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Return with a Roar: A Gujarat Lions Post Auction & Pre-Season Review

Suresh Raina (image from espncricinfo.com)

Suresh Raina will lead the Gujarat Lions once again. (image from espncricinfo.com)

While the Gujarat Lions had an excellent season on the field in 2016, it is key to appreciate all the work they put in before the season even began, starting right from the Player Draft in December 2015 – where the spoils of the suspended Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were divided between the Lions and the Rising Pune Supergiants. While Pune went for the batsmen, Gujarat picked five very all-round players, beyond whom they would not need to spend too much to build a strong team. This was an invaluable foresight, given that they had to build from scratch in an auction that not only had limited marquee players to begin with, but would also have to contend with other franchises with fewer players to buy, and more to spend. In the end, GL entered IPL 2016 with a squad closely resembling that of the Chennai Super Kings in 2015, with all their overseas strength invested in their top and middle order, and a robust Indian bowling lineup, even if not the best.

The results went their way, as they topped the table in the league stages before eventually bowing out after successive losses in the Playoffs to the eventual finalists Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Their key issue was that while their bowling lineup was – more often than not – solid enough to keep any opposing batting units to totals within the chasing range of their batting lineup. However, that same bowling lineup lacked the ability to defend totals posted by their batting lineup. This is shown as only 2 of their 7 losses came while chasing, but only 1 of their 9 wins came defending. Addressing this issue would have been their main concern in this auction. Here’s how they fared:

GL Auction Results - Property of IPLgeek.com.

On the whole, the only thing GL seemed interested in was strengthening their Indian bowling contingent. Barring Ekalavya Dwivedi, even all of their unsuccessful bids – Pawan Negi, Aniket Choudhary, Karn Sharma, and Varun Aaron – are all Indian bowlers. This indicates that they are looking to retain the same squad composure, with the beefed-up top and middle order, followed by a largely Indian bowling lineup. Chirag Suri – the first UAE player to be offered an IPL contract – was also a talking point from the Lions’ auction.

Once again, it was fairly smart auctioning from GL; they didn’t splurge on one player, but looked to pick up a wide range of different players to help remedy their situation. It will also be interesting to see Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony back in the mix of things again – neither has represented an IPL team since 2013, but both offer skills and experience that will be invaluable to the GL lineup.

However, one key point they did not address was the issue of their overseas all-rounders. Their top order firepower is matched by few in the competition (especially when you add Jason Roy to the mix), but they did not address the issue of Dwayne Bravo. Bravo is still recovering from an injury he sustained in the Big Bash League, and is likely to miss at least the first few games for the Lions. It would have served them well to have an additional all-rounder – such as Chris Woakes, perhaps – to hold fort, especially considering James Faulkner had a fairly unremarkable 2016 season. Yet, nothing has suggested that Bravo’s injury is serious enough to keep him out of the entire tournament, which means that Faulkner could perform his duties until he returns.

GL had a pretty decent auction, picking up a truckload of Indian youth as well as some experienced faces, and should enter IPL 2017 ready to roar.Now, check out my dynamic for their playing XI:

GL Playing XI Dynamic - Property of IPLgeek.com.

Note: This dynamic represents possible scenarios of my own deduction, and have no direct affiliation with the actual plans of the GL team management.

Jason Roy is not likely to feature unless either Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum or Aaron Finch is injured or has a lean run. However, Roy’s aggressive technique and ability matches that of his colleagues, and having someone like him as a reserve will go a long way for GL. All said, however, an interesting move would be to play him ahead of Dwayne Bravo while he is injured. While this might disrupt the overall balance of the lineup while weakening the bowling, the prospect of a top order consisting of McCullum, Roy, Raina, Smith, Finch and Dinesh Karthik is undoubtedly very tempting. Regardless, GL fans will be hoping to see the belligerent Englishman plundering runs under their flag in 2017.

The bowling is likely to be a mix of old and new. Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni – who had solid returns in 2017 – are likely to stay, and Nathu Singh is likely to make it in as a third seamer. He beats out Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony on youth, and because his extra pace would bring a little more diversity to skipper Raina’s attack. Shivil Kaushik will likely play as the main specialist spinner, given pretty solid returns last season.

