Beyond the blitzkrieg, the men who matter
While it's easy to be swayed by the long list of batsmen whose strike rates hover around the 150-mark, teams have started to realise that there is room for at least one man with a strike rate of 100 or thereabouts. And this man is often the difference between winning and losing.
In everyday life - work, family, friends - there is always that one person: the crisis manager.
At work, in your team, you know that one person is crucial, even if you only need him or her once in a way. In a journalistic set-up, for example, there will be great investigators, or writers, or editors. And then, there will be someone who is competent at one or more of these things but, come crisis time, steps up and takes the lead. He is the team's Javed Miandad. Or Steve Waugh. Or, for a more recent example, Rahul Dravid. Flamboyance might not be their forte, but if you want your life saved, or a crazy deadline met, they'll be there.
Anyway, the point of all that rambling is to examine if there is room for those Miandads and Dravids of the world in Twenty20s - more specifically at the World Twenty20. Or is it all about Chris Gayle and Kamran Akmal and David Warner and Yuvraj Singh and Tillakaratne Dilshan?
We are well placed today to discuss this. Twenty20 cricket, as a format, has settled down. Teams, whether national set-ups or franchise-based, know what their combinations should be; roles are now better defined and, much like in 50-overs cricket around the mid-1980s, we finally know what we are talking about.
We know that Twenty20s are not entirely about batsmen, even if sixes are hit more often than before. Look at the IPL, for a reckoner, and you'll find teams spending good money on bowlers they trust. Dale Steyn, Brett Lee, L Balaji, Sunil Narine, Lasith Malinga, R Ashwin, Morne Morkel and so many others. Why? Because it makes sense. Similarly, while it's easy to be swayed by the long list of batsmen whose strike rates hover around the 150-mark, teams have started to realise that there is room for at least one man with a strike rate of 100 or thereabouts. And this man is often the difference between winning and losing.
Off the top of my head, there's Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis in the South Africa team, MS Dhoni for India, Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara for Sri Lanka, Marlon Samuels for West Indies, Mike Hussey for Australia, Shakib Al Hasan for Bangladesh, and, to an extent, Shoaib Malik for Pakistan. I know I've left out England there, among the big teams, but that's because I don't see anyone who fits the bill. Paul Collingwood did, in 2010. England won that tournament.
What these cricketers have in common is that they are all, in different degrees, as successful in Twenty20s as they have been in Tests. Their averages, whether in the 50s or in the 30s, are more or less consistent across formats. Also, crucially, they are all capable of upping their scoring rates - not to Gayle-esque proportions, but certainly enough to deal with a 25-needed-from-12-balls situation.
Today, less than a decade after the Twenty20 format was introduced, these people could seriously make or break what their teams do at the fourth edition of the World Twenty20. As far as I am concerned, the team that wins the tournament in Sri Lanka will be the one that has the best performing lifesaver. But first, obviously, the rest of the team needs to have done their swashbuckling, and thrown caution to the wind.
To my mind, that's where South Africa fall short. With Amla and Kallis in the starting XI, despite Richard Levi and AB de Villiers, there's one sane man too many to really hit out within the 20 overs. Ditto for Sri Lanka. Shakib is different, because even though Tamim Iqbal and a couple of others are capable of quick knocks, Shakib doesn't always get to play the role of the rock. He is, as I've always felt, a bit too good for the team he plays in. Like Brian Lara was for most of his career.
That brings us to West Indies, India, Australia and Pakistan. The four teams - despite Australia's relatively poor ranking - are among the favourites for the tournament anyway. But it's this one commonality that sets them apart: Samuels, Dhoni, Hussey and Malik, the lifesavers. Cricket, whether you play it over five days or in less than three hours, is still cricket. There may be less strategising, more hit-out-hard in the Twenty20s, but logic and skill will always out.
West Indies, India, Australia and Pakistan. These four teams would have been my picks for the last four if their rankings and the format of the tournament hadn't ensured that some of them will knock each other out in the Super Eights. And Samuels, Dhoni, Hussey and Malik will play key, if not starring, roles in their teams' campaigns. Keep an eye on them then, unless the blitzkrieg men have already blinded you.