You’re no longer allowed to write about T20 without referencing “match-ups” so that is what we’re going to do. Brace yourselves for some IN DEPTH ANALYSIS.
In the unlikely event you’re not au fait with the concept of the match-up, it’s a tactical thing where you try and pit a given batter or bowler against a specific type of opponent in each phase of a game.
At a very basic level, if a batter is shite against leg-spin then you try and bowl a leg-spinner to them. Or it can be more specific. Maybe they struggle to score against wide yorkers delivered by a left-armer from round the wicket during the powerplay. So ideally you have someone who can do that.
It becomes strategic too. If you’re up against a team with loads of right-handers, maybe you’ll want to pick more spinners who turn the ball away from the bat. But then maybe the opposition see this coming and pick a left-hander or two to disrupt the rhythm.
It can all get a bit game theory-y, but it’s an easy way to analyse what is after all a fundamentally formulaic format. The concept of match-ups therefore underpins the selection of most sides.
Identifying beneficial match-ups is a way to maximise your side’s potential and you can sometimes eke out a crucial advantage by unearthing one in some unexpected corner of the game. But then you can also win a lot of matches by having players like Jos Buttler and Adil Rashid.
There are definitely ways of using these players that are more productive, but debate about these finer points often overlooks the fact that these differences pale next to the sheer overwhelming usefulness of having these players available in the first place.
Take, for example, Jos Buttler. In the lead-up to the T20 World Cup there was much debate about whether Buttler was best used as an opener where he could potentially face more deliveries, or further down the order where he long ago proved himself a genius.
The answer is that it doesn’t matter. Well, it does matter – you would obviously get different outcomes – but there is no properly wrong answer. Buttler is a brilliant T20 opener and a brilliant T20 finisher and a brilliant T20 middle-overser. He is a brilliant T20 batter. He is a good option whatever you do with him.
Rashid too might have a better record against some types of batter than others and is used in a way to maximise his effectiveness, but the broader truth is that whenever you see fit to bowl him, he’s fantastic.
We’re not trying to rubbish or diminish the timely deployment of playing resources here. We’re just pointing out that the timeliness of deployment is sometimes of less significance than the playing resource itself.