Twenty20 cricket was supposed to be a bit of fun. Hit and giggle they called it. When launched in England in 2003 players, pundits and spectators could barely contain their mirth. Its international inception was notable for players wearing fancy dress. No-one is laughing now.
It is the most serious of business, eclipsing Tests as considered to be the most important no matter who protests. Franchise leagues the world over are the financial lifeblood of domestic boards. The India Premier League dictates the cricket calendar and trades blows with some of the biggest sporting competitions in the world in terms of broadcasting and sponsorship power.
Not surprisingly, T20 is big betting business. Millions are traded in a matter of hours. Games can turn on one delivery. It is chaos theory embraced and loved by all. But is there any way of making sense of it?
Whole new ball game
The steepest learning curve for punters on T20 has been switching from a staid, insular view of cricket to a global one.
In Test cricket, country characteristics hold. The English can't play spin. Indians struggle to adapt to seam and swing. In T20, those foibles matter very little simply because there isn't time for weaknesses to be exposed. Over five days, no problem. Five minutes? Forget it.
Now, bettors must be across a raft of players they have never seen in the flesh - nor are they ever likely to - because of the huge betting opportunities like the Big Bash League, Pakistan Super League, Caribbean Premier League...(we could name them all but you get the picture). Previously players who would have been mere footnotes in cricket history are almost household names because of their skills in the shortest format - AJ Tye, Colin Ingram, Sunil Narine (pictured below), Rashid Khan.
But how do we identify who are the good players, the bad and the indifferent?
Previously we have relied on averages for batsmen and bowlers to decipher the protagonists of note. Such metrics in T20 are less important. Indeed, we're less interested in how many runs a batter scored, the key is how quickly he got them. The batsman who scores 50 off 40 balls is considered an impediment. 18 of seven? Now you're talking.
For batters, we're interested in their strike rate (runs per 100 balls). Openers need to be busting at least 130 to be considered worthy of the powerplay overs. Bowlers need an economy rate of around the eight mark.
More recently, filters like boundary percentage and non-boundary strike rates have become important. Such numbers have hampered careers. James Faulkner, the Australia all-rounder, a case in point. Punters could have been forgiven for thinking he was a strong pick for a team yet his inability to hit boundaries at the death of an innings was only exposed when old school data was replaced by more fancy metrics.
Bowlers are judged on non-boundary percentage and dot-ball percentage. Mohammad Irfan, a player previously many would have been 'meh' about, it turns out is one of the finest in the world.
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What does a winning team look like?
Unlike in Test cricket, where team characteristics, pitch conditions and home bias are the key variables, in T20 it is the players who are they key variables. When trying to find a winning franchise, whether that be in the IPL or Mzansi Super League, or a value match odds bet it is the balance of the respective XIs which should keep us awake at night.
A strong T20 team should be comprised of two blitzkrieg openers, a No 3 who can do likewise, middle order players who are more nuanced in the way they score runs (finding gaps, running twos and threes), a finisher who can blast it out of the park and six bowlers. Two of these have to be expert at the death of an innings (those with long memories will recall Umar Gul, the Pakistan pacer, was the protype) and two of them spinners. Andre Russel, a bowling finisher, is rightly worth his weight in gold.
Before a ball was bowled in T20, some reckoned the format would be the deathknell for spinners. They would be destroyed, smashed out attacks never to be seen again. The opposite has been true. It is now accepted that an economical spinner (ideally a wristspinner, or two if possible) are musts if a team is to have any hope of winning a title.
Not every team around the world gets it and you can strike a red line though outfits which come up short on the question: where is your world-class spinner?
To that end, teams which prioritise bowling skill over batting skill are the fancies. Even better, this is generally at odds with money flow on the markets where punters are wowed by the big bats and big names.
The likes of Royal Challengers Bangalore, Brisbane Heat, Surrey Lions and any team that signs Chris Gayle are guilty of falling into the trap of reckoning that it's sixes and fours that win Twenty20 matches. It's not. It's stopping them.
Poorly balanced sides like those mentioned are easy to identify. They often splurge on a big name (it's not cynical to reckon it's done for marketing purposes) at the expense of a tried and tested bowler few have heard of. For example, we'd rather be on a team which recognised the qualities of Pat Brown, the Worcestershire seamer, or Somerset all-rounder Lewis Gregory than one which reckoned AB De Villiers was a good signing. De Villiers' title wins are few and far between.
Ignore the big names is one of the most important lessons to learn.
The thinking done by the coaches who pick those players and punters is this: if he comes off for five overs no one will stop us. It's a big if though. And there's also anecdotal evidence that reliance on a superstar spreads laziness in a team as they leave it to Brylcreem boy or Advertising AB to get them over the line.
Another important lesson is this: don't get involved in prices of 1.608/13 or shorter in T20 betting on match odds. There have probably been only two sides worth following in T20 history at such numbers: Chennai Super Kings and Perth Scorchers.
Chennai have three IPL titles and a win percentage of just shy of 67. Note we do not mention Mumbai Indians, four-times winners, who often seem to forget the tournament has started until about three or four games in. Perth, now on the decline, won three titles.
Simply, the gulf between teams in the shortest format is rarely big enough to justify backing such skinny favourites. And throughout tournaments you will find it relatively simple to make a case for outsiders, unless they are teams who have a history of foibles. These are multitudinous like Brisbane Heat's profligate bowling, Sydney Sixers' bizarre inability to defend a target, South Africa's difficulty chasing or the sadly-defunct Gujarat Lions who won once in 14 attempts batting first.
Knowing how a team performs defending and chasing is crucial to having a bet. We're looking for teams who have a good split on both (particularly for outright bets) but, as above, there are huge discrepancies to take advantage of. On betting.betfair we always discuss such trends in match previews.
The toss can also be important at venues. There will be bias. When we get an outsider with a strong chasing record against a weak defender at a chasing venue, we're in maximum bet territory. It's also worth remembering for this time next year, that the Pakistan Super League rewards the chaser more than 60% of the time.
Be sure to check out the other volumes in our Betting Masterclass series, listed below:
- Volume 1 - Ed Hawkins on Test Cricket