The art of the middle-overs batsman in T20
In long-format cricket, Dan Christian is a lower-middle-order batsman. In short formats, he is a middle-to-late-over batsman.
For him, the preparation isn't much different for a T20 game than for a first-class game. He will have a net, some throwdowns. The biggest difference is practising six-hitting. The team's strategists will inform him of the opposition's tactics, the bowlers he can target, the dimensions of the ground, plus the details of where he has hit sixes at the ground before.
In the dugout he will continue to look for weaknesses in the opposition's attack and work out what his role will be. For Hurricanes in the Big Bash, he knows that no matter what start they get, he will never go in before George Bailey, but that he is best suited to start batting from overs ten to 12.
When he gets in, Christian "knocks them around for a few" until he feels set. That could be two balls if he goes in after the 16th over, it could be five if he goes in in the tenth. He also doesn't try to force balls for boundaries. Instead, he waits for mistakes and the balls landing in his zones, then tries to make "good contact". He doesn't worry about his average; he deals in strike rate - 20 off 11 balls is a good innings. He's looking to keep the pace of the innings up.
He prefers to chase, because then he knows when he needs to hit a six, letting the situation dictate his urgency. But he doesn't know if he is a better player when chasing or not. "T20 is an interesting one. There are so many potential statistics, but in the most successful teams I've played in, you don't talk about them at all, you just use your cricket skills," Christian says.
It was Christian's Nottinghamshire who lost to one of cricket's most proudly data-driven sides in the semi-final of the t20 Blast this year. Of the data that Christian has seen, he believes trying to ensure there are no dot balls is very important. For a naturally aggressive batsman, it's probably not that much of a problem.
While Christian may not know the breakdown of his stats or data, other teams do.
In the first innings of a match, when Christian has to start batting in the Powerplay, he is pretty ordinary. He averages 25 and has a strike rate of 117, which completely reduces his effectiveness. Also in the first innings, he averages 14 balls a match, so the chances of him playing a long knock are pretty small. While chasing, his batting average is pretty much the same, but his strike rate is over 140. However, on average he only faces ten balls in a chase, so yet again, he isn't really the man for an early start.
Up until the ninth over, his record is pretty poor. It's clear from the numbers and common cricket perception that Christian should come in around the tenth over. It is the ninth over onwards that Christian becomes the batsman for whom many are willing to spend close to a million dollars. His strike rate is 141 from the ninth over of the first innings onwards, and 39% of his innings start from between the ninth and the end of the 13th over.
Christian is rarely dismissed by spinners but has a strike rate of around 120 (with no real differential between spin that turns in or away). Against the ball spinning in, he only hits a six every 28 deliveries. Unsurprisingly, it is in the IPL that he struggles the most, with a strike rate of 116, an average of 18, and a boundary once every 22 balls.
Against the quicks overall, he scores at a strike rate of 140, hitting a boundary every five balls off left-arm fast bowlers, and a six every 17 balls against the right-armers. Meaning he'd probably love to face his own bowling (which has seemingly gotten quicker this year). If you bowl Christian seamers after he's got himself set, he will clear the ropes, but you might also get him out. Bring on a spinner and you'll slow him down, but you also might keep him around to do more damage later on.
Christian is well known, so there is a lot of data and general cricket knowledge on him. Everyone knows where he is going to hit the ball. He is brutal from long-on to deep square leg - he knows this, the bowlers and opposition captains know this, most of the TV viewers know this. But when the ball is in his zone, he simply tries to clear it.
That doesn't mean he tries to clear every boundary. "You have to be smart when trying to clear the square boundaries at the MCG, for instance," he says. When facing Samuel Badree at the Gabba recently, Christian knew that Badree would be bowling from the end with the longer straight boundaries. That meant the smarter option was attacking the seamers from the other, shorter, boundary end.
From the start of T20 cricket, Christian has always batted higher up the order than in the other formats. He became a specialist without ever really knowing much more than "In T20 I always batted higher, I suppose, just because I've been a half-decent striker, and that means I'm set for the end of the innings." As that kind of a striker it's interesting that he hasn't been used as an opener more than three times.
For whatever reasons, he wasn't tried there enough for us to work out if he would have made it. Instead, this old-school cricketer, born and raised in a pre-T20 age has become a modern, floating, middle-order batsman. The sort who knows that his job is to get 20 off 12 balls. His job is not to build an innings. It's to propel it.
Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber