Inside Buttler's bid to rediscover the 'joy' of T20 batting

Inside Buttler's bid to rediscover the 'joy' of T20 batting


England captain in "a really good space" after extensive work with batting coach Sid Lahiri

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LONDON (Web Desk) - When England left India in mid-November, it was the lowest moment of Jos Buttler's tenure as white-ball captain. His side were eliminated at the group stages of the ODI World Cup after three wins in nine matches - and only one in seven when they were still mathematically alive. His own form was non-existent.

Buttler managed 138 runs across nine innings, 43 of which came in the tournament's opening match, and looked worn down by England's string of defeats. Innovative and impish at his best, he instead became restricted and robotic: he reverse-swept just two of the 142 balls he faced at the tournament, and played neither a sweep nor a scoop.

But as England prepare for the T20 World Cup, Buttler looks ready. After missing the Cardiff washout to be with his wife Louise for the birth of couple's third child, he is set to return as captain on Thursday night at The Oval. He does so after winning the player-of-the-match award in the only completed match in the series so far.

In his first international innings of the year at Edgbaston, Buttler took Pakistan's attack for 84 off 51 balls and seemed to have recaptured the spirit of the player that broke through as a 20-year-old. He used his feet against the seamers to create different angles for himself and destroyed Shadab Khan, looting 40 runs off the 15 balls he faced from him.

It was his highest score in any international cricket since an ODI century against South Africa in February 2023, and an innings defined by its impudence. He twice reverse-swept Shadab - once for four, once for six - and scooped Haris Rauf over fine leg to bring up his half-century. He even tried a rare reverse-scoop off Rauf, though toe-ended it towards point for a single.

Since he became a regular T20 opener in 2018, Buttler has evolved into a more clinical, consistent player: in T20Is, he averages 47.95 with a strike rate of 151.98 from his 50 innings as an opener. But of late, he has made a conscious decision to dip into his extensive repertoire of unorthodox shots: "What's really important for me at this stage of my career is to always be trying to improve and get better, and add new things to my game," Buttler said last week.

"There's certain shots that I want to add to my game more, different things that I want to try. I think that's really exciting. That feels really motivating for me, and it's always been a mindset of mine, but it's more [about] connecting to that again and not being afraid to try new things, and fail in different ways."

Buttler has worked closely with Siddhartha 'Sid' Lahiri, his batting coach at Paarl and Rajasthan Royals. "Sid's had a huge impact for me," Buttler said last month. When Buttler arrived at the SA20 in January, he was "not really enjoying my cricket, a bit unsure with my batting, trying to find that rhythm. Lahiri told him: "Just give me this tournament, I'm going to work with you," Buttler recounted.

Buttler "gave myself over" to Lahiri, and empowered him to run his training sessions. "He's got some great thoughts around the game," he said. "He's a very positive guy, always reminding you how good you are but at the same time, giving you some honest feedback, and stuff you can do better. He's had a great impact on my batting."

"Jos didn't have a particularly great time at the World Cup," Lahiri told ESPNcricinfo. "What I felt was that he had slightly gone away from his usual sync. He's not a conventional Ian Bell or Joe Root; he's an unconventional batter whose greatest strength is his hand-eye coordination. It's all about the time when the bat meets the ball, and his ability to sync that with the way he watches the ball."

Lahiri encouraged Buttler to move away from underarm feeds in practice, introducing "some harder spin throwdowns, where he had to play with the bat because he wasn't wearing pads". He also suggested that he should bat against the Royals' seamers in the nets more often as opposed to net bowlers - another change designed to "ensure that he kept on finding his rhythm".

They also worked on his alignment early in his innings, after some bowlers - Bhuvneshwar Kumar, for example - targeted his pads with the new ball. "We didn't tinker too much on his basics, more how he positions himself," Lahiri said. "There were certain areas which he was not accessing, and bowlers were targeting. Now, if they target him in towards him, he's going to hit it through midwicket for four."

Buttler believes that he is sometimes "a victim of my own expectations''. Lahiri agrees: "When Jos is walking out for the Royals, his level of expectation is at its peak; the same pressure is there playing for England as captain. He can't just think, 'Let me go and smack a few balls', which possibly he would love to. It's a challenge for him." His main aim, therefore, was simple: "To bring back the fun and the joy, and for Jos to actually enjoy batting again".

They are not major interventions but Buttler believes they have been beneficial and his statistics back that up: he averages 40.36 for the Royals' teams this year, striking at 142.30. "I feel in a really good space," he said last week. "I've worked closely with Sid… just [to get] some different ideas. He had a couple of drills that he thought would be really good for me. Change is good, change is nice."

Lahiri is an unlikely figure to be working so closely with Buttler: he is a self-described "outsider" who, unlike most IPL coaches, did not have a professional playing career. He played representative cricket in Bengal but went to the UK in his late 20s to qualify as a coach and never returned to Kolkata, instead building his career overseas.

He played club cricket for Stoke d'Abernon in Surrey while working at Parkside School in Cobham, and launched his own business, the Star Cricket Academy. It was incorporated into the Rajasthan Royals Academy in 2019 and Lahiri has worked with the franchise's professional set-up around the world since, including five seasons with their IPL team in various roles.

"My coaching journey has come from the grassroots level up," he said. "I'm very proud that I am a little bit of a trend-setter." He admitted that he has, on occasion, found it "tough" to get buy-in from top players, but said: "The time is not that far away when people will take coaching as completely different to playing… it's there already in football."

Lahiri has been empowered by the Royals' director of cricket Kumar Sangakkara, and is grateful to Buttler for his support: "At the Royals, we talk a lot about trust… Jos has obviously supported me in all of this, and that is why it has been able to work."

His influence on Buttler encapsulates the unlikely multi-national relationships which have been forged in the IPL era. If it helps Buttler play a decisive role at the T20 World Cup, England's supporters will be grateful.