Phil Salt, Tom Banton show off their credentials at Abu Dhabi T10
Across a weekend of triple-headers, there has been an exhibition of opening batting on display
Across a weekend of triple-headers at the Abu Dhabi T10, there has been an exhibition of opening batting on display. No doubt, the shorter boundaries have helped, especially in a format whereby the risk of losing a wicket is also considerably less.
Nevertheless, it has still required an absolute clinic of hitting. On Saturday, Moeen Ali struck 77* off 23 and Kennar Lewis 65* off 32 for the highest partnership in T10 history, racing to a target of 146 without losing a wicket. Then the Bangla Tigers and the Deccan Gladiators chased down scores of 90 and 95 respectively, with almost half their overs remaining. Hazratullah Zazai, with 46* off 16 and Tom Banton, with 46 off 18, the pick of the bunch.
Phil Salt missed out on Saturday due to a slight knock, but on Sunday he cashed in once again. The Team Abu Dhabi opener carried on his rich run of form with a devastating knock of 63 from 20 deliveries to confirm their spot in the play-offs. Salt's half-century in 15 balls trumped Moeen's 16-ball effort as the fastest of the tournament.
If there was any doubt as to whether the injury could have affected him, Salt erased it instantly. In the first over of the chase, he blasted 21 runs off the five deliveries he faced, clipping away his first and last ball from Nuwan Pradeep to the boundary, and smashing two sixes in between.
In a tournament with some of the biggest names in world cricket, Salt has been one of the standout players. The game he was injured in and the game he missed subsequently have been the only two games that Team Abu Dhabi have lost this season.
Across the seven games he's played, Salt has scored 237 runs at a strike rate of 237. Only Rovman Powell of the Northern Warriors stands above Salt with 267 runs, albeit he has played a game more.
Amongst anyone who has scored at least 100 runs in the Abu Dhabi T10, no batter possesses a better strike rate than Salt. In fact, no one has scored more boundaries than his 17 fours and 21 sixes.
Salt may be the star so far, but he insists that continuously working on the mental side of the game is crucial to his development and he has relished the chance to pick the brains of players like Chris Gayle.
"Something you do when you're playing well is that you pick your areas based on instinct" Salt said. "Chris Gayle, I've chewed his ear off. He's got so many tools that I want to add to my game… The most impressive thing and a few guys have it, is that ruthless mentality that someone like Chris has, in the way he takes the game on.
"If I can just keep tapping into things like that, the biggest improvements to be made and the lessons to be learnt are from those guys, in terms of how they deal with the game upstairs."
Asked where he sees himself across formats domestically and internationally, Salt said: "It's something I used to struggle with, really wanting to get on to the next stage. I still do want it just as bad, but I'm very aware now that the only way to get there is to take it day by day by day. I know that's a really boring answer, but I've found that's the most effective way to improve and not get ahead of myself."
Salt's tale bears a hint of similarity with that of Banton, whose unbeaten 46 against Delhi Bulls included seven fours and two sixes. Two players brimming with talent, with aspirations to regularly represent their country, yet coming to an understanding with their opportunities and their experiences thus far, that ultimately it is something that will find its way, rather than something that can be chased.
Whilst Salt made his international bow in perhaps fortuitous circumstances with three ODIs against Pakistan, Banton was unfortunately part of the England playing group that was forced to isolate before that series.
Banton was the breakout star of 2019 and an England call-up followed - he was part of Eoin Morgan's white-ball set-up for the best part of a year between November 2019 and September 2020 - yet bubble life and quarantine took its toll on him.
A blistering 47-ball century in the T20 Blast against Kent served as a reminder of his ability, but a second-ball duck in the final against the same opposition summed up a somewhat disappointing and challenging year in which he was also released by Kolkata Knight Riders.
"I had quite a big break. For the whole of October, I didn't play any cricket - nothing whatsoever. I just lived a social life and saw a lot of friends and family, which I felt was quite important, and now I feel like I'm enjoying it again," said Banton.
"I'd love to get back in the squad but I'm not going to put too much pressure on myself to be there next year. I just want to enjoy my cricket and I think if you're in that headspace, the rest will take care of itself."
For the pair of them, knowing that Morgan is around, will no doubt add some extra motivation as the Abu Dhabi T10 enters its final week.