With the group stage of the Champions Trophy over, the tournament has entered its business end, with the top four teams set to battle it out for places in the final.
Before the start of the tournament it was expected that pitches in England and Wales would be swing-friendly, but it has turned out to be the other way around. Even with the overcast conditions, fast bowlers haven’t got much purchase from the pitches and most of the strips have been on the drier side.
There is something for the fast bowlers with the two new balls in the first six to eight overs, but after that, spinners have come and played a crucial role in the middle overs.
The role of spinners in that middle period has had a direct impact on run scoring and we saw most of the teams being overly defensive in this period. The best way to counter this strategy is to have one batsman rotating the strike and the other taking the odd risk. For example: Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli and also Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell.
We saw Pakistan being too defensive and they relied heavily on Misbah to do the scoring. As a result, Pakistan struggled immensely with their batting and the hard work of their bowlers went in vein. On these dry wickets, batsmen shouldn’t allow bowlers to dictate terms to them because it is not easy to up the strike rate from 60 to 100, and it is also very difficult for a new batsman to come and strike right from the word go.
Batting depth doesn’t replace balance.
Despite immense focus on batting depth, this tournament has seen a power-packed and star-studded line up like West Indies struggle because of the wrong batting order. If Darren Sammy bats at eight, his team owns significant batting depth, but in the match against South Africa they did not make the use of this depth, and while chasing 230 in a 31-over match, they sent Devon Smith and Darren Bravo ahead of Marlon Samuels, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo and ended up being on the losing side.
Team of course do need to have flexibility in their line ups to suit conditions, but it is imperative that consistently and balance prevail, with the best players given the chance to excel.
Similarly, in the match between England and New Zealand, the Black Caps made the same mistake while chasing 167 in a reduced 24-over match when they opened with Luke Ronchi, who looked horribly out of form in all the matches he played. Consequently, Brendon McCullum, who is the best hitter in the team, batted at five.
Every batting unit should be flexible enough to make changes, but clarity in the balance and natural order of the team is imperative.
Role of pinch hitters.
Pinch hitting is an art which is slowly disappearing because of the increased number of power hitters in every team. But, in this tournament we saw Sri Lanka sending Nuwan Kulusakera up the order as a pinch hitter and he played a major role in their victory against England.
In the rain effected matches, the role of pinch hitters becomes crucial because this is a low-risk, high-reward option. This is something which captains can plan out in the tricky chases because it sends a degree of panic through the opposition team if a pinch hitter gets going, while it also helps in taking pressure away from the regular batsmen.
Batting power play – A double-edged sword.
We have seen that power plays can regularly help bowlers more than batsmen. Batting sides try to score too heavily in these five overs, taking unwarranted risks and losing quick wickets, quelling any built-up momentum.
Batting sides need to have a carefully planned approach to these power plays, with consideration given to the following 10-12 overs. While 50 runs in five overs has the potential to propel a team to a big score, the loss of two or three quick wickets means unestablished batsmen arrive when the fielding restrictions cease, and prevent any sort of momentum carrying on into the rest of the innings.
In the semi finals and final, these areas should be looked at closely by the captains and the coaching staff and special planning should be done for the rain effected/reduced overs matches.