Pairing up on pole to pose problems

Pairing up on pole to pose problems

Pairing up on pole to pose problems

Lethal: Delhi Daredevils’ David Warner (left) and Virender Sehwag have given their opponents a lot to think about. AP

Zoom your mind’s lens to the action-packed exploits of Adam Gilchrist-Matthew Hayden, Sourav Ganguly-Sachin Tendulkar, Gordon Greenidge-Desmond Haynes and Gautam Gambhir-Virender Sehwag pairs to get a picture of them.

Combining two explosive batsmen at the pole position is a dream every cricket team cherishes for the effect they can have on the outcome of the match and for the psychological edge they can provide over the opponents even before stepping on to the field. The fourth edition of the Indian Premier League has underscored the value of having a set and firing pair at the top.

Let’s study the case of Royal Challengers Bangalore. In a multi-team tournament like the IPL, you won’t often see one man changing the fortunes of a team, but Chris Gayle did that hard act. Before the big West Indian’s arrival, Royal Challengers looked a subjugated unit, conceding three defeats in as many games and more alarmingly they looked incapable of a revival.

Since Gayle’s arrival, Bangalore have experienced a total shift of fortunes. They have won three matches in a row and it’s no secret that Gayle has played a massive hand in those victories, beginning with a whirlwind hundred against his former franchise Kolkata Knight Riders. Here, the crux of the matter is not Gayle’s individual brilliance but the impact he made as an opener along with Tillakaratne Dilshan.

A misfiring opening combination – Dilshan and Mayank Agarwal -- was Royal Challenger’s biggest headache in the initial stages of IPL IV, adding that extra ounce of pressure on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers. But the addition of Gayle has drastically changed the whole scenario and now RCB look a formidable, even fearsome unit with the Jamaican upfront and Dilshan also showing signs of getting his rhythm back.

The significance of an in-form and big-hitting opening pair in a format like Twenty20 becomes magnified because a team has only 20 overs to set or scale down a target, making a strong start mandatory. Kohli, the owner of a sharp brain at 22, nicely summed up the importance of top batsmen firing consistently. “It’s important for us to score for the team to do well because if you don't lay a platform, it will be difficult for the guys coming down the order,” he said.

That’s pure cricketing reasoning and the influence of a marauding opening combination goes much beyond the tangible facts. The presence of players of the ilk of Gayle, Dilshan, Gilchrist, Paul Valthaty, David Warner, Sehwag and Brendon McCullum can force the opposition to spend some extra hours in the board room, but with no guarantee of success. These players can upset plans in spectacular fashion, putting in the opposition the fear of the unexpected and that unpredictability factor make these batsmen an indivisible part of any team strategy. 

It’s no mere coincidence then that the revival of Royal Challengers and Kings XI Punjab has got so much connection with the performance of their opening batsmen. Just like the Royal Challengers, the Punjab outfit looked weak when their new skipper and opener Gilchrist was struggling to punish even rank long-hops. But once the Australian found his range and a perfect foil in Valthaty, the fortunes of Kings XI too changed for the better.

Like victories, defeats too can manifest the importance of certain theories. Daredevils were one of the pre-tournament favourites and the presence of a lethal opening pair in Sehwag and Warner had been counted as their main strength. But the Indo-Australian pair has been able to showcase its firepower only in patches and Daredevils’ struggle so far this season could be linked directly to the openers’ less than satisfactory outings.

Delhi captain Sehwag admitted as much. “Things have become very difficult for us and one of the reasons is that I am not getting runs and it’s affecting the entire top order, requiring frequent change of combinations. I should be scoring more runs,” Sehwag said.
It’s applicable to the Mahela Jayawardene-McCullum pair as well because the fortunes of Kochi Tuskers Kerala have revolved around them but unlike the above mentioned pairs, the former Sri Lankan skipper and his Kiwi partner rely on entirely contrasting methods.

While McCullum likes to take the aerial route, Jayawardene is a master at finding the gaps to maintain the run flow at a brisk pace without taking too many risks.

Their success lies in the fact that they have managed to fuse together two different approaches, like they did against Mumbai Indians while chasing down a 180-plus target. But they have tapered off after a good beginning, pushing the Tuskers down the table and revealing the Kerala franchise’s heavy reliance on the starts they provide.
It all thus boils down to that brave first step!

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