Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Chappell-Ganguly story revisited..... the source of all Chappellskepticism

The Chappell Ganguly story has been well chronicled by Cricinfo. I thought it would be informative to revisit actual events instead of indulging in vague judgements like "Chappell looked like he was playing politics". Heres what i think are the most telling facts of the case:

1. Chappell had a discussion with Ganguly in the tour match at Mutare in Zimbabwe about his position in the side, his work as captain and as his batting form. Chappell suggested that Ganguly step down and let Yuvraj, Kaif, Laxman and Dravid form the middle order for the next test match.

2. This was an internal team discussion which was leaked to the press - to the Anand Bazaar Patrika, possibly by Ganguly according to this Cricinfo article

3. The BCCI told the player to shut up about the issue and called up the review committee, which told Chappell and Ganguly to basically not air their dirty laundry in public. The selection committee subsequently sacked Ganguly as captain and dropped him from the team.

This is the leaked email

Sachin Tendulkar typically put some perspective to the issue, saying that it was an internal team matter and should never have been leaked. BCCI has not bothered to reveal where the leak was, and press has not asked them to do so. The press can't ask them to do so, simply because they are as "unprofessional" (to use a must abused word) as the BCCI, and aren't willing to risk not having a subject to report about by blowing their sources.

The whole thing has been a sorry affair - and nothing apart from newspaper sales went up as a result of it.

A World Cup victory may bring Chappell much needed respite, but those initial impressions will linger - only to surface at the slightest hint of rough weather. Even the World Cup win may be a poisoned chalice - the nay sayers will point to the "heroic comeback" and consider it final and absolute proof that Chappell embodies pure evil. In cricketing terms much of the so-called heroism - a word which is now synonymous with scoring runs - occured after the comeback. Ganguly did nothing particularly noteworthy with the bat the whole year. His selection was largely down to the fact that none of the youngsters made the middle order slot their own - and Yuvraj was injured.

Mohammad Kaif may feel aggrieved, but then, hes no Sourav Ganguly.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chappellskeptics - why they are wrong.....

Last appended on 2/26/07

Greg Chappell's tenure as coach of the national side was cursed the day he made a seemingly straightforward case for the dropping of Sourav Ganguly from the Test team in Zimbabwe. Ganguly (the Dada in more ways than one) took it badly and to borrow an phrase from down under, flung the toys out of the pram. The press, brought up as it has been on intrigue, distrust, smelt a story too good to pass up and soon it was the firang Coach out to prove who was the boss. Ganguly couldn't believe he was being told he was no longer good enough (the numbers support Chappell's view) and took it badly. His reaction is understandable, but the immaturity and hyena like attitude of the press in the issue is not.

Soon it was time for effigies, protests and discussions in parliament at Rs 100,000 /minute, and Chappell's tenure was doomed for ever. My friend Homer posted this post by G Rajaraman the sports journalist who writes for Outlook magazine, the Times of India and also on Cricinfo blogs has tried to present what Chappell and Dravid have tried to achieve in conjunction with the selectors. This article on Cricinfo gives an account of what actually happened in Zimbabwe in 2005.

What the selectors and Chappell-Dravid have exposed in the past 18 months, is the unless we have a side like Australia, where the batsmen average 40 with the bat and the bowlers average 25 with the ball (the bench mark for being top quality), we can't live with a settled line up, because India won't win with personnel who average in the mid 20's with the bat for a long period of time, and with bowlers who average in the mid 30's (which is what we have had - look at the records of Ganguly, Kaif, Zaheer Khan, Suresh Raina, Ashish Nehra and every other player who has been axed at some time or the other in the last 12-18 months). On the flip side is the fact that world class players are rare, and may not always be available. Therefore, the results on the ground for the Chappell-Dravid method were not always going to be as clean and crystal clear as they seemed in theory. The seemingly inexplicable (inexplicable only until one takes the trouble to ascertain real facts such as form and fitness of the player concerned) selection policy not only worked (India has won more than it has lost since Dravid was appointed captain - something that was not achieved in the Ganguly era if you don't consider minnow matches), but has also moulded the side in Dravid's image, which was important.

