Sports management games have always appealed to the more cerebral, statistics- and strategy-loving, sports fan. Cricket Coach 2009 falls firmly into this category, but is that rare gem of a game that can appeal to hardcore and casual fans alike. Thanks to its layered design, which hides a nuanced, complex gameplay engine beneath an accessible and easy-to-learn interface, Cricket Coach 2009 ends up delivering a rich and satisfying cricket coaching experience, despite a few shortcomings.
If you're the sort of armchair expert who thinks he could teach team managements a thing or two on matters of team selection, strategy, batting order, field placements and suchlike, you're going to have a blast.
You begin by taking up a job as manager of an international or domestic side (there are hundreds to choose from - including IPL franchises, for the first time), and are immediately saddled with the onerous tasks of tracking the news, monitoring your players' form and fitness, and the minor matter of guiding them to victory in cricket matches. You'll have to plan for upcoming fixtures, select and submit squads, and stress over your job. Just like John Buchanan.
Once you get into the actual matches, you're exactly in the position of a coach: you can plan field settings, choose bowling strategies, set the batting order, tell your players to attack or defend to different degrees. You can ask your batsmen to respect certain bowlers and go after others. But at the end of the day, you have no direct control - you have to hope your players go out there and execute your best-laid plans. You have the pleasure of watching your masterplan come together as your boys pound the opposition, or the pain of watching it all come apart as your players lose the plot.
Watching the game pan out on a top-down schematic view of the playfield, with small dots representing the players, is strangely addictive. As the dots scamper around the field, your mind provides the graphics, and you'll actually imagine that it's Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag taking apart a hapless Shane Watson.
Cricket Coach 2009 offers a wealth of detail in terms of gameplay - a delight for fans of obsessive micro-management. However, it's also flexible - you need only go into as much detail as you want to. You can choose to manage the field setting, batting and bowling strategy for every single ball, or just set broad parameters and sit back and watch the action unfold. You can also play all three formats of the game.
A few niggles: the presentation isn't world-class, weird things sometimes happen during matches (bat-pad catches being taken at long-leg, inexplicable Man-of-the-Match choices), and the sound effects are awfully primitive. But still, these will cease to matter once you get into the game and it begins to work its magic. Also, the game is being continuously patched, and some of these things may have been fixed even as you read this.
A must-have for hardcore cricket fans looking for a deep and engaging cricket management experience.
Cricket Coach 2009
Rockingham Software Ltd, £15
Anand Ramachandran is a writer and humourist based in Mumbai. He blogs at bosey.co.in