Tim Paine made the surprising decision of asking the hosts to bat first after winning the toss at The Oval and, when opposite number Joe Root was dropped three times, he would have wondered if it was a gamble too far.
But England lost for 5-56 in the evening session, including Root for 57, and would have been in dire straits were it not for a late onslaught from Buttler.
He hit six boundaries and three handsome sixes on his way to 64 not out in a final score of 271 for eight.
It was his first half-century of a difficult summer of Test cricket and helped keep England’s hopes of a 2-2 draw alive.
“Having lost the toss we got into a very good position and it’s a shame to not quite be able to capitalise on that,” said Buttler.
“Maybe it’s a little bit in the balance. There’s a bit in the wicket for both batters and bowlers and if you play well and apply yourself there are runs to be had. There’s not many times Australia bowl first so we were a little bit surprised – it showed there was a little bit of indecision with the way the wicket looked.”
England should really have done more to make that uncertainty count against Paine, and they were ultimately grateful for Buttler’s best performance of the campaign.
“I’ve found batting hard this summer and it was nice to relax and have some fun,” he said.
“That style of batting comes quite naturally to me, I’ve spent a lot of my career trying to bat like that, so I enjoyed it. In the last couple of games I haven’t necessarily felt great at the crease but I’ve tried to scrap through it.”