The League has been open for participation since a few days, but as the anticipation and enthusiasm hit fever pitch ahead of the grand event, there is a rush of teams, leagues and creative team and owner names that spring up.
If you keep your wits about you though, you can get swept up in the excitement and still make calm, calculated decisions that can potentially have far-reaching consequences.
The starting point, or building block as it were, of playing the game is that most essential and basic of activities: Picking your XI.
A clean slate and equal opportunity for all at the start – these two factors aren’t sometimes as appreciated as they should be. They are massive. And the smart Fantasy League player will recognise that given limited substitutions, how you set up your Starting XI will affect how you do for the entire first stage of the tournament – which comprises 21 matches from February 14 to February 28. The second stage comprises a further 21 matches, before which you can remake teams afresh, but if you’ve fallen behind in the first stage, you will need to be a Fantasy League MS Dhoni to pull off a spectacular heist and challenge for top spots in the next stages. And they don’t make too many like MSD, do they?
Each player will have 42 substitutions for each of the first two stages – and as everyone knows (or ought to know), 42 is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. But for the Fantasy League, it is the number that gives you an average of two substitutions per match. However, unless you’re a Fantasy League Glenn McGrath and the two-subs-a-match is your personal channel outside offstump – you don’t have to stick to it with religious zeal. You can mix and match, pack your team with South Africa players if you fancy they will have a blazing win over Zimbabwe, pick only one player from India and Pakistan if you think the high-pressure clash will produce low-quality cricket.
And remember, 42 may seem like a lot of substitutions to start with, but resist the urge to make wholesale changes, because there are a lot of matches too. Your base – the starting XI – should be sound enough to ensure against radical squad overhauls, which should be restricted to at most twice a tournament.
But all your substitutions will flow from the first XI you pick. How do you pick that?
A glance at the fixtures for the World Cup reveals a pretty spaced out schedule for each team. If, for example, West Indies had a bunch of matches up front, it would have been simple to load a team with West Indies players, and make relatively fewer substitutions for the days on which they were playing, keeping more in hand for other matches. In the absence of that ideal scenario for any team – West Indies plays four matches in the first stage, more than any other, but still plenty spaced out – you have to narrow down on who you think will be some of the key players for their countries, and make a selection that covers a wide spectrum of teams.
Considering New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Australia, England and South Africa are all among those who are playing the first three matches, the selection is made relatively simpler. Pick two of each from each side, filling up the eleventh spot with whoever your gut tells you to go with.
Then too, in a long tournament such as this with no team’s matches bunched together, you might consider some player to be your personal ‘lucky charm’. I once tried to go an entire IPL season keeping AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn in my fantasy league sides. I had moderate success in keeping them in my team at all times, and tremendous success on the points table when they were in my team because – well they were AB de Villiers and Dale Steyn. They were bound to give handsome returns. If you think there is one player you simply must have, go for it.
The downside to having star players as “must haves” in your starting XI is the deep holes it makes in your credit balance. The way to balance it is to ask yourself which five big-name stars would you most definitely want to have in your side in the initial stages of the World Cup? If – for example – your answers are Steyn, de Villiers, Brendon McCullum, Kumar Sangakkara and David Warner, start by selecting all of them in the XI.
The most any combination of five big-name players will cost is 530,000 credits. That leaves 470,000 for six other players, or approximately 80,000 credits per player. There are plenty – and I mean PLENTY – of value picks that you will get for that average price. Build the rest of your team from those. To illustrate, all of George Bailey, Jos Buttler, Quinton de Kock, Aaron Finch, Ajinkya Rahane, Dwayne Smith, Shapoor Zadran, Niall O’Brien and Steven Finn fall between the 75,000 to 85,000 bracket.
There is an obvious advantage in picking multi-skilled players, but steer clear of overloading your side with those. The specialists are specialists for a reason. No bits-and-pieces player is likely to give you an analysis of 4 for 10, or hit 50 off 30 balls.
So pick your side, make your inter-office leagues, and get into the spirit of the competition. You’ll have good days and bad. Sometimes even Steve Smith and Virat Kohli have to fail. But if you keep within an elastic substitution limit, have a basic outline of who to bring in for which game, and remember to set your XI right at the start – you’ll have given yourself a better chance of success.
Baron Piere de Coubertin had it half right. There is great joy in participation. But there is even greater joy in winning.
Saurabh Somani is Assistant Editor at Wisden India. You can follow him on twitter @saurabh_42