Mike Holmans May 15, 2009

How IPL affects Test form

This is a very small sample from which to try and draw any conclusions, but the obvious one is that form is continuous from one form of the game to another

Five of the players involved in the Wisden Trophy series went to South Africa with the IPL, which many thought would be very poor preparation for playing Test cricket. So how have they done?

Ravi Bopara and Chris Gayle both both recorded similar figures, averaging about 28 with the bat at a strike rate of about 117. Gayle’s contributions were generally useful without being outstanding, while Bopara played one match-winning innings and some small ones. Both were thus moderately successful.

Bopara is the batting success story of the Tests so far. Gayle was going pretty well in the first innings at Lord’s before dragging one on, and was done by Anderson’s swing for a duck in the second.

Kevin Pietersen had a disappointing IPL, failing to record a hundred runs even in total over six innings. At Lord’s he was out first ball, beaten by a superb delivery from Fidel Edwards, who was the best bowler in the Test. Edwards had also been to the IPL, where his returns were adequate, being neither as impressive as Lasith Malinga’s nor as laughable as Andrew Flintoff’s.

The fifth was Paul Collingwood, who did not get a game in the IPL, and then looked out of touch during his brief Lord’s innings. Although not strictly relevant, Owais Shah also did a stint of training with an IPL team without getting on the field, and then returned to play 50-over cricket for Middlesex, lasting two and six balls in his two innings, the second of which realised one run.

Any competent statistician would point out that this is a very small sample from which to try and draw any conclusions, but the obvious one is that form is continuous from one form of the game to another. Gayle has always been more vulnerable to a swinging ball and Edwards is a better bowler when the ball swings, which accounts for the differences in their performances just as well as any other possible explanations, such as Gayle’s much-publicised wish to be somewhere else. If you play badly at Twenty20, you won’t immediately get better by playing in a Test, and if you don’t play at all, you’ll get out of touch.

What it definitely shows about Bopara, though, is that he is an adaptable and versatile batsman. He is quite content to watch and play quietly for periods as well as capable of mounting exciting assaults. He played good Twenty20 cricket in the IPL and then came back to play good Test cricket. The Australians will no doubt have noticed that he’s a good candidate for being caught at square leg when hooking poorly, but otherwise he seemed to make the transition entirely smoothly.

But is that not what one requires from any top player? Should there really be any surprise that a batsman can spot the differences in field settings when he is at the crease? Most of batting is knowing where the fielders are and attempting to hit the ball to where they aren’t while being cognisant of the sort of shot which is liable to cause the ball to go to them at catchable height and avoiding it. Attempting to whack every ball from a quick bowler over his head when there are four slips and a gully posted behind you is not clever cricket, and anyone worth picking in a Test match ought to be able to work that out without four weeks of rehabilitation from the adrenaline-fuelled stress of playing Twenty20.

What is essential in terms of preparation for playing well is being in good form and having your body adjusted to the correct time zone. In the end, being able to select your shots based on the merits of the ball, where the fielders are and what the state of the game is so basic that one wonders why anyone makes a fuss about the format it’s done in.