October 19, 2012

T20 is for the thinking cricketer

Bowlers have adapted to the format, which means batsmen can't rely on mindless slogging anymore

Something beautiful is happening to T20 cricket. Both in Sri Lanka, and now in South Africa, bowlers are making a strong comeback. They are saying they never went away, that they were just forced by pitches and boundary distances to take a little detour. Fast bowlers and spinners are back in demand, and those that do just a bit of this and a little bit of that are getting the sporting equivalent of pink slips.

It is my hypothesis, and it is worth a debate, that bowlers have become more versatile. Like with all aspects of civilisation, adversity has forced them to become more inventive. So fast bowlers have the yorker aimed at the base of leg stump, but they also have the one that kisses the tramline on the off side; they have the back-of-the-hand slower ball and the fastish offbreak; they have the sharp bouncer and the loopy one. With the batsmen coming hard, the bowlers have had to innovate, and as a result, the thinking bowlers are surviving.

Bowlers who can only ping the ball at the base of leg stump are getting paddle-swept. If they show their hand early, they are getting reverse-swept. If they don't turn the ball, they are being hit through the line, and when facing modern bats, if you don't beat the batsman in the air, the ball is going 90 metres away. T20 is forcing bowlers to acquire many variations. The format might seem like a brash young kid, bred on modern lifestyles, but it is rewarding old virtues again.

As a result, batsmen have a challenge on their hands. The mindless sloggers are looking a bit stupid. Playing yourself in, even if by a T20 definition, is proving to be a good investment. Mahela Jayawardene is one of the world's top batsmen in this genre, and Neil McKenzie showed how a cultured chase is possible when the Lions played the Mumbai Indians. Yes, you still need to have quaint flicks, you should still be able to clear the boundary from time to time, but the bullies with the big bats who threatened to hijack cricket are discovering there is fight left in the old game. Even Chris Gayle is giving the first two overs to the bowler. Why, that's 10% of the innings, not too different from when Sunil Gavaskar used to say "Give the first hour to the bowlers", for that was only a little more than 15% of the day.

It means thinking cricketers will be increasingly rewarded; that even T20 will not only be about knowing how to bat or bowl but about being aware of what to do in specific situations, and about finding solutions - which is what good cricketers in Test cricket have always had to do.

While in Colombo a couple of weeks ago, I found myself at the same breakfast table as Graham Gooch (and luckily neither of us needed to rush away somewhere). Gooch said, among other interesting things, that his job as batting coach was not to teach players to bat but to show them how to score runs. It is a fine and welcome difference, for conditions might change (Colombo and Johannesburg have demanded different things, even over 20 overs) and bowlers might too but you still have to score runs against them. You can't unless you are thinking and adapting all the time.

The increasing importance of bowling, even in T20 cricket, has implications for Indian cricket and for its batting. If domestic cricket doesn't produce quality thinking bowlers, it cannot produce quality thinking batsmen, because it is the intensity of the contest that sharpens skills. In a sense, if Indian batsmen are found out overseas, it is because they are not being found out earlier by Indian bowlers. MS Dhoni doesn't need to play seven batsmen in T20 cricket, but he does because he doesn't trust his five bowlers.

It has long been my thesis that Indian coaches have let Indian cricket down by not challenging their wards to think, by merely telling them what to do. With 27 teams, even 15 in the elite group of the Ranji Trophy, India should, by a conservative estimate, routinely produce seven to eight spinners and an equal number of seamers. The selectors should have a mighty headache caused by the overwhelming choice available. Good systems produce those choices. India are currently producing cricketers who are hitting road blocks, even in T20. By contrast, Australia had 11 fast bowlers at the Champions League, and they still had Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and Ryan Harris back home. The Titans - without AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and the Morkel brothers - still put a very competitive team on the park.

For India to become a T20 power - and the message from Sri Lanka and South Africa is that it isn't at the moment - it needs to produce many more skilled, thinking cricketers (rather than merely rich ones) than it does now. It means coaching has to adapt, conditions have to vary and the contests have to be tighter.

That may happen or it may not, but the message from T20 cricket is clear. The game is demanding versatile, thinking, athletic cricketers.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on October 22, 2012, 21:52 GMT

    Long live t20. Long live IPL.

  • Dummy4 on October 22, 2012, 19:36 GMT

    Good article by Harsha. For me T20 is all about Fitness and Quickness - Physically and mentally. Batsmen Should learn to score runs in every type of the delivery they face and bowlers should try to oversmart the batsmen. This is where youngsters paly an important role. This is a game of innovative players like AB Dvilliers and Sunil narine.160@20overs with 10wkets in hand, looks very easy to get, but how many occssions teams crossed that mark in ICC WC ? I beleive Cricket is getting better because of T20,as this format showcases innovation in batting, bowling and fielding. its not a bad idea to build a young team india for this format as the indians are less athletic after they cross 30's - unlike the australians or westindians. but I also beleive that, if BCCI is not willing put their money on preparing bouncy tracks in india, indian cricket wont be able to survive for long - in any format. Perhaps building a young team for T20 is easy for them... Alaas ... This is Inida..

