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Cook hails Buttler's "best"
Jos Buttler produced one of the best innings his captain Alastair Cook has ever seen as England nonetheless narrowly failed to pull off a near record one-day international run chase.
Buttler has made a name for himself as one of the world's most powerful and clinical strikers of a ball - but even by those standards, he upped the ante with his maiden England century from just 61 balls at Lord's.
The only, significant, shame for him and Cook was that Buttler's 121 was not quite enough as England fell seven runs short of Sri Lanka's 300 for nine and must therefore head for a Royal London Series decider at Edgbaston on Wednesday.
Buttler and Ravi Bopara (51), in a stand of 133, returned fire on Sri Lanka centurion Kumar Sangakkara (112) - who shared a partnership of 172 with Tillakaratne Dilshan (71) in this run-fest.
Ultimately, though, England had left their sixth-wicket pair too much to do after faltering initially to 10 for two and then struggling for the requisite momentum.
After Malinga had then returned to bowl the last over of the match for only four runs - he had Chris Jordan caught in the deep, and Buttler was run out - Cook reflected on a cruel outcome for the wicketkeeper-batsman in particular.
"It's a hell of an innings. He doesn't deserve to be on the losing side, playing like that," Cook said.
"It's one of the best innings I've seen."
When asked if he can explain Buttler's power, he said: "I can't. I wish I could.
"I don't know where he gets his power from. It is an incredible talent.
"Having him coming in, you're never out of the game.
"He's got great hand-eye (coordination), and his head is so still when he hits the ball so incredibly well."
Even Buttler could not quite seal the series for England, though.
"When you lose wickets at the top of the order, you do have to rebuild and give yourself that chance to take the game deep," added Cook.
"You know you can catch up.
"It's not the ideal way of playing it - because when you score 120 odd off 70 balls, you should win games of cricket.
"But he almost got us there."
Malinga and Nuwan Kulasekara managed to hold their nerve with dead-eyed yorkers at the death.
Cook said: "They were brilliant, kept it very simple, and 'hit the hole' nine or 10 out of the last 12 (balls).
"Under that pressure - Kulasekara especially, after getting pumped three or four overs earlier - to come back like that, you have to give credit."
Sri Lanka captain Angelo Mathews was relieved his team, ultimately, withstood Buttler's barrage after he and Bopara joined forces at 111 for five.
"Jos played an unbelievable innings. He nearly took us apart, and took the game away from us," he said.
"He can hit the ball out of the park at any given time. He's an extremely talented young player, who played the innings of his life.
"The pressure is on all the time, and the bowlers are feeling it a lot more than me.
"But we stuck to our plans, did the basic things right. All in all it was a great effort from our whole team."
Cook is convinced Buttler is a Test player in waiting, but hinted his time will not come next week when England announce their squad to face Sri Lanka back here.
Matt Prior has yet to demonstrate form and fitness for his return after being dropped in the Ashes last winter.
Cook said: "The first time I ever saw Jos he impressed me immensely, with his sweet timing and beating the fielders. We found it impossible to bowl at him - and he did exactly the same today.
"He's not doing himself any harm, and he's certainly found his method in one-day cricket.
"He knows what he's doing (but) I think he's yet to find that in four-day cricket.
"I think he'll be honest with himself - he needs more time to do that.
"But a guy who is as talented as that, there's no reason why he can't.
"I think he will become a very good Test player at some stage for England.
"Talented people find ways to do that, but I don't think he's quite ready yet for that role."
The England and Wales Cricket Board announced after the game that Yorkshire batsman Gary Ballance had earned an increment contract after playing in the requisite number of international games.
The Lord's clash was Ballance's eighth ODI during the 12-month contract period, in addition to one Test against Australia.