Chirag Suri made history as the first UAE player to receive an IPL contract, but if he was looking to make it into the playing XI there are few other teams in which he would have a lower chance of making it. Like Jason Roy, he would have to count on an injury/a poor run of form from one of the Lions’ first-choice overseas batsmen to make the cut. His best scenario would be if this were to happen while Dwayne Bravo is out on injury, and if the Lions’ bowling attack puts up solid displays, negating the need for James Faulkner. While it may be a long shot, it would no doubt be a memorable moment for Suri, his country, and the IPL at large, if he were to make it into the XI.

Given GL’s issues with all-rounders, the form of Ravindra Jadeja will be vital for GL’s success. Although ever-reliable with the ball, Jadeja has flattered to deceive with the bat (191 runs, SR 107.30), leaving the Lions’ lineup dangerously exposed beyond the top order. That said, he has played a number of gutsy knocks down the order for the Indian test side in recent times, and the Lions will hope he can do the same for them come game time.

The Gujarat Lions will make their first appearance of the season on April 6th, as they lock horns with the Kolkata Knight Riders at home.

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5 Players Who Can Make It Happen this IPL

Shane Watson could be RCB’s formula to success (image from sports.ndtv.com).

The T20 World Cup is nearing its end, meaning that the IPL is just around the corner. Now, I have spent a fair bit of time preparing for a set of pre-season/post auction reviews I plan to do in the near future, and as I have perused the player lists, I have found some players who can definitely cause ripples in this season for their respective franchises, and possibly even bring them the trophy (i.e. “Make it Happen):

Note: I have attempted to be as diverse as possible in terms of franchises without discounting player worth.

#5: Samuel Badree (RCB)

Badree has been one of WI’s standout bowlers this WT20. Although his 7 wickets in 5 games are impressive on their own, his economy rate of 5.68 is what really stands out. Considering that he played 2 of those 5 games on the run-rich track of Mumbai. His ability to bowl those tight overs upfront with the new ball will be invaluable for RCB, especially in light of Mitchell Starc’s uncertainty due to injury.

#4: Ashish Nehra (SRH)

In the last few months, Ashish Nehra has scripted quite a turnaround in his T20 career. He had a mighty fine T20 World Cup, taking a wicket in each of his 5 games while conceding under 30 runs. Even more impressive is that he has accomplished this feat across 5 different grounds, which is a great indicator that he isn’t just someone who is constantly reaping the rewards of a pitch he knows well. In addition, it will be a chance for him to step up and lead a relatively young Sunrisers bowling lineup, and fill the void left by the departure of Dale Steyn and Ishant Sharma.

#3: Kevin Pietersen (RPS)

Last time Kevin Pietersen played an IPL, he had to lead the Delhi Daredevils, and struggle with a contingent of out of form players who were not quite settled with their roles in the team. Now, however, he is playing under MS Dhoni, arguably the Otto von Bismarck of cricket (in terms of genius, that is, not inciting wars with countries). He is also in a batting lineup that consists of men like Ajinkya Rahane and Faf du Plessis, who are known to be good at anchor roles. Hence, this season, KP will truly be liberated and free to do what he does best: attack the bowlers from ball one.

#2: Quinton de Kock (DD)

QDK has really enjoyed his time in India during the T20 World Cup. He registered scores of 52, 45. 47, and 9 in four games to put up a performance so strong it effectively shunned AB de Villiers from his traditional T20I opening slot, giving the Proteas one star in an otherwise dark night of a tournament. He will also be partnering with the illustrious Shreyas Iyer at the top of the order, which will finally give Zaheer Khan’s Daredevils hope of batting stability that they have sought so desparately since the era of Sehwag, Mahela and Warner.

