Thursday, August 31, 2006

Test Rankings - August 31st 2006

Australia 0.634 (47)
England 0.531 (54)
South Africa 0.512 (42)
Pakistan 0.499 (34)
India 0.493 (42)
Sri Lanka 0.481 (22)
New Zealand 0.456 (32)
West Indies 0.370 (42)

South Africa being ranked as high as number 3 and still having a Test Rating 0.512 has been a point of disagreement for many readers about these ratings.

In these ratings, the Oval Test Match has been measured as having been won by England (i. e. England have been awarded the win bonus here). This will be reviewed should the ICC decide to overturn Darrell Hairs ruling with regard to Pakistan's forfeiture.

The Chart above shows the progression of Test ratings from 2003 to 2006. They show South Africa to be in consistent decline. Most of the debate about the position of South Africa in the rankings is due to the fact that "they are not as good as they once were". The progression shows this. However, the actual position of the South African Test team, in comparison to other sides, is still a strong third.

England have jumped to clear second for now. However their real test will come in the Ashes. The Pakistan home series helped England escape from the 2nd placed group also including South Africa and Pakistan (South Africa losing in Sri Lanka helped). However, a strong Ashes series in Australia, will help England establish a clear second position, and also possibly challenge Australia for number 1. In the coming 12 months, India have a great opportunity to make some real gains with series in South Africa and England.

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BCCI gets it wrong

BCCI has got it wrong in the Oval Walk Out issue as far as i can see. Their decision to back a cutting back of the Umpires authority is misguided and potentially damaging. I also do not understand why BCCI has found it necessary to express an opinion on the issue. No other cricket board in the world (except Pakistan) has expressed an opinion on this issue.

The BCCI should support strengthening the Umpires position. Darrell Hair was absolutely right to award the game to England. Why should the umpires have to put up with tantrums from Test teams.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A response to Bob Woolmer......

Bob Woolmer, opines that the ball tampering law (i assume he refers to Law 42.3) should be scrapped. He writes:

"My personal opinion on the whole issue is more liberal than some, especially on current laws regarding 'working' on the ball. I believe that the ball should be allowed to swing if at all possible. With covered pitches, heavy bats, smaller boundaries, flatter pitches in the subcontinent and umpires always giving the benefit of the doubt to batsmen, bowling has become harder work. I see no reason why bowlers should not be allowed to work on the ball, without external implements, but only fingers and the ground's surface to help make the ball swing. It has been part of cricket since it began so why not make it legal to do so now? Perhaps someone who feels strongly against it could let me know what the objection is."

I must state at the outset, that im not a professional cricketer. I don't even play club cricket. However, i do think that there is something intrinsically wrong about allowing equipment to be deliberately damaged (which is what it amounts to) in any sport. No other sport allows this. Thats one big reason why i disagree with the tampering law.

I would also want to examine another one of Bob Woolmers assertions - that bowlers are having an increasingly more difficult time in the game. This may be true in the ODI game. However, i would refer to an earlier post, where i've shown that Test matches have actually become more result oriented now, than they have ever been in the past. If Test Matches are more result oriented these days, then surely, the bowlers are having a greater say than ever before. They are forcing more results. Yes, theyre definitely going for more runs - id put that down to ODI cricket and the willingness of current batsmen to play more strokes than their counterparts from earlier generations (you only have to look at ODI strikerates and averages - when Woolmer played, Viv Richards was the only batsman who had a great strikerate and a great average - today you have Jayasurya, Sehwag, Gilchrist, Tendulkar, Gibbs... specialist who atleast match Richards for strike rate). There are more attacking batsmen in cricket today than there have ever been in earlier generations.

So who is Woolmer making his case for? The bowlers, or for the greater good of cricket? It would be important to point out that even today, there are bowlers who don't get hit very often. What is the point of getting the ball to do more off the wicket, or getting it to do more in the air, if results today are more easily forthcoming than they have ever been in the future? Is the cause of the bowlers more important than the cause of cricket? Is it necessary then to change a law and allow deliberate, willfull damage (picking the seam or quarter seam with ones fingers is willfull damage, i don't see how it can be called anything else) of a cricket ball, even if the trends show that the bowler is infact having a greater say in Test Cricket than he has ever had before?

In that same post i have also outlined an alternative to Bob Woolmers assertion that the ball be allowed to be tampered with.

