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How KS Bharat redefined his ‘whole strategy’ to turn around his T20 career




“You can’t just go bang-bang at every ball. You have to take your time, work out the angles, the opponents, the running between the wickets”

When Royal Challengers Bangalore bought KS Bharat for his base price of INR 20 lakh at the IPL 2021 auction, his T20 batting stats weren’t too flashy: an average of 17.80 at a strike rate of 106.10 in 48 games. He had been a more than competent wicketkeeper in domestic cricket and for India A, even spending time with the national squad, but seemingly, his game was not built for the heat of the shortest format.
That was only at first glance, because the Bharat of the last two seasons has been radically different to the one before. The Royal Challengers’ scouting team, led by former Tamil Nadu spinner Malolan Rangarajan, knew what they were getting with Bharat: an excellent wicketkeeper and a batter who wouldn’t be out of place in T20s. Bharat showed glimpses of his development in the UAE leg of the IPL, and his selection was vindicated in style when he sealed victory with a last-ball six against Delhi Capitals, the crowning moment in an innings of 78* off 52.

What Royal Challengers must have seen is not Bharat’s overall T20 record, but what he had done since the 2019-20 season. Before that, he was averaging just 14.74 at a strike rate of 91.95, this despite more than two-thirds of his innings as an opener. Since the 2019-20 season, including his tour de force against Capitals, Bharat’s been averaging 32.50 at a strike rate of 137.46 – and this despite batting in the middle order in T20 cricket’s most demanding league for nearly half of those matches.

What turned things around for Bharat was a greater game-awareness and living out the ‘make haste, slowly’ maxim in T20 cricket. “It was basically the game I was working on,” he said the day after his match-winning 78*. “I was trying to know what my strengths and weaknesses are. As you said, 2018-19 I was just going in with an intent of attacking every ball. But then I redefined my whole strategy, that you can’t just go bang-bang at every ball. You have to take your time, work out the angles, the opponents, the running between the wickets. There are so many different areas which I’ve been working on over a period of time, and it really paid off at a big platform.”

His innings and last-ball six got captain Virat Kohli gushing too. “He said, ‘Incredible effort. It is definitely a special moment for you, enjoy it.’ He was overwhelmed it went for a six and we won the game,” smiled Bharat.

At Royal Challengers, Bharat has been able to watch how Kohli, AB de Villiers and Glenn Maxwell go about their business, and he has learned. But not by asking them about the nuts and bolts of batting. He’s learned by observing.

“To be honest, I’m a kind of guy who likes to watch and learn a lot,” Bharat said. “So it wasn’t about going up to them and asking them how to finish a game, but in fact watching and learning from them. I’ve always watched their routines, the intent they get to the game. I’ve always been a keen observer of people doing good things on the field. When the moment is right, when everything aligns, you end up doing well. I’m fortunate I pulled that game off.”

While his innings against Capitals led many to anoint Bharat as the fixed candidate for the No. 3 slot, Bharat showed a good grasp of the fluid nature of T20 cricket when he said batting orders at Royal Challengers aren’t fixed.

“I don’t think we’d be knowing at what number we’d be batting in a particular game, because it’s all random and the team makes a call on that,” he said. Random, of course, is unlikely to be the nature of how batting spots are decided, but it’ll do as an umbrella term for the team taking a call based on the nature of the surface, the point of entry of the batter and the opposition’s bowling plans.

“Clarity is always there. It’s to get busy wherever you go, to deliver it for the team. Balls [remaining] don’t matter, which number you bat at doesn’t matter – as long as you are looking to play according to the team’s role and situation. When you walk in you know what are the runs on the board and how you want to go about that particular game.

“We always focus on getting those mini partnerships. It can be AB getting those boundaries, or it can be KS or it can be Virat bhai, or anyone in the team… we all are built to win games. It’s not just one or two individuals who are looking to finish the game. We are very clear about it. Whoever walks in, walks in with purpose.”

And the fact that his strike rate could still be below-par in some innings is not something Bharat beats himself up over. “When you bat, you really don’t look at all these stats, because you watch the ball and you play the ball. For me, I don’t really think of strike rate as long as you’re winning and your contribution is helping the team cross the line. Strike rates are sometimes important when you’re chasing, but if you’re in the game you automatically know how much to hit, when to hit, when to take a calculated risk.”

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‘Don’t perform, you don’t get chance’




India coach says squad for the New Zealand series and Women’s World Cup picked itself, going by each player’s recent performances

India head coach Ramesh Powar has provided official clarification on the exclusion of Shikha Pandey and Jemimah Rodrigues from India’s extended squad for the forthcoming series against New Zealand and the Women’s World Cup that follows. Asked about the same ahead of the team’s departure for these assignments, he said, “If you don’t perform, you don’t get your chances.”

