T20 World Cup: Who will pass the test of adaptability?

New Zealand fast bowler Lockie Ferguson. (Reuters)
New Zealand fast bowler Lockie Ferguson. (Reuters)

Bengaluru - One of the challenges for the teams in the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE is the huge variation in conditions between the three venues — Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah

By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Tue 26 Oct 2021, 1:38 AM

Pakistan are on a high from their one-sided victory over arch rivals India in a match they dominated from the first over to the last. But if anybody can puncture their bubble, it is New Zealand, an astute and skilled team. The Group 2 action moves from Dubai to Sharjah, where conditions are vastly different. It will be an intriguing matchup on Tuesday evening between a young Pakistani captain full of promise, Babar Azam, and the more experienced Kiwi captain, Kane Williamson, who has taken New Zealand to the pinnacle of the sport.

Adapt or perish

One of the challenges for the teams in the 2021 T20 World Cup in the UAE is the huge variation in conditions between the three venues, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah. It means that they should have versatile players as well as a think tank that makes strategic changes to suit the conditions. Azam calls them home grounds because Pakistan have been playing most of their international matches in the UAE during the last decade. But several of the Kiwi players were in the Indian Premier League (IPL) conducted in the UAE. So it really comes down to who will pass the test of adaptability on Tuesday.

Pace and bounce

With a swinging yorker to trap Rohit Sharma in the first over and an unplayable ball that jagged back off the seam to breach the defence of KL Rahul in his next over, Shaheen Shah Afridi silenced millions of Indian fans and got Pakistan off to a dream start in Dubai Sunday evening. There may be neither swing nor seam movement in Sharjah, where the pitches have been slow and low. How will the six-foot-six-inch 21-year-old Pashtun respond? In the rival camp, there’s Lockie Ferguson who can match Afridi in pace and has the knowledge of taking wickets for Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in the IPL. His 6 ft 1 inch height may even be more suited to the low bounce of Sharjah.

Play it straight

One would expect a slow wicket to aid spinners, but pace bowlers have also enjoyed success at this venue, accounting for the number of low-scoring games in recent times. The reason is that the ball doesn’t come at the pace and bounce a batsman would expect, especially when it is back of a length. Many a batsman has perished playing across the line in these circumstances. The ones that play straight will be more successful. In Babar Azam and Kane Williamson, both teams have true practitioners of the art. They are the ones their teams will depend on the most.

Double-edged sword

The Sharjah wicket has the most spin among the three venues of the World Cup. But spin is a double-edged sword here because the ground is tiny in comparison to those of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In a matchup between two left-arm spinners, Imad Wasim and Mitchell Santner, and two leg-spinners, Shadab Khan and Ish Sodhi, the ones that bowl with a flat trajectory targeting the wickets are likely to have more success. Anything floated up to the batsman is liable to sail over the ropes for a six.

Battle of coaches

New Zealand coach Stephen Fleming comes fresh from guiding Chennai Super Kings (CSK) to the IPL title in the UAE. Pakistan’s newly appointed batting coach, Matthew Hayden, has been following the IPL just as closely as a commentator. It sets up a battle within a battle between a Kiwi and an Aussie. Fleming has the edge on paper as a former New Zealand captain familiar to the players, but from the way Pakistan batted against India, it appears that Hayden will be just as influential.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru. Write to him at chakraberty@gmail.com

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