Ease of the Chase in Twenty20 Kolkata Close to Top-Two Finish
The Twenty20 format has long evoked polarising reactions. There is no denying that having the same quota of ten wickets to lose across only 20 overs skews the bat versus ball equation, and allows batsmen much greater leeway in going hell for leather, safe in the knowledge that even if a wicket is lost, it won’t have as much of an impact as in an ODI or a Test. One of the other aspects that this imbalance seems to have thrown up is how it’s apparently getting easier to chase than set a target. In 2014, 50 matches have been played so far, of which 31 were won by the team batting second, with one match tied. A ratio of 31-18 suggests a significant difference. MS Dhoni said as much after his side’s defeat against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Thursday. “The easier thing would be to just chase in every game,” said Dhoni after Hyderabad had scaled Chennai’s sizeable 185. The value of being able to swing away relatively risk free, coupled with continuously advancing batting methods—not to speak of the bats themselves—seem to have acted as a breaking of the shackles of sorts. This is especially true of chasing teams because the mindset has become ‘anything is chaseable’. Vikramjeet Malik, the Rajasthan Royals swing bowler, had an interesting take on the question of why targets are getting increasingly difficult to defend. “Earlier, pitches were a little slow. Either that or they were quite quick. So the ball used to get more rough, and then it became more difficult to hit the old ball because it was reversing. When the ball is reversing, it’s easy to bowl yorkers. And if you bowl a slower one with a rough ball, it’s very effective,” he explained. “Nowadays, the pitches are better and moreover, in a 20-over match you can’t get reverse so easily. Then too, batsmen can afford to take chances. Usually, four or five wickets are left in the final overs, so you can go all out in taking chances.” Vikramjeet, 31, has had some success in the shortest format for Kings XI Punjab, and later Rajasthan, using swing and medium-pace bowling, though he’s yet to get a game this season with Rajasthan. “Batsmen have also become advanced,” he pointed out. “Someone hits a reverse-sweep, or hits a yorker over fine-leg. Earlier, if you bowled a yorker the batsmen would get a maximum of one or two runs. Then if you take someone like Dhoni, he can hit a helicopter shot (to a yorker) for a six. Today’s bats are also helping. Earlier they were light and thin and you would get a boundary only if you timed the ball. Now, even if you mistime it or hit it from the toe-end, there is so much wood there that the ball goes for six. The boundaries are also shorter.” It’s not just the batsmen who are doing all the running though. The survivalof-the-fittest principle has demanded that bowlers also up their game, even though with only four overs and batting-friendly conditions, they face an uphill task. “Bowlers are evolving also,” emphasised Vikramjeet. “Let’s say you are bowling to Dhoni at one end with R Ashwin at the other end. The delivery to Dhoni will be different from the one to Ashwin. You have to change length, speed and line. All bowlers are learning that now. We all have access to lots of coaching staff and technology so that makes a big difference.” Among the fears that T20 has spawned is the thought that seduced by the glamour of the shorter format, batsmen will abandon the principles and techniques that make for a successful long format cricketer. Vikramjeet said he saw no such evidence.
“It hasn’t affected techniques too much,” he said. “I can see it around my team, when the same guys who are playing T20 now, play four-day cricket, they adjust very well. The ability to adapt has increased amongst all the players, because they are all professionals now. They play a T20 match today, a four-day match two weeks later and a 50-over match after that. ” The author is Assistant Editor, Wisden India After Kolkata’s early losses, fans would have scarcely believed it possible for the Knight Riders to be fighting for a top-two spot. After six consecutive wins, it’s a possibility if only they can beat a resurgent Sunrisers Hyderabad today.
In a season reminiscent of their triumphant 2012 campaign, Kolkata have emerged as the unlikely challengers to Mumbai’s title. But the win would mean more to Hyderabad, for whom survival depends on winning their last league match—with a respectable run rate.
T he Su n r i ser s ch a s e d dow n Chennai Super Kings’ 186 with six wickets and two balls to spare last night for a second consecutive win.
