How the World Cup has spiced up the T20 format

Fans at the Nassau County International Cricket stadium for the India vs. US game earlier this month. (Getty Images)
Fans at the Nassau County International Cricket stadium for the India vs. US game earlier this month. (Getty Images)


From bowler friendly pitches resulting in tighter games, to traditionally powerful teams being humbled, the T20 World Cup keeps throwing up surprises

Bowler-friendly pitches in the T20 World Cup this year have produced interesting results with low scores, close contests, and several upsets. The pitches have levelled the playing field in more ways than one, primarily by bringing parity between power-hitters and bowlers. 

Only three teams out of 20 crossed 200 in the group stage of the tournament: Australia against England, Sri Lanka against the Netherlands, and finally, the West Indies against Afghanistan. The last two of those matches were inconsequential after the Super 8 spots had already been taken. In fact, a score of 160, which is just 8 runs an over, got breached only 11 times in 40 matches. 

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Conversely, teams scored at less than a run a ball an astonishing 31 times in the 40 group games. This made for a number of close contests. 

The New York hurdle

The hastily prepared ground and drop-in pitches in Nassau County on the outskirts of New York were the most challenging of all for batsmen. India, playing three of their four group matches there, were lucky to emerge winners in two of those encounters. After defending 119 by a narrow margin of 6 runs in the marquee clash against Pakistan, India squeaked through to a target of 111 against the US. Five penalty runs awarded late in the game for the US’s tardy turnover between overs helped the run chase. It’s just as well that India got wins in those two games because their last group match against Canada in Florida got washed out. 

India were not the only team to struggle in New York. South Africa escaped with a four-run victory over Bangladesh after scoring only 113. And they won with just 7 balls to spare while chasing the Netherlands’ 103.

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But it’s not as if New York was the only low-scoring venue. Many of the Caribbean pitches were also challenging for batsmen, with uneven bounce and tackiness making it hard to unleash big hits. South Africa had a one-run win over Nepal after scoring just 115 in Kingstown. In fact, each of South Africa’s four wins in the group stage were touch-and-go.

Upsets for the big guns

The biggest upset of the World Cup came in Providence, Guyana, after Afghanistan bowled out New Zealand for 75. New Zealand’s subsequent loss to the West Indies in Tarouba, where they failed to chase 150, knocked them out of the World Cup.

The other huge upset came in Dallas, where Pakistan failed to reach a target of 160 and lost in the super over to the US. Pakistan then lost narrowly to India and watched helplessly as the US-Ireland game was washed out. After failing to qualify for the semi-finals of the ODI World Cup last year, Babar Azam’s team now had to suffer the ignominy of not making it to the Super 8 of the T20 World Cup, after finishing third in their group.

The third full ICC member not featuring in the Super 8 is Sri Lanka. The Lankans lost two low-scoring games that went to the wire against South Africa and Bangladesh before their match against Nepal got washed out. 

Then again, one team’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. The qualification of the joint-hosts US to the Super 8 is a huge boost for the ICC’s efforts to promote cricket in a larger pool of nations around the world.

Bowlers have got plenty of joy from the pitches at the T20 World Cup.
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Bowlers have got plenty of joy from the pitches at the T20 World Cup. (AFP)

Accurate bowling 

Pace bowlers have enjoyed the conditions a bit more than spinners. That’s because in venues like New York, Kingstown, and Tarouba, what counted the most was landing the ball in the right spot. The unpredictable nature of the pitches did the rest. Some balls shot up, others kept low; some held up on the pitch to trigger false shots, while others shot through defences.

In these conditions, only two spinners figured among the top 10 wicket-takers. It was the same among the 10 most economical bowlers who had sent down 10 or more overs. This went contrary to the ICC T20 bowling ranking which is dominated by spinners.  

Some of the world’s deadliest fast bowlers, like Mitchell Starc and Jofra Archer, were also missing from the list of top wicket-takers. The third-highest wicket-taker in the IPL, Jasprit Bumrah, got only 5 wickets in the group stage, which was far lower than Fazalhaq Farooqi of Afghanistan who got 12 wickets. 

Bowling consistently short of a good length produced the best results. Farooqi had a decent economy rate of 5.6 too, which would have been better if he had not conceded 36 runs in one disastrous over in Afghanistan’s last game against the West Indies. 

Even if he wasn’t among the top wicket-takers, Bumrah did keep his best performance for India’s crunch game against Pakistan, with 3/14. And he had a mean economy rate of around 4 an over. We should also take into consideration that one of India’s matches got washed out. But the point is that the conditions allowed bowlers with arguably lesser skills to grab more wickets.

A struggle for batsmen

As for batsmen, those used to batting-friendly conditions, like in the Indian Premier League (IPL), struggled to adjust. It wasn’t as if they could just knock the ball around for singles and twos either, with the odd boundary, because an unplayable ball could get them even if they played safe. Among India’s batsmen, only Rishabh Pant appeared to find the right balance between risk-taking and keeping out the difficult ones.

Australia’s most impactful batsman was Marcus Stoinis in the middle order. But their ODI World Cup hero, Travis Head, found his measure at the end of the group stage with a match-winning 68 after Scotland’s Michael Jones dropped a catch in the deep.

The larger grounds at most venues, compared to those in India, also made it harder to tonk bowlers for sixes or get away with mishits. As the tournament progresses on Caribbean grounds, one would expect the spinners to come into play more than they did in the initial phase. India’s spin quartet will be happy that all their matches are day games to cater to the large TV audience back home. That takes out the dew factor.

Giant-killers Afghanistan.
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Giant-killers Afghanistan. (PTI)

A level playing field?

India’s biggest Super 8 game will be on 24 June, against Australia at Gros Islet, St Lucia. This was the venue where Australia got the better of Scotland in a relatively high-scoring encounter, chasing down a target of 181 with two balls to spare. But the purchase the Scottish spinners got from the pitch will enthuse India.

Giant-killers Afghanistan and US made it a memorable tournament by ousting New Zealand and Pakistan. What it has shown is that you don’t need 250-plus scores to make T20 cricket engrossing. In fact, the tougher pitches have made the games more unpredictable, and that’s not a bad thing for spectators.

A few of the pitches probably fell short of international standards, with the ball scooting through at ankle height or rearing up nastily to strike batsmen on arms and helmets. But, as long as they’re not dangerous to batsmen, there’s a lot to be said for sporting pitches, unlike those in the IPL that are heavily loaded in favour of batsmen.

Will the 2024 T20 World Cup influence franchise cricket around the world? Will pitches and grounds become more bowler-friendly? Probably not, but something needs to change from the dullness of watching batsmen hit six after six with impunity. The World Cup has spiced up T20 cricket in an unexpected way.

Sumit Chakraberty is a writer based in Bengaluru.

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