By Akash Kaware
Picking a balanced playing XI in a cricket match is hard enough, but once a captain gets past that hurdle, it is important that even within that XI, he uses his resources wisely. This is especially true in a T20 game, where unless you get your batting order right, your best batsmen would be left with too few balls to face, while the effectiveness of a decent bowling line-up may be drastically compromised unless each of the bowlers is handed the ball at exactly the right time. At the halfway stage of the Super Eights stage, it seems many captains are yet to maximize the potential of their playing XI.
Ironically, one of the most under-utilized players in this tournament has been a captain himself – AB de Villiers. A hugely talented batsman who should be facing as many balls as possible out of the possible 120, de Villiers, has been batting at No 6 for his side - way too low for the side’s premier batsman. Depending on when the first wicket falls, the lowest he should be batting is No. 3 or No 4. Agreed that might mean that someone like Jacques Kallis might have to go down the order, which in T20 is not advisable, but surely the advantages of de Villiers getting the time to play himself in before exploding at the end far outweigh Kallis or even Richard Levi batting down the order? In the limited opportunities that he has got to bat, de Villiers has still managed to make telling contributions, but his place in the batting line-up is preventing him from putting in the kind of definitive performances that can turn matches on their heads.
In a similar boat is England’s best bet on the subcontinent, Eoin Morgan. In order to not leave too much to young tykes playing in spin-friendly conditions for the first time, like Jos Buttler and Jonny Bairstow, Morgan has been batting at No. 5. He nearly derailed the West Indies in England’s first Super Eights game, but just imagine if he had come in at No. 4 instead of Bairstow and played the 29 balls that the thoroughly out of place youngster wasted.With Morgan facing a few more balls, the result of the game might have been very different. Quite why England would want their best player of spin and the second-most frequent rope-clearer at No. 5 - especially when the most frequent one is sitting in the commentary box - is beyond me.
And that brings us to the bowlers. Irfan Pathan has certainly been opening for India, but in the wrong discipline. Pathan’s bowling, once a ray of hope in usually bare Indian pace bowling cupboard, is at such a stage that if he is to be picked in the playing XI, then he must be given the shiny new ball every single time, because it is his best possible chance of picking wickets. Not only that, he should possibly be bowled out in one spell of four straight overs, even against the marauding might of the likes of David Warner and Shane Watson. In fact, I wouldn’t even mind asking the umpires if he could bowl four straight overs from both ends, just to see if they allowed it! To pick him, and then hold him back until the 9th over, like MS Dhoni did against Australia, is either an indicator of not knowing your player’s strengths at all, or of willfully choosing to ignore them. If he is to bowl with the old ball, Pathan might as well bowl left-arm orthodox spin, for all the good it will do him and India.
These aren’t the only examples of under-utilisation of players and captains not reading the game well enough in this tournament. George Bailey’s rigid one-over-per-spell strategy meant that during the
India-Australia game, only two of his bowlers ever bowled consecutive overs in the innings, and his stand-out bowler of the night, Pat Cummins, was not one of them. In the 8th over of the game, the young fast bowler had just bowled six magnificent balls, beating Virat Kohli for pace and harassing Yuvraj Singh with pace and bounce, but rather than letting him resume the barrage in the next over, Yuvraj faced up to Brad Hogg. It did not make a difference to the result of the game, and Cummins still ended up with great figures, but it is annoying to see that captains do not realize that even in a 20-over game, there is still time enough for a bowler to string together a spell.
And then of course, there was the baffling decision from AB de Villiers in the game against Pakistan to keep feeding medium-paced length balls to Umar Gul in the pulsating Pakistan-South Africa game. Strange as it may seem, South African spinners were troubling Pakistani batsmen in that game, but even then only Robin Peterson was allowed to finish his full quota of overs. Johan Botha and JP Duminy bowled four miserly overs between them for 15 runs and two wickets, yet among the last six overs of Pakistan’s innings, not one was bowled by a tweaker. Albie Morkel and Kallis kept bowling medium pace without targeting the stumps or the batsmen’s pads, and the ball kept disappearing into the night until Pakistan had won.
Being an armchair critic is the easiest thing in the world, and especially once a game is over, it is even easier to make observations and point fingers at the captains, but it would be a very pig-headed man who would disagree that the last few games of this tournament have seen some very strange captaincy indeed.
(Akash Kaware is an Indian IT professional, who would've been a successful international cricketer if it hadn't been for an annoying tendency to run towards square-leg while facing tennis, rubber or leather cricket balls hurled at anything more than genuine medium-pace! Watching Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid convinced him that breaking into the Indian team was not going to happen anytime soon and hence he settled to become an engineer and MBA, who occasionally wrote about cricket. A couple of years ago, sensing his uselessness and constant use of cricket websites at work, his company banished him to Canada. His hopes of playing international cricket have, thus, been renewed!)