Can Buttler be England’s AB?

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The comparison was not entirely far-fetched — and the timing was understandable.

A few hours earlier, Buttler had flayed New Zealand for 129 in 77 balls to set up England’s record-breaking 408 for nine in the first one-day international at Edgbaston. Now he was calmly soaking up the praise and attempting to deflect it towards his team-mates. But there was no hiding his quiet excitement at being at the hub of a one-day side that had been true to its promise to attack, attack, attack.

First, though, the modesty. ‘I’m not sure I’m quite at those guys’ level yet,’ he said.

‘AB de Villiers is someone who has been a role model for me for a long time, someone who has changed batting over the past few years. Everyone is trying to emulate him.’

The evidence of Tuesday afternoon in Birmingham was that some are emulating South Africa’s limited-overs captain better than others.

For Buttler, who has now made the two fastest one-day centuries in English history — he reached three figures off 61 balls against Sri Lanka at Lord’s last summer — the ascent might have been written in the stars.

Softly spoken and possessing a West Country lilt that does not immediately conjure up visions of a hard-bitten international sportsman, Buttler has long emitted a mix of skill, nous and humility.

At 14 he made a century for King’s Taunton against Millfield — the powerhouse of the school sporting scene in the South-West — but got out just before victory was completed. His response was to burst into tears.By the time he was 16 he had convinced his coach at King’s, the former Somerset and Northamptonshire left-arm spinner Dennis Breakwell, that he was a ‘better cricketer than Ian Botham at that age’. Buttler was averaging 95.

Breakwell has even placed a bet, at odds of 14-1, on Buttler becoming England captain. He has four years to earn his former mentor some pocket money. As England’s limited-overs vice-captain, he is not far away.

To watch Buttler unfurl his repertoire at Edgbaston — murderous, lofted straight drives, uncomplicated thwacks through the covers and the trademark ramp over the wicketkeeper’s head that took him to 99 — was to wonder why England were reluctant last summer to blood him in Test cricket.

But he has taken to the five-day game with equal facility, averaging 52 from his eight Tests and demonstrating that he is not merely the one-day dasher who has hit 37 sixes in 48 innings and is scoring at 114 runs per 100 balls.

Thrillingly for England fans who have grown to regard talk of a new era in the same way that voters view the pre-election promises of politicians, Buttler wants the De Villiers comparison to extend beyond his day out in Birmingham.He is aiming high.

De Villiers has 20 one-day hundreds to his name, an average of 53 and a strike-rate of 99. He is top of the ICC’s 50-over ranking and second in Tests. At the World Cup, he smashed West Indies for an unbeaten 162 from 66 balls. Quite simply, he has it all.

‘That’s the role I want to play in English cricket,’ said Buttler. ‘I want to be that guy who can go out like I did here and play those kind of innings consistently.’

With all the talk heading into the series surrounding the aggressive intent of New Zealand’s batsmen, it felt like a welcome role reversal to hear the tourists’ coach Mike Hesson heaping praise on one of England’s.

‘I thought it was an outstanding performance,’ said Hesson. ‘There’s a very small margin for error with Jos: when you do miss, he’s got the ability to punish you and you need to recognise that and applaud it.’

Those at Somerset who knew Buttler well — before he joined Lancashire because of competition for the wicketkeeping role with Craig Kieswetter — are proud of their boy.‘He’s reserved but strong,’ said Somerset chairman Andy Nash, who has known Buttler since he was 12.

‘He’s gaining confidence. Colleagues have always liked and respected him.’ A member of the England dressing-room also mentions ‘a great sense of humour’.

And he is already verging on hero status at Old Trafford after hitting an unbeaten 71 off 35 balls last week to help Lancashire to a last-ball Twenty20 win over Roses rivals Yorkshire at Headingley.

Crucially, the 24-year-old finds himself part of an England set-up which has vowed to put the World Cup nightmare behind them and play with the freedom that comes naturally to him. Buttler once said: ‘If you’re only ever looking to hit a single, you can never hit a four.’

Before the Edgbaston game — as if reading Buttler’s mind — stand-in coach Paul Farbrace told the team he would rather they were bowled out for 180 in 20 overs than dribble towards 240 in 50.And so, when England slipped to 202 for six with 20 overs to go, Buttler and Adil Rashid had the licence to counter-attack.

The result was a world record seventh-wicket stand of 177 in just 105 balls.‘If you scrape up to 250 in 50 overs, that’s not going to win you too many games any more,’ said Buttler. ‘So you have to be looking at 300-plus at least. You play to win.‘I work really hard on my game and I want to be someone who can score quickly whatever the situation and whichever style of bowling I’m facing. That’s always going to be my mindset.

‘I’ve matured and, having played 50 games now, I think my self- confidence is as good as it’s ever been in international cricket.’ If the good times really are still to come, England fans are in for a treat.

Buttler v De Villiers

If Jos Buttler wants to become England’s answer to AB de Villiers he’s certainly going the right way about it — his ODI stats are similar to those of the great South African at the same stage of his career...

Buttler-De Villiers

48 Innings 48

24 Age 23

1409 Runs 1519

129 High Score 146

34.36 Average 33.76

114.83 Strike rate 85.72

7 50s 10

2 100s 1

...but he’s got a long way to go if he wants to reach the same heights as the 31-year-old — currently ranked the best one-day batsman in the world and holder of the records for fastest ODI 50 (16 balls), 100 (31 balls) and 150 (64 balls).

DE VILLIERS

Innings 179

Runs 7941

High score 162*

Average 53.65

Strike rate 99.12

50s 46

100s 20

How young Jos took some Beefy inspiration...

AS a young West Country boy, Jos Buttler was delighted to meet one of Somerset’s greatest cricketers — and England’s finest all-rounder — Ian Botham in 1999. Buttler, now 24, has moved on from Somerset to thrill Lancashire and England supporters. – Daily Mail

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