T20 World Cup: How match-ups and smart tactics make the difference between victory and defeat

Strategic punts on each ball can have a decisive impact on the course of a T20 game. Captains and teams that master the art can win tournaments.

Game changer: Australia’s Adam Zampa stemmed the tide after the Powerplay overs during the T20 World Cup semifinal against Pakistan. Had it not been for the leg-spinner’s impactful spell, the run chase may have been beyond Australia’s reach.

Game changer: Australia’s Adam Zampa stemmed the tide after the Powerplay overs during the T20 World Cup semifinal against Pakistan. Had it not been for the leg-spinner’s impactful spell, the run chase may have been beyond Australia’s reach. | Photo Credit: AFP

Strategic punts on each ball can have a decisive impact on the course of a T20 game. Captains and teams that master the art can win tournaments.

The concept of match-ups is a window into how T20 games are won and lost. Match-up, simply put, is the tactic of using the squad at disposal intelligently to exploit positive face-offs and target an opponent’s weaknesses. In the ever-expanding landscape of a format squeezed into 40 overs and three hours, the strategic punt on each ball can have a decisive impact on the course of the game. So, exploiting the conventional tactics of the game — such as using the bowler who takes the ball away from a batter or promoting a batter to counter a certain bowler — can be that two-run difference that tilts the result in your team’s favour. In T20s, the timing of these tactics gains as much importance as the nature.

A great example would be the 2022 men’s Asia Cup final in Dubai, where Sri Lanka beat Pakistan by 23 runs. Chasing 171, the in-form right-handed opener Mohammad Rizwan had got his eye in and was looking to bat deep. Sri Lankan captain Dasun Shanaka held back one over of his leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga for the death overs, and the latter did not disappoint. Rizwan was batting on 55 off 48 with Pakistan needing 61 to win in 24 balls when Hasaranga had him caught trying to slog-sweep a six. In the same over, Hasaranga removed Asif Ali and Khushdil Shah to seal Pakistan’s fate. Hasaranga finished with figures of 4-0-27-3.

Shanaka’s tactical astuteness was once again on display when, in the same match, he brought off-spinner Dhananjaya de Silva into the attack just as the left-hander Nawaz came in at No. 5, and it proved to be a masterstroke, with just four coming off his over. The asking rate ballooned to 14, and Nawaz was out next over. By deploying de Silva against left-handers, Sri Lanka’s captain was following the tried-and-tested logic of turning the ball away from the batter.

West Indies in a spin

In the last T20 World Cup, in the UAE, then England captain Eoin Morgan used a similar ploy to leave the West Indies batters in a spin. Off-spinner Moeen Ali was used against left-handers and leg-spinner Adil Rashid against right as West Indies was shot out for just 55 in the tournament opener. Ali bowled three in the PowerPlay and with his off-breaks, turned the ball away from the three of the top five who were left handers, and Rashid targeted the right handers. Between them, Ali and Rashid bowled 6.2 overs for 19 runs and took six wickets.

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In the semifinal of the same tournament, Australia deployed leg-spinner Adam Zampa between overs 7 and 16 to try and neutralise Pakistan’s spin-efficient batting line-up. With right handers Babar Azam and Mohammad Rizwan taking Pakistan to 47 in 6 overs, Zampa came on immediately after the PowerPlay and bowled two overs between 7 and 10. He did not let Babar take off by maintaining a tight line and length and eventually got him out. Zampa finished with figures of 1 for 22 and had an economy rate of 5.50 in a game where his team-mates went over 6.

Bye bye, ball: Matthew Wade went berserk with the bat to hand Australia an unlikely win in the T20 World Cup semifinal against Pakistan. Wade feasts on fast bowling, and coming out to bat at No. 7, was able to deliver some big hits off Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi that got his team over the line with an over to spare.

Bye bye, ball: Matthew Wade went berserk with the bat to hand Australia an unlikely win in the T20 World Cup semifinal against Pakistan. Wade feasts on fast bowling, and coming out to bat at No. 7, was able to deliver some big hits off Hasan Ali and Shaheen Afridi that got his team over the line with an over to spare. | Photo Credit: AFP

Using the bowler who takes the ball away from a batter or promoting a left hander to counter a certain bowler can ultimately be the difference between victory and defeat. It’s the same logic that prevented Rohit Sharma from making Axar Patel, a left-arm spinner, bowl his full quota of overs when South Africa left handers Quinton de Kock and Rilee Rossouw were at the crease in the third and final T20I in Indore on October 4.

Match-up management

In fact, Australia’s T20 World Cup win in 2021 was premised on match-up management. Matthew Wade, who generally opens in the BBL, bats at No. 7 for Australia in T20Is. In T20Is (for 12 major teams), in the last two years, pacers have bowled 1582.1 overs at the death, going at 9.72 rpo. Spinners bowled only 320.1 overs and went at rpo 7.86. So, Wade, at No. 7, is likely to face more pace than spin at the death. Wade’s 360-degree approach makes him ideal for the finisher’s job. In all T20s, Wade strikes at 154.02 against pace, and it jumps to 182.25 between overs 17 and 20. His high-scoring game against pace helped him pull off a heist in the T20 World Cup semifinal against Pakistan in Dubai. With Australia needing 20 off 10, he was dropped by Hasan Ali. He made Babar’s men pay, smashing the next three deliveries for sixes, including two scoops off Shaheen Afridi.

Now, using the above discussed convention, let’s try to identify match-ups that would best work against the world’s four leading T20 batters.

