Might and will in Twenty20 and Tests

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Our friend who was once known as Uncle Jrod has written a piece for Cricinfo about the impact of the IPL on India’s Test performances. We can’t work out whether he’s been done up by the site’s subeditors or whether the headline and teaser are part of the general mischievousness of the piece. Probably the former.

Blaming the IPL for India’s Test defeats is tired, easy and to a great extent wrong. It’s one aspect of a bigger picture. As Jarrod is at pains to point out, the lack of first-class cricket is probably the bigger problem, even if the IPL contributes to that. There’s also the fact that this is nothing new. India were weak away from home and lacked reliable pace bowlers long before the 20-over format became such a huge, stinking beast.

But this isn’t actually what we want to talk about today. One passage in the article reminded us of something we’ve been meaning to say for a while.

“Umesh Yadav is big and strong. He’s the most moose like of Indian quicks. His strike rate is amazing. His pace is impressive. Dhawan at slip goes low, the ball hits the middle of his hands, he roles forward athletically. But it’s kind of a mirage. It’s the best of India, and what they can do. But not often what they do.”

Oddly, our focus here is not Umesh Yadav’s moose-like qualities, nor the misspelling of ‘rolls’. No, it’s actually a key difference between Twenty20 cricket and Tests. We think we’ve got this idea clear enough in our head that we can get it across in a couple of sentences, so we’ll give it a line all of its own and maybe even put it in bold.

Twenty20 is about what you might do. Test cricket is about what you will do.

To help us outline our point, India have helpfully recalled Suresh Raina to their Test team. He seems as good a player as any to use as an example.

Raina might hit a hundred in India’s first innings. Make no mistake, he’s a player who sometimes comes off and when he does, it’s eye-catching. Thing is, he’s not what you would call reliable. He averages 28.44 in Tests.

In Twenty20, what you might do is useful. Most innings feature a lot of batting failures – it’s the nature of the format. If five batsmen fail and one makes a hundred, you’ll probably win. Failures are less costly because wickets don’t always affect the outcome of the game. You can afford to select a whole bunch of high-risk, potentially high-reward batsmen because doing so isn’t actually risky at all. In 20 overs, there’s always another batsman to come in.

In Test cricket, wickets define the game. If five batsmen fail, you’re conceding an awful lot of ground. You simply can’t afford to carry too many people in a Test match because everyone’s needed. Consequently, it doesn’t pay to select players on the basis of what they might do. Far better to choose on the basis of what they (probably) will do.

While there’s huge overlap in the qualities needed to succeed in both formats, there’s also a fundamental difference. The ability to maximise what you can get from a finite number of deliveries is not the same as maximising what you can get with time constraints of minimal importance.

People get confused though. As Twenty20 leagues get more coverage, perception is skewed. A handful of match-winning innings will always draw more attention than a whole slew of solid but unremarkable ones and the players who deliver the former are more likely to get talked up. People say these players have more ‘ability,’ but this overlooks the fact that it is often high-risk, high-reward ability in a format that rewards such an approach.

Funnily enough, India are actually pretty good at distinguishing. Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Lokesh Rahul weren’t elevated to the Test team off the back of intermittent Twenty20 overachievement, which is another reason why it’s misguided to blame the IPL for away Test defeats. Or at least it was. Now Suresh Raina’s back and he seems to owe his selection to his proficiency at a high-risk, high-reward style of play.

Maybe Raina can adapt. Only time will tell. He might well score a hundred tomorrow. But then again, long-term Test success is never built on what you might do.


Mike Gatting wasn't receiving the King Cricket email when he dropped that ludicrously easy chance against India in 1993.


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  1. Interestingly Raina came in to the side at the expense of Pujara. He seems like a right proper test cricketer, the next Dravid, but has now been crap in both England and Australia. I’m not really sure why that is, he got runs in South Africa, maybe it’s just the pressure from people constantly calling him the next Dravid.

  2. Didn’t Stuart Broad once say the same thing about T20s? That it requires only a couple of players to come good? Did you just agree with him? Did you just echo Stuart Broad’s sentiments? It hardly matters you’re right – agreeing with Broad is something no one should ever do. I hope you realize what a thoroughly disgusting thing you’ve done here, KC. And repent.

