Unpredictable Cricket

Recently, India defeated Pakistan in the world cup. Defeating Pakistan is a feat only because of the bitter relations of the two nations. Otherwise there was nothing great or spectacular about the cricket played by the two sides.

Fans, media and analysts swivel in between the two extremes. As per them everything was wrong with Pakistan and everything was awesome with India. The odds of Pakistan winning the match were already buried in the ground even before the first ball was delivered. The team’s preparedness for the four yearly tournament reflected when it received a complete white wash in the form of 5-0 and 4-0 by Australia and England respectively in ODI series. India and Pakistan are sitting at the opposite ends of the spectrum, when we look at the stats or rankings.

Why was anybody expecting a tight match? Where was the confidence coming from? I guess from the Champions Trophy and by labeling Pakistan as an Unpredictable team.

How does a team become unpredictable? Is cricket really a game of chance?

I along with all the people of my age have grown witnessing Australian dominance in the international Cricket. In last two decades, barring the 2011 world cup where India won against Sri Lanka, Australia has won 4 out of 5 world cups. Why does chance always seems to favor Australia and not India?

Comparing the two games between the two countries (CT2017 and WC2019) we might actually see why a team is unpredictable.

Pakistan came with almost the same squad that they came with in Champions Trophy 2017 final except two changes (Imam-ul-Haq in place of Azhar Ali and Wahab Riaz in place of Junaid Khan). However, the results of the two games were poles. If everything is wrong with the Pakistani Team, be it fitness, technique or anything else, how come the team was able to win in 2017?

India and Pakistan, both have a similar problem, which they have been trying to avoid for decades and still not acknowledging it. We depend on a few players  to win the game for us. If they fail, the team fails and it looks like there is nothing right with the team.

Pakistan relies on Mohammad Aamir. He is the only reliable bowler Pakistan has got. Others, might bowl at the right spots or they might not. If they bowl at right line and length we get a bowling attack like the one in Champions Trophy final, if they don’t we get a game like world cup 2019. Aamir sent the top three Indian batsmen back to pavilion and the other bowlers just rode on the pressure he created. On the other hand, this time Indian openers took extra precautions against him. They had no intentions of playing his swinging deliveries, let alone hitting them. Md Aamir was delivering dot balls as if it was a test match and not a one day match. That’s a clever strategy. Indian openers were simply leaving the balls if the ball was pitched even an inch outside off stump. And at the same time, they were hitting the other bowlers. This is the reason Pakistan could not build pressure, the runs keep flowing in.

This also highlights India’s vulnerabilities that we don’t want to see. India relies on its top three batsmen. What happens when all three (Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli) get out without scoring much? India struggles to  reach even a 200 runs mark. Same goes with India’s bowling attack. We play with only two reliable pacers in the team.

An example of disadvantage of playing with unreliable bowlers is the world cup final between India and Sri Lanka in 2011. Sri Lanka lost just because they had only one reliable fast bowler, Malinga and one reliable spinner Muralidharan. Indian’s had followed the same strategy, respect the two dangerous bowlers and hit the other bowlers. Indians on the other hand had three reliable pacers; Zaheer Khan, Munaf Patel and Sreesanth.

Unpredictability is not a cause in itself, it is a result of unreliable players in the team.

And, unreliable bowlers contribute more towards the unpredictability as compared to unreliable batsmen. Simply because the number of overs a bowler can bowl in a match are capped (max of 10 overs for every bowler) however a batsmen can bat any number of overs. If there are only two world class reliable bowlers in the team, who is going to bowl the other thirty overs? People generally tend to assess a player’s performance on the number of wickets he took or the number of runs he made, which is an incorrect or rather an incomplete way to assess.  Buvneshvar Kumar and Jaspreet Bumrah bowls with an economy of 2 or 3 in their first spells but do not get wickets because the other side knows that they have other bowlers to hit. The pressure they are able to create is difficult to represent statistically.

Is MS Dhoni a reliable player? Yes, indeed he is, but not as a batsmen but as a keeper. You could compare these two skills with other players. He undoubtedly has unmatched keeping skills. He is one of the best Wicket Keepers not only Indian Cricket but the world cricket has seen. He is an exceptionally brilliant keeper who can also hit the ball. He can hit the stumps without looking. A lot of people were questioning his retirement and his keeping skills are the reason he should not be asked to resign. However what is/was the universal selling point for players like Ravinder Jadeja, Yusuf Pathan or even Hardik Pandya? They are neither reliable bowlers nor reliable batsmen players and they are the ones who make India unpredictable. This is the reason India fails a lot of times when the top order batsmen fail or the strike bowlers fail.

Cricket is a game played by a team that has eleven players. India never plays with eleven reliable or consistent players. It plays with three or may be four reliable batsmen, two or maybe three reliable bowlers and one reliable keeper. And the others are just to fill in.  This is also the case why India’s bowling has always been weak. The team does not entertain three of four pacers. All rounders are good only if they are reliable at at least one of the things, be it bowling or batting. A player whose only skill is to bowl wicket to wicket and a slower ones in between can never fill in for the time when one of the strike bowlers has a bad day.

This is one of the biggest reasons as to why Australia dominated world cricket for more than two decades. Even if you get their first three wickets in the first five overs, their middle order and lower order batsmen are reliable enough to give a nice looking target. Along with this they always come with more than two pacers. Reliable players mitigate the effect of chance or reduce unpredictability.

Sure, luck do exist in the game like it does in every other sport. Rohit Sharma got three inside edges and the ball raced to the boundary but for Sarfaraz Ahmed and Shoaib Malik, the ball found the stumps after the inside edge. And in the same innings Virat Kohli went back because of Umpire’s wrong call. That’s luck. But, what if all three of these batsmen (Sarfaraz, Shoaib and Virat) had got a chance to continue their innings. Would the contribution made by these three batsmen would be similar? No, Virat Kohli would have made more than the Sarfaraz Ahmed or Shoaib Malik. Wouldn’t he? At this point in time he is a batsmen more reliable and consistent than any other. Isn’t he?

One of the most unfortunate things that had happened in this world cup was a washed out game between India and New Zealand. Playing against a good team would have highlighted the teams flaws ahead of the knockout matches. I hope the game against England does not get washed up.

Pakistan plays with teams like Zimbabwe and decides on the playing XI. India should not do the same mistakes, playing against Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan would lead India to the Semi finals. The goal is not just reach there but win the cup. India should keep in mind that good teams that would reach in semi final would not rely on only one bowler and two batsmen.

Thanks for reading!!!

Also read: Cricket: A blessing in disguise

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