Thursday, November 30, 2006

In a time of distress, India fall back(wards) on experience....

Sourav Ganguly was recalled to the Indian Test team for South Africa yesterday. The only thing that can justify this decision to an extent, is the fact that at some point in the past, Ganguly was an excellent Test batsman. He was dropped last year after a long period of non-performance in the ODI and Test match game. Now, with Yuvraj Singh injured, his recall some might say was inevitable. There are numerous batsmen in the first class game in India, who are younger than Ganguly, and who might have benefited from the South Africa series. The decision obviously is that Suresh Raina is not yet ready to play Test cricket.

But, think about some basic issues here, and we find that if India play 5 bowlers in the Test side, then Ganguly will not make the playing eleven. In their last 5 Test matches, Indias Test match batting - Sehwag, Jaffer, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Kaif and Ganguly have the following record

Sehwag - 5 matches, 363 runs at 40.33
Jaffer - 5 matches, 393 runs at 43.66
Dravid - 5 matches, 557 runs at 69.62
Tendulkar - 5 matches, 146 runs at 20.85
Laxman - 5 matches, 257 runs at 42.12
Kaif - 5 matches, 317 runs at 63.40
Ganguly -5 matches, 171 runs at 28.40

Going by that, merely by form, Tendulkar and Ganguly would both have to be dropped from the side if India play 5 batsmen, and Tendulkar will have to dropped if India play 6. It is unlikely that Tendulkar will be dropped. The tune of the Vengsarkar selection committee seems to be to move back to experience. Every selection decision by the committee so far has indicated that - the selection of Wasim Jaffer to the ODI team - this brought 10 years of first class experience to the side, the recall of VVS Laxman, and now the recall of Sourav Ganguly.

I do not consider a reliance on experience to be a backward step. In this specific context however, it is definitely a backward step, for the experience India are bringing back was dropped due to lack of experience in the first place. If Ganguly had been a prolific batsman who had retired and was persuaded to come out of retirement to play for India, that would have been a different matter. The fact is that Ganguly was dropped simply because he was no longer good enough to play Test cricket. This is borne out by his record. The same was the case in ODI cricket. His record does not change, no matter what anybody says, and how loudly or violently or passionately they say it.

Would you rather play a 20 year old who is not yet ready, but has potential, or a 22-23 year old who has never played Test cricket before, or a 34 year old former captain, who has not cut the mustard as a Test batsman for a long time now? Ganguly is never going to average 50 in Test cricket. Suresh Raina or Badrinath might. And what should Dinesh Mongia make of this? Both Mongia and Ganguly played country cricket. Mongia roughed it out from the bowler friendly early season to the time he got selected for the Champions Trophy squad and made 657 runs in 10 games at 47. Ganguly on the other hand, played in England in the most batting friendly late season, made 19 runs in 5 first class innings. Then Mongia returned against Australia and was the only Indian batsman to make a decent number of runs, and found himself left out in favor of Dinesh Karthick in the ODI squad!

Going strictly by the pecking order, Ganguly's selection is probably justified based on his previous experience of playing in South Africa (not that he made too many runs here, but hes played Test cricket here) and the fact that he was in his prime a superb player. But it is a selection made more in hope than expectation and reveals a desperation with the current situation. And this, with the first Indian side to win a series in the West Indies for 35 years (that was the last Test match that they played).

Everything as usual, seems to hinge on Sachin Tendulkar's form. Form which has not been very good in recent times. But then again, he is Sachin Tendulkar. (More hope rather than expectation)

Failure in that sense is like death. It has a finality which you can not argue with, and invites the same fervent, desperate rationalization.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The selection of VVS Laxman - A backward step

The selection of wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthick to one of the specialist batsman slots for the 3rd ODI, was a puzzling one. Dilip Vengsarkar's recent comment about there being no exceptional talent coming to the fore on the batting horizon, more than anything else, seems to explain this decision. The thinking seems to be, that the specialist batting talent available to India is not significantly superior to the gifted wicketkeeper-batsman from Tamil Nadu. Lets look at the new batting talent that has been tried by the national team since the start of the 2005-06 season. Two types of fringe batsmen were tried - those who have played for India before, but have been dropped because they didn't seem to cut the mustard, and those who have never played for India before. From the first category, we have Suresh Raina, Venugopal Rao and Robin Utthappa. From the second category, we have Gautam Gambhir, Dinesh Mongia. The bulk of winning runs (runs over and above those provide by the national team regulars - Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid, Yuvraj and Kaif), came from Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Irfan Pathan. With the injury to Rahul Dravid, and the recall of VVS Laxman, and the imminent recall of Sourav Ganguly, it looks like the Vengsarkar selection committee is responding to Vengsarkar's lack-of-talent verdict. The selection of Wasim Jaffer to the ODI squad is also indicative of a return to more "traditional" batting if you like. In an early article, written before the South African series, i listed the performances of Indias batsmen, in what is fast becoming a captaincy of two halves for Rahul Dravid. The first half, consisting of the first 6 months of his appointed resulted in an 18-6 record for India in ODI cricket, the second half the next six months, starting April 20th has so far resulted in a 3-10 record.

