It was in the 1992 ODI World Cup when we first saw that opening the batting was not necessarily about playing out the new ball. Mark Greatbatch showed that with field restrictions in place, it was probably the best time to launch an attack that would make the job of the middle-order easier.
Sri Lankan swashbucklers Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana took the cue and took it to another level four years later – an approach that became the go-to for most teams across the world in limited-overs cricket.
While ODI, from time to time, allowed the scope for restraint on the part of openers, the dynamics of T20 cricket demanded a completely different gear. Teams looked to get off the blocks in a hurry and 50 became a minimum in the first six overs to push for a competitive total.
But T20 is constantly evolving and what seemed brilliant five years ago is often getting termed below par now. We have seen that teams that are batting first are finding themselves invariably under pressure right from the word go. Chasing sides are comfortably reaching 180+ targets on good pitches. It has a lot to do with the fact that the fear of getting all out in 20 overs is much less and that gives the team batting second the leeway to go on the rampage right from go.
It is probably to negate this advantage factor for the chasing teams that in recent times, we have seen a change in approach of some of the sides, especially England and Australia. In the first six overs, with power hitters at the top, they are targeting something in the range of 80, which is setting the platform up for 200 – a target which is extremely difficult to chase down even on belters.
With Cameron Green and Aaron Finch on top, Australia were successful a couple of times in India. And now with David Warner back in the mix, it’s more likely that they will try doing it at home. England, too, did it with a degree of success in the recently concluded series against Australia and will look to keep it going with Alex Hales and Jos Buttler in the T20 World Cup.
And this is where the challenge arises for the Indian team. KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma are great T20 openers, but for a long time they have got used to the 50-par score. Both are clean strikers of the ball, but they aren’t sloggers. Add to that the mindset, which is calibrated for the 50-mark.
“The likes of Rahul, Rohit and Virat have grown up playing traditional cricket shots. It’s not that their strike-rate is bad, but they are not the Pant, Ishan Kishan generation whose games have been built with T20 cricket in mind. But I don’t see a reason why they should try and emulate the likes of Warner or Hales, because India can get the same amount of runs in a different way. Not too many teams have the likes of Suryakumar Yadav or Hardik Pandya coming down the order, who can take a toll even when the ball has got a little softer,” former India opener WV Raman told TOI.
It’s the pitches in Australia that have allowed some of the openers to try this go-for broke method. The bounce can be trusted and with the ball hard and new, players like Warner and Finch have gone all out. The fact that clearing big boundaries against a softer ball in the back-end is slightly more difficult might have prompted them to try this method.
But Sachin Tendulkar, in a recent interview with TOI, suggested that hitting through the line against the new ball might not be that easy after all in the coming World Cup. Cricket is not usually played in October and early November in Australia and the Little Master suggested that the pitches could be fresh.
“If there is not enough sun, and there is grass on the pitch, wickets won’t be hard. It will be better to focus less on strike rates and keep wickets in hand. Teams won’t go hard in the powerplay and you won’t get 185-plus or 190-plus. 170 can be a winning total,” Tendulkar said.
His advice for the Indian openers is “to focus on getting good starts” instead of going berserk, something that Rohit, Rahul and Virat have the class and quality to do. It should set the platform for the superb Indian middle-order to take over and get the results that should take them deep into the tournament.