I had Gayle. I called it blind persistence. Others called it idiocy. But it catapulted me from mid-table status to the top three in our inter-office league – much to the annoyance of colleagues who were having a ball, seeing the defending champion languishing in the lower half of the table.
Gayle is a killjoy. Take it from me. His pick was a proper jackpot moment and huge differentiator for the ones who had him, vis-à-vis the ones who didn’t.
AB de Villiers, with breathtaking versatility and pure hitting, gave people as many points as Gayle, but that wasn’t as much of a game changer because about 55% of all teams had him. That just showed it’s important to pick a player whose popularity is high. Of course he should be someone who can be depended on to perform, otherwise he would be like Mt Vesuvius and never erupt. You want your volcanoes to erupt and bury all competition.
The key to success in Fantasy League is not just research, balancing the books and sound knowledge of players, oppositions and ground conditions – but also intuition. If yours is working well, persist with it. If it’s giving you horrific results, make sure you do the opposite. Just as we talk about a ‘zone’ for players who are in form, Fantasy League managers also have phases of whatever they touch turns to gold. So if you’re there, it’s best to make use of that good phase when it lasts, because you don’t know when it will end!
The first stage of the ICC Fantasy League is over, and everyone has the chance to remake teams and mount fresh challenges. Those already leading should just ensure they don’t miss out on obvious picks, while taking the occasional risk to maintain their positions. Those catching up need to take more risks, and search hard for hidden gems, while taking advantage of any cockiness that could have crept into those at the top. For those at the bottom, you might feel that nothing can be done to lift you out of the abyss, but worry not! With the infinite substitutions available between now and the next match – England v Sri Lanka –mean you can redo your team, learn from Stage 1 mistakes and take Stage 2 by storm, eventually getting a crack at finishing on top overall.
The seasoned Fantasy League player might wonder at the outpouring of what we call gyaan – trivia and knowledge imparted overbearingly – instead of offering more useful tips, tricks and shortcuts. But I believe in the holistic improvement of Fantasy League players, and not in crash courses to success. The process always wins. Overall development and understanding how the game works will be more important than short-term points game. I can already hear cries of “Move on from this old-school stuff”, so I shall.
My colleague Saurabh Somani had written of the Fantasy League being more marathon than sprint in this column. I agree with the sprint part, but more than marathon, I think of the ICC Fantasy League as a Pentathlon – two stages split in group phases, the quarterfinals, the semifinals and the final. Like different disciplines in the Pentathlon, you need to use different skill sets for each stage, and what works for one will not for the others.
When Stage 2 gets underway, each team will have 42 substitutions for the next 21 matches, which comes to an even two subs per game. But don’t let mathematical symmetry rule all while making substitutions. Make changes judiciously, going for the kill when you see the prey and holding back on dry days. These 42 substitutions can be "the answer to life the universe and everything" if used sensibly. Or they can be “unto death”, as per Japanese culture, if chosen carelessly.
What last week taught us
Ignore trump players at your own peril: Gayle got 796 points in two matches against Zimbabwe and South Africa. AB de Villiers got 570 against West Indies, Tillakaratne Dilshan got 456 and Kumar Sangakkara got 284, both against Bangladesh. All of them made sure you can’t afford to leave these players out.
Value for money (VFM) is the ‘in-thing’: This past week saw two UAE players - Shaiman Anwar (VFM: 278) and Amjad Javed (VFM: 243) emerge as the value buys. "It's a deal, it's a steal, it's the sale of the frigging week!" might have been the cry going around in Fantasy League circles. Rilee Rossouw, with a VFM of 224 gets an honourable mention.
The ones who haven’t taken off: The World Cup is a big stage and some embrace it instantly while others take time. Based on form and talent, these players seemed like good picks, but they have been costly for teams who took them. Shahid Afridi has only 87 points, James Anderson has 96, and Dale Steyn has 136. All three are still being picked, with Steyn in 30% of the teams, while Afridi and Anderson hover below the 10% mark – but the hope that they will give handsome returns hasn’t come to be so far.
Picks for the week
Mixing, matching and retention is an art. You should play around with each, as a painter would do with his brushes. Other than the obvious picks, you would do well to select players who aren’t too popular, and will thus get you exclusive points. Identifying those hidden gems is key.
I won’t go into the details of how a leader, the ones catching-up, and the laggards should go about choosing the team. That has already been done here in some detail. Based on the frequency of a team playing in the next week, here are a few names to consider. The final decision, of course, is always the team manager’s.
Pick players whose teams are playing a set of games in small space of time. A quick glance at fixtures from March 1 to March 8 tells us that Pakistan are playing three and South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan are playing two games each. Hence pack your team with 2-3 players from Pakistan and South Africa, and one each from others seems reasonably sound.
England, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Australia, India, West Indies, Scotland, UAE and Bangladesh play only one game each, so the players from these teams should be floaters – bought in only for a game and substituted with another floating player soon after.
Permanent picks: Shahid Afridi (Pakistan; 105,000), Wahab Riaz (Pakistan; 85,000), AB de Villiers (South Africa; 110,000), Imran Tahir (South Africa; 90,000), Faf du Plessis (South Africa; 90,000), Paul Stirling (Ireland; 90,000), Ed Joyce (Ireland; 85,000), Sean Williams (Zimbabwe; 80,000), Brendan Taylor (Zimbabwe; 90,000), Shapoor Zadran (Afghanistan; 75,000), Samiullah Shenwari (Afghanistan; 75,000).
Floater picks: Moeen Ali (England; 85,000), Trent Boult (New Zealand; 80,000), Brendon McCullum (New Zealand; 105,000), Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka; 105,000), David Warner (Australia; 95,000), Mitchell Starc (Australia; 90,000), Virat Kohli (India; 105,000), R Ashwin (India; 90,000), Chris Gayle (West Indies; 105,000), Shakib al Hasan (Bangladesh; 105,000).
Punt on: Ahmed Shahzad (Pakistan; 80,000), Yasir Shah (Pakistan; 70,000), Rilee Rossow (South Africa; 65,000), William Porterfield (Ireland; 80,000), Asghar Stanikzai (Afghanistan; 65,000), Joe Root (England; 80,000), Ross Taylor (New Zealand; 90,000), Rangana Herath (Sri Lanka; 85,000), Shane Watson (Australia; 105,000), Rohit Sharma (India; 90,000), Darren Sammy (West Indies; 90,000), Mahmudullah (Bangladesh; 80,000), Joshua Davey (Scotland; 70,000), Khurram Khan (UAE; 85,000).
If you are the fastidious and punctual type, you can wait till the toss of each game before making changes. This will give you an advantage for sure. But if you, like me, have a problem with waking up early (and matches do start at some unearthly hours in South East Asia and the Subcontinent), then play blind like in blackjack, and change squad/PP overnight, hoping all celestial bodies align properly.
A few important pointers to remember when making decisions and picking a fresh squad on March 1:
1) Pick the players I have suggested.
2) Don’t lose hope over a few bad misses.
3) Think long term.
4) Make professional choices, not personal ones.
5) The blogger is always right.
If you are confused by that, follow Points 1 through 5 on a loop. That will take you places.
So go and make those changes before England and Sri Lanka players take the field and be the Elephant in your intra leagues. Otherwise, you’ll be remembered as the Dinosaur who never made it.
May the cricketing force be with you!