Brendon McCullum’s 83 off 65 balls helped Otago Volts beat Faisalabad Wolves in the first qualifying game of the Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2013. His approach was Chris Gayle-like wherein he took his time to get his eye in and then warmed up for a late assault. Nishad Pai Vaidya examines the “wait and watch approach” to T20 batting.
There was always copious daredevilry associated with Brendon McCullum’s batting in T20 cricket. The audacious scoops, the brave sweeps and the slogs across the line left the bowlers and crowds bewildered. Ever since he smashed the memorable 158 not out in the opening game of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008, expectations have been sky high whenever he walked out to the centre. One expected similar fireworks from the word go, and he would often lose his wicket in the process. However, over the years, batsmen have learnt to pace their innings in the shortest format and take their time before the assault.
In the opening game of the Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2013, McCullum showed how one could pace an innings. In many ways, it was similar to the Chris Gayle approach. The big hitting West Indian has mastered the art of batting in a T20 game. Initially, he takes his time and plays within a shell. Later, he gets going with a few big hits and becomes almost unstoppable. The same was McCullum’s plan during the run-chase against the Faisalabad Wolves.
Misbah-ul-Haq’s men did not put up a big total, but the pitch always had a bit for the bowlers. McCullum was helped by the batsmen at the other end — Hamish Rutherford and Derek de Boorder — who took the pressure off him by taking on the bowlers. That allowed McCullum to play himself in and prepare for a later assault. The fact that he scored his first 50 in 49 balls shows how he took his time. The next 33 runs came off only 16 balls as he finished the run-chase in a hurry.
What such exhibitions tell us is that batting in T20 isn’t all about swinging the willow and targeting the boundaries almost every ball. At times, there is a bit of sense that is required while pacing an innings. It requires great patience, the ability to hit big at will and belief in one’s ability. Normally, batsmen succumb to the pressure if they consume too many deliveries early on. That is where the sound temperament and belief comes in. Firstly, to adopt the strategy of the waiting game, the batsman should have the ability to hit out at will and the belief to back it. An ordinary T20 batsman may get bogged down and end up losing his wicket. Also, the longer such aggressive batsmen stay at the wicket, more the danger of them going berserk.
That is not two say that batsmen like Gayle and McCullum would succeed every time they take their time before the final assault. There would be occasions when they would falter and it may backfire on the team’s cause. Thus, when they get off to such slow starts, it is imperative that they capitalise and make up for the lost time. Otherwise, the rest of the batting line-up would be searching for those lost opportunities and it would take its toll on them.
Currently, McCullum leads the run-charts in T20 Internationals and Gayle has the most runs overall in all forms of T20 cricket. They are trend-setters and define batting in the shortest format. It has taken them some time to master the game and redefine their roles. Gayle has been doing it for some time and McCullum has followed suit with his most recent innings — perhaps he may continue to resort to the strategy. It may be a matter of time before the others pick it up and make it a feature in their game. The impressionable youngsters may be the ones who might be encouraged the most.