There are several problems with legalizing tampering. What is to stop bowlers from growing their nails, and damaging a ball which maybe doing nothing for them to such an extent, that the umpire is then forced to change it? Once again, the issue will have to be resolved by the Umpires opinion (the acceptance (or lack of) of which on the field of play, forms crux of the Oval fiasco). The ball tampering charge would have brought a 2 match ban, but this dissent/disrepute charge brings with it the possibility of an 8 match ban.

Cricket Law and the game of Cricket are clear as to which is considered the greater offense.

There is no reason to change a perfectly decent law, because one team didn't like an umpires decision.


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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Clyde Walcott RIP

Clyde Leopold Walcott died in Barbados at age 80 this week. A powerful batsman and West Indies wicketkeeper, Walcott was one of the celebrated 3 W's, who lead West Indies to the top of World Cricket. Theyre first great success was beating England in England in 1950, where the batting of the 3 W's and the spin of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine brought them a 3-0 win in the 5 Test series.

Walcott was a cricket coach, commentator, President of the West Indies Cricket Board, and finally, President of the ICC. My first memory of the name Clyde Walcott comes from reading - West Indies - 50 Years of Test Cricket by Tony Cozier. Walcott still holds the record for most Test centuries in a Test series - he made 5 against the visiting Australians in 1955.

In these fluid times, Walcott reminds us of a by gone era where cricket was the great racial leveller in the West Indies. When he played, the West Indies still had to have a white captain. It was to be 1960 before Frank Worrell became the first black captain of the West Indies.

He was a sportsman, and one of my earliest memories of reading cricket. I was reading a book about the 1948-49 series in India, in which Walcott featured prominently - he made 452 runs in the series. That series however is remembered for the exploits of his friend Everton Weekes, who made 5 Test centuries in 5 consecutive Test innings (1 in England and 4 in India).

The three W's were great sporting pioneers and their story has great relevance today - where sport and sporting occurence is used as a pretext to invoke national honour....

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Friday, August 25, 2006

Some of the most measured commentary on the England - Pakistan fracas....

Harsha Bhogle in the Indian Express.
Osman Samiuddin on Cricinfo.com

Sadly i have found little else that is respectful of the basic tenets which guide the situation. These have been very well described by Bhogle. Bhogle says,

"Cricket has long been governed by a set of laws but teams have been expected to conform to (though no one consistently does!) convention and tradition as well.
Necessarily therefore, the governance has been loose, anybody could find loopholes in it. Even today the umpire needs offer no evidence in an lbw decision. Can you imagine a fine lawyer deliciously digging his teeth into the quality of evidence the umpire analysed before deciding a player was out lbw?
All sport requires instant on-field decision making and no game can survive unless the decision maker has full power to make those decisions. Decisions can be flawed, that is the inherent nature of instant, unscripted drama. "

All this talk of a side being accused of cheating - may have merit, but surely, the subsequent reaction of the Pakistan side was completely uncalled for, even vindictive, self-centered and revealed absolute disregard for the very sport in whose name they claimed their national honour had been tarnished.

The great revelations of this debate are the weak, spineless management of Pakistan Cricket, the complete ignorance of certain aspects of the law amongst their players. Darrell Hair is incidental - there will be another umpire to replace him, if hes had enough or if hes found to have erred. Cricket will however be irreperably damaged if the Pakistan walk out is allowed to become a successful model of showing disagreement with Umpiring decisions.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Woolmer, Law 42.3 and an alternative solution to his problem.......

Bob Woolmer has proposed scrapping of Law 42.3 and make alltogether more lenient rules about ball tampering. I quote Woolmer from this article:

"The whole irony and tragedy of this particular story is law 42.3. But law 42.3 is an ass. It was brought in because of ball-tampering with razor blades and bottle tops and everything else in the past, but that's been shoved out of the game now. I'd scrub out the law completely."
"I'd allow bowlers to use anything that naturally appears on the cricket field. They could rub the ball on the ground, pick the seam, scratch it with their nails - anything that allows the ball to move off the seam to make it less of a batsman's game. "

Now, Woolmer made these comments in the context of the Oval fiasco, and it is clear from the article that he is trying to find out why Darrell Hair thought the ball was tampered if his bowlers are insisting they didnt do so.

I looked up Woolmer's claim that it has become a batsman's game. If it has indeed become a batsman's game, given the fact that in Test cricket, captains are unlikely to indulge in quixotic, sporting declarations in order to bring some excitement in a dull contest, the number of results should be in decline.

