Australia prepare ahead of the World Championship August 31, 2007

Twenty20 survival instincts

Peter English on how Australia's bowlers hope to avoid the firing squad at the Twenty20 World Championship

Matthew Hayden: "Twenty20 batting is an expression rather than a structure" © Getty Images

Australian bowlers often mention variations of "execute" when discussing Twenty20. The action buzzwords are central to their plans, but at the World Championship in South Africa it will be the batsmen who decide how many fast men suffer on-field deaths by a thousand smashings.

In-house teasing at Australia's pre-season camp involved Matthew Hayden referring to his less fortunate team-mates as bowling machines. The one certainty for the attack is the expectation of trouble; giving up eight runs an over is considered successful damage control in the bite-sized game. Nathan Bracken admits the prospect is scary.

The retirement of Glenn McGrath has elevated Bracken in the limited-overs pecking order and his swing and cross-seam options provide extra protection from the carnage. Despite these advantages, his advice for Twenty20 bowlers is simple: "Cross your fingers and hope for the best."

Tactics for the format, which has involved only 16 international contests, are still being formed and conservative and radical ideas will be dumped and developed throughout the two-week tournament. Australia are trying not to fly blind and will test theories in practice games in Brisbane and South Africa before putting them down in pen. Liquid paper will always be nearby.

"Maybe it's a game with some strategy, but not too much," Michael Hussey, a virtual Twenty20 veteran with 16 international and domestic appearances, says. "The best-laid plans quite often aren't going to come to fruition because it's such a dynamic game." He insists the best way to play is to go with your instincts.

Hayden compares Twenty20 batting to free surfing - "it's an expression rather than a structure" - while Ricky Ponting felt mellow during the fun of the first international against New Zealand in 2005.

The best-laid plans quite often aren't going to come to fruition because it's such a dynamic game
Michael Hussey

Ponting's 55-ball 98 at Eden Park was played without pressure and he believes the global prize will sap some of the beauty from the game.

The leader in all five of Australia's matches, Ponting isn't sure what to expect in South Africa, apart from muscular hitting, and will consult his team-mates with experience from the Australian and English domestic competitions. Even they can't help too much. Chris Rogers, who has played the game in both countries, says: "Hit the ball as far as you can."

"One of our key phrases at the World Cup was preparing and letting our guys play with freedom," Ponting says. "We've got to be able to do that again at Twenty20, but you don't have that much time. You have to start to play with freedom from the first ball."

While the batting outlook is based on feel, the bowlers believe they must stick to the detail. Perfectly pitched deliveries will not be respected and the format is a severe test of self-belief. They wish for green wickets and top edges that land inside large boundaries.

"If we bowl well there will be opportunities to get wickets and the batsmen have to go at us," Bracken says. "It comes down to executing. If I decide at the top of my mark that I want to bowl a bouncer, I have to get it right. If I make a mistake it's going to cost me."

Fun and frightening: Nathan Bracken and Ricky Ponting have had small tastes of Twenty20 action © Getty Images

Troy Cooley, the team's bowling coach, has watched the format in England and Australia and passed on the message not to get despondent when the best efforts head into orbit. "He told us: 'You bowl where you want to bowl,'" Bracken says. "Just turn around and do it again. If it goes again, it goes again. Eventually, hopefully, the luck is going to change and he's going to nick one."

With a maximum of four overs a contest, the bowlers will be forgiven - maybe even praised - for returning analyses of 0 for 40. Mitchell Johnson expects eight to ten runs every six balls. "It's hard to know because it's all new," he says. "You've got to mix it up, you've got to bowl full, you've got to bowl short, bowl your length ball. Just execute your plans."

Bracken is frightened and excited by Twenty20, but doesn't feel like he's about to step up to the gallows. "I look at it as being fun," he says. "I'm not sitting here thinking: 'This is too hard.' It's daunting, but I'm just glad I don't have to bowl to guys like Hayden."

Before the trip to South Africa Bracken and his team-mates will analyse opponents on their laptops, looking for weak and strong hitting zones. Technology and strategy will be examined thoroughly in an effort to win a stay of execution.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo