When the context is a cricket match, what comes to your mind if you hear the words 10 for 3 on a non-spiteful pitch?
It could well mean disaster in a Test match. In an ODI too, it’s a significant crisis. In a Twenty20 match though, while it’s not a desirable state to be in (unless it’s the Delhi Daredevils and they have had a particularly weird batting order), it’s the least insurmountable, especially if you’re chasing a normal-range total in the 150s or 160s.
This is not to suggest that 10 for 3 is in any shape preferable to, say, 40 for 1, but it’s the nature of the T20 beast. Ten wickets over 20 overs are too many, for a majority of the time. Teams get bowled out in a T20 International innings 15.57% of the time. The corresponding figure for ODIs is 29.47. It is self-evident that given the same number of wickets for a shorter number of overs, each wicket becomes more ‘expendable’.
If teams aren’t going down to the end of the their batting orders in 20-overs cricket more than five-sixths of the time, losing a couple of early wickets will, logically, have less of an effect than when teams are stretched to the full more often.
Yet, when Ben Stokes walked in at 10 for 3 for Rising Pune Supergiant against Gujarat Lions on Monday (May 1), the pressure was real and the thought of a successful chase was receding. Stokes’s brilliantly paced counter-attack was magnificent in its execution and breath-taking visually. But what it also did was bust a few myths about the IPL and T20 cricket.
Myth 1: The fall of wickets disaster
As illustrated above, while losing three top-order wickets is far from ideal, it is not unconquerable for normal-range totals. When you are faced with a 180-plus sort of chase, then you need the top order to lay a strong and springy base from which to launch. But when the target is lower, you can recover. Mumbai Indians also showed that when they were 7 for 4 and 33 for 5 after Royal Challengers Bangalore had put up 142 for 5. Looking at it in reverse helps. When Stokes walked in, Pune needed 152 in 18.3 overs. With Stokes himself there, along with the batting talents of Rahul Tripathi, MS Dhoni and Daniel Christian, it was not an out-of-sight equation. It could have been done with one man’s individual brilliance or a more evenly distributed collective contribution. That Stokes did it on his own made it more spectacular and memorable.
But future teams who find themselves in similar spots could take some heart from knowing that even if they don’t have someone of the calibre of Stokes, they could still do it – as Mumbai did. At 7 for 4, Mumbai needed 136 in 17.2 overs with Kieron Pollard, Nitish Rana and the Pandya brothers there – and the long-handle talents of Harbhajan Singh and Tim Southee in the bank. They had Pollard doing the starring show, but there was a significant support act by Krunal Pandya, while Hardik Pandya chimed in with a cameo at the finish.
Myth 2: Yes, Stokes is really worth Rs 14.5 crore
Every time a player goes for big money in an auction, his every move is scrutinised more. A favourite pastime becomes assigning a monetary value for his runs or wickets – each of his wickets cost Rs 2 crore, each run cost Rs 30 lakh. It is perhaps the most naïve and ridiculous way of looking at it. First of all, every auction has a dynamic of its own. Within an auction, every bid has a dynamic of its own.
Would Stokes have commanded the sum he did if he were to be in a full-fledged auction with a lot more players available? No. Is he responsible for being the big fish in a small auction pond in 2017? Of course not. In parallel, does coming in with a heavy price tag create pressure mentally? It is natural that it does. When Kings XI Punjab had seen a spark in Manan Vohra and retained him ahead of the 2014 auction, many eyebrows were raised. In a masterstroke of man-management, Sanjay Bangar – then the coach of the franchise – didn’t pick Vohra for the first two weeks in the playing XI because the youngster wouldn’t have been given the space to succeed or fail with freedom. It worked, and Vohra made a seamless transition into the XI when he walked in.
Steven Smith, the Pune captain, revealed that he had told the team management to “just do what you have to, just get him” before the 2017 auction. Stokes is a battle-hardened professional who has gone through giving up four sixes in four balls to lose the World T20 title, so it’s fair to assume he has the mental strength to deal with the increased expectations that Rs 14.5 crore brings. As Smith put it, “He has always said from the start that he judges himself on how he plays. He is not going to put any extra pressure on himself because he has got a big price tag next to his name.”
Today, Stokes has three man of the match awards. If you really want to see the ‘worth’ of Rs 14.5 crore, it is in the six points he has already brought in, with the potential to bring in still more and take Pune into the qualifiers, a significant leap from the near bottom-dwelling they did in 2016.
Myth 3: The IPL and England
This is not so much a myth as an ‘I told you so’, with the one doing the telling being one Mr Kevin Pietersen. Five years ago, Pietersen played a knock that was almost identical in essentials to the Stokes masterclass . Except, that five years ago, T20 cricket and the dynamics of a chase hadn’t yet evolved as much as they have today, and therefore being three down early meant an even greater catastrophe.
Pietersen made 103 not out off 64, Stokes had 103 not out off 63. Pietersen had to rebuild from 23 for 3 in the fifth over chasing 158, for Delhi Daredevils against the erstwhile Deccan Chargers. The second highest scorer then was Yogesh Nagar, who made 23. The second highest for Pune on Monday night was Dhoni’s 26. Both men’s control of the chase was Virat Kohli-an. There was perhaps more muscle to Stokes’s strokeplay but it was as eye-catching for its decisiveness as Pietersen’s had been for its elegance.
The most significant difference? Stokes’s IPL sojourn has been blessed by the England and Wales Cricket Board. Pietersen had to fight tooth and nail. Pietersen’s innings perhaps showed people back home who viewed the IPL sceptically that even the shortest format on a sometimes gaudy stage could produce authentic cricketing brilliance. Five years on, with the most active England participation in any IPL yet, Stokes’s knock should have silenced all doubts and shown that having the cream of English talent in the IPL would only enhance player and tournament.