In the IPL, holding back is not an option
A couple of nights back KXI almost botched their second easy chase in a week.
At Sharjah, last Saturday, they were cruising towards a comfortable target of 165 against KKR, with Mayank Agarwal blazing away and K L Rahul keeping him company virtually the whole innings.
The first wicket to fall, Agarwal, was in the 14th over. Then they lost three more in quick succession. Now two new batsmen had the task of going full throttle with just a few balls left.
The situation exploded in the face of KXI as they lost a match that they had almost won. It was sad to see the faces of Anil Kumble and K L Rahul after the shocking turnaround.
Some of us were critical of how Nicolas Pooran got out when they were within touching distance of the target, missing a big shot against Narine, and the critique against him was that he could have just kept his head and avoided playing that high risk shot.
I believe it’s unfair to expect too much from a batsman who has just walked out from the comforts of the dressing room into the harsh glare of the spotlight and is required to bring his ‘A’ game to the fore with only a handful of balls left.
Anxiety afflicts such batsmen. This is an undeniable fact and hence, long partnerships can actually be hazardous if the required rate is not brought down to extremely easy levels.
I hold the batsmen at the top more responsible—one in particular—for the KXI defeat because they kept holding back and didn’t go full throttle earlier when they had the chance, and also the ability, to do so, especially against the weaker bowlers. Narine had kept his overs for the death only for this reason.
MI, a few nights later, faced a similar chase, but went about dealing with it differently. Set a target of 163 by DC, their top order went after the bowling from the word go. They played their natural game, carrying their form and confidence into the innings, no matter the target. If there was a ball to be hit for a six, they hit it. There were no wasted opportunities just because the target looked manageable.
The problem with the ‘keeping wickets in hand’ approach in T20 is that it’s an illusory comfort. When the match gets really close and the pressure builds quickly, those wickets in hand may count for nothing as most of those batsmen would be afflicted with nerves. That’s only human.
So with 163 to get in 20 overs, MI’s top order of Quinton De Kock, Surya Kumar Yadav and Ishaan Kishen went at a strike rate of 147, 165 and 186 respectively in the chase, even though they had lost Rohit Sharma early.
The flipside is that MI lost quick wickets playing this high-risk game; and now like KXI in that chase v KKR, two new MI batsmen were at the crease. Except, the new batsmen coming in had a much easier task on hand, a lower target to achieve and more time to settle in, because the batsmen earlier had gone at such a brisk pace. MI finished the job.
A couple of nights back, KXI is chasing 172 to win at Sharjah again, a score well below par for this venue.
They managed to do it, but again, they were on the brink of defeat, needing Pooran to hit the winning runs off the last ball of the innings. And again, they had two batsmen in the top 3 who faced 94 of the 120 balls, with tepid strike rates of 124 and 117. When they won, they still had 8 wickets in hand.
That KXI continued with the same approach after their shock defeat against KKR last Saturday baffles me.
If the argument is that MI can afford to lose wickets while going full throttle because of the depth in their batting, my counter is that KXI will never even find out if they have depth in their own line up with this conservative approach.
Maxwell will never find form this IPL too if he keeps coming in to bat with a dozen balls left. Pooran is in form, but he too played only 11 balls in the two matches I have mentioned.
What further evidence do you need, that this approach is not working, than the fact that KXI is right at the bottom of the pile? I am confident they are a better team than that. They need to trust their lower order.
Having watched every ball this IPL I am convinced that staying in the moment and not planning long term is the way to go with your batting, whether you are batting first or second. This IPL has, for me, thrown up the over-cautious approach of many top order batsmen as one fascinating aspect to analyse. Some I believe are doing this because they don’t have enough faith in the batsmen to come, while some (I dare say) are doing it to ensure they get a good score for themselves. In white ball cricket, when you bat in the top 3, you have that great advantage of getting those 50s in T20s and 100s in 50-over cricket. I have seen batsmen at a crucial stage in the innings take a single to get to 50, when the only thing to do at that stage was to try and hit every ball out of the park. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that not only is the IPL financially rewarding to players, it’s also a reliable route to the Indian team.
I believe, because the format is so compressed and stakes so high, such instances won’t be seen anymore in a few years.
MI’s captain is already leading by example. In that 163 run chase against DC, he got out trying to hit Axar Patel for a six in the 5th over. It was his second failed attempt against the same bowler. But he wasn’t looking far ahead, or for a personal score. He stayed in the moment, no matter the result.