Addressing a virtual press conference from Mumbai, Powar, when asked if Pandey and Rodrigues’ experience would be missed on either assignment, said: “Not really. At the end of it, five selectors, captain, the coach – they have their discussed all the players and we came out with 18 players who can play better in the New Zealand series as well as in the World Cup.”

“Every player knows. Whoever is not in the team knows why they are not there,” Powar said. “That communication from, say, captain, coach, selectors – it is not a one-time communication; it’s been on for a long period of time – at least last six months, I was very clear about the roles. I told them, specifically, what is expected out of them, and end of it this is a competition, a competitive position, so you have to perform. If you don’t perform, you don’t get your chances.

While the questions at the presser were around batter Rodrigues and swing bowler Pandey, the India squad also excluded experienced batter and ODI veteran Punam Raut. The squad was announced by means of a written media release, with no explanations given as to why the trio was left out. ESPNcricinfo had reported that all three players were fit and available for selection. That none of them were picked even as standbys raised questions, more so given they were part of a boot camp for 20 World Cup hopefuls in Dehradun last month.
Three players with much less experience (quick bowler Renuka Singh, who impressed on her debut in the T20I series on the Australia tour last year and in the domestic 50-over Challenger Trophy that followed, allrounder Simran Bahadur and batter S Meghana – both standout performers in the Challenger Trophy) – instead came into the extended squad of 18, leaving a lot to conjecture. Renuka was part of the main squad, with the other two named as standbys.

Now, Powar said the group picked itself, going by recent performances of each selected player. “So, if you look at it, you cannot pick everyone. There’s only 15 [in the primary squad] and then three standbys. And we were looking at the particular things, like fast bowlers, like Meghna [Singh], Renuka – they’re doing well and they are going to get their chances in upcoming matches.

“Again, the batting unit is consistent like Yastika [Bhatia], Smriti [Mandhana], Mithali [Raj]. Everyone is consistent so we don’t we don’t change much. At the end of it seven of us getting together and picking the right team and backing the players, that matters.”
Pandey, 32, last played an ODI in July, during the tour of England. She was also part of the Australia tour that followed in September-October but didn’t make the XI for 50-over matches.
Bhatia made such a strong impression down under that she has effectively replaced Jemimah Rodrigues in the team. Rodrigues was dropped from the playing XI in the first ODI against England in July and then, having failed to make an impression in the next two matches, was not considered to start in the Australia ODIs.
In the six ODIs that she played in 2021, Raut, 32, accumulated 295 runs, including a hundred, at an average of 73.75, but her historically low career strike rate of 58.26 has seen her being outperformed by younger, more aggressive batters. She has publicly expressed her disappointment at the World Cup snub.

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha

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Women’s World Cup 2022 – India captain Mithali Raj says ‘too much importance is given to strike rate’




India captain wants her batters to dig their heels in and ‘play according to match situation’

India captain Mithali Raj wants her batting line-up, especially the top order, to dig their heels in and “play according to the situation” in the upcoming ODI World Cup, instead of channeling their focus “entirely” on strike rate. And, when the need arises – which, in India’s case, is often, going by their up-and-down performances with the bat since the 2017 World Cup – they must take the responsibility to “get your team out of the hole too”.
India have been trying to score 250-plus totals on a consistent basis and, according to Raj, this is the blueprint by which they can achieve it. To further reinforce the point, she cited the example of Beth Mooney and her epic 125 not out last year where she started off circumspect, risking a low strike rate for prolonged periods of time, before hitting top gear.

“I think too much importance isn’t given to strike rate by you all?” Raj asked in response to a question on India’s takeaways regarding dot-ball percentage and boundary rates from the Australia tour, where they lost the ODI series 2-1. “Because it is always spoken [of] when it comes to batting or putting up big totals.

‘I just wanted to know if you all only follow the strike rates of the India players or the players from the other teams, because if you might give me an opportunity to enlighten [you], the Australia [ODI] series itself, the game that Australia won, the decider, if you’ve seen Beth Mooney, who scored her 50 in 80-odd balls, but she went on to play a match-winning innings for the team.

“So, as for me, I believe that cricket is a game played on situations on the ground. And yes, it is important that we keep that in mind that we need to have a healthy strike rate. But at the end of the day, it’s how our batting unit revolves and [what] the depth of the batting unit in our team [is].

