Cricket Xtra: Technique still matters in T20

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Top form: Virat Kohli.

Modern day batting in limited overs cricket has a lot to do with power. Big bats and unhinged hitting have resulted in many good bowlers being dispatched to and beyond the boundary on countless occasions.

The art of playing along the ground seems like an excuse for an apparent inability to send the ball into the stands.

In T20s, this phenomenon is even more acute. If you think of T20 batting, the names of Chris Gayle, David Warner and AB de Villiers come to mind. And so they should because these mega hitters have made the format what it is today with their superhuman stroke-making.

And T20 leagues like the IPL are the perfect platform for such a brand of cricket to be played out in front of a hungry audience. But as the game evolves, so does its parameters. Nothing remains forever and dynamics change season to season.

And this IPL, the notion that T20 batting is all about power has been thoroughly challenged.

In 2014, the top four run-scorers in the IPL were Robin Uthappa, Dwayne Smith, Glenn Maxwell and David Warner. All these players are typical T20 batsmen, capable of sending the ball over the infield at will. So no surprises there.

But last year, the scenario changed. The second most prolific batsmen of the 2015 IPL was Ajinkya Rahane. The Mumbai batsman is one of the most technically gifted players in India and plays traditional shots to get his runs. He is more than capable of hitting sixes and can maintain a high scoring rate, whichever position he is batting in. But his presence on that list showed that players who time the ball well and hit the gaps can also make a mark in the shortest format.

This year, the situation has changed even more. The top scorer so far has been Royal Challengers Bangalore skipper Virat Kohli, who is going through the most fruitful phase of his career. And giving him company in the top five batsmen’s list are Rahane and Gautam Gambhir.

So let’s take a look at Kohli and Gambhir. Both batsmen don’t bully the bowlers into submission. While the Indian Test captain believes in finding the gaps in the field and running hard between the wickets, while occasionally hitting it over the fence, Gambhir is at home nudging the ball behind the wicket to get going before expanding his range.

Make no mistake, those who can hit the big shots will always be in demand. But the game is evolving rapidly and those with a good technique are finding ways to meet the challenges.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence but this year, we saw Gayle being benched. It must be a strange feeling for the Jamaican to not be selected in a T20 league despite being in the squad. But it has happened multiple times so far and given his recent record, not a totally surprising one.

I didn’t think the ‘traditional’ batsman would lead the way in a 20-over show. But as happens in most aspects in life, only those with a solid base succeed in the long run. And as Kohli and Rahane have shown, you don’t have to be batting Hulks to get the job done in the T20 arena.

The perfect T20 all-rounder

When talking about the best T20 players, the names of Gayle and de Villiers just automatically come to mind.

Generally, when we think about the best players in any format, we tend to pick either batsmen or bowlers. But all-rounders are very rarely our first picks. They come just a little lower in the list.

Over the years, we have seen some great all-rounders play the game with great distinction. Most have been excellent in one aspect and good or decent in another.

Jacques Kallis was an exception in that he was technically flawless in everything he did on the cricket field but many felt he lacked charisma. So in a sense, there seemed something lacking in most all-rounders.

But when I look at West Indies’ Andre Russell, no such thought comes to mind. He is a T20 fan’s dream come true.

Russell is firstly an outstanding limited overs bowler. He can bowl seriously fast, close to 150kmph, on responsive wickets, and change his pace when the surface is slow. He takes wickets more often than not and in this IPL, has even maintained an economy rate of less than eight an over.

With the bat, he can match the biggest strokemakers shot for shot and a career strike rate of 165, scoring more than 2900 runs in T20s, is proof that he is super consistent too.

In the field, Russell is a live wire, throwing his body around, taking stunning catches and affecting run outs.

While there have been many players who have contributed heavily to the popularity of T20s, I feel no other cricketer personifies the format better than Russell.

He has the ability to make substantial contributions in every aspect of the game in whichever capacity he is on the field. And that’s a special talent.

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