Buttler blasts England to brink of 400

Innings break England 399 for 9 (Buttler 107, Hales 57, Stokes 57, Root 52) v South Africa
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‘It is a completely new look team’ – Morgan

Jos Buttler’s last ODI innings was the fastest hundred in England’s history, against Pakistan in Dubai more than two months ago. An enforced rest has done him no harm. Back in an England shirt once more, this time in Bloemfontein, he made a hundred once more, not quite as fast but still eye-wateringly impressive, as England built a formidable total.

Buttler is the poster boy of an England ODI side playing an attacking brand of cricket than in the extent of its ambition surpasses anything previously envisaged. Three days before the IPL auction, his 105 from 76 balls could not have advertised his talent more persuasively. He will surely attract great rivalry from the franchises.

He sat out the Test series against South Africa as England opted for Jonny Bairstow. But in limited-overs cricket his batting Manhattans promise to be so dominant that Boris Johnson could gladly adopt them as a plan for London’s skyline, selling them in advance to the Russians and the Chinese. They are not glary innings, full of flashing neon lights, but assembled with a gentle brutality that few can rival.

He fell eight overs from the end, failing to drive Farhaan Behardien over the infield and picking out AB de Villiers at cover. Of his five sixes, a politely dismissive step-across to cow corner against Marchant de Lange took some beating, as did another stooping six over midwicket off the jerky offspin of JP Duminy, a venomous flick that carried inconceivable force.

No South Africa bowler curbed him for long. Behardien did demolish his stumps on 54 but it was a free hit, and the same player almost intervened in the field when Buttler was 68, flinging himself excitingly to his left at deep square leg to try to hold a blow off the legspinner Imran Tahir, but spilling it on contact with the ground. But they were brief moments of hope as de Lange went even faster off the bat than he did on to it and the fifth-bowler combination of Duminy and Behardien went for 93.

By that time that Buttler perished, at 317 for 5, England had a sniff of 400, only to come up one run short as the No. 11 Reece Topley failed to make contact with the last two deliveries – a reminder of normality.

It was still England’s second highest ODI score, outdone only by their 408 for 9 against New Zealand at Edgbaston last June – that also powered by a Buttler hundred. Chris Morris responded most vigorously for South Africa, his four new-ball overs spilling 29 but finding some swing from a full length late in the innings to reap 3 for 74. But then he only bowled five deliveries at Buttler.

Mangaung Oval has a reputation as a batsman-friendly ground, but South Africa would have to destroy the statistics to win. Only South Africa have ever chased so many to win: the famous 438 for 9 against Australia in Johannesburg, 10 years ago now. No side had previously made more than 351 to win here, nor chased a total of 300-plus under lights. And this was not quite a batsman’s benefit: as the England innings progressed, there were occasional signs of grip and reverse swing on a spotless yet dry surface.

None of this mattered with Buttler showing such refined ambition. Joe Root chivvied away alongside him for a half-century before Morris summoned an excellent swinging yorker.

Such was Buttler’s flow of runs that even the muscular figure of Ben Stokes then adopted an understudy role for a while. Stokes then quickened after Buttler’s dismissal to make 57 from 38 balls, his innings silenced by a pre-meditated Buttler-esque scoop shot to have his stumps rattled by a low full toss.

England had launched their innings with immediate elan, recognising their chance in the absence of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, as well as the new hero, Kagiso Rabada. Jason Roy is the catalyst for this England side, not possessing the status of a Sehwag or a McCullum, but equally committed in his relatively young career to an aggressive start. He had to pass a late fitness test after back spasms, but he had 43 of England’s 56 by the sixth over. They never looked back.

Alex Hales, after an unproductive Test series, was encouraged ahead in his wake and he, too, was one of three England players to support Buttler’s hundred with a half-century. When Hales departed to a miscued hook, Buttler was promoted to No. 4 with the score an inviting 130 for 2 in the 18th over. Just think, there was a time when England would have looked askance at their laptops and saved Buttler for the slog.

David Hopps is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Source: ESPN Crickinfo

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