It has taken a while for Jos Buttler to step out of the huge shadow of Eoin Morgan but there were signs here at the Gabba on Tuesday that he is finally making this England team his own.
There was flexibility from Buttler in choosing to bat first against New Zealand on a used pitch when so much of their Morgan-led white-ball success came through chasing.
There was a gem of an innings from an England captain who needed to show he could lead from the front, admittedly with the help of two bad, decisive dropped catches.
Jos Buttler led by example with the bat and in the field as England defeated New Zealand
Buttler celebrates England’s 20-run win which keeps their hopes of the semi-finals alive
And, most impressively, there was real imagination and thought in the way Buttler used his bowlers in what was a nail-biting but ultimately comfortable 20-run win that keeps England’s Twenty20 World Cup hopes very much alive.
‘It was a very satisfying game to come through as a captain,’ said Buttler afterwards knowing victory against Sri Lanka in Sydney on Saturday now will probably be enough to earn England a semi-final place.
‘To score runs for the team and then make a couple of decisions that came off straightaway. It’s very nice when that happens.
‘My own captaincy journey is still pretty young and as that evolves over time I think I’ll get even more of a feel of exactly what I like.
‘For instance It was only when I came off having batted that I thought Moeen should bowl our first over. You can look at numbers until the cows come home but your feel on the day is a very important part of captaincy.’
Buttler is starting to make a real imprint on this England team, emerging from the shadow of his successful predecessor Eoin Morgan
His all-round performance saw him claim the Player of the Match award at the Gabba
How important this performance was from England under pressure and what a relief that they have avoided, for now at least, an early journey home in the first tournament of the Buttler-Matthew Mott regime.
The captain played some breath-taking shots in his 73 off 47 balls, including a spectacular ramp for six from outside off-stump off Lockie Ferguson’s third ball timed at 92 miles per hour, but was dropped expensively by New Zealand on eight and 40.
That first miss could have become a controversial moment, too, when New Zealand captain Kane Williamson seemed to claim a juggling, diving effort only to see TV replays show the ball had clearly bounced.
Williamson is one of the nicest men in cricket so he was given the benefit of the doubt, and quickly apologised to Buttler afterwards, but it is fair to say there would have been a different response had David Warner done exactly the same thing.
The ball slips from the grasp of Kane Williamson as he tries to dismiss Jos Buttler during New Zealand’s T20 World Cup match against England
New Zealand celebrated the catch and it was only on replays that Buttler survived
When Buttler had added 81 for the first wicket with Alex Hales England seemed set for an even bigger score than their eventual 179 for six and there will be concern at some of their batting, even though Buttler was rightly flexible in mixing up the order.
In particular, Ben Stokes again struggled for fluency and could make only eight from seven balls in the finisher role after being dropped down the order to six.
Stokes was later to need treatment on the left index finger he broke so badly last year after taking the important catch of Finn Allen but he was back on the field for the closing stages of a pulsating contest and clearly remains as important to England as ever.
But the all-rounder who is really thriving in this England team is unquestionably Sam Curran. It was Curran the younger who hit the last over six that Stokes failed to do as England got up to an above par score and it was then Curran who again demonstrated his importance with the ball at all stages of a Twenty20 innings.
Sam Curran was excellent, taking two wickets and stemming the flow of New Zealand runs
Ben Stokes ruffles the hair of Curran after he gets the key wicket of Glenn Phillips
In particular at the death because there were times when New Zealand, through the big-hitting Glenn Phillips, looked as though they were going to consign England to World Cup history.
Not least when Moeen Ali dropped perhaps the easiest catch you will ever see fumbled at this level when Phillips was on just 15.
If Phillips had got New Zealand over the line – he eventually fell to Curran on 62 thanks to one of two calm and collected boundary catches under pressure from substitute Chris Jordan – then it could have been said that Moeen had dropped the World Cup.
Thankfully that will not be the case thanks to brilliant death bowling from Mark Wood, who conceded just three runs from the 16th over and had Jimmy Neesham caught by Curran and then Chris Woakes, who conceded five runs in a hugely important 17th over.
The safe hands of Chris Jordan take a catch on the boundary to dismiss Daryl Mitchell
And that man Curran who was given the task of defending 26 runs from the final over and conceded just five.
‘I think he’s fantastic,’ said Buttler of Curran. ‘He always wants the tough overs. He always wants the ball in his hand. You forget how young he is sometimes. We will see him go from strength to strength.’
It should be said that England somehow managed to get their best fielder in Jordan on the boundary for two of the biggest moments of the match – he caught Phillips and Daryl Mitchell during the New Zealand late charge – but Buttler insisted afterwards it was because Liam Livingstone was still feeling the ankle injury that almost kept him out of this World Cup.
Jordan was only on as a substitute fielder but took two crucial catches for England
A touch of the Gary Pratts from England? Possibly but it should be remembered Livingstone is a gun fielder in his own right so it wasn’t as it Buttler was trying to get his lesser fielders off. In that case it might have been poor Moeen but his awful drop can be forgotten now.
Unless Australia absolutely annihilate Afghanistan on Friday – and England have a 50-run swing on net run-rate – Buttler knows a win over Chris Silverwood’s Sri Lanka will be enough to get them to the last four.
And they would have settled for that after they lost to Ireland and then saw their clash against Australia washed out.