April 10, 2016

Ten things we learned from the World T20 (or knew already)

Kohli is very good; so are England; and so is the art of running twos. Oh, and dew is water

Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni have turned running between the wickets into an art © Associated Press

1. Arise Virat Kohli, Prince of Cricket
The pre-tournament talk was of the master blasters, the willow-wielding barbarians who were going to smash the tournament to pieces. And, well, they did, with Carlos Brathwaite scorching West Indies and poor Ben Stokes into the history books. Yet few would challenge Kohli's prize as player of the tournament. He had a supreme 84.95% control, only bettered by Root's 87.06%; it was immaculate orthodox strokeplay that put these two at the top of the batting stats. Will coaches now spend less time drilling helicopters and Dilscoops, and more practice on that old-fashioned front-foot drive with precision placement? Root played in such a risk-free manner that he could maintain his T20 tempo in longer forms this summer.

2. Talk nah, Mark
Thank you, Mark Nicholas, for reminding all us hacks that what might seem a throwaway phrase could end up being quoted by the cup-winning captain seconds after he lifts the trophy. Darren Sammy took Nicholas' claim that West Indies were "short of brains" in the same manner in which Clive Lloyd used Tony Greig's "make them grovel" as a rallying cry. And, quite nobly, Nicholas came back with a thorough apology (some might describe it with one of those words that Greig once uttered) that might mean he'll be forgiven but not forgotten.

3. Less is more
The bat did indeed dominate the tournament, as predicted, but bowlers vastly improved their game. The canny paceman now has an arsenal of change-ups, and downs - the slower ball, hardly a revolution, considering I recall Jonathan Agnew bowling Chris Broad with one at Grace Road in the 1980s, has become standard fare. And here West Indies varied better than any other attack. A Simon Hughes radio documentary broadcast last year demonstrated that top batsmen played the ball from the hand, rather than simply following it in flight, and deceiving at the point of release proved most effective, disrupting rhythm and bat speed. What once was a long hop is now a dot ball, but whether this strategy will transfer as effectively into other forms, where focus is on playing the delivery on merit, one shall see. England open their Test series against Sri Lanka on May 19, but I imagine fewer slower balls will be bowled in those five days than in a single T20.

England now really get limited-overs cricket, don't they? © Getty Images

4. Less is... less
Empty seats in Kolkata for a stunning climax to what was a wonderful contest was a sad sight. Authorities seemed to pass the blame like a hot potato, tossing it between the BCCI, the ICC, and local stadium arrangements. From the opening of the tournament, when hundreds of fans were locked out of the Super 10 qualifier between Hong Kong and Zimbabwe in Nagpur, despite tumbleweed blowing around the deserted stands, to those unpeopled sections of Eden Gardens, the game deserved better.

5. 2 + 2 + 2 + 2
I've written before about six-hitting before. I love hitting sixes. I love watching sixes. Never did I think watching batsmen run twos could be so thrilling, but when Kohli and MS Dhoni paired up in the middle, that 22 yards seemed like a hop and a skip. Like the best dancers and ice skaters (yes, I really am comparing Kohli and Dhoni to Britain's gold medal-winning duo at the 1984 Winter Olympics, Torvill and Dean), there is a harmony of thought and communication, as well as supreme athleticism. (Looks like I'm already planning excuses for that first run-out batting for my ageing Sunday side.)

6. Dot. Dot. W
Apologies England Women, but if Kohli and Dhoni showed us how to run between the wickets, the England Women showed us how not to. Losing by five runs to Australia in the semi-final could have been averted with those singles turned into twos. And even when they did go for the steal, it was badly timed. BBC commentator Dan Norcross prophetically tweeted the desperate run-out of Jenny Gunn the ball before it happened, such was the calamity waiting to happen. In his post-match dressing-down, the team's coach, Mark Robinson, hinted at a toughening up in his squad's fitness. Good luck in that pre-season circuit training.

7. Dew is wet
Yes, dew is made of water. And water soaked in leather and lacquer becomes slippy and difficult to grip. I felt for the spinners bowling second this tournament. And after the excitement at the raging turn early in the group games, I hoped my two favourite leggies, Adil Rashid and Imran Tahir, would rip teams apart. Did the groundsmen prepare different tracks after New Zealand twirlymen Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi outspun the hosts in their own backyard? The stats showed teams chasing were the more likely victors, and I imagine the bowlers who struggled to get their fingers around that water-swollen seam might blame the wet grass (which I shall do on damp English pitches in a couple of weeks' time)

New Zealand missed the power-hitting abilities of their charismatic former captain © IDI/Getty

8. New Zealand do miss Brendon McCullum, after all
The lack of reaction, some kind of batting Plan B, left the New Zealand batsmen devoid of scoring shots when pinned on the stumps by England's best death bowling of the tournament, in the semi-final. By chalking only 20 runs from the last four overs, New Zealand lost the match, and with the Stokes/Jordan yorkers zeroing in on the popping crease it need a Brendon McCullum-esque improvisation to counterattack.

9. England are actually quite good
They really are. When they fail, that old cliché about "taking the positives" is bandied about by both players and coaches. But when you get to the final and only fail thanks to a miraculous hitting spree in the last over, there are lots of "positives" to put on the plane back to Blighty, including David Willey's swing, Chris Jordan's yorkers, Jason Roy's potential, Joe Root's mastery, and the general youthful exuberance of a team that played with refreshing freedom and joie de vivre. Can they keep the party going until May, when the Sri Lankan team touch down?

10. Cricket is fantastic
But you already knew that, of course. Bring on the summer.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His third novel, TOKYO, is out now. @nicholas_hogg

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