In June, Jos Buttler scored his and England's second-fastest hundred - off 47 balls - in an innings of 162 off 70 balls with a strike rate of 231.42, the highest ever by an English ODI centurion. With that innings against Netherlands (in a record score of 498/4), Buttler has to his name the three fastest ODI hundreds - the other two coming off 46 and 51 balls against Pakistan in 2015 and 2019, making him the only player to hit three sub-50 ball centuries.
In the last nine months, Buttler has also scored a T20I century (against Sri Lanka in the T20 World Cup) and four hundreds in IPL, making this a sensational year of white-ball cricket for him. The man who took over from Eoin Morgan as captain of the white-ball teams has epitomised England's transformation in recent years. Not one specialist English batter came close to Buttler's strike rate of 122.83 in England's 2019 World Cup win. Even in the 2016 T20 World Cup, Buttler had the highest strike rate - 159.16 - among all the batters with at least 150 runs. Buttler's favourite hunting ground though has been IPL, where in four out of six seasons from 2017 he has finished with 150-plus strike-rates.
This year's data though may be speaking of a different Buttler. His IPL strike rate has actually dropped (149.05 from 153.01 in 2021) but Buttler's average has jumped from 36.28 to 57.53. Similar change has been witnessed in T20I (65.44 average with strike rate of 143.30 in 2021 from 48.5 average and strike rate of 150.77 in 2020) while ODIs have seen a quantum jump in the strike rates column (135.56 in 2019 to 185.07 against the Dutch in the only ODI series this year).
How has this happened to a player so deep into his career as Buttler, 31, is? Considering he is always a sweet timer of the ball, it isn't surprising that Buttler has achieved those strike rates consistently. He has also upped his game by that much this year to shine in every format. Not only did he hit more sixes (45) this IPL than in any previous edition, but more frequently than any year since 2017. He has always been better value in the slog overs but in 2022 Buttler's overall T20 strike in overs 16-20 was 223.1, compared to 194.2 in 2021, 154.1 in 2020 and 125 in 2019. In ODIs too, his strike rate in the last 10 overs (41-50) has jumped to 263.3 from 197.3 in 2019 and 145.8 in 2018. But no metric has been as convincing in highlighting Buttler's subtle change of aggression than balls per boundary - 4.52 in T20 and 4.06 in ODIs, both the best of his career since 2018.
Where Buttler has really changed though is making every chance count. Describing his game during IPL, Rajasthan Royals' director of cricket and former Sri Lanka captain Kumar Sangakkara said Buttler stands out for working on his strengths. "He's great against spin, he has got all the shots, and he chooses on certain days which shots to play and which shots to put away for a while. The good thing about Jos Buttler is that he can accelerate any time. He can be 30 off 30 and then suddenly get to 80-90 off 50," said Sangakkara.
Buttler's scoring template can be risky because in T20s, he slows down in the middle overs before picking up in the last five overs. And while there have been situations where he has gone from scoring at less than run a ball to strike rates of 150 in a matter of a few overs, he has also stuttered at times.
"He accepted he's mortal, he's human and he can't have that high level of excellence every single day," said Sangakkara. That acceptance has freed Buttler's batting and in turn allowed him to expand his game. Before this series against Netherlands, Buttler had batted the bulk of his career at No 6. Promoted to No 4 though, he arrived at the crease at 223/2 with 20.2 overs left and still scored 162. The ground was relatively small but it was Buttler's intent of running away with the game that helped England score 164 runs in the last 10 overs, the most by any team in this phase in a men's ODI.
It's also reflective of the brick-by-brick approach of Buttler wherein he rolls up his sleeves, rides out the few tough overs and projects the image of a salvager. "I think some days I was a bit slow to start with," Buttler said during IPL. "I wish it was never like that. I wish you can play fast all the time, but certain times I've had it tough and maybe a younger version of myself would've just gone for a big shot and got out, but it's something Sanga has been saying to me: the longer you stay there, at some point it will come."
That point has possibly arrived. This year may have finally heralded the most fearless version of Buttler where he can bookend his caution with a jaw-dropping range of strokes when the moment demands. By achieving it without any drama, Buttler makes it look all the more simple.