T20 World Cup: Jos Buttler’s greatest strength is his adaptability, says his first team coach

Phil Lewis, Director of Sport at King’s College, Taunton, is happy to see an ex-pupil making giant strides in international cricket. He talks about Buttler’s early years at school, what sets him apart, and more.

Soaking it in: England’s Jos Buttler celebrates after scoring a century against Sri Lanka at the T20 World Cup in Sharjah on Monday.   -  AP

Jos Buttler on Monday became the first player to score a century in all three formats for England in men’s international cricket. Forty-eight hours after his 32-ball 71 powered England to victory over Australia in Dubai, Buttler’s 67-ball century ensured a place in the semifinals was all but secured. Over the course of 20 overs, he was England’s opener, anchor and its finisher.

Phil Lewis, Director of Sport at King’s College, Taunton — Buttler’s alma mater — was Buttler’s first team coach for a couple of years and is happy to see an ex-pupil making giant strides in international cricket.

Sportstar caught up with Lewis, who reminisced about Buttler’s early years at school, what set him apart and more.

Excerpts

Q. Did you get a chance to watch his hundred against Sri Lanka at the World Cup on Monday?

A. Yes I always try to find time to watch Jos and our other top players on TV. I actually watched it in a pub with some friends after a round of golf!

It was typical Jos really. His ability to set the right tempo is, amongst his power and dynamism, his greatest asset as a batsman. Many from their armchairs would have been saying he started too slowly but his assessment of the pitch and his patience and confidence in the knowledge that he can go from under a run a ball to a strike-rate of 150-plus was a big part of the innings. His greatest strength is his adaptability and that innings was the classic example of how you can never map out how a batter’s innings is going to unfold with so many variables at play. When he got his six to get to his hundred my celebration was a bit over the top considering I was in a quiet pub in Minehead (a town in West Somerset) but I know how much these milestones mean to Jos even though he is the epitome of a team player.

Could you tell us about what sort of a kid Jos was back in the day?

Jos was a popular, intelligent and hugely talented young man. He didn’t just excel in cricket. He was a brilliant multi-sportsman who thrived when he played anything competitive. There was no such thing as “friendly.” He wanted to win and succeed in everything he did. He also did really well in his GCSEs and A-levels even though by the time he was taking his final exams with us, he was already playing first team county cricket all over the country. He definitely isn’t quiet. He will be in amongst the fun when it happens but also will be one of the consistent voices in the dressing room. He is always up for a laugh and a prank as well, he’s got a brilliant sense of humour but likewise was always willing to learn, listen and work hard when required. The balance is crucial and he got it spot on and still does!

What was his game like? Did he start off as an aggressive batter?

He never wanted to be dictated to but likewise he always had the ability, power, skill and willingness to take risk, that enabled him to do that. He was so competitive and willing to improve and succeed that there was always that balance of risk and reward that the top players always found an answer to. He was that top player!

We weren’t as strong a team back in those days but one year he played a major part in taking us to the quarterfinals of the schools national T20. We saw less of him in his last season with us as he was already playing for Somerset pretty much full time but every time he played for us he did something exciting.

When did you first see him? And were there any shortcomings in his game that he had to work on?

First time I saw Jos I was actually coaching at a rival school but thankfully got a job at King’s the following year and ended up at King’s for his final few years. Yes absolutely, like all young players, he was still very much learning what he was capable of. Technically, he was always slightly unorthodox but it worked really well for him as the fundamentals of his head being still, bat flow and playing the ball late were all pretty much spot on.

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However, the biggest part of his development was his game management or his R&R (risk and reward) as we call it. As an example, he would smash a six a six and a four from the first three balls of an over and instead of settling for what was already a big over, he would try one shot too many instead of taking a less risky option. But that is how players learn and you look at what he does now and although it is high risk and aggressive, there is a huge amount of measure, calculation and method in what he is doing.

The formative years of his cricket in his teens enabled him to continue being the aggressive, dynamic batsman that you see today but as his hundred showed yesterday, those years have allowed him to develop into one of the best one-day players of all time. Too many coaches and parents prioritise winning and consistency over experimentation, risk, unorthodoxy and aggression at a young age and Jos was supported brilliantly by all those around him to flourish into the player that he is.

Any special anecdotes that come to mind from his school days?

I actually remember blagging my way on to a football tour to Spain, that Jos was part of. I remember him playing centre midfield against a Villareal academy youth team. We got absolutely annihilated 15-0. Jos barely touched the ball but you could see how much he gained from that experience seeing how hard the players worked, how focussed and ruthless they were. He didn’t see that as a negative experience, he absorbed it into a positive one even though on the outside he was hurting.

His multisport experiences all the way through school have defined him as a cricketer today and this tour was a wonderful example of that (he was a gun footballer as well by the way!).

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I remember him coming to me in tears after an innings when he was out caught on the boundary at extra cover in a big cup game. The opposition gave him a massive send off. He asked me what he should have done and I simply said to him you can’t change the past. Take the send off as a compliment and use every match and experience to define you as a player. On another day that ball comes out of the middle and sails over the boundary and everyone is applauding him hitting a six over extra cover (unheard of for school boys!). There are many highs and lows in cricket and the more level you can stay the better.

What do you make of his game now?

There are still so many similarities from when he was with us. The raw power, the competitiveness, the aggression and the confidence to play differently and be unpredictable. However, his experience and knowledge are now amazing. He has played all over the world in so many different pressure cooker environments and what we forget is how brutal international cricket and the limelight can be. As such I think he is not only hugely entertaining to watch but also an absolute mental rock and a brilliant team player.

The amazing thing is he is still working as hard as ever on his game. He came back to King’s recently to train. I was coaching three pupils back to back and we were there for around six hours. Jos was in there for the same time just grafting! I still don’t think we have seen the best of him and I hope England continue to open with him not just in T20s but also in the ODIs.

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