12 May 2020

Wait, it’s a strategy!

 Chess players know what a waiting move is. There are positions when it is your turn, but you wish it was the opponent’s. The reason is simple. If indeed it was the opponent’s move, in such positions, regardless of the move you will thereafter have the opportunity execute a crushing move, often putting the outcome of the game beyond a shadow of doubt.

In such positions, you are required to wait. So you make a move (because obviously you have to — you can’t ‘pass’ in chess), but pick one that will keep the dynamics of the position essentially intact. The opponent will then move and that’s it. Done.

You may not know anything about chess, but sometimes, you have to wait. In the example above, it’s not that you are waiting for the opponent to make a mistake — the mistake happened earlier when the opponent got him/herself into a situation where a waiting move would deliver inevitable defeat. In other words, it’s too late. Sometimes you wait because it can lure an opponent into a trap.

Some might remember how Romesh Kaluwitharana ‘trick-stumped’ Darren Lehmann in an ODI. Lehmann played and missed. Kalu didn’t catch it clean behind the stumps. In fact, as video replays show, it was stuck between glove and thigh. Lehmann didn’t see the ball and stepped out of the crease, probably expecting to steal a bye. Now had Kalu moved fast, Lehmann would have been inside the crease. The ‘waiting’ intended or otherwise did the trick.

We’ve seen established batsman declining an easy single when batting with a tail-ender. He would go for two runs and would not pass the option of a four or six if offered. He would wait until the fifth or ideally the final delivery of the over to score a single, get over to the other end and thus protect his partner. That’s a waiting game.

And it’s not just with tail-enders. There are batsman who are risk-averse. They would treat with respect the good deliveries and wait for the loose one. In the end they have a decent strike rate and probably end up scoring more than the more impetuous batsmen.

And it’s not just the batsmen. Leg-spinners, for example, are expected to buy their wickets. They do go for more runs than the off-spinners, but they are always seen as strike bowlers in a sense that off-spinners are not. Murali is of course an exception.

So they are patient. They are unfazed. They out-think the batsman. They probe. They get their man. It’s the same with disciplined bowlers toiling away on a batting track. They focus on accuracy. Line and length with the the tiniest of variation if any. They count on the batsman’s overconfidence. They wait.

Most times, like in Kalu’s stumping, the waiting is a spur of the moment thing. Sometimes it is strategized well ahead. The classic case is that of Mohammad Ali and George Foreman in what came to be known as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle,’ fought in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as Zaire) in 1974.

Foreman, one of the fiercest punchers in boxing, pummeled Ali who just leaned against the ropes with his hands up to protect his face. No floating like a butterfly. No swaying away from punches. He took the hits. And he taunted the champion, shouting ‘You can’t hurt me!’ He yelled, ‘You punch like a sissy!’ 

Few figured out what was happening. Foreman certainly did not. Ali had spend an entire summer and fall developing abdominal muscles. Foreman therefore was hitting iron.

And Foreman got tired. His punches lost their bite. His swings were off mark. Ali moved in with lightning combinations to the head. He took Foreman’s crown. Just by waiting.


It's all about partnerships