Buttler turns on the auto-pilot
Unlike most top order batsmen, Jos Buttler holds his bat a touch low, almost thigh-high and sort of crouches in his stance as he peers across. Someone like Steve Smith or even Rohit Sharma holds their hands pretty high but not Buttler, and it’s one of the key factors in the way he bats. The first thing he looks across isn’t the bowler running in but the top of the off stump on the other end as he believes it helps him get his head and balance right. Later, he shifts to the bowler even as he begins to move back as first step. Then a forward movement, sometime aligned with a hip-swivel in the manner of a baseball hitter, and those low hands with cocked wrists help him punish deliveries off varied lengths. If it’s a yorker, as Alzaari Joseph found out, he drops his hands pretty easily and meets the ball almost close to middle of the bat (a lot closer to it than most batsmen) and calmly threads the gap on the off side. It also helps in his scoops over fine-leg.
When he goes big down the ground, he looks to hit long and flat as opposed to long and high. He believes that the attempt to go too high makes him hang back on his backfoot and that affects his hitting ability. He is clearly a batsman who thinks a lot about his game on the technical side: he has almost dismantled it completely before putting it all together in the way he wants it.
But here is what he then does. To make sure he isn’t obsessing over his technique in the middle, he repeatedly tells himself to play freely. Like that ‘F*** it’ text scribbled on the top of the bat handle as a message to himself. No wonder he is always a fascinating batsman to watch — a micro picture on his technique which is balanced by the big-picture approach defined by his bat-handle message.
Mumbai Indians made the mistake of holding back Jasprit Bumrah, who has taken Buttler three times in four innings, till the 5th over. By that time, he had eased into his groove by shredding Alzarri Joseph and Jason Behrendorff. Bumrah, wisely, gets the ball to skid in from back of length at him, at times getting the ball to hold its line, and that seems to be the best option against Buttler’s technique.
He has also had problems against legspin, to googlies in particular, but he managed to keep out Rahul Chahar. Until the ball he got out, trying to blast a delivery well outside off to the straight boundary, he had only tried to hit Chahar if the ball was too full.
He is a careful and methodical hitter who likes to choose his bowlers and moments. Like the 28 he looted against Joseph in the 13th over that read 6,4,4,4,4,6. The fourth and fifth were pretty decent yorkers, but Buttler creamed them nonchalantly to third man boundary and the rest — a full toss, a slower one, and a couple in the slot were biffed away without much fuss.
That should have been the end of the match really, but Buttler fell in the 14th over, triggering a mini-collapse until Gopal held his nerves to seal the game.
Gopal drags RR to win
With not many top batsmen picking his googly, Shreyas Gopal’s stature as a legspinner has grown in the IPL. He delivers the googly a bit similar to Zimbabwe’s Paul Strang used to do in the 90s: not quite from back of the hand but almost from the side, or in other words the palms don’t always face the sky when the ball slips out. He then does one more thing with it: usually lands it on a length as opposed to full and the combination seems enough to puzzle the batsmen. Quinton de Kock was beaten a few times and Gopal squeezed in a couple of quiet overs in the powerplay. He then returned in the middle to do the same to Kieron Pollard, who was content just blocking them and trying to keep his wicket secure. Gopal’s figures of 0/21 from his four overs ensured Mumbai didn’t capitalise on a cracking opening start (96 for no loss in 10.4 overs) and ended up with a below-par score.
Until Buttler was in the chase, it seemed like a canter but Rajasthan Royals started to splutter and yet again Gopal had to step up. Bumrah floated couple of average deliveries on a length and Gopal nearly ended the game with a four over mid-off, but Alzarri Joseph rushed back and threw in an acrobatic full-stretch dive to pull the ball, and though he injured his right shoulder in the process, he kept it to two runs. Another back-of-a-length delivery outside off ran off the edge of Gopal’s flashing blade to the third-man boundary. Bumrah pulled out a legcutter off the last ball and produced an edge, but Ishan Kishen, the wicketkeeper, couldn’t hold on to a diving chance to his right, the ball popping out of the gloves at the last instant.
Hardik Pandya doesn’t have much to offer in the end overs: length delivery, a slower one and a bouncer are his usual go-to balls that hardly work against good batsmen but nearly did the trick here. The length delivery had Gopal skying it real high, but the tough chance wasn’t held at long-off area. The bouncer produced a dot-ball, but the next delivery, another around the length, was punched through wide mid-off by Gopal for the winning hit.