Heres why the skeptics are wrong - In the just concluded Deodhar Match, all eyes were on Irfan Pathan, but, with 3 selectors watching, Ramesh Powar produced a brilliant spell of 4/25, coming in after the Central Zone openers had raced to 0/80 by the 14th over. The press did not say a word about it - which says very little about the press's interest in the cricket match. A good reporter would have asked Dilip Vengsarkar about Ramesh Powar's performance, but most were interested in the non-story about Irfan Pathan. Cricinfo did provide a fine headline. It shows how difficult the job of the selectors is. And why a sincere decision can sometimes look like it is especially tough. It doesn't however mean that the selectors were wrong. Similarly, the fact that something Chappell does not working, doesn't mean he's dishonest, and that his explanations are disingenuous.

My point is not to nitpick and keep going after people whos reactions i am unable to gauge in terms of the rationale for those positions (which never seem to be forthcoming). I do think that there is a case to be made for decency and grace and far more informative reporting.

Cricket is yet to become a sport in India. It is up to reporters and others who communicate events to communicate them well. The goal must be to shift the centre of gravity of cricket support in India away from Mandira Bedi at least in the general direction of a G Rajaraman or Ayaz Memon or Harsha Bhogle.

More domestic cricket will help in achieve this, because it will demystify cricket - it will put a whole lot of cricket out there which is not multi million dollar gladiatorial drama.

Cricket needs to be reclaimed from the Chappellskeptics towards the Cricketophiles, not because they are likely to side with Chappell in the life altering saga of Chappell v Ganguly, but because they are willing instinctively to give it a dispassionate, calm, rigorous hearing before offering their opinions (where passion for cricket will hopefully be apparent - armed with the facts and nurtured with concern for the sport)


Saturday, February 24, 2007

ODI Runs and their relationship with Match Results......

This thread has its roots in Kumar Sangakkara's comment on Cricinfo about the relationship between Sanath Jayasurya making runs and Sri Lanka winning ODI games. For a long time, there has been a perception that Tendulkar hasn't always had that match winning touch - and on the face of it, this appears to be true. 4 of Tendulkars 5 ODI centuries against Pakistan have resulted in defeats (contrast this with two other innings of 98 and 95 resulting in wins). These instances are anecdotal at best. The following table shows a comparison of the top ODI batsmen in the world - Tendulkar, Jayasurya, Lara, Ponting, Gilchrist, Kallis, Yousuf and Dravid - all having played over 200 ODI games. It seeks to describe the following:

1. How consistent are these players?
2. How does the number of runs they make affect the outcome?
3. Is there a difference in the way an openers runs affect the outcome, when compared to a middle order player?

(Please click on the table to see a bigger view)

The table compares the improvement in win % when each batsman makes more than 30, more than 50, more than 70 and more than 100, with the base win % for that batsman in all the games that he has played in. The Consistency field gives the percentage of total innings played in which a scored in excess of 30, 50, 70 or 100 was achieved.

The results show that opening the batting is not that different from batting in the middle order when it comes to influencing results. Tendulkar as opener has been the most consistent batsman in ODI cricket, for the longest period of time. In terms of a non-failure with the bat (scoring more than 30) affecting the outcome, Gilchrist, Ponting, Inzamam and Kallis have the minimum impact on the result, while Lara has the maximum impact on the result. Kallis's runs don't seem to matter very much, because South Africa win less often when he makes atleast 50 than they do when hes in the side. This is characteristic, as South Africa's great strength has been the depth and quality in the lower middle order. The Australians are a strong outfit, and hence Ponting and Gilchrist's runs matter less to Australia than Lara's runs matter to West Indies or Tendulkar's runs matter to India. Big runs from the openers seem to have a more telling impact on the game than big runs from the middle order - Tendulkar, Gilchrist, Jayasurya all affect the outcome more positively when they make hundreds than when they make 50's. Lara and Dravid do so as well, but both Lara and Dravid have played in net unsuccessful teams (teams which have lost more than they have won). The batting position probably matters less than the general strength of the side in which the batsman plays.


Friday, February 23, 2007

Revamping India's Domestic Cricket - the Ranji and Duleep Trophies......

The technical committee of the BCCI, chaired by the great Sunil Gavaskar is likely to propose a revamp of the Ranji and Duleep Trophy matches for next season. The new proposals would involve scrapping the two division system, and dividing the 27 Ranji Sides in 3 groups of 9 teams each. The top two teams from each group would advance to the next stage, which would consist of the 6 teams being split into 2 groups of 3, which will then play a round robin match up. Two teams from each group would make the knock out semifinal stage.

