McCullum masters pacing the T20 innings
Watching Brendon McCullum annihilate the Bangladesh bowlers in Pallekele on way to his second Twenty20 international century, this question came to mind - how do batsmen make hundreds in a format where an innings lasts 120 deliveries? Twenty20s are strange contests in which time is squeezed so tight that one of the basic rules of the game, that of a batsman having to balance risk and reward in order to preserve his wicket, is compromised. Due to the scarcity of time, losing a wicket does not harm a side as much as inability to score quickly does. That is why even VVS Laxman is moved to slogging to cow corner in a T20. Yet somehow, centurions in this format have managed to do both, not lose their wicket as well as score rapidly.
What does it come down to? Is it merely 'one of those days' when a batsman connects with everything he attempts to hit for a reasonably sustained period of time? The way T20 is largely viewed, as a hit-and-giggle format, probably the majority would say it comes down to a batsman going bonkers, and getting away with it, for about an hour or so.
But as the format evolves, and players gain experience in it, a pattern similar to ODIs could be emerging, as far as batsmen surviving and thriving goes. Taking some time to get in - something Chris Gayle does now, sizing up your scoring areas, working out which bowlers to target and which to respect, knowing when to go for the big shot and when to knock it around. Of course, it will all be crunched into 20 overs, and planning and implementation will be that much sharper. Who better than McCullum - the man with the most runs, the most sixes, the most fours, the most centuries in T20Is - to talk about it?
"It's a game which does suit my style of play and temperament," McCullum said. "I always want to try and be aggressive. I am fortunate enough to have played enough T20 games now to get the pattern of how to play. It is not going to come off always, but when it does you have got a reasonable script in your mind about how you are to pace your innings and when you are required to go after the boundary and when you need to make sure you just turn it over."
McCullum started cautiously, New Zealand having lost Martin Guptill to the second ball of left-arm spin, a variety of bowling with which Bangladesh beat them 4-0 the last time the two sides played in 2010. He showed utter respect to Abdur Razzak, and only a misfield at mid-on allowed him to get off the mark off his third ball. Even in Razzak's second over, McCullum just nudged the ball around for singles.
He went after every other bowler, scoring at least two runs per ball against each of them. He carted the left-arm spinners Shakib Al Hasan and Elias Sunny for 45 runs between deep-extra cover and deep midwicket.
Of course, the innings was full of strokes that probably only McCullum can pull off. The way he manages to retain control over a shot despite so much charging and heaving is commendable. Bangladesh tried bowling short when they saw him stepping out. But McCullum was able to adjust and flat-bat sixes.
He later explained his approach, particularly against the left-arm spinners: "I guess from the right-hander's point of view, it's trying to attack that short boundary [on one side of the ground in Pallekele] when you get the opportunity, try and make sure you use your feet, put pressure on them and be efficient in picking up the ones and twos." McCullum ran 26 singles and three twos. His innings had just nine dot balls out of the 57 faced before he fell off the final one of the innings.
McCullum also gave credit to James Franklin. The allrounder opened the innings and made 35 off 36 deliveries in a 94-run second-wicket stand with McCullum. "Technically we were smart by sending Franklin up the top of the order. I thought that allowed us the freedom of the left-hand-right-hand combination inside the top three and while James didn't score at a strike rate of 200 he played a very important part in the partnership [with] his ability to chop and change the angles they [the left-arm spinner] would have bowled."
McCullum, who one Bangladesh reporter called the "Sachin Tendulkar of T20s", was asked to rate his knock. "This one is really up there among the best Twenty20 knocks that I have played. Especially because of the uncertainty around only playing two [group] games... you need to turn up and play incredibly well in your first game to give yourself the best opportunity of qualifying. To be able to get a performance under those circumstances, I was pleased with. Also the fact that the left-arm spinners have posed us with some problems in the past. It was nice to put them out to pasture for a while."
Already hampered by the format, who knows how many more bowlers will be put out to pasture as more and more batsmen learn how to pace a T20 innings.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo