Posted by: nestaquin | May 1, 2008

Bangalore Buckle

Bangalore Royal Challengers, languishing at the bottom of the Indian Premier League table after five rounds, face an uphill battle to make the semi-finals after another disappointing loss last evening in Delhi.

Captain Rahul Dravid, confused to the point of not knowing his own place in the batting order, called correctly at the toss but his decision to field was a poor one. The pitch was slow and not difficult for batting with little seam or swing and the Delhi top order of Sehwag, Gambhir and Dharwan took full advantage.

The three of them added 160 of the team’s score of 191/5 with Sehwag run out at the end of the fifth over for 24, Dharwan freakishly caught at mid off by Dravid at the end of the fifteenth for an even 50 and Gambhir showing his class top scoring with 86 before throwing his wicket away in the hurly burly of the penultimate over.

Regardless of the format, snaring the opposition top three cheaply is the key to success and Delhi were well on their way to victory after Glenn McGrath had Bangalore reeling, cleverly taking three wickets in his first three overs. Sehwag returned him to the attack with four overs remaining whereupon he took his fourth consecutive wicket of the innings.

Prior to that crucial breakthrough the uber-experienced pair of Kallis and Dravid had rebuilt the innings batting ten overs while adding 87 to give Bangalore some hope of pulling off an unlikely victory. Dravid played some beautiful shots straight from the textbook including an exquisite memorable late cut but eventually the pressure of continually chasing nine an over was too great. When he fell Bangalore were 135/4 still requiring 57 from 27 balls which may have been possible except that Sehwag had patiently saved Daniel Vettori’s final two overs for the death.

Vettori was hardly hit off the square all evening instinctively changing his pace and trajectory while making subtle changes in length so that no batsman could get his measure. Both he and McGrath put on a masterclass of limited overs bowling and Delhi’s decision to stack their bowling with imports is proving a wise one.

Bangalore, on the other hand, have erred in their selections both before the auction and after. How Pakistani T20 legend Misbah-ul-Haq can be continually left out of the first XI is a mystery. Last night Bangalore’s four imports were Kiwi Ross Taylor and the South African trio of Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and Dale Steyn. Taylor now departs for England so perhaps coach Prasad and Dravid will belatedly include Misbah but I feel it is too little too late. Chanderpaul is also waiting in the wings for a start and unless Boucher or Kallis is dropped there will never be a spot for both.

Experimentation seems to be the norm at Bangalore however not with team selection but with the batting order. You need a settled line-up to succeed and Dravid has been the worst offender. He has opened and also batted as low as number seven. If the captain does not understand his place it is hardly surprising that the team is losing and often from winnable positions.

Last night Praveen Kumar, a lower-order batsman at best, was sent out to open and predictably an old fox like McGrath removed him quickly and efficiently. Kumar is a good prospect and a clean hitter but to succeed against the likes of experienced and proven world-class bowlers you need a solid technique. Basically, Bangalore threw the youngster to the wolves and the time has come for the brains trust at Bangalore to make some hard decisions and stick with them.

It is all too clear that the team is out of balance and the onus of restoration lies with Dravid and what role he plays. Should he open with a dasher like Boucher? For Jaffer and Dravid in partnership are not dynamic enough for the shortened format.

Should he instead take the gloves from Boucher creating an extra place for an import? Rahul is servicable behind the stumps and with Kumble assisting in the field perhaps a radical move could help them turn the corner.

Should Dravid as he did last night bat in the middle-order never taking the game by the scruff of the neck but providing support to the batters around him?

Should he resign as captain and hand the reins to Kumble? Or should he just pack it in and retire?

These are questions that need answering urgently as Bangalore will be out of contention by the halfway stage if the confusion and lack of a plan continue. It’s never pleasant to witness a champion out of his depth and on his last legs. For his team’s and his own reputation I hope that Rahul Dravid can find his feet and develop a strategy before it is too late.


  1. The biggest question should be…

    Why are they not playing Misbah Ul Huq. The best 20/20 batsman in world cricket?

  2. Or, if you don’t read the whole article, you shouldn’t post inane questions that are already posed in said post.

    I’ll get my coat.

  3. Your the second person I’ve seen to criticise Dravid’s decision to bowl first. Teams batting second have, so far, been winning more matches in the IPL than those batting first. There’s suggestions that the dew makes it harder for the team bowling second. Why is it wrong to bowl first?

  4. I have been crying out for Misbah’s inclusion since forever in my posts. It bothers me. I don’t know who in Bangalore has been doin the thinking. They blundered at the auctions, then in the team selections, and then in the batting orders. Nothing is right.

    They need Misbah and everything would be ok. He alone can take on the opposition.

