April 21, 2023: The Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 has embedded itself wonderfully well as an exciting source of entertainment. Several matches have been closely fought and a few incredible finishes have brought about a mysterious tinge to it. The earlier IPLs too made stars out of a few of the unrecognized Indian domestic players. The likes of Rinku Singh, Tilak Varma, Sai Sudarshan, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Ruturaj Gaekwad have made themselves heard as players who not only have the skills to perform at the highest level but also have the temperament to do so.
The established Indian international players have a young brigade of players on their tail and one can see the pressure that each one of them is going through to stay afloat.
The T20 format is one in which self-belief and confidence play a major part. Batters, need to take risks and so the ones who are in form with success behind them are more prone to do well.
The problem that arises is for players who have failed in the initial matches. The dilemma for them is how to come out of the slump. This is where some of our star players’ performances are being questioned. Getting runs in a T20 game, if one is not taking a massive risk, is quite simple. This formula of making runs has gone through a major change. A high strike rate and fewer dot balls have become the norm to calculate a batter’s value. This is where the likes of K.L. Rahul and even David Warner are facing the wrath, as regards their performance.
The bowlers too are struggling to get their T20 act in place. The earlier tactics of bowling yorkers has given way to wider deliveries on the off-side, hoping to catch the tram line furthest away. The reason is that a slight error in executing the yorker seems to lead to a barrage of runs. Batters have learned the art of countering the ball that a bowler so effectively earlier spearheaded under the bat. Bowlers are now experimenting with different deliveries, all in the hope of getting one-up on a batter.
Unfortunately, the team of video analysts have the bowlers completely monitored and most opposing batsmen facing them are well aware of their variations. For one to change and adapt one’s batting is far simpler than it is for a bowler. Mastering the art of a knuckleball, a slow bouncer, a different seam placement, and bowling changes by way of angles, flight, and bowling action needs many hours of serious practice. One does, therefore, pity the bowlers, whose task is becoming more and more difficult because of the field and bowling restrictions.
Cricket somehow has always been looked at as a batter’s game. The rules are based on making the game attractive to follow and therefore, batters seem to get preference. Bowlers have always been looked at as foot soldiers and hard workers, who need to toil away without a grumble. The exceptions are the speedsters and skilful spinners who make life difficult for the elite batters.
Cricket has progressed by leaps and bounds in the area of batting and bowling. The better fitness of the present-day cricketer has brought about a definite improvement in fielding as well.
The area that has not seen a significant improvement has been that of catching. The IPL ’23 has had umpteen number of blemishes as regards dropped catches. One wonders what the reason for this could be, especially, with modern equipment and support staff to assist.
Outfield catching is an area that requires plenty of practice. The problem that players may be facing is that the practice wickets and facilities these days are not held at the playing ground because of which teams do not get the opportunity to practice at the playing venue to get the feel for it.
In each stadium, the background, air circulation and density of the atmosphere differ. Even before the match, one does not see players taking high and flat-batted catches. Playing football, doing loosening exercises, batting through throw balls and bowling on a side strip seems to be the normal way of warming up before a game.
One rarely sees them taking skiers or hard parallel catches. The reason being that players feel that they may get injured in doing so. The thing that bewilders me the most is that many of the players take catches with protective gloves or mittens.
The art of catching requires one to train for the most fundamental sensation and that is the feeling that one encounter when the ball comes into one’s palm. This is when one’s fingers clutch the ball and prevent it from popping out. This muscle memory can only be mastered through continuous practice. Therefore, wearing protective gloves is never a good solution.
Furthermore, the variables that one encounter while catching the ball when it is hard, wet, soft or dry are significantly different. Therefore, the lack of preparation could be the reason that under a high-pressure situation, fielders are dropping some simple straightforward catches.
In the IPL’23 there is very little to differentiate between the 10 teams. Each one of them have players who can, at a given moment, change the fortunes of their side. Predicting a winner at this stage of the tournament is like finding a needle in a haystack. The team that will finally prevail will be the one that drops the least number of catches. That is why the famous phrase “catches win matches” is still relevant and taking catches will play the most significant part in deciding the winner.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer. Views expressed are personal.)