September 18, 2007

Two runs a ball, please

Batsmen are under pressure to score fast in twenty20

Two per: Justin Kemp and Herschelle Gibbs careened along at 12 an over all through their century partnership against West Indies © Getty Images

International cricket has entered a new age this month. For 35 years batsmen have felt pretty pleased with themselves if they were scoring at a run a ball. That gets you to 300 in a 50-over match, which is usually a winning total. But in a 20-over match, it only gets you to 120, which has "losers" written all over it. The target now has to be two runs a ball.

Think of the best innings played so far in the World Twenty20. Chris Gayle smashed 117 off 57 balls against South Africa. Mohammad Ashraful biffed 61 off 27 to knock out West Indies. Albie Morkel slugged 43 off 20 to see off England. Kevin Pietersen carved 79 off 37 to bring Zimbabwe down to earth.

The point applies to partnerships too. Craig McMillan and Jacob Oram added 73 off 5.2 overs against India; Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir thumped 76 off 5.5 overs at the start of India's reply. Last night Younis Khan and Shoaib Malik almost managed two runs a ball all through a majestic century partnership against Sri Lanka, adding 101 off 9.1 overs. Before this tournament there had only ever been two century partnerships in Twenty20 internationals; now there have been eight, including one, by Herschelle Gibbs and Justin Kemp against West Indies, that achieved the holy grail - rattling along at 12 an over.

Some players have decided that even two runs a ball is not enough. Shahid Afridi belted 22 off seven balls against Scotland. Jetan Mubarak of Sri Lanka walloped 46 off 13 against Kenya. Dwayne Smith of West Indies blasted 29 off seven against Bangladesh, so he was averaging four runs a ball.

When you think about it, even two runs a ball is phenomenal. It means that every dot has to be balanced by a four. It probably means hitting more sixes than fours. It means if you play yourself in, you have to pick up singles while doing so, and then you have to go at three runs per ball to make up for it. It means a typical over might go like this: one dot, two singles, one two and two fours. Hit a six and it becomes slightly easier: you can collect your 12 with one six, one four, two singles and two dots.

The myth that Twenty20 is a batsman's game has surely been exploded now. The batsmen are under intense pressure all the time. The bowlers are only under pressure when they are halfway through an over that has already gone for plenty. They can concede seven an over without anyone noticing, let alone minding. They only have to bowl four overs. And they can turn a match in the space of a couple of balls, whereas batsmen - as ever - have to keep it up for longer. The bowlers' strike-rates have changed even more dramatically than the batters': Daniel Vettori has taken a wicket every nine balls, and Elton Chigumbura went home with as many wickets under his belt as overs - seven in seven.

As always, a batsman who can score fast while staying in is a match-winner. Mahela Jayawardene and Matthew Hayden both scored at pace in the early games without taking big risks, making 100 and 144 respectively for once out each. Sanath Jayasuriya hammered 88 and 61 in his first two knocks. You don't have to be old to be this good, but it helps.

The myth that Twenty20 is a batsman's game has surely been exploded now. The batters are under intense pressure all the time. The bowlers are only under pressure when they are halfway through an over that has already gone for plenty

Steaming along at two per ball doesn't guarantee victory, as Sehwag and Gambhir, among others, have discovered. But if you can stop your opponents doing so, you'll probably beat them. These are liberties that are fiendishly hard to take against Australia. The fastest partnership of more than 20 against them so far has been by Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff of England, who added 24 off 16 balls. The only pair to add 50 against the Aussies has been Zimbabwe's Brendan Taylor and Hamilton Masakadza, with 53 off 46 balls - sedate, but effective, because the Aussie batting had suffered a rare collapse.

In this new world, 15 off eight is a good innings, and 15 off 20 is a bad one. One consequence of this is that the fans need to know the number of balls faced all the time. Television is good at sharing this information with us; websites like this one are superb at it; radio is not great, and newspapers, at least here in the UK, are hopeless. The three morning papers I get are all covering the tournament with their usual flair, but their scorecards are straight from the 19th century.

Another consequence is that fielding captains need to think harder about whether they really want a wicket. England had no chance at all against South Africa while poor Jeremy Snape was playing air shots at No 7. By taking the catch he eventually offered, AB de Villiers gave England a sniff of getting off a hook of their own making. Snape, whose strike-rate was 63, gave way to Dimitri Mascarenhas, who, despite being under even heavier pressure, managed 166.

Sometimes the fielding side amuse themselves by telling a batsman they're better off not getting him out. In Twenty20 it may well be true.

Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden. His book Young Wisden: A New Fan's Guide to Cricket is published on October 1 by A&C Black. His website is

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Martin on September 21, 2007, 0:33 GMT

    I do not believe the pressure is predominantly on the batsmen in 20-20, but rather on the captain and the fielders. While many people may be scratching their heads saying "Fielders, when did they start to matter?", but it's true. While in test or even one days, even if you drop a batsman, you've got the rest of the innings to atone for your mistakes. 20-20, you don't have that time. The captain has the weight of the world on his shoulders for the same reason: if he shifts the field and opens a lane for the batsman to strike at, that can tilt the balance of the match entirely. While the batsmen do have a difficult task in managing the run rates in 20-20, no batting effort can win a match if the fielders give up 15 runs an over.

  • Subramanian on September 19, 2007, 8:29 GMT

    Some times it happens that instead of giving a single, the fielders give two runs so that the hard hitting batsman do not get the strike. Similarly a wide also helps. If the umpire does not catch you, you get away with a marginally wider delivery.

  • BF on September 19, 2007, 8:08 GMT

    20-20 cricket, in my opinion, creates opportunities for both the batsman and the bowler. It is NOT a batsman's game. In fact, in this format, the BATSMAN IS EVEN MORE VULNERABLE. This is because he is trying to play a shot almost every single ball, and it takes ONLY ONE MIS-HIT FROM THE BATSMAN to get his wicket.

    I would really like to add a comment: I sooo wish I could see bowlers like Jeff Thomson, Malcolm Marshall, or Michael Holding in this 20-20 tournament! It would be such an awesome contest between bowlers like them and the big hitting 20-20 batsmen of today!!!

  • Arindam on September 18, 2007, 22:15 GMT

    No pressure on the bowlers at all. Batsmen have no time to settle, no time to go defensive after fall of a wicket, no chance to judge a ball and leave. The number of dismissals due to 'mishit' proves it all.

  • Ghafran on September 18, 2007, 15:57 GMT

    Forget what the purists think - get rid of Test and 50 over cricket. The teams are so closely matched and the matches are fascinating. You will see more upsets in Twenty 20 than any other cricketing format. Twenty 20 is the way forward.

  • Ajay on September 18, 2007, 15:30 GMT

    I don't agree with that since there are 11 persons looking to hit any bowler out of the ground on each bowl and certainly this approach creates more pressure on bowlers as compared to batsmen. And we can see that the bowlers are getting smashed to every part of ground and the average for most of them is above 7, this clearly indicates how much pressure they are in to get even two dot balls even if they have more oppurtunities to get the batsmen out still the pressure clearly shows. They are confined not only to two balls but also to get wickets else there is no meaning behind getting two dots and four sixes. If it would have been so that the batsmen would have been under so much pressure, we couldn't have seen the matches with such high runrates infact even sometimes loosing the wickets early but still getting the score to 180+.

    So it clearly states that the pressure on the bowlers is much higher as compared to batsmen.

  • Sri on September 18, 2007, 14:52 GMT

    Just to make this concept a little more interesting, and to pile on more pressure on the batsmen, I think that a new method of dismissal in this form of game should be seriously considered. In addition to the tally of balls faced and runs scored, there should be a counter of number of dot balls faced. A batsman should be allowed a maximum of 25 dot balls, say, after which he is automatically declared out - slow. We'll leave it to the class of the batsman to make 10 runs or 100 before he gets to the 25 dot ball mark.

  • Saurabh on September 18, 2007, 9:41 GMT

    Well, before the T20 WC began a lot of people felt that this would be a graveyard for the bowlers but a week into the tournament the prophecy is yet to come true. In fact, if anything the bowlers have been the heroes. And, honestly I am not surprised because if one looks closely the format challenges the batsmen more than the bowlers. For one, there are only 20 overs which means that the batsmen have virtually no time to settle, they must score at least a run a ball and preferably more. The bowlers on the other hand can get away with a 7-8 run an over rate and always have the chance to pick wickets with the batsmen taking risks. So, in short its the batters who need to make all the moves and face constant pressure.

  • Sun-Ki on September 18, 2007, 8:30 GMT

    You point out one painful aspect of Twenty20 - a batsman who scores too slowly, even for a few overs, can ruin his team's innings. It is a perverse situation because the slower he bats, the longer he is likely to stay in there and the more damage he can do to his team. Because of this, I think it is important to give captains the ability to remove a batsman without waiting for him to get himself out. Such a batsman could return if/when the rest of team has batted around. "Retired captain's discretion" might be an embarrassment for the player in question, but it is no worse than being substituted mid-match in any other sport.

  • Vijay on September 18, 2007, 8:28 GMT

    Yes, absolutaly. It was belived that this shorter version of game will put immense pressure on bowlers, but what we can see that batsmen are under more pressure than bowlers. They not only have to score runs at a brisk rate but also have to keep their wicket intact.

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