Big Runs, Big Deal? T20 Series Review

Greetings all. Have you caught your breath after the T20 series? What absolute carnage that was. Approximately 400 runs per game and a couple of close finishes too. The organisers certainly got what they wanted.

I did originally plan to write a match report after every game. However, tempting as that was after our capitulation in the first match of the series – it’s perfectly acceptable to push a run a ball when you need 7 off 7 lads – I thought it was best to simply write a summary at the end.

I decided to do this because, entertaining as T20s are, they tend to blend into one over time. They don’t have the ebb and flow of Test matches (or even ODIs to a certain extend) and therefore games tend not to have their own individual character or idiosyncrasies. They’re just full on. Therefore I came to the conclusion that three separate reports would become a bit repetitive.

So how would I summarise the series? Basically bat thrashed ball. We saw heavy bats, short boundaries, big hitters, and bowlers looking forlorn and bewildered at times.

Was this fun? Most certainly. Should we take it seriously? That’s up to you. Was I pleased England won? Yes but it’s no biggie. I tend to take T20 with a pinch of salt. It’s just a big spectacle. And I enjoy it the same way I enjoy an all-action Hollywood blockbuster – I switch my brain off and enjoy the show. It ticks many of my boxes but I’ll never love the format because it’s a bit one dimensional.

One of the reasons that I love Test cricket is because bowlers can attack. It’s about taking twenty wickets as much as scoring runs. The captain can put fielders where he likes – so the tactical element is enhanced – and if the pitches are good then it’s an even balance between bat and ball.

T20, on the other hand, is obviously designed to favour the batsmen. And that’s absolutely fine if you like that sort of thing. But it’s surely a worry that bowlers are somewhat diminished. They’re not quite the ‘bowling machines’ that some say they are, and I do like the way that spinners are often highly relevant in the shortest form, but when you see batsmen scoring at two runs per ball, and frequently making 50s in approximately twenty balls, I do worry that T20 has become one way traffic.

One wonders whether this model is sustainable in the long run? I can understand why the administrators want to see multiple boundaries every over – it certainly attracts the casual fans – but perhaps they should think about it this way: surely the more you see of something the less special it becomes?

If one had chateaubriand for dinner every day it would soon become the norm and, dare I say it, a bit mundane. I’m beginning to feel this way about sixes. I used to jump out of my chair when an England player hit a ‘maximum’; now I merely smile. In ten years’ time I wonder how many might merely mutter ‘meh’.

Recent news from the Big Bash also provides food for thought. Attendances are well down and many believe the tournament is at a crossroads. Have the Aussies strangled the golden goose? It’s certainly possible. Although we can’t blame T20 as a format entirely because it remains highly popular elsewhere, maybe we’re seeing the first signs of what I’m going to call ‘six saturation’ point.

Having said all that, I’m certainly looking forward to the World T20 in Australia later this year. These slogfests do have a lot more meaning and context when there’s silverware to play for. What’s more, it would be great if England could be both ODI and T20 champions at the same time.

If the pitches remain flat (which is highly likely) then I imagine we have a great chance of winning down under. Our batting has few equals when it comes to firepower, and although our bowling looked pedestrian in this series, the addition of Jofra Archer will surely help.

What do you make of Buttler playing as an opener? Personally I’m not convinced. This isn’t because I don’t think Jos is a tremendous white ball talent – he’s clearly bloody brilliant – it’s because I think England are undervaluing how important it is to have a world class finisher down the order.

When it comes to tight run-chases there’s nobody I’d rather have at the death than Jos He’s amazing at manipulating both the field and the strike. England have plenty of batsmen who can shine at the top of the order – mentally it’s relatively simple to go out there and express yourself – but as we saw in the first game of this series, thinking cricketers with the ability to stay calm under pressure are incredibly rare. This is why moving Buttler up to open rather wastes one of our trump cards.

Opening with Buttler also splits up the Roy / Bairstow axis for no reason whatsoever. Yes it doesn’t make a lot of difference if Jonny bats at 3 but why bother fixing something if it’s not broken? I’d simply pick Dawid Malan at 3 (where he’d play ahead of Joe Root) and keep Jos as a trump card down other order.

I’d certainly feel a lot more confident with Jos at the crease than rely on the relatively inexperienced Dawid, and the entertaining but not particularly reliable Moeen, to see us over the line in a tight World T20 final. What about you? My top 7 would therefore look like this Roy, Bairstow, Malan, Morgan, Stokes, Buttler, Moeen. And then the bowlers …

When it comes to our bowling attack I’m not so confident. I like the spin duo of Rashid and Mo but the seamers are much of a muchness. In fact, I don’t think it makes much difference who we choose. Jordan, the Currans, Woakes etc – they’re all ok but they’re hardly sure bets.

