Now that the county championship has finished for another year (in depressingly autumnal conditions), it’s time to look ahead to the winter. And the very first event on England’s radar is the T20 World Cup, which starts as soon as 16th October. Can you believe it? The schedule is relentless these days.
Although regular readers will know that I prefer Test cricket, I’m still partial to the odd T20 thrash-fest. It can be rather entertaining after all. Yes, it doesn’t have the same ‘ebb and flow’ (an expression that’s become something of a cliché) but it still has a certain what the French call, “I don’t know what”.
The problem with most T20s, of course, is that the games seem to blend into one and the results are soon forgotten. It’s more about having a good night out, or an entertaining night in, than caring whether your team wins. The games just don’t have enough context.
However, it’s always a different story when T20 World Cups roll round. Suddenly, there’s something to play for. And this year, we have the opportunity to deny Australia glory on their home turf. Wouldn’t it be glorious to see Jos Buttler lift the trophy at a packed MCG?
So who’s your money on? I guess it’s the usual suspects: India will be strong, nobody will fancy playing Pakistan, and New Zealand may punch above their weight, yet again. However, one team that nobody’s really talking about is South Africa – and that’s because the Proteas and World Cups (of any kind) don’t seem to mix particularly well.
This time, however, I have a sneaky feeling that the Cricket Boks might do ok. Conditions down under should suit them – well, more than subcontinental conditions, anyway – and they showed in England a few weeks ago that they’re not to be underestimated in white ball cricket: they tied the ODI series and beat us in the T20s. They’ll also be under less pressure than normal. Many of their big names have called it a day and I doubt they’ll be fancied without the likes of Dale Steyn and AB de Villiers.
Fortunately, however, South Africa do still have the likes of Quinton de Kock, Kagiso Rabada, David Miller and even Lungi Ngidi, all of whom should enjoy the Australian wickets. They also have a number of promising young players who might just click. Morale is also pretty high, as Miller makes clear in this interview on the Betway blog, “we’re playing really, really well as a team… and we’ve bought into what we want to do and what works.”
This interview is quite revealing because de Kock and Rabada are quite up front about the demands placed on cricketers these days, especially for those (like the latter) who play all three formats – or should that be four or five formats if we include the bleedin’ Hundred and the Saudi T10?
De Kock, who retired from Test cricket at the age of just 29 (the traitor!), admits that his body feels a lot fresher these days. And therefore his mind feels a lot fresher, too. Rabada agrees, saying, “yeah, it is becoming challenging playing all three formats. You’re playing all year, with all the franchise leagues that are involved as well. Mentally, it takes a toll on you, as it does physically”.
The good news, however, is that Kagiso doesn’t see himself chucking in Test cricket in the near future, although he’s clearly aware that he might have to choose between formats in the future. Let’s hope he’s got a few good years left at the highest level, or does a Ben Stokes and chucks in ODIs instead.
Rabada is a superstar so it’s interesting to read his thoughts on T20 bowling strategies. Obviously, it’s very much a batter’s game these days – too much so in my opinion – so how does he approach things when the batsmen are coming at him? Overall, he stresses the “need to be creative” and think on his feet.
Meanwhile, Ngidi emphasises mind games: “Set one field and then bluff them with a completely different delivery… people say the yorker is still the best ball but these guys have trained to hit that out of the park now”. He makes a good point, although I still think that a perfectly executed yorker is bloody hard to get away. But then again, a perfectly executed yorker is bloody hard to bowl!
Ironically, I think that South Africa are possibly the antithesis of England in T20 cricket. We’re strong in batting but pretty weak in bowling (well, seam bowling anyway). South Africa’s bowling, on the other hand, is stronger than their batting – at least in my opinion.
It’s interesting that England have still been quite competitive in the T20s in Pakistan despite missing a whole host of experienced batters like Buttler, Stokes, and the crocked Bairstow. Fortunately, we have some really exciting players waiting in the wings. In fact, selecting England’s best T20 batting line-up at the mo is a pretty tough ask. The likes of Harry Brook, Phil Salt, and even Ben Duckett have largely taken their opportunities.
The good thing about T20, of course, is that anyone can beat anyone on a particular day. Yes, this can make the format seem like a bit of a lottery, but it does give every team a sporting chance to do well. It’s all about individuals pulling something special out of the bag at crucial moments.
And not choking.
Fortunately, for South Africa at least, their new generation isn’t scarred by past disappointments. They won four out of five games in their last white ball tournament, which somehow wasn’t enough to qualify, and they recognise that, in the words of Ngidi, “luck does play a big part”. I tend to agree.
Consequently, I’m not too worried that England have lost three of their last four T20 series. And I wouldn’t have been worried if we’d lost the deciding game against Pakistan, either. As de Kock reminds us, “at the World Cup, it’s anybody’s game. The team that’s in form is not necessarily going to be the team that’s going to win it”.
He’s not wrong. Just ask Stokes. England were the form team in 2016 T20 World Cup… until the very final over.
I honestly couldn’t care less. It has no context and no relevance to proper cricket. (Just my opinion…I know some people love the shorter form). Looking forward to the test tours though…and our county season next spring/autumn!
Still find it weird people read an article and comment on a format of a game they have no interest in. Surely you must have something better to do or is your life so empty?