Infact, the results show the exact opposite. Every Test team is currently enjoying their most result oriented decade in Test Match Cricket. The table below illustrates this. This table includes information about the top 8 Test teams and the percentage of drawn matches played by each, decade wise.




As the table shows, world cricket is enjoying its most result oriented decade ever. Of the total number of test matches played in this decade, less than 25% have been drawn. This suggests that the bowlers are having a greater say than ever before. A lot of it is down to ODI cricket, which has resulted in batsmen playing more shots, and hence offering more chances.
So Woolmer's point about it becoming a "batsman's game" does not hold true.

Law 42.3 intends to ensure that the cricket ball is not be deliberately damaged in order to derive advantage off the wicket or in the air. It is a good law and in cricketing terms has worked well.
Woolmer's prohibition analogy is flawed as well, because while drinking alchohol is not a crime, willfully damaging a cricket ball is definitely a crime. What is to stop a bowling side, weak on spin bowling from willfully damaging a cricket ball, to the extent that it cannot be used any further (by rubbing it into the ground, by using finger nails on the quarter seam, by picking the seam etc.), just so that they can get a changed ball?

No sport in the world allows players to tamper with equipment. There is a better way of making the ball more bowler friendly through out its duration. My proposal is as follows:

1. At the start of the innings, 2 cricket balls should be used, 1 from each end, for the first 20 overs.

2. After 20 overs, one of the balls is returned to the umpires custody, while the fielding side uses the other ball for the other 60 overs, until the new ball is due.

3. Out of these 60 overs, the fielding captain may use the second ball for a total of 15 overs.

4. At 80 overs, 1 of the cricket balls may be changed.

5. At 120 overs, 1 ball may be changed.

6. At 160 overs, both balls may be changed.

With these stipulations, at the end of 80 overs, 1 ball would be 25 overs old, while the other would be 55 overs old. The bowling side would have the use of a reasonably new ball for their fast bowlers through out, (the old ball is also available, its entirely upto the captain). Whenever a ball is not being used, it must remain in the custody of the umpires.

If you ask me, the current system where the ball is changed after 80 overs is absolutely fine. However if push comes to shove and everybody agrees, inspite of the increasingly result oriented Test Match game that it is becoming a batsman's game, then i would suggest that this is a better way, rather than scrapping Law 42.3 and allowing the fielding side to maul the ball.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Detente........

A couple of days after the Oval disaster, i wonder how Pakistan view their decision to walk out and forfeit the Test Match. General consensus suggests that Darrell Hair went by the book - and ICC have solidly backed Umpire Hair. Amongst the experts and laymen, opinions have varied - from Dickie Bird whose sole point that Hair would have had to be absolutely sure before he accused anyone, has been taken as a position favoring Pakistan. Simon Taufel on the other hand has solidly back Darrell Hair and Billy Doctrove.

Bob Woolmer has spoken out, and admitted that the Chairman of the Board, Coach and Manager of the Pakistan cricket team could not control the actions of their captain during that fateful Tea interval. It seems to me that Pakistan are now insisting on the "insult" and "accusation of cheating" line, now that the general consensus seems to suggest that while Hair might have been a tad pedantic or insensitive, he acted by the book.

But heres my read of the situation. Pakistan were not accused of cheating. If it had been a final accusation of ball tampering, with no recourse of any kind available to Pakistan, would the penalty have been as limited as 5 runs added to the batting sides total and changed the cricket ball? Wouldn't hair have announced a ban and a fine to Inzamam, then and there on the field of play? He obviously did no such thing.

Therefore, it is my contention that the 5 run penalty has been prescribed precisely because one has to be fair to the accused as well as complete the important task of levelling the playing field. The token 5 run penalty is a warning and a pointer that ball tampering is suspected strongly enough for the ball to have to be changed. The real punishment comes only after the referees hearing. Whats more, Pakistan still reserve the right to appeal whatever decision Mike Procter delivers on Friday.

Currently however, we have an impasse - with neither side backing down. Bob Woolmer summarized the situation best when he said that " It was a case of an irresistible force hitting an immovable object.".

Except that the irresistible force had no business tangling with the immovable object.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

A matter of Honour - Inzamam Ul Haq........ But where does Honour lie?

