Getting the team combination right for the first couple of matches can be tricky, with teams trying to fit in their international stars and replace the ones who have been ruled out at the last minute for different reasons. As a result, picking somebody like a Kane Williamson or a Kieron Pollard will have its risks attached to it; they are likely to bat out of their usual position, which could go either way.
One factor that will have a telling impact on how our picks fare, as I have always believed in, is how the tracks play. With Raipur hosting all the 6 qualifier matches and the tournament-main fixtures distributed between three venues that even an average Indian fan will be well versed of – Mohali, Hyderabad, Bangalore, this tournament wouldn’t be a nightmare for us fantasy managers as the last edition of the Indian Premier League (2014) turned out to be with its constant change in venues.
First things first, what does Raipur have on store? Not many top level matches have been played here; in IPL 2013, it played host to two of Delhi Daredevils’ home matches, despite being 1000 kilometres away from the city. Weird are the ways of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
If those matches are anything to go by, the overseas teams can breathe a huge sigh of relief. While the boundaries are bigger for a Twenty20 match, the pitch doesn’t really have anything in it for the spinners. In those two aforementioned fixtures, the left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem returned figures of 4-1-23-1 and 4-0-30-0, while Rajat Bhatia went for 21 from his 2 overs. Sunil Narine couldn’t pick up a wicket, while Lakshmipathy Balaji conceded 35 in his 4 overs. Enough in these numbers to believe what we could expect tomorrow, unless the deck has changed since then.
Not yet convinced? David Warner scored a 42-ball 66 and a 25-ball 51, coming in at No. 4.
Note: Daniel Harris and Praveen Kumar could be left out; if so, replace them with Ahmed Shehzad and Shreyas Gopal
The Kane Williamson conundrum
Although Williamson is not known for his aggressive style, he had a relatively successful World Cup T20 2014 campaign, scoring 146 runs in 4 matches at an average of 48.66 and a strike-rate of 124.78. Notching up scores of 51, 42, 24*, 29, his approach showed that he was beginning to adapt himself to the fast-paced formats of the game. Not just that, his performances earlier this year against India where he scored 361 runs in 5 matches at an SR of 85.54 also prove his coming of age as a cricketer. The credit has to be given to the team management that paved way for it by promoting him to the opening role: a masterstroke of a move that will benefit the team for years to come.
The fielding restrictions in the Powerplay overs help Willamson-type batsmen thrive, with their shots yielding maximum benefits. A cover drive or a square cut, which these batsmen depend more on than the slogs, goes for a boundary as compared to a double at best with 4-5 fielders outside the 30-yard circle. Also, it helps them settle; by the time they need to accelerate, they would have gauged the nature of the deck and play according to the demands. Hashim Amla’s success in the same edition of the T20 World Cup can be attributed to it, as well.
Will Northern Knights play him as an opener, though? In the 3 matches that he played for them in the 2013/14 season, Willamson has batted at positions 4 (twice) and 6. The demotion to No. 6 was because of the 2nd wicket falling in the 15th over, leading to the promotion of sloggers. With the Knights’ top order consisting of the likes of Daniel Flynn, Brad Wilson, Anton Devcich and Daniel Harris, I don’t see him batting in the top 3, leave alone as an opener. Among these four, Devcich, a slow left-arm orthodox, is a regular with the ball, as well.
I would pick Harris out of the 3, as he has had some real good exposure with the number of T20 teams he has been playing for, of late. 1926 runs at an average of 30 in 74 T20 matches at a strike rate of 126.96 speaks for itself.
Coming back to the Williamson scenario, with the 24-year-old now banned from bowling, it makes his selection even more complicated. However, it is difficult to see the Knights getting through the Southern Express’ spinners without the diminutive right-hander being involved, even on an easy-paced deck; therefore, I would like to try my luck here and hope that the first two wickets fall in quick succession.
Their playing 11 could read: Anton Devcich, Brad Wilson, Daniel Harris, Kane Williamson, Scott Styris, Daryl Mitchell, BJ Watling, Tim Southee, Jono Boult, Trent Boult, Ish Sodhi
A choice has to be made between Scott Styris and Daryl Mitchell, the Knights’ finishers. Looking at the matches, there seems to be no real method as to who gets promoted. One factor that makes Styris a better bet is that he is likely to contribute with the ball, as well. BJ Watling wouldn’t have much of a role in this line-up.
As far as the bowling department is concerned, Trent Boult and Tim Southee are automatic choices. I would like to go with Boult, more because of him being a left-armer and the more aggressive of the two. I don’t see Ish Sodhi and Jono Boult having much of a say in how the match turns out to be.
The team in itself has played a total of 5 matches, so there is nothing much to look at it here. Kusal Perera, the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper-batsman, is an obvious pick, despite the Boult-threat looming large. If he escapes Boult, then, on his deck, he could be menacing. Jehan Mubarak isn’t someone who will take the attack to the opposition; what makes him attractive, though, is that he will bat in the top 3 and doesn’t take many risks: an easy 40-ball 45 there for the taking.
While Farveez Maharoof is a long shot with him batting so low down the order and not really a dependable option with the ball, the spin trio of Dilruwan Perera, Sachith Pathirana and Seekkuge Prasanna could come in handy. That which one of the 3 will be amongst the wickets is anyone’s call; I would go with Pathirana, as he is a left-arm spinner, gets his full quota more often than not and the first fixture has a lot of right-handers for him to prey on.