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Is There a Role for a Sheet-Anchor Batsman in T20 Cricket?

From an average joe’s perspective, T20 cricket is meant only for batsmen who can muscle the ball far in the stands. Spectators enter the stadium expecting a flat track being dished out where the batters are on top of the bowlers from ball one and boundaries being cleared regularly.

But is T20 cricket all about this? Are orthodox becoming dinosaurs in the format? What is a sheet-anchor and what are their roles in the team? These are some of the questions we’d like to answer in this blog.

A sheet-anchor batsman is one who ensures that he keeps one end of the wicket solid and allows batsmen from the other end to score rapidly. The main role of the sheet-anchor batsman in T20 cricket is to rotate the strike consistently and accelerate in the death overs when they have got their eye in. A few classic examples of this kind are Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson and Babar Azam. There’s no doubt about the quality of these three great batsmen but their role in T20 cricket has been questioned time and again.

The format is tailor-made for swashbuckling batsmen who play with no fear. The defence of a batter is hardly ever scrutinised in an innings but the ability to hit good balls for sixes comes under the scanner regularly. So when we say the role of a sheet-anchor batsman is as important as that of a basher at the back end of the innings then it may sound paradoxical. But it is so true.

If we take a closer look at the numbers in T20I, then there’s an interesting story building up in the format. The most successful T20I batter in the world is Virat Kohli, his average is 52.65 which is more than anybody in the world who has played 20 matches or more at the international level. The level of consistency of this man is unreal and you’d imagine for someone to keep up this level of consistency, the strike rate would take the brunt for it. But remarkably in Kohli’s case, his strike rate is almost touching 140 which is better than his compatriot Rohit Sharma and the third-highest run-getter in the format, Martin Guptil both of whom are considered extremely aggressive batsmen. The best thing about Kohli is that he makes sure that he keeps one end of the pitch ticking and occasionally finds the gap to score a boundary in the middle phase of the innings. Dot balls are a complete no-no for Virat and once he gets past the 30-run mark he strikes at a rate higher than 170. That’s precisely when he covers up for his slowish start and ends his innings on a high. Dinesh Karthik recently described Virat’s innings as “he starts like a Corolla and finished it off like a Ferrari.” That’s how good Virat is while progressing his innings.

Kohli’s case is that of a classic sheet-anchor role but the thing with him is that he is so good that he barely ever misses out on scoring big post the 30 run mark. This is where the other batsmen of similar calibre struggle. On their course to accelerating at the back end of the innings, they try an outrageous shot or two and give their wicket away. The team falls short of their desired total by 20 runs or so and this batter’s innings comes under much scrutiny hence the role of a sheet-anchor becomes a topic of debate.

Something similar happened to Pakistan’s captain Babar Azam in the Pakistan Super League. Playing on a flat track at Karachi, Babar’s team Karachi Kings were batting first. On a pitch where the team should have scored a total of 210 and above, Babar’s 54-ball 62 restricted the eventual total to 196/3. He was run-out in the penultimate over of the innings and he deprived the power-hitters in the middle order to come out and finish the innings on a high. He chewed up almost half the deliveries in that innings at a very modest strike rate of 114.81. Islamabad United, on the other hand, lost two more wickets than the Kings but made sure that all their power hitters had a go on that flat track and not one batsman tried to ‘anchor’ the innings.

Babar Azam is a quality T20 batsman and there’s no doubt about that. Since 2017, nobody else has scored more runs in T20Is than Babar and his level of consistency has gone through the roof. The one aspect he needs to improve on is his ability to accelerate as his innings progresses. His strike rate is 130.27 and in certain conditions that isn’t good enough. This is where the role of the sheet-anchor has changed in recent years in T20 cricket. A team cannot afford to have more than one batter doing this job and this batter needs to make sure that he doesn’t leave his side’s potential in the middle order untested and if that happens then he makes up for it in the death overs.

The format has evolved dramatically since it was introduced back in 2007. It started off as a gimmick but now stands as the most data-driven format of the game and can easily be envisaged as the future of cricket. The importance of a sheet-anchor is still prevalent in T20 cricket but individuals can’t hamper the winning chances of their teams while playing this role. You need a batsman who would put their hands up when the going gets tough. A team needs one player around who the rest of the batsman can bat around. That’s what makes a perfect T20 team and the sheet-anchor is very much a part of that.

 

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