We hear that phrase all the time — “X player has a good cricketing brain.” I hear it’s the main reason Monty Panesar will never be a Shane Warne, or even a Harbhajan Singh (he only knows to “bowl in the right areas”). But what does it mean, exactly?
This brings me to one of my biggest problems with commentary these days: not enough explanation of on-field tactics. Cricket is an immensely complicated sport; anyone who’s ever tried to explain the game to a newcomer knows that. But even commentators fail here — they do a great job detailing changes in field placements, without usually ever explaining what that means.
Ian Botham, of all people, proved to be an exception (albeit only briefly): at one point in the 3rd ODI between England and India, Zaheer Khan decided to go around the wicket. India removed the fine-leg, and had a heavy off-side field. So, what does this mean? Botham said that it meant that a) Khan had to be extremely accurate; anything even near the leg-side would be punished. That’s not really insightful, but it was his second point that went the extra yard: b) the batsmen thus knows that Khan has to bowl just outside off-stump. And knowing where a bowler’s going to bowl virtually guarantees a good batting display. India, in other words, was pursuing a nothing strategy.
That’s the kind of stuff I want to hear more about. Right now, Simon Hughes, the analyst on BBC, does the best job, which is why I love any Test match in England. He closely examines the details, some of which seem random and minute until he sees the pattern, and nicely explains it to those tucked away on their living room sofas.