Only two England players have scored their runs at a faster rate than Jos Buttler. Since both Glen Chapple and Alan Wells played one game each and scored a total of 29 runs between them, Buttler is the true leader of this increasingly significant field.
His own limited-overs career is still embryonic but after 18 matches all things are possible now. The latest spectacular intervention at Cardiff on Saturday, when he scored 65 from 45 balls, took his career scoring rate to 128.64 per 100 balls and stewarded England to an improbable victory by three wickets.
It also had the welcome additional effect of reinvigorating the NatWest Series. Another rained-off match or an Australian victory would have left Monday’s final match at the Rose Bowl looking decidedly fag-end forlorn. As it is, the series stands at 1-1 and after Buttler’s thrilling endeavours there is the real sense of something to play for.
Buttler is fearless, unselfish and innovative. The speed of his hands, the weight of his shot and his belief that he can hit the ball a long way from almost any angle make him invariably worth watching.
He has failed as often as he has succeeded, with six of his 13 innings having lasted four balls or fewer. But that is the nature of what he does in the role of No 7, where he is frequently either finishing off the first innings or trying to perform a rapid salvage operation in the second.
When he comes off – and he does often enough for it to matter, which is of course the secret – he changes the complexion of affairs. He did so earlier this season when his 47 from 32 balls at Trent Bridge against New Zealand took England to an impregnable position, and he had first burst into the consciousness as an international when he made 32 from 10 balls in a Twenty20 match against South Africa last year.
Buttler had a little more time at his disposal when he came in at Sophia Gardens on Saturday. England were 126 for 5, which represented a recovery from 8 for 3 following Clint McKay’s hat-trick. But with both Eoin Morgan and Michael Carberry out at an inopportune time, it needed swiftness as well as pragmatism from Buttler.
He executed his assault perfectly, given crucial assistance by Ben Stokes, who demonstrated the virtue of a long tail. Given out lbw on 8, Buttler invoked DRS to save himself and, despite occasional aberrant running, barely played a false stroke afterwards.
He finished it in style, which is the hallmark of all those touched by genius, picking up Mitchell Johnson for a leg-side six while seemingly off balance and then drilling a straight four with three balls left.
England, perhaps stubbornly but also justifiably, retained an unchanged side for the third consecutive match (it would probably have been the fourth but teams were not exchanged at Headingley, where the first match was abandoned). They will presumably do so again today, which should offer Carberry another chance to show his credentials and James Tredwell the opportunity to persuade Australia that they should really have a bash at targeting someone else.
Carberry played an admirably determined hand after England’s early setbacks when it seemed they might make a mess of chasing Australia’s 227. The tourists were indebted to a bristling innings of 87 from George Bailey to take them so far.
Both England’s strike bowlers struck and Boyd Rankin, the powerhouse Irish farmer, is making a dedicated assault on the selectors’ minds for a place in the Ashes squad, which will be named next Monday.
Fifth ODI details
Probable Southampton teams
England M A Carberry, K P Pietersen, J E Root, I J L Trott, E J G Morgan (capt), R S Bopara, J C Buttler (wk), B A Stokes, J C Tredwell, S T Finn, W B Rankin.
Australia S R Watson, P J Hughes, A J Finch, M J Clarke (capt), G J Bailey, A C Voges, M S Wade (wk), J P Faulkner, M G Johnson, C J McKay, N M Coulter-Nile.
* Umpires A Dar (Pak) & R Bailey.
Television Sky Sports 2, 1.30-10.30pm.
Weather Unsettled. Sunny intervals with chance of showers late in afternoon. Max temp: 14C.
Odds: England 11-10 Australia 8-11.
Series level at 1-1 after four matches.