#1: Shane Watson (RCB)

Shane Watson is probably the most accomplished all-rounder to don the RCB jersey since the legendary Jacques Kallis himself. For the franchise that has struggled so much with side balance in the last several years, there are so many options he opens up. He covers the role of a seasoned fast-bowler, allowing RCB to invest one of their overseas slots in a Samuel Badree, who could tantalize batsmen on the newly laid slower Chinnaswami track. His flexibility in the batting order allows RCB to give their young batting contingent a chance to find the positions and roles that suit them best. Lastly, his years of experience and success in both international and IPL cricket will allow him to bring something to the table for both the batsmen and the bowlers, and will also be someone Virat Kohli can turn to for a word of wisdom. In addition, Watto delivered consistently with both bat and ball for Australia in the T20 World Cup, and although some team lapses meant that trophy will still remain elusive to the otherwise trophy-rich Australian team, Watto sure did exit International Cricket in style.

 

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Top 5 Bargains of the IPL 2016 Auction

Dale Steyn was picked up for quite a bargain price. ( Image from indiatoday.in )

The 2016 IPL Auction was arguably the most interesting of all time, not just because of the influx of players from the now-suspended Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals franchises, but also because of the fact that two teams – Rising Pune Supergiants and Gujarat Lions – had to build their teams pretty much from scratch in what we consider as one of those “team strengthening” auctions. While I saw many buys that just had me scratching my head, I also saw a couple of excellent bargain buys, five of which I shall highlight in this article.

#5 – Stuart Binny (Rs. 2.00 crores – roughly $295,000) – Royal Challengers Bangalore

I realize that many may not think Binny as a marvelous bargain made in this auction, and they are not wrong to do so. However, we must consider the team that he has been brought into. RCB has been in search of a proper Indian all-rounder since…well, forever. Yuvraj was a good shot, but 14 crores was a weight too big for the RCB purse to bear, and he was let go. Acquiring Binny may have finally solved that problem. Although he hasn’t been in prime form over the last year, if he can roll his arm over for 2-3 overs at 8 or less, and swing a couple of sixes at the end of the innings, he will be quite and asset for the franchise. Of course, the question of whether or not he will actually perform remains, but I feel that for the risk, 2.00 crore is not a bad price to pay.

#4- Kevin Pietersen (Rs. 3.50 crores – roughly $515,000) – Rising Pune Supergiants

Even though his standing with the English Cricket Board is flaky at best, it is undeniable that Kevin Pietersen is a true mascot of the sport of cricket, and a worldwide entertainer. He has not donned the English jersey since England’s unceremonious loss of the 2013-14 Ashes Down Under, yet he continues to ply his trade in various T20 Leagues around the world – such as the Big Bash League, the Carribian Premier League, and the recently started Pakistan Super League. Wherever he has gone, he has given fans a marvelous display of T20 skill and power. He captained the Delhi Daredevils to their disastrous 8th place finish in 2014, and had to opt out of his Sunrisers contract last year to ply his trade at county cricket in a bid to return to the international squad. This year, he will be at Pune, alongside the likes of MS Dhoni, Steve Smith, and Faf du Plessis. While 3.50 crores is a significant amount of money, for someone in the form that KP is in, it is quite a steal.

#3 – Mustafizur Rahman (Rs. 1.4 crores – roughly $210,000) – Sunrisers Hyderabad

When we think of India’s devastating Bangladesh ODI series in June 2015, Mustafizur’s name comes up almost the same way Hitler’s does with World War II. The man picked up 5, 6, and 2 wickets in the first three games respectively, giving his team a 2-1 victory. The young 20-year old has not stopped his carnage there, however, as he holds averages under 15 in both T20 and ODI cricket. With a great abundance of Indian pacers in the Sunrisers lineup, not to mention Trent Boult vying for that bowler’s overseas slot, it will be difficult for Mustafizur to get games on a regular basis, but regardless, a price of 1.40 crores for him was a real jackpot for the Sunrisers.

#2 – Dwayne Smith (Rs. 2.30 crores – roughly $340,000) – Gujrat Lions

Since he was made a regular opener by the Mumbai Indians in 2012, Dwayne Smith has taken the IPL by storm. His belligerent hitting played a vital role for MI in 2013, as he covered up for Sachin Tendulkar’s injury and helped them win their first title. When he was contracted to CSK in 2014, he simply picked up from where he left off, partnering with Brendon McCullum to make one of the most devastating opening pairs in all of IPL. In fact, he came within tasting distance of the 2014 MVP Award, only to lose it by half a point to Glenn Maxwell. Considering that they drafted McCullum beforehand, they will be very happy that they could pick up his CSK opening partner for such a modest price.

