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Where should Jos Buttler bat for Rajasthan?

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Jos Buttler returns to the Rajasthan line-up for the fixture against Punjab on Sunday and brings with him more questions than answers. Buttler's record as an opening batsman in the format is incredible, to say the least. 

Buttler in T20s    
Position Innings Runs SR
Opening 55 2109 150.85
3 8 249 145.61
4 45 1116 141.09
5 70 1387 138.01
6 45 778 137.94
7 6 111 163.24
9 1 6 75

He strikes at over 150, and is one of the best powerplay hitters in the league. Since 2018, Buttler has a strike-rate of 166.8 in the first six overs, second only to Sunil Narine in the Indian T20 League (min 100 balls faced). 

Buttler's incredible starts have formed the platform for Rajasthan to take off, but the fact is that they definitely haven't, primarily because of an under-par middle-order. In their first game of Indian T20 League 2020, with Buttler unavailable due to quarantine restrictions, Rajasthan stacked up their top-order pretty well with Steven Smith opening the batting and easing into his innings while Sanju Samson teed off against pace and spin.

Against CHE, despite the rollicking start they had - 119/1 in 10 overs - Rajasthan scored just 97 in the last 10 overs, 30 of them coming in the last over off Lungi Ngidi by Jofra Archer. Without the Archer onslaught, Rajasthan would probably have scored way lesser.

Batsmen SR in PP in Indian T20 League since 2018
Sunil Narine 190.0474
JC Buttler 166.805
JM Bairstow 149.2308
PA Patel 147.3077
DA Warner 143.913
CH Gayle 142.4332
E Lewis 141.0256
KL Rahul 140.8983
SA Yadav 140.6475
V Kohli 139.255

This points towards a malfunction in the middle-order and a clear lack of firepower there. Rajasthan being top-heavy with Samson, Smith, Jaiswal and Uthappa, are woefully short of a finisher, especially with David Miller no longer doing what he skillfully did a few years back. 

Buttler's return should see Miller benched, but where does the England wicket-keeper genius bat?

“It probably is my favourite position to bat in T20 cricket,” said Buttler about opening after the series against Australia. “I’ve had most of my success in T20 at the top, but that’s natural – if you bat in the top three in T20, it’s the best place for everyone."

That's how Buttler sees it, but even in the England setup, the wicket-keeper batsman is mostly used down the order because of the sheer number of top-order batsmen. At Rajasthan, the problem is manifold as Smith is only useful inside the top three. 

When Ben Stokes does return, it throws another spanner in the works, as he, yet again, is no finisher. With Samson, Smith, Jaiswal and Uthappa in the top and none capable of moving to the finisher role and Stokes also in the same category, Buttler - capable of moving seamlessly in the batting order - might have to take up the responsibility of finishing games for Rajasthan this season.

"It gives us options," Smith said after the previous game when asked about Buttler's batting position and the RAJ conundrum. "Obviously he (Samson) played incredibly well today. Just felt like everything he was hitting was going for six. Jos coming back next game is a big plus for us. We'll wait and see what we think is best. Jos has an incredible record up top so I daresay he'll slot back in there. We knew we were going to have to score some big runs on this ground with it getting dewy in the second innings. That's the role Sanju plays, he takes the game on."

If Buttler is indeed opening still, Jaiswal should ideally partner him with Smith in at 3. Samson, who is prolific in the death overs too, can be used in the middle-order to play the dual role of spin hitter in middle overs and pace hitter in the death. 

While it's a problem of plenty, Rajasthan will need to ace this to have a good season. The sheer number of one-dimensional batsmen in their team means that they cannot underutilize Buttler. Him at the top is indeed the best way to go, but balancing the rest of the side could be a bigger challenge.

Feature image courtesy: AFP / Punit Paranjpe

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