In the near future, India are taking on Australia in the first Test. Pat Cummins is in the middle of a brilliant spell. He is getting the ball to move around – in the air and off the wicket. So India coach Ravi Shastri decides to hold Virat Kohli back and sends Rishabh Pant, a left-hander up the order instead.
If one went purely by numbers and data, it is a sensible decision. Kohli just didn’t match-up well against Cummins and Shastri was doing his bit to protect him and perhaps India’s position in the match. But to anyone who has followed the game, the decision looked as if Kohli was running away from the battle. And no matter what the reasoning given might be, one expects the greats to fight their battles on the field; to rise to the challenge.
Of course, this is an imaginary scenario and it will probably never happen given how Kohli is a bit of a warrior on the cricket field. But Kohli, as RCB skipper, did exactly the same thing to AB de Villiers when they took on Kings XI Punjab on Thursday.
ABD was coming off a 33-ball 73 – arguably the finest knock in the tournament so far. And when RCB lost their second wicket with the score of 62/2 after 6.3 overs, many reckoned it was the perfect time for the South African to come in.
But RCB decided to hold him back because who would want to give de Villiers more balls to bat...
After the match, Kohli tried to explain ABD batting at 6, “We had a chat, a message from outside about left-right combination and we wanted to go with it because they had two leggies. Sometimes things don’t come off. We’re pretty happy with the decisions we took, but it didn’t come off.”
To be honest, there is no way to justify the decision. The batsman sent up the order was Washington Sundar and the left-hander ended up making 13 off 14 balls. Not his fault, he isn’t in the team for his batting and he isn’t used to coming up the order either.
Sundar tried but it just wasn’t clicking. By the time, he was dismissed, the score had advanced to 86/3 after 10.3.
Once again, everyone sat up expecting de Villiers to come in. But instead, RCB sent out Shivam Dube, another left-hander. The Mumbai lad did slightly better but scored just 23 off 19 balls and by the time he was dismissed, 16 overs had been bowled.
Between them, Sundar and Dube faced 33 balls and scored 36 runs. And by the time, de Villiers came out to bat, there were only 24 balls left in the innings.
Trying to hit big immediately after coming in is always a hit-and-miss scenario. As it happened, the South African lasted just 5 balls for his two runs but one couldn’t help but think how destructive he could have been if he had been allowed to get his eye in as perhaps Chris Gayle was later in the day
Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul got KXIP off to a good, brisk start but there was an immediate slowdown after Gayle came in to bat.
Agarwal was dismissed off the last ball off the eighth over. The next three overs saw 4 runs, 2, runs and 4 runs being scored respectively with Gayle scored 4 off 12 balls in this period.
That would have been enough to make many panic but KXIP trusted in Gayle’s talent and knew he could easily catch up once he got going. And that is exactly what happened.
A few sixes got the big Jamaican going and then he was hard to stop as he scored 53 off 45 balls. De Villiers could have done something similar if only RCB had trusted his talent more than the data.
The leg-spinner turns the ball away from de Villiers and he apparently doesn’t read the googly well. But so do so many other batsmen. In a T20 game, the batsmen are always looking to attack and if they get out while trying to attack, does that truly count as a weakness?
Sports data analytics are used not only in cricket but many other sports for improving the overall team performance and maximizing winning chances but there is a fine line between using the data and becoming a slave to it.
By any yardstick, it is absurd to ‘hold back’ a batsman like de Villiers. If anything, the team should be trying to get him to bat as many balls as possible in every match. And surely, the data would have something to say about that too.