Ons Jabeur too strong for Emma Raducanu at Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open

A facet of franchise cricket is the merry-go-round of players between tournaments. In the DP World ILT20 this has reached a crescendo toward the end of the group stage.

Last week’s column highlighted the four high-profile Pakistani players who were recruited by the Desert Vipers. Their impact on the team’s performance may not have been as great as hoped for, but it has been noticeable that the attendance at Vipers matches has been higher than at others.

Now, the players have left the team camp and returned to Pakistan to feature in the Pakistan Super League, starting on Feb. 17.

In their place two English players have arrived, fresh from their stints in the SA20 franchise league. Phil Salt played for Pretoria Capitals and Sam Curran for MI Cape Town, teams which failed to reach the knockout stage. This began on Feb. 7.

Salt, an attacking top-order batter, scored two 100s for England in the T20 series against the West Indies in December. Curran was named player of the 2022 International Cricket Council T20 World Cup and is the sixth-highest wicket taker for England in T20Is. In 2022, he became the then record signing in the Indian Premier League when the Punjab Kings paid $2.34 million for his services.

As of Feb. 7, all ILT20 teams had played eight matches, with two each remaining in the group stage. Three teams have six points, so an intense battle for the fourth position, one which secures a place in the knockout stage, has been generated.

While the Vipers hope that their late additions will achieve that goal, the same is true of the Dubai Capitals and the Sharjah Warriors.

On Feb. 6, the Warriors introduced two English players, Adil Rashid and Liam Livingstone. Both arrived from the SA20, in which Rashid played for Pretoria Capitals and Livingstone for MI Cape Town.

Rashid is a seasoned cricketer who has played 135 one-day internationals for England and 104 T20Is, claiming more than 300 wickets across the formats. He also played in 19 Tests, taking 60 wickets.

Livingstone has played 35 ODIs and 28 T20Is for England. Both should strengthen the Warriors squad. Although they were powerless to prevent defeat in their first match, Rashid was instrumental in defeating Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in the second.

The Dubai Capitals have recruited English player Tom Banton after his spell with MI Cape Town ended, along with Dasun Shanaka, Sri Lanka’s white-ball captain until last December, and Zimbabwe’s Richard Ngarava.

Shanaka was unable to help the Capitals to victory in his first game on Feb. 6 when the team failed to reach a target of 127. The match was also the last one for its captain David Warner, who returned to Australia to link up with the national T20 squad.

He will be hoping for a return to form. In eight innings in ILT20, he scored 125 runs, a below par return for a player of his caliber. Perhaps the on- and off-field demands of a franchise captain adversely affected his batting.

Those demands are not inconsiderable. Apart from leading the team on the pitch, there are training and tactical sessions to lead with coaches and team meetings between matches. Add to that sponsorship, promotional, and marketing responsibilities, plus liaison with franchise managers, then time is eaten away quickly.

In this context, the performance of James Vince, captain of the Gulf Giants against the Dubai Capitals on Feb. 6, was instructive.

His team was in trouble at 19 for four against some high-quality fast bowling. He set about repairing the innings and went a long way to achieving that before taking a risk too far in seeking to accelerate the scoring. The Giants closed on 126, which looked to be difficult to defend.

Vince, along with his team, had other ideas. He has a wealth of captaincy experience in domestic cricket in England and led the Giants to the ILT20 trophy in 2023. His shrewd bowling changes, field placing adjustments, and the ramping of pressure at key moments led to two calamitous runouts for the Capitals and other unforced errors which saw them fall short of the target by 19 runs.

The award of player of the match to Vince was well deserved, as much a recognition of his captaincy, as his runs. The match was a low-scoring affair. It followed a low-scoring first innings of 75 by Sharjah Warriors the day before. However, that low score was a relative outrider since there have been only two other first innings scores below 100.

Teams batting first will have a target in mind to set the opposition. In this year’s ILT20, the average first innings score across 25 matches has been 154 runs. Recourse to statistical sources indicates that, in T20 international cricket, a first innings score of 165 runs gives the team a 90 percent chance of winning. In ILT20 2024, six out of 10 first innings scores of more than 165 achieved victory, lower than the international ratio.

What makes the Gulf Giants win on Feb. 6 so interesting is that it was the only first innings score below 165 in this year’s event to achieve a win.

Another feature has been the propensity of captains who win the toss to elect to field. In only two of the 25 matches has this not been the case, both involving the Dubai Capitals. Clearly, teams judge that it is beneficial to field first.

Out of the 25 matches that judgement has been justified in 68 per cent of cases. Interestingly, four of those occasions where the decision was not justified occurred in the last six matches.

There is a view that the cooler and windier conditions which prevailed on those match days did not allow dew to form, making conditions better for bowlers and fielders in the second innings. Team managers now have this variable to consider as they seek to assimilate their newcomers and secure a top-four place.

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