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The Other IPL

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To make a mark in this World Cup, India’s batting needs to get out of ‘IPL mode’, a dangerous by-product of the T20 cricket they’ve been playing back home.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) was expected to be perfect (if somewhat long) preparation for the Indian cricket team in the run-up to the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean. With 55 days of intense and highly competitive 20-over cricket under their belt, one would assume match fitness is a given, and the team is completely in tune with the needs of this pulsating, high-octane version of the game.

But while the IPL may have given Team India's superstars just the T20 practice they needed, its by-product – another ‘IPL’ – is something they may have just a tad too much of for their own good.

This ‘IPL’ is "Instinctive Plonk and Lam", a batting mantra that was executed with mostly unchallenged success through the season back home, but may now prove to be a spoiler to the team's chances of World Cup success.

The rules of this ‘IPL’ are incredibly simple, unlike its parent cricket league that was somewhat of a maze to navigate. It involves a premeditated planting of the front foot down the wicket (with scant regard for the pace, length or intent of the ball being delivered) followed by a furious, usually cross-batted, swipe of the cricket bat. The “plonk” is a result of the confidence that no matter where the ball is pitched it can be dealt with by unidirectional footwork. The “lam” is a product of hand-eye coordination, increasingly longer hours in the gym and the belief that the ball is always “there to be hit”.

What happens when the ball is back of length, you may ask. Well you stay plonked, and trust the trueness of the wicket as you swat through or across the line depending on which stand you'd like to transport the ball to. And what of the short pitched stuff? With Indian pitches unlikely to provide disconcerting bounce even for genuine quicks, most short bowling ends up at a comfortable height for the “lam” to be executed just as effectively. Transferring one’s weight to the back foot is so test match cricket. At the IPL, you just cut loose off the front foot – and are more likely to be rewarded with a DLF Maximum, than fall prey to a Karbonn Kamaal catch.

But on wickets that have a little extra to offer the bowlers and that therefore promise a more equitable contest between bat and ball, the story can change quite dramatically. India at 50 for 7 against Australia on a lively Friday track at the Kensington Oval was evidence of the devastating failure that this stand-and-deliver batting can result in. It was evidence that ‘IPL’ batting works only in IPL conditions, and is far harder to pull off when bowlers become more than just "ball feeders".

The Indian batsmen were being asked questions of their technique and mental tenacity, but their answers were always adapted versions of ‘IPL’ that invariably landed them on their scooters back to the dug-out. Gambhir and Vijay decided that Dirk Nannes needed to be carted over midwicket even before they had had a sighter, while Raina felt the compulsive urge to pull a 150kph delivery from Shaun Tait in his first over. Dhoni, Pathan, Bhajji were all caught at various parts of the park, attempting similar variations of instinctive plonks and lams. Even Rohit Sharma, who eventually settled down to play a classy 79, spent the early part of his innings insisting that he wanted to send a couple of balls back home to Mumbai. Had Yuvraj's innings lasted beyond the two deliveries that it did before he was castled by Tait, one can reasonably wager that he too would have soon attempted a massive heave-ho.

None of them can be faulted for not listening to their instincts. The trouble was that their instincts always led them to one solution: throw bat at ball, and hope to muscle it out of the ground. Runs must be brutally achieved, bowler ability and conditions notwithstanding. “Gutsing” out the initial period, sizing up the pace of the wicket and rotating strike to keep the scoreboard moving, were ideas that only seemed to occur to a pained Sunny Gavaskar in the commentary box.

So what does all this mean for Team India's pursuit of the World Cup? Well for one, the batting against Australia has dealt a severe blow to their net run rate. Minus 2.450 is far from the best way to start the super-eights, and could mean that even two wins in the coming two games are not enough. 
But for calculators to even enter the equation, India's batting unit needs to make the mental and physical adjustment to the less blatantly batting-friendly tracks that they will be presented with. Instead of demanding runs because there were so many to be had just a few weeks ago, they must bring all their obvious skill into constructing strong totals. It is as much about judicious shot selection as it is about discarding the notion that picking singles in the first 6 overs is a crime. As Sharma showed with his mighty hitting against leg-spinner Smith, it is about attacking the weak link in the opposition bowling to lift the run rate rather than blindly lashing out against the top quality quicks at the outset.

And while the pitches will reward good bowling, they will by no means be treacherous or unplayable. The boundaries are larger than a Jaipur or a Delhi but good strikes are still sailing over the ropes quite comfortably. In essence, there is nothing to indicate that this cannot be another exciting Twenty20 tournament, with plenty of runs and big scores in store for us.

It's just that they may not come the ‘IPL’ way.


The writer works with a leading consumer-goods MNC in Singapore.





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