Opinion: T20 commentators talk utter rot

India

If anyone suggests to you that IPL commentary is just stating the obvious, make sure that you correct them. Quite often it doesn't attain such heights.

I'm going to make an outlandish statement here and suggest that every now and again, the commentary on IPL games isn't 'all that'. Maybe you're okay with insights such as 'wow'. I dunno. Maybe you think these exclamations add something. If so, that's your (entirely wrong) opinion and you're entitled to it.

But it's not just the IPL. Having watched the World T20, there seems to be a sizeable difference between the way teams go about winning matches and the way commentators and pundits think they go about winning matches.

Ex-players often haven't played this format and perhaps they overcompensate for their ignorance. Many seem fixated on how things have changed from their day with the most obvious example of this being the great stock put in six-hitting.

"It's a different game now," they say, to no-one in particular (or perhaps to themselves). "These guys have no fear. They're looking to clear the ropes every ball."

Except they aren't. Glenn Maxwell is, obviously, but most players recognise that even the 20-over format demands a modicum of subtlety. Those whose actual job it is to win games know that the format is all about finding the correct balance between risk and reward when batting and then somehow engineering the wrong balance when in the field.

There are two ways you can go about the latter. You can try and make an 'above par' score when batting, committing the opposition to taking more risks than they'd like, or you can tie batsmen down, through wickets, maidens or both.

When it comes to batting, the player of the World T20, Virat Kohli, believes ones and twos are the foundations on which an innings is built. Speaking about his 72 off 44 balls in the semi-final against South Africa, he said: "I was on 20 not out off 17 balls without hitting a boundary. If you can do that and the opposition knows if I can get two boundaries in between, my strike rate goes up to 150, around that."

So where many commentators appear to look upon boundaries as being the prime unit of measurement, the man who's all but mastered the art of batting in Twenty20 cricket considers them to be little more than finishing touches.

Kohli's view would appear to be borne out by the performance of the eventual tournament victors as well. Bar Kusal Perera, Sri Lanka didn't actually hit all that many sixes and one of the major reasons for this was because they simply didn't need to.

For the most part, Sri Lanka were content to bat slightly more conservatively than most other sides in the knowledge that a par score would often be sufficient for their bowling attack to defend.

Here too there seemed to be a divergence between what we were told and what the teams were actually doing. For years, we've heard that bowling in the IPL and other Twenty20 competitions is all about variety: slower balls, yorkers, back-of-a-length cutters, doosras, arm balls, military medium long hops and waist-high full tosses.

Okay, maybe not the last two, but the received wisdom is that the more deliveries you have in your arsenal, the better equipped you are to survive the short format cauldron.

Yet the World T20 final was perhaps the finest lesson as to what can be achieved by a bowling attack and it was notable that Sri Lanka didn't try something different every ball. Instead, they had five very different bowlers each purveying just one or two different deliveries.

The variety lay in the constitution of the attack more than what any individual did. Each bowling change demanded that the batsman rein himself in for a moment simply to see what the new stock delivery might be.

Then, at the finish, when wide yorkers were doing the job, Lasith Malinga didn't get too clever. He stuck with it. For variety, he'd maybe bowl a straight yorker. He'd change one variable.

Contrast that with poor Jade Dernbach, the focal point for England fans' ire, even if he sat out the most embarrassing loss of all. Dernbach's entire international career is built on the philosophy of 'mixing it up'. The upshot? He's like a bowling machine where 'random pie' is the only setting.

Commentators even took issue with when bowlers were being used. Few could understand why Dale Steyn wasn't being given the new ball, for example. "The best bowler should bowl when the pressure's on," they said.

South Africa's defence was beautifully simple? "He does."

It seems that few of those who are paid to enlighten us had noticed that it is far more likely to be the fourth or fifth over when the batsmen really get going; that even in Twenty20 they take a quick look first.

So if anyone suggests to you that IPL commentary is just stating the obvious, make sure that you correct them. Quite often it doesn't attain such heights.

<b>Alex Bowden</b>

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