As England completed a comprehensive innings win over Pakistan to give the series a final, unfulfilling scoreline of 1-1 , there were two words that dominated the last day. It wasn’t “one-one”, or a long overdue “England win” – something that has not been uttered, in Tests anyway, since September of last year. It wasn’t even “Jos Buttler”, though he does claim credit for the above, taking the man-of-the-match award with a quite magnificent 80 not out.
During a break for drinks, Buttler placed his bat and helmet on the ground. As the television cameras focussed on the handle, some writing came into focus. It said, simply, “F*** IT”. The producer in charge of the coverage switched cameras quickly, but the message had already made its way around the world.
Jos Buttler’s “F*** IT* story begins back in 2015. He had been dropped from the Test side for the very first time. A promising start in the summer of 2014 was a distant memory as he fumbled through a series in the UAE against Pakistan. He was clinging on by the skin of his teeth going into that tour, coming out of the Ashes series earlier that year with an average of 15.25 thanks to some uncharacteristic tentativeness. Little improved in two games and Buttler was dropped for the third, averaging just 8.5 and making it 12 innings without a fifty.
Dropping him was the humane thing to do. For Buttler and English cricket. In front of their very eyes, coaches and teammates were watching the crown jewel dull with worry. It was around this time that Buttler first got out the marker pen.
The message implores simplicity and, later on that same tour, Buttler hammered a 52-ball 116 in the fourth ODI against Pakistan. It was to be a hundred that fast-tracked the evolution of England’s ODI side. Ever since, he has inscribed every handle with that message.
The mantra has served him well: driving him to become one of the most devastating players in world cricket, while also taking the IPL by storm this season, equalling the record for most consecutive fifties in the competition with five in a row for Rajasthan Royals. It has also caused a few awkward moments.
He has to be wary when giving his bats away for charity auctions, often colouring in the handle completely to obscure the profanity. Senior members of the Buttler family have also had to engage in frank conversations with the younger relatives who play around with Jos’ kit and come away with a new phrase. Ah well, kids learn that word eventually and there are many worse ways to pick it up. There is little doubt Buttler’s hand today will have a more positive influence on youngsters, while also winning over a few purists, too. Take note, ECB.
Unbelieveable spot from @palacenutter & @JackMarshall__
Here's what Jos Buttler has written on his bat handle ????????????#EngvPak pic.twitter.com/W0CVUpLraa
— Vithushan Ehantharajah (@Vitu_E) June 3, 2018
While Twenty20 takes a lot of the credit for cricket’s innovation, it is arguably another F-word that has given Buttler a more rounded game. Fifty-over cricket has offered him a variety of scenarios to either start in fourth gear or go through them smoothly. Not only does he possess three of England’s top four fastest ODI hundreds, his slowest – an 84-ball effort against Australia at Sydney – came with England struggling on 107 for 4 in the 23rd over. He had a look, bringing up 50 from 52 balls, before reaching a clean 100 just 32 balls later.
The similarities were clear here when he put together this 80 – the highest score of the match and the series, Buttler’s second half-century in a week and eighth overall. He was 45 off 90 having played quite a simple game: leaving well, getting behind every ball that threatened his stumps and avoiding risk, barring the error he made on 4, when he pierced Hasan Ali’s hands at midwicket.
As a proactive measure, he shaped-up outside of his crease for every seam bowler in a bid to cover any movement through the air that might have foxed him further back. Then, from that 90-ball mark, he thought, “f*** it”, and struck 35 from the next 11. The fifty was brought up with a flayed six over fine leg, drawing raucous applause from the Headingley crowd. His next six, thumped so far into the rugby stadium beyond the ground that it notched an extra two points, stunned Pakistan’s fielders into silence. It also meant they needed a new ball. The shot right after – a yorker-length delivery, wide of off stump, threaded expertly through cover for four – was arguably better.
Head coach Trevor Bayliss, whose greatest success has come in ODIs, mentioned after the match that bringing out this version of Jos Buttler – the 50-over phenom rather than the T20 showstopper – was the key to easing Buttler’s reintroduction to Test cricket.
“He came in and we’ve spoken to him about thinking about his batting the way he does his one-day batting,” Bayliss told Sky Sports. “Both Lord’s and here, he started off a bit differently to how everyone thought he would. He gave himself a chance, got himself in, but he’s the type of player who can flick that switch and we saw that today.”
Before lifting the perspex guard and flicking that switch for the onslaught, England’s lead over Pakistan was 148. It would have been enough given they were rolled for 134 in the second innings. But even with 2,700 possible balls across a Test, Buttler showed how 11 can make such a profound difference.
Joe Root was desperate to get another coffee and settle in to watch the fireworks. Supporters who spent most of the day milling about stayed in one spot, fearful of missing a second. Heck, even journalists, heads often buried in laptops trying to steal a march for that on-the-whistle session report, had to shelve the multi-tasking. And Sarfraz Ahmed behind the stumps seemed to stop captaining altogether because it suddenly became so utterly futile.
For the first time in the series, Pakistan were totally powerless. Buttler was taking the game away from them and there was nothing they could do about it. Even Sarfraz, for that moment, simply had to sigh and think, ” f*** it”.
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