I was confident to take him on."
Chahal's first ball pitched on a good length, seemingly looking to draw an edge to slip from a defensive steer. Buttler shimmied down the pitch, turning it into a half-volley, and dumped him over long-on with disdain, as though he was range-hitting against a net bowler.
Four balls later, after Jason Roy had been caught reverse-sweeping, he repeated the trick: Chahal went a fraction fuller and wider outside off, but Buttler backed his hand-eye coordination, again skipping down to clout him over the sightscreen. As he lifted his back leg in the mould of Kevin Pietersen, Buttler's ability to innovate seemed irrelevant: this was a clinic in T20 hitting.
After he was beaten by a sharply-spun legbreak off the final ball of Chahal's over, Buttler reasoned that he ought to keep attacking. So as Shardul Thakur strayed down the leg side, he used a low, stable base to flick him off his pads for four, before pulling him for four more off a slower ball and repeating the same shot with more power to clear square leg two balls later.
In Chahal's second over, Buttler decided it was time to unfurl his unorthodoxy: Chahal fired one in at 63mph/101kph on his pads, spotting his premeditation, but Buttler dragged the ball through point regardless, reverse-sweeping with strong wrists. Off the final ball of the powerplay, as Chahal dropped too short, Buttler rocked back and carved him through the leg side. In the space of three overs, he had added 36 runs to his own score while facing 11 balls, and had broken the back of the chase single-handedly.
"You always want to get off to good starts, chasing any target," he said. "Chasing 160 can be one of those in-between scores where if you start slow the rate can creep up and you create pressure on your own team and others that you may not necessarily need to.
"If you look at the two powerplays today, as a bowling unit we bowled fantastically well and kept them well under par in the powerplay. And then we got off to a nice start, which really set us up to allow us not to have to take too many risks as the game went on, and get home pretty comfortably in the end."
As Buttler suggested, the main contrast between the two innings was the six-over scores: India were 24 for 3 at that stage after a superb new-ball burst from Mark Wood in particular, while England were 57 for 1. Having pummelled 43 off 17 balls in the powerplay, Buttler simply milked the ball around from that point on, scoring 40 off his next 35 as India bowled defensively to him, looking to contain rather than attack.
When Washington Sundar eventually tossed one up, hoping to draw a big shot, Buttler calculated that a full offbreak in his arc was exactly the sort of ball he should take on: he promptly swung him over the fielder at long-on, and into the lower tier. He did have a late let-off when Virat Kohli spilled another reverse-sweep off Chahal's final ball, but by then he had 76 to his name and the rate was down to a run a ball.
Buttler's innings provided yet another reminder as to why England have chosen him as an opener in 16 successive games in this format. After his unbeaten innings of 83 - his highest score in the format for England - he averages 51.23 with a strike rate of 153.10 opening in T20Is; just as importantly, England have won 13 out of the 17 games they have played with him in that role. Nobody doubts the ability Buttler has to change games from the middle of the batting order, but when he is at the top, he has the opportunity to dominate them.
"People seem to quite enjoy talking about it and I certainly sometimes feel the pressure of that," he said. "There's obviously loads of us who can open the batting in this team, but I've got the full backing from Morgs to go and do that and that gives me a lot of confidence. I really enjoy the role. It is my preference in T20 cricket - it's the best place to bat. I know Morgs is keen for me to open, and I'll do that with his backing."

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