Jos Buttler has credited the confidence gained from his recent spell in the IPL, and the relaxation gained from accepting the inevitability of occasional failure, for his impressive return to England’s Test team.
Buttler, who followed his 67 at Lord’s with an unbeaten 80 in Leeds, was something of a surprise selection for the series against Pakistan. He hadn’t played a first-class game this year and hadn’t made a first-class century since January 2014.
But he feels the self-belief gained from his time with Rajasthan Royals – where he signed off with five half-centuries and a 39 in his final six innings – has helped him regain the uncomplicated approach – or the ‘F*** It’ attitude, as he might put it – he originally took to Test cricket.
Buttler’s innings in Leeds was his highest – and, arguably, his best – in Test cricket since he made 85 on debut against India in July 2014. He followed that with innings of 70, 45, 0 and 59 not out in his next five innings at that level to give the impression he had made the step-up to Test cricket with some ease.
But, once the Ashes series started in 2015, his form fell away and he was unable to reach 50 in his next 12, ever more tentative, innings. As a result, he was dropped towards the end of the year after four innings in the UAE had realised just 34 runs. And, while he made a brief and partially successful comeback against India in late 2016 (he made 76 in Mumbai and 43 in Mohali), it looked, for a long time, as if his excellence in the limited-overs formats would prevent him having the time to make the adjustments to his game required to prosper in first-class cricket.
It is only now, having found a way to bring the freedom he has in T20 cricket to his Test game, that he has been able to silence the doubts in his own head and gone some way to unleash his obvious talent in the longest format. And it is probably no coincidence that the most eye-catching part of Buttler’s innings in Leeds came when he had only the tail for company and the license and freedom to take the attack to the bowlers.
“Those couple of weeks in the IPL gave me huge amounts of confidence,” Buttler said. “To be in those pressure situations in India, playing in front of crowds, the pressure of being an overseas player. That showed me a lot about where I was at and where I can get to, so that gave me a lot of confidence. For me, not trying to worry about the colour of the ball definitely helps. Having put in good performances elsewhere and not putting as much pressure on myself.
“In T20 there’s generally another game soon after, so you know you’ve got another opportunity coming up. You probably just move on if you fail. But in Test cricket, if you get out early, you have a long time to think about it.
“I started to think too much about how to not get out, as opposed to how to score runs. I got in a really bad rut that I just couldn’t get out of. The only real way to get out of it was to be dropped. And actually, being dropped released a lot of pressure. It wasn’t very long after that that I made an ODI hundred in Dubai, which was a turnaround for me after a long and hard six months.”
It was just ahead of that century in Dubai that he first took to writing “F*** It’ in marker pen on the top of his bat handle. It was a phrase that was picked up again by the cameras in Leeds during a break in play on Sunday and, as Buttler explains, provides a reminder not to over-think the game or fret about the outcomes.
“It’s just something that reminds me of what my best mindset is,” Butter says, “when I’m playing cricket and probably in life as well. It puts cricket in perspective. When you nick off, does it really matter? It’s just a good reminder when I’m in the middle or when I’m questioning myself and it brings me back to a good place.
“Now my mentality is quite similar to my first few Tests. I’m not worrying about external factors. I’m just trying to play the game and trusting myself.”
These are early days, but Buttler has already gone some way to justifying Ed Smith’s faith in him.