In this proposed format, each Ranji team would have the chance to play 8 first class matches. Six of the teams will have the chance to play 10 first class matches, Four teams will play 11 and the finalists will play 12.

This would mean that the national side playing 9-10 Test matches in a full year (in 2007 India are likely to play 8-10 Tests, despite it being a World Cup year), would play as much first class cricket as the average Ranji Trophy player. These would of course be 5 day matches, while the Ranji player would play Eight 4 day matches. That in my view is too little cricket.

The idea of creating 3 groups of 9 teams is a good one - it might even be possible to break the country up into three zones instead of the existing 5. However, instead of the next stage comprising of 2 groups of 3 teams, i would propose the following:

You have 3 groups of 9 - and these would play in a league - each side playing 8 matches. I would suggest that the top 3 out of each group should advance to the next round and a new league of 9 teams be formed. But, (borrowing an idea from the World Cup), each of the sides would play 6 matches in the new league, with the results against teams from the original group would be carried over. Therefore, the Ranji Trophy Champions would play 16 matches in all, while the teams which make the elite group will play 14 matches in all.

Coming to the 6 teams in each of the original groups which do not make the knock out - they would play in a Level 2 league of 9 teams (similarly formed by choosing positions 4,5,6 from each group). The Level 3 leagues (positions 7,8,9 from each group) would play a round robin league. Each of these leagues would have winners.

What purpose would this serve? Apart from providing opportunities for teams to play first class cricket more than they have been playing before - it would help determine the seeding for next season. The Elite league would be seeded 1-9, the Level 2 league winners would be seeded 10th, with the other sides being seeded 10-18, while the level 3 league would be seeded 19-27.

The seeding would determine the formation of groups for the next season. So for example, Group A for the next season would consist of seeds 1,4,7, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22 and 25. Group B for the next season would consist of 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 23 and 26 while Group C for the next season would consist of 3, 6, ..... 27.

What this would ensure is that a minimum of 14 first class matches are played by each side. It would serve the national team well because it would provide opportunities for Test players to play in first class match more than the current schedule does.

The Ranji Trophy Champions should be given the honor of playing the visiting Test team in a tour match. The Irani Trophy as we know it today (Ranji Champions v Rest of India) should be scrapped. As a season opener, it should consist of the Test team playing a Rest of India side (effectively an India A side).

The Duleep Trophy, even if it becomes non-zonal needs to be scrapped, because scratch squads would result only in the matches turning into selection matches. Instead of the Duleep Trophy the Level 2 and Level 3 leagues proposed above would serve as better contests, because they will involve real Teams and not scratch combinations.

The annual ODI tournament would be along similar lines, played over 2-3 weeks at the end of the first class season.

The Indian Cricket Season would then look like this:

Season Opener: Irani Trophy - India (Test team) v Rest of India - early October
Salve Challenger: ODI tournament - following the Irani Trophy
Ranji Trophy: The first league to be completed by December (8 matches per team). The second league (Elite, Level 2 and Level 3 - 6 matches per side + knock out matches for the sides top 4 out of 9 teams in each league) to be played in January, February.
Ranji OD Tournament: Along similar lines - each side getting 14 One Day Matches - Played in March.

The Test Team schedule needs to include only the Irani Trophy - this will serve them well as a tough season opening test.

The problem with India's domestic cricket has been too little cricket. More Cricket will improve standards of grounds (which will be used more and hence will be maintained more often), umpires (they will have to be professional) and players.

What will be the performance benchmarks for a first class season comprising 14-16 first class matches ? 100 wickets, and 1500 runs?

The English season had too much cricket at one time, and now it possibly has too little. If the first class matches are televised, it will also probably allow BCCI to have a dedicated 24-7 Cricket feed, create a genuine national sporting league and hopefully encourage other sports to follow suit.

The ideas under consideration (going by the the TOI article) don't go far enough in my opinion. The non-zonal Duleep Trophy is especially pointless, for matches which would be little more than selection trials serve no purpose. What better selection trial can you have other than a team fighting for the highest possible seeding to get a favorable position in next years league?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Indibloggies Results.....

