Twenty20 is a batsman’s format, or so goes the saying. The 20-over game is perhaps one of the primary reasons for bowlers’ woes of late — be it the field restrictions that favour batsmen, or tracks that are getting increasingly batting-friendly (WACA’s case in this regard is a rather tragic one).
Fast bowling may still retain its teeth in Tests, and even to a certain extent in ODIs but the format in T20s makes it easier for batsmen to be aggressive.
Naturally, the format has bore witness to a number of incredible knocks ever since the first-ever Twenty20 International (T20I) was played between New Zealand and Australia in 2005. It is but natural that ICC World T20, the biggest tournament in this format, would boast of a number of such knocks in its annals.
The sixth edition has already kicked off with the qualifiers and the warm-ups, and the high-voltage main round is set to start on 15 March. Given the fact that most Indian tracks are known to support batting, fans will ideally be mentally prepared for scores in the range of 200.
While crowd-pullers such as Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Virat Kohli (all of whom have thrived during the Indian Premier League) will possibly unleash a torrent of record-breaking innings’, one cannot help but look back at some of the greatest knocks that have gone on to define their team’s progress in the tournament, and even turned out to be the defining moment of their careers.
Following are the top five knocks from the past editions of the ICC World T20, listed in chronological order:
(Note: The knocks have been selected on the basis of their overall impact in the match, taking into consideration the situation and circumstances of the game)
1. Yuvraj Singh, 58 (16b), India vs England, 2007: That innings. Rather, that Stuart Broad over. It still continues to define Yuvi’s career. Had it not been for that little dose of pleasantries from Andrew Flintoff at square-leg, we may not have witnessed this spectacle.
India had elected to bat in the group game at Durban, and were progressing rather rapidly for the most part thanks to cracking half-centuries by Virender Sehwag (68) and Gautam Gambhir (58) who gave a solid 136-run opening partnership.
Unfortunately for them, Yuvraj’s carnage ensured the match would be remembered for one reason only. So incensed was Yuvraj by Flintoff’s chirping that he smashed six sixes off Broad in the 19th over of the innings. Poor Broad, then just 21 years of age, had to face the brunt of the flamboyant left-hander’s anger. Yuvraj’s face bore an expression of absolute satisfaction after hitting the last ball over the midwicket boundary.
India finished on a mammoth 218 for four, and although England fought back hard with the bat to reach the 200-run mark off the last ball of their innings, it was not enough to deprive Yuvraj of his well-deserved ‘Man of the Match’ award.
2. Chris Gayle, 117 (57b), West Indies vs South Africa, 2007: One simply cannot think of making such a list without including the burly Jamaican in the list. Gayle has been such a force in T20s for a decade now that he has almost become synonymous with cricket’s shortest version (his current situation of being a Twenty20 specialist for various leagues around the world adds to that impression).
It was only fitting for the first match of the first-ever ICC World T20 to be lit up by fireworks from Gayle’s bat. South Africa had won the toss and chose to field at the Wanderers. It was not going to be an easy task for the West Indian batsmen, who were up against an attack comprising of the likes of Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.
Gayle made all four of them look as if they were fresh out of school. Even his mis-hits went for sixes, simple flicks disappeared over the deep square-leg and the well-timed shots were sent out of the park. The Wanderers has seen a plenty of memorable knocks and matches, and this will prominently feature among them. While Gayle brought up the first-ever hundred in T20Is, sadly for him, his knock went in vain as Herschelle Gibbs (90 not out) pulled off another match-winning innings to guide hosts South Africa to an eight-wicket win.
Such was the impact of the innings, however, that Gayle received a standing ovation when he first came out to bat for Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2009 edition of the IPL, which was hosted in the Southern African nation.
3. Michael Hussey, 60 (24b), Australia vs Pakistan, 2010: While Michael Hussey may have been known for his gorgeous strokeplay and ability to finish games, associating him with carnage is not something that one would easily go for. However, there is a reason why Hussey came to be known as ‘Mr Cricket’ (even though he personally hates the moniker) and it was perhaps this innings added to his legacy.
Pakistan had put up a commanding 191-run total in the second semi-final of the tournament after being put to bat, thanks to half-centuries from the Akmal brothers, and young pace sensation Mohammad Amir’s early strikes helped reduce the Aussies to 144 for seven at the start of the 18th over. Pakistan were all but set to enter their third successive World T20 final, and Australia needed a miracle to salvage the situation.
Hussey went on to play the innings of a lifetime. What began with a couple of audacious pulls over the leg side boundary off Shahid Afridi turned into a glimmering ray of hope for a spot in the final for Australia. Hussey hammered 14 runs off the penultimate over to bring the equation down to 18 off the last over. The odds were still in Pakistan’s favour with the wily Saeed Ajmal being given the last over and tail-ender Mitchell Johnson on strike.
Johnson took a single off the first ball to hand the strike over to Hussey, who smashed three sixes and a four off the next four deliveries to secure victory for his side from the jaws of defeat. History had been created, for the world had just witnessed a miracle happening at the Beausejour Stadium as Australia progressed to their first-ever final in the history of the tournament.
4. Marlon Samuels, 78 (56b), West Indies vs Sri Lanka, 2012: The West Indies were reliving the golden days of the 1970s and 1980s thanks to sheer number of match-winners in their side in Gayle, Kieron Pollard, Darren Sammy, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Sunil Narine, Marlon Samuels, etc. It was a Twenty20 dream team of sorts, for most of the members of the side were celebrated individuals in the various T20 leagues such as IPL.
West Indies stormed into the final after handing Australia a sound 74-run thrashing in the semi-final. The Sri Lankans though, were not as easy to beat, especially in their own backyard. That fact was established after West Indies were reduced to 14 for the loss of two wickets, with the dangerous Gayle heading back to the pavilion for just 3.
The stage was set for Marlon Samuels, whose career had suffered a blot after he was banned for a couple of years due to allegations of corruption, to save the day for the West Indians. The batting all-rounder took on a formidable attack comprising of Lasith Malinga, Angelo Mathews, Nuwan Kulasekara and Ajantha Mendis at the R Premadasa Stadium. Samuels’s 56-ball 78 helped guide West Indies to a competitive total of 137 for the loss of six wickets, giving their bowlers something to defend. It was up to Narine and Sammy to seal the win for the West Indians later in the match, and lift their first major trophy in international cricket in eight years.
5. Alex Hales, 116 (64b), England vs Sri Lanka, 2014: England were not the most fancied outfit in the 2014 World T20, and their run in the fifth edition of the World T20 was below par to put it in the most mellow of words. However, the tournament will be remembered for the emergence of one Alex Hales, who established himself as a T20 specialist at the top of the English batting order. His 64-ball 116 was the cherry on the cake, one which helped bring him into the mainstream.
Sri Lanka had put up a solid 189-run total on the board for the loss of four wickets, thanks to the efforts of stalwarts Mahela Jayawardene (89) and Tillakaratne Dilshan (55). England, who began their campaign to regain the trophy on a losing note against New Zealand, had lost two wickets without a single run being added to their kitty at the end of the first over. A massive defeat seemed imminent.
In came the saviours in Hales and Eoin Morgan, and the duo stitched a 152-run partnership that snatched the game away from the claws of the Lankans. Hales hammered 11 fours and six sixes, and made full use of the second life that he had been granted at the end of the 13th over off the bowling of Thisara Perera. He was particularly harsh on Ajantha Mendis, smashing three sixes and a four in the 15th over, and remained unbeaten as he made the chase look like a cakewalk. Sadly for the Englishmen, that was the only positive moment for them in a nightmarish tournament.