It took a while for Jos Buttler to emerge from the massive shadow of Eoin Morgan, but there were signs here at the Gabba on Tuesday that he is finally making this England team his own.
Buttler had flexibility in choosing to bat first against New Zealand on a used field when much of Morgan-led cue ball success came through the chase.
There was a gem of a tackle from an England captain who needed to show he could lead from the front, certainly aided by two poor and decisive missed catches.
Jos Buttler led by example at bat and in the field as England defeated New Zealand
Buttler celebrates England’s 20-run win that keeps their semi-final hopes alive
And, most impressively, there was real imagination and thought in the way Buttler used his pitchers in what was an exciting but ultimately comfortable 20-run win that keeps England’s Twenty20 World Cup hopes alive.
“It was a very satisfying game to come in as captain,” said Buttler after learning that victory against Sri Lanka in Sydney on Saturday will now probably be enough for England to earn a place in the semi-final.
‘Scoring runs for the team and then making a couple of decisions that came right away. It’s really nice when that happens.
“My own captaincy journey is still quite young and as it evolves over time, I think I will have an even greater idea of exactly what I like.
‘For example, it was only when I came off bat that I thought Moeen should throw our first over. You can watch the numbers until the cows come home, but your feeling for the day is a very important part of captaincy.’
Buttler is beginning to make a real mark on this England team, emerging from the shadow of his successful predecessor Eoin Morgan.
His all-around performance saw him claim the Man of the Match award at the Gabba
How important this England performance was under pressure and what a relief that they have avoided, at least for now, an early trip home to the first tournament of the Buttler-Matthew Mott regime.
The captain played some impressive shots on his 73 from 47 balls, including a spectacular six off the stump off Lockie Ferguson’s third ball timed at 92 miles per hour, but New Zealand dropped him costly on eight and 40.
That first miss could also have turned into a controversial moment, when New Zealand captain Kane Williamson appeared to claim a juggling and dunking effort only to see television replays showing the ball had clearly bounced.
Williamson is one of the kindest men in cricket, so he was given the benefit of the doubt and was quick to apologize to Buttler afterwards, but it’s fair to say the response would have been different if David Warner had done the exact same thing.
The ball slips out of Kane Williamson’s hands as he tries to sack Jos Buttler
New Zealand celebrated the catch and it was only in replays that Buttler survived the sacking.
When Buttler added 81 for the first wicket under Alex Hales, England looked poised for an even higher score than his eventual 179 for six and there will be concern from his batting side, even though Buttler was correctly flexible in shuffling the order.
In particular, Ben Stokes again struggled for fluidity and was only able to make eight of seven balls in the finalist role after being cut down to six.
Stokes later needed treatment on the left index finger that was broken so badly last year after taking Finn Allen’s important catch, but he returned to the pitch for the closing stages of a throbbing contest and clearly remains as important to England as he is. forever.
But the all-rounder who is really thriving in this England team is undoubtedly Sam Curran. It was Curran, the youngest, who hit the last over six that Stokes failed to do as England went above-par and then it was Curran who again showed the importance of him on the ball at all stages of a Twenty20 innings.
Sam Curran was excellent, took two wickets and stopped the flow of New Zealand racing
Ben Stokes (centre) ruffles Curran’s hair after he gets the key wicket from Glenn Phillips
Particularly in death because there were times when New Zealand, through the great striker Glenn Phillips, looked like they were going to send England into World Cup history.
Not least when Moeen Ali dropped perhaps the easiest catch you’ll see at this level when Phillips was just 15.
If Phillips had carried New Zealand over the line (he eventually fell to Curran in the 62nd thanks to one of two quiet catches and collected from the edge under pressure from substitute Chris Jordan), then Moeen could have been said to have lost the World Cup.
Thankfully, that won’t be the case thanks to brilliant bowling from Mark Wood, who gave up just three runs from the 16th and had Jimmy Neesham caught by Curran and then Chris Woakes, who gave up five runs on an all-important 17th.
Chris Jordan’s sure hands take a borderline catch to fire Daryl Mitchell
And that man, Curran, who was given the task of defending 26 runs from the final and giving up just five.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Buttler said of Curran. ‘He always wants the hard overs. He always wants the ball in his hand. Sometimes you forget how young he is. We’ll see it go from strength to strength.’
It must be said that England somehow managed to put their best fielder in Jordan on the edge during two of the game’s biggest moments – he caught Phillips and Daryl Mitchell during New Zealand’s late charge – but Buttler insisted afterwards that it was because Liam Livingstone was still feeling the ankle injury that almost kept him out of this World Cup.
Jordan was only a backup fielder, but he made two crucial catches for England.
A touch of England’s Gary Pratts? Possibly, but it should be remembered that Livingstone is a gun fielder in his own right, so Buttler wasn’t trying to get the lesser fielders out of him. In that case, he could have been poor Moeen, but now his terrible fall can be forgotten.
Unless Australia completely annihilates Afghanistan on Friday, and England have a 50-run swing in net run rate, Buttler knows a win over Chris Silverwood’s Sri Lanka will be enough to push them into the final four.
And they would have settled for that after losing to Ireland and then watching their clash against Australia fizzle out.