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A strategy to win the World Cup

By Colonel Anil Athale (retd)
March 28, 2011 14:21 IST
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Colonel Anil Athale (retd) lists a few military tactics that may help team India win the World Cup.

As some one passionately involved in game of cricket -- in school in Mumbai in early 1960s, the author had the privilege of being coached by the great Vinoo Mankad, it is but natural to look forward to Indian winning the upcoming World Cup.

But as a diligent follower of the game and one involved in strategic analysis, there are many commonalities one can find in the two fields. Selection and maintenance of aim, a cardinal principle in warfare is equally applicable to cricket -- look at many disasters when a team aimed too high a score and ended up loser! Economy of resources, offensive action, and surprise -- are factors common to war and cricket!

And if the old adage is to be remembered, "The battle of Waterloo was won the playing fields of Eaton!" There is indeed lots of inter-changeability in strategy on the sports field and battle field. Here is an attempt by the author to share some ideas and thoughts with a fervent hope that this is read by the persons concerned planning the winning strategy for team India!

Play to your strength.

It is quite obvious for some time now that batting is India's strong point. The stats of the league phase matches show that while there are two Indians in top ten, Virendra Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, there is no Pakistani batsman in that group. To exploit our advantage we must prepare a 'pataa' (flat) wicket, on the lines of wickets in Nagpur and Bangalore. It is true that we lost the high scoring match against South Africa and tied with England -- but for that blame must be placed on the lower middle order batsman who committed 'hara-kiri'.  A pitch that is well rolled with no grass will nullify Pakistani advantage of having a better bowling attack.

I am sure that this is not rocket science and must have been thought out and would be implemented. No team can cry foul on this issue as it is the prerogative of the hosts to prepare pitches to suit them.

Obviously if we win the toss we must bat first, score over 300 and let the Pakistanis do the chasing. The weather forecast is that Wednesday, the day of the match will have clear skies and 40 percent humidity. This would mean that there will be very little dew and that should not create any problems for the bowling side. In any case, we must make available 'super sopper' to mop the ground during the drinks break. Again, a resource well within the capability of the local authority.  

At the start of the tournament, South Africa was regarded as one of the strongest teams. Their downfall was when their 'regular' batsman like Jacques Kallis attempted aerial shots. This is possibly one lesson that ought to have been learnt by the Indians as well. Only those players who 'naturally' play that kind of shot, should do it, not others.

Another advantage of batting first is that relatively there is less pressure. In a pressure game like this, while chasing, the pressure maintaining a run rate adds on to the existing pressure. Since it is the mentally strong team that is going to win, it stands to reason to bat first if one wins the toss.

Role of leadership in mind games!

It is often thought that the mind games are played before the match. Most teams have now perfected the art of isolating the team from external pressures. It does not really affect the team what the media is saying or the hype being created. But we tend to forget that the mind games during the match are far more important to the outcome. Given below are the illustrations of what that means.

Indian cricket fans and Chetan Sharma have still not forgotten that disastrous last ball six by Javed Miandad to win a match at Sharjah. More than the bowler, one would blame the captain for this particular loss. The issue was that Chetan Sharma as the bowler had many options, a short ball, yorker, outside the off stump out-swinger or even a slower delivery. The earlier five balls were all swinging full-tosses. It was the captain's job at that point in time to call in a midfield conference, change the field and sow doubts in the mind of the batsman as to the kind of ball that he may have to face!

Unfortunately, Kapil Dev, otherwise an outstanding captain, did nothing of that sort, Sharma repeated the delivery and was hit for a six!

The reason to bring out that episode up is that a similar thing happened again during this World Cup during the last over by Ashish Nehra in the match against South Africa. Once the batsman hit the first ball for a boundary, there should have been midfield consultation, change in field etc to increase the tension on the batsman. Again like Kapil Dev of yesteryears, M S Dhoni failed as a captain and did not create the doubt in batsman's mind! Scoring 13 runs in last over is a difficult job and India ought to have won the match.

Any one familiar with basketball is aware of the importance of the 'time out' gambit. It is quite often used successfully to check the momentum of the opponent. Dhoni did use these tactics against the Australians somewhat but must do this even during the over when things are not going our way.

Much of the modern batting is a mind game. When a captain changes the field in a particular way, say brings in short leg and puts fielders in deep on the leg side, the expectation is there would be a short-pitch delivery! The captain can play a game of double deception by asking bowler to instead bowl a yorker or outside the off stump.  The essence is that especially when the batsmen are going on steadily, it is these 'time offs' that can help unsettle the rhythm of the batsman.

One wishes that there is more of Dhoni coming up to the bowler and discussing in the upcoming semi-final and final. The psychological effect of this on field drama cannot be underestimated. Specially against a team like Pakistan that has brittle batting order.

Like every other Indian this author also wishes best of luck to the team India for a triumphant semi and final of the World Cup!

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Colonel Anil Athale (retd)