Thursday, November 17, 2005

On the use of SuperSubs

I get the feeling that, while India have come to grips with the optimal use of their powerplays, there is still work to be done in thinking through her use of SuperSubs. This is a new concept in world (limited-overs) cricket and it will take time for it to be worked out by teams around the world.

Sri Lanka came up with a brilliant strategy for optimal use of the fielding restrictions in the first 15-overs of a limited overs game of cricket. And, in Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana, they had the personnel to execute that strategy to a 'T'. Similarly, some team will come up with the best SuperSub execution strategy.

At the moment, however, I feel that India is groping in the dark on this one. I'd love to be proven wrong, but a look at the last few games suggests that SuperSub-thinking is constrained either by (lack of) available personnel or by other pressing issues (like fitness, goals, "processes", etc), which may have pushed this to a lower priority!

In the recently concluded matches against Sri Lanka the SuperSubs used were:

Toss - India, Decision - Bat First
SSub - Murali Kartik, employed, Subbed Venugopal Rao

Toss - India, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - Sree Santh, not employed, --

Toss - SL, Decision - Bat First
SSub - S. K. Raina (DNB), Subbed Murali Kartik

Toss - India, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - S. K. Raina, Subbed Sree Santh

Toss - SL, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - J. P. Yadav, Subbed Darvid (injured)

Toss - India, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - S. K. Raina (DNB), Subbed Murali Kartik

Toss - SL, Decision - Bat First
SSub - S. K. Raina (DNB), Subbed R. P. Singh

And in the first match of the series against South Africa (RSA) lasy night (17 November):

Toss - RSA, Decision - Bowl First
SSub - G. Gambhir, Subbed Murali Kartik

The choices seem a bit ill-conceived to me. It is not as if the selections lack logic. It is evident in most cases bar one! It seems to me that the choice of the SuperSub has almost influenced what Dravid will do at the toss! It is almost as if Dravid and Chappell are saying "If the SuperSub that is chosen is a bowler, then I will bat first" or "If the SuperSub that is chosen is a batsman, then I will bowl first".

As it stands, the SuperSub rule is loaded against the team that loses the toss. Team sheets have to be exchanged prior to the toss. If a team includes a batsman as a SuperSub on the team sheet, there is little reason why that team would bat first if it wins the toss! Likewise, if a team includes a bowler as a SueprSub, it would bat first.

And this is perhaps one reason why Darren Lehmann dislikes (and Gilchrist backs Lehmann in his hatred of) this 'innovation' in limited-overs cricket. If the advantage is properly exploited the team that wins the toss is better placed to exploit the advantage of the 12th man!

So, in a sense, I agree with both Gilchrist and Lehmann -- who says that the SuperSub innovation is a "shit rule"! Ahem! So much for diret verbal feedback!

In Match-1 of the India-SL series, Sree Santh was the SuperSub. India won the toss and bowled last! In Match-3, Sri Lanka's toss-decision aided India's SuperSub choice (Raina). In Match-4, Raina was the SuperSub. India won the toss and batted last! In Match-5, Sri Lanka's toss-decision aided India's choice of Yadav (essentially a bowling allrounder). In Match-6, Raina was the SuperSub. India won the toss and batted last! In Match-7 Sri Lanka's toss-decision aided India's choice of Raina.

One example that somehow does not fit this bill is the choice in Match 2 of Sree Santh as SuperSub. That choice was as bizarre as Dravid's choice of bowling first, thereby effectively negating the SuperSub trump card that he had at his disposal (Sree Santh).

In the recently concluded match against RSA, it seemed that Dravid went in with a "I have to bowl first because Gambhir is the SuperSub" mentality. When he lost the toss and Smith elected to bowl first, Dravid's SuperSub trump card was effectively negated.

Agreed Smith (and in the previous examples, Attapattu) will do what is best for his (their) team on winning the toss. However, Dravid's choice of SuperSub -- at the time team sheets were exchanged at the toss -- would give Smith enough clues as to what Dravid would do if he won the toss!

I think this is one area India does need to do its work.

In my view, the best SuperSub choice would be an all rounder. In the recently concluded match against South Africa, J. P. Yadav would have been a better SuperSub. In the event of a batting collapse (and there indeed was one), he could have come in (as a SuperSub for Murali Kartik), hung around as a bat and then been India's 5th bowler too. Unfortunately, India does not have too many utility allrounders like Yadav.

Depending on how you read it, Dravid himself hinted in an interview yesterday that he would prefer having a few good allrounders to choose from. Perhaps his confidence in Yadav's abilities is not that great after all? Well, in that case, does the team need a journeyman? Would India not be better in grooming an allrounder who would be a super SuperSub by 2007? Where are Robin Singh and Ajay Jadeja when you need them!

And why not end this piece with a bit of a controversial opinion?

In my view, Saurav Ganguly is probably the best SuperSub in India today. He can bowl a bit. And he has been turning his arm over -- quite successfully too, I might add -- in the recently concluded Duleep Trophy games. It is almost as if he wishes to remind one and all that he can bowl too -- now why he won't do that often enough when he was captain of India still remains a mystery! If needed (like India did in yesterday's 1st game against RSA) he can come in and bat decently too. After all, he is a player with over 10,000 runs in one-dayers!

Well worth a look into, in my view...

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