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T20 World Cup Final Tactical preview

CricViz Analyst Freddie Wilde identifies the strategies, tactics and statistics that will shape the 2021 World Cup Final. 

The team batting first has to be aggressive

Teams chasing in night matches in Dubai in the World Cup have won all nine matches. There is a small advantage to chasing in modern T20 (52%) and a slightly larger advantage (57%) in the UAE where dew makes second innings batting easier. 

However, a bigger reason for the dominance of chasing teams in this World Cup has been poor and cautious first innings batting. Teams batting first have averaged 17 runs per wicket (7 fewer than the first innings average in the UAE) and have in fact played fewer attacking shots (51%) than the chasing team (56%). 

The team who got closest to winning when batting first was Pakistan who scored the highest total and played the most attacking shots. Low-risk batting in the first innings is the highest risk strategy. Whoever bats first has got to be aggressive. 

Two different balances creates different battlegrounds

Australia—with four frontline bowlers, Matthew Wade at seven and Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Marsh and Marcus Stoinis as the fifth bowler—are ‘batting-heavy’ while New Zealand—with five frontline bowlers, Mitchell Santner at seven and Jimmy Neesham as a sixth bowler—are ‘bowling-heavy’. This creates two distinctly different key battlegrounds. 

New Zealand have to target the fifth bowler 

For New Zealand the emphasis is on taking down Australia’s ‘fifth bowler.’ So far in the tournament no team has attacked the fifth bowler less than New Zealand (54% attacking shots). This pervasive sense of caution may be linked to their lack of batting depth but is also evident in the strike rates of their right-handers against off spin. It should be a match-up that they dominate but only Tim Seifert takes it down. Australia using Maxwell, despite the run of right-handers, is a calculated gamble worth taking. New Zealand will have to show more intent, particularly if they are batting first. 

David Warner is the key to unlock Australia’s batting order

For Australia, things are a more complicated because New Zealand’s bowling attack has fewer obvious weaknesses. The most important player on either team is David Warner; because he’s been Australia’s best batsman and he’s their only top order left-hander. If Warner bats deep he will either match-up very favourably with Mitchell Santner and, or Ish Sodhi or postpone or entirely block their usage.

This is significant because New Zealand’s spinners have much preferred right-handers in this tournament. If New Zealand don’t use Santner while Warner is at the crease as happened in the semi final while Moeen Ali was at the crease then they’ll be forced to introduce Neesham and Glenn Phillips’ off spin which can be targeted by right and left-handers. 

Powerplay: A battle of swing & seam 

Both teams have established new ball attacks. No two bowlers have swung the ball more in the Powerplay in this tournament than Trent Boult (1.34°) and Mitchell Starc (1.23°) while Josh Hazlewood has hit a good line and length more than anyone (55%). Tim Southee combines both this swing & accuracy to slightly lesser degrees (0.90° & 40%). Notably Starc has taken the first over in every game for Australia but New Zealand have twice started with Southee and once Santner, only twice giving Boult the new ball. 

Expect to see both teams go full early. These are lengths that suit them but also have worked very well in Dubai.

Australia’s balance and natural game of the openers lends itself slightly more to aggression in the first six. The Australian’s have dominated most of the head-to-heads as well. Don’t be surprised to see Australia take the Powerplay on. Finch in particular likes to use his crease to create angles and disrupt length. 

New Zealand are likely to be more cautious against the new ball. Martin Guptill struggles against left-arm pace while Daryl Mitchell is clearly weaker against the fuller lengths he’s likely to face up top (in our tracking database he averages 13 v full balls but has not been dismissed by a short ball and strikes at 159 against them).

Both teams would love to sneak an over of spin in in the first six if possible. Maxwell feels more likely. Santner will rely on Warner being dismissed. 

Middle Overs: Bowling aggression currently trumping batting aggression

Both teams are carrying out of form players in the middle order: Steve Smith and Maxwell for Australia, Kane Williamson and Glenn Phillips for New Zealand. Williamson has been exceptionally cautious in this tournament (39% attacking shots, lowest of anyone to have faced 100 balls). This may be a product of their bowling-heavy approach but against favourable match-ups and particularly batting first he may need to take initiative. Here Australia’s extra batsman has value: Mitchell Marsh has shown good intent and returns and should allow those around him to bat with more freedom. 

A little like Maxwell for Australia, Tim Seifert could be New Zealand’s trump card. The right-hander has to come in for the injured Devon Conway who has a robust all-round game and provided a left-hander but Seifert is a strong player of spin and if New Zealand manage his entry point and use him as a spin-hitter against Adam Zampa and Maxwell with his sweeps and reverse sweeps he could offer impetus to compensate for Conway’s stability. Zampa has been Australia’s best bowler in the tournament and New Zealand need a way to counter him. Williamson has a poor H2H record (2 dismissals at less than a run-a-ball) so Seifert could be key.

Both teams have used their pace bowlers aggressively through the middle. Starc has bowled more in this phase than ever before for Australia and adopted very attacking lengths while New Zealand appeared to compensate for their weaker death bowling by front-loading their quicks against England. Don’t be surprised to see similarly aggressive captaincy in the final either.

Maxwell’s issues against high pace should encourage Adam Milne – although their H2H is in Maxwell’s favour. 

Death overs: yorker method under the scanner

The average length at the death overs has been shorter in this World Cup than any previous tournament as teams have gone increasingly into the pitch instead of hunting for yorkers. Australia are an exception to this rule and have gone full 67% of the time. New Zealand are more evenly spread at 49%.

It will be interesting to see if Australia go shorter after Starc’s full lengths were hammered and Pat Cummins’ shorter lengths worked well against Pakistan. Jimmy Neesham far prefers fuller balls and into the pitch and body is a good option to him. 

New Zealand’s frontloading of their quicks against England held Sodhi back for the death which might not be a bad option against Stoinis and Wade who much prefer pace on the ball.

Wade’s supreme strength v high pace and 360° scoring make him well-suited for finishing but only if he avoids facing spin. In this respect he massively benefits from a batting-heavy strategy which nudges him down a spot in the order. Cummins is a useful death hitter who shouldn’t be underrated. 

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