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St Lucia elements see teams throw caution to the wind

Batters have looked to hit with the breeze while bowlers try to utilise it in their defence

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Aiden Markram picked a stunning catch to send back Harry Brook in the final over of the chase, England vs South Africa, T20 World Cup 2024, Super Eight, St Lucia, June 21, 2024

Aiden Markram's stunning catch of Harry Brook would have been easier without the wind to contend with  •  ICC/Getty Images

At each of the five T20 World Cup games staged in St Lucia over the past week, there have been two matches going on: one team against the other, and both teams against the wind.
Walk up to Daren Sammy Cricket Ground into the Beausejour Hills and the stiff breeze blowing in from the east is the first thing you notice. It is confirmed by the billowing flags hoisted next to the Party Stand, while players and umpires have their shirts buffeted throughout games. It is not far from the sea and the surrounding hills help to create strong winds with gusts of up to 20mph.
Throughout this leg of the tournament, the breeze has blown diagonally across the ground, from behind the Party Stand on the north-eastern side - which is low and open - and towards the grandstand on the south-western side. Balls hit hard and flat can avoid it but any shot played in the air is liable to be blown one way or the other, and it has played on almost every player's mind.
With the wind blowing diagonally rather than straight across the ground, and three different strips used, there have been a number of subplots in these five games. In the first two, the breeze went towards the shorter boundary: bowlers tried to get hit towards the bigger side, and batters used their feet to create an angle that would allow them to hit with the wind.
In the next two, the wind blew towards the bigger side, but the ends seemed to have more of an impact: in England's win over West Indies, Phil Salt scored 27 off 22 balls at one end, while the breeze was coming towards him, and 60 off 25 at the other when it seemed to help straight shots carry over the rope.
And on Friday, the first 10.30am start of the St Lucia leg, the wind seemed to be even stronger. On a fresh, central strip, the dimensions were relatively even - one square boundary measured 66 metres, the other 69 metres - and both South Africa and England made their plans accordingly: with the bat, use the breeze to attack; with the ball, use it as a defensive weapon.
It has even influenced England's team selection: they have changed the balance of their side since the start of the tournament, with Sam Curran replacing Will Jacks to provide both an extra seam-bowling option and another left-handed batter. "It gives us another option for the left-hand/right-hand combination, to try and have somebody hitting with the wind," Jos Buttler said.
It was clear in England's bowling innings that they were trying to use it to their advantage, often bowling straight to a batter at one end and then hanging the ball wide at the other. "The wind's been playing a big part in all the games," Buttler said. "It was just a simple plan to try and get people to hit into the wind as opposed to with it."
The game's costliest overs - which went for 21 runs each - were both influenced heavily by it. In South Africa's powerplay, England posted two leg-side boundary-riders when Jofra Archer bowled to Quinton de Kock and he used the breeze to flick a ball at his hip over Reece Topley's head at long leg and pull another over midwicket. It brought an over-correction to a shorter length, which de Kock was alert enough to uppercut for four.
"Wind's definitely a big factor, especially opening the batting when you've only got two guys out," de Kock said. "You've got to use that wind as much as you can: don't fight it, just try and use it. But I think it's going to be like that [for] the whole of the rest of the World Cup when wind definitely plays a big factor."
When South Africa bowled at the death, Ottneil Baartman's plan to bowl in the blockhole seemingly failed to account for the wind blowing behind him: he attempted five yorkers, and the breeze helped ensure that all five were full tosses. Three of them were hit for four and another for six.
Some batters have used it much better than others. David Miller went with the wind to hit two short-side boundaries off Mark Wood in the 16th over, and to swing Archer over square leg for six. Moeen Ali, by contrast, picked out a leg-side boundary-rider while hitting into the breeze for the second match in succession.
Fittingly, the game's decisive moment was elevated by the wind. With 14 required off the last over and Harry Brook on strike, England were well placed as he tried to loft Anrich Nortje over mid-off. It was a percentage option to a slot ball, his poor connection flying away with the breeze and out of Aiden Markram's reach.
But Markram back-pedalled and took a superb diving effort, correctly judging the ball's trajectory after spending 19 overs in the field working out just how vital the wind was. "I don't think the TV does it justice," de Kock said. "There was a massive left-to-right wind from my direction - maybe like 40-50kph.
"It's not that the ball's just getting pushed, but also getting moved that way and he actually turned on the inside, so the ball's always moving towards the boundary. Credit to Aiden. Everybody takes high catches but he practises those catches all the time… he won us a moment in the game today."
Ahead of the final game on this beautiful island on Monday, Australia and India should take note. There is nothing they can do to change the winds: it is a question of how they should adjust their sails to reach their destination.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98