Between Wickets Suresh Menon

The battle is not always to the strong — or the hyped

The victorious Sunrisers Hyderabad exult after defeating Royal Challengers Bangalore by 8-runs in the IPL 2016 Final in Bengaluru. Photo: PTI  

While David Warner, and later Yuvraj Singh and Ben Cutting carved into the bowling, a Royal Challengers Bangalore supporter said to me: This is wonderful. It means Kohli will have enough runs to chase and get a century.

RCB fans’ biggest worry on IPL final night, once it became clear that rain would not interfere, was that Sunrisers Hyderabad might not score enough runs to make a match of it!

In the build-up to the event, the media, as happens so often, had picked glamour over efficiency, giving their vote to the team with Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and A.B. de Villiers rather than one which was better balanced but virtually star-less.

Party-poopers

RCB seemed to have bought into the hype. Their post-victory celebration plans were already in place. There would be an open-top bus ride through town for the conquering heroes. The bus would be the same one that ferried Kohli from the airport to the KSCA eight years ago when he led India to the World Cup win in Under-19. “We have chosen the same lucky bus for Virat. We are decorating it to suit RCB and Virat Kohli,” an RCB official was quoted as saying.

A KSCA official said, “It will start on Monday morning from the Ritz Carlton Hotel. The procession will go via MG Road to Chinnaswamy stadium. This will culminate in a grand ceremony at the stadium with a music concert by Raghu Dixit.”

How unfair of the Sunrisers to have ruined all these plans!

Counting unhatched chickens is as old as sport itself. No doubt Goliath’s friends planned a party with music by a local band on the night he faced David. It happens all the time. In 1974, the Dutch team, playing total football under the great Johann Cryuff, had merely to turn up in the final to beat Germany. Or so the whole of Holland seemed to think. So confident were they that the Dutch government had already printed postage stamps with “World Cup winners 1974” written on the top.

And when Holland scored a goal before any German had even touched the ball, hype and fate seemed to come together. Yet Holland lost. It happens that way in sport sometimes. Teams lose. Fancied teams lose.

In the IPL final, it was not the better batting team which won, but the better bowling team. Forget the apparently narrow margin. Eight runs could mean a whole over, maybe even two. The sight of Sachin Baby weeping at the crease as realisation and frustration dawned on him simultaneously, summed it all up. He would have learned more in those few moments than in many hours at the nets. The race is not always to the swift, nor is the battle always to the strong; the swift and the strong have to understand this.

In a tournament where captains played a big role, David Warner out-batted and out-thought his opponent. Relying on bowling and team balance to win might be an old-fashioned concept, but Sunrisers won in a post-modern format using traditional methods, and that made the final special.

Two streams of batsmanship

In fact, two streams of batsmanship have emerged from this year’s IPL. The Chris Gayle and Ben Cutting school that always existed and served as the model for many years, and the Kohli-Warner school which reflects the coaching manual. When the technically sound begin to have a strike rate of 150, it can be mind-boggling.

Watching Gayle hit those sixes, one wondered. If hitting sixes is the essence of T20 cricket, then what is the ideal situation? Six sixes an over through 20 overs? Absurd as that sounds, six-hitting is an essential part of the format.

At the start of the season, Kohli had said that since he wasn’t much of a six-hitter, he had to focus on picking the gaps and hitting boundaries. Three fours rather than two sixes. Yet, he finished the tournament as the batsman with the most number of sixes. Sometimes creativity lies not in doing something entirely new, but in using the existing in more productive ways.

If in the early part of his career, the question that followed Kohli everywhere concerned his approach to the game, and his over-the-top responses, now it is the comparison with Sachin Tendulkar.

Mature thinking

His response to the former always spoke of a self-confident, self-aware young man. In a recent interview, he responded to the latter question thus: “Sachin was a natural; I had to work at everything.” Maturity both on and off the field!

With the T20 season out of the way, Kohli now prepares for a long season of Test match cricket. India travel to the West Indies and play hosts to New Zealand, Bangladesh, Australia and England.

While his teammates will need to change more than just their coloured clothes, readjusting technique and approach to the longer format, Kohli will lead India secure in the knowledge that he needs to make only the slightest of modifications.


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