World Cup 2019: Five best tactical decisions in the first week
The 2019 Cricket World Cup is in full swing. India have finally played their first game and sent South Africa to the brink of elimination in the process. The tournament has already given us a high-scoring thriller (England vs Pakistan), a medium-scoring thriller (Bangladesh vs New Zealand, a low-scoring thriller (Afghanistan vs Sri Lanka) and several less competitive games.
Particularly interesting has been the domination of bowling. Before the tournament, there were murmurs of a potential 500 score as the likes of England and West Indies threatened batting world records. At the moment, the average innings has been less than half of that. From the fearsome pace of Kagiso Rabada and Matt Henry to the guile of Yuzvendhra Chahal and Mohammad Nabi, bowlers have shown their importance in the modern limited-overs game.
In this bowling resurgence, the role of tactics has been key. To some extent, this should not come as a surprise. The past few years have seen an explosion of analytics in cricket, especially in white-ball formats. Teams have become more knowledgeable of opposition strengths and weaknesses, as they attempt to target opposition batsmen with strategies that make them uncomfortable. This is especially important against destructive lineups like that of England, India and the West Indies.
Thr combination of the analytics revolution and fearsome batting lineups has forced captains to innovate in a manner that has not been seen since Arjuna Ranatunga in 1996 (or even Martin Crowe in 1992). Indeed, this was clear from the very first ball of the World Cup, more on that later.
While some of these tactical tweaks may not work, all of them add an additional layer of intrigue to the World Cup. So what were some of the more successful tactical decisions in the first week of the World Cup?
#5 Virat Kohli's third slip
It may seem like hyperbole to some, but seldom has Indian cricket seen a spell like Jasprit Bumrah's to start off a World Cup. Using quintessentially English conditions perfectly, Bumrah beat the bat with almost every delivery in his opening spell. It only took one delivery to remove a legend like Hashim Amla. At the other end, a world-class batsman like Quinton de Kock could only shake his head as Bumrah beat him time and time again.
Simply put, the young man from Gujarat was unplayable.
Yet, Bumrah's fantastic spell would have only yielded a single wicket if it were not for the aggressive thinking of his captain Virat Kohli. As de Kock struggled, Kohli added a third slip (himself) to the cordon - a rare sight in white-ball cricket. Almost immediately, Kohli's aggression was rewarded as de Kock wafted lazily at a wide ball, resulting in a simple catch for the Indian skipper.
Kohli's decsion to add a third slip not only rewarded Bumrah's brilliant spell, but also removed one of South Africa's best batsmen. According to Ben Jones of CricViz, de Kock's Average Batting Impact (an analytical measure of a batsman's impact on their team's success) is second only to that of Kohli. De Kock may have been struggling, but as Rohit Sharma showed later in the day, an ugly yet effective innings can change matches.
As a captain, Kohli has often (rightly) been accused of being reactive, especially during the IPL. This was the rare occasion where the Indian captain proactively forced an error from the opposition. If he can continue to make similar decisions, then the efforts of Bumrah and Co. will be rewarded.
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