24 November 2020

Marcus Stoinis and the Superhero Gambit: The Sequel

Last week, i.e. just before the final of IPL 2020 between the Delhi Capitals and the Mumbai Indians, there was a lot of chatter about the role of Marcus Stoinis. In a must-win game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, the Capitals gambled by sending him to open the batting. He scored 38 off 27 deliveries, provided some dynamism and helped his team close to 190. Later, taking 3 for 26 off 3 overs he helped contain the Sunrisers to 172.

It was a gamble that worked. As we mentioned in this column last week, the problem with gambles is that they are essentially about playing percentages. Some work, some don’t. Sometimes they inject a surprise factor that gives just enough of an edge to deliver a win. However, you can’t use the same surprise twice. Teams prepare and each ‘surprise’ is factored into the preparation.

We don’t know if the Mumbai Indians figured out some plan to counter Stoinis, but it is unlikely that they were surprised when Stoinis walked in with Shikhar after Delhi opted to bat first upon winning the toss.

Here’s the cricinfo commentary. First ball of the final. Travis Boult to Marcus Stoinis:

‘Boult to Stoinis, OUT got him first ball! Felled the Hulk first up! Short of a good length, rising in the corridor. Stoinis defends for the one coming in but has ended up playing inside the line and is all sorts of contorted. It takes the thick outside edge and floats gently to QDK's right. After a brief move from the patterns, Capitals are back to their recent problem of failed first-wicket stands.’

The Superhero Gamble had failed, if it was seen as pivotal to overall strategy that is. The Capitals stuttered and before the 3rd over was done were 22 for 3, with Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane joining Stoinis in the dressing room. Shreyas Iyer (65 not out) and Rishabh Pant (56) saved Delhi the blushes, but the 157 run target would not have worried Mumbai too much.

Mumbai went about the chase efficiently. Rohit Sharma and Quinton de Kock put on 45 in 4.1 overs before Stoinis (yes, him)interrupted their party.

Back to the cricinfo commentary:

‘Stoinis to de Kock, OUT taken behind! Stoinis, golden duck earlier today, gets a wicket off his first ball. Short of a length, cross seam, in the corridor. Wants to cut behind square and is cramped on it a touch. Gets a thick edge to Pant's left and it is held. Stoinis is punching just about anything he can find - the air, his own palm. Get out of the way. He is pumped.’

Redemption? Not quite. His 2 over cost 23. Mumbai skipper Rohit Sharma (68 off 51) paced the innings well and didn’t let things get out of hand. Mumbai won its fifth IPL title.

If we forget the whole Superhero Gambit element of the narrative, it was a typical Delhi performance. A couple of batsmen got half centuries but since they were for the most part in damage control mode, acceleration to the point of securing a match-winning total was out of the question. It would come down to their bowlers.

Axar Patel was stingy (conceding just 16 off his 4 overs). Ravichandran Ashwin kept things reasonably quiet (28 off 4). Anrich Nortje accounted for the wickets of Sharma and Hardik Pandya, but it was a case of too little, too late. Mumbai overhauled the target with 9 deliveries to spare.

The Capitals probably wouldn’t say that Stoinis was the lynchpin of their overall strategy. Had he come up with a stellar performance, then the Superhero tag might have gained further currency, but we are talking of a sport marked by ‘glorious uncertainties.’ If he were a hero in the game against the Sunrisers, he was down to zero, literally, in the final.

That should tell us something about superheroes and super-heroics. Good for chatter before and after. Good as a strategy-sliver in moments of desperation with surprise being the key element in the exercise, nothing more and nothing less.

Last week, the following observation was made: ‘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.’

Stoinis didn’t cover himself with glory. Delhi came off second best. It’s not the end of the world for Stoinis, who is clearly a special cricketer. It’s not the end of the world for the Capitals (after all they made it all the way to the finals, which puts them ahead of 6 other teams!).  

Let’s wish them well as we resolve to return to sobriety in this business of strategizing, be it in cricket or any other sport or life itself!  


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