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In Cricket, how important are singles at third man?

With batsmen having less time to settle in T20, a rising delivery on the off-stump, which was earlier defended back to the bowler, is now being steered for a single to third man. The number of singles scored in this region could just be in double digits, but it plays a significant role in adding to the total.

cricket Updated: Jun 17, 2017 09:22 IST
Siddhartha Sharma
Kane Williamson, New Zealand skipper, plays a shot to third man during the ICC Champions Trophy match between Australia and New Zealand at Edgbaston.
Kane Williamson, New Zealand skipper, plays a shot to third man during the ICC Champions Trophy match between Australia and New Zealand at Edgbaston. (Getty Images)

As a purist, it is a pleasure to see a batsman scoring runs in the front ‘V’ (mid-off to mid-on). It is quite possible in conditions where lateral movement off the pitch is negligible. But if a batsman is playing in heavy English or New Zealand conditions, which aid swing and seam, then even the back ‘V’, especially the third man region, could be a good slice on the wagon wheel --- well, at least in the shorter formats, where slips and gully usually don’t make up the fielding during middle overs.

(Read | Advantage India in ICC Champions Trophy final vs Pakistan)

In the Champions Trophy, a new trend is taking foothold --- the roots of which could be traced to IPL or T20 cricket. It is the glide through third man for singles.

The glide

With batsmen having less time to settle in T20, a rising delivery on the off-stump, which was earlier defended back to the bowler, is now being steered for a single to third man. The number of singles scored in this region could just be in double digits, but it plays a significant role in adding to the total.

(Read | Virat Kohli has to stick to what’s worked for India: Rahul Dravid)

One might think how 10-15 singles contribute to a larger goal. Well, it plays on the mind of the bowler. Even though the lines are tighter, the bowler would have to change his entire line and length, which could make the task of a batsman easier. Secondly, lesser dots mean less scoreboard pressure on the batting side.

In the 2017 edition, nine matches out of 13 so far have seen either side scoring more than 10 singles through third man. Obviously, adding the runs through fine-leg would take the number a little higher. In the opening game between England and Bangladesh, the hosts scored 11 while Bangladesh had 13. New Zealand scored 17 against Australia, India 12 vs Pakistan, Bangladesh 17 against Australia, New Zealand 14 each against England and Bangladesh, Sri Lanka 12 against India and Pakistan scoring 14 against Sri Lanka in the virtual quarterfinal.

In the 2013 edition, the focus was far less. In a sample of five high-scoring matches (over 270 runs), in only two games, either of the sides scored more than 10 singles through third man. India got 19 against South Africa and England scored 11 against Australia.

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During the ICC World Cup in 2015, a sample of 21 games showed only nine matches with one of the sides managing runs through third man. Going by simple division, nine divided by 21 is 40 per cent, two divided by five is around 38 and nine divided by 13 is around 70. In 2013, players preferred to play with the straight bat; in 2015 in Australia, a rise of two per cent in approach helped them convert dot balls but in 2017, a 30 per cent spike shows how teams have started thinking in terms of converting dot balls into runs.

Seaming tracks

A key factor contributing to such style of play could also be the nature of the pitch. Though, of late, England pitches have been flat and good for batting, they have also supported seam. The bowlers hit the deck hard to cramp the batsman for space and the deviation of the pitch adds to the bowlers’ advantage. Before the Champions Trophy, the first ODI between England and South Africa saw England getting 10 runs while South Africa scoring 16 through the third man. The pitches in the next two games were quite dry and it became easier for the batsmen to keep pushing through the square region.

(Read | Rohit Sharma deflates Bangladesh in ICC Champions Trophy semis)

Similarly, when Australia played Pakistan at home recently, the Perth wicket had a lot of lateral movement. Pakistan scored 16 runs through third man. The rest of the pitches were flat and the batsmen enjoyed whacking the ball.

On Thursday, England were knocked out by Pakistan in the semifinal at Cardiff. With the wicket playing a little on the slower side, England failed to convert the dot balls. Before the semifinal, England had been getting runs through third man but against Pakistan, they failed to focus on that front. They played over 150 dots and kept mounting pressure on themselves.

Depth of the crease

Even a player of Virat Kohli’s class felt the pressure of dot balls. Against Sri Lanka, the Indian skipper played four dot balls before edging the next to the keeper. With no gully in place, the temptation was always there. While Kohli knew the trick to get runs, his sub-continental technique ditched him. Most batsmen from the subcontinent play on the front foot due to low bounce. For them playing on the back foot is transferring the weight and not going deep into the crease. This is where Nuwan Pradeep got the better of Kohli.

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Pradeep’s ball deviated off the track but Kohli did not have enough time gauge its trajectory. The consequence was India losing two wickets in quick succession. Had it been Joe Root, Kane Williamson or Steve Smith, they would have easily guided that ball to third man. The reason is their technique of using the depth of the crease to cater to rising deliveries. When you go deep in the crease, a batsman gets additional time and could play the shot. Reason why Root, Williamson and Smith look busy players is because they don’t waste even good deliveries and keep guiding even the best of them for singles.

Another example could that be of Sri Lanka skipper Angelo Mathews. Against Pakistan, he was castled by Mohammed Amir, trying to work the ball towards fine-leg. With Amir consistently hitting the good length and putting pressure on Mathews, he desperately wanted to get off strike. But because he never shifted his back foot back enough, he was cramped for space. Lanka too derailed after Mathews left.

In cricket, sometimes a few extras make the difference between winning and losing. This new approach of finding runs of good balls in the back ‘V’ might not look elegant but certainly make a huge difference in the end.