When the T20 format was first introduced, it soon became clear what timely tactical interventions by captains could do for a team's chances. Indeed, this form of the game has always been about coming up with the unexpected. It's about not letting the opposition settle down; making things happen rather than playing the waiting game. So whether it's starting the bowling attack with spin or randomly playing around with the batting order, T20 cricket has always been associated with a little madness, albeit with a method to it in most cases.
When Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana started opening the batting for Sri Lanka in the 1996 World Cup with a clear intent of going after the bowling in the first 15 overs, it opened up a whole new dimension to the limited-overs format. The success they had during that tournament meant that captains began looking at exploiting the fielding restrictions to score as many as possible at the start of the inning instead of following the traditional approach of keeping wickets in hand for the death overs. Over the years, a lot has changed with teams willing to take more risks in anticipation of higher rewards. It's worth noticing however that the ODI format also gives teams a better chance of reacting to opposition tactics and counter them with their own plan which is relatively much tougher in the shorter T20 matches.
With the World Cup scheduled to start in a fortnight, here are five ways in which captains can be innovative with their game plan and secure an advantage:
1. Adaptive team composition
India played Rahul Dravid as a wicket-keeper in the 2003 World Cup which gave skipper Ganguly room to play an extra batsman or bowler. This strategy worked very well for the team and they made it to the finals. Australians have been known to follow the rotational selection policy where they make sure every player in the squad gets an opportunity through the tournament. This is a very good way of ensuring players are match ready and can be asked to come in anytime. The conditions and the opposition will also dictate what kind of numbers captains decide to go with- whether to play the specialised spinner or go with an all seam attack, whether to play four or five bowlers to accommodate that extra batsman; these are questions think tanks will need to answer to be able to find the sweet spot as far as team selection goes.
2. The timing of powerplays
With the introduction of multiple powerplays, its paramount for teams to choose the right time to try and take the game away from the opposition. Many a time, the batting team chooses to take the powerplay and ends up losing wickets trying to score quick runs. Powerplay overs can give teams an extra 25-30 runs which can end up being the difference between a win or loss eventually.
3. To chase or not to chase
Teams usually identify themselves as better chasers or defenders of scores which means they like to go for fixed options after winning the toss. It is better to get familiar with the conditions and try out both options over the course of the tournament. This gives teams the ability to adjust when things don't go according to them at the toss and deal with conditions no matter what.
4. The plan for death overs
All the hard work done during the middle overs can go in vain if teams do not find the right mix for the death overs. For bowling captains, it is a trade off between using your strike bowlers to take wickets at the start of innings and keeping enough overs for the finish. For batting teams, it is critical to score runs at a decent pace and yet keep the necessary firepower to score quick runs at the end.
5. A few words in the middle
'Sledging' or 'banter' as its commonly called has become part and parcel of the modern game. However, instead of engaging in constant chatter with the opposition, it is important to read the flow of the game and identify the right moments and the right things to say. It is worth reminding an in-form batsman that he is not invincible at the start of the innings or to give it back to a fast bowler to let him know who's boss.
Little things are all that make a difference at the end of the day. Teams have to identify their strengths and play to them, knowing at the same time that they may be required to play out of their comfort zones sometimes, adapt and respond to adverse situations. There is no bigger prize in cricket than the World Cup and whoever wins it has to deserve it. Let the games begin!
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