Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution chronicles the rise of the T20 format from a gimmick to the modern face of cricket. In this extract, authors Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde share their picks for the all-time greatest T20 XI.
The Bradman of T20, Gayle is the most prolific batsman in the format’s history and a monolithic presence in the first age of T20. The hulking left-hander had a penchant for starting his innings slowly but with thunderous hitting against pace and spin he was easily capable of catching up at a rapid pace. His awesome power – both through natural timing and sheer strength – enabled him to clear even the largest of boundaries with apparent ease, more than making up for his below-par fielding.
David Warner (c)
Warner is arguably the only player who could challenge Gayle as the greatest IPL opener of all time. At full capacity, the Australian left-hander was not quite as dominant as Gayle but he would get up to speed far quicker and was more consistent. Warner’s rapid running between the wickets gave his game versatility that Gayle’s sometimes lacked. He was also an astute captain, guiding Sunrisers Hyderabad to the IPL title in 2016 and particularly adept at defending low totals; Cricket Australia’s ban on Warner assuming a national leadership role need not apply here.
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At his best, Watson was one of the most dominant batsmen in the world and a superb fifth bowler with deceptive pace and an array of slower balls. Watson’s role in teams evolved through his career: bowling less as he grew older, he became more of a specialist batsman in his twilight years. When he did bowl he was a capable operator in all three phases. With the bat, Watson was most at home near the top of the order but fulfilled roles in the middle and lower order as well. Unusually for an Australian, Watson was a supreme player of spin, as reflected in him twice being named the IPL player of the tournament – something only Sunil Narine could match – as well as being player of the tournament in the 2012 T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka.
AB de Villiers (wk)
Gayle was statistically the most dominant batsman but de Villiers was the most versatile. His classical technique, astonishing hand-eye coordination and spirit of élan produced remarkable results. De Villiers combined the power of the likes of Gayle and Warner with the 360-degree dynamism of Glenn Maxwell. He played the large majority of his innings at number three or lower; although this middle order role was the most complex position in T20, he could adapt to all circumstances and climes. De Villiers was also one of the world’s best fielders and could keep wicket.
Maxwell was a freakish batsman whose daring and risk-taking approach compromised his consistency but bred a high-octane method defined by wristy flicks, reverse sweeps, ramps and scoops. Not only was Maxwell’s technique unusual, but so was his mentality: a no-fear attitude, bordering on the reckless, enabled Maxwell to start in rapid-quick fashion, barely wasting balls before he got up to speed. The haste of Maxwell’s starts made him ideally suited to the middle order. Useful off spin and livewire fielding made him a superb all-round package.
Pollard redefined the role of a finisher, transforming the position from one previously shaped by touch and placement to one founded on strength and power. A huge muscular frame, a clean bat-swing and an uncomplicated approach of hitting straight, hard and long combined emphatically. The destructiveness of Pollard’s approach did not make it any less calculated – with over 400 T20 matches, the Trinidadian grasped the nuances of the format better than most and chose his moment to attack clinically. Early in his career, Pollard was also a useful medium-fast bowler and throughout it he was a spectacular fielder, particularly on the boundary.
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Russell took what Pollard did to death overs hitting and then improved it. He was slightly leaner than Pollard which gave him greater dynamism around the crease which in turn widened the hitting arc to include cover point and shrunk the margin of error for the bowlers even further. Russell’s slightly smaller frame made him a better bowler than Pollard too – capable of speeds of more than 90mph, he was a bona fide fifth bowling option when fully fit. With the ball, as with the bat, Russell was a risk-taker: he would bowl attacking lines and lengths in pursuit of wickets and could bowl in all phases of the game.
The only man who can rival Gayle’s longevity and consistency in T20 is the Trinidadian spin bowler Narine. After bursting onto the scene with an array of mystery deliveries which spun in different directions with no discernible change in action, Narine slowly evolved into a less mysterious but no less brilliant bowler. A suspension for an illegal bowling action forced Narine to adapt his methods, spinning the ball less but increasing his control with fast speeds, flat trajectories and short lengths. For close to a decade Narine’s four overs regularly cost only slightly more than a run a ball, lending his team precious control. His late-career development into an effective pinch-hitter, exploiting the fielding restrictions by hitting up and over the ring elevated his impact even further.
Before he had even played T20 cricket for half a decade, Rashid had established himself as a legend of the format. Rashid took the techniques of leg-spinners Shahid Afridi and Samuel Badree and fused them with a unique finger and wrist-spinning action to obtain the holy grail of bowling: a low economy rate and a low strike rate, dominating in leagues around the world. Rashid’s action made it nearly impossible to pick which way the ball would spin and his speed made it nearly impossible to play even if the batsman did. Rashid was also a very useful lower order batsman and a superb fielder.
The king of T20 fast bowling. Malinga’s unique round-arm action enabled him to perfect the yorker delivery to an extent unmatched by any bowler to ever play the game. His low release point also contributed to his skiddy bouncers which targeted the head and neck of the batsmen, which in turn made the yorker delivery all the more effective. Early on in his career Malinga was capable of high speeds but as this side of his game dwindled he made up for it with experience and cunning. His dipping slower ball and late swing made his full and straight lengths even more dangerous.
Malinga’s apprentice at Mumbai Indians, Bumrah found success with the yorker using an action almost polar-opposite to Malinga’s – underlining the scope for different techniques in the sport. Rather than a low-arm action Bumrah employed a high-arm release that speared the ball in towards the stumps and pads. Bumrah did not swing the ball like Malinga but he got movement off the pitch and was arguably even more accurate. A menace to face with the new and old ball.
Shahid Afridi (12th man)
Afridi was in many respects the prototypical T20 player. He made his professional debut in the 20th century but was perfectly suited to cricket’s 21st century format. His fast, fizzing leg breaks inspired Rashid’s transformative method while his kamikaze batting of unadulterated attack was totally in sync with the 20-over format. For much of his career Afridi was good enough to be selected for his bowling alone but his batting, although inconsistent, could also be match-winning as well.
Extracted with permission from Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution by Tim Wigmore and Freddie Wilde, published by Polaris