25 May 2020

Strengths and weaknesses

It’s so basic that one might even wonder what there is talk to about. Simply, one plays to one’s strength and attempts to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses. Consider this anecdote from the early seventies which my neighbor, the late Col A.N. Perera related to me.

Now Col A.N. Perera, ‘AN Maama’ to me, was once the master-in-charge of cricket at Royal. He had dozens of stories which he would share with me. It was a Royal-Ananda match at Reid Avenue. Royal was batting. At the crease was star batsman Prasanna Kariyawasam. The coach, Col F.C. De Saram had remarked, ‘he is going to get out now.’

He had then explained: ‘Kari loves the lofted off and on drives. They have a long-off, a long-on and a third fielder standing at the edge of the sight screen. Kari won’t notice and will attempt a lofted drive over the bowler’s head.’

He did. It was probably, in his mind, a safe shot, and therefore he didn’t need to clear the ground. He was caught.

That’s getting your man on his strengths, the favorite shot. That’s the exception though. Typically, it is the weakness that is targeted.

Last week, I wrote about ‘waiting.’  Dulan Edirisinghe, fellow columnist, brilliant chess player and a keen student of most sports, offered the following comment after reading that piece.

‘The Indian cricket team toured Australia at the end of 2003 to play four test matches and an ODI tri-series. In the first three tests, Sachin Tendulkar scored only 82 runs. He was getting out trying to drive on the off side. Tendulkar decided he is not going to play a single drive outside the off stump. He played a "waiting game" so that the bowlers would lose patience, bowl at the stumps and he could score on the leg side. The end result was an innings of 241* without a single cover drive!’

Yes, it was a waiting game.  It was also a calculated, determined and disciplined response to a team targeting a weakness. ‘Waiting’ is part of the story of course, but it is  sub-plot in the larger narrative about strengths and weaknesses.

That same article, which drew from the idea of a ‘waiting move’ that is a simple and well-known tactical ploy in chess, also prompted Sahan Chandula to share the following story which refers to a different kind of ‘waiting game’ in a chess encounter.

Magnus Carlsen drew Game 12 against Fabiano Caruana in the World Chess Championship 2018, surprising many because the position at that point in the game was of the kind that would make the World Champion push for a win. The match was tied at this point and a win would have seen Carlsen retaining the crown.  Carlen opted to draw and take on Caruana in the Rapid format, used these days to break a tie.  He demolished his opponent.

So, essentially, Carlsen had ‘waited.’ He had his chances in Game 12, but victory was not guaranteed. In the Rapid format, on the other hand, Carlen correctly felt he had a decisive edge. Carlsen knew his strengths and his opponents weaknesses, as Sahan correctly pointed out.


It's all about partnerships