The indibloggies results are out. The delightfully name Sportolysis was voted best sportsblog of the year. Congratulations to them. Thanks to the jury members who nominated Cricketing View and thanks to every one who voted. The results show that 534 votes were cast in the sports blog category, which is quite a high number. Congratulations to all the other winners, nominees and voters each of the categories. It is great to see so many people reading and writing blogs.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Meerabai Bedi and other horrors.....

Today morning, i saw this feature on Rediff and all the horrors of Sony's shrill "wraparound" programming in during the 2003 World Cup came flooding back. World Cup time and no Mandira Bedi? She appears every time India play any ODI tournament of any consequence. Now it seems theres going to be two Mandiras competing for the award of "female cricket fan of the year" - Mandira and Meerabai. (The female part is non-trivial simply because i just don't see Sony or any other TV station hiring a male cricket fan to play the part of ignorant passionate India fan for their TV shows - and no - Charu Sharma does not fall into this category, he is basically unfathomable)

As a business decision one has to admire the Bedis' latest film making venture. They definitely know a good thing when they see it, and they are obviously able to convince some solid people to jump on. Anil Kumble reportedly appears in a cameo in the movie. What was the great man thinking?

But then again, strangely enough, im looking forward to Meerabai Not Out more than i am to the wraparound show (its a total of 4 hours of unrelenting slaughter of all things cricketing and all things human wrapped around a cricket match which is 7 hours long - and they call it extraa innings - i wish the Referee could penalize them for slow overrates). At least Meerabai Not Out is a movie, and won't show up during Cricket matches. Mandira Bedi further reveals that the noodle straps were her idea and takes credit for coinage of the term noodle straps - apparently they were referred to as spaghetti straps before! Then she goes on claim that "
It just turned out to be something that got noticed because of the place where I was sitting."

Err..... wasn't that the only thing that got noticed, inspite of other unspeakably cruel practices such as tarot card reading and good old takloo? One can almost see the evil bosses at Sony rubbing their hands with glee "We've got the whole of India captive - they can't see the World Cup anywhere else but with us...... so lets let em have it!!".....

The character in the film is called Meera Achrekar, a 30 year old teacher who's "missed the boat" (read - is still single). I wish there had been some originality as far as the name went, without invoking the famous wicketkeeper from Sassanian and New Hind. About the "missing the boat" part, lets not even go there..... further, from her description of the "character", there are uncanny resemblances to Jassi.

That seems to be the overarching theme with every thing the lady does - flitting from stereotype to stereotype until you have a suitably mangled composite which stumbles along on screen and assaults the viewers senses like little else can.

Further, Ms. Bedi also describes some of her attire during the upcoming extraa innings.... and those descriptions plainly scare me.

For once im glad that i won't be watching the World Cup in India. I will post exact timings of the start of each innings (NOT the extraaa variety) as a public service during the World Cup.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Performance Review on World Cup Eve....

With each of the top 8 teams having completed their pre -World Cup ODI schedule, this is where they stand at the moment. This is a reflection of form as well as of basic team strength. The table below, shows the average total scored and conceded over a 50 over innings by each of the 9 teams in the last 5 matches played by each team against each of the other teams (40 matches in all). The Win-Loss columns describes results over these 40 matches, while the last column shows the rating, which corresponds to the February 07 rating in the graph above.

If one considers this statistical preview, then it is clear that Pakistan has been under performing in the last 14-15 months or so of ODI cricket. Australia have been pummeled into the pack by England and New Zealand, while the South Africans look like they are well and truly ahead of the other sides. However, inspite of their form, one cannot help feeling that a pummeling is just around the corner for them as well. Bangladesh, Kenya and Zimbabwe are perfectly capable of springing the odd nasty surprise as well. Add to this the wagaries of the weather in the Caribbean and you have a simmering brew which some teams might find to the liking - the others not.

The most open World Cup field in ODI World Cup history promises to throw up a classic World Cup.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Guru Greg's Grand Designs......

