Each of the venues has brought a different aspect to the game
We are just past the halfway stage of the Super 12s, with all teams having played at least twice and the competition for semi-final spots hotting up. The T20 World Cup as a whole has been running for more than two weeks, and several trends have started to emerge – some of them expected, some less so. Let’s have a look at a few of the key talking points…
Pursuit of victory
This was something that plenty had predicted, going by the data from the two recent IPL seasons fully or partially played in the UAE – but there’s been absolutely no doubt about what most teams will opt to do on winning the toss. Never mind the thrill of the chase, so far at this World Cup batting second has occasionally felt as perfunctory as filling out the paperwork for a new parking permit. Including the first round, when there was perhaps a greater degree of variability between sides, there have been eight wins out of 28 for teams batting first. If you limit it to the Super 12s, that drops to three from 16, for a win/loss ratio of 0.230. Dew is likely a key factor, particularly in evening games, as well as a lack of certainty around what to expect from pitches (more on that below). Heads I win, tails you lose.
Losing three wickets in the powerplay, so the T20 wizards say, is usually a good indicator that you’re heading for defeat. In their campaign opener in Dubai, England spluttered along to 39 for 3 – luckily for them, West Indies had pre-emptively said “hold my beer” by registering 31 for 4 in their powerplay, on the way to 55 all out. The powerplay batting average of 20.25 at this tournament is currently the lowest of all T20 World Cups. However, it’s worth breaking that down further: in the Super 12s, teams have averaged 18.24 in the first innings, compared to 27.54 in the second. This highlights how hard it has been to judge a par score when batting first, the chasing side able to “spend” their resources far better with a target to aim for.
Before the tournament began, it was possible to predict what to expect from the three main grounds in use – Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah – because of the amount of T20 played in the region over the last year or so. But there has been some obvious divergence, playing into the problems for teams attempting to set a target. Abu Dhabi, the ground with the biggest playing area, had been expected to be high-scoring; but in the Super 12s it has only seen one total above 126. Pace at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium – average 17.12, econ 6.01 – has been the most effective bowling style at any of the venues. By contrast, spin has been influential (average 22.34, econ 6.23) in Dubai, which is usually a more pace-friendly venue. Meanwhile, the relaid Sharjah square appears to be settling in, following some tricky outings at the IPL – the ground has the best run rate, and the three highest totals, during the Super 12s.
This has been stark. One of the overarching trends in T20 in recent years had been the increased premium on hitting sixes. For four consecutive seasons at the IPL, between 2017 and 2020, the number of balls per six was below 20; in 2021, which included a shift from India to the UAE halfway through, that rose slightly to 21. However, in the T20 World Cup so far, balls per six currently sits at 27.3 – a rate which only dips to 26.8 when you limit the sample to games in the Super 12s. Such scarcity has, perhaps, amplified the value of players who are still able to tee off in these conditions – as explosive middle-order cameos by the likes of Asif Ali, Nicholas Pooran and David Miller have shown.
Another pre-tournament perception, that spinners would revel in the slow, low conditions, has been balanced out by quick bowlers reasserting their value on attritional pitches. The success for pace in Abu Dhabi (as well as in Oman during the first round) has already been noted, with cutters and slower balls to the fore, while there have been notable examples of what might be styled old-fashioned Test seamers – Josh Hazlewood, Chris Woakes, Jason Holder – employing “hard lengths” to good effect in the powerplay. More than anything, though, as Pakistan and, erm, Namibia have long known, you can’t do much better than a demon left-armer. In the Super 12s, left-arm pace averages 18.00 – up there with legspin as the most penetrative bowling styles going. No wonder we all want to be Shaheen Shah Afridi.
Also on the radar:
Floating batting line-ups – Dawid Malan sliding down in a small chase, Glenn Maxwell going to No. 3 after a strong start, Shakib Al Hasan opening the batting (okay, he was carrying an injury). But flexibility is the watchword.
Afghanistan do it their way – Win the toss and
bowl bat, because that’s what we do. And Mohammad Nabi’s side could very well have been three from three batting first, had it not been for Asif.