This World Cup’s tussles fascinating, better than usual T20 bowler bashing | Crickit
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This World Cup’s tussles fascinating, better than usual T20 bowler bashing

BySanjay Manjrekar
Jun 12, 2024 05:38 PM IST

This World Cup has stood in stark contrast to IPL where teams were still nervous after setting targets close to 270, writes Sanjay Manjrekar

We all know T20 cricket is one of the most unpredictable formats across the sport, but who would have thought the T20 World Cup would throw us this kind of surprise?

India's Jasprit Bumrah (L) celebrates after dismissing Pakistan's Mohammad Rizwan during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024(AFP)
India's Jasprit Bumrah (L) celebrates after dismissing Pakistan's Mohammad Rizwan during the ICC men's Twenty20 World Cup 2024(AFP)

T20s have completely turned on their head in the West Indies and the United States where a total of 120 runs is a winning score. India defended 119 versus Pakistan, who fell short by six runs, and South Africa defended 113 with Bangladesh falling short by four runs.

This T20 World Cup has stood in stark contrast to IPL (that concluded just six days before) where teams were still nervous after setting targets close to 270.

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We are seeing two extremes of T20 cricket, the likes of which we have never seen before.

Both scenarios are not ideal, but I wonder – if the ICC is not able to achieve a middle ground in this T20 WC because of the conditions, which of these two extremes is the lesser evil?

A choice we often have to make in life, isn’t it?

I might not be the most accurate representation of T20 fans, or cricket fans in general, but I have found the matches so far quite fascinating and more interesting than the bowler bashing that goes on in most T20 leagues.

For the first time in 17 years, I was a bit disillusioned by the IPL. I was commentating on one particular match at the Eden Gardens, which became somewhat of a reality check for me.

Karn Sharma of RCB hit Mitchell Starc for three consecutive sixes, all over point, on the off-side, essentially a difficult thing to do. What’s more? The great Starc was now running for cover. And from whom? A No.9 batter in the team, selected only for his bowling.

For me, the balance between bat and ball had tilted too far in favour of the batters. I couldn’t help thinking, “If Karn Sharma can bat like this — what’s the big deal when other accomplished batters do the same?”

Bizarrely, albeit sporadically, I have seen excellence in T20 batting here.

All the T20 batters around the world who relied on certain conditions — flat pitches that allowed them to hit through the line without having to worry about the ball changing its line after pitching — are falling by the wayside. It’s pitches like these, the kind we’ve been seeing in this WC, that are filtering out the ordinary.

India’s best batter so far has been Rishabh Pant. In the warmup match against Bangladesh, Rohit Sharma and Sanju Samson struggled in their first foray onto the now infamous New York pitch. It was nothing like they were used to in T20s. Rishabh Pant walks in at 3 and on the same surface starts striking at 150.

I have huge respect for Pant. In a relatively short Test career, he may have already played three all-time great Indian innings. This rare ability he possesses has got Pant to be India’s best batter on all three outings on this NY pitch.

Through sheer turn of fate because of the tricky pitches, I got to see some excellence in batting. There was the innings of Rishabh Pant versus Ireland and Pakistan, Roston Chase in a pressure run chase, and David Miller scoring 59 at a strike rate of 115 — an innings that visibly gave him great joy after SA were 12/4 versus Ireland.

Miller dug deep and changed his game to suit the conditions. It revealed Miller’s character and felt like I got to know him better as a T20 batter.

It’s also true that in extreme batting-friendly conditions, you get to see the bowling excellence of say a Rashid Khan or a Bumrah, but the 4-over limit also limits the time they can showcase their excellence, and the match-winning impact of their rare skills.

The 360 degrees power-hitting has now been mastered by most T20 batters around the world, but in the US and WI, only those who can keep that wicket-taking ball away with a still-bat defence — and bide their time before playing the big shot — are succeeding.

Pant has these qualities. He has the audacious power he is famous for, as well as the still-bat defence, and the soft hands — on pitches crying out for batters with the soft skills to court/face them.

Batters looking to score only through boundaries are mostly failing. It’s reached a stage where not looking for boundaries may actually help teams get bigger scores than the 115s they are managing now. Pakistan would have beaten India if they had thought this way.

Hard hands are a gift at the Wankhede Stadium, but here it’s a curse.

So even though conditions are as such, it is enjoyable to find out which batters have the mental toughness, ability to adapt, and general sharp thinking when faced with a new challenge.

Also, because of these difficult pitches, emerging teams have a better shot at beating the more senior teams. Upsets and close finishes have been an enthralling watch for all fans of the game.

I often watch our staff in the studio thoroughly enjoying the nail-biting finishes, as well as the upsets. Now, this is a better indicator of what most cricket fans latch onto.

The viewership numbers of the first week of the ICC T20 WC will be interesting. It will reveal one very important fact – is it more sixes that fans want to watch or moments of excellence, and skill, with close finishes & upsets?

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