Whether the recall of experienced players (even if those experienced players were dropped due to poor run output in the first place) will rekindle Indias winning ways, is a moot point. A very persuasive case can be made that the record winning and chasing spree at the beginning of the Dravid era, was down to the Chappell-Dravid policy of flexibility, and by the depth offered by the multiple contributions of Mahendra Dhoni (keeping wickets, and averaging 70 with the bat) and Irfan Pathan (averaged 35 with the bat and 19 with the ball) during this period. It is clear that for any team to be successful, they must have as many players as possible contributing in multiple areas of the game. These areas can be identified as:

Fast bowling, Spin bowling, fielding, wicket keeping, batting

The most successful ODI teams are the ones which have the maximum number of players able to compete on equal terms with the best in the world in atleast 1 of those areas and be competent in at least one other area. In the light of this, the selection of VVS Laxman is a backward step - even though he is a top class batsman, he is a poor fielder, and more importantly, is very conservative at best and very sluggish at worst, when it comes to running between the wickets (something which limits his contribution in the batting department).

It is clear, that what differentiated India in that golden period was the contribution of Dhoni and Pathan - even though Yuvraj Singh and Rahul Dravid averaged 50 with the bat. Equally, it is now clear, that with the loss of form and confidence of the batting line up (lets face it, the line up is in disarray), the selectors and the management have been forced to adopt a conservative strategy, one which is unlikely to ever result in the sort of success that India enjoyed in the 2005-06 season. Whichever way you look at it, it is a backward step.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Australia lead by 626 with 2 days to play

Australia gained a first innings lead of 445 runs, and chose to bat again in Brisbane Test match. The last time something like this happened in Australia, was when Bill Lawry's team of 1968-69 decided to bat again in the last Test of the series against Gary Sobers's West Indies, and ended up setting the West Indies 735 runs to win in the 4th innings. There were only about 300 spectators who stayed back to witness the presentation of the Frank Worrell Trophy to Bill Lawry after Australia won that game by over 350 runs.

English commentators like Tim de Lisle have focussed on Billy Bowden and the reaction of some people to Ponting's decision to bat again. "Ricky Ponting’s decision not to enforce the follow-on was a weird one. It took the heat out of the match, just when England were going up in flames. I can see why some of the punters walked out. The game had switched from annihilation to an academic exercise. " Lets take a step back here. Was this series not billed as the clash for the World Championship of Test cricket? Was it not to be the biggest Ashes series in living memory? This surely, was no ordinary Test match. This was a Test match which would set the tone for the rest of the series.

I view Ponting's decision to bat again as a masterpiece. In purely cricketing terms, his lead fast bowler had just bowled 23 overs out of England's 61 over innings. His team is supposed to be an "ageing" side. It made absolute sense to giving his aging hit-men a rest. By batting again, in a situation where the English bowlers had nothing to gain and everything to lose, and where the Australian batsmen had nothing to lose and everything to gain, Ponting made clear Australia's intent in this series - not just to beat England, but to ruthlessly hammer them into submission. This is what makes the current Australian generation the greatest cricketing generation ever. Why not bat against for say 75 overs, rack up about 300 runs, let Ponting make a hundred in each innings for the third time, let the wicket wear even further, and then let Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne loose on a 4th day wicket? It makes perfect sense.

