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June 16, 2009

Samir Chopra

Flexibility should lie in batsmen

Samir Chopra
Yuvraj Singh is stumped, England v India, ICC World Twenty20 Super Eights, Lord's, June 14, 2009
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Adaptive flexibility, I never tire of reminding the students in my foundations of artificial intelligence class, is a good thing; its what seemingly separates us humans from the lower rungs of the cognitive ladder. The Indian captain MS Dhoni, and the Indian team's brain-trust clearly thinks this virtue is paramount when it comes to batting orders, for if there is one constant in the Indian limited-overs team, it is this: the batting order is inconstant.

It is not my intention here to offer a full-fledged post-mortem of India's early exit from the ICC World Twenty20. All I would like to do is to point out a mistaken emphasis in India's planning for its batting line-up. Which is that the Indian captain seems to think that flexibility in approaching match situations is achieved by changing the batting order. I'd like to suggest that the flexibility should inhere in the batsmen themselves, and not in the order in which they are sent in.

That is, a cricket team should concentrate on making sure the batsmen in the batting order are flexible in their approaches to a particular match situation. If you are a No. 3, and an early wicket falls, you play a little differently than you do if there are a hundred runs on the board. If you are a No. 6, and the team is in trouble, as opposed to looking for a declaration, you bat a little differently. And so on.

Yes, I know, its obvious. But if it's so obvious, then why can't the Indian team settle into a stable batting order, with instructions to its members that read, "When you go out to play, keep in mind the match situation and play accordingly?" Why, instead, does the standing rule appear to be "We'll send in different batsmen in every game, depending on how things are panning out in the middle?" The latter doesn't seem to indicate great confidence in the batting order's ability to be flexible and capable of raising their level depending on a given match situation. And a batting line-up that is not capable of responding to a variety of match situations doesn't sound like a very good side.

I realised, with a little start of surprise, as this World Cup went on, that I have absolutely no idea of what the Indian batting order, is, or has been, for a while. I've associated Sehwag and Gambhir with the opening position. The rest is a bit of a blur. Who is our No. 3? Who is our No. 6? I have no clue. Do the batsmen in the team know which position they will be playing in on a given day? Sure, sending them in at different positions challenges them. But why not give them stability in their expectations of where they are to play and instead demand adaptiveness in their responses to match situations?

The game of cricket throws many, many, variants at its players. The good teams adapt and alter their game in response (as do the good players). The Indian team has the right idea. But the tactic it has chosen, that of constantly chopping and changing the order, is backwards. Make a player own a position, and tell him he needs to change as the game demands. He will be a better player for it; and the team, having established some stability in one part of its tactical arsenal, can get on with planning around it. Having to decide, before every single game, what the batting order is to be is an unnecessary increase in workload for both captain and coach. A relatively stable batting order would be one step towards enabling a greater focus on improving cricketing skills (such as fielding and playing the short-pitched ball, for instance). Which really seems to be where the Indian team's attentions should be directed at this point in time.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Jessica on (November 10, 2012, 19:58 GMT)

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Posted by sarith on (June 29, 2009, 12:17 GMT)

Dhoni should have used rohit in t20 world cup... see how he bowled... he didnt use raina.. he also bowled well in IPL..

Posted by Jitesh Dani on (June 25, 2009, 13:09 GMT)

You have made a very good point here about the flexibility of batsman as opposed to the flexibility of the batting order. By tinkering with the batting order in every match, none of our batsman were settled at a particular spot in the batting lineup. Sometime Dhoni would come up the order at 1-down, sometime he will come at 3 down. If we would have been consistent with the batting order and if we had sent Yuvi in the critical game again England, we could have possibly won that game.

But anyways, the faigue and continuous cricket that Indian team is playing, this result was bound to happen in some tournament. They are playign like robots. They have not rested a bit after Newzeland tour at all.

