More often we see the white-ball specialists falling into the trap of two infinite ends. One- Aggression. Two- Defense. Buttler was also one fine player who was prey to the trap that held him for a long time. Buttler’s exploits in the white-ball cricket had always overshadowed his red ball game. There was a definite battle between the instincts and the tradition.
He was doing them all wrong when he kept accepting the bid from the bowler to go hard at him. Here, he rejected Afridi’s invitation by letting the delivery go. He was quiet when Naseem Shah was coming at him. He gave the respect the deliveries needed, maybe, the ball thanked him back by clipping his legs rather than his bat when the review was reversed at 99. And he guided safely to reach his 100.
He disciplined himself from committing to strokes while batting from lunch to Tea. He safeguarded wicket and slowly climbed up the scores at his own pace.
The desire to represent his country in all three formats made him unlearn, relearn the process of Test cricket which isn’t hit and run like the white-ball cricket. This lockdown, where most of the distractions are banned came in as a gift for Buttlerwho improved, adapted to his game plan. Going in with a better plan gave him the right view of what he should be doing in the middle and he did exactly the same.
If you are having a good Test, you ARE having a good Test. Better things are bound to happen right when you begin enjoying your day. You see different ways to contribute. If you are a keeper, you know what to do. Buttler is having a good match and things can only get better from now. It is bound to happen. He knows how to make it happen.
Rizwan had already troubled England much in this Test. A second fifty for him was frustrating for the home side. He was taking the pressure of his captain as well, who had finally found the rich patch he had been searching for years now. The 76th over of the match witnessed Woakes getting ready to sweat for yet another over. It is not that the climate was worse but the treatment, being the receiving side was. Pakistan was finding a way to climb up the pit that they dug hours ago. Unfortunately, before they could see the ground, Buttler found a way to push them down. Again.
Woakes did not do much. It seemed like he had given up. A good length delivery that was going down the leg isn’t something you call as the wicket-taking delivery. But there are days where the ball loves the man who is having a good day. Buttler was this time.
Buttler sees the ball that was going down the leg, stands up and moves left. Rizwan whips his bat to get the ball fine, the ball manages to clip his bat and goes behind. Buttler squats. Realizes that the ball was coming towards him. He opens his gloves, runs towards his left, leaps to reach the ball. The ball falls safe into his hands. He lifts his leg, a tiny dive, rolls and gets up. There you go. He helped England to grind yet another hole to push Pakistan in.
Tail-enders are dangerous. They don’t have any rules and nobody cares what they are doing in the middle. It’s okay if they fail. It’s okay if they score. At the end of the day, nothing really matters and they are the ones who actually love batting in the middle. Of course, who doesn’t love the freedom to swing the bat?
Afridi was having one such day. Seven deliveries for his three and it was a pretty normal, going to the leg side bouncer from Broad. Every other day, the batter would swing his bat and a thick edge would take it to the boundary. Afridi did his part well though.
Buttler, ten over later, finds himself in a tough situation. For the first time ever in the match, he didn’t have a game plan and he didn’t want to follow one.
Buttle was squatting when Broad pitched the delivery in the middle. He sees the ball, slowly stands up but doesn’t move his feet. Afridi moves his bat to his leg side, little jump to get himself into the position, tries to pull the delivery. Again, he did his part well. He could’ve got there a bit early but hey, he is a tail-ender. They are supposed to do quirky things.
Buttler moves towards his right as he sees the ball approaching him. Oh, he miscalculated it. He messed it up. The edge was thicker than he anticipated and the ball was flying away. Afridi didn’t move at all. Was he thinking of a pretty photograph of the shot? Was he thinking that he got it past Buttler? Or was he waiting to see Buttler’s miracle? either way, he didn’t move.
The time stood still as well. Buttler squats a bit, trying to launch himself. He launches. He flies as if a kid is trying to catch the moon. He flies as if it was the end of the Earth and he is rushing to Mars. To put it in a desi way, he was rushing as if he was catching the 6 am crowded train, because the pandemic, of course.
As he flies, he sees the ball going beyond him. He moves his right hand a bit behind while his head was upwards. In a fraction of seconds, he literally gives a hi-five to the ball that lands safely in his hands. There was slow motion. He bends his left leg and when he gets closer to the ground, he brings his left hand down while holding the ball in the right.
His right leg goes behind his head as if he was playing a Federer backhand. Oh, he was dancing too. There was a fish dive movement. That’s rare. He ends with Developpe.
Lying down, he takes a moment to realise what he had done and how his day just got better. Root wakes him, tells him he wasn’t dreaming. Everyone needs a moment to sink in. Afridi, who had the front seat to view this dancing display, probably got his money worth even though the money was his wicket.