#1 – Dale Steyn (Rs. 2.30 crores – roughly $340,000) – Gujrat Lions

Despite the fact that he’s going through a rather rough patch, with injuries and lapses in form, Dale Steyn is still one of the best bowlers in the world today. Like he showed in 2012 with the Deccan Chargers, he can single-handedly lead a team’s bowling attack to some success. When Gujrat came out of the Player Draft, many questions were raised about how they were going to acquire someone to spearhead them for a price that their budget would permit. Hence, picking someone like Steyn up for just 2.30 crores was a true bargain.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Resilient: An International Tale

Some of the various atrocities in the world today Source: Facebook.

                Some of the various atrocities in the world today. Source: Facebook. 

Paris: Terrorist attacks. Japan: Earthquakes. Baghdad: Suicide bombings. These are just a few of the major calamities that have happened over the last two days. Discounting the global scale, one only needs to look at a newspaper to see a plethora of atrocities that make even the holocaust look humane. This is not something new to our world. We have seen these kinds of events before, and we will see them in the future. There’s no escaping it.

While sifting through all the tabs on my browser, I inevitably stumbled upon the Australia vs. New Zealand test match. While comparatively insignificant, the Kiwis were going through a tragedy of their own. Led by the belligerent David Warner, Australia had racked up a massive 559/9 in less than 2 days, something that essentially wins half the game for you. Add Mitchell Starc to the equation, and I thought the Kiwis were done and dusted, and moved on. Yet, when I checked the scorecard recently, the men in black had put up 510/6, a feat that nearly mirrored the one the home side had put up. As I saw this impressive display of batting, something hit me. Resilience. That was the answer. Crises occur all the time. In 2001, it was America, in 2008 it was India, yesterday it was France, and tomorrow it will be someplace else – we cannot stop that. I now speak to all the survivors of atrocities – be it those that’ve made headlines on CNN or made 5th page on the local newspaper – be resilient. Keep your head up, and know that people are praying for you, in different languages, to different Gods, in different places, but for the same purpose. Keep your head up, even if it seems that things can’t get any worse, as the path is still not at it’s end. Keep your head up.

Now, I am aware that I am probably asking you for the impossible. I realize that I am probably asking you to come back from the dead, or to lift a mountain with one hand. However, know this: life doesn’t wait. Life doesn’t care how hard you fall. If New Zealand had succumbed to Mitchell Starc – who was hitting 160 kilometers per hour – and the sheer magnitude of the Australian score, would they have won a “pity point”? No! The series would have been 0-2, and that’s it. Now I’m not trying to be an insensitive person, but I beseech you, fight. While you have arms, pick up your sword, and fight for all it’s worth. Be resilient, like the New Zealanders, and like hundreds of thousands of others impacted by these crises across the years.  Just fight. I cannot guarantee that you will win, but you can sure as hell try. If you can’t be a victor, you’ll be a martyr. So stand up, and fight. Stand up, and be resilient.

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World Cup Journal #2: Blitzkrieg

AB de Villiers’ innings of 162 in 66 is an innings we will never forget for a long time. (Image from lockerdome.com)

The World Cup has steamed through February, and has now hit March. We’ve seen some exciting cricket, but I’d like to bring up one theme we’ve seen prevalently since my last World Cup Journal just over a week ago: Blitzkrieg.

Before you ask, no, Adolf Hitler did not invade Australia (he’s dead, and will hopefully stay so). Rather, the style of cricket we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks has been like that. For those who aren’t World War 2 Enthusiasts like I am, Blitzkrieg was a tactic used by Nazy Germany during WWII. Basically, what they did was that they would send forward an initial overwhelming thrust of tanks, which would shake up the opposition. Then, the rest of their army would come in, and finish the job. Using this, the Germans conquered nearly all of Europe. Similarly, now teams in the CWC are using it to destroy their opponents.

