The lead-up to the Indian Premier League wasn’t quite promising for Jos Buttler. The England batter had a forgettable outing at the Ashes and an injury led to his omission from the English team for a while.
Coming into the IPL, Buttler didn’t play any cricket for a few weeks and that, he admits, was a really big mental break. However, after joining the Rajasthan Royals, Buttler let his willow do the talking and amassed 627 runs in 13 games, and paved the way for Royals’ entry into the playoffs after four years.
In a chat with Sportstar , the wicketkeeper-batter shares his thoughts about his stint with the Royals, the road ahead and how he is looking forward to playing under England’s newly appointed Test captain Ben Stokes.
You didn’t play white-ball cricket for a while before coming to the IPL. How did you prepare for the tournament?
I didn’t play any cricket for a while, actually. After the Ashes, I had two months of pretty much no cricket. That came at a time when I really needed it.
I came in very fresh, with lots of motivation, lots of excitement for playing cricket again. I had a few nets in the UK before I flew out and that was it.
It was more of just a big mental break from the game, enjoying the time with the family and finding a bit of ‘me’ time. I was, sort of, over occupied, really.
The injury gave you some time to be with the family and rejuvenate. In times of bio-bubble fatigue, how crucial was that break and how did it help you regroup?
I think it was really crucial. It was a long winter and we had the T20 World Cup and then went straight to the Ashes, which was a tough tour personally and for the team. Especially in the bubbles and high pressure environment, it’s always crucial to have that break. And probably more so in these times to try and listen to yourself and enjoy time away from the game.
Sometimes it feels like you need to do the opposite, work hard and get back to your best form, but sometimes a break is actually the best.
So far, it has been a successful IPL season for you. How much of a boost will it be for you ahead of the crucial stage?
It’s been a good season so far. I’ve really enjoyed my batting, I’ve really enjoyed the games and playing for the team. We played some really good cricket and I think in all fairness, just scoring some runs early in the tournament gave me some confidence to go on and try to keep doing it. And, just anytime you feel confident as a player that’s a really good position to be in.
At Rajasthan Royals, in the last couple of editions, the core consisted mainly of English and Aussies. But this time, the focus shifted to an Indian core. How do you see that and what are the changes that you see in the set-up?
That’s quite a big change I guess. But I think it’s a smart move by the team. The experience and quality of the Indian players we have in our side — and the two obvious ones would be (Ravichandran) Ashwin and (Yuzvendra) Chahal — incredibly experienced players and high performance spin bowlers. I think the Indian players in the IPL, barring a few, are the guys who really understand conditions the best. They know about playing in their own country the best and they know about dealing with all the pressure etc, that comes with the IPL. I feel that it is a positive thing to have happened, having experienced and local players in the side.
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The group stage of the tournament was played across four venues in the same state, but the nature of the wickets were different in every venue. Do you think the wickets dried up a little after a couple of months of non-stop cricket?
I was expecting the wickets to get a bit slower, a bit quicker, actually. I think — huge credit to the ground staff — in all the grounds, they have kept the wickets fantastic. We are still seeing some high scores and dew plays a part sometimes as well. I think the wickets have remained good. Usually in Mumbai, especially places like the Wankhede Stadium are renowned for being good batting tracks. I think they haven’t slowed up as much as I feel they might have been.
In a few of the league matches, when the team lost an early wicket, what was Jos thinking in his mind? How did you plan your innings?
I think you’re always evaluating as the game goes along, sort of ball-by-ball and over-by-over, your plans can change, and you’ve got to adapt to the game. Sometimes when you’re batting first as well, you try and take a bit longer to (settle down into) the game. The game is not as laid out for you as when you’re chasing. You just try to look at the scoreboard and play the opposition accordingly.
With two new teams — Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants — the pressure was different in this edition of the IPL. Keeping the intensity of the tournament in mind, how did Royals approach the league stage?
Yeah, if anything, the extra teams have just made the competition even harder. It’s the same number of playoff spots but two extra teams. And the quality is no different. The standard in the tournament is just as high as it always is. There are never any easy games in the IPL but probably just makes qualifying even harder.
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In the last few seasons, RR struggled majorly in the middle-overs due to lack of big-hitters. But this time, Shimron Hetmyer has upped the game. How do you see that?
I think I speak for everyone when I say that I’m so impressed with Shimron Hetmeyer. He plays fantastically well. So far this season the level of consistency he’s shown in a very tough role in T20 cricket has been remarkable. And I think it gives huge confidence to the group when someone has taken ownership of that role and played it so well. We all look to Hettie and we believe he can do it every time. He has done so well and that’s been a huge plus this season.
Being a senior player and someone who has been with Royals for a long time, you play a key role in placing the field, alongside Sanju Samson. What is the role that has been defined to you?
I think I have had a defined role as sort of vice-captain for the team and I try to help Sanju if I can. Obviously, he’s got lots going on as the captain and a wicketkeeper. So, if there’s anything, I can try and just be a sounding board sometimes or if there’s something I see and I think it might help, I try and do that. We’re lucky as a team that we’ve got quite a lot of senior players with a lot of experience who can lend some ideas to the captain and try to help manage the situation and lead as well.
Moving on from the IPL, Ben Stokes has taken over as the England captain. Your thoughts...
I am really excited for Ben. I think Joe Root was a fantastic captain for England and he did so much for a very long time. A big thank you to him from everyone. Obviously, I’m excited for Ben.
It’s such a prestigious opportunity to captain the England team and it’s one I’m sure he will thrive in.
He’s such a natural leader and he has always led the team, even as Joe’s vice-captain. He will be fantastic and I wish himluck.