T20 cricket is a complex sport. Unlike ODIs and Tests, you have far less time to maximize your resources. The selections are completely different, almost baffling sometimes, highlighting the various subtleties of this unique game.
In this piece, we study those subtle aspects of a perfect T20 side. And then we analyze which team heading into the T20 World Cup adheres to these details:
Maximizing the powerplay overs has become more critical than before. Teams are grasping the gospel of T20 cricket - optimal use of resources. Powerplay - the best time to bat - is that opportunity. The ball is hard, with pace on it, and you only need to get past the 30-yard circle to have a crack at the boundary ropes.
To put it to its optimal use, it is imperative to have an opener high on intent. At least one if not both. Someone with a strike-rate closer to 150, even if that is the case only during the powerplay. There ain’t many batters who do that. 57 batters have scored over 500 powerplay runs in T20s since 2021. Only 11 of them have a strike-rate of 147 or more. Seven of them are from England out of which three are part of their 2022 T20 World Cup squad.
It is a great luxury to have any one of them alongside Jos Buttler. The England skipper is himself an explosive batter but for the likes of Buttler and David Warner, who hold the skillset to be impactful outside the powerplay too, an attacking opening partner is a big relief, to let them assess the conditions more sincerely.
In a polarised setup, Pakistan is the only side that encourages their openers to bat through, rather than go for runs. It is a major flaw in their plan.
The middle overs are largely bowled by the spinners and thereby emerges the need for spin bashers. It is a tough job since the field is spread and the batters have to create their own power into the shot. If there is a good start, this middle-order batter should carry the momentum forward. Otherwise, he has to adjust according to the rhythm of the game.
Middle-overs is the longest phase of a T20 innings where the batters have no advantage. Thus, at least one batter assigned to take on spin will make things easier. A left-hander in this role is a luxury but right-handers like Suryakumar Yadav, Glenn Maxwell, Aiden Markram have done this job fairly well. Prominent names in the LHB category include Nicholas Pooran, Rilee Rossouw and Bhanuka Rajaspaksa. A lot of these players are good against both pace and spin.
Optimal RHB-LHB combination
Here is a hack to break the opposition’s spin attack - an efficient LHB-RHB pair that can turn the strike over with the respect to the match-up in action. Left-handers are naturally productive against left-arm orthodox which takes care of the run-scoring at least from one end. In a similar vein, right-handers can assume the onus against off-spinners. Two left-handers in the top six will largely take care of this demand.
Additional benefit: Such a pair can take advantage of the shorter boundary on one side of the ground.
Rishabh Pant’s low returns in T20s and Ravindra Jadeja’s injury keep India at bay in this regard. England and South Africa are well equipped to implement this tactic.
Quite straightforward. You need a stroke maker at the back end of the innings. This is a batter who has a strike-rate in the first 12 balls of his innings. He should be a ferocious hitter of fast bowling. And to do that at the death, he should be proficient at tackling yorkers through lap strokes. They should not be judged by their average.
Since 2021, Rashid Khan has the highest strike-rate in the first 12 balls of his innings while batting at 6 or 7 - 182. It is followed by Tim David at 154.8. David also has the most runs in this filter - 720.
India must be glad about Dinesh Karthik’s rise. The 37-year old is the latest entrant to the finisher’s category.
THE ALL-ROUNDER PACKAGE
A batter in the top five who can bowl
This is more of an intricate requirement - a batter whose primary role is to bat in the top six but can deliver a handful overs of off-spin and restrain the opponent’s left-handed batters.
It doesn’t need to be a specialist spinner for two reasons. Firstly, not many sides have LHB-heavy batting line-ups. Secondly, the left-arm orthodox spinner and the leg-spinner satisfy the role of defensive and attacking spinners respectively. Hence, the part-time off-spinner can round up the spin attack without compromising on the batting strength.
Nearly all the top ten sides have filled this vacancy - Glenn Maxwell for Australia, Aiden Markram for South Africa, Moeen Ali for England, Glenn Phillips for New Zealand. Iftikhar Ahmed has emerged as an excellent option for Pakistan.
India’s last such option was Suresh Raina (last T20I in 2018). They have Deepak Hooda in their squad now who made his debut earlier this year. Inexplicably, India didn’t test his bowling enough to mark if he is ready to do the job at the international level.
Finger spinners should be able to bat
An extension of the previous point, both finger spinners should be able to contribute with the bat. While the off-spinner can be a batting all-rounder, the left-arm spinner could be more of a bowler who can be slotted in the top seven. Holding all-round expertise is how the finger spinners are keeping themselves relevant in the shortest format.
Most teams have this area covered. Some sides - like England - don’t have a left-arm spinner but possess multiple finger spin options, all of whom can contribute handsomely with the bat - Moeen Ali & Liam Livingstone.
A no-brainer, right? This is one of the most important positions in a side, irrespective of the format. A cricketer good enough to bat in the top seven, who also bowls handy overs of pace. Yes, the primary skill should be batting because this player is your fourth seam bowling option. He is a cushion for one of the frontline seamers having a bad day.
India must be relieved with Hardik Pandya staying fit throughout the year while bowling at full tilt. In him, the Men in Blue arguably have the best seam bowling batting-allrounder in the World Cup. Surprisingly, South Africa, a land of all-rounders, don’t have much quality in this facet. Both Wayne Parnell and Marco Jansen have bowling as their primary skill which elongates their tail. Dwaine Pretorius’ injury, the best batter in the lot, thus comes as a big blow.
