Danger: Genius at Work

Towards the end of March I saw Jos Buttler at my local rugby ground. The Exeter Chiefs were playing Leicester in the Aviva Premiership and he was standing close to where I can usually be found on Devon winter Saturdays, frequently struggling to retain feeling in my limbs as the estuary winds blow in. He was among a group of lads his age and a couple of older men, one of whom I took to be his father. He was relaxed, happy, smiling. He didn't stand out, other than for the lush appearance of his skin, which spoke of time spent far from the grim, biting greyness of the British winter months.

In many ways, Jos Buttler is characteristic of his cricket background. Somerset players, whatever their gifts - and Marcus Trescothick is the ageless template here - tend to be unpretentious and self-aware, mistrustful of metropolitan slickness and artificiality.

Talk is cheap. It is what you do on the pitch, with bat or ball in hand, that matters.

This is Buttler. When interviewed he is quietly spoken, modest, a little reticent perhaps. He doesn't stand out. Except in the way he uses his bat.

After Sandy Park, my next sighting of Buttler came at Taunton during Somerset's first home Championship match of the season against Warwickshire. He made a fluent, easily commanding 119 not out from number six, putting on a creamy 193 with Alviro Petersen. For Buttler, whose name has largely been made in the limited-over game, this was an important innings, showing as it did the level of restraint and shot selection - though never excessive conservatism or lack of fluency - which he is going to need to regularly display if he is to press his claims to be among England's future plans in Test as well as one-day cricket.

At the wicket Buttler has the stillness and capacity for late movement which distinguishes the very best. With a full slip cordon in place and the ball moving, he can be vulnerable, as the quality of his eye and hands can lead him into unwise temptation and misjudgement. However, such is his class, he can usually ride the danger. As with other players of genius, what is almost certain to be fatally inappropriate to a lesser mortal is usually just the simplest way to accrue runs. The difficult and unwise is, in his hands, made to look easy and prudent.

However, it is in the short-form arena that Buttler's virtuosity has its clearest expression. Here he can do what he does as well as any player on the planet. He can innovate and extemporize, and he can bend any bowling attack to his will. The coruscating innings of 89 from 51 balls which he made for Somerset against Yorkshire at Headingley yesterday was simply the most recent example of his gifts. There were the ramp shots to both sides of the hapless wicket-keeper, played with unnatural consistency of timing - the difficult made to look easy - and there were the lofted on-drives, hit with merciless power. But there was also more: lofted off-drives (though in truth they were more like tennis shots) played with a lazy, elastic whip of the arms, subverting the textbook's imprecations to keep the left elbow high and enabling the ball to be directed to parts of the offside boundary which cannot easily be defended by a captain with only nine fielders at his disposal.

Many of Buttler's early games for England were characterized by an air of diffidence which is never apparent when he is playing for his county. Until he made 32 not out off 10 balls in a T20 game (which was reduced to 11 overs per side) against South Africa at Edgbaston last September, there was a sense that he was wondering to himself whether he was good enough. Since then he has appeared more confident and has been marginally more influential, although, as Bob Willis, who, in his mad Uncle sort of way has become Buttler's greatest champion, has said, he needs to bat higher in the order.

Buttler is a one-day player in the modern idiom. As everyone knows, in modern limited-over cricket, reputations are won and lost in the IPL. Because Buttler has never played in the IPL there are wide swathes of the cricket world who don't yet know how good he is. At Headingley yesterday the applause he received when he left the field was hesitant. While this can be attributed at least partly to partisanship, you can be forced to conclude that it is not just on the Indian sub-continent that people are yet to really grasp how good Buttler is.

Before long, you can be sure, they will.

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