This has been a strange World Cup, and not at all fun for batters. Pacers and seamers have ruled the roost, spinners are accommodated only on the basis of their batting ratings, rain has intervened and upset many calculations while temperatures have been so low that it can hardly be called summer, or even the beginning of summer.
Slam-bang type of batting is not at all desirable. Be cautious, play out the initial overs and take calculated risks once the field is spread. For the first time in many years, batters have been found on the defensive. The action has been top-notch though, producing a World Cup that has been beyond expectations, really.
Here's how it has been panning out.
The most open World Cup
In the last World Cup, Pakistan was the only team to finish the group phase with an all-win record. Three other semi-finalists lost one match each while Bangladesh and Scotland lost all five group league matches. This time, every team barring Afghanistan has already won at least one match, underlining how open this World Cup has been. Till Friday morning, hosts Australia were still not sure of a last-four berth largely because of a sound 89-run thrashing at the hands of New Zealand, their first win in this country in any format for over a decade.
Stranger things have happened too. Ireland stunned England, again. Namibia beat Sri Lanka in the first round. Two-time champions West Indies couldn't even qualify for the Super-12 after a deplorable performance. And Pakistan plumbed new depths of embarrassment by losing to a buoyant Zimbabwe side. Rain played spoilsport as well, washing out double headers and curtailing matches to leave one group in such a pickle that only its last match can solve the final top-two.
Zimbabwe, Ireland not making up the numbers
Afghanistan gave Australia a scare but were largely a no-show in understandably alien conditions however Zimbabwe, Ireland and Netherlands brought their A game to win as well as surprise a few teams. Beating England can't be called an upset anymore for Ireland, given how they had beaten them in Bangalore in the 2011 World Cup, and again in Southampton earlier this year. But this win surely reiterates the need for lower-ranked teams to get more game time with the bigger teams.
This Zimbabwe can't be compared to the World Cup versions in the 90's but they still have enough spunk to upset Pakistan. Not winning against the Netherlands however changed that narrative as the Dutch too proved they are not here to make up the numbers.
Summer? Not even spring
The tournament is predicted to get warmer towards the end but when the teams arrived in Australia, they were greeted by rain and freezing gusts of wind throughout the day. Temperatures hovered under 10 at some venues. So cold was Perth that the India players were seen keeping themselves warm with jumpers and towels as bowlers struggled to grip the ball. Flood warnings were sounded off in different suburban areas in southwest Australia and a hailstorm the size of golf balls was predicted further up the east coast.
This wasn't summer. Just barely spring perhaps. Although there was no way you could have known going by the amount of rain that washed out entire matches in some venues. The only respite was the top-notch drainage system that allowed umpires to get on with the game as soon as rain stopped.
Out of the top five bowlers with the best economies in at least 10 overs, four are fast bowlers. There has been pace, swing, seam and plenty of bounce as well. Almost every team is packing in as many fast bowlers as possible. Good lengths and back-of-the-length spots are being exploited and sometimes fast bowlers are even getting carried away into bowling a second bouncer for the over.
Runs have come at a premium too. Overall, fast bowlers have returned an economy of 7.41 so far, the best among all the T20 World Cup tournaments. They have averaged 21.66 runs per wicket—second best after the 2010 edition—and a strike rate of 17.5, also the best after 2010.
Powerplays are not when you would want to bat in Australia, especially this time of the year. Almost all teams have adapted to conditions, resorting to starting slower than usual, conserving wickets and then accelerating in the middle overs. India are a very interesting example of this batting approach. Their powerplay scores so far have been 31/3 against Pakistan (MCG), 32/1 against Netherlands (SCG), 33/2 against South Africa (Perth) and 37/1 against Bangladesh in Adelaide.
Yet barring Perth (133/9), which was truly a pacers' paradise where even South Africa faltered at first, India finished with 160/6 at MCG, 179/2 at SCG and 184/6 in Adelaide. The brunt, clearly, is being borne by the openers, who are averaging 22.41 this time, the lowest ever among all T20 World Cup editions.
PS: Hello again Pakistan, we missed you!
It must have been an unfamiliar experience last year, winning against India, sweeping all the group phase matches before Australia finally pulled Pakistan back to reality in the semi-finals. This time though, Pakistan ensured there were no surprises. Arshdeep Singh did a Shaheen Shah Afridi on Pakistan before Virat Kohli played an innings Pakistan feared but also secretly admired. Zimbabwe then twisted the knife into the gaping wound with a thrilling win but Pakistan stayed true to their unpredictable nature by beating South Africa.