Aye aye captain
"The best cricket game and my childhood friend," wrote an anonymous commenter the last time ESPNcricinfo reviewed Cricket Captain, back in 2015. While there is a degree of hyperbole there, the time-sink potential of the game remains unquestioned to a legion of fans of a certain vintage, as it nears two decades since its launch. Cricket Captain's 2017 edition continues with its recent philosophy of expansion: there are 130 domestic teams to choose from, apart from all the major Test and Associate sides.
South Africa's soon-to-be-launched Global T20 league is in place, historical scenarios get a timely sprucing up, with the addition of the most memorable England versus South Africa and West Indies series from the past, and there are "all-time great series" for every Test-playing nation, for more nostalgia if you need it. If the idea of Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding bowling to Steven Smith isn't enough, the fact that one can influence the results on a ball-by-ball basis provide just the adrenaline rush to entice the armchair critic within every hardcore cricket fan.
This year's edition also goes a long way in living up to its promise of "helping to capture every nuance of modern cricket" - Durham's 48-point penalty is in place before the County Championship season, T20s are every bit as modern and tactics-heavy as their real-life equivalent, and pitch conditions across the world are on point - as Curtly Ambrose and Colin Croft will find out while bowling to Hashim Amla on slow decks at home.
Yet again, it is clear that if you are a casual fan looking for quick autoplay simulations or snazzy graphics, this isn't the game for you. Every format - most particularly and surprisingly, T20 - demands your time and attention consistently here. Miss a couple of balls in the shortest format and the game often slips away. Of course, there are multiple difficulty levels, but it is best to stick to the more difficult "normal" mode, to keep things engrossing.
Where the game falls short on its promise, is in offering the player ways to simulate one of the modern cricket captain's most important, and interesting on-field challenges: reviewing umpiring decisions. An excellent rendition of Hawk-Eye is in place already, but the sense the game gives that the umpire is always right is a departure from reality. A number of times, the path of the ball and its point of impact on the batsman were different from one's first hunch as a player.
A full DRS would not only bring the game closer to reality but also add an intriguing subplot for those of us who can't stop predicting and questioning decisions while waiting for replays to arrive.
The other quibble - and this could well be a personal one - is that the IPL auction has been replaced with a player draft over the past two editions. What used to be a realistic, much anticipated event in the game has now been reduced to just picking from a roster and meeting players' salary demands to sign them up for your franchise.
Nobody plays Cricket Captain for the graphics - some top edges still look like certain bump balls, and seemingly misdirected shies from deep midwicket still hit the stumps with alarming regularity - but some of the enhancements to ground renditions are excellent. There are delightful panoramic views as the cameras zoom in on the action, and some of the recently introduced side-on angles are a visual treat.
While statistics are now updated in-game, milestones and records acknowledged when your players achieve them, and it feels like there is a genuine attempt to make conversation ("I'm more than happy to stay here," MS Dhoni says, while extending his contract with the Pune IPL side), the game is still way behind some of the best simulation games going around across sports. None of the off-field stakeholders - cricket boards, media and fans - are involved, and that could perhaps be the biggest area to improve on in the upcoming editions, now that practically all of the world's major cricket teams have been covered.
Despite the lack of these embellishments, Cricket Captain remains by far cricket's most comprehensive, tactically up-to-date simulation game franchise, with enough in it for fans, irrespective of their age, preferred format and national affiliations. Apart from being able to spare a few hundred megabytes of space on your device, and some money, ask yourself this before you buy: do you have (more than) a few hours of time at hand, the patience to deal with your bowlers and set fields every other over, and modify your batsmen's approach as per the game's demands? If your answers are yes, Childish Things, the game's aptly named publishers, have another belter of a cricket simulator game for you.
Cricket Captain 2017
Platforms: PC, Mac, Android, iOS
Srinath Sripath is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo