Long boundaries, fast tracks, overcast conditions and new ICC rules make it a connoisseur’s delight.
Bilal Ahsan Dar
The eighth edition of the T20 World cup is almost at halfway stage. The air is thick with excitement.
While the 2021 edition broke all the previous records of viewership with Indo-Pak clash clocking a record reach of 167 million people , this year started off with an upset followed by a few more and, of course, some thrilling duels as well.
There is an added excitement in the matches because of the conditions Down Under which probably have caught teams by surprise and pushed them to sit back and reassess their planning. Moreover, the ICC amendments in a few rules of the game that came into effect from October 1 have also started to define the outcomes.
It is not that the fans always love to see sixes and fours being blasted all over the park. A genuine cricket fan would always like to see an even contest between the bat and the ball, irrespective of the format. On that count, this world cup has offered some exciting cricket so far. There has been a vital difference in the quality of cricket in this world cup compared to the overall quality of cricket that this format offers, probably because of some notable differences from the conditions we normally have in T20 games worldwide.
T20 pitches are generally a graveyard for bowlers. When we talk about Asian conditions, the pitches have hardly anything to offer for the bowlers. Therefore we get to see high scoring games with batsmen having all the advantage. For a connoisseur, with all those sixes and fours, it gets as boring and predictable as it can. But here we are, in Australia, the pitches at all venues have a different character. Perth and Brisbane are out-and-out fast bowling tracks while MCG, SCG and Adelaide Oval tracks are known to assist spinners. That’s where the bowlers come into play to test batsmen’s skills. The average score of a T20 game is about 155-165 and if you score 45-50 runs without losing a wicket or, even for the loss of one wicket in the powerplay, you have done well.
The life in the pitches has made it difficult for the batters in the powerplay. In fact, teams have scored 42% of runs in their first ten overs and 58% in the last ten. Powerplay batting is one of the crucial aspects of this format that defines the impact and intent of the batting side. Owing to that extra bit of help to the bowlers, all teams have struggled to set the tone upfront. Even teams like India and England which follow a certain template to go all guns blazing from ball one too have opted to be circumspect. India’s powerplay scores in Perth and Melbourne are 33/2 and 31/3 respectively and that of England 40/1 and 37/3 in their two games so far.
Again, in a highly tactical format where teams try to squeeze out small advantages wherever they can, a substantial variation in the size of the boundaries has a big impact on how a T20 game plays out, and often, in determining its outcome. The Melbourne Cricket Ground in Australia has the largest square boundary, measuring 86.23m. In India, Kolkata’s Eden Gardens has the largest square boundary at 66.26m.The Sydney Cricket Ground in Australia has been recorded to have the largest straight boundary size at 93.72m. In India, Kolkata’s Eden Gardens takes the honours again at 76.23m.Eden Park in New Zealand has the record for the shortest straight boundary size at 55m. The Wanderers in Johannesburg, South Africa has the shortest square boundary at 64m.In India, the Arun Jaitley Stadium – formerly known as the Feroze Shah Kotla – in Delhi has the shortest straight and square boundaries. The straight boundary at the ground is 60m, while the square boundary measures 56m. This marked difference in the boundary size in Australia and the rest of the world has also been a factor in this world cup, not allowing the batters to just rely on the boundary shots but also put in hard yards in running between the wickets. Rarely a mistimed shot clears the fence and, therefore, you need to hit hard and clean to get the desired result.
The World Cup is happening early in the season than what the routine cricket season in Australia is, which is post-November. Therefore, rains and wet conditions are pretty much on the expected lines. There have already been games affected and washed out. In fact, the Ireland upset against England was largely the result of a rain-affected game. Similarly, the all-important game between Australia and England was washed out. While rains are part of this season Down Under, the fallout could’ve been better managed, though.
That said, again the rain assists the bowlers. While the true bounce of a dry pitch normally helps the batsman, the dampness means a soft surface that won’t be offering a true bounce but lateral movement for the pacers and some turn for the spinners as well.
The prevailing wisdom in the early years of the T20 cricket was to bat first after winning the toss and set a target for the bowlers to defend. However, the trend has reversed from 2017 with teams preferring to bowl first and chase as in 62% of the matches teams preferred chasing from 2017. In the subcontinent, it was more because of the dew factor that comes into the play in the second innings, helping the batting side. However, this world cup hasn’t seen toss impacting the results of the matches which means an uncontrollable factor that plays a role in determining the outcome of a match is rendered powerless or with almost negligible effect. Therefore the result is determined largely by planning and the quality of cricket that you play.
New ICC Rules
The ICC announced a number of changes due to the playing conditions that came into effect from October 1. In a format of small margins, these changes have started to become match defining moments in this world cup. For instance, in the Pakistan vs Zimbabwe match when Pakistan needed 3 runs of two balls, Nawaz hit a shot in the air. He was caught and the batsmen had crossed over which, as per the older rules, meant Waseem Jr. was on strike and one would have banked more on him than on Shaheen Afridi.
The failure of a fielding side to bowl their overs by the scheduled cessation time leads to an additional fielder having to be brought inside the fielding circle for the remaining overs of the innings, which is a significant penalty that can even decide games. As most of the teams are playing with four fast bowlers, captains have to keep an eye on the clock all the time. We saw in Asia cup that there were a couple of matches where it impacted the results. However, teams have started adapting to it.
Bilal Ahsan Dar is a blogger and cricket buff.