All hardcore sports fans believe, at least to some degree, that they could manage the strategy and tactics of their favourite team better than whoever happens to be doing it at the moment. While very few fans think that they are better than the players themselves, most of them have no problems with the idea that they have better ideas than the coach or captain.
If you're one of the fans who falls in this category, Cricket Captain 2014 gives you the opportunity to put your money where your mouth is - and lead your favourite team to victory in virtual cricket.
Right off the bat (sorry about that), Cricket Captain 2014 offers you a pretty wide variety of game modes to dive into - in fact, new players may find it all a bit overwhelming. You can choose to play a domestic or international season, a variety of preset tournaments (or custom ones should you not find one to your liking), bilateral series between present or past teams (the all-time great teams are a fun thing - more about that later), or choose from some classic India v England Test series. Even a few minutes of messing about in the menus makes it clear that this is a game that can keep fans occupied for years together.
Once you take the plunge (I picked the IPL season, naturally) you'll start your career. But there's a lot of stuff to do before you play your first match - there's team selection, match results from all over the world, pitch preparation, and all sorts of analysis and stats you can look at to help you manage your team. You also have to evaluate players' form and decide where to focus your coaching efforts (you can assign players to work on general technique or specific stuff like off-side shots, defensive bowling and so on) in the days leading up to the match. You'll also have to worry about player fitness and physiotherapy. And you thought Duncan Fletcher's job was easy?
Once the game starts, you start feeling like a cricket captain more than a coach or team manager. You'll have to call at the toss, evaluate the playing conditions (weather, pitch, outfield) and then go about the business of telling your players what to do.
Batting is relatively simpler - all you do is pick the batting order, and control the aggression levels of each batsman. You can also tell one batsman to farm the strike, but that's about it. While you can choose to play each ball defensively or aggressively if you really want to, mostly it's about deciding general strategy and then hoping your players execute the plan. Which is pretty much all that a batting captain can do anyway - so the experience is authentic enough - you'll exult when your players are belting it all over the park, and wring your hands helplessly when your middle order collapses like so many Indian batsmen in England.
Bowling is, naturally, a lot more engaging and complicated. You change bowlers, set fields (choosing from presets or meticulously setting it manually), decide to attack or defend and generally go about the business of being a fielding captain. Here, you feel a lot more in control, but it's still a great simulation of what a captain goes through - you can plan all you want, but your players can still screw it up. Just like in real life.
You can run the simulation ball by ball, or fast-forward overs if you can't be bothered. You can even just auto-play, or skip and simulate entire matches. This system gives you the flexibility to play the game at your pace, skipping over the boring matches against the minor teams and focusing on the heavyweight battles.
The only part of playing matches that I really didn't enjoy were the 3D graphics that popped up whenever a "highlight" moment like a boundary or a wicket occurred. After a few matches you'll be tearing your hair out whenever it happens. The player models are ugly, the animations are glitchy and repetitive. The graphics don't add anything to the enjoyment of the game. In fact, for me they significantly detracted from it. I'm pretty confident that every devoted simulation player will feel the same.
Given the game's depth, unless you're familiar with earlier games in the series or are a reasonably hardcore sports management game player (or have to review the game perhaps), you could easily find yourself overwhelmed enough to put you off playing it. The more determined players will probably take the trouble to learn all its features, but casual ones are unlikely to soldier on past the first few screens.
There is a manual online, but the lack of an in-game tutorial or even a basic help menu is hard to excuse in a day and age where no game ships without these things. Game developers have not expected players to read a manual to play a game for over a decade now.
The game's user interface and presentation are also rather rough around the edges. Again, this is something hardcore players may look past, but for large numbers of more casual players used to modern, slick presentation, it may get in the way and ruin the experience.
Overall, Cricket Captain 2014 feels like a deep and satisfying cricket management simulator that will keep you entertained for a very long time - offering a huge number of options, complexity, and gameplay depth. However, it has some glaring weaknesses that prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending it to all players.
Casual player? Stay away. Hardcore fan and wannabe strategist? Jump right in.
Anand Ramachandran is a game designer and writer based in Bangalore. @bigfatphoenix