146 in 11 overs – This was what New Zealand and England managed respectively in the fifth and final T20I at Eden Park in Auckland. Yes, the boundaries are small. Yes, the pitch was a belter. But it was absolute carnage. And it was led by the openers.
Martin Guptill went berserk for New Zealand and so, did Jonny Bairstow for England. Colin Munro backed Guptill and went after the bowlers too. Unfortunately, Bairstow didn’t have company from his young opener, Tom Banton who struck a six and was dismissed right after.
There’s no doubt England have led the batting revolution in white-ball cricket over the last few years. It’s largely been in ODI cricket but they’re not too behind in T20Is either. No other team has a better run-rate in T20Is this year. They are scoring at 9.18 and have scored under 8 runs an over in a T20I only twice. Once was against New Zealand in the recently concluded series and the other was when they were chasing 72 against West Indies in March this year.
New Zealand and Australia aren’t too far behind either. They are scoring at 9.04 and 9.02 respectively in international T20 cricket this year. Among the top 15 T20I sides, England are at the top in the list of team batting strike rates, while New Zealand and Australia come third and fourth respectively. These three teams top the charts even when you consider the last two years (since January 2018).
And it’s largely due to their openers. The openers have blasted out at the top which has made life easier for everyone else around the batting line-up. And it’s not that both openers have necessarily gone after the bowling. It’s largely one of them who goes all out and the other takes a steadier approach but doesn’t fall back too much either.
In the recent past, Martin Guptill, Jonny Bairstow and Aaron Finch have led the way, especially in the powerplays. They tend to maximize the powerplay and take advantage of the field restrictions. In the recent series between England and New Zealand, Guptill was striking at 182.85 in the powerplays while amassing 128 runs from five games. Bairstow struggled to find consistency but he showed in the final T20I what he can do when he gets going. Finch did that in the recent T20Is against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The Australian skipper scored 131 runs at a strike-rate of 152.33 when the field restrictions were on.
In fact, these three are among the top ten batsmen (minimum 100 runs) that have the best strike-rate this year in T20Is among the Test-playing nations. While Bairstow has been inconsistent and a touch scratchy (striking at 153.33), Guptill is third on the list with 163.36 and Finch follows closely with 161.71.
These batsmen have set a template of how to go about things at the top. Putting a price on your wicket in the first six overs is not the way to go. Yes, one of the openers can afford to do that but not for long either. You need one batsman who can go all out and go berserk at the top. There is an element of risk of losing an early wicket. But it gives you a chance of setting up for a big score as well.
Many teams and their openers need to take a leaf out of these players’ manual. For instance, India have been playing with the ODI template of starting slow and then going big for quite some time now which has backfired. Rohit Sharma has a strike-rate of 137.61 while Shikhar Dhawan is going only at 110. After having a great 2018, Pakistan have fallen away this year. Only Babar Azam is striking at 136.99 at the top of the order and no other Pakistani opener features in the top 100 (among all 68 T20 teams).
The same is the case with Sri Lanka. The only Sri Lankan that has more than 100 runs in T20Is this year is Kusal Mendis and his strike-rate is 116.66. They have Niroshan Dickwella who has constantly been in and out and is scoring at 152.00 this year. West Indies have just Chris Gayle who has played just two games this year. Quinton de Kock and Reeza Hendricks are out of the top 50 as well.
Guptill, Finch and Bairstow have led the way and have highlighted the importance of the batting in the powerplays. Thus, it is no surprise that England, Australia and New Zealand are leading the charts as far as wins in T20Is are concerned this year.