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Virat Kohli and Ben Stokes buck the trend as T20 'anchors' make big impact

T20 cricket is a game of stats and trends, with international matches and franchise tournaments combining to shape a picture of the ideal game plan.

The essence of all the statistical and tactical thinking around the format boils down to this: strike rates are king.

In contrast to the longer forms of the game, averages have a lesser weighting in T20 cricket, with quick and attacking play typically more beneficial for a team.

And yet, particularly in world tournaments, that received wisdom is not universally true.

When it comes to the biggest matches in World Cups, with the pressure at a level rarely otherwise experienced in the sport, there is still a niche for a very specific type of T20 player.

Video T20 World Cup 14 Nov 22
The tournament that had it all | ICC Men's T20 WC 2022
The tournament that had it all | ICC Men's T20 WC 2022

As the dust settles on the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022, a handful of such players stand out.

Their numbers aren’t necessarily what a T20 team would usually be looking for, and it is only really possible to accommodate one such player per XI, two at a push.

But the likes of Ben Stokes and Virat Kohli have shown that they still have a big part to play in the format.

The unfashionable and oft-criticised ‘anchor’ batter still has a place in the sport’s most important games.

Video T20 World Cup 13 Nov 22
Ben Stokes comes good again in another World Cup final | Highlights | T20WC 2022
Ben Stokes scored a 49-ball 52* to help England win their second ICC Men's T20 World Cup title against Pakistan in Melbourne.

Take the T20 World Cup final at the MCG as the first example.

England’s target was one they would back themselves to chase down 99 times out of 100.

And yet the pressure in a final is a different beast.

Three wickets down and still a good way from victory, England needed somebody to step up and hold the innings together.

It was the exact situation that Stokes was brought back into the fold for. And he did his job perfectly, still being out there at the end to score the winning runs, playing the part that his team required.

Video T20 World Cup 13 Nov 22
The unseen footage after England emerged victorious in the final | ICC Men's T20WC 2022
The unseen footage after England triumphed in the T20 World Cup final against Pakistan at the MCG.

But in that scenario you can’t have too many Stokes’. A steady partnership between the 33-year-old and Harry Brook got England close. But then it needed selfless, attacking hitting to ensure the required rate didn’t get too high.

Brook tried and was caught on the fence. But Moeen Ali – statistically one of England’s best batters in T20 cricket over the past two years – showed the contrast in styles that a team needs, scoring at a rate in excess of 140 at precisely the moment his team needed quick runs in order to remove the pressure.

Teams sometimes need a Stokes on the big stage. They also need a Moeen. It’s all about balance.

Video T20 World Cup 24 Oct 22
An epic montage of the MCG thriller between India and Pakistan | T20WC 2022

In Kohli’s case the example of his strength is clear to see.

That magnificent finish against Pakistan at the MCG was Kohli at his finest, setting the platform and then exploding at the last to secure the most dramatic of wins.

It takes an extraordinary player to produce the sort of shots that Kohli played on that extraordinary evening, particularly against bowling of such high calibre. But that is precisely the point – there is always room for an extraordinary player in a role such as that at a World Cup, even if their overall numbers don’t fit with the trends and current thinking of what makes a great T20 player.

Video T20 World Cup 05 Nov 22
Never write off a champion: Why Ponting never lost faith in Virat Kohli
Why Ricky Ponting never lost faith in Virat Kohli and was confident the India veteran would return to form at the ICC Men's T20 World Cup.

However, to justify the slow starts and the pressure their rate of scoring can bring, the Kohli’s and the Stokes’ need to make sure they finish the job.

That’s what sets players like that apart from the rest. More often than most they do see it through to the end when it really matters.

The problem, and the risk of picking such players, is that even the best can’t always deliver.

Video Match Highlights 10 Nov 22
Dominant England seal final berth with easy win over India | Match Highlights | T20WC 2022
Match Highlights: England beat India by a resounding 10 wickets to seal a meeting with Pakistan in the final of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup 2022.

India’s semi-final loss to England was a good example. On paper Kohli’s contribution looks good. But to score at the rate he did through the first 10 overs, especially when runs weren’t flowing from the other end, left India way behind their desired rate.

Had he stayed in until the end, accelerated, and found the boundary with the sort of frequency he had against Pakistan then he was more than capable of using the platform to boost his side to a big total.

But he didn’t do that and such is the risk of a modern ‘anchor’:

In a run chase they have great value. But batting first they can act as a handbrake – an unnecessary safety measure that limits a team’s potential if the order is inflexible.

Video T20 World Cup 13 Nov 22
Inside the England dressing room after their triumph in the final | ICC Men's T20WC 2022
Go behind the scenes as England celebrate their T20 World Cup triumph after a victory against Pakistan in the final.

Will such players continue to be picked in the format as it continues to develop?

The evidence from the biggest games and when the pressure is at its greatest suggests there will still be a place for a Stokes and a Kohli to play their part.

Video T20 World Cup 15 Nov 22
Thrilling montage from epic MCG finale | ICC Men's T20 WC 2022
Thrilling montage from epic MCG finale | ICC Men's T20 WC 2022

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