Rafael Nadal, the only lefty in the top 10, directs the most serves in the “deuce” court to left-handed opponents’ forehand than out wide. Stephen Curry goes right and little-to-no left in the first quarter of a game, and switches it up in the third. While saving penalties, Chelsea and Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois guesses to his right more than 80 per cent of the time.
All sports feature tics and patterns, voluntary or instinctive. Those in cricket, however, are even easier to gauge.
Ten of Moeen Ali’s 17 sixes this IPL season have come off the first, or last, delivery of an over; a refreshing case of rhyme and reason amidst all the mindless hitting. In other words, the Royal Challengers Bangalore batsman, not exactly a boundary-or-bust hitter in the mold of a Gayle, Russell or Narine, chooses to maximise the overs with a maximum.
Six off the first (or last) ball all but ensures an above-par over. An opening six leaves the bowler sweating over the next five balls, while a last-ball thwack could ruin an otherwise decent over. Such innings construction, by farming strike and peppering regular boundaries, has long been key in limited overs. Over-by-over construction becomes even more integral in cricket’s shortest format.
To his credit, Ali showed his hand in the season opener against Chennai Super Kings. Never mind that an on-song Harbhajan Singh had beaten him twice after dismissing captain Virat Kohli. The final delivery of the fourth over saw Harbhajan go a tad fuller, and Ali went down on a knee and swept the ball into the mid-wicket stands.
Against Delhi Capitals, Ali opened three consecutive overs with a six over the cow corner, and duly rotated the strike. 31 runs off 14 balls, with minimal risk. Take that, Gayle.
Then there are days like Friday, where everything sailed over the boundary, first ball or last. Ali scored 11 boundaries against Kolkata, three of which came of the first or last.
The ploy doesn’t always pay off though. Ali has wafted six such attempts, and has been holed out in the deep twice. Ali getting out at the wrong time or getting limited support from fellow Challengers has added to the team’s 2-7 record this season.
There’s another trend to pick on for those with a keen eye. 13 of Ali’s sixes have come on the on side; ten over mid-wicket. Perhaps a nasty bouncer or yorker with a packed on-side field could be the order of the day?