We’ve seen some belligerent cricket being played in the last week: Chris Gayle’s 215, AB de Villiers’ 66-ball 162, Dilshan’s 161, Mitchell Starc’s steaming 6-28, and Kumar Sangakkara’s twin centuries all showed a sense of dominance that the opposition fell flat before. While the innings themselves were magnificent, it was that air of supremacy, and authoritarianism that they stamped into the pitch that was so wonderful. It was as though they went up to the pitch and said “we’re here to thrash you, and there’s nothing you can do about it”. This is a marvellous quality we see in cricket, and I hope to see it more as the World Cup progresses.

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The IPL Trading Window – MI

Vinay Kumar is one of MI’s 3 new imports for the year. (Image from gocricket.com)

The IPL Trading window has been going very well so far. I’m personally very happy to see that teams are actually using it this time (as opposed to last year), and I’m also glad that I can actually understand why the teams made the decisions they did.

The Mumbai Indians have been the most active, dropping 2 of their players and acquiring 3. The two players they dropped were Praveen Kumar and Michael Hussey.

With PK, I can see why they did what they did. The seamer was, after all, only a replacement for Zaheer Khan, and while he did not underperform, he did not do enough to give MI enough reason to retain him. Still, I personally would have thought that MI would have done well to retain PK, owing to the fact that Zak is injury prone.

With Hussey, however, I was more surprised. Although he had a poor showing in the UAE, he made a strong comeback in the India leg of the tournament, and brought experience to the playing 11 that would have been much missed after Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement. This again shows the fickle nature of the Mumbai Indians unit in terms of their player choices. Players such as Richard Levi, Davy Jacobs, and Corey Anderson were all players who delivered momentary bursts of brilliance, and were immediately snapped up by the franchise. However, when they failed to show, they were discarded almost as quickly as they were purchased. Jacobs and Levi were dropped following the 2012 IPL, and Corey was not a part of the playing XI for any of MI’s games in their forgettable CLT20 run this year. Same thing has happened to Hussey here. I’m guessing that it’s because of the unexpected rise of Lendl Simmons as an opener. His revolutionary rise to the occasion when Mumbai were all but out of the IPL is probably what inspired them to give him their slot for overseas opener.

Now on to their purchases. With Unmukt Chand and Parthiv Patel, I believe that it is yet again a part of Mumbai’s black hole desire for opening batsmen. Since Tendulkar’s retirement and Dwayne Smiths’ leaving MI, they have been searching for that suitable pair to open the innings. Hence, players like Hussey, CM Gautham and Ben Dunk were tried, but in vain. This, I assume, is just a continuation of that need to fill the void. Parthiv Patel was scintillating for RCB in the first few games of the tournament, but he quickly sizzled out, and failed to make much more of an impact. Nonetheless, he has shown on numerous occasions that he can be a stable opener, and could well be the answer to MI’s opening issue. As with Chand, he received well below his due playing time in IPL 2014, which I assume is due to Karun Nair’s extraordinary form. However, he can be a forceful opener for the MI squadron, and I feel that spending some time under greats like Tendulkar, Johnty Rhodes, Shaun Pollock and Anil Kumble would give the youngster an excellent chance to hone not only his cricketing skill, but his leadership skills as well. This experience could be one that would prepare him to be a future leader of India.

As for Vinay Kumar, the only reason I can find for their picking him is Zak’s injury situation. Although he is by no means a very economic bowler, Vinay is an aggressive wicket taker, who can choke oppositions at the right times. The Karnataka skipper also brings some experience with him, which can be useful for nurturing some of the other young bowlers in the MI squad.

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What Happened to India?

Along with the rest of the Indian lineup, Cheteshwar Pujara had a below-par time in England. (Image from espncricinfo.com)

Along with the rest of the Indian lineup, Cheteshwar Pujara had a below-par time in England. (Image from espncricinfo.com)

July 21st, 2014: Indian won in Lord’s for the first time in 28 years. It was a day to rejoice, and Indian fan and cricketer alike were all happy. However, the cloud of jubilation proved to be but a mask of what would come next. The English batsmen began the third test with an attack of renewed vigour to register a massive total of 569 before James Anderson and Moeen Ali cleaned up the dazed Indian lineup to register a mighty 266 run victory; their first since beating Australia in the Ashes during the summer of 2013. The Indian side never quite looked the same again, as they were routed for 152 and 161 within 3 days during the 4th test, registering one of the meekest surrenders in cricket history. At the start of the 4th test, Independence Day luck failed India as they collapsed yet again to register only 148. Now down 2-1 in the series (with 1 draw), it is hard to see how this young Indian side, which had looked so authoritative back in Lord’s, managed to bring themselves down to such a lowly fate.