  5. G’Day David, good to see you dropped by.

    Firstly, each match is an individual event much like the toss of the coin. What happened last week between two teams in Kolkata really has no bearing on what happens a week later between two different teams in Delhi.

    In the match described above conditions were equal throughout and therefore runs on the board are your best bet. Have you not heard the truest cricketing axiom of all?

    When you win the toss, bat. If you are in doubt, think about it, then bat. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague, then bat.

    There are several sound reasons for batting first except in the most extreme cases. I won’t list them but I will say that Bangalore, under pressure and under performing, only increased the pressure on themselves by chasing. For the second game straight they cracked. I bet Dravid bats first next time he has the chance.

  6. Nesta, the old advice of “Win the toss and bat” used to be good for Test cricket – pitches used to deteriorate a lot. But these days, teams batting second win more often than teams batting first. (Even after excluding West Indies, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe matches, the team batting second has won more often since 2000.)

    In ODI’s since 2000 between the top eight sides played during the day (ie, both sides same conditions, or close to it), the team batting first has won 136 matches, and lost 200. In day/night matches, the team batting first has won 194 and lost 163.

    There’s a disadvantage in many grounds to batting under lights, but if both teams have to do so, then you’re probably better off batting second, so that you know what the target is.

  7. David, while I do not doubt the validity of your statistics what you are describing are patterns from independent events.

    Surely a match in May at Lords between England and Pakistan has little in common, statistically or otherwise, with a match in Hobart between Australia and South Africa in December.

    What happens almost every time in a cricket match is that the team who plays the best cricket wins whether they bat first or second. However, if your team is out of touch, short in confidence or outclassed, batting first is the wise decision from a psychological perspective. As long as you bat decently it allows you to keep the pressure on the other team. It means you are in front all the way to the finish.

    It is the exact tactic that Shane Warne used today against the star-studded Kolkata team and it worked a treat.

  8. In these days of heavy bats, shortened boundaries, deep ODI batting orders and powerplays, it can make sense to know how to balance risk in chasing (in 50 overs) 260 or 340. That the batting side have a lot in its favour (and, hence, greater scope to up the risk in search of a +300 target) strikes me as a good argument for chasing.

    But I really like scoreboard pressure and how it can be used to take wickets, so for that you need to bat first.

    I’d like to think that the decision at the toss can relate to the balance of the side. When England play with a late order of two number tens and two elevens (say Sidebottom, Tremlett, Anderson and Panesar) we must bat first and use the bowlers and scoreboard pressure. When England play a lower order of say Mascarenhas, Swann, Broad and Sidebottom, chasing becomes attractive because you’re still in the game with 6, 7 even 8 wickets down and 100 to get off 15 overs.

    As ever, cricket offers few simple answers.

  9. Nesta, I entirely agree that we’re dealing with independent events. That’s what makes the argument for batting second in day ODI’s so persuasive. If the best team really did win ‘almost every game’, then you’d expect the team batting first to have about 50% of the victories, and the team batting second about 50%. We don’t. It’s 40.5/59.5. The probability that that’s happened by chance is about 2000 to 1 against.

    So, even if there are some psychological advantages to batting first, they are completely swamped by the inherent cricketing advantages in batting second.

    Now it’s early days with T20, and maybe the bat-second advantage isn’t as marked as it is in day ODI’s. But when the early results are going in favour of the team batting second, then it’s sensible to try to bat second.

    And so what if the team is “out of touch” or whatever? If they win the toss and bowl, all they have to do is bowl decently, and then the pressure will be on the opposition attack to stop an easy run chase.

  10. Toots, I don’t understand your argument about team balance. If you bat deep, you can afford to lose more wickets early (and hence you can afford to bat more aggressively), so you should end up scoring more runs. That applies in both the first and second innings.

    If you’ve got a long tail, and you lose early wickets, you’re not going to make many runs. Again, that applies whether you’re batting first or second.

  11. David, they are independent yet different events. A toss of a coin is an independent event with the same set of circumstances every time but a cricket match – not the toss – is a different event every time. Different players, different abilities, different conditions, different day, different place all influenced by human decision, emotion and error.

    Comparisons and measurement might be amusement for some but they are inherently meaningless in deciding a cricket match. What decides a cricket match is the performance of the 22 players and the officials at the time it is played. Previous personally unrelated patterns are irrelevant, for each match is enacted gloriously in the present.

    Anyway, the debate is about Dravid’s decision and not about what can and cannot be measured. His team lost their third match batting second despite the odds. This has zero to do with pretty patterns it is because they panicked under the pressure of the chase as they lack the confidence and leadership to close out the contest.

    I’ve played enough cricket to predict that after three losses chasing that the skipper will bat first in the next match. It doesn’t guarantee a win but it does guarantee a sigh of relief in the Bangalore dressing room.

  12. David – the logic is impeccable, but at (say) 100-4 with batsmen down to 9 and 10, you have options when you know what the target is. You can afford a quiet ten, fifteen even twenty overs before a final assault depending on the target. With ten batsmen setting a target, there’s always a chance that the assault will be delayed too long and you’ll be left with two batsmen unused and five overs of strike rotation that could have been boundary hitting.

    I guess what I mean is that from 100-4 there’s a chance batting first that you will end up 260-7 instead of chasing and getting over the line at 281-9.

  13. Toots, what you’ve just explained there is the inherent advantage in batting second – you know what the target is. That applies whether you bat deep or whether you’ve got a long tail. If you’ve got a long tail, you could make the exact same argument.

    Nesta, my point is that whoever bats first *is* relevant in deciding who wins the cricket match. If it wasn’t relevant, the results wouldn’t be so biased to one side. It may not look that way, because it manifests itself in a random fashion over a large number of matches, but it exists. In the case of day games, it’s knowing what the target is and batting appropriately. In the case of day-night games, it’s that bit of extra swing that occasionally gets a wicket, or maybe it’s slightly harder to pick up the ball, leading to a mis-timed shot.

  14. David – You may be right in considering my explanation as an advantage of batting second, but I would contest that the “waste” of unused resources at 260-7 (setting a target) as opposed to 281-9 (chasing a target) is greater if you have gone for a tail with players who have batting averages of 20 and bowling averages of 35 than if you have a tail with players who bat 12 and bowl 27.

    Years of watching an England team that are 6 out all out make me feel this without having the evidence to back it up.

  15. Dave, what if the target is 380. Chasing huge totals most teams are defeated before their innings begins. Knowing the target defeats them.

    As much as l’d like to agree unfortunately there are too many confounding effects to validate your hypothesis. One human being is hard enough to predict and measure let alone a score from different cultures, countries and climates playing a dynamic game with a piece of wood and a ball that has a raised seam under a variety of ever-changing conditions not fixed in time.

    Players and the game are infinitely complex and although bowling teams have won more often in this century, the relatively small sample size and timeframe in concert with the many variables already stated throughout this thread make it difficult to determine with any confidence that on every occasion it is best practice to bat second.

    I’m astounded that you believe that the team playing better cricket doesn’t win the majority of matches. Cricket is measured in runs and the only matches I can think of where the better team on the day has lost is when Duckworth and Lewis intervene.

  16. Toots, I had a couple of paragraphs written, but I started to ramble and I think I’ll turn my thoughts into a blog post on the topic.

    Anyway, if you’re regularly wasting resources batting first, then you should alter your batting strategy so that you don’t waste the resources so often.

    But suppose that you can’t drum that message into the players, and they keep on only using 90% of the resources batting first. If you pick a team with a long tail, perhaps they now use 95% or 97% of the resources batting first. But there’s still the advantage in batting second, because you know what the target is. It’s just less of an advantage than it used to be.

  17. Nesta, if the target is 120, the team batting first has lost before they’ve even started bowling.

    There are probably times and places when it is best to bat first. But much more often than not, it is better to bat second (in day ODI games). The sample of matches is not small, and the gap between 50-50 and 59.5-40.5 is wide enough so that even if there are some confounding effects, they’re not going to bring it back to 50-50, and certainly won’t drag the bias as far the other way as we see with day/night matches.

    On day/night ODI’s, there was a paper published recently which did take into account other variables (strength of the teams, home side, etc.) and they concluded that the prima facie conclusion was correct (batting first is advantageous), and furthermore that winning the toss and batting gave a 31% advantage.

    Most of the time, the better team on the day wins, but certainly not all of the time. In the day ODI’s, I would estimate that the best team wins 90% of the time. Maybe it’s 95%, but it’s definitely short of 100%.

  18. I’d be interested in a blog post David.

    Nesta – The team that plays the better cricket wins? Usually, yes, but we’ve all seen ODIs (and played in a few matches) when one team have outplayed the other with the exception of (say) six overs at the start of an innings (22-4) and / or five overs towards the end (240-4 chasing 270 becomes 265-9 between overs 45 and 50).

    The glory of the game is that it can be described and analysed, but never reduced.

  19. In a day nighter especially in India, many times it is advantageous to bat second because of the dew factor.But in 20/20, it may not be an advantage as both teams bat under lights. So when the captain wins the toss, in T20 it has to be bat first. Dravid is confused and rightly Nesta has pointed out the flaws in his approach.It is obvious that the fab 4 in Indian batting look totally out of place in this competition. Their batting is dormant, captaincy is woefully inadequate.But when they play test cricket especially VVS , I will still pay top Rupees to go to the ground and watch them play.

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