CAPE TOWN – In every form of cricket, the opening pair is vitally important to their team’s cause.
In the longer formats, it is about taking the shine off the new ball in order for the middle-order to prosper.
The contrast could not be bigger in T20 cricket. It is the men who stride out first who are the kingpins of their respective teams.
They have the opportunity to face the most balls – there are only 120 in a T20 innings – but that comes with the immense responsibility of utilising them to a maximum.
A strike-rate of 100 may be spectacular in ODI cricket, but run-a-ball is pedestrian in the shortest format of the game. The first six overs, which constitute the opening powerplay, defines a team’s performance, and this is where the openers need to be at their most brutal.
A strike-rate in excess of 120 per 100 balls is the barometer, with the most celebrated T20 batsmen striking above 135.
The inaugural T20 Global League player draft has thrown together some exciting opening combinations.
The “Universe Boss” Chris Gayle and Rassie van der Dussen are certainly set to light up Newlands together for the Cape Town Knight Riders, while Brendon McCullum and Patrick Kruger could gather some serious voyager miles in the thin highveld air playing for the Joburg Giants at the Wanderers.
Hashim Amla’s T20 stature continues to grow too after flaying two centuries at the recent IPL, and along with Pakistan’s Champions Trophy hero Fakhar Zaman, the duo could inflict serious bodily harm for the Durban Qalanders.
The Stellenbosch Monarchs did not mess about in the draft either, with Proteas T20 captain Faf du Plessis pitting together England’s Alex Hales, who recently clubbed a 30-ball 95 (9x4, 9x6), with Paarl hitman Henry Davids.
But it is the guys at the Benoni Zalmi who have arguably struck gold. Even though they only had the seventh pick of the international marquee player draft, Graeme Smith’s men were still able to grab Hales’ England opening partner Jason Roy.
This sets up a potentially electrifying partnership with South Africa’s dynamo Quinton de Kock.
“It’s quite exciting to have a young player like Jason. He will bring exuberance to the squad,” former Proteas captain and now Benoni Zalmi coach Smith said.
“I played with Jason when I was at Surrey, and got to know him pretty well. He plays his strokes aggressively at the top of the order and is also a great fielding option. There is already a dynamic combination at the top of the order for us with Quinny.”
Proteas fans would possibly most like to forget the mauling South Africa’s bowling line-up suffered in their ICC World T20 opener against eventual runners-up England at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium last year when they failed to defend 229.
But for the neutral, it was an epic contest due to 459 runs being scored in just 39.4 overs.
Both De Kock and Roy were central to their team’s batting efforts, with the young Protea smashing 52 off just 24 balls (7x4, 3x6, strike-rate 216.66).
Roy was even more brutal during his astonishing assault on Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada, with a 16-ball 43 (5x4, 3x6, strike-rate 268.75) his explosive return.
The Surrey opener was dismissed halfway through the fifth over, but England had already raced to 73/2.
The duo will benefit from having Smith’s presence in the dug-out due to South Africa’s former skipper not only once being a prolific T20 opener for the Proteas, but also for Somerset in England’s T20 Blast and in the IPL for Rajasthan Royals.
“It’s still pretty new and all been a bit frantic, but we all know when the openers get the team off to a good start, it makes everyone’s job a whole lot easier, including mine!” Smith chirped.