Malan played most of the games
I meant Stokes! No idea why I wrote Malan.
At least playing the tournament in Australia should mean that the toss doesn’t decide the games for once. Floodlit T20s in Asia are a farce because of the dew.
SA did look good in the last tournament and were somewhat unfortunate to be knocked out. The hosts must be favourites though. I used to like the competition and it was the only T20 I watched – but now the format has cannabalised the rest of the game I’m struggling to raise much enthusiasm.
And how convenient that England’s series with Pakistan has come down to a “nail-biting decider”….
Having watched more than a couple of T20 Blast games in the last 7 years or so. Too samey, boring and just an excuse for a piss up. As James says all games just blend into on. And why not suggesting anything untoward why do nearly all these T20 Series (?) go 2/2 or 3/3 which does set up a, in the current case, a damp squib final but it’s a bit odd. Did Pakistan just give up when they lost both openers? Well everyone left.
But oh my, what a finish to the County Championship! The Hampshire/Warwickshire game had everything you could want from a 4 day game despite being pushed almost into October (ECB policy to get rid of red ball cricket).
T20 eat your heart out.
As a gentleman of a certain age, I’m more a 4/5 day person than a T20 freak.
I also think that T20 has its place in domestic/franchise cricket more than at international level. Because of the cross-pollination of players at franchise level, the standard of cricket and strength of teams can be higher than some international squads.
As for the comments that it seems “convenient” that a lot of T20 series seem to go to deciders, I don’t see this as too much of a surprise. The shorter the game, the more equal the teams, or at least the greater chance that an upset may occur. One would suggest that Afghanistan have a better chance of beating Australia in T20 than Tests and not just because that is where they tend to be stronger.
For me, this World Cup will pass by in a bit of a blur before the proper cricket with a red ball starts in December.
The good thing about the shorter format is that it’s so unpredictable. There’s no obvious favourite. A half decent run could win it for almost any of the top 7 test playing counties. The important thing if you’re going to appreciate this format is it has definite skill sets. If you don’t acknowledge this then there’s no point watching. There’s no need for those sets to compromise the other formats, it’s just the way the game’s administrators are playing their games at the moment. It’s sad but all formats should be able to coexist expedentially.
Like James, I prefer long from cricket, but usually enjoy 2020 on the day, however unmemorable.
It was good following the Pakistan series between two well matched teams. I think England’s resilience does make them world cup contenders.
Whisper it softly: is Moeen perhaps a better captain than Buttler?
With the CC season over, time to revisit two TFT articles about the competition and see how they did:
1) Sussex would revive because they’d signed Pujara, Rizwan and Finn. Sussex finished second bottom of D2. The contribution of the overseas’ players could hardly be faulted but Finn took 7 wickets all year at nearly 70 each. The club have followed the same policy of signing apparently broken bowlers since it came off with Mushtaq and it’s failed repeatedly (Hutchison, Shahzad, Panesar etc etc). When they won the CC the seam attack was home-grown (Kirtley, Lewry, Martin-Jenkins), not parachuted in.
2) Sam Robson should be recalled for England – he had a decent season in D2 averaging 37 but many outperformed him including his opening partner Mark Stoneman who averaged 10 more.
I don’t write this to gloat that they were wrong (I’ve made plenty of wrong predictions in my time). The point is more about two annying tropes – the tendency to puff up high-profile CEOs (because the Sussex article was implicitly about Rob Andrew) and the neverending desire to promote certain personal favourites.
For someone who’s not gloating, it really sounds like you’re gloating!…mainly that you’re not the kind of idiot who comes out with those annoying old “tropes”. (Except that you do it as much as other people–you just don’t seem to realise it).
But, re-reading the articles, I’m wondering how on earth you come to the conclusion either that the Sussex article was a puff piece for Rob Andrew or that Sam Robson was a personal favourite. Both articles read very ambivalently to me: Robson might be the answer if he improves a bit, Sussex aren’t anywhere near out of the woods but there are a few causes for optimism.
You’ve also thrown in a couple of clever-LOOKING cliches which don’t bear much scrutiny. Panesar was “broken”? Sure, his England career was flatlining at that point, but he was still a good county bowler who took 215 wickets in his four seasons at an average of around 25–and was recalled by England on the back of it. He was a pretty astute signing I’d say. You appear to be confusing Sussex with Essex there. “Broken” is the kind of player which Meaker or Shahzad was by the time they signed for Sussex.
I think you’re also somewhat guilty of being wise after the event. I’ve also suggested Robson–at the moment I wouldn’t, I don’t think–but his performance in the first half of the season was pretty good and he merited being considered (it fell away rather in the second half). Even now, I’d say he’s up there with a bunch of not very convincing candidates for the opening slot. Who would YOU choose? After all, it’s easy to sit there and just slag off other people’s choices…:-)
Finn isn’t in the same continent as a signing as some of Sussex’s recent howlers–even though he’s had a shocker. He’s a bowler with a fine international record who’s been inconsistent recently and who’s only 33–so his signing was a risk, but probably no more so than Pujara, who had a terrible record in the Championship playing for several different counties. Pujara came off wonderfully but he could equally have ended up averaged 31 all season (and Finn was fine in the Blast, which they may well be more worried about and which may have been the main reason they signed him, given that he had a goodish recent T20 record for Middx).