Sunday, November 14, 2010
Has the last wicket become achilles heel?
In cricket, a captain or the back-room staff would primarily think about plotting the downfall of batsmen in the opposition line-up, but in modern times, it seems like lower-order batsmen are becoming a hazard for bowlers and the captain. A few may point to the fact that nowadays coaches insist that lower-order batsmen should contribute with the bat and as a result, look at ways to improve their batting, bats have become better, bowlers aren't of the same class, or the pitches have become flat yet, is it so difficult to get the last wicket?
Today, I have to give the credit to Harbhajan for his stunning counter attack on the plucky Kiwi bowlers, but at the same-time, I couldn't fathom some of the tactics that Vettori employed. Yes, when the last man Sreesanth joined Harbhajan at crease, Harby played a few stunning shots of Vettori, but I was dumbfounded by how soon the Kiwi captain panicked and fielders went scurrying to the boundary.
To be frank, I realise that it is easy to say a captain is too defensive by sitting on a chair in front of a laptop, but some of the tactics that modern day captains employ is unfathomable. Cricket is sometimes known as a game of chess and that can be true as the captain on the field has to anticipate what a batsman would do next. Today, I felt that Vettori didn't use what is known as the brain. In-fact, it seemed like his brain became dead for the last hour of the day's play.
If I look at the way the last pair played, I wouldn't have pushed the long-off back to Vettori as it could have tempted Harbie to play against the spin. Another reason why I wouldn't have pushed the long-off back is, I want the last man to play a rash shot and get out. As Harby was playing some audacious shots it made Sreesanth to play defensively, but a captain should look to tempt the last man to play a slog or two. If they had kept an attacking field for Harby, maybe Sreesanth would have played a rash shot or two. As soon as the captain sets a defensive field with just one wicket to fall, the better batsman would look to just take the odd risk and the last man would look to defend everything and a wicket won't fall. The Kiwi bowlers could have tried a few more short deliveries and the odd yorker to dismiss Sreesanth. I would also have a silly point for Harby as I would like to get under the skin of Harby and force him to play an audacious shot which is beyond even his range of stroke-play. Unfortunately, there isn't anyone like Mark Taylor around and such tactics would never be tried.
Sydney fiasco and the blunder at Oval
It isn't the first time either when captains have got defensive with the team needing just a few wickets to wrap up the innings. Recently at Sydney, Hussey scored a century with the tailenders supporting him. Hussey did play a fine knock under pressure, but the opposition captain Yousuf seemed to be intent on gifting him a birthday present. Yousuf spread the field and as expected, Huss started taking easy singles and in between was hitting the odd boundary. The tailenders at the other end, just defended everything. It happened at Oval too, when Azhar Ali added crucial runs with the last man. In the end, Pakistan won a close match, but if Strauss was a bit more attacking, it could have been a different story altogether as both Ali and the last man Asif added crucial 30-40 runs. The virus of setting defensive fields didn't end there as in the last test at Lord's, Strauss set defensive fields for Umar Akmal, though England were million runs ahead and just needed one wicket for victory! Why would anyone do that especially with Umar Akmal being known for playing reckless shots? Any captain should tempt Umar to play more reckless shots and what makes it more interesting is the fact that England were coasting to an easy victory.
Finally, I do agree that Harbhajan played a stunning knock. His timing was impeccable, he played late and played some audacious shots, but Vettori seemed to be treating him as the re-incarnation of Gilbret Jessop.