Well begun is half done – it's a homily that should be well suited to Twenty20 cricket. With only 20 overs to bat, there isn't much time to recover from a bad start. Then again, teams have the full complement of ten wickets at the start of the innings with the added advantage of field restrictions in the powerplay overs.
With the ICC World Twenty20 2012 round the corner, every team will be aware of just how important it is for the top order to fire. However, when forming their strategies, it might be worth their while to not attach an undue importance to a good start. Quick starts are always useful, but they're not the sole determining factor in a team's performance.
The most recent Twenty20 tournament involving multiple teams and played at near-international level before the upcoming World Twenty20 was of course the 2012 Indian Premier League. This has been the case for the World T20 editions in 2009 and 2010 too, but there are key differences this time around. For one, the World Twenty20 hasn't come almost immediately on the heels of the IPL as had been the case earlier, and allowed most teams adequate time to prepare.
For another, this is the first World Twenty20 on the subcontinent, and as such the matches will be played on pitches and in conditions more similar to the IPL than ever before. Although in 2009, the IPL was played in South Africa, conditions there were not that similar to those in England, where the World Twenty20 was held. The standard of play at this year's IPL was also universally acknowledged as markedly superior than earlier – perhaps a pointer to teams being more canny with picking players and players themselves gaining a greater understanding of the grammar of the Twenty20 game.
In this connection, it's worth examining how top-order batsmen performed in IPL 2012 and how teams did overall in the powerplay overs. The table below summarises how each of the teams did in the league phase of IPL 2012 in the powerplay overs.
(Note: Matches that were shortened due to rain or washed out are not part of analysis)
Team Performances in Powerplay overs in IPL 2012
|Chennai Super Kings|
|Kolkata Knight Riders|
|Pune Warriors India|
|Royal Challengers Bangalore|
|Kings XI Punjab|
(The Run Rate and Wickets are given as average figures per Powerplay for each team.)
There's an interesting discrepancy in how teams started versus their eventual positions on the points table. To refresh, Delhi topped the league phase, with Kolkata second and Mumbai third, despite some terrible starts. Rajasthan, who had marginally worse starts than Delhi in terms of run-rate, but were significantly better at laying a platform with the fewest wickets lost, finished seventh.
Is there any co-relation then, in powerplay performance and overall performance?
A detailed look at the batsmen who faced the bulk of the deliveries in powerplay overs sheds more light on the apparent discrepancies. The following table has three batsmen from each team in IPL 2012, selected on the basis of most deliveries faced in powerplays.
Batsmen with most deliveries faced in powerplays in IPL 2012 (Cut-off: 60 balls)
|Runs||Balls||Run Rate||PP Inns Batted||Dismissed in PP||Dismissal %|
|Faf du Plessis||232||162||8.59||11||5||45.45%|
Indian and Australian fans will take note of how well their opening pairs had done, though Sehwag-Gambhir and Warner-Watson weren't batting together. And while it's true that it's been a while since the IPL, it's equally true that each of the four have consistently shown superb form in shorter formats on subcontinent pitches. On India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August, Virat Kohli was rightly accorded plaudits for his prolific run-scoring, but Gambhir was the second highest run-getter in the five-match One-Day International series. And in the last three T20 Internationals that Australia played -- against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates -- Warner scored the most runs at the highest strike-rate.
Kohli's name towards the bottom of the list is a little surprising, but not overly so. In the last year or so, IPL 2012 was the one tournament in which Kohli didn't score runs by the bucketful, but before that and after, he has been unstoppable. Kumar Sangakkara's is a similar case, and no one will underestimate either of them for the World Twenty20.
The middle of the table is of more interest. Chris Gayle has scored his runs at almost the same rate as Rahul Dravid in the powerplay overs, and he's only been marginally quicker than Sourav Ganguly. That's put in perspective when you consider that the overall run-rate for Gayle was a whopping 9.64 while those for Dravid and Ganguly were 6.73 and 5.93.
It's not just about how well you start, it's equally about how you finish.
Gayle has deciphered and broken down his strategy in T20 games to a nicety, but it is also an approach that only he is capable of pulling off. He takes his time to get his eye in, and then explodes in a fashion that no other batsman can. The final column in the table shows that Gayle was dismissed only four times of the thirteen occasions he batted in the powerplays in the IPL. For anyone who starts slow, both factors are crucial: the ability to switch gears and to survive the first few overs so that the slow start doesn't hurt the team.
The powerplays are still important -- Mumbai finished as high as they did due to some last-over heists and could have done with much better starts -- they're just not as big a determinant. The fact that this is so perhaps points to an evolving grasp of 20-over cricket for most teams, with more of them learning to make overs count even without the luxury of limited fielders outside the circle.