09 November 2020

Let's be sober about the 'Superhero Gambit'


Karthik Krishnaswamy has posed an interesting question in an article titled ‘The Superhero Gamble’: Where would the Delhi Capitals be without Marcus Stoinis? He then offers the obvious answer, ‘[the Capitals] would’t be in the IPL final.’

The Capitals gambled by sending him to open the batting in the must-win game against Sunrisers Hyderabad. He scored just 38 off 27 deliveries but that provided the kind of dynamism that Prithvi Shaw and Ajinkya Rahane had not been able to offer. Got the team off the blocks, so to speak.

Stoinis also contributed with the ball (3 for 26 off 3 overs), accounting for Priyam Garg, Manish Pandey and most crucially Kane Williamson when he, along with Abdul Samad appeared to be cruising along and the Sunrisers needing 51 off 24 (the pair had already put together a partnership of 49 runs off 26 balls). They had transformed the target from tough to gettable. They might have too, if not for Stoinis.

Now, let’s keep in mind that his fellow opener, Shikhar Dhawan scored the bulk of the runs for the Capitals (78 off 50) and that Kagiso Rabada had better returns with the ball (4 for 29 off 4 overs), although two of those victims weren’t exactly specialist batsmen. Stoinis’ was the top all round performance, of this there is no doubt.

Maybe he would do a repeat of this performance in the final against the Mumbai Indians. Maybe not. It’s easy to say ‘the gambit worked’ (or failed as the case may be) once it’s all done and dusted. It is like Mahendra Singh Dhoni promoting himself up the batting order in the 2011 World Cup Final against Sri Lanka after the explosive Virender Sehwag and the class-of-his-own Sachin Tendulkar had got out cheaply. Dhoni helped secure the World Cup for India. After the match, he observed wryly that had he failed with the bat and India had lost, he would have received brickbats instead of bouquets. It was a gamble that paid off.

As mentioned above, gambles can also backfire. What then? What happens to somehow who everyone is ready to confer the title ‘Superhero’ if he or she does deliver? He or she gets badmouthed or footnoted in the narrative.

This is the basic thing about gambles. They are not part of general plans. They are often the product of desperation (sometimes precipitated by injury or poor form or an unexpectedly steep target to chase). Sometimes they are calculated to surprise the opposition, mess with their minds, wreck well thought out strategies regarding which bowlers to use when and against whom, etc. In this instance, Mumbai will most definitely factor into their preparation for the final the possibility of Stoinis opening the innings.  The Capitals could drop Stoinis — that would shock the opposition — but that’s unlikely. Superhero or not, he’s part of the Hyderabad show. A key part, one may add.

Now here’s something that Karthik pointed out that should sober the superhero worshippers or rather those who cheer superhero gambits. It happened on the third delivery of the third over (Sandeep Sharma’s second). The cricinfo commentary put it this way: 'dropped. The plan nearly works. Stoinis punches this inswinger in the air, to the right of silly mid-on. It is the tall Holder, who dives to his right, gets a hand to it, but can't hold on. Tough chance but a chance nonetheless.’

The plan had worked two days previously, removing Virat Kohli who had opened for the Royal Challenger Bangalore in their eliminator game. Didn’t work against Stoinis, but importantly (for this discussion) could have!

What does it tell us? Well, the ‘Superhero Gambit’ makes waves if it works but will not get written about if it doesn’t. It’s a one-off thing. It’s a chance that’s taken. That’s why it is called a gambit and as such is never a central part of any strategy in a team sport.

There are superheroes who carry their teams often but it’s mostly about rising above the rest and yet needing those other ‘non-heroes’ to do their thing, their little contributions which are necessary but of course not sufficient. Team managers and selectors don’t gamble with them. They are integral to team plans. Gambles are for one-off superheroes who may or may not be labeled as such depending on performance.

Let’s see how Stoinis conducts himself against Mumbai. Let’s wish him well. 



Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']


Do you have a plan? Strengths and weaknesses It's all about partnerships