T20 World Cup: Pace war on tacky wicket poses tricky questions

Australia’s Mitchell Starc bowls during the warm-up match against India. — AFP
Australia’s Mitchell Starc bowls during the warm-up match against India. — AFP

Bengaluru - The 2021 T20 World Cup tees off for real on Saturday



By Sumit Chakraberty

Published: Sat 23 Oct 2021, 7:09 AM

The 2021 T20 World Cup tees off for real on Saturday after the qualifiers for the lesser teams. It’s a format that’s unforgiving for captains because there’s no time to recover from a strategic error. Temba Bavuma of South Africa and Aaron Finch of Australia, captains of the two traditional rivals from the southern hemisphere, will be the first to be tested when they play the curtain raiser in Abu Dhabi on Saturday afternoon.

Here are five strategic points that could mean the difference between winning and losing for them:

BAT FIRST

Conventional wisdom in T20 cricket is to field first on winning the toss because it can be hard to fathom what’s a good total to post, especially in unfamiliar conditions. To be sure, most matches favoured the team batting second in Abu Dhabi in the just- concluded Indian Premier League (IPL). But dew played a big role there, which won’t be the case in the first game of Group 1, which starts at 2 pm (3:30 pm IST). On the contrary, the tacky wicket in the Zayed Cricket Stadium may slow down and make batting harder in the second half after it is baked in the sun. So, will either Bavuma or Finch take the brave punt of batting first and making first use of a fresh pitch?

AIM HIGH IN POWERPLAY

It’s understandable that batsmen would want to start on a sound note at the start of a major tournament. But that could be a mistake on a pitch where the ball does not come on to the bat. The best time for scoring will be when the ball is new and field restrictions are in place. Anything less than 50 in the powerplay can be hard to make up later, for a competitive total above 170, batting first. Risk-taking in the first six overs would also be a good strategy if it turns out to be a high-scoring game on a good batting pitch.

CHANGE OF PACE

South Africa and Australia have the best pace bowling attacks in the com- petition, but the captains must not lose sight of how effective slow me- dium pace and variations can be. The likes of Marcus Stoinis of Australia and Dwaine Pretorius of South Africa could prove handy if it’s a tacky pitch. Spinners could also break the mo- mentum by taking wickets in the middle overs on a large ground where skiers can be caught in the deep.

BATTLE OF YORKERS

Kagiso Rabada wasn’t at his best in this year’s IPL, partly because of the way he was used and also because he has moved away from what worked so well for him in last year’s IPL — fast yorkers with an occasional mean bouncer to keep the batsman guessing. You can be sure that Mitchell Starc from the other camp will em-

ploy those weapons fully. Rabada should also take the new ball with Anrich Nortje unlike in the IPL where he was held back. Rabada and Nortje versus Starc and Pat Cummins will be a match-up to behold, because their toe-crushers will take the pitch out of contention.

NEUTRALIZE MAXWELL

Australia’s Glen Maxwell is on a high, coming off a hugely successful IPL. He’s the kind of batsman who is like a runaway train if he gets going. But Bavuma has the tools in his armoury to neutralize Maxwell — raw pace aimed between the shoulder blades. He should bring Nortje and Rabada for at least an over apiece as soon as Maxwell arrives at the batting crease. As for Finch, he should send Maxwell in at No.4, a position that suited him perfectly in the IPL, instead of keeping him for a finishing role.

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


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