No wonder he is the most Mankad-ed batsman in world cricket. In these conditions Jos Buttler is so lethal that he drives bowlers to distraction and, occasionally, extreme measures. Here he smashed a 50-ball century, the second-fastest of his ODI career, the 10th fastest in the history of the game.
There was no suggestion that Pakistan might seek to run him out backing up; instead they kept running in at him steadfastly but they were unable to curb the monstrous hitting of England’s most accomplished white-ball batsmen. So, despite a marvellous century from Fakhar Zaman, England were able to prevail by 12 runs in a match that few bowlers will remember with any affection.
The Ageas Bowl provides some of the longest boundaries in the game, one of the virtues of this venue. Buttler cleared them nine times with an array of awesome strokes. Some sailed over long-off with a hint of fade, others flew beyond square leg with a touch of draw. He launched into orbit deliveries that were almost perfect yorkers. But only absolute perfection would do. In this mood on this type of surface, which offered barely any encouragement to bowlers – apart from the distance to the rope – Buttler terrifies bowlers.
This was Buttler’s first innings on English soil since last September but it was as if he had never been away. The solitary concern about him in the England camp can be that he is peaking too early. The World Cup final is more than two months away. If he is just warming up, then watch out.
Buttler overshadowed his colleagues while completing his eighth ODI hundred but there were other reassurances as the old batting combination was reunited once Sarfraz Ahmed had decided to field at the toss. Neither Jason Roy nor Jonny Bairstow had batted since 23 April – Roy at the Oval, Bairstow in Chennai – and both prospered. Bairstow was the more fluent early on even though he was denied the lion’s share of the strike. He had cracked 51 from 44 balls when he was deftly caught – after a bit of juggling – by Zaman on the square-leg boundary.
Roy needed a bit more time in reconnaissance but the signs were good when he suddenly dispatched a blameless delivery from Hasan Ali over the long-on boundary. Soon trademark wristy flicks sent the ball skimming towards the rope. Perhaps a 27-minute delay for rain upset the flow since when play resumed Roy was soon out to his ugliest shot – a mistimed pull that sent the ball into a gentle parabola. By then he had notched 87 runs.
Joe Root advanced with serenity before pulling a long hop from Yasir Shah to Haris Sohail at midwicket and his would be the last England wicket to fall.
Immediately Buttler gave a demonstration of how to counter the Shah long-hop; he hit two of them for six to get his innings moving. In the meantime Eoin Morgan consolidated on the excellent form he displayed in Cardiff, timing the ball sweetly and seldom being seduced into trying to overhit the ball. He also advanced rapidly, though by the end he was happy to allow Buttler as much of the strike as possible.
Together they added 162 in the last 14 overs of the innings. This is now an era in which it is legitimate to note that Imad Wasim bowled cannily to yield only 63 from his 10 overs.
There was a time when the compilation of such a massive score ruined the game. Not any more. Pakistan were undaunted by the pursuit of 374 with Zaman to the fore, wielding his bat like Excalibur. After posting a 92-run partnership with the studious Imam-ul Haq (he wears glasses), Zaman accelerated with a variety of clean hits to the leg side. Before long he had posted his fourth century in just 32 ODI innings, which included four sixes. The chase was on and with a sublime batting surface there was no obvious means for Morgan to stem the flow of runs as Babar Azam, neat and precise, settled in alongside him.
In such circumstances the only England paceman to enhance his World Cup claims was probably Jofra Archer, who had been omitted from the XI at the start of the day. Morgan might well have pined for his extra pace as Zaman, trusting his eye, kept withdrawing his front leg before whacking the ball towards the distant boundaries.
It needed what seemed a speculative review to get rid of Zaman. Chris Woakes, leaking runs at a disturbing rate, bowled wide and full, and the review by England confirmed that the ball had touched the toe of the bat, an ugly end to a brilliant innings. Without any contact the ball should have been called as a wide.
Soon Babar sliced a long hop straight back to the bowler, Adil Rashid, and two fresh batsmen were at the crease.
Liam Plunkett had Sohail caught on the off-side boundary but still valiant Pakistan, now propelled by Asif Ali, stayed in the hunt. David Willey came to his captain’s aid with a shrewd spell from around the wicket, during which he conjured some reverse swing and the wickets of Asif and Wasim. Morgan persisted with Rashid and this time his cuteness went unrewarded, 17 runs coming from the leg-spinner’s final over.
But his team knows how to win and stayed calm at the end of a glorious day of 50-over cricket.