A day after the event, we have the reactions of the main players and endless analysis of the event. Inzamam Ul Haq expectedly points out that it remains a matter of honour and that the ball tampering charge could not be allowed to stand. Bob Woolmer apologizes on behalf of his team but at the same time emphasizes their innocence. The usually diplomatic Shahryar Khan attacks Umpire Hair and shifts gears into ICC politics by invoking Sri Lanka and India.

Where does cricket lie in all this? This is primarily (and i would say exclusively) a cricketing matter. Lets examine a few things:

Umpire Darrell Hair acted substantially, if not wholly by the book in this issue. He suspected ball tampering, but couldnt know who in the Pakistan side was responsible, and by law had to take action in accordance with Law 42(3). Now, Inzamam Ul Haq claims that the Umpire didn't tell him he was changing the ball, and then at the same is quoted as saying " "They did not warn me," he said, "and then they gave five [penalty] runs. [Hair] did not talk to me, he wasn't telling me when he's changed the ball, he didn't ask me 'can we change the ball?'". The law does not require Hair to ask Inzamam anything.

Darrell Hair has a reputation for being a stiff umpire. He tends to be less jovial and less personable when compared to say Simon Taufel or Aleem Dar or Billy Bowden (based on what you can see on TV). But hes a solid umpire who generally gets things right. He could even be accused of being insensitive, pedantic, tough, uncompromizing, a poor communicator, too full of himself, too eager to impose his authority on proceedings - but he plays by the book, and as long as he does that, hes above reproach.

So where does honor lie? Does it lie walking away in a huff, playing injured innocent victim and demanding sympathy from the rest of the world? Or does it lie in taking advantage of the strong position you are in, staying on, winning the Test Match, and then dealing with Darrell Hair's allegation (against which Pakistan have a right to appeal). Does honor lie in Pakistan totally disregarding the English Cricket Team, their English hosts and the paying public who bought tickets to watch the Test Match, simply because Pakistan felt aggrieved by one Umpire, or does it lie in playing good cricket, winning, inspite of Hair and then through correct means (which would be more effective anyways) dealing with this ball tampering issue?

Just as an example, lets go back to the last fracas of this sort - Port Elizabeth 2001. Mike Denness shot out 6 out of 11 Indian players with suspensions and/or fines for various misdemeanors, inspite of demonstrable evidence (video evidence at that) that if the same standards were applied to the South Africans, more than one of them would definitely be liable to the same sort of suspension or fine. What happened next? The players stayed in the game, batted out almost 100 overs to save the Test Match, after which BCCI took up the issue. Honor was restored, and BCCI made its point to the ICC.

PCB could have done the exact same thing. What they needed was a captain who was well aware of the Laws of the game (if Inzamam had been aware of the Law, he wouldn't have expected Hair to negotiate the change of the ball with him.... ), continued on, completed the game, and then PCB, armed with the best available lawyers could have discredited Hair's decision on appeal. Instead they chose to play victim, and walked away in a huff. What is even more surprising is that nobody out of Zaheer Abbas, Bob Woolmer or Shahryar Khan saw good sense and persuaded Inzamam to continue till the end of the Test Match.

Whether or not Hair made the correct decision, is besides the point. The fact of the matter is that he was well within his rights to do what he did. Inzamam and Pakistan on the other hand, had no business walking out and then calling it a matter of honour. They are a cricket team, and it is best if cricketing matters are seen as just that. There is no reason for calling it a national disgrace.

Fringe opinion in India did refer to the Tendulkar ball tampering issue (Mike Denness, Port Elizabeth 2001) as a matter of national disgrace. But that was thankfully fringe opinion in India. Here, that sort of extreme opinion seems to be rooted within the Pakistan team and Cricket board. Jingoism seems to rule....

Had Pakistan not quit, Inzamam would have faced a Level 2.1 breach (and he would have had a strong appeal against this. Had he won the appeal, it would have reflected badly on Hair). Now he faces a Level 3 breach in addition to this, for running away from the Test Match.

All in all, im very surprised that an international cricket team decided to stop playing a test match mid way because they didnt agree with an umpires decision.

Umpire Hair may have been unjust with Pakistan, but Pakistan in turn chose to be unjust with the English cricket team, English cricket, English spectators and Cricket itself.

Where does honour lie?

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Delicious Controversy - Ball Tampering, Darrell Hair and Pakistan.......

