Arshdeep Singh
Arshdeep Singh (right) of India celebrates with Hardik Pandya during the ICC Men's T20 Cricket World Cup match against Pakistan at Nassau County International Cricket Stadium on June 09, 2024 in New York. The lively wickets have helped the fast bowlers. Image Credit: AFP

Is this a T20 World Cup? Yes, it is, but cast in a different mould. There haven’t been many brisk starts in the powerplay, although some teams did manage a decent scoring rate in the first six overs. A major absence was the runfest in the slog overs. That was until Sherfane Rutherford’s rampage against New Zealand in Thursday’s West Indian victory.

These are isolated instances in a tournament of low-scoring matches. Hopefully, the trend will change once the event enters the Super 8 phase.

T20 matches evoke images of soaring sixes and pinpoint yorkers. There were yorkers, but not many slower deliveries. Why would fast bowlers send down slower ones when the pitches off plenty of assistance with swing, seam and bounce.

The spicy New York pitch

The drop-in pitch in Nassau County Cricket Stadium, New York, was the main culprit. Without adequate time for “bedding in”, the wicket was a pace bowler’s delight but a batter’s nightmare. The Grand Prairie Stadium in Dallas, Texas, was better, with the USA and Canada posting totals over 190 in the inaugural encounter.

The matches in the West Indies too have produced low scores. The only 200-plus came in Bridgetown, Barbados, where Australia pegged back England. I hope things get better in the next phase.

I’m not against low-scoring games; they too produce edge-of-the-seat dramas. But I would prefer an even battle between bat and ball.

The first round showed us that low-scoring games can be thrillers. Who knew that a little over 100 runs could be defended astutely. And it has happened in several games. None more dramatic than India’s win over Pakistan and South Africa’s nail-biting win against Bangladesh.

Low scores are the product of lively pitches, which yield early wickets. That meant the powerplays have become damp squibs. The early aggression has shifted from the batters to the bowlers. Fast bowlers, especially left-arm quicks, have had a field day. India’s Arshdeep Singh, Australia’s Mitchell Starc, Pakistan’s Shaheen Shah Afridi, the USA’s Saurabh Netravalkar and New Zealand’s Trent Boult bend the balls to trap right-handers in front. In fact, Arshdeep struck with the first ball of the match against the USA — a first for India in the T20 World Cup. That persuaded England to field Reece Topley against Oman.

Not just the left-handers. Fast bowlers, in general, have held the whiphand with Afghanistan’s Fazalhaq Farooqi heading the list of wicket-takers. Jasprit Bumrah continues to be a matchwinner for India, while Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada have kept South Africa afloat. Pakistan have had mixed fortunes, but their pace pack of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Mohammad Amir, Naseem Shah and Haris Rauf remains the most feared attack in the tournament. It’s their batting that’s been worrying skipper Babar Azam.

That’s true of many teams, which struggled to make use of the powerplay. There were exceptions. Australia’s win over England was built on the early enterprise of David Warner and Travis Head, and Jos Buttler and Phil Salt had launched the chase with gusto before the England innings unravelled. India did well against Pakistan despite losing a couple wickets in the first six overs, but the rest of the batting couldn’t sustain it. But these are isolated instances in a tournament that belonged to the fast bowlers so far.

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Spinners too have had their moment in the sun. Leg-spinner Adam Zampa has been a linchpin for Australia, orchestrating their victories. West Indies, the home of feared pacers of yester years, interestingly have turned to spin with left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein opening the bowling and returning good hauls, while fellow left-arm spinner Gudakesh Motie has been a standout performer. Rashid Khan’s leg-spin remains a potent threat as the leggie led Afghanistan to the Super 8 with victories over Uganda, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

A spinner bowling the 20th over: there were at least two instances, which produced contrasting results. South Africa’s Keshav Maharaj served up three tosses but Bangladesh couldn’t cash in and lost by four runs. New Zealand captain Kane Williamson gambled with Mitchell Santner, but Sherfane Rutherford smashed 20 runs as the West Indies went on to win by 13 runs.

With bowlers calling the shots, batters tend to fall in a heap in the slog overs. When they reach the last five overs, the finishers are already back in the pavilion, and the final thrust never arrives. Like the powerplay, the slog overs too ceased to live up to its name. It’s a pity. For it’s a highlight of the shorter format.

I enjoyed the cat-and-mouse game between the bat and the ball. It provides a new dimension to T20 games, but I want to see the strokeplay in the powerplay and the slog overs. That’s what defines T20 cricket.