If the media is to be believed, Greg Chappell has been milking India's recent success (3-1 v WI followed by 2-1 v SL) to score much needed brownie points about his performance and about strategies followed by the team management and selection committee. Recent comments about Sourav Ganguly's return and now this effort about Sehwag, all serve to embellish the Guru Greg image. The Sehwag story is a bit iffy though, because Chappell's quote to me sounded more like thinly veiled exasperation at Virendra Sehwag's stubborn resistance to common sense, compounded no doubt by the embattled batsman's mind numbingly ridiculous dismissal at Vizag. Chappell said "something seems to have worked" and also said that "Sehwag was used in the middle order as cover for Yuvraj Singh", and Rediff some how turned this into a "motivational ploy"!! Sometimes i wonder what the questions are like in these press conference - i mean, did they actually ask him "Why did Sehwag score runs?"!

Chappell's detailed explanation about his methods is being interpreted by the press according to the press's image of Chappell, and Chappell's legacy will be defined by one thing and one thing only - Chappell v Ganguly. This sadly one eyed view shows absolute contempt for the position and role of the coach in life of a cricket team. If we can not grant people in positions of responsibility the basic courtesy of not questioning their motives every step of the way, then we dare not expect anything other than mediocrity. In this case, we find a very good cricket team and yet, i cannot help feel that we in India can learn so much more from cricket and Indian Cricket than we are today.

For Chappell, the only way he can "retrieve" the damage caused by the Ganguly issue (and this has nothing to do with Ganguly, but has everything to do with the fact that the purveyors of public opinion still continue to fuels old fires simply because it sounds smart to pummel someone with contempt. Ganguly himself has come to terms with the fact that the decision to sack him was the right one. Without this realization he would never had regained the clarity of thought which has been apparent in his recent cricket), is by winning the World Cup.

The sad thing is that should India win, the adulation, well meant as it will be, will still be rooted in hollow ignorance, and when the next coach comes along and the next selection committee comes along and deals with the next Ganguly, we will have a rerun of 2005. The cricket press has no responsibility and is answerable to no one and that is how it should be. It does have a responsibility to desist from caricaturizing every subject. Cricket is trivial in the larger scheme of things. Why then can't we be decent where nothing is at stake?

Only then will we be spared binary positions "Oh X is out to get Y" and "Oh X is justifying things with 20-20 hindsight, who does he think he's fooling" - neither position has anything to do with actual events and actual opinions expressed by any of the protagonists.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Now it is an 10 year Low.....

Australia have now lost 4 straight matches and 5 out of 6 matches. The last time this happened was from Bloemfontein to Sydney against England and South Africa in 1997. Earlier this week i wrote about Australia's 9 year low. In fact, if you look at the Australian record from World Cup 1996 onwards, it doesn't make for very exciting reading. Between World Cup 1996 and World Cup 1999, Australia had a 38-36 record - a record which could be clearly seen in 2 halves. In 1996 and 1997, they were 11-20, while in 1998 and 1999, they turned things around to be 27-16. Since the 1999 world cup, Australia have a 163-48 record in ODI cricket, and have basically been the closest thing to an invincible cricket team. Their best years were 2001 (18-3) and 2003 (30-5). 2007 has been their worst year since 1997 (they are 7-5 in 12 games this year).

With any side other than Australia, this might not have been exceptional. But injuries have not hurt Australia in the past as they are hurting them now. If you look at performance, there isn't one particular thing that one could put a finger on - sometimes its been the batting which has cost them games, at other times its been the bowling.

With New Zealand winning the Chappell-Hadlee trophy, i think it is safe to post the pre-World Cup summary now.

This is how the teams stand. The most inconsistent team with the weakest performance out of the top 8 is Pakistan. There are no run away favorites to win this World Cup. And each of the 8 sides could make the knock out stage. If you compare this to the Football World Cup, its quite interesting. Even though football is player more widely than cricket could ever be played, and even though more countries play football of a really high standard than they do cricket, could any one realistically point to 8 national football teams who had a real shot at the World Cup in 2006? I can think of 5 - Germany, Argentina, France, Italy, Germany. Football is basically a club sport, while Cricket is basically a national sport. I don't know which format is superior, but it is clear which World Cup offers the keener contest.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

India at World Cup Eve....

