LOSers may be winners at the World T20
McKechnie was part of the New Zealand Prudential World Cup squad in 1975 that reached the semi-final. He played all four matches, took four wickets and conceded 3.7 runs per over – more economical than Lillee, Sarfraz and Lance Gibbs.
What makes him a trailblazer? McKechnie played 14 ODIs and not a single Test match. He was one of only three players from the Test playing nations at the inaugural World Cup who never played Test cricket – and the only one of the three with an international career that extended much beyond that tournament.
McKechnie was international cricket’s first limited over specialist. Intriguingly, when looked at more broadly, he was anything but a specialist: a dual international with nine caps for the All Blacks.
At least a dozen cricketers selected for the World Twenty20 are limited overs – or even T20 – specialists. Some have played Test cricket, and a few may go on to do so. But their shared characteristic is that they are not currently considered for Test selection, but come to the fore for their nations when the game involves white balls, coloured clothing and roaring crowds. Limited overs specialists (LOSers) take a number of forms.
McKechnie exemplified one of the original LOSer forms: the bits and pieces cricketer. For England, this became an obsession: the ‘find another Botham’ syndrome that affected selection for all forms of the game for two decades.
Eventually, it became apparent that someone who was half the bowler and half the batsman of the great all-rounder was only one-quarter the cricketer (yet, twice the commentator). However, finer specimens that prolonged its existence have been Yousuf Pathan, James Hopes, Chris Harris, Paul Collingwood and Tom Moody (long after his Test career was toast). Look out at the World T20 for bits and pieces of Albie Morkel, Keiron Pollard, Shahid Afridi and Luke Wright.
LOSer number two, dating back almost as far as the bits and pieces man, is the high-tempo batsman. Again Australia, perhaps because of its depth of talent, provides the models: Stuart Law (1 Test, 54 ODIs) and the man in most people’s all-time ODI XI: Michael Bevan (18 Tests, 232 ODIs). The high-tempo batsman has the virtues of hard-hitting, swift running and a relish of the sharp-end of a run-chase or rapid start to the innings. A vulnerability to the short ball or to the tight off-stump line in Test cricket can keep these players in the LOSer category. Imran Nazir, Richard Levi and Faf Du Plessis carry the torch for high tempo LOSers in World T20 2012.
Outside of the Asian Sub-Continent, fast and medium pace bowling had been crowding spin out of international limited overs cricket. The Warne revolution (many revs per minute) brought the top-class, cross-format spinner back to the fray. Teams lacking such an exponent, squeezed useful overs out of
batsmen acting as part-time spinners. But a wiley twirler (sometimes nearly flightless) LOSer also found a niche. Richard Illingworth frustrated fans and batsmen in equal measure propelling darts at pads. T20 negates any such predictable tactics. The wiley twirlers in action at World T20 are matadors, flighting deliveries at 55mph towards charging, willow-wielding bulls. The wiley twirler LOSers benefit from experience and a philosophical reaction to be being belted around the park. Brad Hogg, Johan Botha and Robin Peterson fit the bill.
The most recent type of LOSer to emerge stretches my definition a little. Rather than them not being considered for Test cricket, they have removed themselves from consideration. The brittle quicks are no longer up to five days of cricket but will put their body on the line for four, even ten overs, every few days. Without the need to hold something back for the second
new ball, Shaun Tait, Brett Lee and Lasith Malinga bring extreme pace at a full length to the sport. Sadly, only Malinga of these exclusive LOSers has made it to World T20 2012.
Finally, limited overs cricket doesn’t just place unusual physical demands on players, but mental demands, too. Only rarely has that been recognised with a LOSer skipper. Adam Hollioake led England from 1997-98. George Bailey directs the Australian T20 team in 2012.
Keep an eye on the LOSers in Sri Lanka, some may turn out to be winners.
Note: this article appeared first on The Alternative Cricket Almanac, under the title ‘I’m a Loser, Baby: the Advent of the Short-Form Specialist.’