There are two ways of winning Test matches. It would be illustrative to use the recent West Indies-Pakistan game as an example here. On day 3 of that game, the West Indies were about 150 ahead of Pakistan, with 5 wickets standing. They had two options open to them. In both scenarios, it was unlikely that they would lose. They could have declared overnight, given themselves enough time to bowl Pakistan out, even for say 400 or 425, and left themselves at worst a 250-275 4th innings chase in about 65-70 overs. It would be unlikely for the West Indies to get bowled out in 65-70 overs. The game would remain winnable for a longer period of time. As it happened, they decided to bat on on the 4th day. They played 1 session, made 80 runs and lost 5 wickets. Their only realistic chance of winning say in bowling Pakistan out for under 300 runs. It was quite clear, that if Pakistan made 400, they would lose. The former method (of declaring overnight), gave the West Indies more opportunities and a bigger window for victory. The latter method, while it was probably safer, also gave them a smaller window for victory. The former method might be considered to be the more positive way of conducting a Test Match (and most teams don't pursue this course). The latter might be considered more conservative (and it is no criticism of Brian Lara that he chose this)

In the case of this Test Match, the stakes are completely different. Ponting's decision to bat again, Warne's hurled greeting to Kevin Pietersen and the Australian run-rate are indicative of Australia's belief that they stand a class apart from England. It is indicative of Australia's desire to drive home that fact. The Brisbane Test has not turned into an "academic exercise", the "heat" has not been turned off. In fact, i think that the heat just became unbearable for England. I also disagree with Tim de Lisle that England were "hiding" Steve Harmison. England's decision to protect big Steve in a no-win situation for him, is indicative of their understanding as to where their match-winning strengths lie. This is also where England's decision to name Andrew Flintoff as captain is so baffling. Why make the master weapon, the General?

England have the personnel to compete with Australia - Harmison, Flintoff and Pietersen are genuine match winners. Strauss and Bell are classy batsmen. They've just been put on notice though by the world's greatest ever cricketing combination. They are faced by an outfit which is intent not just on winning back the Ashes, but on erasing even the faintest idea that this was supposed to be a competitive series. In doing so, Australia (even with their brilliance), risk overreaching, and ending up with egg on their face. Consider this - England end day 4 at 220/7, and the 5th day is washed out. England escape with a draw. In captaincy, how one views a decision is a choice most of the time. It is rare that a decision is unanimously considered a great one or a poor one. So far, Ponting's decision has been quite brilliant in my view. There are those who disagree of course. How it all turns out, remains to be seen. The intent is inevitably Australian.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Long weekend for England.....

I am writing this on the evening of Thanksgiving the traditional harvest festival in North America. England have begun their Ashes campaign down under inauspiciously (normally, i would have said, Australia have begun their campaign to regain the Ashes in great style, with their captain leading from the front). Ricky Ponting has smashed yet another huge century to lead Australia to a typical 427/4 at lunch on the second day. With Steve Harmison starting the series poorly, as Ian Chappell noted, England are in a lot of trouble. I am among those who believe that Englands 2005 Ashes victory had to do with Serendipity and the Law of Averages, more than any of the cricket played by either side in that series. Given how Australia have begun in this series, England are in for a long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and a long southern summer. It is unlikely that Glenn McGrath will trip over a cricket ball again.

As things stand, England have to do something that has never been done before, beat Australia in a series in Australia when Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne have both been available to play in all the Test matches. Australia have not lost a home Test series in 14 years. The last time they lost was against the West Indians of 1992-93. The only series Australia have lost when McGrath and Warne have both been available to play was in 2001 in India.

It remains to be seen how Englands batting line up for this Test - Strauss, Cook, Pietersen, Collingwood and Bell, none of whom have played a Test match in Australia before, shape Englands reply. If England are to be competitive, their first batting innings suddenly becomes very important, especially in the light of Australias emphatic statement in the first 4 sessions at Brisbane. Australias top 4 in this series, by contrast have played 355 Tests between them, scored about 28500 Test runs with 92 centuries. And they are followed by Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke (both of whom would walk into any Test side in the world), and Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist shouldn't really count, because hes been out of form and averages only 49 in Test cricket, inspite of having had a poor couple of years with the bat.

Quite a contrast huh.. Len Hutton, the first professional to captain England in Test Cricket, and one of the 3 English captains (along with Illingworth and Gatting) to lead successful Ashes campaigns in Australia in the last 60 years (Brearley doesn't count because his victory came in a Packer affected series in 1978-79, when England beat Australia 5-1 in Australia. The next year the Packer Australians were back, and Brearley's England were hammered 3-0 in a 3 match series, a series which wasn't played for the Ashes, but, you know - sort of puts things in perspective), said that to beat Australia in Australia, you have to be 25% better than the Australians.

