In our lower moments, we’ve all imagined-up some preposterously narrow niche within which we can consider ourselves the best in a bid to bolster our hollow confidence. Sympathy then for Phil Mustard, who can no longer consider himself the best wicketkeeper-batter called Phil Condiment to have opened the batting in a T20 for England.
Phil Salt has hit two T20 hundreds on the bounce, but we’re almost more impressed with the innings where he only gets a start.
Price and value
Most of us are conditioned to hear the phrase “puts a high price on his wicket” and hear it as a compliment. It might be a backhanded one, but the basic implication is that this batter tends to make life hard for the opposition and that must be good because getting out is unhelpful.
But you know what? Getting out may well be unhelpful, but in T20, so is staying in and wasting balls.
In the shortest format, deliveries are a rare and valuable resource and you don’t want to throw too many away. There’s still something to be said for a batter taking a couple of sighters in the assumption this will provide them with a better chance of striking a rich seam later on and ‘catching up’ – but at the same time a slow over is also 5% of an innings where the opposition can pretty easily outscore you.
To put it simply: taking more risks can give you the edge. Selflessness is an attribute. There’s a lot to be said for a batter who puts a low price on their wicket.
We don’t have the database (or time, or patience) to look into this, but we’ve always felt like international openers who are yet to really make a name for themselves tend to play a little more selflessly. Where newcomers often swing from ball one, the temptation for established players seems to be to try and improve their odds of a higher score. They don’t do this by playing themselves in exactly. It’s more like they take a couple of steps in that direction.
It’s kind of like once a player’s name’s been made, it takes more to sustain it, and 40 off 20 balls isn’t really enough for them any more. They feel like they need to make 80 off 50 instead and they play their innings accordingly. We’re sure it’s not conscious. It’s perhaps borne of experience; having more of a destination in mind rather than just flooring the accelerator mindlessly and seeing where you end up.
Which is fine. Sometimes the team profits from that. But then other times it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s a game where you’re never going to get bowled out and the winning team is simply the one that delivers most tonks.
A quick hat tip here for Jos Buttler, a man who has a case to be considered England’s greatest T20 opener, finisher and middle-overser. Making 22 off 9 balls isn’t going to do much for his reputation these days, but he’s still prepared to risk that kind of outcome. In the third T20 against the West Indies, he hit both the second and third balls he faced for six.
Or perhaps that was simple pragmatism when chasing 223 to win. Batting first in the following match, Buttler had made just two runs before finding the boundary for the first time off the ninth delivery he faced.
In that same innings, Phil Salt hit his fourth delivery for six and the next one for four. Maybe that was just a product of the bowling he faced, but also maybe not.
The saline approach
While that innings and the previous one both ended up as hundreds, three figures didn’t feel like Salt’s goal from the outset (insofar as ‘making a hundred’ can ever not be a batter’s aim).
He comes across as a ‘just tonk it’ guy.
Perhaps it’s an illusion because you can slice and dice his scores in different ways. 40 off 20 balls versus Buttler’s 39 off 31 in the first match of this series feels pretty ‘tonk it’, whereas 25 off 23 chasing 177 in the second really does not.
Similarly, his 41-ball unbeaten 88 in Lahore last year featured a Harrier jump jet take-off – he hit the first ball of each of the first three overs for four – but then a few months later he made 38 off 35 balls batting first against Bangladesh and England lost.
Perhaps it’s more his innings in one-day internationals that have shaped our perception, where he’s seemed admirably unafraid of a slippery 20- or 30-odd.
Or maybe we’re making this too complicated. A simpler way of putting it is that there have only ever been six hundreds by England players in a format where there isn’t really enough time to reach three figures and yet Phil Salt has got there twice in a week.
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