It has been a dream IPL season for Rajasthan Royals opener Jos Buttler. No other batter scored more centuries than him in a single season of IPL. When on song, Buttler has few equals in T20 cricket, and he provided fresh proof of his destructive batting with those brilliant knocks.
Apart from the Englishman, only two players have aggregated more than 800 runs in a season - Virat Kohli (973) and David Warner (848) in 2016.
"Jos backs his strengths and manoeuvres the bowling to [get bowlers to] bowl more and more to his strengths. The great thing is he can accelerate anytime. Overall, he is a wonderful guy who thinks deeply about his game and himself," said Rajasthan coach Kumar Sangakkara.
After rattling three hundreds in the first seven matches, Buttler hit a bit of a lean patch. He rediscovered his rhythm at Eden Gardens against Titans (89 off 56) and is back to his best. Buttler spoke on Friday about how pressure got to him, his struggle to stay focused and regaining form after talking about it.
Sangakkara said he hasn't seen anyone "bat as well as Buttler in the history of IPL".
While this is Buttler's best IPL season, he didn't have high expectations coming into it. "I came to the season with very low expectations but a lot of energy," he said after collecting the player-of-the-match award in the second playoff.
After a scintillating first-half, Buttler's form hit a bump. Talking about how he turned things around, he said following Sangakkara's advice to stay at the crease when not timing shots helped.
"I had a season of two halves, and had very honest conversations with people really close to me. I was feeling the pressure midway, and it was only about a week ago that I opened up about it. It helped me and I went to Kolkata with a freer mind. Sometimes it is not working for me, and there are times when a younger me would have played a shot and come out. But it's something that Sanga has been saying, "the longer you stay, you give yourselves a chance to find a way". Great excitement to have the opportunity to play in the final of the biggest tournament in T20 cricket."
Sangakkara said for batters it is also about being ready to fight it out and be prepared to look ugly. That is what posed a threat to Titans bowlers. In the game at Eden Gardens, Titans coach Ashish Nehra seemed to have devised the perfect strategy to frustrate Buttler. His bowlers built pressure by not feeding anything for him to be able to hit in the arc between long-on to midwicket. But, the Royals' star surprised them by slugging it out.
No one would have expected Buttler to get to 89 off 56 balls after being on 30 off 31. He went berserk from the 17th over, once spinner Rashid Khan finished his quota of overs. From 39 off 38 balls at the start of 17th over, he zoomed to 89 off 56 before being run out on the last ball of the innings. Yash Dayal was hit for four fours, Alzarri Joseph for three in the 18th over and there was a four and a six off Mohammed Shami's last two balls of the 19th over.
For Sangakkara, it was about Buttler accepting that he can't excel in every game.
"He started off so well, (then) he had a little bit of a flutter at one point. Then he calmed down, had a lot of good conversations rather than just training, and accepted he's mortal... Trying to understand how you reach that level in every game, at different stages (is important) - some days you have to fight and look ugly, other days your rhythm is there.
"The reality is that you can't fight that condition, fight what's happening on the day. You have to just settle into it and build that innings, and you can accelerate at any point. He's got all the strokes, he's a lovely guy, he understands the game really well."