Do you seriously see England being 25% better than these Australians?

I don't.

I suspect that this will invite the usual "game of glorious uncertainties", "stranger things have happened" cliches, but those cliches still suggest that an English victory is, at the outset a "glorious uncertainty" or a "strange thing".


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A demonstration of genius...

As the Caribbean islands come together to host their first great cricketing events this season, one of their greatest sons is writing his name into the history of his sport in a way that nobody else from those islands has in recent years. Brian Lara of Trinidad & Tobago is the second greatest West Indian cricketer ever, and he is second greatest only because the great Gary Sobers played for the West Indies before him. Lara has not had a great Test match year, but produced an amazing unbeaten 196 yesterday to propel the West Indies to a 150 run first innings lead with 2 full days to play. Lara will dictate the direction this game takes for the next 2 days, just as he has done today.

He has demonstrated his genius for 16 years now. The Lara story has been his capability to destroy any bowling on his day, irrespective of how poor his form has been in the lead up. Lara had a modest year in the lead up to this series. But with conditions good for batting and a Pakistan bowling line up robbed of their star new ball attack due to drug bans, Lara seized the day, cashing in on the hard work he did with the bat in the first test.

It will be interesting to see how the West Indies play it from here. With a lead of almost 152 already, one school of thought would propose that they declare first thing in the morning and give themselves 2 chances of winning - one if Pakistan are dismissed cheaply (for say 200-220) leaving West Indies a 4th innings run chase of under 100 runs, and the second, leaving enough time in the 4th innings for the West Indies to chase down a 250 run target, even if Pakistan do play well in the 3rd innings and make about 400. West Indies cannot lose this game, as Pakistan will need at least 4 sessions to make 400. Then, there is only 1 possible. winner - West Indies. Its unlikely that the West Indies will be dismissed in 2 sessions of play. Another way of looking at it, is for the West Indies to bat on and get as many as they can. It would be the safe, professional approach. It would also probably ensure that the game is played out to a drawn. If West Indies bat until lunch time tomorrow and make another 100 runs, they will be 250 ahead. If Pakistan then make 400, it leaves West Indies virtually no time to win. 160-170 in 20-25 overs is a gamble, especially with the light fading early in the subcontinental winter.

In all likelihood, the West Indies will try the latter route. Given that their batting is easily superior to their bowling however, they might just decide to give their bowlers some extra time to bowl Pakistan out the second time. It will be Lara's decision.

Lara has seen a revival in his fortunes in the last 4 years or so, since his return from injury during the Indian tour of 2002. Looking at him play, there seems to be little doubt that he is still very much at his best. It should surprise nobody if Lara leads the West Indies to World Cup victory in 6 months time.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Shane Warne.... An Aussie at the Ashes.....

Shane Warne is a consummate master of his trade. With 685 Test wickets in his kitty as he enters his 15th season in international cricket, Warne must surely be licking his lips at the prospect of facing his favourite victims this summer in Australia. And it shows. Here we have Warne "slamming" an English selection decision for this series. Whats even more interesting is the matter of fact way in which Cricinfo have reported the story. Can you imagine, the Indian press or the Pakistani press reacting with such gentile tameness, had Anil Kumble made similar comments about the induction of Afridi in Pakistan's Test squad? Yet, here we have Warne making his comments like there was nothing to it. I suppose it happens when youve lost 1 series out of 7 or 8 in your 15 years, and that too by a whisker against England.

But the English attitude in the Ashes is worth noting. It was said for many years, that Bradman helped select the English Test team by proxy - Fred Trueman wrote in his typically acerbic way that "the Don kept saying how good Doug Wright was, the selectors kept picking him, and the Australians kept picking double centuries off him!" Douglas Wright was a highly rated leg spinner from Kent, who averaged 39.11 over 34 Tests on either side of the second world war. Wright's first class record was very impressive though - he took 2056 wickets at under 24 runs/wicket in 497 first class games.

Warne is clearly not shy of an opinion, and what makes him so great is that he is able to back his words with his deeds. He is by far and away the greatest leg spin bowler in the world. All though, i wonder, had he emerged for a team like Pakistan, and had to play India very often, he would have been considered an average test-class bowler. He is a creation of Australian Cricket, and of the traditional Ashes battle. Warnes attitude is also indicative of the cultural differences between the Angl0-Saxon sporting world and say the Asian sporting world. Such comments made by an Indian, even Tendulkar would be considered loud, uncalled for and unnecessarily arrogant.

In Australia, its called "mental-disintegration" (which in my opinion is synonymous with "we're better than you", something that has been quite obvious with recent Australian teams, especially with regard to recent English teams).

And so its on to the most anticipated Ashes series in about 25 years (it actually promises to be a competitive series!). For once, notwithstanding Shane Warne, the two sides have equally good bowling lineup and the Australian advantage in terms of pace bowling has been nullified by the presence of the mercurial Harmison and the brilliant Flintoff, supported by the steady, reliable Matthew Hoggard (who is one of the few genuine swing bowlers in the world who can bowl to a 7-2 or 8-1 field). The victor will depend on how many poor days England have with the ball. If Harmison can produce one of his 6/20 spells early in the series, England will be assured a good beginning as Australia have nobody with comparable shock value, notwithstanding the great Glenn McGrath.

Englands fortunes in the field will depend a great deal on what kind of bowling combination they select. Duncam Fletcher is right in picking Giles and Jones, because that is the only way in which England can play 5 bowlers. They cannot play 5 bowlers (and 4 pacemen) if they play Panesar and Read. Playing Jones and Giles, allows England to play Harmison, Flintoff, Hoggard, Giles and Panesar/Mahmood depending on the wicket, without compromising their batting strength. In Cook, Bell and Pietersen, England have the makings of a solid Test middle order. The loss of Trescothick will be a set back, but Ed Joyce may just become England's next Andrew Strauss.

The Australians are as solid as ever. McGrath and Warne will never ever be ordinary bowlers as long as they play. Brett Lee is probably in his prime, and Shane Watson looks like he has added a couple of yards of pace to his bowling, and will give the English batsmen no respite when he comes on to bowl as the 5th bowler. Except Jason Gillespie, the Australian invincibles are pretty much unchanged.

The Ashes begin on Thursday.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

South Africa tour Preview .... why India are not winning any more....

Indias success in the 2005-06 season had a peculiar quality to it. Even then, it seemed like the team was winning without really giving us a glimpse as to how good it really was. It was doing well enough to win, not doing well enough to convey lasting quality. In part, this has to do with the nature of ODI cricket - form is all that matters. Winning in ODI games is a matter of having enough players in good form, assuming of course that any player who gets selected to play international cricket is good enough to succeed at this level. This characteristic is easier to judge in players who have played international cricket for a while. One can safely say that a player like Yuvraj Singh or Virendra Sehwag is definitely good enough to compete, and compete well at the international level, even if he is going through a run of low scores. With Dravids team of 2005, gandalfed as it were Greg Chappell, it is difficult to make that assessment, because the vast majority of players either showed us for the first time that they could deliver at the international level, or vere complete rookies at this level.

If we look at the performance of the batting line up in the 2005-06 season (Sri Lanka t0 Abu Dhabi), and the performance of the batting line up from the West Indies tour to the Champions trophy, it makes for interesting reading.

Dravid's first year as India captain can be neatly broken down into two halves - a great first 6 months, where the success rate was 75% and a poor second half where the success rate has been under 30%. What the numbers also show is the role of Greg Chappell in identifying the talents of Irfan Pathan (who in addition to the runs he made also took almost 2 wickets per game at 20.53) and Mahendra Dhoni as versatile matchwinners. Rahul Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and to an extent Suresh Raina were the form batsmen of that 6 month period, but it was Dhoni and Pathan who propelled India to their awesome success. In the last 6 months, they have failed with the bat. Dravid himself has had a modest period with the bat. Tendulkar has ceased to be a factor because he has been injured a lot of the time, although, with his class he is able to contribute a matchwinning innings every now and then.

Chappell's winners have failed recently. Strategy works only when players deliver. However, as Chappell often pointed out last season, it is his job to make the judgement about which strategy is more likely to work, and which isn't. The figures show that it is probably time for Chappell to look at other strategies. The new conditions on offer in South Africa - quicker wickets, steeper bounce etc. may just hasten that change in strategy. Wasim Jaffer's selection is therefore, not surprising.

Don't be too surprised to see Tendulkar drop down the batting order either.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Time for Sachin Tendulkar to step down as ODI opener.....

Sachin Tendulkar has been the best ODI opener in the world in the last 5 years - nay, he has been the most consistent ODI batsman in the world over the last 5 years. If you look down that list however, you find the most telling statistic of all. Tendulkar has played 98 matches for India in the last 5 years, Dravid has played 152 in the same period. Which suggests that from 2001 onwards, Tendulkar has missed every 3rd ODI game India has played. Which obviously suggests that India have had to forego their crack opening combination - Sehwag and Tendulkar. If you look down this list, you will find yourself looking at the most successful ODI teams in history.

With Tendulkar missing so many games, it follows that India can not afford to keep accomodating someone else as a stop gap stand in for Sachin Tendulkar in the ODI openers slot. Flexibility in the batting order can not extend to the ODI openers slot, because the position has become specialized - the ODI opener faces the new ball, against the best bowlers in the opposition and has to make use of fielding restrictions.

Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir showed glimpses last year of becoming an opening combination - where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. As a left-right opening combination, they provide each other with just enough loose bowling (on account of the constant adjustment required of the bowlers due to their superb understanding between the wickets) to get each other going. Sehwag's problem as an opener has been that quality bowling, which doesn't let him get away easily, causes him to go harder at the bowling, drawing him out of his comfort zone, which invariably results in the loose stroke or distracted defensive play. What seems to be needed is for India to invest in an opening combination, rather than in individual openers. That is what the West Indies have done - offered Gayle a steady, consistent opening partner in Chanderpaul. The West Indian success is evident.

Where does Tendulkar go then? In my view, he fits right in at number 3. Number 3 is the link between the middle order and the openers. The number 3 has to have the ability to play the openers role as well as the middle order role. Tendulkar can play both in ODI's, as he showed during his short stint at number 4 during during the 2002 season.

Flexibility was excellent last season, mainly because the team management were not sure who would fit in best where - since every player was new - the middle order had to be recast, in part due to the captains preference for playing 5 bowlers. Now, India need to invest in an opening pair with a view that this pair will serve India for the next 80-100 ODI games. Tendulkar is not part of this equation, because he's likely to play only about 50-55 for the next 80-100 games, given his recent record of injuries.

It is less damaging for India to play Tendulkar at number 3, and develop an understudy for him at this position (Raina, Yuvraj or someone else), than to use someone as an understudy for Tendulkar in the opening slot, which affects the opening combination.

The following would be an excellent World Cup batting lineup:



Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Champions Trophy and the upcoming World Cup.....

The ICC Champions Trophy was touted as a reliable indicator of form and performance in the ICC World Cup, which takes place in the West Indies in 2007. The considerable similarity between the conditions found in the early season in India, and the slowing wickets and weather in the West Indies, meant that the mini-World Cup would be a good testing ground for World Cup strategy for all teams. As it happened, none of the subcontinental teams made the last 4 (for the first team in a significant ODI tournament since 1975). Which calls into question the whole point about "conditions" playing a big role in ODI matches. Conditions for the Champions Trophy games were not spinner friendly, slow, low - typical of the cliched description which is applied to "sub-continental" conditions.

ODI matches are decided by the following factors in my opinion:

1. The number of players in the 11 who have match winning ability with the bat.
2. The number of players who are in form.
3. The quality of fielding.
4. The depth in the bowling line up.

Teams which are most likely to win ODI matches, have a large number of in form match winning options with the bat and have solid bowling options backed by quality fielding through out the 50 overs. ODI cricket is a contest of Bat vs Bat, rather than Bat vs Ball, even on bowler friendly wickets.

Different teams approach this problem in different ways, keeping in mind the type of players available to them. The West Indies tend to pack their side with batting and have used Gayle and Bravo brilliantly as ODI bowlers, the Australians have genuine quality all the way through, and no weak links, India have tended to be flexible and have preferred the option of playing 5 bowlers, New Zealand and South Africa tend to play at least 2 fast bowling all rounders in their side as that is their strength, Sri Lanka have tended to be similar to Ganguly's India in their approach, Pakistan embody the very idea of match-winning cricketers making up an ODI team, they rarely play journeymen and England are still trying to figure out where they stand.

World Cup 2007 will signal the maturing of the world of ODI cricket. Up until now, some teams were clearly more advanced than others in the way they approached and prepared for ODI cricket. We will have something resembling a league in ODI cricket, the format of the contest is amenable to a league like scenario - with form deciding the leaders. The format of the tournament is also akin to a league. Unlike the Champions Trophy, we may see a few teams peaking too early in the World Cup, a few teams peaking at the right time.

Form will be all. Apart from Australia, there is no other team which has a decisive edge over other teams. The World Cup will surely bring its own pressures, and how teams respond to those will decide their form.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Darrell Hair and the Anglo-Saxon bloc.....