Law 42(3) of the Laws of Cricket, 2000 refers to the match ball and change in its condition. The law clearly states that the Umpire shall be the sole authority in the matter. The Umpire is required to inform the captain of the fielding side that the condition of the ball has been interfered with and may enforce a 5 run penalty to the batting side.

Hair did exactly as the Law states. Further more, he is not required to prove to the fielding captain that the ball was tampered with, neither is he required to catch any fielder in the act of tampering the ball.

The reaction of the Pakistan team was fairly comical in the event. No specific player had been targetted. Hair's only issue was with the condition of the ball. He deemed that the ball had been tampered with. Pakistan ought to have continued with the Test match, won it, and then appealed Hair's decision. The ball in question would still have been available as evidence during the appeal.

Whether or not the ball has been tampered with is solely the opinion of the Umpire.

By forfeiting the Test Match, Pakistan have left themselves open to lawsuits from TV Companies, their sponsors and many others who have lost out on a day of cricket. They have also left themselves open to action from the ICC, which must act strongly in this matter, if they want to preserve the authority of the Umpire in Cricket.

This issue have been alive from almost 10-12 hours now, and the reaction has invariably been - why would Pakistan do such a thing when they were winning? or How can you tell whether or not a 55 over old ball has been tampered with or is showing natural wear and tear thanks to Kevin Pietersens power batting?

All that is immaterial in my opinion. The point is that Darrell Hair acted within the letter of the Law. He is not required to negotiate with the Pakistan Captain, neither is he required to be conciliatory. Hair has a reputation of being a tough umpire - tough on chucking, tough on ball tampering, tough of excessive appealing. He is well within his rights as an umpire to act the way he does.

Pakistan have thrown away a golden opportunity to win a Test Match and get some confidence back ahead of the ODI series. Instead they have thrown a tantrum and in a show of injured innocence have managed to create an unnecessary polarization in situation. I suspect that the Match Referee will find against Pakistan, and that they will be penalized for forfeiting the Test Match. All this due to 30 minutes or so of madness.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Heres a bowler destined for greatness.... and a bit about the Ashes....

Mohammad Asif returned from injury to play the 4th Test against England at the Oval, and as we speak has given Pakistan the edge with three top order wickets in the first session of play. England are 134/6 with Asif taking 3/39. Asif has accounted for Andrew Strauss, Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood. His impressive comeback harks back to the halycon days of Glenn McGrath who would return from his rare injuries and immediatly make a difference. Asif always seems to threaten and Imran Khan's impression that he would be a threat in England sounds prophetic. Pakistan might well be left wondering about what might have been.

As it happens they find themselves returning home having lost their 1st series in England since 1982, inspite of English injuries and a stand in English captain. Englands last 2 stand in captains have done pretty well - Flintoff in India and Strauss at home in England. Which brings me to something else ive been thinking about recently. Thanks to Duncan for giving me cause to write about it....

The Ashes in Australia have a peculiar history. England have won an Ashes series in Australia 4 times in the 61 years since the war. Len Huttons team won 3-1 in 54-55 due in large part to Frank Tysons extreme pace and some important batting from Peter May and Colin Cowdrey. Ray Illingworths team won in 1970-71, thanks to John Snow and Geoffrey Boycott. Mike Brearley's side beat an Australian side decimated by the Packer Circus in 1978-79 and Mike Gatting's side beat Australia in 1986-87. England last 2 successes against Australia have come against Australians sides which have been quite weak. England went to Australia again in 1979-80 to play 3 Tests, not for the Ashes, and promptly lost 3-0 to full strength Australian side (Chappell, Lillee, Marsh and co.)

Funnily enough, successfull English Ashes series in Australia, have come with Yorkshiremen or Middlesexmen as captains. Hutton - Englands first professional captain and Illingworth were both dyed in wool Yorkshiremen, while Brearley and Gatting were Lord's very own.

That Andrew Strauss is one of the best English batsmen in the last 20 years, and the fact that hes from Middlesex, makes him the ideal candidate to lead Englands Ashes defense. You might think that even if Andrew Flintoff is fit and ready come November 23, it is Strauss who should lead the Englishmen out on to the field at Brisbane. Flintoff is doomed as an Ashes captain anyways - hes Lancastrian (so was Vaughan - but then he was born a Yorkshireman, an important nuance..... )

This English side is well poised for a successful Ashes defense. A side full of hurting Australian champions stands in their way - but think about it. An English side with a solid top 4, an emergent young batsman - Bell, a quality spinner - Panesar and most importantly a fast man in Harmison and one very special player who can do almost anything - Flintoff, have a recipe which has never failed them in the past. Well.... may be not. It probably did fail them in 1958-59, but there they were lead by Peter May (who was not Yorkshire or Middlesex, but like Flintoff of Lancashire was a Surrey man).

