There have now been six matches in this Indian Premier League season, and we’ve had five different winners. This season is promising to be one of the tighest yet. But should we have had five different winners? Should the Delhi Daredevils have chased 166 and beaten the Kolkata Knight Riders?
Sure JP Duminy played an innings second only to Glenn Maxwell’s thus far this season; an innings of outrageous daring and bravado, but all the same, defending 166 on that pitch, with the bowling attack KKR have, with the pressure there was, it should’ve been done.
That they failed to do so can largely be attributed to Gautam Gambhir's captaincy, which was inflexible and timid, when just a moment or two of courage could have killed the match dead.
It is a frustratingly common occurence for fielding captains to “play it safe” in T20, to not go for the juggular for fear of what later could bring should they go wrong.
Rarely will a bowler bowl a spell all the way through, for example. Even if a bowler is building considerable pressure, captains opt to “save them for later” or “stick to the plan” and as a result, pressure—pressure that could take wickets and set the opposition back—is released and the match is kept in the balance.
What strikes you immediately about the KKR bowling card is that there are 2.3 unbowled overs of spin. On that pitch, and with players such as Ross Taylor who has notoriously struggled against spin, Shakib Al Hasan should’ve bowled out and Piyush Chawla too. There is no way that Vinay Kumar, who conceded almost 9 an over should have been made to bowl all four of his overs.
Looking at the economy rates of Shakib (8.33) and Kallis (7.50), they show that Gambhir’s faith in Kumar was ill-conceived. There was no way, even if only defending six, should Chawla have had to bowl that last over. Gambhir got his divisions all mixed up.
But perhaps more frustrating than the over breakup was the order in which those who did bowl, bowled. Sunil Narine, with figures of 4-0-18-1 should’ve been bowling at pivotal stages of the Daredevils chase. As it was, he bowled the 11th, 13th, 15th and 19th overs—overs that you felt just preceded or succeeded moments of importance.
Narine didn’t bowl an over to Taylor. He didn’t bowl an over in the first half of the innings. He was taken off just as a wicket fell, just as the required run rate tipped into double figures. As Narine was taken off, Duminy, easily the biggest threat to KKR’s chances, was allowed to settle—to settle into an innings that made defeat evident for KKR, the very defeat KKR were trying to prevent by removing Narine, more likely.
Oh and Kumar need not have come back for a single over in the 12th. Spin, at that point, was weaving its web. Of course, it’s a game of snakes and ladders, predicting what will happen when is difficult, but if you stick to strategic principles, at least you have a guideline.
T20 cricket as a fielding captain defending a total is being looked at the wrong way too often. It is not about stationing a legion of men four meters from your castle walls; it is about ordering the legion to march on the oncoming army, to pressure them into making mistakes, to push them back and to throw their plans.
In letting the pressure go at times when it is reaching a vertex point, allows the batting team to breathe again. It may seem sensible to retain key bowlers for later overs, but when the chance is there to really force the issue, and to peg back the batting side, that opportunity needs to be seized far more often than it is right now.
KKR had 2.3 unbowled overs of quality spin. It’s not as if they lacked the resources. Instead, they lacked the strategy, or, perhaps, they were too subservient to an initial strategy. Whatever it was, they got it wrong.
Gambhir had the pitch and the bowlers to make Delhi work harder for those runs than they did. Who knows, Duminy did play a scintilating innings, perhaps KKR would have lost either way. But it makes it all the more frustrating to watch captains harm their own cause.