T20 pressures make it a difficult game

2014-03-29 00:00

IT’S like the ingredients for success are elusive to determine. No sooner have I worked out the kind of cricketers that should be in a winning T20 team than along comes a series of games that makes no sense of my theories. I am coming to the conclusion that, at the highest levels where the pressure is intense, this is a difficult game to play well with any kind of consistency.

Before this World Cup, I had begun to believe that the ideal T20 team should consist of powerful, athletic cricketers that excelled in at least two of the game’s disciplines. One of which must be fielding given the slender margins that often exist between victory and defeat.

Mystery and left-arm spinners appear to have become an essential part of any good T20 team and they are excused from fitting into the above prototype. Accordingly, the four-year cycle between world cups should be used to find a squad that meets these selection criteria.

Before this tournament began, it seemed to me that the teams that closely fitted my criteria were Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies, all of whom were defeated in their first full-length matches by teams that do not complete my menu for success.

The tournament has some way to run and it may be that one or more of the above teams will get to the final but at this early stage it seems that knowledge and experience of sub-continent conditions are as important as ever when ICC competitions are held in that part of the world.

Or is this T20 stuff just a kind of lottery where a couple of outstanding performances on the day will swing a match irrespective of the make-up of the two teams? Effectively, this is what happened when South Africa “stole” their match against the Kiwis.

Brilliant batting from JP Duminy and a driven four overs from the remarkable Dale Steyn overcame ropey efforts, Amla and Tahir excepted, from the rest of their team-mates.

When Australia, my favourites for the tournament, lost to Pakistan, not enough of their potential match-winners performed sufficiently well to enable their team to get past Pakistan despite crackerjack batting from both Maxwell and Finch. They were trumped in their efforts by Umar Akmal, who made 94, and the three Pakistan spinners. The rest of the athletic Aussies were anonymous and their mystery spinner Hogg was easily dealt with by the Pakistanis.

The matches are so short that there is simply not enough time for an entire top batting order to fire. Those batsmen that get in owe it to their teams to make scores well in excess of 50 and closer to a hundred. Twenties and thirties are no good unless they are made by players coming in late in the innings. The other observation is that good spinners are more economical than the faster bowlers.

So where does all this leave the Proteas who certainly do not fit my increasingly dubious bill?

Their match against an erratic but dangerous England team has become a quarter-final.

The slender evidence of their first two matches suggests that AB de Villiers has not yet coped with the responsibility of being the best and most destructive batsman in the team. This has put too much pressure on the rest of the batsmen of whom only Duminy has risen to the occasion.

De Villiers needs to be told that it is foolhardy and unnecessary to move round in the crease. He is good enough to stand still and wait for the ball to come to him which is how all the best hitters bat.

It is not possible to hit with any consistency off the unstable base that is created when the head and feet are moving all over the place. This is where Domingo should come in as coach of the team, but does he have the authority and respect that would enable him to sit down with AB and tell him how to bat? I think not.

I worry about Amla at the front of the order. He is a world-class Test and ODI batsman but asking him to open the innings in a T20 match is like asking a Gold Cup winner to do well in a sprint. He does not have the strokes or strength to take advantage of the crucial six-over power play which means it places too much pressure on De Kock to get going.

Whoever comes in following a laboured innings from Amla is forced to increase the pace of the innings and is immediately out of his comfort zone. In quick time the pressure cascades onto all the other batsmen.

We were able to beat New Zealand because, thanks to JP, we scored over 70 runs in the last four overs. That kind of remarkable hitting from a perilous position is not going to happen often.

Apart from Steyn and Tahir, the South African bowling has been disappointing. Neither Tsotsobe nor Morné Morkel is proficient at two disciplines and their bowling in sub continent conditions has not been good enough to justify their continued inclusion in the team.

I am surprised that Parnell has not been in the team from the start as he offers something different with the ball. He can bowl at the death of an innings, is a good fielder and a more-than-useful batsman.

I cannot see Phangiso or Hendricks adding much to the team. Both, along with Behardien, are destined to be passengers for the rest of the trip. The omission of Abbot has been a blunder. He would have been an ideal replacement for either Morkel or Tsotsobe, one of whom will have to play again.

Poor selections together with some poor batting and bowling add up to a team that will struggle to reach the semi-finals. I hope that I am proved wrong.

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