 

The biggest problem in the last 2 tests was undoubtedly the Indian batting lineup’s failure to click. Virat Kohli in particular has failed to give India those strong partnerships and 100-ball innings you see from guys like Kumar Sangakkara. Even Ajinkya Rahane – who looked set to be India’s Mr. Dependable in the making after his mature Lord’s century – stuttered and spluttered in the last few innings. Only a few “rescue operations” (literally) innings from MS Dhoni and R Ashwin saved the Indians from sub-100 scores in the last few innings.

 

This may lead you to the conclusion that it is easy to blame the losses entirely on India’s batting, but don’t cast your judgement just yet. We must also take into accord England’s bowling. After the Lord’s test, England took a bit of a gamble bringing in 4 specialist fast-bowlers and leaving only 1 part-time spinner. However, it paid off dramatically well. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were the key figures, as they demolished the Indian batting as clinically as German U-Boats sunk Allied shipment during WWII. Don’t forget Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes though. While they may not have done the damage done by the Broad-Anderson duo, they definitely made an impact, silencing a few batsmen and allowing the pressure to creep on them. Now the bottom line question arises: why couldn’t India do the same? Why couldn’t India’s bowlers dive bomb the British batsmen as efficiently as their English counterparts had done to theirs?

 

There are quite a few reasons for this. The first is poor selection. Where England played 4 full-time seamers, India played just 3, of whom 1 was debuting and 1 was not known for his pace (in the 3rd test). Hence while they were not terrible, they did not do as much as Anderson and Broad had. Their problem was that their selection did not have the pace needed to repeat what Ishant Sharma did back in Lord’s. Varun Aaron had more success in the 4th test, as he picked up 3 wickets, including a lovely inswinger to knock over Moeen Ali. He was probably bowling slower than he would during a T20 to preserve his fragile fitness, but was still fast enough to trouble the English batsmen. This is where it might have been handy to use someone like Umesh Yadav (not selected for the tour) or Mohammed Shami ahead of Stuart Binny or Pankaj Singh, as those guys are probably the fastest bowlers we have in India today and might have had a strong impact.

 

The second issue is inexperience. India’s complete revamp of the side in the past 3 years has stripped them drastically of hardened international experience. In fact, Ishant Sharma is the only Indian pacer who’s played the tour to debut before 2013. In England, on the other hand, James Anderson and Stuart Broad are hardened veterans, and Woakes and Jordan have a good level of experience with English tracks, even if not much at the international level. Therefore the English side was able to outplay the Indians on experience alone (the inexperienced Indian lineup did not help). Even though guys like Mohammed Shami possessed the pace to dent England, their lack of experience barred the way. Persisting with Zaheer Khan might help. Even though he is injury prone and possesses only flashes of the potent that made him such a lethal bowler a few years ago, he would help smooth the transition into the new generation for India’s quicks.

 

This tour has been a bittersweet one for India (maybe more bitter than sweet though). They lost two crushing defeats, true, but it’s not everyday that you win a test at Lord’s. I personally feel it will be a tour of comprehension for India. It is time for them to find some way to either bring an experience equilibrium to the squad, or get their youngsters accustomed to foreign conditions (through domestic leagues in different countries). Even if India lose the series, I feel it will be a good wake-up call for them, and will hopefully spark some degree of reform and change, so we have a better, classier Indian side too watch in the near future.

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The Match Beyond Cricket: A Psychological War

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More than just the statistical advantage, cricketers are always looking to gain a psychological advantage wherever possible (image from cricketmademecrazy.blogspot.kr)

A cricket match is seen, in essence, as a duel between two sides with the bat and ball. While that is the textbook definition of what’s going on, there is often another duel that takes place on the cricket pitch. The battle of minds. This battle is, as I like to put it, “the match beyond the cricket.” It is not something that can be shown in numbers, but can be felt in the atmosphere of the match. When the bowler fires in an attacking short ball and gives you a death stare, or when the keeper is taunting your batting average, you’ve got psychological war going on.