    1. No. He said ‘two or three players, max’.

      We’re happy to accept that five great performances could also win a game of Twenty20.

    2. Also on the list of things that can win a T20 match:

      1. Being better at all that hitting and throwing stuff than your opponents on the day of the match.

      2. Dazzling clothes, like really, really sparkly and super.

      3. One of your players being so ugly that your opponents can’t concentrate on the cricket.

      4. The rotating sightscreen showing pictures of pretty ladies when your opponents are batting. Very pretty ladies. With no clothes on. Holding a diagram of the workings of a steam engine, preferably one with a separate condenser that illustrates the efficiency improvements this brings to the design.

      5. Match fixing.

      In practical terms, of course, only #5 is likely to be the actual reason for a result.

  3. How bad is the IPL for India’s team? It’s so bad that, excluding Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, India have won more than twice in an away series on 2 occasions in my lifetime: In England in 1986 and in Pakistan in 2004.

    Put simply, the IPL has been so bad for Indian cricket that it caused a rupture in the very nature of causality. Or possibly India are the worst tourists this side of a Club 18-30 holiday.

    1. Or they’ve won more than twice away only once in my lifetime*. Just to make your point more stark and steal some thunder.

      *Est. 1987

  4. Watched a bit of Big Bash last night. They’ve changed the Super Over rules so you get unlimited wickets for your six balls. It literally makes wickets meaningless, aside from the fact that a wicket makes a dot ball. At one point Doug Bollinger pulled out of an easy catch, apparently because he realised the batsmen weren’t going to run anyway.

    1. I’ve been watching a bit of Big Bash as well and as T20 leagues go (not very far), it might be my favorite. Feels like a genuine showcase of the guys who wouldn’t otherwise get the spotlight and it’s used as a complement to, rather than a replacement for, proper cricket. It’s also presented in a much more low-key manner than its Indian counterpart, and is much easier to follow than England’s. West Indies also have a decent T20 league, but it happens to run at the same time as baseball games and baseball will always be my first love.

      That said, the Super Over change is ridiculous.

    2. I’m also thoroughly enjoying the Big Bash, including the commentary team, which has given me a point of comparison to realise just how bad the channel 9 commentary has become over the last few years with the loss of Bill, Richie and Tony

    1. Separate category, but perhaps an overall prize to be had. Perhaps Raina should grow a moustache in the same style as his (head) hair… Or a goatee.

  5. Can I be the first and probably last to say that it is only now, almost 24 hours after first reading this article, that I have understood the headline properly. It means “might and will”, not “might and will”. I thought this was going to be all about strength and mental fortitude.

    1. Deliberately ambiguous. Thanks for being confused and then later understanding, which is exactly what we’d hoped for.

    2. I still don’t get it though. Where is the bit about tiny insects that live in dust that can’t spell their own name properly and the legal instrument of inheritance?

    3. Where ISN’T the bit about tiny insects that live in dust that can’t spell their own name properly and the legal instrument of inheritance?

  6. I used to like Uncle JRod’s writing once upon a time. I don’t know if it is writing for Cricinfo or the extreme obsession with starting each article with “punch phrases” (for the lack of a better word), I cannot get beyond the first three sentences.

    Is it only I?

    1. His style’s definitely changed, but that’s just what happens when you write for a few years. You don’t really notice it happening, but then you go back and read something from six years ago and it isn’t the same.

      That said, it’s still obviously the same bloke. He has a percussive way of writing. He keeps sentences short and bold. Maybe that’s what you mean by ‘punch phrases’.

      We still find him very readable. He watches a lot of cricket and has little regard for what commentators and other writers say, so he tends to have something interesting to offer. If there’s one thing we miss, it’s the humour. That’s definitely further down in the mix these days, maybe because it comes out in the videos instead.

    2. KC, I only take issue with the writing, not with the content. Its the repeated overuse of short and bold sentences at the start of each article that annoys me, particularly because sometimes it seems almost forced. Anyway, its only me.

    3. Think he’s quite stream of consciousness, so we doubt it’s forced. But not every style suits everyone. It’s not necessarily a criticism to say you don’t like his – just a matter of taste.

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