Adding a new dimension

S. DINAKAR

Robin Singh dwells on an idea that could prove a solution to the Super Substitute imbalance — allowing a side to pick two cricketers and then select one of them as a Super Sub to negate the advantage of the captain deciding whether to bat or field first.-N. SRIDHARAN

THE delivery was wrapped in the mystique of the Oriental, drifting into the right-hander and then spinning away to rearrange woodwork. It was a wickedly beautiful piece of deception from a left-arm spinner.

Murali Kartik will replay the delivery in his mind for inspiration. Tillekeratne Dilshan will do the opposite. And those who watched the dismissal will, perhaps, remember it for a lifetime.

Three months ago, Kartik would have been catching the action in the Nagpur ODI from the sidelines. Now the Super Sub had conjured a super delivery. Things are changing in cricket.

The limited overs game is in the midst of a revolution. The Super Substitutes have added a new dimension. So have the Power Play overs.

The new rules have immense possibilities. They also have shortcomings.

There is a growing belief that the Super Substitute rule favours the side winning the toss. It has the option of either using the substitute in its strategy or doing away with him altogether.

The Super Substitute has to be named before the toss and he cannot be changed. If the side chooses a batsman, then it can have an additional specialist on the chase in case it opts to field. If the team bats first, it need not use the services of the substitute. Of course, a genuine all-rounder, a rare commodity, can make his presence felt any which way.

Although it is not a lose, lose scenario for the side losing the toss — situations can make their own demands — the captain getting the spin of the coin right has the opportunity to revolve his strategy around the additional player.

Weaker sides lacking all-round talent would seek the Super Sub more. The extra player provides them depth, which they otherwise would not possess.

The blocks of 10, five and five overs replacing the earlier chunk of the first 15 overs of field restrictions have altered the dynamics of a match. Different factors have come into play.

It needs to be noted here that only in the first 10 overs is it mandatory to have two of the nine men within the circle in close catching positions. In the second and third blocks of five overs each, a skipper can have his men in single saving positions.

Have the increased number of overs of field restrictions made the already tough life of the spinners harder in the abbreviated form of the game?

Intikhab Alam, former Pakistan captain and the present coach of the Punjab team, said, "Yes, the spinners might find things tougher, because they have very little cover in these overs and they can be hit over the top. But a good paceman can actually make run-scoring hard for the batsmen. The fielders in the circle could restrict the singles and the batsman might have to take risks he otherwise would not take. But I think the Power Play and the Super Substitute have made the limited overs cricket more interesting. Otherwise these matches were becoming dull."

V. B. Chandrasekhar, former India opener and the current National Selector from South Zone, made an interesting observation. If the captain did not opt for the second Power Play after the first 10, then he felt the spinners actually had a chance to operate with a harder ball. "I think this is an aspect that favours them. They could get more bounce from the surface."

The captain now has the additional responsibility of choosing his Power Play overs. A slip here and the match could be gone in a hurry. In this territory, strategy rules.

Irfan Pathan being sent in as the pinch hitter at No. 3 in the Nagpur ODI was a classic example of how one side successfully managed to hustle the other.

If the Lankans assumed they could breathe easy after the dismissal of Virender Sehwag, Pathan's elevation changed all that. In fact, so brisk was the pace of run-getting that Marvan Atapattu was forced to take his second and third blocks of Power Play overs straight up than invite more risk in the latter stages. In the event, the Sri Lankan captain blundered.

Here Chandrasekhar feels the captains have not been innovative enough. In other words, there has been a tendency to get rid of the Power Play overs quickly instead of adopting a wait and watch approach. "I do not think the captains have shown enough foresight. They have not been able to predict the situation 15 or 20 overs hence. There could be times when you may not have to take the last set of Power Play overs at all if a side is dismissed."

Maninder Singh backs the spinners to succeed even under the new circumstances.-N. SRIDHARAN

The current practice of the captains — these are early days yet — has been to strive for early breakthroughs and then, with the opposition under pressure, complete the field restriction overs before the half-way mark. Very rarely has Power Play been extended beyond the 30th over.

Maninder Singh, former India left-arm spinner, backs the spinners to succeed even under the new circumstances. "The opportunities are there for a competent spinner. He can force the batsmen to commit mistakes when they try to go over the infield. The spinner will have to be clever. He would have to beat them in the air."

Maninder points out that it should be made compulsory for the captains to take the final Power Play block after the 25th over to make it less predictable for the opposition. He also favours the presence of the two men in catching positions during all the overs of Power Play so that the bowlers would stay attacking in their approach. The kind of backing a spinner receives from his captain is a critical factor here.

The chasing side will be striving to quicken the pace of run-getting during the Power Play overs. If the runs are denied then the batsmen, under pressure, could be snared.

Have the Power Play overs meant that the middle-order batsmen also now had an opportunity of cashing in on the field restrictions — especially on the sub-continental pitches? Earlier, the openers and the No. 3 invariably made the most of the advantage in these parts. Were the goodies more evenly spread now?

Former India all-rounder Robin Singh says if the openers consolidated then they still had the better chance of making the Power Play overs count.

He then dwells on an idea that could prove a solution to the Super Substitute imbalance — allowing a side to pick two cricketers and then select one of them as a Super Sub to negate the advantage of the captain deciding whether to bat or field first.

"Someone like Anil Kumble will really come into the picture. You could have your quota of pacemen and spinners and still get him to bowl. Someone with his experience and ability could make a difference. If the ploy does not work, you still have the other bowlers."

He agrees though that a spinner's job became harder under the circumstances. "A quality spinner will always be among the wickets, but on big grounds such as those in Australia he would have very little protection in the deep."

Assuming that the two fielders manning the boundary are at deep cover and at mid-wicket, rather square, there are still huge vacant spaces for the batsmen to exploit. The limited overs game is evolving. There are new benchmarks for the captains, the bowlers, and in certain situations, the batsmen. There will always be men who will come through the test. Kartik's nugget in Nagpur was one such instance.