The most exciting thing about the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021 is that there are no clear favourites.
Coming into the competition in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, it feels like there is no standout side and as a result, any one of a large number of teams could end up lifting the trophy.
The crucial factor will be the first six overs. That is what teams need to focus on, whether they are batting or bowling. I think that 70 to 80 per cent of the game depends on those first six overs and the result comes down to how well you do in that period.
People will look at the latter overs and, of course they are important too, but if you don’t get it right at the start, there is so little time to catch up. It’s not like a one-day game or a Test match, everything comes down to getting a good start. That is part of the reason that I think the World Cup is wide open.
Initially, most people thought that the spinners would be the victims of T20 cricket and that the batters would go after them. But it is clear now that the slower you bowl, the more difficult it is to hit. The spinners have become the most important bowlers and even the quicks now have to bowl slower balls and other deliveries because you want to avoid the ball coming onto the bat as much as possible.
I’m obviously delighted to see the importance that spinners have taken on in T20 cricket. It is a fast game and is meant to be a batter’s game, but the bowlers have adapted in the 18 years since the format first started in England. Fast bowlers are bowling slow balls and cutters and different balls. Those are the skills you have to develop.
Initially, most people thought that the spinners would be the victims of T20 cricket and that the batters would go after them. But it is clear now that the slower you bowl, the more difficult it is to hit. The spinners have become the most important bowlers and even the quicks now have to bowl slower balls and other deliveries because you want to avoid the ball coming onto the bat as much as possible. The objective is to force the batter to put the effort in to hit the ball and take the risks as a result.
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My experience, both as a player and a coach or mentor in T20 cricket, was that you have to approach it with a defensive mindset, whereas in ODIs or Tests, the aim is to take wickets. Defending is attacking in T20 in my mind, you need to aim to go for six or 6.5 runs an over and if you can manage that, you will probably take a couple of wickets as well.
Sometimes in T20, if you’re bowling as a spinner, the Test length is not the right length. A good length will go for six, so you have to see what the batter is doing and bowl fuller or wider or sometimes very short. Sometimes it’s aiming for the body. You have to vary it depending on the conditions. You need to have the control and if you can do that, you will be very successful.
I have been out in the UAE for the IPL and looking at the wickets, it is clear that the spinners are going to have a huge role to play in the World Cup. It will depend a lot on how the curators have prepared the wickets, but it looks like the spinners will be key as the batters were finding it hard to connect and it made for some low scoring.
From a Sri Lankan perspective, the team will have to go through qualifying in the first round. The team has gone down in the last five or six years and it’s the first time in our history that it has happened to us.
Frankly speaking, we were not good enough, and have not played good enough cricket which is why we are in this position. But the team has capable players who can reach the Super 12s and have an impact, but first they have to qualify.
The spinners are very good, whereas the batting is a little bit weaker, but if they can step up and manage decent totals, then the bowlers can defend them. If they make it through, I think they will upset a few teams.
My advice to the Sri Lankan players and everyone at the World Cup would be not to overthink it, particularly the bowlers. Don’t focus on the names and the players you are going up against.
You have to try not to worry about the pressure and just enjoy it. That is what T20 cricket is all about.
- The column, provided by ICC, is by the Sri Lankan spin legend and the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket with 800 wickets. He had been camping in the UAE as a bowling coach of Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL for more than a month.