Virat Kohli and Ben Stokes buck the trend as T20 'anchors' make big impact
The essence of all the statistical and tactical thinking around the format boils down to this: strike rates are king.
In contrast to the longer forms of the game, averages have a lesser weighting in T20 cricket, with quick and attacking play typically more beneficial for a team.
And yet, particularly in world tournaments, that received wisdom is not universally true.
When it comes to the biggest matches in World Cups, with the pressure at a level rarely otherwise experienced in the sport, there is still a niche for a very specific type of T20 player.
As the dust settles on the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022, a handful of such players stand out.
Their numbers aren’t necessarily what a T20 team would usually be looking for, and it is only really possible to accommodate one such player per XI, two at a push.
But the likes of Ben Stokes and Virat Kohli have shown that they still have a big part to play in the format.
The unfashionable and oft-criticised ‘anchor’ batter still has a place in the sport’s most important games.
Take the T20 World Cup final at the MCG as the first example.
England’s target was one they would back themselves to chase down 99 times out of 100.
And yet the pressure in a final is a different beast.
Three wickets down and still a good way from victory, England needed somebody to step up and hold the innings together.
It was the exact situation that Stokes was brought back into the fold for. And he did his job perfectly, still being out there at the end to score the winning runs, playing the part that his team required.
But in that scenario you can’t have too many Stokes’. A steady partnership between the 33-year-old and Harry Brook got England close. But then it needed selfless, attacking hitting to ensure the required rate didn’t get too high.
Brook tried and was caught on the fence. But Moeen Ali – statistically one of England’s best batters in T20 cricket over the past two years – showed the contrast in styles that a team needs, scoring at a rate in excess of 140 at precisely the moment his team needed quick runs in order to remove the pressure.
Teams sometimes need a Stokes on the big stage. They also need a Moeen. It’s all about balance.
In Kohli’s case the example of his strength is clear to see.
That magnificent finish against Pakistan at the MCG was Kohli at his finest, setting the platform and then exploding at the last to secure the most dramatic of wins.
It takes an extraordinary player to produce the sort of shots that Kohli played on that extraordinary evening, particularly against bowling of such high calibre. But that is precisely the point – there is always room for an extraordinary player in a role such as that at a World Cup, even if their overall numbers don’t fit with the trends and current thinking of what makes a great T20 player.
However, to justify the slow starts and the pressure their rate of scoring can bring, the Kohli’s and the Stokes’ need to make sure they finish the job.
That’s what sets players like that apart from the rest. More often than most they do see it through to the end when it really matters.
The problem, and the risk of picking such players, is that even the best can’t always deliver.
India’s semi-final loss to England was a good example. On paper Kohli’s contribution looks good. But to score at the rate he did through the first 10 overs, especially when runs weren’t flowing from the other end, left India way behind their desired rate.
Had he stayed in until the end, accelerated, and found the boundary with the sort of frequency he had against Pakistan then he was more than capable of using the platform to boost his side to a big total.
But he didn’t do that and such is the risk of a modern ‘anchor’:
In a run chase they have great value. But batting first they can act as a handbrake – an unnecessary safety measure that limits a team’s potential if the order is inflexible.
Will such players continue to be picked in the format as it continues to develop?
The evidence from the biggest games and when the pressure is at its greatest suggests there will still be a place for a Stokes and a Kohli to play their part.
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