How to stop world’s four best T20 power-hitters

1. Jos Buttler

England’s white-ball captain Jos Buttler is one of the foremost batting talents in T20 cricket. The Rajasthan Royals batter finished as the leading run scorer in the 2022 IPL, with 863 runs at a strike rate of 149.05, scoring four hundreds along the way. He was also named the Player of the Tournament. His four centuries were the joint-most for any player in a T20 series or tournament. Virat Kohli also scored four centuries during the 2016 edition of the IPL.

How do you stop Buttler?

Leg spin is Buttler’s kryptonite. It’s the only form of bowling against which he averages less than 30 (28.53) in all T20s. His strike rate falls to 128.72 from an overall career T20 strike rate of 144.99. That said, Buttler is supreme against pace (strike rate 152.29, average 35.75). Buttler’s go-to shot against pace is the ramp and the scoop, so the pacers will be better off aiming for wide yorkers instead of bowling straight.

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2. Suryakumar Yadav

India’s T20 No. 4 Suryakumar Yadav has used his orthodox foundations to ratchet up some extraordinary numbers in the shortest format. At the time of writing this piece, Suryakumar is No. 2 in the men’s T20 batters’ rankings and is entering the T20 World Cup on the back of an unbeaten 50, 61 and 8 in the T20I series against South Africa. Earlier, after a first-ball duck in the second T20I against Australia, Suryakumar struck a 36-ball 69 in the third match in Hyderabad to help India win the series 2-1. He will be India’s batting linchpin in Australia.

How do you stop Suryakumar?

Suryakumar, at the moment, has no obvious weakness. In T20s, he averages 30.63 against pace (strike rate: 158.36), and 40.59 against spin (strike rate: 131.06). Much like Buttler, Suryakumar can play the lap, ramp and scoop shots, so fast bowlers need to be wary of bowling too full and straight. Against spin, Suryakumar can sweep — or play the slog sweep as well. He averages 34.38 against leg spin and has been out 18 times. When the ball is turning into him, he averages a staggering 74.33 and has been dismissed only six times. So, the bowlers need to spin the ball away from him, and he might provide a window of opportunity.

Game, set, match: Asif Ali is bowled by Wanindu Hasaranga during the Asia Cup final. Dasun Shanaka’s decision to reserve one of Hasaranga’s overs for the business end paid off as the leg-spinner dismissed Mohammad Rizwan, Ali and Khushdil Shah to effectively end the contest.

Game, set, match: Asif Ali is bowled by Wanindu Hasaranga during the Asia Cup final. Dasun Shanaka’s decision to reserve one of Hasaranga’s overs for the business end paid off as the leg-spinner dismissed Mohammad Rizwan, Ali and Khushdil Shah to effectively end the contest. | Photo Credit: AFP

3. Tim David

Since the start of 2021, Tim David has made 1,951 runs in T20 cricket, at an astronomical strike rate of 166.04 and an average of 28.69. He has struck 131 sixes and 128 fours in that phase (stats as of Oct 7). David’s rise from the T20 league circuit to an Australia cap has been meteoric. David, who previously represented Singapore in 14 T20Is, has been one of the most destructive T20 finishers over the past 12 months, plying his trade in several domestic tournaments, including the Indian Premier League, the Pakistan Super League, the Caribbean Premier League and The Hundred. He was signed by the Mumbai Indians for a whopping ₹8.25 crore at this year’s IPL auction. His ability to muscle the ball on both sides of the wicket and clear the boundary in different areas makes him a dangerous proposition for the opposition.

How do you stop David?

Simple answer: There’s no smoking gun in his game yet! David’s strike rate in T20s against pace and spin between overs 17 and 20 is north of 200. The marauding right hander has an immensely impressive record against all bowling types. But in the three T20Is against India, David was twice out to spin — once to Chahal’s slow, loopy leg-break and the other time to Axar Patel’s arm ball. In the final T20I, Harshal Patel got him with a slower ball. Teams could look to target David with short balls at his body.

4. David Miller

The South African has found a second wind as a finisher and was instrumental in Gujarat Titans winning the 2022 IPL. Miller’s most telling contribution came when he propelled Gujarat into the final. Needing 16 from the final over, Miller hit the first three balls for six to secure victory by seven wickets against the Rajasthan Royals. Miller remained unbeaten on 68 off just 38 balls.

How do you stop Miller?

Historically, Miller takes down pace with impunity. In T20s, he strikes at 145.90 against pace and averages close to 37. Although considered weak against spin, Miller has propped up that part of his game to an extent where he had an average of 103 and a strike rate of 145.07 against spin in IPL 2022. He was only out twice.

Miller scored 481 runs last IPL, his best returns in the T20 League since his 446 for Kings XI Punjab [now Punjab Kings] in 2014. Pacers could look to target him with short and short of good length balls, while spinners will look to refrain from bowling in the arc.

(All data correct as of October 7, 2022)

Performance of different types of spinners in T20Is in last two years (for 12 major teams)

OversRunsWicketsAverageRPO
Off-spinnersv left-hand batters462.3286211624.676.19
v right-hand batters558.2407115825.777.29
Leg-spinnersv left-hand batters357255312620.267.15
v right-hand batters869623829021.517.18
Left-arm orthodox spinnersv left-hand batters268.420618723.697.67
v right-hand batters832.2530822523.596.38
Left-arm wrist spinnersv left-hand batters59.23472613.355.85
v right-hand batters101.16904316.056.82

STATS: RAJNEESH GUPTA

Note: The data is complete till Oct 4, 2022.

Kamindu Mendis is considered an off-spinner for the above study.

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