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Stats Analysis

Lessons from the IPL - how will the UAE pitches play out at the T20 World Cup?

What are the peculiarities of the three venues, and what should the teams do, at each of them, if they win the toss?

The pitches in the UAE, pretty much all of them, have been used much more than usual since the pandemic started  •  BCCI

The pitches in the UAE, pretty much all of them, have been used much more than usual since the pandemic started  •  BCCI

The Super 12s onwards, all the T20 World Cup matches are going to be played across the three venues - Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah - in the UAE. Here's a look at what we can expect there.
The pitches in Sharjah were relaid just before the UAE leg of IPL 2021 began, and the venue was no longer the batting paradise of the past. In the 2020 edition, teams hit a six every 12 balls, but in 2021, that number was 23. In all, only 98 sixes were hit in ten IPL matches in 2021. On these slow pitches, the bowlers who varied their pace had more success, and while seamers and spinners registered similar economy rates - 6.92 and 6.79 respectively - the pace bowlers had better strike rates, taking a wicket every 17 balls compared to 22 for spinners.
New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and England play two games each in Sharjah in the Super 12s. If the pitches behave the same way as at the IPL, then Pakistan and South Africa have the squads to make the best use of these conditions. Both teams could look to play three spinners, and their batting line-ups, not necessarily brimming with power-hitters, could breathe easy as par scores will be in the range of 140-160 rather than 180-200.
The pitches in Dubai have not changed much over the last couple of years. Some pitches have been slow while a few have helped pacers. The average score has been in the range of 150-160 over the last two seasons of the IPL. The seamers have been more successful here, conceding 27 runs per wicket, compared to 32 for the spinners. Teams will likely look to play three fast bowlers in Dubai, including at least one with extreme pace (if they have the luxury of having one in their squad).
Another factor that makes a difference in Dubai is the location of the pitch. The pitches on the edge of the square have short boundaries on one side, making it a tactical battle for batters and bowlers. Most of the strategies in Dubai revolve around having a left-right pair at the crease to target the specific boundary, while the bowling teams need to figure out the right end for the spinners to bowl from. India are scheduled to play four matches in Dubai, and their players could benefit from the familiarity of playing here during the IPL. Depending on the pitch, they have multiple options in their squad to leverage what could be good batting and pace-bowling conditions.
Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi is the venue that is most likely to witness high scores this World Cup. The conditions are generally excellent for batting, but because the boundaries are the biggest among the three venues, the bowlers are also in play. There isn't much help for spinners here: they average 33 runs per wicket while the pace bowlers average 29.
The presence of a lot of dew in the evening means that the afternoon games could be very different to the evening games here, in terms of the way they play out. There have been several instances of dew in Abu Dhabi making it easier for teams to chase down high totals at night. Australia and West Indies play two games here while Afghanistan play three, out of which two are in the afternoon. Given the conditions, there doesn't seem to be any major advantage for any team playing here.
Win toss, field first, win match
The World Cup is being held in the months of October and November when the weather starts cooling down in the UAE. The numbers from IPL 2020 - a tournament that was played from September to November - presents an interesting tale of two halves. In the first half, when conditions were hotter and there was less dew, the teams batting first won 77% of the matches. In the second half - which is when the World Cup is being played this year - the numbers flipped around, with the team chasing winning 77% of the matches. The numbers were more skewed in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah: the teams chasing won 15 out of the 18 matches at those venues.

Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo