Posted by: nestaquin | May 5, 2008

Reinventing the Wheel

Unlike at the World T20 championships, where there was a vast difference in talent between the competing nations, the IPL consists of eight fairly evenly matched teams and it is the first time that a healthy percentage of the world’s best cricketers have collectively played the T20 format consistently on a day to day basis. Although the Indian Premier League is yet to reach the halfway mark of the initial league stage, successful strategies and dominant patterns are emerging from the chaos.

It is evident that the same basics apply for the shortened format as they do in longer versions of the game and much of the early theories concerning team balance have proved less than sapient. As the game developed professionally in the UK it was thought that stacking the batting with middling allrounders was a successful strategy and while it may have had some merit in the less intense atmosphere of County cricket, at the higher stress levels expressed in the IPL these sorts of players are more hinderance than help.

Players, even with reputations like Andrew Symonds, whilst making significant contributions with bat, have been found wanting when bowling. Every over is important in such a concentrated format and it is patently clear that specialist batsman and bowlers are far more important to a team’s fortunes than wannabe allrounders.

Obviously there are some true allrounders displaying their wares in India and these players are faring well. Irfan Pathan, Dwayne Bravo and Shane Watson have all contributed with bat and ball yet like in red ball cricket these sorts of players are rare and priceless. Effectively they are two players in one and they allow the captain added flexibility in terms of selection and match strategy.

It shouldn’t surprise that both Pathan’s and Watson’s teams are compiling impressive winning streaks and since Bravo’s arrival at Mumbai they too are improving and winning. Allrounders are indeed valuable in T20 cricket but a batsman that isn’t a top notch bowler can’t suddenly become effective because of the shortened format. In fact, it appears that the shorter game accentuates and exposes their limitations.

The new ball battle between the top-order batsman and the opposition’s opening bowlers, like in every form of cricket, is of the utmost importance with most matches won and lost in the first six overs when the initial fielding restrictions apply. This emphasises the need to have, like in other forms of cricket, at least four specialist bowlers and considering that partnerships generated between overs nine and sixteen have also been important factors in winning, at least five specialist batsman, preferably six.

So for all the intended and anticipated innovation that T20 cricket was expected to bring, the result from the first three weeks is that cricket is much the same as it has always been. Sure there have been more boundaries but the batsman with the best techniques and hand to eye coordination score the majority of runs, the clever bowlers who can bowl a length and can extract seam, swing, drift and spin take the wickets, the intelligent, innovative captains win more than they lose and the better fielding units excite with their athleticism, energy and skill.

The much hyped revolution, if there is one, must be taking place off the field. For on the arena, the same cricketing principles apply for success. Cricket is an ancient, much studied game and the Indian Premier League has done nothing more than successfully market the reinvention of the wheel. To be fair, it is a fast, colourful and disposable wheel but nonetheless essentially the same perdurable wheel that the legendary shepherds of the Weald began rolling many long centuries ago.

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Responses

  1. Surely cricket is the winner. Cricket was always expected to remain the same with the succesful batsmen and the bowlers being the ones as described by you.

    The revolution so to say is the league which provides a chance of players from different international teams to play together. Its a different experience for the players and the viewers.

    Its exciting for us to watch Hayden and Dhoni bat together in the middle or for Dravid to bat with Kallis, Ganguly to open with Butt. Same goes for Asif and Mcgrath sharing the new ball, and Warne or McGrath bowling to Gilchrist and so on…

    But what is it for the players themselves?

    Surely Graeme Smith will go back with more knowledge of captaincy having played under Shane Warne.

    Mohammad Asif may improve even further after learning a trick or 2 from Glenn McGrath.

    Indian domestic bowler YoMahesh has already shown improvement in his bowling – surely McGrath has something to do with that.

    Shaun Marsh will go the the Windies having played with and against top cricketers from around the world even before he’s made his international debut.

    The list goes on. Possibilities are endless.

    This is the cricket revolution. Cricket sans boundaries. Talent / skill exchange across countries.

    No doubt the Indians will benefit the most. But going forward if other nations can adopt these leagues and attract international stars, they will benefit too.

  2. You’re right in saying that the gap in talent between the IPL sides is smaller than that seen in the World Twenty20 Blank, but there’s another difference in IPL cricket to regular cricket. The teams seem to be heavily reliant on a few stars – the “most runs” list has loads and loads of international players at the top. There seems to be a big gulf between Test players and run-of-the-mill Indian domestic players, and especially the under-22’s (with the odd exception).

    I don’t think that the failure of bits-and-pieces all-rounders is due to pressure or intensity, but simply due to the quality of opposition (possibly coupled with, as you say, the short format meaning that the weaker bowlers get hit disproportionately more). England’s county journeymen got flogged at the World T20, simply because they’re not international-class bowlers or batsmen. The standard of county cricket is really quite low. No-one should pick international teams based purely on county success.

  3. agree with your thrust Nesta, however the real revolution as far as I am concerned is only beginning;

    I hope the Indian IPL will be the curtain raiser to a world competition, so that there is an element of nationality, but with say five imports a side allowed, so that bangladesh, china and USA can all have sides in a supercomp and be competitive… an annual world cup but for franchised sides… or maybe I am dreaming again…

    anyhow at the very least playing in the company of eagles can only be uplifting for the rest

  4. “No doubt the Indians will benefit the most. ”

    I think this is the best thing to happen in Indian cricket which has always been in the grip of unprofessional approach.At first hand, some of these youngsters have been given a rude awakening in professionalism.For years they have been exposed to the so called mega stars culture of gaguly variety.They must have been shocked to see McGrath for fielding practice early morning after a long journey culmunating previous night. These are unheard of approach in Indian cricket.Now they have a choice which path to take.I am sure more and more will follow the path of professionals which is a good thing.

    So what do the foreign professionals gain?

    First of all, financial security. Secondly the responsibility to show the youngsters that they are made of sterner stuff which will make them work that much harder.More than this, IPL must have given a jolt to the existing establishment in these countries not to take their authority for granted.

    I only hope the BCCI does not rock the boat too much by pandering to popular demands.Shoib’s case is a pointer which I think is the first danger signal.

  5. I agree with much of the above and have banged the drum for “T20 rewards proper cricket played properly” for some time (against voices still raised in England that the bowlers don’t matter and the batting is all slogging).

    But there is one aspect of T20 that I find needs more thought and that is the role of the fast bowler. Shorn of the bouncer and slips, it seems too easy for batsmen to fling a bat at the ball and see edges career to or even over the boundary. There’s too much reward for 125-130 km/h bowling and too much penalty for 140+kmh bowling. Seeing fast men pretending to be trundlers is a bit unedifying.

  6. Nesta,

    I have a slightly different opinion. I agree with you on the fact that cricket hasn’t changed. This T20 version cannot take over Test cricket that has survived the vicissitudes of time. But i feel that the T20 version would do more harm than good to the players playing it.

    I have explained it here: http://highyengar.wordpress.com/2008/04/28/ipl-why-it-wont-be-any-good/


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