Sitting pretty at the top of the IPL run-scoring charts is none other than Jos Buttler. The Rajasthan Royals and England opener is famed for his explosiveness, his ability to score at a rapid pace. In terms of runs, Jos Buttler has made a wonderful start to the IPL season. However, the possibility that we might be yet to see the best of Buttler should not be dismissed.
Powerplay Strike Rate
Immediately noticeable this year is that the distribution of Buttler’s runs has changed. When you think of Buttler opening, you might be quick to think of fast starts, a player who does not hesitate to attack the new ball and put the bowlers on the backfoot. This has not been the case so far in 2022, nor was it in 2021.
Let’s look at Buttler’s Strike Rate in the Powerplay. So far Buttler has been striking at 125.75, a drop from 130.99 in 2021. More interesting is to compare the two to his SR in 2018 which went above 170. Over the last few years Buttler has not been getting the quick starts that he once did. Obviously, it is necessary to think about some of the context behind this. Take the World T20 in 2021 for example. In the UAE, matches were often played on slow and low pitches, not exactly lending themselves to high Strike Rates. Similarly, the Royals’ most recent game was played on a Wankhede pitch which did not seem particularly easy to score fluently on.
The Manner of his Scores
Looking beyond Strike Rate, it is also interesting to consider the nature in which Buttler has scored his runs in the IPL so far. A figure that jumps out is that he has had a control % of just 68%. Nearly a third of Jos Buttler’s shots have been errant or mistimed, highly uncharacteristic of such a clean striker of the ball. This is a stat that has been quite obvious to the eyes.
Buttler has so far benefited from being dropped multiple times by fielders, and having one dismissal ruled out for a no ball. Against RCB, he repeatedly threw his hands at deliveries to no avail, struggling to get the middle of the bat on the ball.
In his two big scores, there was something clearly in common. Buttler played out the opposition’s finest bowlers rather conservatively, and backed himself to go big against the weaker bowlers. Take his over against Basil Thampi for example. Buttler limited the risks he took against Jasprit Bumrah, but sent Thampi’s 6 balls for 26 (three 6s and two 4s). Similarly, Buttler waited until the death to start dispatching RCB’s bowling into the stands.
This raises an interesting question, is this change in scoring style a conscious change from Jos Buttler, or rather a product of how teams try to tackle him. Let’s explore both avenues.
One possibility to consider is that teams are doing their best to constrain Buttler. When he moved to open in 2018, teams were caught by surprise by his aggressive and successful approach. Naturally as he has been studied in the years gone by, teams have found ways to slow him. Now, teams will do their best to find preferable match ups to try and stop him getting off to a flyer.
A good example for this came in the 2021 IPL where Sunrisers Hyderabad uncharacteristically bowled Rashid Khan in the Powerplay. As well as leg spin being as close as any style to a weakness for Buttler, he has struggled against Khan in the past. Whilst Buttler did survive several scares and ended up scoring a century (he is just that good), this shows a willingness of teams to try out unorthodox methods to stop him.
Rajasthan Short Batting Order
Another option is that Jos Buttler is simply valuing his wicket slightly more due to the short Rajasthan Royals batting order. Whilst RR have a strong top 5, they lack power hitting in the lower middle order and tail. To heavily simplify things, if Buttler goes early, Rajasthan’s hopes of victory drastically go down.
To combat this risk, Buttler instead seeks to get through the Powerplay, target the weaker bowlers, then try to go big at the death. This idea of a late flurry is one that Buttler has historically been able to do. In all T20s since 2020 ,Buttler has a Strike Rate of 218.05 at the death. If you are bowling to Jos Buttler at the end of an innings expect to be picking the ball out of the stands.
This option is lent credence when you look solely at his Powerplay stats for England, Buttler has a SR of 145.25 on top of an average of 65.57. This is an incredible display of wicket preservation and scoring ability.
Thus, the possibility exists that Buttler might still be warming up. The most telling metric is the low control rate. Assuming that Buttler plays himself into touch and this rises, he will naturally then start to score more runs at a faster rate.
For the other 9 IPL franchises this should be viewed as a terrifying prospect. Buttler after 3 scratchy showings tops the run charts. Think about what he could achieve if he starts playing with the fluency we’ve all seen him display in the past.