So history tells us that all the necessary ingredients for Ashes success in Australia are available to England

1. A realistic possibility of a captain from Middlesex or Yorkshire.
2. A fast man to rival Tyson or Snow
3. A young gifted batting line up
4. A quality young spin bowler
5. Andrew Flintoff (if not for the first test, then definitely at the business end of the tour)

England can't lose...

The Australians on the other hand have plenty to worry about. Australia have never lost a live Test match (with the rubber not already decided) in 8 years when Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne have both played, except for their two consecutive losses to India at Kolkata and Madras in 2001. Without McGrath and Warne, they have struggled to contain decent batting lineups as India showed in Australia in 2003-04 and as England showed in the Ashes last year. In the 2005 Ashes, when McGrath and Warne teamed up, England made 1668/56 - an average score of 298 in a completed innings. When McGrath was missing, England made 1192/37 for an average score of 323 in a completed innings. When you consider than McGrath played at Manchester and the Oval inspite of not being fully fit, its easy to see his impact. As much as 40 runs every innings would be a realistic assessment. Had McGrath been available at Trent Bridge, England might have faced a 4th innings target of 180-200 instead of 129, and then it might well have been 2-1 to Australia and continuing English heartbreak.

McGrath and Warne are ageing, and without them, Australia lose their edge and join the ranks of other mortal teams which would occasionally concede 120 runs against good batsmen in a session.

Everything points to English Ashes success then.... provided the Lancastrian stays away from captaincy.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bhogle on Ganguly.....

Harsha Bhogle writes about Sourav Ganguly's appearance in the list of 30 probables for the upcoming season. The Ganguly obscession seems to cause critics to pick on even the most unremarkable events and write about him.

If you think about it, the list of 30 probables (and Bhogles himself admits this) is merely a collection of the 30 best cricketers in the country. Now, lets consider that the list of 30 should include 12 batsmen, 7 fast bowlers, 5 or 6 spinners and 2-3 wicketkeepers. Infact, if we look at the list of probables announced:

Batsmen: Rahul Dravid (captain), Virender Sehwag (vice-captain), Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Mongia, Sourav Ganguly, V.V.S. Laxman, Venugopala Rao, Robin Uthappa, Gautam Gambhir, S. Badrinath, Rohit Sharma, T.P. Singh,.

Bowlers: Irfan Pathan, Harbhajan Singh, Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar, S. Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Rudra Pratap Singh, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Piyush Chawla, S.S. Paul, V.R.V. Singh

WicketKeepers: Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Parthiv Patel, Dinesh Karthik


Contrary to all this talk about politics and conspiracies, i think that the selectors decisions this year (and even before) have been based on simple common sense and fairplay and not based on politics. Im amazed by the ease with which the allegation about politics in national selection is made, without an iota of evidence being presented. Zonal selection is a legitimate method of selection and does not amount to Zonal bias. A selector from a particular Zone presenting the case for a player from his Zone - is not bias, and is completely legitimate. If you look at the teams selected in the last 7-8 years, you will find no evidence of Zonal bias.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Revelations from an era......

John Wright's tell all book Indian Summers is a blessing in disguise. Revelations made in the book have been recorded in various articles on Cricinfo and other news websites, the latest of which being Wrights reaction to one of Sehwags special wafts. Wright apparently lost it, after which the captain and the manager took control. It was all for Sehwags' greater good in the end.

Im actually surprised that this is coming to light and is even considered news, because you can be sure that Wright has had worse things to say to other people who have thrown their innings away habitually. I wonder what he might have said to VVS - who for a long time in Wrights tenure, had the irritating tendency of getting to 30 and then playing one square cut or square drive or hook shot too many. May be the regal, elegant Hyderabad inspired a different response - maybe he did get disappointed upon these dismissals.

The point of this whole thing is - that in my opinion, the press is sometimes (well... make that most of the time) very insensitive when dealing with the cricket team. In a high performance environment, full of super achievers under enormous pressure, there are bound to be personality clashes, ego hassles, disagreements, envy - that comes with the territory. Consider Tendulkar on 194, with the stand in captain (Dravid) declaring on him, in Indias first Test match in Pakistan in 15 years. Im sure some hard words were said by both sides. How the event unfolded, must surely be a function of the personalities of the people involved.

