A post by George Dobell celebrating the new dawn of the New England contains this quote from Australian captain Aaron Finch:

“They’ve bowlers who hit the seam,” Finch said afterwards. “If there’s anything in the wicket, they will get it out of it. Woakes puts it in the right area time and time again. Archer is getting better and better as he plays more international cricket. In this game, the damage was done with the ball. The game was definitely lost in that first 10 overs.”

It is reminiscent of Virat Kohli’s press conference, where he said 45 minutes of bad cricket at the back end of a great performance throughout the league phase cost India the semifinal.

With due respect to both, they are wrong. Or at least, not entirely correct. 45 minutes of very good bowling and confused batting cost Australia its first three wickets. And the Kiwis needed a similar period of time to take out India’s two openers and the iconic number three. But cost them the match? Only if both Finch and Kohli believe that matches are won or lost by the top three batsmen in the team.

India, chasing a modest total, got back into the game thanks to a lifetime innings from an unexpected source, and mostly unwanted, source. Australia, trying to set a total, got back into the game thanks to a controlled innings by a batsman who they had, until then, pushed lower down the order simply in order to make room for a player they couldn’t fit in anyplace else.

Both teams lost because they — and the respective selective committees — had drunk the Kool Aid of the invincibility of two or three star players, and hadn’t bothered, in the run up to the competition, to pay attention to the other batting slots, to identify the best personnel, to bed them down in their ideal positions so that each player has an understanding of his position in the side and what is expected of him. Mahela Jayawardene, one of the shrewdest cricket brains going around, made the point here (He was talking of Sri Lanka, but it applies to all teams).

Nothing illustrates this better than how the two teams handled the pivotal number four position.  See the graphic below:

India’s revolving cast of number four batsmen have, since 2015, the fourth lowest average of all ten teams participating in this Cup. Immediately below them is Australia. Both teams got dumped from the Cup because the middle order, the spine of any good batting side, failed. Conversely, New Zealand’s number four has the highest average during the same period; the second best is England — and they are the two teams contesting Sunday’s final.

India, with four years to get its key batting positions sorted, have tried out 13 people in the number four slot — and jettisoned the two people they tried out the most number of times. And after all that time spent playing the number four bingo, they pick the one player they had never tried out even once. And finally ended up with a World Cup newbie, however talented, who was drafted into the side as cover for an injured opening batsman.

Meanwhile, Australia had a natural, in-form number four in Peter Handscomb, but they left him at home and picked Usman Khawaja — who is incapable of batting anywhere outside the top three, so in order to “accommodate” him, they shoved their best batsman and natural number three down one notch, thus managing to make two mistakes to cover up for one.

Why the fuss about number four? Because if you are a team that depends on the top three to make the bulk of your runs, and if on a bad day two of those three get out cheap, you want your number four to be capable of weathering the storm, partnering with the survivor, and reviving the innings. Conversely, if the top three have done the job well, you want your number four to be able to fire from the get go, maintain the momentum, and guide the controlled explosion at the death.

Anyone who has spent any time at all in the gym will know this: The natural inclination is to work on the showboat muscles — the biceps, the chest, the stuff that looks good in a tight T-shirt. Equally, anyone who has ever worked out with a good trainer will know this: trainers insist that you spend the maximum amount of time strengthening the core muscles around the abdomen, hip and lower back — the unsexy stuff — because a strong core is what holds everything else, above and below, in place.

45 minutes “lost us the game”? Not half it didn’t — what lost us the game is half-baked thinking, and a swig too much of our own Kool Aid. Ditto Australia, who presumed that all it needed to win the Cup was for Smith and Warner to finish serving their time.

***

I consult for a company that in time hopes to use deep data to drive cricket content and fan engagement. And the hardest thing I am having to do here is to make the management and staff understand that making a god of data can be counter-productive. The thought occurred to me as I read this Jarrod Kimber piece. You should, too. Goes back to that line about how folks use statistics like a drunk uses a lamppost.

***

“It’s easy for you guys to find fault after the event” — sports journalists get this all the time. And the pushback is far more ferocious in these days when players are as conscious, sometimes even more, of their brand value as they are of their performance stats. Thing though is, India’s faultlines have been glaringly obvious since the team was announced; each passing game has, hidden beneath the outcome, revealed these faultlines in greater or lesser degree (a point I kept harping on, much to the annoyance of my colleagues, in almost every report of an India game).

I was catching up with World Cup reading just now, and saw where Sourav Ganguly says Dhoni should have been sent up the order; that not doing so was a blunder. Really? Remember the time India tried that tactic and it didn’t work? Here is a passage from that post:

There was an eerie silence across a ground filled with Indian fans. The tension was threatening to boil over. Four of the five overs between 40 and 45 yielded only two runs each. Dhoni’s formula had flopped, he charged Rashid only to be stumped. His departure brought joy to the crowd because they then got to watch Pandya. Remarkably the Forecaster revised its prediction up by three runs after Dhoni’s wicket.

You could see it coming, couldn’t you?

Privacy Preference Center