Sometime in 2005-06, England’s wicketkeeper-batsman was at a local hockey match when he saw a forward trying to score a cheeky goal. A long, powerful ball was drilled inside the ‘D’ from the midfield towards the striker, who had positioned himself in front of the goal, with his back to the keeper. Rather than trying to stop the ball, turning and then taking a shot, the striker simply put his stick in the path of the ball and tried to angle it in using the pace. The deflection beat the goalkeeper and flew onto the crossbar.
A former hockey player himself, Buttler was easily able to breakdown the striker’s complex movements, especially changing the angle of the hockey stick at the last second. Buttler, who has borrowed ideas from tennis and baseball and implemented them on cricket field, fine-tuned the technique and developed it till the time he mastered what later came to be known as the ramp shot. “It could have been called the Butt-scoop if he had taken out the patent when he tried it five or six years ago,” his coach at King’s College Taunton, Phil Jones, told The Telegraph in 2013. “He hit shots that weren’t textbook and we let him go with it… Learning to change the angle of the hockey stick has helped with some of the shots he plays.”
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The manner in which Buttler positions himself while executing the ramp bears an uncanny resemblance to a striker trying to deflect the ball past goalkeeper. By his own admission, this is a premeditated shot, one that he attempts only when the fine leg is inside the circle.
As the bowler begins his run-up, Buttler shuffles a bit in the crease, taking a step backward as if selling a dummy. He waits for as long as he can before changing his stance – instead of facing the bowler sideways, he brings his back leg parallel to the left on the crease and faces the bowler front-on. Simultaneously, he changes his grip and holds the bat as if – in Buttler’s words – it’s a frying pan.
Like hockey players looking for such deflections, there is minimal use of the wrists. Buttler stays upright, keeps his head still and ensures the ball lands on the face of the bat to deflect it over his left shoulder. “You only got to get it in the air over 30 yards, it doesn’t have to go all the way to the boundary,” Buttler has said. “I’ll all your pace to get it over. Because I am still upright, I can make (late) adjustments. Unlike in Dilshan (the Dilscoop), if you bowl a bouncer, I can’t get that.”
Buttler makes it sound and look easy. It is anything but. Against Pakistan in Dubai in 2012, he consulted batting coach Graham Gooch and team psychologist Mark Bawden if he should stop following two successive failures. He was told to back his instincts, an advice that he has taken rather literally.
The 32 runs he scored off Wayne Parnell in a T20I later that year was the first real exhibition of his shot-making abilities. It enhanced his repertoire of being a 360-degree batsman. And the ramp, born out of a casual observation on a hockey field, went on to become his most potent weapon on the cricket pitch.