T20 cricket may not be an exact science given the abbreviated nature of the game and the increased role luck can play, but heading into the 10th edition of the domestic franchise competition, the six teams taking part will have a good idea of how they want to approach the tournament.
The 2012/13 T20 Domestic Cup will not be featuring the Impi this year, reverting back to the six-team format of the previous eight seasons. Qualification for the lucrative Champions League will once again ensure the participants will not be approaching the competition without detailed planning.
Dave Nosworthy has been one of the most successful T20 coaches, claiming the 2004/5 Pro20 title with the Titans and steering the Highveld Lions to two finals in 2009/10 and last season. He also won New Zealand’s T20 competition with Canterbury in 2005/6 and Sri Lanka’s Premier League in 2012 with Uva Next, and is part of the Punjab Kings XI coaching staff in the IPL.
He says the six franchises will be going into the competition with very clear plans.
“The key to being successful in T20 is pre-planning – how to use your players in specific roles and the coach and selection convenor need to be communicating about that well in advance. If you go rushing into the competition without proper preparation, you’re going to come undone. In fact, throughout the season, coaches should be getting their players to execute their roles, grooming them well in advance. It’s a mindset thing as much as anything and you need to build that up,” Nosworthy says.
So fast bowlers will be using their yorkers and slower-balls during the Sunfoil Series and Momentum One-Day Cup, while batsmen will be grooving their paddle-sweeps and inside-out drives over the covers.
“It’s always tough because a T20 match can go either way very quickly. But if you don’t have a plan or a process, not even a World XI will win.”
When it comes to selection, Nosworthy is voting for continuity rather than chopping and changing sides game for game.
“Stability is important for the players and I’m a massive fan of building confidence, which you won’t have if players are in and out of the team. A successful team is a settled team. You need a stable batting order, with two guys to take on the powerplay and two finishers, while you need bowlers for the death, the middle overs and the front of the innings,” Nosworthy says.
But teams also have to be able to adapt to rapid changes in circumstance in the fastest-moving version of the game.
“You have to allow for flexibility as well and I don’t think there’ll ever be one right way of playing T20. Every team has a dynamic make-up and just one change alters that dynamic. There are key factors in twenty20, but not one way of playing it, you have to be able to adapt, it’s a forever changing environment. If something’s not working on the day, maybe you need to bowl your spinner at the death for instance … ”
Although Nosworthy has enjoyed T20 triumph in three different countries, he says he does not have his own personal secret of success.
“There are definitely formulas, but they are unique to the specific team in terms of how the players complement each other and the balance of the side. You need to cover all the bases and your strategies develop over time, which is why continuity is important,” he says.
The Nashua Titans won the MiWay T20 Challenge in 2012 and their coach, Matthew Maynard, keeps an eager eye on developments in the T20 game both in England, his home country, and Australia.
“We have a certain style of play and it is a successful formula. The key is using what statistics highlight to your advantage and we certainly take things from both the United Kingdom and the Big Bash. Our scores are very similar to those in the UK, there are a lot of similarities in how the game is played, and we also get data from the Big Bash and you don’t see the patterns change too much,” Maynard says.
Maynard says the key factor for him in preparing his team is that the players cannot have any doubt in their minds as to how to react to a certain match situation.
“It’s important that the guys are very clear on what they want to achieve on a certain delivery. If there’s any doubt over whether they should bowl a yorker or a bouncer, then there’s a good chance they’re going to get hit out of the park. Execution is obviously also important, because you can’t afford to be a yard off with your yorker or bouncer.”
The former England batsman agrees with Nosworthy that the players need to be sure of the role they are expected to play.
“Getting the roles sorted is key, you need to know at the start of the competition which players are going to do what. That’s why continuity is very important.
“And the more potential match-winners you have, the better. You need a lot of guys who can strike the ball out of the park and bowlers to open and at the death, plus guys who have the character to come back strongly. The difference between the longer formats and T20 is how much difference one man can make,” Maynard says.
The one man Maynard is probably thinking of is Alfonso Thomas, the Titans, Adelaide Strikers, Dhaka Gladiators, Dolphins, Pune Warriors, Somerset and Perth Scorchers seamer, who led the West Australian franchise into the Big Bash final and was probably the best pace bowler in the competition behind Lasith Malinga.
Thomas took 12 wickets in eight matches and had an economy rate of just 6.24.
“The Scorchers lost their first couple of games but then won six out of their last seven to reach the final. Alfonso made a massive difference for them because he has a very skilful game,” Maynard said of the 36-year-old who hit a six off the last ball of last season’s local T20 playoff against the Knights to force a SuperOver, which he then won with an outstanding six deliveries.
