It’s said that the slam-bang T20 version of cricket has an unpredictable ebb and flow to the momentum. The fate of a side can be decided in a small passage of play, making it difficult for comebacks. But the brief history of T20 cricket is replete with examples of batsmen who have turned the game on its head within minutes. Surprisingly, there are many captains who still fail to productively use their game-changing trump card at the opportune time and pay the price by losing the match.
In a format where a game changes in a matter of over or two, the captain is expected to be quick in his thinking and execution. This is probably the reason why some of the international teams have players as captains who may not be able to find a place in the Test side.
Let us start with the game-changing batsmen such as Kieron Pollard, Yusuf Pathan and Albie Morkel. They are perhaps the most feared T20 batsmen down the order - men their teams look up to in SOS situations or in the slog-phase. There is a high degree of risk in their methodology, but one which can change the fortunes if effective. It’s a gamble that captains have taken and spectacularly got the desired result, and the crowd the kind of pyrotechnics for which they paid good money.
There is a school of thought which, with good reason, believes that the most destructive players must get to bat as many overs as possible in the shortest format of the game. Going by that logic, it does make eminent sense to allow the likes of Yusuf Pathan, Alibe Morkel and Kieron Pollard to bat lot higher than they have. A number of times they have shown that when they had time in the middle they have been able to inflict greater damage on the opposition. Instead of going bang-bang from the word go, they get the luxury of affording a few sighters before going ballistic.
Pathan has often been stereotyped as a crazy hitter, but when the chips are down one can back him to come good and break the shackles with some fantastic hitting. Take his two One-Day International (ODI) hundreds as examples. His maiden hundred came against New Zealand at Bangalore. Chasing 316, India were in trouble at 108 for four in the 20th over when Pathan walked in. He then started smashing the ball to all parts of the ground and took India home. He ultimately finished with 123 off only 96 balls.
Pathan’s second hundred was even more spectacular. He almost pulled a rabbit out of the hat against South Africa at Centurion in January 2011. Chasing 268 in 46 overs, India stumbled to 119 for eight, with Pathan as the last recognised batsman in the middle. What followed was total carnage as he bludgeoned eight sixes and eight fours. Zaheer Khan held on at the other end and India started believing in the impossible. South Africa were nervous as he was smashing their bowlers at will. Ultimately he fell with India 49 away from the target and the Proteas sealed the deal.
Although these knocks came in the one-day format, they do illustrate the value such players can provide once they have time in the middle. Usually they get that breathing space when wickets fall in quick succession and they have to walk in earlier than expected. In fact, Pathan’s only T20 hundred also came when the Rajasthan Royals had lost early wickets against Mumbai Indians.
Kieron Pollard’s knock in the washed-out encounter against Yorkshire is yet another example of what he can do when he has a number of deliveries to face.
Compared to the batting department, handling game-changing bowlers seems to be an easier task. There is always a dilemma when one thinks of promoting the likes of Pollard, Morkel or a Pathan. However, when one has to use a Lasith Malinga or a Sunil Narine to provide a breakthrough, captains have no hesitation in turning to them. There may be the odd occasion when they are brought in too late, but more often than not captains have handled them well.
Malinga is the kind of a bowler who not only gets the breakthroughs but also stem the flow of runs. Bowling him upfront is imperative; he is irreplaceable there. However, it becomes a bit tricky after the 10th over. Usually, he is introduced when a partnership is building and a wicket is the need of the hour. On the other hand, there is always a question as to how many Malinga overs should one preserve to counter the end overs assault. All those calculations have to be made in accordance with the situation.
Using Narine is trickier as the captain wouldn’t want to bring him on too early nor would he want to leave him too late. The dilemma heightens when the captain has to defend a lowish total. Timing the introduction of a bowler like Narine is of vital importance as that can make or break the game. The batting side would also want to score freely before he is introduced as the task may become tougher.
Such tactical aspects make T20 cricket a very intriguing format. Although some may not associate a lot of planning with the game there is undoubtedly a lot of tactical thinking involved. The game is yet to evolve and a number of facets of the format may change in the years to come. It is only the overkill of T20 cricket that threatens to mar all the positives.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_