Futuristic zone: Brendon McCullum set the bar high in the first ever IPL game, hammering 158
Futuristic zone: Brendon McCullum set the bar high in the first ever IPL game, hammering 158
Cricket's youngest format has ushered in profound change but how has it, we asked our jury, transformed the way the game is played?
"I'm coming anyway"
By Jon Hotten
It was a throwaway remark from Brendon McCullum, made when he was giving a Sky Sports "Masterclass" to UK viewers, but as with Virender Sehwag's irreducible and immortal "see ball, hit ball", it is a line that has come to represent the root of a philosophy that has transformed batting, and the game.
McCullum was telling Nick Knight about his approach to playing spin in T20 cricket. He was standing in front of a set of yellow plastic stumps at the time, dressed in his New Zealand training kit and clutching a bat in his meaty paws. He scraped a crease line into the grass with his foot and then took block about 12 inches in front of it to demonstrate where he would stand as the spinner began his run-up.
"Why are you doing that, to muck up his length?" Knight asked.
"Because I'm coming anyway," McCullum replied. "If I get stumped by an inch or stumped by a metre it makes no difference to me."
"I'm coming anyway" - three words that somehow carried everything that had changed about batting within them. McCullum has been an agent of that change. He played one of the most significant and symbolic innings of the modern era when, on April 18, 2008, in the inaugural match of the IPL, he struck 158 from 73 balls, 13 sixes and ten fours, strike rate 216.43… It was a knock as flashy and futuristic as the setting, and it made the failure of the tournament if not impossible, then highly improbable.
"One of the big things about T20 is not having the fear of getting out," McCullum told Knight during that session. "You've got to be brave enough to make decisions and make plays that carry levels of risk with them."
Batsmen have always had the choice of being philosophical about dismissal. Yet for the two centuries or so that batsmanship had been ingraining itself into the collective psyche, the philosophy of dismissal was built around responsibility. And responsibility was about the reduction of risk, and especially deliberate risk. T20, with its relative abundance of resources - the same number of wickets in a radically shortened innings - demanded a redefinition of that responsibility.
As a batsman it's easy to tell yourself to hit out or get out, to see ball, hit ball. It's much harder to actually do it when your psychic wiring is geared towards the preservation of your wicket, your ego and your sense of self.
"One of the big things about T20 is not having the fear of getting out"
Cricket's internal hinterland is vast. It asks batsmen to be individuals in a team game. It abandons them at the crease and surrounds them with the enemy. It offers its participants one chance to succeed. It can be a lonely place. What those three words represented was McCullum and his fellow travellers accepting that failure and disappointment may come more often and may hurt more because it would be self-inflicted. And yet on the other side of this mountain were sunlit uplands. Once risk was reassessed and blame reapportioned, the freedom to attack became transformative. All things were possible: audacious shot-making, runs piling up at an unthinkable rate, and six-hitting as a newly minted currency.
T20 cricket now exists in this heightened state, and it exists there because that psychological shift was made. McCullum decided that he was coming anyway, and so did lots of other players. Everything from the financing of the game to the shape of its calendar has changed because of it.
There is a trade-off of course, a downside, a new burden for batsmen to bear. In the World Cup final at the MCG last March, in one of the biggest games he'll play and with all of cricket buzzing at the style and swagger of his batting and leadership, McCullum lived up to his credo. He drove and missed at his first ball from Mitchell Starc, walked down the wicket to his second and missed again, then swung at his third and was bowled for a duck.
How that must have hurt, but he knew what he was doing and he knew why he was doing it. B-Mac was coming anyway, and there was no stopping him or the advances that he has championed.
Revenge of the number crunchers
By Freddie Wilde
The shorter the match, the finer the margins; the finer the margins, the smaller the advantage one team has over another. T20 cricket is 410 overs shorter than Test cricket and 60 overs shorter than ODI cricket: the matches are shorter, the margins are finer, the advantages are smaller.
Engine room: laptop-wielding data analysts are not uncommon in the dugout for a T20 match
© IPL via Getty Images
Engine room: laptop-wielding data analysts are not uncommon in the dugout for a T20 match © IPL via Getty Images
It is the intensified pursuit of this advantage in T20 that has accelerated the evolution of strategy, tactics and technique in all cricket, and the source of much of this evolution can be traced back to statistical data analysis.
