Mumbai Indians, the defending champions, bowed out of the Champions League T20 2012 with an embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Sydney Sixers. Having done well to restrict Sydney to 136, Mumbai were too slow to start with their run-chase and couldn’t make up for it as the overs went by. Such was the manner of the defeat that captain Harbhajan Singh didn’t hide his emotions at the post-match presentation and criticised the team. However, such an approach has been seen a number of times when teams are chasing those in-between totals in T20 cricket. Such instances do beg the question: How should a team approach such a run-chase?
Perhaps, the most relevant example of mismanaging such a run-chase is Sri Lanka’s pursuit during the ICC World T20 2012 final against the West Indies. Sri Lanka restricted an explosive West Indian batting order to only 137 – a score that seemed very gettable. At the mid-innings break, one would have backed Sri Lanka to get those runs – given the fact that they were playing at home with some vibrant support to back them. The early wicket of Tillakaratne Dilshan jolted them and the experienced firm of Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara simply didn’t get going. They went about it so cautiously that the asking rate kept increasing and wickets-fell in a heap after Sangakkara’s dismissal.
When a team has to chase totals within the range of 130-150, the first thought that may come to their mind is, “Come on, we can knock them off pretty easily? It is T20 cricket after all!” However, somewhere at the back of their minds, there is a voice of cautioning which says, “Hang on; we don’t want to lose this one. It could be a major embarrassment.”
The fall of an early wicket is what makes such a feeling stronger and may push the team into a shell. The other possibility is that the openers themselves get a bit too cautious. Thus, such scores are more a psychological battle when compared to some of the 170 or 180 plus totals we see.
On many an occasion, we see such low scores on surfaces that aid the bowlers. Such run-chases can be tricky, but the targets can be achieved with proper application. The wicket at Durban was helping the bowlers and we haven’t seen too many big scores there during the CLT20 2012. That too can be a psychological factor as the openers would be apprehensive early on and would want to see off the first few overs. However, that strategy can backfire – like it did for Mumbai.
Delhi Daredevils survived a few nervous moments against the Perth Scorchers and chased down 122 in the nick of time. The scoreboard may show otherwise, but one can say that they were in control for most parts of the innings. Virender Sehwag scripted an uncharacteristically sensible knock and that kept them in the hunt. He was positive and didn’t take his usual risks. A look at his score would reveal that he was measured yet up to the task – scoring 52 off 44 balls. In a way, that was an example of how one must approach such a run-chase.
While Sehwag may be a high-risk player, he still managed to score at a very good rate by curbing his natural instinct to a decent level. He didn’t get into a shell like some of the batsmen do and ensured the strike kept rotating and the occasional boundary was hit. It was only the regular fall of wickets that made the task difficult for Delhi and had one batsman held firm with him, they would have overhauled the challenge with a lot of deliveries to spare. Some of the batsmen can take a leaf out of his book and apply the said strategy.
Interestingly, the Auckland Aces have chased down such totals without any worry on three occasions at the CLT20 2012. A common feature in all those three victories was that their openers got them off to a flier – something that took the pressure off their middle order. Having set a base and by getting the run-rate under control, the other batsmen had no problems in getting into their stride. Batting sides can attempt such a practice if the conditions are good and the batsmen can play their strokes. In difficult conditions, it may be a gamble – which may or may not pay-off.
Ultimately, it seems to be a mind-game and it is all about handling the pressure and maintaining your cool. A team’s cricketing sense is tested in every way when faced with such challenges.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_