I was also a bit disappointed with Wood in this series. I thought he could be a real difference-maker, like he is in the Test and ODIs sides, but instead he leaked too many runs. Sometimes the faster the ball comes onto the bat, the faster it comes off the bat. Sigh.

Fortunately, however, I sense that our relative lack of firepower doesn’t really matter in the end. T20 is a batsman’s game and as long as we score one more run that the opposition then we’ll all be as happy as pigs in filth.

In other news the England Lions have been touring Australia over the last few weeks. The white ball team went undefeated, which is no mean feat, and the all-important red ball leg of the tour has just begun.

This is an important couple of weeks for English cricket because we’ve sent a very strong batting side in the hope of putting down a marker ahead of the Ashes in two years’ time. If the likes of Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley struggle against the Aussies’ second string then it doesn’t exactly bode well.

Although the current game against a Cricket Australia XI is headed for a high-scoring draw, the early signs have been good – Sibley, Keaton Jennings, and the hugely promising Dan Lawrence all made big scores in the first innings.

However, it’s important to keep this game in perspective. The CA XI doesn’t look very strong at all to me. It’s packed full of kids, many of whom were playing for Australia U19 not long ago, and few of them have any domestic pedigree whatsoever. Meanwhile, the players that do have some experience are journeymen with mediocre domestic records. Basically, anything other than a run glut would’ve been hugely disappointing.

To be honest I’m actually a little worried that the CA XI have made a big score in reply. Jake Lehmann (Darren’s son) isn’t anywhere near as good as his Dad, and the other Aussie century-maker Jack Edwards is a 19 year old who averages just 24 in his eleven first class games to boot.

To be honest I’m a bit worried about our bowling reserves. The Lions squad lacks a bit of pace and venom. Yes this looks like a very flat pitch but I would’ve expected a bit more penetration against a hugely inexperienced CA side.

Although Dom Bess kept things tight he didn’t pick up a wicket. Meanwhile I think we all know that the Lions’ best bowler in this game, Craig Overton, is never going to be a star at Test level. Maybe the fact that Lewis Gregory could only bowl 4 overs in CA’s 469-8 was too much of a handicap to overcome.

James Morgan

16 comments

  • They were reasonably entertaining matches because they were generally evenly poised throughout. But they would have been just as enjoyable if all three games had been 130 plays 130.

    Its the tension and changes is dramatic narrative that make the games exciting, not the 6s.

  • So in amateur T20, you write down the top 3 and the bottom 3 and then 4-8 you are flexible and just send out the right man for the job at that moment – do we need to rebuild or capitalise on a fast start? How many overs are left? What bowling have they got left? Are they going with spin or pace? Is it a ground for smacking 6s or running 2s?

    So for England I’d go Roy, Bairstow, Hales as the top 3, then Buttler,, Stokes, Ali and Morgan as my middle order, that could go out in any order.

  • In this last match only two bowlers went for less than 10 per over, and England had both of them – Tom Curran and Ben Stokes. In retrospect this game was settled by overs 5-9 of the SA innings (52-0 off four, to 90-2 off 9, 38-2 off the five overs, which in the context of the match was a serious freeze). It was a fine series, but like you I set little store by T20.

  • You watch T20 with a completely different eye to other formats, even ODI’s, as there’s no semblance of attacking cricket from the fielding side. It’s like attack v defence. However it’s non the less skilful for that and in its own way being able to perform under time pressure is no mean feat.
    I know the players are not as important individually as there’s always an alternative to perform over short periods, but anyone who can have a measure of consistency is not to be sneezed at. It’s also a format where experienced cricketers tend to bo better as they’re more comfortable with their game. The bowlers learn to vary pace, line and length using the same action the captains to place unorthodox fields and batsmen learn to improvise to counter this. In its own way it’s still like a game of chess. We’re exploring the limits of the game’s potential here to a far greater degree than red ball does and it is certainly more exciting to the untrained eye the organisers are looking to attract.
    The point I am making is it stands alone and mustn’t be degraded as an inferior cousin of proper cricket.

  • If a constant bombardment of sixes is your desire then fine – the three games could hardly have provided more, and two of them had very tight finishes. I liked your reference to chateaubriand, James, as to me a diet of maximums is about as appetising as a double whopper burger (or whatever they call ’em these days).
    We have certainly got the batsmen for this type of game but our bowlers, mmm. Most bowlers have heavily disadvantaged in this type of cricket but some of our bowling was just plain rubbish. As to the batting order, I reckon that Buttler opening is stupid, bit he clearly has his friends in high places.
    Ultimately I enjoy cricket games that have balance between bat and ball and subtlety, none of which were on display. Each to their own.

