LAHORE: One of the most crucial aspects in T20 cricket is to start strongly as gaining an early momentum in an innings that spans only 20 overs often provides an upper hand over opposition. Whether it has been Test cricket or One-Day Internationals, the openers have always had their work cut out as they are required to provide solid platforms to those next in the batting order.
T20 cricket has added a layer of difficulty as the format demands the runs to be scored at a brisk rate all the while ensuring the wickets stay intact in the Powerplay. As the T20 format continues to evolve, there are various methods and philosophies opening batters have deployed to deliver the goods for their sides.
PCB Digital spoke to Fakhar Zaman, Mohammad Haris and Sharjeel Khan. The three batters have established themselves as attacking openers and will be in action in the HBL Pakistan Super League 8, which commences on 13 February in Multan.
Fakhar played an integral role in Lahore Qalandars’ successful HBL PSL 7 campaign. His 588 runs were the most for any batter and his staggering strike-rate of 152.72 was the best amongst the top five run-getters last year. Amongst the batters playing in the upcoming edition, Fakhar’s 73 are the most sixes behind Islamabad United’s Asif Ali’s 79.
Fakhar: “As an opener, I try to exploit the opening six overs as there are gaps with two fielders outside the 30-yard circle. I try to go for boundaries from the very first ball and make the most of the good balls by rotating the strike.
“There are many factors that shape up an aggressive opener: natural game, the mindset and the demand of the team. I think having an attacking mindset is of the utmost important.
“The approach usually differs in the second innings as you are going after a target. If you are going after a small total, then you have time to adjust and the pressure is not that much. But, you have to attack in case you are chasing a big total.”
A product of age-group cricket, Haris, who played the ICC Men’s U19 Cricket World Cup in 2020, took the HBL PSL by storm last year as he smoked 166 runs at a strike-rate of 186.51 in five matches. His strike-rate in the Powerplay was almost a run better (187.32) and he smashed a boundary every third ball.
Haris, who turns 22 on 30 March: “It is very important to anticipate so I am continuously reading the fields. I see which two fielders are outside the circle and that helps me predict what two to three balls the bowler is looking to deliver and that is how I plan my shots. Like, if the bowler has positioned a deep square leg, I know that a bouncer is on the cards. Thankfully, the success rate to date is around 80 per cent for me.
“You need a strong and solid technique to be aggressive and attack the bowler. For me it is about dominating the bowler no matter who he is.”
Sharjeel Khan was the first batter to score a century in the HBL PSL. He clubbed eight sixes in his 62-ball 117 for Islamabad United against Peshawar Zalmi in the second qualifier and Islamabad were eventually crowned champions of the inaugural edition. He has, to date, smashed 72 HBL PSL sixes, one less than Fakhar.
Sharjeel, who since his return to the HBL PSL in 2020 has been in Karachi Kings, has hit a boundary every 4.5 ball in the HBL PSL and that is because of his desire to make the most of the Powerplays.
Sharjeel: “I believe 70 to 80 per cent of the match is defined by how the first six overs go. What I have learned over the years that a team which has the most boundaries wins the match, so I try to milk the first six overs.
“I am also looking to lay a solid platform for my side and if I continue to bat after the completion of the first six overs then I look to make sure that I carry that momentum.
“It is important to not to forget the basics and try to gauge the conditions. So usually, I do try to take four balls or an over as every day is a new day and conditions are different. Whether I am facing a spinner or a pacer, the plan remains the same, examine the conditions and then go for the attack and this often proves to be beneficial for the team as well.”