Posted by srikumar on (June 18, 2009, 2:17 GMT)

I would like to draw your attention to some fundamentals here. If you look at every major cricket country other than India, each of them is no more than size of one Indian state. Think of major cricket countries: Australia, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, West Indies, England, Newzealand, toss-in Bangladesh, Ireland, Netherlands etc., -- each is about the size of one Indian state such as AP, UP, Karnataka. Questions: a) Given the great interest in the great Indian cricket, why isn't there a state level infrastructure, where each Ranji team can potentially generate talent, and even compete, with other conutries? b) given the Indian National Team presumably is a collection of the best talents from several states, why isn't the best from 20 or so teams, at the top of performance in the international arena, fairly consistently -- they do not have to win every series? I am putting these questions out for discussion.

Posted by Rajesh.S on (June 17, 2009, 14:42 GMT)

Do not agree fully with the views. There is a role played by each member of the team. You cannot expect middle order player to consistently don opener's role or vice versa. Kallis can only play as an opener in T20 and would be a misfit if he is sent with 2 overs to go. Similarly one indian player cannot be expected to adapt to suit any role. They can be a little flexible as per the match situation but cannot be successful all the time. This flexibility in batting order is present in all teams based on number of overs remaining.

For example Raina could be a stable no.3 batsman. If the openers play till over 16-17, would we not send Yusuf pathan or Yuvraj singh next. If this can be done for one match situation, so will some other change be done for another situation. India's loss is not a big shock. This unpredictability in T20 is what makes it so good to watch. The bottom teams in IPL1 made it to the final in IPL2. Let us enjoy this factor in T20.

Posted by anu on (June 17, 2009, 11:24 GMT)

missed out on a very important point here..why is dhoni so arrogant? why did he stick to the same team? what was he trying to prove by keeping irfan pathan, ojha out of the team?? arrogance has killed many great heroes in the past..may God give him humility and common sense!

Posted by anu on (June 17, 2009, 11:19 GMT)

indians were exposed yet again! they lost a match they shud have easily won after restricting SA to a modest 130..it shud have been lesser if zaheer wouldn't have bowled that last over..anyways they were going around nicely for the first 6 overs scoring around 48 for no loss! suddenly we see common sense being replaced by a mad rush..this team isnt good enough folks..lets pray that we get some new talent and get rid of the mediocrity and complacency that has set in...

Posted by Mansoor Ali on (June 17, 2009, 11:17 GMT)

It is quite unfair to hit Dhoni repeatedly for the Indian exit. After all it is the whole team game. Only Dhoni is not responsible. We can see the fatigued and tired faces of Indian players all because of toughest schedule of cricket they are going through. When T20 world cup was there, the staging of IPL could not be justified anymore. IPL no matter how beautifully exhibited, was a Domestic tournament but on International level, you need lot of effort, stamina, courage and mental toughness. Dhoni, I think he is not responsible, it is the money thirsty attitude of BCCI which let India out with extremely shameful beating by those teams who were lagging behind India just few months back.

Most importantly such a weak team like Pakistan performed only because of less fatigue and stamina they possess right now.

Hope BCCI would think positively about Indian prestige rather than running behind money and making players slaves of their interests

Posted by sanj on (June 17, 2009, 10:16 GMT)

I'm not Cricket expert,I'm just like one of the Indian fans. Only I want to say is this IPL should be banned. Whatever happen injuries,hactic schedual and unrested cricket all happen because of IPL. IPL is making cricket as a business not the sport. If india intend to win world cup they must stop IPL. Allow players to rest and time to recover. BCCI always worry about money and their income. that's why they tell we don't foce player to play but ultimatly they making them to play or lose your spot. Very sad to say that BCCI is just Business Cricket Control of India.

I don't blaim any player they are just victim of BCCI.

Posted by Mr.Moody on (June 17, 2009, 10:10 GMT)

indian team was not good enough to win T20 world cup this time, its simple!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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