Jos Buttler — Repaying the Royals’ faith

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Kumar Sangakkara has been associated with the Indian Premier League ever since its inception – first as a player, and now as a coach. But in his long stint, he can’t remember anyone else other than Jos Buttler “batting this well in the history” of the tournament.

The English batting ace continued his dream run, smashing his fourth century in this edition of the tournament on Friday, and guided Rajasthan Royals to the final of the tournament, where it faces Gujarat Titans.

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While it will be Royals’ first final since 2008, when it won the inaugural edition, the tournament has also been a happy hunting ground for Buttler – who, by his own admission, came into the IPL, with very little training.

But ever since landing in Mumbai in mid-March, Buttler has looked determined – both on and off the field. So far, he has amassed 824 runs at a strike rate of 151, and dons the Orange Cup with elan.

It may read like a no-flaw story, but the journey hasn’t been easy for the 31-year-old. After making his presence felt in the first half of the tournament, Buttler suddenly found himself off-colour, failing to convert the starts into big scores. Buttler headed into the playoffs with a string of low scores (2, 2, 7, 30, 22).

It was a difficult phase for sure, but with the likes of Sangakkara and Trevor Penney around, Buttler could unwind, think over what went wrong and eventually bounce back.

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“It’s hard to describe what he’s done for us this season, in terms of T20 batting. He started off so well, (then) he had a little bit of a flutter at one point in the tournament. But then he just calmed himself down, had a lot of good conversations rather than just training, accepted that he’s mortal and human and he can’t be at that high level of excellence every single day,” Sangakkara said a while after Royals defeated Royal Challengers Bangalore by seven wickets to storm into the final.

“But trying to understand how you reach that level in every game, at different stages – some days you have to fight and look ugly, other days your rhythm is there. And the reality is that you can’t fight that condition, fight what’s happening on the day. You have to just settle into it and build that innings, and you can accelerate at any point. He’s got all the strokes, he’s a lovely guy, he understands the game really well,” Sangakkara said, “and, I can’t remember anyone else batting this well in the history of the IPL…”

A seasoned IPL campaigner, Buttler was part of the Mumbai Indians side that won the tournament in 2017, defeating Rising Pune Supergiant in a cliffhanger, and from next season onwards, the England ace moved on to Royals. There have been quite a few dull seasons, but even then, the franchise showed faith  and retained him ahead of this year’s mega auction.

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And, Buttler, too, has tried his best to live up to the expectations. Pairing with captain Sanju Samson, he has been Royals’ man Friday on several occasions, and that chemistry has worked. And the team’s director of cricket, Sangakkara, had a word of praise for Sanju as well.

“Sanju’s been exceptional. He started off with quite a tough test last season, with quite a young side, with a lot of upheaval in terms of Covid bubbles, players coming in and leaving, a tournament of two halves. He’s really grown into his role, he’s a very soft-spoken, very reserved individual, exceptionally skilled with the bat. But he’s shown a lot of passion and hunger to play for this franchise, to take on this testing role of captaincy. Wicketkeeping, captaining and being the best batter in your side – along with Jos Buttler – is not an easy role to fill. But he’s done it really, really well this season,” Sangakkara said.

“”He’s become more and more aware of what his role is – that he’s really only captaining when he’s fielding and when he’s batting, he’s just Sanju Samson the batter who needs to bat with freedom and enjoyment. His tactical awareness has improved right throughout and it’ll only keep getting better. He’s really trusted by his team, the team really looks up to him as a leader, he’s inspired them off the field and on it. And I can’t be prouder of how Sanju has grown and the individual and the captain that he is,” Sangakkara explained.

Neither Sanju, nor Buttler were in the circuit when Royals won the title in 2008 under Shane Warne’s leadership. They have only heard folklore. But on Sunday, they have a rare chance to create history; a perfect chance to pay a fitting tribute to their ‘first Royal’, who passed away in March – Shane Keith Warne!

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