As Kartikeya Date pointed out in his excellent feature for the Cricket Monthly last September, data analysis has been utilised in cricket as far back as the 1930s, and probably before. But more specifically it is the tabulation of numerical values - statistical data analysis - that has had, and is still having, and will continue to have, a defining impact.
Michael Lewis' 2003 book Moneyball and its subsequent film adaptation have popularised the basic premise of statistical data analysis - that is, using highly detailed statistics to gain an advantage, and the introduction of the shortest format is largely seen to have hastened the arrival of the concept in cricket.
The numbers being utilised are a considerable detachment from traditional cricket barometers such as batting and bowling averages, strike rates, or the number of fifties, hundreds, maidens and five-fors. Innings are analysed in phases; preferable match-ups are engineered according to situation, opposition and conditions; boundary and dot-ball ratios are calculated; information on favoured partnerships, shots, lengths, lines, angles and fields is accessible. Games are now analysed in real time, producing probabilities and predicted outcomes. That data is fed during matches to the players, who can then focus solely on execution.
It is broader team strategies in T20 that have been most affected by data analysis. Selection, batting and bowling orders, targeted overs, run-rate objectives and player match-ups are predicated almost entirely on numerical data. It is not so much that knowledge is power as that numbers are power. This statistical enlightenment has informed highly specific tactics, subsequently driving the evolution of specialised techniques and methods.
Interestingly, as much as we know that statistical analysis has defined cricket over the past decade, the exact details remain mysteriously confined to the teams themselves
External progress in science and technology, the burgeoning wealth of cricket and the privatisation of domestic T20, as well as the advent of auctions, drafts and trading windows have all accelerated this revolution, one that has forced players and coaches to question presupposed cricketing logic.
Now, not only do all top international teams have at least one data analyst for all three formats but the majority of domestic sides around the world do too. Most major strategic and tactical decisions are established on the basis of statistical evidence. In limited-overs cricket especially, the skills displayed are now often the consequence of strategy, rather than the other way around. "It's gone to a level now where everyone has got a laptop with them and that's what they are doing [analysing data] most nights before they go to sleep," revealed Ricky Ponting in an interview with the Cricket Monthly last year. The genie is out of the bottle.
Interestingly, as much as we know that statistical analysis has defined cricket over the past decade, the exact details remain mysteriously confined to the teams themselves. Mainstream media analysis of cricket, especially T20, would be revolutionised by access to such data and until that happens we are unlikely to truly understand and appreciate the extent to which our sport is now shaped by numbers.
Freddie Wilde is a freelance cricket journalist. @Fwildecricket
Spin it to win it
By Aakash Chopra
Instruction 1: Flight the ball above the eyeline of the batsman. Line should be outside off. Length should be full enough to invite the drive. The ball must bounce a little higher than the batsman is anticipating.
Frugal Samuel: West Indies legspinner Samuel Badree has a T20 economy rate of 5.36, currently the best in the world
Frugal Samuel: West Indies legspinner Samuel Badree has a T20 economy rate of 5.36, currently the best in the world © AFP
Instruction 2: The ball must never go above the eyeline of the batsman. The line should be into the batsman's body. The length should be neither full nor short. The ball must not bounce too much after pitching.
Two radically different instructions for the same type of bowler - an offspinner - based on the format he's playing. As you might have guessed, the first is for Tests and the second for T20. When we talk about adjusting to different formats, we tend to focus too much on the batsmen; the truth is that bowlers have to adjust as much, if not more. And the shift from Tests to T20 is toughest for openers and spinners. T20 cricket has affected the craft of spin forever.
Coaches have traditionally been advised to teach their wards that turning the ball is more important than hitting the right length, but in T20 it is accuracy that has become more important. Yes, pitching the ball on the desired spot, ball after ball, is a virtue in Test cricket too, for that's how you pick up wickets, but accuracy can never supersede the importance of spinning the ball. In T20 nobody talks about turn unless you can stitch a mystery around it, like Sunil Narine does. Otherwise, it is believed that extra spin can allow extra room to free the arms. Better instead to start and finish within the stumps; in other words, keep it straight after pitching.
The thought of plotting a dismissal is considered preposterous, for bowlers rarely get a spell longer than 12 balls, which is no time for plotting
Also, the art of using the breeze and the shine to make the ball drift in the air is restricted to the longer format. In T20 the only time you factor in the breeze is when you have to choose your end, for you don't want to be hit with the wind. And for any amount of drift, you need to throw the ball higher in the air, which in the shortest format is akin to blasphemy.
