Twenty20 is a five-bowler game

Jacques Kallis is a great addition for the Kolkata Knight Riders as a top-order batsman and a handy bowling option © IANS

By Akash Kaware

Unless they have a burly, broad-shouldered tree of a man called Jacques Kallis in their squad, most teams these days — regardless of the format — invariably starts a game with a four-man attack. In limited-overs games, they then hope to squeeze in the fifth bowler’s quota from bit-and-pieces players or even batsmen, praying all the time that the runs they concede don’t turn out to be the difference between winning and losing a game. In a 50-over game, the strategy still has some merit because seven batsmen over 50 overs can still make up for the fifth bowler’s incompetence or misfortune. But why a side should need the cushion of seven batsmen in a game of 20 overs is beyond my comprehension.

If ever there was a format of the game in which a team should play its five best bowlers regardless of their batting ability, it’s the T20 version. Of course, this cannot happen without a slight shift in the thinking of the batting department of the side. History has shown that no matter how short a game, batting sides will still find a way to get bowled out in that time frame. In this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL) alone, the teams among themselves have managed to get bowled out nine times in the first 35 matches! But if a side’s six batsmen pace themselves in a manner that ensures full utilisation of their 20 overs, then the fifth specialist bowler in the line-up will dramatically increase their chances of defending targets or restricting the opposition, even accounting for the possibility that their own scores might be lowered by the occasional collapse.

The perfect case in point has been the performance of Sunrisers Hyderabad this season, who have defied everyone’s expectations by being nearer to the top of the table than the bottom. In the three games before they ran into a possessed Mahendra Singh Dhoni, only one of their overs was bowled by a part-timer. It is no coincidence that they won all three games. Even against Chennai, to everyone’s disbelief, Cameron White tossed the ball to Ashish Reddy to bowl the last over against Dhoni, when Darren Sammy still had an over up his sleeve. The occasion completely got to Reddy and the Sunrisers’ winning streak was broken.

Ditto with the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Every time they have messed about with their bowling line-up, it has ended up almost, and on some occasions, actually costing them the game. Whereas all occasions where their five main bowlers each finished their quotas of four overs, they have managed to either bowl out the opposition or restrict them to middling totals. Of course, the fact that Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle in God-mode are three of their six batsmen doesn’t hurt their cause at all.

By IPL standards, the Sunrisers have a stellar bowling line-up, with the likes of Dale Steyn, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra backed up by a couple of young Indians. But a look at RCB’s five proves that if you have a good batting line-up then you don’t need a world-beating attack to win a T20 game. Five honest toilers will do. Ravi Rampaul, RP Singh, Jaydev Unadkat, Vinay Kumar and Murali Karthik will make no one’s list of bowlers they want to face the least. But together they have been good enough to win games for the RCB.

The great thing about tournaments like the IPL, the Big Bash League and the other T20 leagues around the world is that it gives the journeymen cricketers a stage to show off their wares. The likes of Rajat Bhatia, Ashish Reddy, Kevon Cooper and many more who you would almost never hear of anywhere other than the IPL have become regulars in domestic T20 sides around the world. To be fair to them, these players have in fact been over-achieving for their sides, but in such a short game, teams would have a much better chance of winning if they leave the job to specialists, especially when it comes to bowling. For teams that can call upon the services of Kallis, Shane Watson (when his notoriously fragile body allows him to bowl), Thisara Perera and Dwayne Bravo, balance is easy to achieve. But the rest who are not that fortunate with their resources would be much better off with including five bowlers in their line-up rather than bit-and-pieces players.

Of course, even this strategy could very easily come to a nought — one of the specialist bowlers may still have a bad day — like Dale Steyn did against Chennai the other night, or the entire attack might run into an in-the-zone batsman like Gayle during his knock of 175 not out and be clobbered. But at the very least, such a selection gives a team its best chance of winning a T20 game by ensuring that the opposition would not have a soft target in the form of a part-timer. All that would need to be done after that is telling the batsmen to buckle up, bat out 20 overs and not leave the run-scoring to their bowling comrades!

(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would’ve been a successful international cricketer if it hadn’t been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A few months ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)