The recently concluded England- Australia T20 series has thrown up some interesting lessons that could well reflect on how the initial IPL 2020 games will turn out to be. England came into the series from a full international season and most of their players were well into their competitive cricketing rhythm. Australia, on the other hand, were coming off a six-month layoff from international cricket due to the COVID -19 pandemic. And in spite of the intensity of their practice sessions and the intra- squad warm up games, Australia’s rustiness showed, quite dramatically, in all three matches that they played. (More Cricket News)
In an uncharacteristic display, Australia choked at crucial moments in the first two games and lost and almost choked again in the third before a determined sixth-wicket partnership between Mitchell Marsh and Ashton Agar got them over the line with three balls to spare.
In spite of a great opening partnership between David Warner and Aaron Finch in the first T20 International, that seemingly belied any signs of rustiness due to a long lay-off, the Australian batting, with all its depth, has not really hit international match rhythm yet. The reason for this is, that the confidence that comes from batting in competitive matches is the key for any team to build or chase down totals.
Without match practice, even a batting order as talented as the Australian line-up of Finch, Warner, Steve Smith, Glenn Maxwell and Marcus Stoinis, will struggle. And this is even more so in the shortest format of the game where there is often no time to get your eye in or settle into your groove by playing out a few quiet overs.
Friendlies don’t matter
The rustiness from the Australia’s lay-off surfaced unexpectedly at times, contributing to uncharacteristic freezing up at the crease and inexplicable run outs and batting collapses. It happened spectacularly to Stoinis in the closing stages of the first game, when he just couldn’t get bat on ball with 19 required from 12 deliveries, in spite of having been in great form in the intra- squad warm up games. This only serves to show up the huge gap between competitive matches under pressure and warm up friendlies.
Aussies celebrate during a T20I match against England. Photo - AP
Getting bat on ball right from the word go, is therefore likely to be a daunting proposition for most players in the initial stages of the upcoming IPL 2020 matches in the UAE, especially the ones who haven’t played competitive cricket in the last six months. And the burden to perform, would probably be heavier on players from England, West Indies and now, Australia.
Having said that however, one can also look back at the rollicking opening partnership between Warner and Finch to say that some players may also ‘hit the ground running’ and bat as if they had never been away. But they are likely to be the exceptions than the rule.
Jofra Archer, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler, three English cricketers in fine form, easily come to mind, as ones who would have an obvious advantage at this time, at least in the initial games. Buttler has taken over the role of England’s leading T20 batsman, after his struggles in the early part of the summer and has batted with the kind of form and confidence that can take any bowling attack apart. His batting in the recent T20 series has been a combination of confident hitting, finding the gaps and using the depth of the crease, making him a dangerous player in any situation.
Buttler would be looking forward to carrying that form into the IPL 2020 for Rajasthan Royals. Ben Stokes, coming off a break due to his father’s illness, would be another one that could provide the Royals an early advantage.
Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler plotting will be in the thick of the action. AP Photo
Moeen Ali is another player who has rediscovered himself as a batsman and can finish off games, with the kind of self -belief that is so welcome at the death. The ability to clear the boundary at such times, is so often the difference between winning and losing. Buttler has it in abundance and Moeen has shown it too, of late. Royal Challengers Bangalore would no doubt, be looking at him to deliver in tight games.
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Glenn Maxwell is expected to take up a similar batting role for King’s XI Punjab, although he is yet to find his rhythm fully. As would Finch, Warner, Smith, Stoinis and the other Australian players, for their respective teams, riding on the experience of having played recent competitive international cricket, setting them apart from the ones who haven’t.
Amongst the fast bowlers who have been on display in recent times, Jofra Archer and Mark Wood have been outstanding in T20s and could easily play devastating roles for Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, respectively, fulfilling their need to take early wickets in the Powerplays.
Mind over matter
In England, their consistent, searing pace touched 94.8 mph at times and as any batsman will testify, it is a different ball game altogether when a fast bowler hits the 90 plus mark, compared to when he bowls in the mid- 80s. When that kind of luxury is available, ‘pace on’ can suddenly become a better option than ‘pace off’ in a T20.
Pat Cummins too, would be similarly raring to go for Kolkata Knight Riders. However, the heat and dead tracks of UAE could easily take the edge off their rhythm and hostility.
The biggest disadvantage with all these players will however, be their unavailability in the first week of IPL 2020 due to quarantine reasons.
The other factor that could potentially influence performance could be the long times that all these cricketers would have spent in isolation in bio secure bubbles, by the time the IPL comes to an end. For the ones who hit a bad patch or get dropped from teams, the isolation and the inability to take a break from the environment could well become a nightmarish experience.
All these are however, issues related to the ‘new normal’ in cricket and would need to be closely watched and studied, to determine how the game is going to be played in days to come.
(The writer, a retired Wing Commander, served in the Indian Air Force and played Ranji Trophy for the Services team. Views are personal)