Putting enough revolutions on the ball to make it dip on the batsman is another aspect that's rarely talked about in T20. That's why we get so many floaters, who just put the ball there without imparting spin, and not enough tweakers, who put their body and fingers behind the ball to get purchase off the pitch. In fact, a young spinner who relies on flight and guile to purchase wickets is not considered worthy of playing T20, and that happens to be the biggest detriment in the development of young spinners.
If all your team-mates are part of these glamorous, lucrative leagues, it's only natural to modify your skills to suit the demands of the format. You learn to bowl flatter, focus more on accuracy and only think about restricting the batsman's scoring. The thought of plotting a dismissal is considered preposterous, for bowlers rarely get a spell longer than 12 balls, which is no time for plotting. In Tests, it takes a spinner two to three overs just to settle down.
That mindset and the art of plotting a dismissal are rapidly vanishing from our game. While there are a few who still manage to successfully move between formats, their number is small and shrinking fast. We might never again see the glut of quality spinners that we once had.
Aakash Chopra is a former India opener and the author of three books, including The Insider: Decoding the craft of cricket. @cricketaakash
By Hemant Buch
I am not a massive fan of T20 cricket. I don't dislike it and I probably watch more of it from my couch than I do Test cricket. But as a director of cricket broadcasts, I enjoy the challenge of making a game interesting over five days as opposed to three-hour games that melt into each other.
Living on the edge: practising relay catches is regulation these days
© Getty Images
Living on the edge: practising relay catches is regulation these days © Getty Images
Asked to pick the format's most significant impact on the game my mind went back to T20 international No. 203, in beautiful Pallekele. Sri Lanka had been dragged to a respectable total thanks to a masterly 86 from Mahela Jayawardene, against an excellent Australian attack. But against Australia's batting it appeared below par, as was evident very quickly: Shane Watson and David Warner raced to 71 in under six overs, and though Watson fell, with young Warner still in and Australia needing just over a run a ball, victory was in sight.
Then came the moment that, for me, encapsulates just how much fielding, and the thought process behind it, has evolved. Here's how Sidharth Monga described it on ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball:
"BAW Mendis to Warner, OUT, My word. We need a new scoring entry for this. Caught Jayawardene b Mendis simply won't do! Sit down and hear this out. Warner slog-sweeps this, Mathews takes the catch at the edge of midwicket boundary, but just as he is about to run over the fence with his momentum, he throws the ball back in - both his feet in the air. The closest fielder is 30 metres from him, but he has lobbed it back that far! Australia can't believe it. The replays aren't lying. Top presence of mind from Mathews and Mahela. Relayed Mathews caught Jayawardene bowled Mendis!"
It captures the incredulity everyone at the ground felt when they saw this catch; even the TV cameramen were taken by surprise. Nobody got the complete catch. Most just stayed with Mathews' incredible piece of athleticism and intelligence. You could do it justice only if you had seen it live, seen how Mathews must have caught a glimpse of Jayawardene and, off balance, essayed a no-look throw, in the opposite direction to which momentum was taking him, and managed to find his team-mate. On TV you just didn't get the complete picture. That catch turned the game and Australia folded pretty quickly thereafter.
Four years later such catches are the norm, and because these are contests where the margins are so thin, fielding standards have had to rise dramatically. Now players regularly practise relay catches. Drills in training are a lot more intense. From the days of just throwing up high balls to catch, they have evolved into far more scientific, far more specialised practice sessions.
Things have moved on a long way from 2000, when Australia appointing Mike Young, a baseball coach, as their fielding coach was seen as radical. Young brought in new techniques to fielding and throwing and had a massive impact on the game; now every team has a fielding coach and a plethora of staff assisting him.
The pre-eminence of the shortest format has chipped away at virtues such as concentration and patience, which are so important in the cordon. It has eroded the skill of standing still and concentrating
At the same time, though, the quality of slip catching appears to be on the slide. Mark Taylor and Rahul Dravid may not have been athletes in the strictest sense, but their catching in the cordon was outstanding. These days drops in the slips are commonplace, even by those considered to be among the best fielders. One explanation perhaps is that the pre-eminence of the shortest format has chipped away at virtues such as concentration and patience, which are so important in the cordon. It has eroded the skill of standing still, yet maintaining concentration. For a slipper, the ability to stand for hours on end, waiting for that one edge, anticipating every ball and maintaining focus is probably as important, if not more, than athleticism.
