World Twenty20: Preview

Turn it up to ten

Twenty20 may be derided as a bit of a lark, but it'll be merciless on players who aren't switched on all the time and at the top of their game in every department

Daryll Cullinan

September 11, 2007

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For bowlers, the "hero or zero" scenario can make success sweeter than ever before © Getty Images

It struck me as I read thoughts and opinions about Twenty20 this week that the world of cricket is yet to discover the place for the new version. Only 16 international matches have been played. Clear-cut gameplans have not yet evolved, and no one is really sure how to approach the format. Some players have gained more domestic experience than others. Some see it as cricket on steroids and entertainment-driven, while others believe there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.

A couple of things are a given, however. Bowlers are certain of trouble and of essentially having to get through four overs of damage control. They will, for a two-week period, be bowling machines, set up on placid pitches, and given not too much leeway. Some may consider eight to 10 runs conceded per over a job well done. Many will simply have the attitude of "Cross your fingers and hope for the best". Batsmen will determine their fate and humiliation in a manner which the game has never seen before. If the weather and the pitches are good, bowlers will die a thousand deaths.

For batsmen and spectators the tournament will produce some of the most thrilling and spectacular big hitting the game has ever seen.

While some players may have mixed feelings about it all, their competitive instincts and pride will take over once the first ball is bowled. Every team will want to win this World Cup, and in this two-week period ideas, whether radical or conservative, will be developed or dumped in an effort to achieve this end. Teams will not approach this World Cup blindly; each will have gameplans in place, built around their squad's strengths and weaknesses.

In cricket, because of its very nature, the best-laid plans more often go wrong than right. Cricket is not an exact science and with so many variables to it, there is a school of thought that this format of the game should be only played instinctively; that Twenty20 is cricket at its ugliest and merely a power spectacle, where chance is the biggest deciding factor.

Judging by the warm-up games it is extremely difficult to pick a winner. Chance will possibly open the door for some less fancied teams. But is this all there is to this format of the game?

Twenty20 will judge cricketers' execution of their strategies, tactics and skills like never before. It is not a game for the faint-hearted, and those with nothing but total belief and mental strength will be punished

Having played and captained in this format of the game and commentated on it for the last couple of seasons in South African domestic cricket, I believe there is more to Twenty20. It will judge cricketers' execution of their strategies, tactics and skills like never before. It is not a game for the faint-hearted, and those with nothing but total belief and mental strength will be punished. This is where bowlers can come into their own, and in this "hero or zero" scenario, success for them will be sweeter than ever before. For batsmen, big hitting is expected, and this brings its own pressures and expectations. Due to time restrictions captains can lose a game due to one bad tactical error, either in their choice of bowlers or field placings.

What we have seen out in South Africa is how effective the new ball can be. Opening spells of four overs for both new-ball bowlers has become the norm. Swing is a great advantage. Wickets upfront are critical, for once teams fall behind there is no time for comebacks. This is what can really bring less fancied teams into this tournament: all it requires is some poor shot selection and even just one bowler to have a great game for an upset to be a strong possibility.

In terms of individuals the top five in the batting line-up are crucial. Look no further in terms of who are potentially going to be your top run-scorers. From a bowling perspective the opening pair is the critical decision for captains. Don't underestimate the importance of spinners. One of the best bowlers in last season's domestic Pro20 was Lions offspinner Werner Coetzee, who possesses a very effective yorker from around the wicket. Fielding will also be highlighted like never before, and as we have seen out here, boundary riders and good throwing arms can win game on their own.

It is extremely difficult to forecast a clear favourite and ultimate winner. It may very well be one of the top international sides, but we will certainly see upsets. And with games down in the Cape, there is the very real possibility of bowl-outs deciding matches.

Former South Africa batsman Daryll Cullinan is currently a cricket commentator

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Daryll Cullinan Cullinan was the mainstay of the South Africa’n batting for much of the 1990s, and though much is made of his failure against Shane Warne, he was equally proficient against pace and spin, as borne out by his centuries on turning wickets at Galle and Kolkata. His international career ended over a dispute about his contract with the South African cricket board, but by then Cullian, who was hailed as the new Graeme Pollock in his school days, had done enough to be regarded as one of the best batsmen of his times. He currently divides his time between coaching, television commentary and running his own technology business.
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