Thursday, July 14, 2005

Cricket Strategy: Would you Sacrifice a Pawn to Gain a Rook?

Why have I mixed up these two games? Cricket and Chess are as different as chalk and cheese. The point was just to use an accepted strategy in Chess to make a case for a similar strategy in Cricket.

Recently I was reading Jack Fingleton's Masters of Cricket. In a chapter devoted to Jack Hobbes, Fingleton has this to say about Hobbes' fielding and the importance of the Cover-Point fielder:
[Jack Hobbes was] perhaps the greatest cover-point everquick in anticipation, swift to the ball and unerring in his under-the-shoulder returnhe had 15 run-outs on his second tour of Australia in 1912.

No cover-point can ever be considered great unless he has deft, twinkling footwork. As the ball speeds towards him, cover-point must be on the way in to meet it, for a split second thus gained could bring the run-out and, moreover, he should so position his movements into the ball that he is, immediately ready to receive the ball and throw it to the desired end with one action. A champion cover-point must possess an additional sense. He must sense what the batsmen are doing, for his own eyes never leave the ball. He must, too, be a 'fox' yielding a single here and there to snare the batsman into a feeling of safety and, when his chance comes, cover-point must be able to hit the stumps from side-on nine times out of ten. Jack Hobbs had the lotall the tricks.
[emphasis mine]
Is this a lost art (or an obsolete strategy) today? I have never seen or heard of any cover-point (or for that matter, any other fielder) deliberately yielding singles to lull batsmen into a false sense of security. I am no expert on cricket, but if this practice were still prevalent in contemporary cricket, I am sure the expert commentators on TV and in the press would have mentioned it at least once. Or the player himself might have bragged about how he snared the batsman with his cleverness.

Is one-day cricket, where a single run (or a very narrow margin) is often the difference between the two teams, to blame? But then we would have seen this strategy employed in test cricket. It is however missing in test cricket too. Is it that today cricket is so competitive that the thought of deliberately yielding a single now and then to fool the batsman is simply never considered as a strategy by the players? But if the payoff is a wicket (and particularly the wicket of a frontline batsman) wouldn't a few runs be considered a reasonable trade-off in exchange for a wicket?

Wouldn't you sacrifice an insignificant pawn to gain a rook?

Maybe we don't play this kind of chess on the cricket field anymore. And methinks that cricket is a bit poorer for that.

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La Bona said...

Sorry for posting an off topic question here but I think this particular one has a profound impact on our society.

The Pope says “Harry Potter corrupts the young, distorting their understanding of the battle between good and evil”. In a way, he is saying “Harry is Evil, Potter is Satan!”

Well, we know orthodox Christians also despise Uncle Santa Claus and all those at DisneyWorld, do you fancy a world without Cinderella, Snow White and Mr. Mickey Mouse?

La Bona

Minal said...

Hmm, you given cricket lovers a point to ponder about.

I think if teams strategise well and take a bit of risks, it sure would make the game more interesting.

And that is why this whole debate of how the super sub is a flop and new rules not working well is not going down to well with me, cause it's been tried in just 3 matches
For innovations to fail/succeed we need to evaluate it over a period of time! I hope ICC does not rush in to revert their decision!

Btw how is the book? Worth a buy?

mandar talvekar said...

agree with you on the new regulations -- we need to give them time to judge their effectiveness. Over a period of time teams will be able to develop strategies that will effectively deal with these new rules. I am not yet entirely convinced about the super-sub rule in its present format. Would have liked to see something like a soccer substitution rule, where one can choose any player from those on the bench. Right now, I feel, the substitute rule can be exploited fully only if a team wins the toss.
The book is great and definitely worth a buy if you like the old classical style of cricket writing (I can't think of any other appellation). It was published in 1958 and talks primarily of cricketers and cricket of an era before and in between the two world wars.
Jack Fingleton is a very good writer and his character sketches of various cricketers and descriptions of various matches are excellent.
You will have to check the availability though. I am not sure if it is still available off the shelves.I borrowed the book from the British Council Library, Mumbai.

amit varma said...

Spinners do this all the time, Mandar. It's called "buying a wicket". And captains do it all the time as well, which is why one of the more irritating cricketing cliches around is about "lulling the batsmen into a false sense of security".

Also, giving a pawn for a rook would not be called a sacrifice, you'd actually have the better of the exchange. Giving a rook for a pawn would be a sacrifice. Sacrifices generally refer to losing pieces to gain positional advantages that pay off later.

Sorry for being a little pedantic, being a former chess player and cricket journalist, coulnd't help it!

mandar talvekar said...

Hi Amit,
Could do with being a bit of a pedant myself -- thanks for pointing out the difference between an "exchange" and a "sacrifice."
My point in the post was not about spinners buying a wicket -- but fielder's deliberately conceding runs to run out a batsman later.
Having said that, there's much in what you say about captains "lulling the batsmen into a false sense of security" -- though haven't spotted one (or rather, remember one) where the resultant dismissal was a runout because of the easy runs conceded earlier. But you would know better -- you are the expert.

Anonymous said...

Foxing the batsman is still a common tactic in village cricket, if only because it allows an older fielder to pretend that his arthritic misfield was actually a canny piece of long term strategy.

As a captain I've told our crack fieldsmen to lob in a soft, wide return when the batsman is going to make his ground, only to rip in a flat throw when it's tighter and it's common for fielders to drift in and out of position to con the batsmen they are actually fielding futher away than they really are. The phantom hamstring injury is another useful gambit.

These shadow boxing strategies are common in batting too. A batsman who is good at avoiding the short ball may pretend to be in difficulty to encourage the new ball bowler to exhaust himself and waste the new ball by bowling at his head instead of at his stumps.

In league cricket a captain may put on a bowler to deliberately give away easy runs to encourage a blocking team to risk going for victory and so open themselves up to being bowled out.
There is also the tactic of a fielding side deliberately playing to keep a slow batsman in. I've seen catches 'dropped' and vows of silence over plumb LBWs to keep an aging stonewaller in and the violently inclined 18 year old hitters safely in the opposition pavilion.