If one of the downsides of the start to the second season of the Hundred is the absence of England stars such as Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Joe Root, then Friday at Emirates Old Trafford was a boost the competition needed.
His first act was to strike 59 off 41 deliveries to get the game up and running, including a huge six into the second tier at the Brian Statham End. Then he took the focus as captain as he marshalled his bowlers and fielders to defend their 161 for 4. And it was the latter, even in vain, that hinted at a potential new era in the world beyond the black, purples and greens of this one.
“I’m intrigued to see if it feels different,” he revealed at the end of the match. “If I feel like there’s any benefits, or if not. I’d rather find out the answer than just keep on keeping wicket and thinking, ‘oh, I wonder what it feels like to be at mid-off,’ or something. I’m just open minded.”
“I’ve captained and kept wicket a lot as well, which I certainly think there’s a lot of benefits of that.”
He went on to say he would be receptive to someone else keeping wicket for England instead, provided he decides his best leadership happens in the open rather than behind the stumps. Ultimately, it will be defined by feel: “I think it’s important for me to be comfortable with what I’m doing.”
So, how did he do? Well he certainly got his ten thousand steps in for the day. Beyond the usual mid-on and mid-off, he put himself out in the deep – midwicket, long-on – after the powerplay, recognizing himself as one of the better fielders: quick across the ground, good hands and with a very un -keeper-like cannon of an arm. It made chats with the bowlers that little bit harder. On a number of occasions he scampered in from the fence to offer either his ear or words of advice.
“I don’t quite understand why spinners aren’t allowed to bowl at the end of an innings. A seamer is allowed to get hit for 20 or 25, so a spinner can bowl in that phase of the game as well.”
Buttler trusted his spinners at the death with mixed results
“I enjoyed it,” Buttler said of the overall experience. “I’ve fielded a lot over my career. The IPL just gone, I fielded throughout the whole tournament. I’m personally just intrigued to see how I find it as a captain.
“It doesn’t mean I think it’s better or worse, I just feel like it’s the time to try it and see how I find it. Is there any benefit to being in the field? Or do I find it a benefit actually keeping and being able to have that visual down the wicket? I’m just going to try it throughout the tournament. It’s something I just wanted to see. And personally, does it affect my batting, or any of those kind of things. just giving it a try.”
Importantly, he trialled more than just freeing his legs from the relentless crouching. In a bid to break a stand between David Willey and Harry Brook, he decided upon spin from balls 80 to 90. The first five did the trick, as Parkinson removed Willey to cut the partnership off on 41 off 29 before conceding five off the remaining four deliveries in his set.
“It’s actually something I’m quite intrigued by: I don’t quite understand why spinners aren’t allowed to bowl at the end of an innings. A seamer is allowed to get hit for 20 or 25, so a spinner can bowl in that phase of the game as well. Especially here at Old Trafford, if the wicket gets used, it’s not easy to try and attack spin at the end.
“Maybe with a little bit of dew, it made it a bit trickier for them [the spinners]. But I’m confident in anyone to bowl at any stage of the game. Someone like Parkinson especially can create wickets in that phase of the game. Adil Rashid’s done that kind of role for England a bit in the past. I think it’s something spinners can be able to do.”
It is, in so many ways, a refreshing approach. One of the annoyances of Twenty20 leagues the world over is a lack of accessibility to their own top-shelf talent, both literally and figuratively. Often those that do take part in their own leagues mail in performances every so often because there is no great jeopardy to their output.
So to see Buttler, reputation assured, status secure, juggling entertainment with experimentation was something of a novelty. With just four wins in 12 under his full-time tenure as England captain so far, it has become easy to wonder if giving him the responsibility of leadership was the right call. He is doing everything in his power to prove that it was.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor for ESPNcricinfo