*Having batting till nine has also become a trend to allow the top-order to bat with freedom. It could also be the deciding factor in low-scoring thrillers. You need bowlers who can contribute 10-12 runs down the order. The likes of Alzarri Joseph, Mitchell Starc and Bhuvneshwar Kumar fits the bill.
Synonymous with an attacking opener is a fast bowler, loaded with the wrist to swing the ball and tasked to pick wickets upfront. They make the new ball talk. If the conditions assist, they can run through the opposition’s top-order. If they don’t, they are still steaming in to get themselves in the wickets column. On their best days, they just make everybody else’s job much easier. After all, it is possible to lose your way after a good batting powerplay but once you have three wickets with the new ball, you would rarely go wrong.
Shaheen Shah Afridi is a beast in this category. Australia, South Africa and England have several powerplay wicket-takers. West Indies may struggle.
T20 is about making it harder for the opposition to score but the best way to ensure it is to pick wickets. The leg-spinner can take over the baton from the powerplay specialist. In franchise competitions, every side is investing in a leg-spinner. Wily leggies can break partnerships too. They can be expensive but on their given day, they are bonafide match-winners.
The death overs specialist
It is a role that was arguably identified at the advent of T20 cricket itself. Death bowling is a specialist’s job. In modern-day cricket, they need to hold multiple cards up their sleeves - the yorker, the slower ball, an odd bumper and more. Having pace is always handy. Death bowling is one of the toughest jobs in T20 cricket given you are mostly under pressure to slow down the run-scoring rate. It is a category hard to judge on numbers.
Australia, South Africa and Pakistan seem to be equipped the most in this regard. Meanwhile, India and New Zealand might struggle.
No substitute for pace
One of your two aforementioned seamers should be a high-pace bowler. Or it could be a third-seamer specialist seamer who consistently bowls in the 140s and hits the deck. It immunes the seam attack from being one-dimensional. Unlike slower bowlers, pace is relevant in every situation of a T20 game. Hence, they can also be your all-phase bowlers.
Examples: Mark Wood and Josh Hazlewood.
In Jasprit Bumrah’s absence, India might be the slowest pace attack in the T20 World Cup.
There is another category of players which are not necessities but they are a luxury to have, given they are rare in supply.
- Floater: A floater is a batter who is capable of batting in multiple - at least three - positions without any considerable decrease in their optimal value. Suryakumar Yadav, Glenn Maxwell, Jos Buttler and Rilee Rossouw are fine examples.
- A left-handed spin basher: As mentioned above, if your spin basher is a left-hander, you can tackle multiple match-ups with one player.
- An LHB spin-bashing all-rounder: Which is the rarest breed in cricket? Dan Weston, in conversation with Cricket.com, narrowed it down to a left-handed basher of spin bowling who can contribute with the ball as well. Possessing such a player will kill three birds with one stone. This breed is so rare, we can only think of Moeen Ali. Nicholas Pooran has recently started to dip his toes in this category.
- An attacking wrist-spin bowling all-rounder: A leg-spinner who snaffles wickets during the middle-overs and can also provide you quick runs. This is such a luxury, having this player can absorb many flaws in a T20 line-up. Shadab Khan, Wanindu Hasaranga, and Rashid Khan vindicate this theory.
- A left-arm powerplay specialist: Opening the bowling with a swing bowler who bowls left-arm increases the chances of early success. They are the bowling equivalent of having a left-handed batter. No better examples in this category than Shaheen and Trent Boult.
- Multiple seam bowling all-rounders: Teams like Australia and England have more than one seam bowling all-rounders. Having a cushion for your cushion bowler is definitely a luxury.
- Multiple spin-bowling all-rounders: England also have two spin-bowling all-rounders in Livingstone and Moeen, both of whom can turn the ball in different directions to a right-hander, That is what you call the icing on the cake.
- A mystery spinner
- A second wicketkeeper in the XI
How are the Top 10 T20 World Cup teams framed?
Four teams - New Zealand, England, South Africa and Australia tick all boxes. However, the Kiwis have most players of subpar quality in their category. Australia and England have only one facet in the moderate category which tells you why they are the favorites for the World Cup. Next is South Africa with only three moderate entries.
Pakistan cover up the absence of a pace-bowling all-rounder with a spin-bowling all-rounder in Shadab Khan. He can also be the spin basher at number four and thus becomes the MVP of this Pakistan team.
India miss out on key aspects, mostly due to injuries. Bangladesh have the most openings in their squad construction which reflect their poor record in T20s since the last World Cup (4 wins in 14 matches).
Sri Lanka, West Indies and Afghanistan tick a lot of boxes as well. It lends them more balance than other sides but without the utmost quality.
There are so many categories that it is nearly impossible to be top-notch in every department, as the chart above depicts. Some teams fulfill the bowling requirements - like Pakistan and South Africa. Some pack their batting - like England.
On other occasions, owing to the conditions, holding one player of any particular category up your sleeves which the opposition doesn’t have can win you a game. That is how much these subtleties matter. T20 is a complex sport after all. It is the shortest recognized format but it is long enough for teams to exaggerate any little advantage into the deciding factor.