This battle is of such importance not because of any value it has to the statistical aspect of the game (the ump isn’t gonna give you five runs for bullying the keeper) but because it can affect the rhythm of a player, and lead to profound consequences.

This is why it is so important for players to play for the psychological absence as well as the statistical one. Batsmen need to make sure the bowler never gains the format foot over them, and vice versa. This is why I feel that (in limited overs cricket) the first 3 balls of an over are the equivalent of the center of the board in chess. The one who makes the most of those three balls puts himself in a great position to gain a psychological advantage over his opponent. For example, if a batsman smashes 3 boundaries in the first 3 balls, he leaves the bowler a little uncomfortable: why aren’t his methods working? He then is forced to try something new, often beyond his comfort zone, to try and dislodge the batsman. In other words, he’s left playing “catch up”.

At this stage, the batsman can relax a bit more, and simply take what can be taken. Even if it’s three singles, the damage has been done. What also happens is that the bowler has a higher tendency to make errors, which can cost him runs. Same thing applies the other way around as well. If the bowler bowls three good deliveries that the batsman is unable to play, he may resort to something beyond his comfort zone, most commonly the exotic reverse sweep, which would lead to his wicket falling (which in most cases is more severe than leaking runs).

However, beyond this we must also consider the fundamental reason a player ventures outside his comfort zone to try and regain a lost advantage: pressure. All players feel pressure, especially when they’re up against the wall, trying to hold together a delicate situation. True, it is this pressure is often what brings the best out of players, and makes cricket that much more exciting. However, it can also do terrible things to players. It can turn absolute gentlemen into cussing ruffians. It can get a batsman bowled attempting a paddle scoop of a delivery he would have thwacked straight down for six another day. It can make a bowler bowl wide full tosses even if he’d got his yorker right 60 times in a row the night before. It can even make fielders drop catches they would have held on to single-handedly another day. In short, pressure can bring out the demons of any player, and is in short, the “atom bomb” of this psychological war. If a player succumbs to pressure and loses his nerve, he will be crushed by the boulder of the game and it’s demands. Luckily, the more experienced cricketers usually never go that low, as the power of personal experience keeps them resilient. However, for younger players, with little experience and high expectations for themselves, this pressure can be like a death blow. How often have we seen young batsmen fall playing rash shots when the going got tough? How often have we seen young bowlers completely fall apart to assaults from batsmen? Again, it just goes to show that cricket is as much a mind game as it is a physical one.

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Cricket On The Scorecard – A Visualising Experience

Cricket is undoubtedly one of the most exciting sports there is. Both for the polished analyst as well as that guy who lives for exciting moments, cricket has plenty to offer. While the best experience undoubtedly comes from watching from the stadium itself, television has evolved so much that now watching from your HD TV with surround speakers and a box of pizza with ice cream for dessert provides an experience just as enthralling. However, this experience is often a tad harder to get for us cricket fans who live in countries where cricket is not quite the hot sport. Stadium watching is completely out of the question (unless you have a lot of money and passion), and getting high quality streams is sometimes very tedious. I know that starsports streams a majority of the big matches, but probably because I live in Korea, this starsports gives me this message of death instead of cricket more often than not:cons of cricket in koreaRacism….pfft (just kidding).

The only other streams available to me are ones that have such low quality and so much buffering that I usually just prefer to go watch IPL highlights.

To add to all of this, ICC clearly didn’t plan the timing of the matches to suit to the Korean time zone, so I often found myself rolled up in my bed, laptop on low volume, watching Yuvraj Singh pulverising Australia, or the West Indies outplaying Bangladesh at 2 AM. It is nonetheless fun, but it does cut in with my sleep, and sleep is good.

After watching this guy at 1 AM, I'm surprised I didn't get nightmares. Image credits: @AltCricket

After watching this guy at 1 AM, I’m surprised I didn’t get nightmares.
Image credits: @AltCricket

 

So in the end, my most reliable form of cricket viewing has been my cricket apps on my iPod. My favourite one used to be Yahoo Cricket’s app, which I found was neat and gave me all the info I needed. However, for some reason it lost its sense of time, and began to show scores with a delay. That’s when I switched to the espncricinfo app, which after updates, has proven to be one of the best apps I’ve ever used.

