Jos Buttler is thinking about what might have been. What might have been if England had lost the most dramatic game in cricket history last Sunday.
What might have been if England had lost to India at Edgbaston in the group stage and not even qualified for the semi-finals.
What people would have said. What he would have done. Where he would have found a rock to crawl under.
Jos Buttler produced decisive run-out of Martin Guptill to win Cricket World Cup for England
The wicket-keeper played a decisive role in the final both as a batsman and in the field
He can smile about it now, but the idea haunts him. When England stuttered midway through the tournament, and then again in the days before the final, he sought out England’s team psychologist, David Young.
Buttler had convinced himself it was England’s destiny to win their home World Cup at Lord’s.
Yet fear of failure, every elite sportsman’s faithful companion, lingered at his side.
‘Before the India game,’ he says, ‘I was struggling with coming to terms with the prospect of us getting knocked out. We’d been favourites, so highly fancied by everyone, and there was the danger that four years of playing such good cricket was going to come to nothing.
‘Think about what people will say about us as a team, think about how they will call us chokers, everything else they will say. I remember seeing a comment — maybe it was the one that got Jonny Bairstow wound up — about how it would be the biggest failure because of how much had gone into this World Cup. I was struggling with the thought of that.
‘I had played in eight finals before Sunday and lost seven of them. I’d played in lots with Somerset, the Champions Trophy with England and when we lost the T20 in Kolkata and I knew how much it hurt watching the other team lift the trophy. I didn’t want to feel that pain and that regret again.
‘What was scaring me was if we lost, I didn’t know how I’d play cricket again. This was such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a World Cup final at Lord’s. It felt like destiny and I was thinking: “If it doesn’t happen, I will have no motivation to pick up a cricket bat for a very long time”. When I was talking to David, I knew the answers.
‘I knew all I could look after was the stuff I could look after, and I needed to get into my zone, which allows me to perform the best I can. But what happens if it goes wrong?’
The Lancashire player celebrates England’s triumph with captain Eoin Morgan (left)
Buttler found the answer to that in the end. He made sure it didn’t go wrong. He took control.
He is sitting in a quiet room at the Kookaburra bat factory in Corby, thinking about it. He is a quietly spoken man, whose modesty and poise sometimes seem at odds with the extravagance of his shot-making, but one of the reasons he can be so honest about his fears is because he has inner strength, too. He has steel at his core.
He confronted his worries about failure and dealt with them. And in the end, it was Buttler who performed the game’s last action when he ran out Martin Guptill.
In the most stressful, nail-biting, nerve-jangling, chest-tightening game of cricket most of us have ever witnessed, Buttler and Ben Stokes were the main men. When it looked like the World Cup was slipping away at Lord’s, and someone needed to take responsibility, it was Buttler who stepped forward.
Despite a quiet tournament with the bat, Buttler stepped forward at the crucial moment
It was Buttler who put on 110 with Stokes for the fifth wicket, Buttler who showed breathtaking audacity to play a couple of his signature ramp shots when the stakes were at their highest and New Zealand were tightening the screw. It was Buttler who came out with Stokes for the super over and smashed a boundary off the last ball.
And when everything was in the balance and New Zealand needed two off the last ball of their super over to win the trophy, it was Buttler who gathered Jason Roy’s throw and broke the stumps before Guptill could make his ground.
In the 1999 tournament, South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs was called ‘the man who dropped the World Cup’ after putting down a catch against Australia.
On Sunday, in the greatest moment in England’s cricket history, Buttler was the man who caught it.
Buttler was speaking exclusively to Sportsmail’s Oliver Holt about the World Cup final
Buttler is thinking about what might have been. What might have been if England had lost
‘If you’re watching the game from the outside,’ Buttler says, ‘you must think all the players must be so nervous as Jofra Archer is coming in to bowl that last ball. But as a cricketer, it’s where you want to be. You’re in the middle, you’ve got some control. You’ve done it time and again. Just because it’s a final, it’s still the same thing, collecting the ball and taking the stumps.
‘You’re on autopilot really. I felt very in-the-moment. Guptill pushed it off his legs and once I saw it going straight to Jason, I thought: “If we get this right, we can win this”. I knew Guptill would be a long way out. Under pressure, nothing is simple but I knew it should be simple.
‘When Jason picked it up, there was no thought he might misfield it. None of those thoughts happen. He picks it up, throws it to me and I take the stumps. I had to come down the pitch a little bit but I knew that as long as I collected the ball cleanly, I would have time to get to the stumps because he was a long way out.
There was no panic or doubt over executing the decisive run-out according to Buttler
‘Lord’s is like a billiards table, so you know the bounce is going to be true. You know where the ball will end up. If I knew Guptill was going to be closer, I may have been more anxious or rushed it, but I knew I had some time to play with, so it was just as simple as making sure I got it in my hands.
