EVEN in this era of T20, power hitting and totals going through the roof like shooting stars, there has never been a batsman quite like Jos Buttler.
Buttler has his own special place in the cricketing firmament.
He is the white-ball game’s Jupiter, the giant among planets.
On a day when shots sped from his bat like comets through the sky, threatening destruction on anything in their wake, Buttler scored 150 from 77 balls with 13 fours and 12 sixes, underpinning England’s total of 418-6 in the fourth one-day international against West Indies in Grenada.
It was his highest score in any form of professional cricket, England’s third-highest ODI total and ultimately too much for a West Indies team who fought valiantly to 389 in reply, Chris Gayle returning fire with a thrilling 162 from 97 deliveries with 11 fours and 14 sixes, an innings which, for a long time, looked as though it might inspire the second-highest chase in ODI history.
Instead, West Indies had to be content with their highest ODI score, and it was Buttler’s innings that proved defining, his blistering assault the foundation for a 29-run win that left England 2-1 ahead in the five-match series going into the final game in St Lucia on Saturday.
Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid closed out the match with four wickets in five balls amid the pressure of a hopeless run-rate, the leg-spinner finishing with 5-85.
On a day when an ODI record 46 sixes were hit (24 by England, 22 by West Indies), Buttler needed just 31 balls to move from 50 to 150, helping England plunder 154 from the last 10 overs as he shared in a fourth-wicket stand of 204 in 20.2 overs with his captain, Eoin Morgan, who hit 103 from 88 balls with eight fours and six sixes, already something of a forgotten masterpiece.
With Buttler, though, it is always the style, not mere numbers, which sets him apart.
The game is littered with beefy big-hitters – most notably Gayle, whose 25th ODI century came from 55 balls (five fewer than Buttler), but there is a particular flair to Buttler’s batting, a method that is his and his alone.
His scoop and ramp shots are marvels of the age, while there is a wristy element to his wondrous work, an almost hockey-esque dexterity and improvisation.
Buttler seems to flick the ball with minimal effort, belying the vast distances it is prone to travel off his bat. He butchers bowling with magical hands.
In truth, England’s batting is brimming with butchers of varying description.
Jonny Bairstow is of the muscular type, the Yorkshireman getting his team off to a flyer after they were sent into bat in glorious sunshine. Bairstow hit three successive fours off Jason Holder and then clubbed three successive sixes off Devendra Bishoo, taking him to his fifty from 31 balls. He then played-on trying to steer to third man, Joe Root following when he threw the bat outside off stump and edged behind.
With Jason Roy missing with a tight hamstring, Alex Hales opened and played well for 82, made from 73 balls with eight fours and two sixes, the Notts man falling to a catch at long-on.
Morgan became the first England player to reach 6,000 ODI runs, trading blows with the spectacular Buttler, who saw one of his sixes caught in the crowd by James Taylor, the England selector and former player.
Another six was followed by a playful salute to the bowler Sheldron Cottrell, who got his own trademark salute out when Morgan skied to long-off. Ben Stokes also perished on the long-off boundary to the final delivery.
Mark Wood took two wickets early in West Indies’ reply, removing John Campbell and Shai Hope, but by the time he took two more the total had shot up to 220-2 in the 24th over.
Wood had Darren Bravo caught at mid-wicket for 61 and Shimron Hetmyer taken on the square-leg boundary, but not until Gayle heaved across the line and was bowled by Stokes with the score at 295-4 in the 35th over did England breathe a sigh of relief.
Carlos Brathwaite (50) and Ashley Nurse (43) still threatened a heist, but Rashid was magnificent at the death, removing both to highlight the value of spin and a captain prepared to give it its head.