Twenty20 cricket is the newest, fast-paced format to arrive on every cricketing fan's doorstep. With new leagues starting all over the world, from India and Indian Premier League to Canada with its newly formed Global Twenty20 tournament. This format is taking cricket to an astonishing new level. It has everything, cheerleaders, pitchside spa's and the most ridiculous nicknames and celebrations.
Each tournament has been able to build there own spectacular marvel. Inviting the greatest players from around the world, to do battle, within these modern-day coliseums. Batsman score runs at a rate of knots, sending balls every which way over the boundary. The crafty spinners, like lions playing with their dinner, toying with their opponent before finishing them.
It is easy to sit and watch these men perform unbelievable acts of brilliance, game after game, without once considering the pressure and stress that they are under. You see, if you take a step back from all the glitz and glamour, look at the raw uncut performances. You quickly realise that they are thrown into a crucible with the greatest talents in the world. These acts of brilliance are mere "routines", forged under great pressure, built by excellence.
If we look at every player in these tournaments, it is obvious that there is an abundance of talent and class. What we don't often see, is what sets these superstars apart. How come we see world class players stumble during a chase when only a mere 6 runs are needed from an over?
So what is it that makes this format such a powerful tool for the development of young players? What is it that these great players learn within the crucible of Twenty20 cricket?
Holding your nerve
All cricket players - no matter the level they have played, have been in a situation where the game was on the line, only for them to stumble at the end and concede defeat. More common than this, is that it is usually a soft victory where an extra has been the difference.
This is where we begin to notice the difference between a quality club player and those special few how can manage at a professional standard. It is all about how you hold your nerve under pressure. So easy is it to fall into a trap, especially as a bowler, where the batsman starts hitting you around. You immediately look to change things up.
It is so important that you remain fluid in your game plan and what you wish to achieve. Haphazard changes can mean the difference between winning and losing. This is where the line between sticking to your game plan and realising the change in situation becomes very blurred.
Dwayne Bravo is regarded as one of the best all-rounders in Twenty20 world cricket at the moment. Bravo is a death bowling specialist with an average of 9.7, taking a wicket every 11 balls and is known to be very decent middle order batsman.
So what is the difference then, between your average club cricketer and Dwayne Bravo? Let's skip the obvious skill levels and experience, but instead look at how Bravo goes about his game. During the Chennai Super Kings IPL campaign last year, we got to see the full extent of Bravos nerve. In a tense match between Chennai and Hyderabad, Bravo's bowling held on in the final over to deny Hyderabad a spectacular chase.
It was his ability to first form a plan that he was comfortable with. Then executing it with precision and accuracy that made him successful. You see, when you first formulate a plan, you plan to your strengths than the opposition's weakness. The idea is to make it easy for you to execute whilst making them uncomfortable. Bravo knows that he can hit that Yorker length and his slower deliveries are landed exactly where he wants them. All that is left is the batsman to rise to his level or fail.
Twenty20 games offer no respite for you as a player. You have to precise, clinical, in how you address the situation presented to you. You have no time to make adjustments, everything changes so fast, so you either adapt quickly or get left behind.
Therefore the key to your success in Twenty20's is developing a game plan that you yourself trust. This game plan will act as a rough guide for during your performance. The key is to keep it fluid and assess the situations quickly. If you believe that something must change, back yourself and make the change. Once the situation has returned to your favour, follow your game plan again.
Your ability to hold your nerve is dependant upon how well you back your skills, your game plan and your ability to execute both under pressure. There is no magic formula, working hard on mastering and understanding your game, plus, some self-belief is all it takes.
As a batsman, you understand that execution is everything. One wrong move, one error in judgement and it is all over. Your day can end in an instant and you only get one chance to succeed.
Twenty20 cricket doesn't just shine a spotlight on your ability to score runs, it illuminates your ability to execute anything. Playing in a Twenty20 is a pressure cooker environment, everything moves quickly, fields change and by the time you wrap your head around it. Games over.
You don't have the time to work your self into an innings. Wasting time getting your "eye in" or hitting an area consistently to build pressure. You need to be ready to execute from ball one and it has to be precise.
Everyone remembers 2016, T20 World Cup final, between England and the West Indies. Needing 19 off the last over, Carlos Braithwaite, delivered a world-class execution. Hitting four sixes off Ben Stokes, to pull off one of the most unbelievable victories in cricketing history.
This sort of executing under pressure is phenomenal even at that level. If you watch closely you see how he was able to pull off this amazing feat. Braithwaite is a big man with long levers and loves anything on his legs. So what did he do when the pressure was on? He went to his comfort. Knowing that the best chance of victory was to hit to areas he was strong. He was able to make Stokes bowl to those strengths, this was utter brilliance.
You see consistent, precise execution isn't about being able to play every shot well. It is about knowing that you play a handful of shots without error. You will have areas or shots where you can easily score runs. The trick is to manoeuvre yourself to be able to play these shots whenever the pressure is on. Moving around the crease is the easiest and simplest method we see of opening up scoring areas, that were previously unavailable.
Every cricketer knows too well, those days that we feel good and ready to perform, rarely come off. Our best performances usually end up with the worst stats and vice versa, especially as a bowler. One day you bowl the best you ever have and end up with stats of 0/65. The next, you feel clumsy and can't land a delivery to save yourself, that's when we see that 5fa.
As stated above, the key to being a successful Twenty20 cricketer is being able to develop a game plan that you trust and being able to precisely execute, time and again. Holding your nerve seems easy when you are confident but take a minor hit, and it goes.
Look at England again in 2016, Twenty20 World Cup final, going into that last over there confidence must have been high. They would have felt that victory was their's; Ben Stokes, executed his plans as best he could but unfortunately, it was the West Indies day. They couldn't have possibly foreseen that Carlos Braithwaite would hit four sixes to win the game, how could they?
This is a great example of how cruel twenty20 cricket can be. It doesn't take much for the momentum to change into the opposition's favour and even in the worst scenarios, the game is always on a knife's edge.
Now by no means should you enter a game believing that luck will determine the outcome. No, during your match the momentum will change rapidly and often between both teams. It is therefore in your hands to capitalise when you have it. This may mean bowling a cheap over or hitting that extra boundary. In any case, you must realise that in a game so short and intense, all it takes is one player to have a good performance for victory to disappear.
Being the new format on the block, Twenty20 cricket will have a big role to play in the future of cricket. It is clear that the benefits that it has already had on the world-class players is tremendous. We are seeing better, bigger hitting throughout the formats and bowlers are more able to quickly adapt lines and lengths. As a club cricketer, it is wise to engage in this shorter format. You will learn and develop a lot about your game and better realise areas that aren't as strong as first thought.