Innovations in the Champions League
It was survival instinct that drove players to look for cutting-edge tactics at the recently concluded Champions League Twenty20. The second tournament has been nothing short of a discovery: unsettling yet determined shots, novel field positions and a whole new bag of tricks from the bowlers to hold them in good stead. That's what made the CLT20 a good show. Despite some ordinary cricket, there were also some splashes of brilliance. Here are my observations from the tournament.
Starting with the fine-leg fielder inside the circle
Most teams had the fine-leg fielder inside the ring and pushed the square-leg fielder back to the boundary right from the beginning. This is not how teams have traditionally begun one-day innings, preferring instead to have the fielder beside the square-leg umpire save singles and the fine leg, though slightly squarer, back on the boundary.
There are three reasons to have the square-leg fielder back. First, the balls that end up in the fine-leg region are the ones drifting down leg side but bowlers, especially in Twenty20 cricket, back themselves not to err in line. Second, the batsmen aren't afraid to hit over the top and taking the aerial route over the square-leg fielder is safer than walking across the stumps to play fine or to scoop the ball like Dilshan and McCullum. Third, bowlers don't mind conceding singles because a single is as good as a dot ball in Twenty20 cricket.
There was plenty of the short-pitched stuff throughout the innings. Yes, the extra bounce on South African pitches may have encouraged the bowlers to bang it in short but that's not the only reason. Most batsmen, regardless of nationality, were in obvious discomfort against chin music. While the Central Stags from New Zealand used it to good effect against the Chennai Super Kings, Dwane Bravo bowled at least a foot shorter against South Australia. The more you see matches in these conditions, the clearer it becomes that it's not only the batsmen from the subcontinent who aren't great players of short-pitched stuff and that they have company. No bowler can get away with bowling just one-dimensional short-pitched stuff, though, but there is no harm in making the batsman smell leather every now and then.
The teams from South Africa and Australia have taught a lesson in batting to the rest of the sides only if they choose to notice. While the players from these countries are good off the back foot and play horizontal bat shots, they have shown the value of hitting straight down the ground with a vertical bat, as opposed to their counterparts from the subcontinent who are guilty of looking to score only square of the wicket. Yes, there's bounce to deal with but a half volley is a half volley on all surfaces and should be hit straight. Also, since teams keep the mid-off and mid-on fielder really wide on bouncy surfaces, there's a huge gap in the front to get maximum value for shots. Indian teams are yet to utilise this to its full potential.
The slower ball is an important delivery in a fast bowler's armoury but just taking the pace off is not enough, especially on bouncy South African tracks. One could get away with rolling the fingers across the ball in the subcontinent because the lack of pace and bounce makes it even slower after pitching. Ergo you could get away with it but that isn't the case on bouncy surfaces. A poorly executed slower ones sits up to get hit and we have seen many disappearing into the stands in this tournament.
It was in fact the lesser-known, non-IPL teams that defied odds, and held their ground - Warriors, Redbacks, Bushrangers, et al told their counterparts that first-rate athleticism and fielding could make up for the lack of stars.