The brightest star in KKR’s campaign has been Robin Uthappa, whose eight consecutive scores of over 40 has put him in contention for a place in the Indian squad for England, while Sunil Narine continues to fox the opposition to remain their number one trump card.
Though the duo have been Kolkata’s backbone, it will be hard to discount t he per for mances of Shakib Al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Yusuf Pathan, Umesh Yadav and Gautam Gambhir.
BANGALORE PLAY CHENNAI
With no chance to reach the playoffs, Bangalore will have only pride to play for against Chennai in their last league match. However, the Super Kings will be looking to avoid a fourth consecutive loss, the first time it will be happening since the 2010 season.
Virat Kohli, who could do no wrong last season, is now caught in a storm for the Royal Challengers’ doomed campaign. A consolation win is unlikely to ease the pain, but a loss will certainly exacerbate it. Thought Chennai have already qualified for the playoffs, their recent form will be cause for worry. It’s not like the two-time champions to lose three matches on the trot. MS Dhoni’s men would also be hoping to avenge their loss against RCB, by five wickets a week back. They’d also like to get back into the groove before going into the knockout phase. The second Grand Slam of the calendar year, the French Open, is only a day away. With Rafael Nadal’s clay dominance seemingly waning, this is probably the hardest tournament to predict in over a decade.
ThefirstGrandSlamoftheyear—theAustralianOpen— was significant in the world of tennis. For the first time in almost five years, a player outside the top four ranking was crownedaGrandSlamchampion—StanWawrinkawho was seeded eighth. Since then, the competition has been intense to bridge the gap to the top rankings.
While the younger players, such as Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov, have impressed, the senior members have not been quiet. Stan Wawrinka, Roger Federer and David Ferrer have bagged a handful of points this season and are ranked three, four and seven, respectively, in the Emirates Race To London Rankings.
However, a better benchmark for top players would be to analyse their performance in tournaments that are most comparable to the Grand Slams—the ATP 1000 Masters.
Since January, there have been five tournaments—the Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome Masters. Novak Djokovic has won three with Rafael Nadal and Wawrinka winning one each; Rafa, Novak and Stan are the top three players in the world right now. This indicates that the rising stars were unable to take down more than one of them in each tournament.
Paris, over the past decade, has been dominated by one man—Nadal. Rafa has not only won at Roland Garros a record eight times, but has an impressive 59-1 win-loss record there. In the semi-finals of the 2013 French Open, Nadal was challenged by Djokovic, who threw everything at him, but accepted defeat after five gruelling sets.
This year’s French Open will once again be about these two tennis gladiators. Rafael Nadal needs to win Roland Garros to retain his number one ranking and Novak Djokovic needs to beat him to replace him as the world number one. The good news for tennis fans is that Rafa and Novak will be seeded one and two at Roland Garros— meaning the two players will not meet until the finals.
This season has exposed a few weaknesses in Rafa’s game. First, he can be tamed with heavy hitting. Juan Martin Del Potro has done so, and is probably the man do have done it, on two separate occasions. Alexandr Dolgopolov’s performance at the Indian Wells Open is also evidence to support this.
Second, the challenger needs to negate Rafa’s top spin by standing closer to the baseline. This is the approach Roger Federer uses against him. This cuts down Rafa’s reaction and recovery times between shots.
Finally, he can be beaten at his own game—stand well behind the baseline and engage in gruelling rallies to beat down your opponent. This means the player must be willing to go the distance, physically and mentally.
Novak Djokovic is one of the most complete, athletic and confident players in open era. He does not have a specific weakness. However, over the years Djokovic has felt most uncomfortable taking down opponents who can serve heavily and can close down points quickly.
Raonic, Federer and John Isner have frustrated Novak with their powerful serves and winners. But for this to happen, Nole’s opponents must have the concentration and stamina to keep to the game plan consistently. During the Rome semi-finals, Milos Raonic kept his foot on the accelerator for a little over two sets, but once he lowered his guard, Novak was able to take him down.
Hyderabad's David Warner plays a shot during their match against Chennai