Match Analysis

Unburdened, unshackled, unbelievable: Jos Buttler channels AB de Villiers in record onslaught

Destructive romp through Amstelveen shows true colours of world's best limited-overs batter

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Jos Buttler acknowledges the applause for his hundred, Netherlands vs England, 1st ODI, Amstelveen, June 17, 2022

Jos Buttler acknowledges the applause for his hundred  •  Getty Images

The old computer game Stick Cricket had a strapline which would flash up at the start of every game: "EVERY ball can be hit for six". On a sweltering day in Amstelveen, the leafy suburb of Amsterdam, Jos Buttler was informed by the same mentality. He hit 14 sixes in 70 balls, one every five balls, with most of them disappearing into the neighbouring forest.
First, the records: Buttler's hundred was his and England's second-fastest, off 47 balls, and his strike rate of 231.42 was the highest-ever by an England ODI centurion. Their total of 498 for 4 was the highest in ODI and List A cricket, and inches away from the first-ever total of 500 in a 50-over game. Another statistical landmark seemed to come within reach every over, as England re-wrote their own history books.
But the numbers alone fail to do Buttler justice. His 162 not out was an exhibition of hitting from the world's best limited-overs batter in front of 5,000 or so travelling supporters revelling in the sweltering heat, one which stripped the game back to its most simple principles: a batter looking to hit the ball as far as possible against a bowler trying - and failing - to stop him.
It was only six months ago that Buttler looked as though he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, epitomised by his thousand-yard stare after dropping Marnus Labuschagne in Adelaide. He had been worn down by 18 months of non-stop bubbles, locked away in hotel rooms without his young family, and by the end of the Ashes, he looked like a broken man.
And even at the IPL, there was a certain corporate sheen to Buttler's success: he spent most of the tournament wearing a cap sponsored by a state-owned Saudi oil company, giving interview after in-house interview about how the support of the 'Rajasthan Royals family' had been the key factor in his MVP-winning season. Despite his remarkable numbers, there was such a heavy reliance on him that his failures felt like gut-punches.
But at the VRA ground, the defining feature of his innings was the purity of the spectacle: unburdened, unshackled, unbelievable. Promoted to No. 4, Buttler walked out at 223 for 2 with 20.2 overs remaining and almost immediately teed off: he slapped his sixth ball down the ground for four with a lightning-fast snap of the wrists, and after lofting his 12th over the press box for six, he never looked back.
The Dutch gave him two lives: on 17, Vikramjit Singh misjudged the trajectory of a fierce slap, running in from long-on only to see the ball clear him and land just over the rope; on 37 (remarkably, only four balls later), Musa Ahmed put down a much more straightforward chance on the long-off boundary.
With Buttler in full flow, no part of the surrounding area was safe. Balls landed on a hospitality tent, a hockey pitch, a riverbank and the pavilion roof; nine were lost in total at an estimated cost of over €1,000. He hogged the strike in a partnership of 184 off 90 balls with Dawid Malan, contributing 139 off 60 himself, then played second fiddle as Liam Livingstone hammered 66 not out off 22 balls.
This was a glimpse of Buttler at his free-spirited best: the polished, complete version of 2022 with a streak of the fresh-faced Somerset youngster that Matthew Mott, England's new white-ball coach, remembers taking his old Glamorgan sides to pieces.
There were shades of his childhood idol, AB de Villiers, in Buttler's innings: scoring all the way around the ground, lofting straight and slapping through cover, and mocking Pieter Seelar's field-settings by clearing the infield whenever he brought a man up to plug another gap.
Buttler has spent most of his ODI career batting at No. 6, with occasional promotions in the absence of others or in certain game situations, but it would be no surprise if England decide to back him as their No. 4 in the build-up to their World Cup defence in India next year in the de Villiers mould.
England see Buttler as their most valuable resource and, as evidenced by his evolution into a world-beating opener in their T20I team, are keen for him to face as many balls as possible, giving him the greatest possible chance to impact the game. He seems unlikely to open in ODIs - he is simply too valuable to risk against a new ball from each end - and Joe Root is locked in at No. 3 in a full-strength team, but No. 4 looks like the perfect fit.
Buttler's career record in this format is now comparable to de Villiers' own but reflecting their different roles in the side and the eras in which they played: his average is 20% lower, his strike rate 20% higher. Buttler couldn't quite keep the pace with de Villiers' own magnum opus, his 149 off 44 against West Indies in 2015 - but he was not far behind.
Since the start of England's home season in 2017, Buttler has averaged 47.13 with a strike rate of 124.66, a saccharine cocktail of dependability and destruction; for the Barmy Army, it was the perfect chaser on an afternoon soaked in beer and boundaries.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98