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Thursday, May 06, 2021

Jos Buttler adds to Sunrisers Hyderabad’s misery

Buttler’s strength and Mustafizur’s subtlety swamp Hyderabad

Written by Sandip G |
Updated: May 3, 2021 7:57:53 am
Jos Buttler on way to his 124 against Sunrisers Hyderabad (Twitter/IPL)

Sheer power could be sheer bliss. Jos Buttler proved it with a thunderous hundred that provided a much-needed fillip for the flailing Rajasthan Royals. His knock fuelled them to 220/3, a total Sunrisers Hyderabad fell short by 55 runs. For the latter, with erstwhile skipper David Warner left out of the XI, there simply was no one to turn on the power when it was required, like Buttler, and subsequently find themselves clutching at straws to keep their campaign alive.

Buttler’s strength

At his absolute peak, few contemporary batsmen could thrill like Buttler with his incredible combination of timing, muscle and improvisation. For the first 33 balls of his most murderous knock in the IPL yet — arguably one of the most destructive in the league’s history — the Englishman looked far from his finest. He scratched, stuttered, and scraped to 35 off 33 balls. But off the next 31, he was a notch above his own lofty peak, reeling out an eye-popping 89 runs, as he fused extreme power with extreme precision.

Some of Buttler’s strokes made one wonder whether he was indeed playing cricket, or embedding the principles of hockey or tennis into it. Like the scoop he unfurled against Khaleel Ahmed, when he hunkered down and just lifted it over the ’keeper’s head. More evident was his fondness for tennis, when he unleashed an array of ferocious cuts and slaps, that flung off his bat like ferocious forehands, so frighteningly fast that fielders froze in their posts. Before they could move a muscle, the ball blurred past them like an apparition. Buttler has a reverse-sweep that he himself likens to a backhand cross-court only the craftiest of squash players could pull off. And he sets himself at the crease like a baseball player.

Once he realised that he was unable to time the ball as well as he would like, or as gorgeously as his partner Sanju Samson was managing, he decided to impart more muscle into his shots. When Buttler does that, his back foot goes a bit deeper in the crease and the front foot moves forward a bit. It sets up his base to harness all the power he possesses, which allied with his quick hands, is a terrifying proposition for bowlers.

Buttler chose his bowlers wisely, rather than getting intoxicated with his muscle power. He neutered Bhuvneshwar Kumar (19 off 13 balls) and Rashid Khan (8 off 12) with caution; against the rest, he threw caution to the winds. Sandeep Sharma was cudgelled for 40 runs off 15 balls; Mohammad Nabi for 20 off five balls, and Vijay Shankar bled 18 off seven balls. It’s this intelligence and clarity that shone as brightly as the strokes, making Buttler one of the finest readers of the game around. Here, Sunrisers Hyderabad’s newly-appointed skipper Kane Williamson missed a trick by bowling out Khan inside 11 overs. Though it could have been all different had Shankar not misjudged Buttler’s miscued waft at long-on off Khan’s bowling. He was just on seven then.

On his shoulders, Rajasthan soared. From homing in on a middling total of 160 or thereabouts – they were 77 for 1 at halfway stage – they rocketed to a massive score. Buttler cleared the rope eight times with an array of awesome strokes. Some faded into the third tier of the Gautam Gambhir Stand, some settled into the Virat Kohli Pavilion. He launched into orbit deliveries that were almost perfect yorkers. He demolished anything that was fractionally short. Length, line, variations, pace, nothing mattered, as Buttler turned into an unstoppable boundary-spitting machine.

Mustafizur’s subtlety

Since his debut year in the IPL, when he plucked 17 wickets and played a remarkable role in his then franchise Sunrisers Hyderbad’s title triumph, Mustafizur has sunk without a trace. Between then and now, he featured in only eight games and missed two seasons entirely. Impeded by injuries, even Bangladesh seem to have lost faith in him. But on Sunday, he illustrated that his vaunted craft has not deserted him and it’s just a matter of stitching together a few games before he retraced his lost ground.

He was in full flow at the Kotla, troubling batsmen with his cutters, slower balls and yorkers. A master of disguise, his variations are hard to decipher. So Manish Pandey committed too early into a flick, one of his staple strokes. The change of pace was so masterfully disguised that the batsman could not make any last-minute adjustment. The strike came at a ripe moment, when Sunrisers had raced to 57 in six overs. An off-cutter then accounted for Nabi, who had blazed to 17 off five balls. Apart from the three wickets, Mustafizur conceded just 20 runs in four overs, commanding an economy rate of just 5 runs when bowlers conceded an average of 10 runs an over on a reasonably flat surface.

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