No format of cricket has evolved as swiftly as Twenty20. Earlier, many teams banked on batting cautiously in the Powerplay, aiming to minimise wickets lost, and accelerated later. With finishers like MS Dhoni in the fray, even 30-40 runs in the last two overs seemed gettable.
Now, England and India are investing into the idea of going full blast from the first ball and not care about wickets lost as long as the target is achieved even by the lower order. It's still a very risky strategy but with so many franchise leagues pushing the envelope, international teams have to follow suit. Dictating every shred of this madness or sanity is data. And its significance, especially in batting, is increasing every passing year.
"After the 2012 World T20 win by West Indies we saw T20 batting more defined by six-hitting or boundary-hitting," says Freddie Wilde, head of performance analysis at CricViz and strategic consultants of pro T20 teams like Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Wilde added: "The one thing that has changed more is teams have become slightly better in targeting their matchups. Recently Jos Buttler has said how he has learnt from the West Indies to catch up later and by that he means he can afford to play out some of the better bowlers in the opposition because you know you can target the weaker bowlers in the opposition. The batters are now more aware of who they can take down."
There are always some exceptions. Go hard at every ball, don't worry about the next delivery or the next over, whether you are facing a fast bowler or a spinner, hit it if it's there in your arc—these are simple principles championed by Adam Gilchrist or Brendon McCullum. Chris Gayle was a more rampant batter towards the beginning of his career. But he became more threatening once he started seeing off the first 10 balls. That's where data emerges as a major factor, tempering brute force to transform great batters into T20 game changers.
Buttler has been one of the most successful examples of that template. In a highly rewarding season so far, Buttler has scored four hundreds in an IPL and one T20I hundred against Sri Lanka last year. He is the reason the anchor type of batting still has just about a place in T20 strategy. Wilde attributes that to Buttler's ability to shift gears, as opposed to other anchor style openers like KL Rahul or Shikhar Dhawan. You understand that when you compare the sixes column of top IPL batters in 2022. Buttler, the highest scorer, hit 45 sixes but Rahul, second on that list, hit just 30.
"His (Buttler's) method is more extreme, his acceleration is stronger than Rahul or Dhawan. It's still important for players to hold the innings together. Actually, it's more about navigating tricky positions," says Wilde.
For those who aren't swinging at every ball, especially non-openers, the pathway is a little more time consuming. And sometimes it can play into the hands of bowlers as well.
"Some may be uncomfortable with the ball coming in. Some batsmen don't score much in the first 10 balls. Then the strike rate changes in the next 10-20 balls," M Lakshminarayanan, Chennai Super King's chief data analyst, told HT during last year's IPL.
For that momentum to change, every batter has a get-out-of-jail shot, according to Joy Bhattachajya, data evangelist and Kolkata Knight Riders' team director till 2014.
"Like against Virat Kohli, the rule is to bowl 18 inches outside off-stump for the first four overs. His release shot is to the leg-side. He hits the ball everywhere but his first shot is towards that region."
For teams with more stroke players than range-hitting batters, an all-out strategy thus may not be the best option.
"If you have a lot of depth then you are in business," says Wilde. "You don't have that then it's riskier. England has many hitters. Kohli can't go out and bat like Livingstone. He doesn't have the skill sets to do that. You need hitters and then you need batting depth."
Franchise teams, unlike national or international setups, have the option to buy that depth. And this is why data is considered the biggest determinant ahead of a draft or auction.
"In an ideal world you allocate money to the position," says Wilde.
Bhattacharjya explains further: "Say if you want a fast bowler who bowls 150 and can bat a bit in the lower middle order. There is a group of 10 bowlers that has Kyle Jamieson, Lockie Ferguson, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Jofra Archer. More or less, everyone can do your job."
But Wilde says some players transcend the generic buying trend due to their unique skill sets. "If you are looking for a wicketkeeper and a captain the only person who can do that is KL Rahul so you can spend x amount of money on him," says Wilde.
But success doesn't only depend on buying or choosing batters for specific positions. The brief is becoming more detailed these days—like slotting Dinesh Karthik or Riyan Parag only for the slog overs. Wilde, who was with RCB this year, gives more insight into the strategy.
"Karthik is very good against pace bowling. He is less effective against spin. So, you hold him for that one skill and you don't risk him getting out against spinners. As a result, you promote other lesser bats ahead of him to make sure they face those overs from spinners," says Wilde. "It's basically utilisation of resources in an efficient way. It's the way the game is going. You aren't a batter. You are a spin hitter, or a pace hitter, or a power-play enforcer, or an anchor. The batting order will be changed to fulfill those roles."