    • As I said, the organisers are not looking to attract you and I, so our views on the game are pretty irrelevant to them. They have little interest in trying to convert the uncovertable.
      I would still argue that there is a balance between bat and ball, after all the best way of slowing the run rate is to take wickets. The skill sets are certainly still there, and there is certainly subtlety, especially in bowlers variations, though they point in a different direction from red ball and the all round fielding has improved beyond measure since white ball became a specialist entertainment. No player can hide in the field any more. There are 3 disciplines in cricket, not just batting.

  • A single change could revitalise T20, for me; which would be to allow bowlers 5 overs, so each could make a significant impact on the score.

    I like your suggested batting order.

    As for bowlers – from the numbers it seems the average difference between a good (economical) bowler and a mediocre one is just 8 runs per match. On that basis we should select at least 9 bowlers with an average of 15 plus and a high strike rate. And we do (Curran and Rashid). Which is one reason we do pretty well. Because the upper order can then go all out.

  • Does anybody here find themselves engrossed/enthralled/entertained during the first innings of a 20-over match?

    I hadn’t realized how much I wasn’t until an American non-sport-fan pointed it out last year, when taken to a match:

    “Controversial American opinion: the first half of a (20/20) cricket match is almost not worth watching, since there’s no competition to it. In the second half, when you know what the first team has scored, you have a sense of what the 2nd team’s score means.” — https://twitter.com/lynneguist/status/1168145973941559296

    In first-class or 50-over cricket, it’s possible for the bowling side to start well/the batters to start badly, or for who’s doing best to vary over the innings — and for that to be apparent to those watching.

    But in a game where inevitably the batters just hit lots of boundaries, it’s so much harder to tell. Hitting quite a lot of boundaries and hitting an actual lot of boundaries basically look the same.

    When so many victories are by such small margins (see also the recent women’s tri-nations series between England, Australia, and India), the eventual winner can often seem a bit arbitrary; it’s far from clear that the better team won.

    • Dealing with American baseball fanatics is quite easy. When I worked with them I just used to point out that it is not only within the rules of cricket, but positively encouraged, to aim the ball at the batsman’s head at 90mph+, whilst if you do the same in baseball they burst into tears and throw a tantrum. Always worked.

  • I think the Big Bash is the first to suffer burn out in this format. It’s not just that after watching endless “maximums ” on flat pitches it all starts to become rather samey, but also the BB has increased the amount of games, but obviously the dollar in the punters pocket isn’t infinite. The same may well be yet another nail in the coffin of the impending 100; following on from the Blas twill the punters want more of more or less the same thing or would he/she and the kids prefer to spend their hard earned cash on a different leisure pursuit? There are plenty of them competing for our custom. One thing in life, more is seldom better because it almost aways devalues the product. I’ll stick to my one Big Mac a week, and look forward to it!

    • Barely 10k turned up for the BBL Final which is fewer than some NWB Pool matches – yet the ECB are burning down the English domestic season for some ersatz version of the BBL.

      One reason for the BBL’s decline is they expanded the format so the later rounds now fall outside the school holidays. The immediate response of the modern sports’ administrator to a format that works is to bloat it until it doesn’t.

  • You’ve captured what most of us think, that while they are temporarily enjoyable all these T20s are ultimately forgettable.

    The one thing that does stick with me though is a sense of disappointment at seeing this be the end point of the Great Steyn’s career. Good on him for still playing, for making a good living and a comfortable future. I do not begrudge him anything, he has earned it and is no lesser for it. I just miss seeing him bowl in Tests, and these are no substitute.

  • I must first disclose my hatred of 20/20. Not only because of the nature of the game but also because it is being used as leverage to destroy the grass roots game at club level by pressurising local leagues to completely abandon timed games and to constantly reduce the number of overs in limited over games. However, there are some changes (which are touched on in the article) which would improve this abomination;

    * No reduction in boundaries. A minimum of 60 metres and average of at least 70 metres at international level.
    * A minimum water content in bats (say 12%) to prevent bats being pressed to produce trampoline effects.
    * A maximum bat weight of 2lb 12oz.
    * No fielding restrictions.
    * Only use of the Duke ball (no useless Kookaburras) and a minimum seam measure (all to enable bowlers to have some weapons).
    * No automatic leg side wides. The rule to be as for height – is it hittable.

    I would also ban helmets for 20/20 on the grounds they enable shots which would not be contemplated without a helmet (such as the ramp) but I am sure this would be rejected on Elf and Safety grounds.

  • I enjoy T20 the same way as I enjoy a bag of crisps – it’s great but not a full meal!
    Strangely I believe that as the game “develops” it will be the team with the best bowling attack that wins. With big bats, small boundaries and hours of practice every international team have a batting order capable of scoring +200 runs. A bowling unit capable of taking early wickets with a couple of wicket taking spinners in the middle overs will 9/10 times win – even in T20 losing wickets slows the run rate.

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