Although the local party’s not quite ready to challenge the Big Bash extravaganza, that was won by the Brisbane Heat, and will be missing the national players until the closing stages, there will be overseas stars in action and one should not forget that the Proteas are still trying to settle on an outfit that can win the ICC World Twenty20 in Bangladesh in just over a year’s time.
So when the national selectors go into caucus to pick T20 players, what are they looking for?
It is not just a matter of whoever scores the most runs or takes the most wickets being chosen, according to Corrie van Zyl.
“We look at the performances on the field and under what circumstances they took place. International cricket is about pressure and how you handle it, so we’re looking for players who can handle the big moments and turn them into winning moments for their team.
“We want players who win matches for their teams, taking crucial wickets or how they use the new ball or bowl against big-hitters, or how they bat in the last couple of overs. It’s about who’s best under pressure. It might not be the person who took the wickets that gets the votes, but the bowler who created the pressure,” Van Zyl says.
While the franchise teams are settled outfits that don’t show major changes from the teams that play in the other two formats, the national selectors have over a hundred franchise players to choose from, so they can be forgiven for not always sticking to the same plan.
“We’re limited to 18 players at the franchises so it’s a lot more work getting the roles right, what suits each player best. But at international level, they can choose the method they want to use and then the individuals that have the tools to implement it,” Maynard explains.
Maynard will be hoping his team are over their awful Sunfoil Series run as the chasing pack will show the defending champions no mercy with the rich loot on offer for Champions League qualification.
The likely absence of AB de Villiers, Morne Morkel, Faf du Plessis, Farhaan Behardien and Henry Davids means the Titans will be relying on the likes of David Wiese, Albie Morkel, Heino Kuhn and Mangaliso Mosehle to provide the spark.
The bizhub Highveld Lions are probably the favourites to make up for losing in the 2011/12 final, given the way they played in the Champions League and the Momentum One-Day Cup.
“The Lions must have a really good chance of performing well again judging by their recent performances, especially in the Champions League. They’re obviously good at the T20 format, but the others are all dangerous too,” Nosworthy believes.
The Chevrolet Knights came within a whisker of the final last season and will boast an experienced bowling attack, while the Sunfoil Dolphins look a revitalised outfit under the fresh coaching of Lance Klusener.
The Nashua Mobile Cape Cobras have a formidable outfit on paper, with the explosive batting of Richard Levi, Justin Kemp and Dane Vilas, the strokeplay of Stiaan van Zyl and the finishing skills of Justin Ontong, complemented by a pace attack boasting both experienced campaigners and exciting youngsters.
The Chevrolet Warriors seem to be regaining the form and confidence that made them one of the toughest teams to beat a couple of seasons ago. They could potentially field one of the strongest bowling line-ups in Birch, Parnell, Theron, Ntini, Gqamane and Harmer, while the batting will revolve around Colin Ingram and the rejuvenated Davey Jacobs.
The possible T20 imports
Azhar Mahmood – Just a couple of weeks away from his 38th birthday, but a much sought-after T20 star, having already turned out for the Sydney Thunder, Auckland, Punjab Kings XI, Kent and Barisal Burners of the Bangladesh Premier League in the last year. Canny seam bowler and a powerful hitter who smashed three Test centuries against South Africa.
Ravi Bopara – Did some amazing things with bat and ball for the Dolphins in the 11 matches he played for them in 2010 and will return for a second stint, but this time for the shortest format. In and out the England team, many have decried his treatment, while others criticise his attitude. Not invited to the Big Bash, but a good showing in our tough T20 competition will go a long way to earning him more respect.
Loots Bosman – Franchises are a little confused as to how to get the best out of Bosman but the Knights are going to give it another go. One thing is certain, crowds are going to be entertained if The Hammer gets going: he is one of the cleanest, hardest hitters of the ball around and has scored over 1500 T20 runs.
Lasith Malinga – Whoever has managed to get the Sri Lankan superstar to sign a contract has the best bowler in T20 cricket, ever. Malinga has it all: deadly yorker, changes of pace, skiddy bouncer, swing and speed; the ability to strike up front and extremely difficult to get away at the death.
Dirk Nannes – Took a while to get settled and did not play in last season’s final, but the tall Australian will be received back with open arms by the Lions. Has the ability to deliver thunderbolts, slower balls and get late swing.
Owais Shah – Returning for the third time for the Cobras and will be eager to regain the batting form that helped them to the 2010/11 title, when he scored the most runs in the competition– 293 at an average of 73.25, strike rate 147.23.
Sohail Tanvir – The Lions are backing their unorthodox left-armer to not be chosen for the Pakistan squad on tour at the same time as the domestic T20. Conditions will assist his preference for swing and seam, while Tanvir is also not shy of showing aggression with the ball.
Alfonso Thomas – The Titans were obviously going to re-engage the services of the hero of their playoff match against the Knights last season. One of the most sought-after bowlers in T20, thanks to his mastery of swing and changes of pace.