Look around: Younis Khan is Pakistan's best slip catcher. Jayawardene was Sri Lanka's best until he called it a day. India's cordon has been abysmal since Dravid moved on. Alastair Cook is great for England there. All of them grew up without T20. Just as batsmen now struggle to block out a day, fielders also struggle with their concentration because, having grown up on short-form cricket, it no longer comes naturally to them.
Hemant Buch is head of production and international cricket director at Ten Sports
Time to declare… or maybe not
By Sidharth Monga
The first World T20 was played in 2007. India and Pakistan played the final. Once both made the final, it can safely be assumed that that was the moment everyone jumped aboard the T20 bus.
Thirty-six times since that tournament, teams have reached 300 in the fourth innings of a Test. It's not a random number, 300. It used to be such a safe lead going into the fourth innings that before then, there had only been 92 instances of a fourth-innings score of 300 or more in the history of cricket, timeless Tests and all. A lot of this change is down to faster scoring and not necessarily longer survival.
In 2008, a target of 414 was tackled with ease by South Africa in Perth, breaking a world record. Four years earlier, up against a similar stiff target in a Test in Durban, they had played it safe
© PA Photos
In 2008, a target of 414 was tackled with ease by South Africa in Perth, breaking a world record. Four years earlier, up against a similar stiff target in a Test in Durban, they had played it safe © PA Photos
It would, of course, be simplistic to credit T20 for all that, but it has come as a package: pitches have got better for batting, bats have improved, more regulations now help batsmen, and there is the psychological difference that scoring 200 in 20 overs can bring about. The psychology of batting has changed immensely, and some of that has made its way into Test cricket. Seeing that man at the boundary doesn't always mean you don't try to clear him. From the experience of doing it, or watching it get done with startling regularity in T20, batsmen have re-evaluated risks and rewards.
Through a lot of T20, they have also realised they don't have to bat too differently to score runs faster; that faster scoring is not always being done by T20 specialists. It is the knowledge that it can be done. There is much more enterprise. Batsmen are more comfortable with the idea of hitting boundaries. The pace at which they are capable of scoring has made fielding captains wary. The effect is more evident in ODIs, but it manifests itself in Tests through what doesn't happen anymore: sporting declarations.
Teams like to take the asking rate past four an over before they start pushing for a win in the final innings. That's simply because batsmen back themselves to get bigger targets. In his second Test, back in 2004, AB de Villiers came out to bat with 209 required and 47 overs to go. He batted out a draw. Never thought of a win. Of course he batted quite low back then, and South Africa had fewer wickets left, but ask him now if he would go for a similar target, having come in at No. 6. That's six wickets in hand, 200 runs required, 47 overs to go. "Absolutely. No doubt about it. My motto would be, if I bat through I would come close anyway."
Out-and-out aggressive fields don't stay for too long. Even when the runs don't matter, captains are happier with in-and-out fields
In Adelaide in December 2014, Australia gave India just a day to get 364 on a turning track, and India gave them a proper scare. Pakistan have won two matches in the last two years when chasing 300 on the final day, including one in two sessions at a phenomenal 5.25 an over. Only the really brave captains dangle a carrot nowadays.
Out-and-out aggressive fields don't stay for too long. Even when the runs don't matter, captains are happier with in-and-out fields. Boundaries are the lifeline of batting nowadays, and captains have discovered that just stopping them can lead to the dismissal of many batsmen. This has a flip side. Apart from the odd South African or English dig-in, most sides have only one way to weather good bowling: hit out. If you fail when attacking, attack harder the next time. Make sure you clear the infielder, make sure your edge carries over the slips. You either get out or the field spreads, and then it becomes a case of taking wickets through denial.
Rahul Dravid recently took over coaching of India A and India Under-19. His two concerns after some time with the younger players, awed though he was with their striking ability, were: batsmen struggled to keep taking singles when in-and-out fields were employed, and the bowlers didn't know how to get wickets once the batsmen stopped going after them and took singles. He might well have been talking of the impact of T20 on Test cricket.
Sidharth Monga is assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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