Now, I use these apps not just for the score, but for the commentary. The commentary is what helps you relive the match, and imagine what may have happened. They say good authors allow you to “live their books”. While the commentary provided on cricinfo may not be a literary work of art, but it helps me visualise nonetheless. While I may not be able to actually watch the match, I can still live the gameplay in my head. For example, if the commentary says Wriddhiman Saha is pulling Sunil Narine for sixes, I try and envision how that may work. Sometimes I may see him sitting on one knee and pulling him, or taking a step back to pull a shorter one. While the commentary does sometimes provide details that specify which one it actually is, the process of imagining it itself is quite incredible. This way, you can create your own image of cricket inside your head, which I feel is something every cricketist needs to be able to do.

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A Long Weekend of IPL

Yuvzendra Chahal has been one of the finds of the tournament. (Image from iplt20.com)

 

IPL is here. The most awaited event in the cricketing world barring World Cups, the IPL brings in a new essence of fickleness and thrill to cricket. In fact, we’ve already seen a 200-run chase, even though its been only 4 days since the start of the tournament. We’ve also seen how unpredictable it can be, as Mumbai Indians cartwheeled from a well-poised 60-2 in 9 overs to a paltry 115-9 in their 20 overs. Overall, its been a fabulous tournament already, and I can’t wait to see what the next month and half will bring!

The start of the IPL has was awaited event for me. Of course, watching it from South Korea is rather hard, owing to the fact that the 8 PM game begins at midnight, but being a hardcore cricket fan, I’ve managed to fight that obstacle and stay awake to see my favorite players rock the stage. I failed to catch the essence of the first game, owing to my over reliance on starsports.com (which apparently only streams in the subcontinent), and ended up with a terrible quality stream, to which I preferred simply catching the highlights next day during lunch break. For the rest of the games, however, I managed to find the correct YouTube streaming channel, and have managed to catch each and every match. And boy, did my dedication pay off. As mentioned in the intro paragraph, I’ve already been treated to Glenn Maxwell’s reverse sweeps, Yuvzendra Chahal’s googlies, Sunil Narine’s mystery, and Lasith Malinga’s yorkers, to name a few. There’s been some lovely contests, as Glenn Maxwell out shined Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith as KXIP successfully chased CSK’s 205-run total, and Virat Kohli combining with Yuvraj Singh to barrage the hapless Delhi Daredevils for sixes to successfully chase 145 with 20 balls to spare.

So far, I feel that two players who have impressed greatly are Parthiv Patel and Yuvzendra Singh Chahal. Since the moment Richard Madlee’s hammer hit the deck (and SRH declined to use ther RTM), Parthiv was doomed to be the minnow in the shadow of Gayle, Kohli and de Villiers. After all, what could be expected from a little man with an average barely over 20 and a strike rate barely over 100? However, Parthiv has been the not hid in the shadow, but cast his own. So far, he has epitomized the ideal opening partner for Chris Gayle. He’s played with beautiful temperament, and has taken the pressure off the rest of RCB’s batting lineup. Versus Delhi, he lead the charge with some aggressive batting to allow Virat Kohli to settle in, and against Mumbai he played a steadying innings to help RCB get off the hook after they were at 17-3. His good form also covered for Nic Maddinson’s lapses, and I am sure he will be incredible when Chris Gayle returns. Chahal was, I admit, a surprise choice as first spinner ahead of the much more experienced Shadab Jakati. However, it was nothing to the incredibility of his performance. He has taken 3 wickets across 2 games, with economy rates under 5 in each game. He is also yet to concede a boundary this tournament. However, his true beauty lies in his variations. For example, he bowled a beautiful legbreak to bowl over Murali Vijay on the very first ball of the season he bowled, and then bowled some beautiful wrong-uns vs MI to remove Kieron Pollard and Rohit Sharma. All the more impressive, considering he has played only 1 IPL match before this. Overall, Chahal looks like a promising talent, and RCB can rest their spin responsibilities on him.

 

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