“So yes, when we have to score 250-270, we need to have a healthy strike rate, but having said that, we will not only entirely focus on strike rate, it’s important to play an innings to win and build partnerships, and that happens, not because of strike rate but because you apply and play according to the situation on the ground. Sometimes you have to play fast, but sometimes you have to play to get your team out of the hole too.”

India, who were runners-up in the 2005 and 2017 tournaments, are looking to win their first world title in New Zealand in March.

More to follow…

Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @ghosh_annesha

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Recent Match Report – Strikers vs Thunder Knockout 2021/22




Team’s remarkable march towards an unlikely title continued as they beat Thunder by six runs

Adelaide Strikers 6 for 184 (Cockbain 65, Short 39, T Sangha 2-15, Sandhu 2-40) beat Sydney Thunder 6 for 178 (J Sangha 61, Ross 56, Conway 2-33, Siddle 2-41) by six runs

Harry Conway bowled a superb final over as Adelaide Strikers’ remarkable late season revival and march towards an unlikely BBL title continued after knocking out Sydney Thunder by six runs in a thriller at the MCG.
With Thunder needing 14 runs off the last over, Conway held his nerve and dismissed Alex Ross (56) and Ben Cutting with successive deliveries as Strikers claimed their sixth straight victory.

Strikers, who had been bottom two for much of the regular season, play two-time defending champion Sydney Sixers on Wednesday at the SCG with the winner to book a spot in Friday’s final against Perth Scorchers at Marvel Stadium.

It was heartbreak for Thunder, who finished third in the regular season and looked on track to chase down Strikers’ 6 for 184 only to fall short.

Conway and Siddle star under pressure

In-form Strikers had beaten Hobart Hurricanes in a sudden-death final on Friday but this proved much more difficult against Thunder’s imposing batting order. For the first time since he departed late in the season, star spinner Rashid Khan was desperately missed with his replacement Fawad Ahmed wicketless.

Strikers appeared to have no answers to Ross and Jason Sangha (61), who got Thunder within 39 runs before ageless Peter Siddle inspired a comeback in the 17th over. He removed Sangha and then Daniel Sams to thwart Thunder, who hit back thanks to some lusty blows from Cutting.

It came down to the final over delivered by Conway, who was under pressure when Ross hit a boundary off the third ball. But Conway proved the hero to conjure a famous Strikers victory as their stunning resurgence continued.

Thunder fall short amid contentious Khawaja dismissal

For chunks of the season, especially when they peeled off a six-match winning streak, Thunder looked like genuine title contenders so they will be frustrated to fall at this hurdle.

Even though they lost Alex Hales in the third over, Thunder remained on course with their hopes largely resting on captain Usman Khawaja and Sangha, who hit three gorgeous boundaries in his first five deliveries.

But the match turned in the seventh over when Khawaja sliced to a forward diving Fawad at short third man with the fielder claiming the catch. Replays appeared to show the ball hitting some turf before going into Fawad’s fingers but the third umpire believed there was not enough evidence to overturn the soft signal.

A stunned Khawaja trudged back and a shaken Thunder had to regroup quickly. They did exactly that with Sangha and Ross, who found form after two successive ducks, expertly working the ball around the MCG’s vast expanses. But it wasn’t enough.

Cockbain overshadows Test stars

It seemed like déjà vu for Strikers who were following their successful formula against Hurricanes after electing to bat. Alex Carey and Matthew Short appeared set to replicate their match-winning century partnership last start as they once again got off to a flier.

Carey was in a belligerent mood but his dismissal on 23 halted Strikers as Short departed then so too Travis Head, who has mustered just eight runs across two games since his return from his outstanding Ashes.

Strikers were in danger of falling away but No. 3 Ian Cockbain steadied the ship with a superb 38-ball 65 to again prove why the 34-year-old has been the find of this BBL season after recently being plucked out of suburban cricket in Melbourne.

He couldn’t quite be there at the death but his innings proved vital and lifted Strikers to a total that was just enough.

Sams’ blinder brightens ragged Thunder

Sams has enjoyed another stellar season but things were unravelling for him early at the MCG. He came on during the four-over powerplay only to be belted for 19 runs and worse was to follow when he dropped big-hitter Short on 15 after misjudging a skier.

But a seething Sams made up for all of that with a blinder to dismiss Carey, where he leapt backwards on the midwicket boundary to pull off one of the best catches of the tournament.

It sparked Thunder as frontline spinner Tanveer Sangha (4-0-15-2) tied down Strikers in the middle overs with skiddy bowling to change the momentum. But an otherwise ragged Thunder couldn’t finish the job with their seamers struggling and sloppy fielding undoing Sangha’s earlier brilliance.

It would eventually prove costly.

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth

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