Ease of the Chase in Twenty20 Kolkata Close to Top-Two Fin­ish

The Economic Times - - Sports - Sau­rabh So­mani PTI

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

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