‘When you look back on it, you realise the enormity of the moment. Talk about not being able to live with yourself. If I’d fumbled that moment . . . we are that far from winning the World Cup and I’ve messed it up. But the reality is that as soon as I saw we were going to get the chance to run someone out, I knew Jason would do his job and I would do my job.
‘I knew in the moment I broke the wicket, that was it. Both gloves went, I threw my hat in the air. I was running around and Moeen Ali was aeroplaning past me and Jofra was on the floor miles away. Those feelings justify everything. That moment lasts for 20 seconds, maybe, and it is just the best time of your cricket career.
‘I didn’t cry after the game. I thought I would, but it wasn’t until the next day. I watched the highlights and I was overwhelmed with what we had achieved. It justifies everything you have worked for, all the sacrifice, the sacrifice of family and friends, every gym session, every net session you didn’t want to do. It justifies everything.’
The 28-year-old was speaking abut the tournament at the Kookaburra factory in Corby
Buttler came to the crease with England struggling at 86-4 after Morgan’s dismissal for nine
Buttler came to the crease in the final with England reeling on 86 for four, having lost the wickets of Joe Root and Eoin Morgan cheaply.
He and Stokes knew that the first requirement was simply to build some sort of partnership to steady the innings. They are both swashbuckling players but they knew this was not the time for all-out attack.
‘The run rate wasn’t going to be the issue,’ says Buttler. ‘Ben had been in really good form throughout the tournament. It felt like he just needed a partner. I felt great in the middle and I felt I had a partner in him. I felt we could do it together and we were slowly ticking it off. I had loads of belief.
‘We talked about how we wanted to get to a point where we needed 80 off the last 10 [overs]. And we actually got to the point where we needed 72 off the last 10. We were getting to where we wanted to be and I started questioning when I should start trying to be a bit more aggressive. It was getting up to eight or nine an over. I knew I had to look for the boundaries.
‘I started to think I have to trust my team-mates here. I want it to be all on me but we are four wickets down. We have got Woakes, Plunkett, Rashid and Archer. These guys can bat. It’s been one of the strengths of the side for a long time. You think it’s all on me and Stokes but you think: “I can afford to take a risk now because I trust the guys behind me”.’
Buttler was happy to take risks with the bat because he had faith in his team-mates
Buttler was out to the penultimate ball of the 45th over, skying a catch to substitute fielder Tim Southee at cover, with England 45 runs short of the Kiwis’ total. Fear gripped him again. He sat in the dressing room, watching, powerless.
‘Every dot ball, I would kick something,’ he says. ‘And then I thought: “This isn’t really helpful for the guys who are waiting to bat”. You go through all the emotions: “Oh my God, we are going to lose and I am going to have the rest of my life thinking about that”. Then Stokesy would hit a four or a six and you are thinking: “We could actually do this and how good would that be”.
‘I was berating myself for getting out. I wanted to be there at the end. I’d had a few quiet games with the bat and I felt that this was my time and that maybe it was meant to be and it was my opportunity.
‘Then you get out and all your romantic thoughts fly away and you feel you have messed it up. And then suddenly, there is a super over and you have another chance.’
Buttler and Stokes put on 110 for the fifth wicket then teamed up again for the super over
Buttler seized it. He stepped up first with the bat and then with the final ball run out. And when it was over, and England were world champions and all that fear of failure had flown away into the sky over St John’s Wood, he realised that something had changed.
‘It is so English to fall in a certain way,’ he says. ‘At the last hurdle. I don’t mean we enjoy the failure but it’s almost like “It’s OK, we did so well, we are never meant to be the team that wins”. And so after the match, I did feel sorry for the New Zealanders but at the same time I was so happy that wasn’t us.
‘It was written in the stars. It was destiny for us as a team. I talked to Moeen about this: he said we were meant to struggle. It wasn’t meant to be easy before the India game. We talked about how enjoyable it would be when you have to struggle for it and fight for it.
‘We had played in lots of series where we have blasted big scores and dominated in that way, and that is enjoyable, but to come through adversity and hardship feels even more special. That gives you so much faith that good things can happen.’
Buttler is convinced there is more success ahead for both him and his victorious team-mates
Before he goes, Buttler mentions another side of the conversation he had with David Young.
‘I was talking to him about how if we win, I wouldn’t care what happens in the rest of my career,’ Buttler says. ‘That victory would be there forever and I feel it would justify everything I have ever wanted for the team and for myself.
‘I’m 28 and for however long I have left in my career, I would just enjoy it and think: “That happened”.
‘But you always know there is something else. It’s there. It’s written in history next to 1966 and 2003 but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. It’s a big relief and I feel huge excitement for the rest of my career but even now, I see it as a platform to go on to even better things.’