  • Feroz on October 21, 2012, 2:56 GMT

    Nice Article Harsha, I never remember Harsha ever complimenting the cricketing talent from India. Agree India cannot produce very quick or express fast bowlers however we have produced some of the world's best batsman name it Vishwanath, Gavaskar, Sachin, Dravid the list is never ending and an allrounder like Kapil. India cannot produce very quick fast bowlers b'coz of the kind of pitches provided which don't help fast bowlers. So just bowling quick does not help. At a certain stage Harsha discusses Dhoni who always plays 7 batsman, thats nothing to do with the talent, it's just that he is a defensive captain and probably would play 10 batsman if he could and be the 11th bowler himself.

  • Ashok on October 21, 2012, 0:45 GMT

    @McGorium:Harsha's article is his point of view. No one can elevate the game from what it is by expressing their POVs!. The game can be elevated to any standard by the participating players' performance - mediocre or high. The game betwn Mumbai & Chennai today showed the high standard of cricket. The wicket was fast & gave the batsmen & bowlers equal chances. Brilliant outfielding & catching was evident. Poor bowling was punished & strong batting showed up. Some of the attributes mentioned in his article were evident. The "Luck" factor that you mentioned only came into play by outstanding catches of Vijay & Raina. Also luck is needed in any format of the game. Your simili of Tiger hunting to T 20 is misguided Sir,that is if you ever did the tiger hunting yourself on one to one. T20, when played at its best, is a real battle between the Willow & the leather. This is Not merely a bang-bang game but involves intelligent hitting. This is what Harsha is trying to bring out in his write up.

  • Arun on October 20, 2012, 19:44 GMT

    Addendum, lest I be misunderstood: I must add that ODI are increasingly being played on flat wickets too, and I don't consider ODI's to be that friendly to bowlers either. The games in Sharjah or lately in India are case in point. Nevertheless, the length of the game does obviate the luck factor, and does bring in some bowler skill, even if the odds are somewhat stacked against them. There was a time when the ball spun in ODI's in India, and there was some seam/swing in the pitch when ODIs were played in England or Australia. T20 is worse in that it takes out reverse swing (although the new ODI two-new-balls rule appears to do that too), and even spin as the ball isn't really old enough for spinners. The ball is hard, and shot-making is easier. Bowlers adapt because they must. That doesn't take away from the fact that the odds are stacked against them.

  • Arun on October 20, 2012, 19:02 GMT

    I find Harsha's columns on T20 pointless. It appears that he's desperately trying to elevate T20 to the same status as tests or ODIs. *Every* sport requires some amount of thought; even track and field, which appears mindless to some requires strategy, thought, planning, and execution. The frequent criticisms leveled against T20(which hasn't been addressed here)is that the "luck" factor plays too much of a role, and that it requires only mediocre, one-dimensional play. You seldom see T20 played on a green-top or dust bowl; when it happens, there are howls of protest. That, in itself is suggestive of what T20 is intended to be: a spectacle of 4's and 6's. If stumps fly in the process, that's a bonus, but a scoreline of 190/2 vs. 189/3 will be hailed as a great T20 game. T20 is as much a sport as a posse hunting a tiger with a rifle. Sure, you need tracking skills, and there's a tiny chance of getting eaten, but the odds are stacked against the creature at the wrong end of the barrel.

  • Dummy4 on October 20, 2012, 15:23 GMT

    So much for T20 being a thinking cricketers game :V . not many thinking cricketers in these IPl teams as 3 of the 4 IPL teams r already out of the farce 'champions' league,. This just validates the fact that @ least 2 of them should not be there or at the very least should have played in the qualifiers to be there. hopefully since Chennai Mumbai & Kolkata only have dead rubbers left the varios boards will be smart enough to recall their players for a few days more to rest & prepare for real cricket. It would be a real funny shame if any of Ghambir Narine, Dhoni, Kulasekara , Harbajan , Ohja, Ashin , Hussey, Hilfenhaus, Kallis Mccullum Shakib, Vijay, Raina Sharma Johnson Or God forbid Tendulkar get injured playing games which were pointless from the beginning but are even more so now

  • vikram on October 20, 2012, 14:44 GMT

    i don't think bowling standards are radically moved higher but it is more due to more bowling friendly conditions (altogether more spin friendly in srilanka and now more pace friendly in SA) and another factor is bowling of relatively unknown bowlers in champions league.........

  • a on October 20, 2012, 12:06 GMT

    Boring blogging about senseless slogging

  • Andrew on October 20, 2012, 2:55 GMT

    @Nampally on (October 19 2012, 20:58 PM GMT) - at times the SCG is one of the least pace friendly pitches in Oz - yet atm, NSW have got Bollinger, Hazlewood, Cummins & Starc on their roster!

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