The ICC voted 7-3 to sack Darrell Hair from the Elite Panel of Umpires. England, Australia and New Zealand voted in favour of retaining Darrell Hair, while India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe voted against him.

This decision has quickly been cast as an example of the increasing influence and power of the "Asian Bloc" (consisting of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh). However, it is ironic that England, Australia and New Zealand (a minority of 3) should accuse the 4 Asian nations of voting as a bloc, and the other 3 nations of backing them (there by insinuating the whole event to be mere power play).

A voting "bloc" is a term which describes a group of voters who always vote together, irrespective of the issues. Australia, New Zealand and England have clearly disregarded Darrell Hair's secret letter to the the Umpires Manager, which the ICC CEO felt compelled to make public. I cannot understand how England, Australia or New Zealand can realistically justify finding in favor of Darrell Hair in the light of that letter, especially without investigating the matter and getting Darrell Hair and the Umpires Manager to explain why the letter was sent, whether it was part of a continuing communication. If that had been answered satisfactorily, on the record, then England, Australia and New Zealand's decision to vote in favor of Darrell Hair would have been justified. Once Hair sent that letter, it revealed that all was not well on his part. Madugalle's judgment further made several constructive recommendations about the Umpires actions in an Oval like situation.

As it happens, the Australia, New Zealand and England have voted as a bloc, completely ignoring the events in toto, with out giving any thought to the impact this will have on future Umpires on the ICC's elite panel.

This issue could have been resolved as a Cricketing issue. My position on this issue has been to look at it from the point of view of Cricket. I felt therefore, that Pakistan were wrong to walk out the way they did, that Darrell Hair was well within the letter of the law as far as his actions in the Oval Test went.
Unfortunately, first Pakistan and then England, Australia and New Zealand have turned it into a political issue. History, Politics and the insecurity of the erstwhile Cricket hightable have won over Cricket.

A sad episode, with the saddest possible out come for Cricket.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Fire Greg Chappell!! - The view from GangulyLand........

I came across this hilarious website - has to be a first in the history of cricket. A Website dedicated to one solitary cause - Fire Greg Chappell as Indian Coach...

Im all for fans to have opinions, but this website, low on fact, high on rhetoric, goes well beyond the realm of the cricket fan, into the realm of cricket activism. The "facts" mentioned on the website are selective offerings, which ignore important realities of Indias cricket in the past 6 years.

Here are some facts:

Since the Chappell-Dravid team took over (from the Sri Lanka series in 2005), India have the following ODIrecord:

Sri Lanka in India 2005-06 - Won 5-1
South Africa in India 2005-06 - Drawn 2-2
India in Pakistan 2005-06 - Won 4-1
England in India 2005-06 -Won 5-1
DLF Cup Abu Dhabi - 1-1
India in West Indies 2006 - Lost 1-4
DLF Cup Malaysia - 1-2
ICC Champions Trophy - 1-2

Thats an overall ODI record of 19-14 in 36 games. None of the results have come against minnow teams (Minnow teams are all teams other than India, Australia, England, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan, New Zealand and West Indies)

If you look at the record of Wright-Ganguly, in their best months (NatWest 2002 - Pakistan 2004), they have a 33-21 record in 58 games. Now, if you exclude the minnow games, then this record becomes:

Played 48, Won 23, Lost 21.

This was the Ganguly-Wright managements best record if you take the best period of their reign, after granting them a build up period of 2 years and a subsequent disastrous period of 1 year. If you look at Ganguly's overall record as Captain, then not counting minnow opposition, his ODI record is 45-60, that is a 42% record!

If you consider Ganguly-Wrights Away record in this golden period, it is 12-14.

Now, the measure of development is that the present has to be better than the past. Contrary to current public opinion (which seems to be a anti-Chappell wave, in reaction to the Champions Trophy defeat), Chappell-Dravid have done significantly better than Ganguly-Wright did. And they have done so with a young team team - the youngest in World Cricket today.

Coming to Test Cricket, it has been an average first year for Chappell-Dravid. But i won't even go there, since the view from GangulyLand claims that the "World Cup will be played abroad" in their Test Match "facts".

Further, this website offers no opportunity for contacting its author. It does however provide the opportunity for "donations".

All in all, i think its some sleazy "Cricket" fan trying to make a quick buck off Greg Chappell's back.