Twenty20 Cricket: Boom or Bust Mentality

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When you see scores of 245 and 244, one would be easily forgiven for thinking they were scores in an ODI. However, the 489 runs scored came in just 40 overs, in the first T20 between India and the West Indies. This was at an overall run rate of over 12, and the American crowd saw a record total of 32 sixes. Yet, in the match on the following day, at the same ground, the West Indies were bowled out for 143. Indeed, the short but face-paced series told the classic tale of T20 boom or bust mentality.

 Fine Margins

When you only have 120 balls, scoring boundaries is at the forefront of every batsman’s mind. Every ball is seen as an opportunity to score runs: short balls get pulled away, full balls can get dug out. In the World T20 this year, Chris Gayle scored at a strike rate of 194, with a high score of 100*. Virat Kohli averaged over 145, scoring at a strike rate of 140.

However, the average score in the tournament was only 137. It is widely considered to be a batsman’s game, but occasionally the bowlers dominate.

The last few years have seen the rise of leg-spinners, with Samuel Badree being the current number one ranked T20 bowler. Other upcoming talented T20 leg-spinners include Australian Adam Zampa and Indian Amit Mishra. Zampa recored to the best bowling figures in an innings in the 2016 IPL with 6/19. Mishra had the third best bowling performance with his 4/11.

A new breed of ‘death bowling’ has evolved, and there are now players like Dwayne Smith and Jaspirit Bumrah who only bowl at the end of the innings. They are specialists in bowling yorkers and thrive under pressure. As a result of this, this format has become a game of hit and miss. If a bowler manages to execute a good yorker, he stands a very good chance of picking up a wicket. Yet, if his length errs slightly, it is likely that the ball will sail 10 rows back, at any stage of the match. It is a game of fine margins. It neither favours the batsman on the bowlers- just the players in the best form.

No other format is less forgiving on a ball-by-ball basis. This is what makes T20 cricket so unpredictable, and this is what attracts all the fans. Whereas in Test cricket the quality of a side is thoroughly enforced over a period of five days, there is never a clear favourite in T20. After all, it is just 20 overs of mayhem. This mayhem can either be scoring 245 runs in just 20 overs, or being bowled out – not even lasting the full quota of overs.

West Indies vs India and the World T20

There is no better series to analyse T20 mentality than in the series we just witnessed. This is due to the identical conditions in which both matches were played. The second match was played at the same ground and, bar the eventual cancellation, the weather was very similar to the previous day’s match. Therefore, none of these conditions can account for the 102 run difference in the two scores. So what was the key difference?

One could simply pass it off onto the inclusion of Amit Mishra. The leg spinner picked up 3-24, and replaced Stuart Binny, who got hit for 0-32 in just one over – including five sixes. However, in fact the problem can be blamed on the aforementioned T20 mentality. While in the first game, Evin Lewis would smash a length ball into the stands, he failed to connect with anything in the second. Identical deliveries produced different results. It is a game of probabilities. Whereas luck went Lewis’ way in the first match, he found himself out of sorts in the second. His single mindset of attacking in one way succeeded marvellously in the first game. In the second game, his mindset caused him to fail. While this single aggressive mindset indicates a 50% chance of success, is it a sustainable way for the game to be played?

Let’s take a look at West Indies record at the World T20 earlier this year, a good metric to analyse overall trends in performance. The West Indies posted two scores of over 180 in their 6 matches, against England and India. However, they also scored under 130 in the three of those games. From this it is easy to gauge the effect that T20 mentality has on a team. In frank terms, half of the time the West Indies “boomed” and the other half of the time, they went “bust”. This handed the West Indies the trophy. But how sustainable are these fluctuating results for a team?

In the same World T20, England played the same number of matches and reached the final – ending up as runners up. England never scored less than 130. They crossed 180 two times as well. Moreover, the majority of England’s totals were between 140 and 160. Unlike the West Indies, England managed to find a more consistent approach – and they would have won. Except the West Indies got lucky on the day of the final.

Another tournament which is extremely useful in looking deeper into the minds of T20 cricketers is the action-packed, but long IPL.

The 2016 IPL 

What we are trying to achieve by looking at the 2016 IPL is to determine what is the best way to play T20 cricket over a long period of time. Is the West Indian hit and miss solution a viable answer? Or should teams aim to find a level of consistency to which they can constantly reach?

The IPL was won by the Sunrisers Hyderabad under the leadership of David Warner. In order for them to have won the tournament, one would expect that scoring quick runs would be essential. However, it wasn’t. David Warner, who scored 848 runs, went at a striker rate of just over 150. However, he and Yuvraj Singh were the only Sunrisers players to feature in the top 50 fastest scoring players. Deepak Hooda was the next fastest scoring SRH player, and he scored at only 119.

Batting first, their average first innings score was: 165. Compare this to the Royal Challengers Bangalore (who also embody the “boom or bust” approach), the runners-up, who had a star-studded line-up. RCB’s average first innings total was a mammoth 211. In fact, their lowest score batting first was 151 – just 15 runs less than Surniser’s average total.

From this we can draw the conclusion that scoring at a fast pace, and posting large totals, is not the only ingredient needed to engineer long term success. Let’s take a look at their bowlers. The best bowling performance from an SRH player was from Bhuveneshwar Kumar. His 4/29 against the Gujarat Lions was the 13th best bowling figures in an innings. Every team has a bowler with better figures in an innings ahead of Kumar. In fact they only have 6 entries out of the top 50 best performances. Not quite what you would expect from the champions.

Where does the difference lie between them and the other teams? The answer lies in their bowler economy rates. Their pace attack was remarkably miserly. Mustafizur Rahman, their key death bowler, went at under 7 an over. Their most expensive regular fast bowler was Ashish Nehra, whose economy was only 7.6. That was the 29th best economy out of all the players.

By looking at the best bowling performances in an innings, we see an example of the hit and miss approach, while the economies of a bowlers is a measure of overall consistency. The statistics presented earlier clearly indicate that neither fast runs or explosive bowing performances are needed for long-term success. Indeed, to win a tournament such as the IPL – a certain level of consistency is required. If a team can constantly achieve this standard, they will flourish.

Conclusion

T20 matches can be won or lost in an over. Just ask Binny. Yet, there is still an immense value to be found in performing the basics consistently. T20 bowling is not about attempting to buy wickets and costing runs. It is all about restriction, which has a strong correlation with a loss wickets. However taking wickets should not be in the forefront of a bowlers mind, but the reduction of runs should be.

That is the optimal solution in a long tournament, as shown in the Sunrisers’ campaign. A one-off T20 match is still different. As the West Indies found in the final, the “hit and miss” approach can single handedly win matches. However, if the final was played another day – the result would have been completely different.

The way in which a team should play their T20 cricket depends on the context of the match. A long term tournament such as the IPL requires consistent performances. Yet, a one-off match will be played in a different way. The West Indies proved that against India, and their “boom or bust” mentality is in fact a viable way of playing in a short series.

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