Wright revealing all in a tell all book is one thing - the press reading into it, and posting it with the obvious backdrop of the sad events Sourav Ganguly related events in recent times is not. If we expect that everybody has been polite and nice and decent to everybody else all the time, then we are fooling ourselves....

Im waiting for Greg Chappell's book about his Indian sojourn.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

A much awaited Tri-Series

A much awaited tri-series featuring Sri Lanka, India and South Africa commences tomorrow in Colombo. A very strong and in form Sri Lankan side, playing at home, start as firm favorites. India, with their successes in 2005-06 will have a solid reputation to live upto, and a good beginning in Sri Lanka will bode well for the biggest ODI season in 4 years. The last time India won a tournament final in Sri Lanka was in 1998, when Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly had their record breaking opening stand of 250 odd and India scraped home by 7 or so runs. That was Tendulkars best year in ODI cricket. Since then, it has been a fruitless story for India in Sri Lanka. Other teams have not done too well either. India beat Sri Lanka 6-1 in India last summer. This Sri Lankan side however, will be a different proposition all together. The batting has just racked up a world record partnership and a 350 run 4th innings test match chase. The Sri Lankan captain can do no wrong with the bat. Inspite of their successess in the last year, there is still a doubt in the back of my mind about Indias solidity. Rotation, floating batting orders and a fast bowling pool instead of set first choice fast bowlers, have meant that if you asked 5 people to name their first choice Indian eleven for the first ODI in Sri Lanka, they will name 5 different squads. The position of Irfan Pathan and MS Dhoni in the batting line up is far from certain. The opening batting is an easier question, but Rahul Dravid opening with Sachin Tendulkar in the practice game suggests that there are plans for this combination as well. This has been the secret of Indias success. A very fluid, flexible team strategy in the ODI's. Sachin Tendulkar and Irfan Pathan will have plenty to prove in Sri Lanka. Munaf Patel must show that he has figured out how to bowl economically in ODI games. And Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif and Suresh Raina must ensure that they form a solid middle order. Ajit Agarkar must keep proving that he is good enough to be taken to the World Cup, because if he is on song, then he delivers not only a good first change bowling option, but also a fleet footed out fielder with a very strong arm, and a capable lower order hitter. The South Africans are struggling - with injury and with an unsettled team combination. But you wouldnt write them off in the ODI game especially if Ntini and Pollock stay fit. South Africa have traditionally been a strong ODI side, because even without their star players they out perform almost any side in the world in fielding and running between the wickets. Also, lets not forget - they are the only side to have beaten the Australians in an ODI series in more than 5 years. All in all, this is probably the most evenly contested ODI series in a long time, with the home side having home advantage. Will the Sri Lankans be bested in their own den?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Two series victories - the Test Cycle continues...... England jump to number 2 in the world......

Sri Lanka and England confirmed their recent re-emergence in the Test arena with resounding series victories over South Africa and Pakistan today. Mahela Jayawardene seems to have taken to Test captaincy like a duck to water, and his batting seems to have reached another level with the authority of captaincy. England have now demolished a strong Pakistani batting three times in 4 innings without Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones to win the much awaited series with one Test still to play. Madhusuden Singh Panesar came of age as a Test Match spin bowler - answering his sceptical coach with 6 wickets in the Test match - including Inzamam Ul Haq twice.I maintain that given the quality of all Test sides (bar Australia), Test Cricket results are going to be cyclical, unless any particular side achieve Australiaesque success. This decade has seen the emergence of 6-7 quality Test teams, which guarantee well contested Test series. If you look at the performance of all Test teams in this decade, you will find that each has gone thru almost the same number of crests and troughs. My updated Rankings after this latest results are

Australia 0.637
England 0.528 
South Africa 0.513
Pakistan 0.503
India 0.493
Sri Lanka 0.481
New Zealand 0.456
West Indies 0.423

The Ashes and the India - South Africa series can realistically be expected to throw up Indian and English victories - England havent won in Australia for 20 years and India have never won in South Africa.

An exciting year of cricket lies in store - especially since the Test clashes are likely to be strongly contested in Australia and South Africa. In recent years these two sides have been invincible at home.

That should change soon.