Captains have food for thought
Johannesburg - There was a striking similarity between both MTN40 semi-final first leg matches played over the weekend.
In both cases the losing side (the bizhub Highveld Lions and the Nashua Dolphins) decided to bat first after winning the toss but were unable to defend their totals. In the case of the former match the Nashua Titans managed to chase down a target of 300 and still had 8 balls to spare in the end.
This included making an awesome 196 in the final 20 overs after being restricted to 104/3 in the first half of their innings.
The chase facing the Chevrolet Knights was not quite as daunting. Their initial target was 229 and they were left to score 147 in the final 20 overs without the benefit of a batting power play. They also got home quite comfortably in the end having 10 balls to spare when the match finished.
This suggests that there is virtually no total that is not gettable even if you lose a couple of wickets up front. The Titans were 30/2 after 10 overs and the Knights were even worse placed at 29/3 at an early stage of their innings.
Clearly the new format which allows for a squad of 13 to participate in the match has changed the ground rules totally. Teams are able to pack their side with an additional two specialist batsmen which provides strength all the way down the order and makes teams immune from the loss of early wickets.
The semi-final action switches to the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium on Wednesday and Sahara Stadium Kingsmead on Friday and it will be interesting to see how the captains handle the toss. There is a lot be said in favour of batting second at the Wanderers but Kingsmead can become a difficult place to bat in the evening.
The other significant change in the format compared with a normal ODI is the tactical think-tank after 20 overs that allows sides to assess exactly where they are and how to plan their runs chase over the second half of the innings.
There has been quite a lot of criticism of the 13-a-side format from franchise coaches and TV commentators alike, bemoaning the fact that this could bring about the demise of the all-rounder.
Interestingly Australia has had a 12-a-side format to its domestic limited overs cricket for quite a long time now and it has not stopped them from producing genuine all-rounders such as Steve Waugh, Andrew Symonds, Shane Watson and Cameron White. Michael Clarke is also a usable option even though his bowling is nowhere near the level of his batting.
Ironically it has been the all-rounders who have played the match-winning hands in both the semi-final first legs. Both MTN Man of the Match awards went to all-rounders. Roelof van der Merwe took 2/40 and then smashed an almost unbelievable 93 off 51 balls. Hot on his heels was Faf du Plessis with 3/55 and 61 off 62 balls.
Down at the OUTsurance Oval both Johannes van der Wath and Obus Pienaar put in steady spells with the ball and then combined in a devastating partnership of 54 off 23 balls. Another all-rounder in form was Dean Elgar who was a partner with Reeza Hendricks in the fourth-wicket partnership of 109 off 117 balls and can normally be relied on to bowl some tidy left-arm spin as well.
The jury is going to be out for some time yet on the 13-player format but what is clear is that the best way to stay on the field is to be an all-rounder. It is the players who only offer one discipline – either a specialist batsman or specialist bowler, particularly if he is cumbersome in the field as well – who are being replaced.