Slow 'em down and mix it up - it's T20 time

Updated: 01 October 2012 13:44 IST

The spinner-first strategy makes perfect tactical sense. Leave out Dale Steyn and the odd good performance from Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Steven Finn and Ravi Rampaul, and batsmen haven't had much trouble using the pace of the bowlers to get in the race for the longest six.

Slow 'em down and mix it up - it's T20 time

Bangalore:

Things have come a long way from the time Twenty20s first came around, and observers concluded that the demise of bowlers - pace and spin, especially spin - was nigh. Just 20 overs, we thought; batsmen will go hammer and tongs and bowlers will have no protection. How wrong we were. Circa September-October 2012, with the ICC World Twenty20 on, it's the bowlers that have been at the centre of strategy meetings, or so it appears.

Most teams, most often, have opened their bowling with the spinners. Sometimes with the main spinner in the team, sometimes with a rank outsider. The 'surprise element'. It's not always worked. But, if nothing else, it's forced the opening batsmen - more used to facing up to the pace bowlers - to go slow, choosing to see the first over out without scampering to push the run-rate to ten or thereabouts.

The spinner-first strategy makes perfect tactical sense. Leave out Dale Steyn and the odd good performance from Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Steven Finn and Ravi Rampaul, and batsmen haven't had much trouble using the pace of the bowlers to get in the race for the longest six (which Marlon Samuels, interestingly, is leading at this stage) or maximum maximums. The shiny white ball, more used to the palms of the big fast men, has fitted in fine when handled by the likes of Samuel Badree or R Ashwin or Daniel Vettori.

In the Super Eights, there were a few runs scored in Pallekele to start with, but totals of around 140 have been more common than those over 170.

Leaving out Steyn, who's in a league of his own, spinners dominate the economy-rate chart for the tournament, even if the quick bowlers hog the wicket-takers' list. Traditional arm-balls have worked, quicker legbreaks have been successful, the much-reviled doosra has prevented batsmen from unleashing big hits, and the carom balls and whatever else Mendis, Ashwin, Narine and Ajmal dish out have kept batsmen on a tight leash.

With the Sri Lanka Premier League having taken place at the same venues - the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo and the Pallekele International Stadium - the pitches have been left sluggish. That hasn't stopped the likes of Shane Watson or David Warner and some of the others from slam-banging away. On the whole, though, scoring hasn't been as easy as we expected.

And then there are the pacers.

On the one hand is Steyn, the frontman of a tribe that sticks to what it does best. For some, it's pace, for others, it's movement - more off the pitch than in the air. For the left-armers, it's the slant away from the right-handed batsmen.

On the other hand, there are the short-format specialists - the Malingaheads, let's call them - the ones who experiment, who realise that the job profile of a fast bowler is very different today from what it used to be. Malinga has the quick bouncer, the slow bouncer, the normal yorker and the wider yorker. Strangely, even given that repertoire, he seems to have become somewhat predictable, possibly because he has not added to his variations over time.

Other variety programmes, like L Balaji (ER: 6.24) and Jacques Kallis (ER: 6.12) have been more successful. The pitches have been slow and the ball gives the impression of almost being stuck in it at times. When bowlers slow it down even more, with variations in length thrown in, the batsmen have waited endlessly for the ball to arrive.

When Courtney Walsh, Manoj Prabhakar and Steve Waugh, pioneers of the slower ball in international cricket, started the trend, little did they know that one day, we would see slower variations of all existing deliveries that fast bowlers bowl. The batsmen didn't either, but now they do. Despite that, batsmen usually have their bat-swings ready and shots are often pre-meditated, and they struggle to adjust to the changed pace.

Chris Gayle is exciting, as are all the other swashbucklers, and you expect them to strut their stuff in Twenty20s. What you might not have expected is that bowlers would hold sway over the proceedings the way they have at times. Going forward, the teams that do well - internationally or in domestic leagues - might be the ones that have the right bowling mix to go with the monsters of swat.

Topics : Cricket Mitchell Starc Shane Watson Mitchell Johnson James Pattinson Pat Cummins Steven Finn Dale Steyn
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