Greg Chappell was appointed coach of the Indian side in May 2005. It was an orderly transfer of responsibility from the Wright to Chappell. The transition from Ganguly to Rahul Dravid was anything but. As 2006 approached, it was apparent to an increasing number of people, that Ganguly was in decline as captain, batsman and cricketer. Injury caused Ganguly to miss Chappell's first series in charge - the triseries in SL. He returned for the Zimbabwe Triseries at the end of which, was dropped from the ODI side. The former captain took it badly and the nation shared his dismay. Chappell got an early taste of what it was going to be like being the Gandalf of India - minus the magical powers. What happened next is debatable (mainly due to the existence of two distinct world views - God Ganguly and Human Ganguly - or conversely Human Chappell or Evil Chappell). Dravid-Chappell delivered for India their most successful ODI season ever - with a new team and new achievers. Munaf Patel, Suresh Raina, Sreesanth, Irfan Pathan, Robin Utthappa, Ramesh Powar, RP Singh, - all turned in match winning efforts. Yuvraj Singh staked realistic claim to the top table of the world's ODI batsmen. Captaincy made Rahul Dravid a better ODI player. Tendulkar made sporadic appearances. Sehwag, Kaif and Zaheer took a back seat. A world record for most consecutive run chases was achieved. The end of that run of successful chases marked the beginning of a slump, as India lost by 1 run chasing 197 against the West Indies at Trinidad. Dwayne Bravo foxed Yuvraj Singh with his slower ball for a brilliant 97. Since then, its been downhill for India, Dravid and Chappell.

The Vengsarkar selection committee replaced Kiran More after the recent elections and India embarked on the home stretch of their World Cup preperations. It was time to focus on the final task of assembling a squad a 15 players by February 14th. This included the return of Zaheer Khan (who put in the hard yards and came back a better bowler) and Sourav Ganguly (who seems to have thought long and hard, and cleansed himself of the captaincy and all associated grime), much to the glee of the Chappell bashing janata. Chappell himself has given a freewheeling (to use a peculiar phrase used very often in interview introductions) interview on World Cup eve where it is apparent that he has learnt much about India in general and Cricket in India in particular. His claim about being a well wisher of the former captain is received with skepticism and he seems to be resigned to the fact that this may never really change.

Sehwag, Ganguly, Yuvraj, Tendulkar, Dravid, Dhoni, Pathan, Agarkar, Munaf, Zaheer, Harbhajan looks world beating on paper. It is a better side than the 2003 World Cup side - Dravid is a better player today, as is Yuvraj Singh, while Zaheer is a better bowler today than he was in 2003. Agarkar will always be Agarkar, while Munaf is possibly the best Indian fast bowler since Kapil Dev. Harbhajan is an experienced ODI spinner now.

The Munaf v Sreesanth debate seems to have been framed along the same lines as the Dravid v Ganguly debate. There is little doubt that Dravid is the better batsman amongst the two, and there is little doubt in my mind that Munaf has superior control when compared with Sreesanth. However, Ganguly and Sreesanth will always win the popularity stakes because they wear their heart on their sleeve and leave little to the imagination as far as their opinion about things are concerned. Dravid and Munaf are far more classical, more correct and seem intent on doing things correctly. They are not givens to fits of unseemly behaviour, neither are they given to theatrical outbursts. Ganguly has mellowed with age but his fans seem ageless. Who wants to win more? On this question, the fans are nearly unanimous (i realize this is a dangerously sweeping claim, but i have no reason to believe otherwise) - Ganguly and Sreesanth want it more than Dravid and Munaf (each group being representative of their respective ilks).

This misguided subtext seems to dominate the concerns of India's fans. Do the players really want it badly enough? Does Dravid wan't to win as badly as Ganguly did? What is Chappell's agenda? Was Ganguly sidelined in the manner that he was to pave the way for 8-10 months of pure Chappell-Dravidization? These questions and these world views will never go away. What a World Cup victory will do at best is to sweep these questions under the carpet. Appreciation of Cricket in India is much like the appreciation of Indian-Chinese - which is probably the most misconcieved, misunderstood and yet seemingly inevitably popular cuisine in todays India. It is probably the closest one can come to a pan-Indian restaurant cuisine. So it is with Cricket.

As Chappell has learnt, this is a reality which is best left at arms length. The team as with the selection committee and the cricket community must become a cocoon in which Cricket can be developed. That is what has been attempted, and achieved in the last 6 or 7 years. This World Cup is the acid test of this development.

Best Wishes to India...


Friday, February 16, 2007

The Selection process - the perils of having to play God

The reaction to India's squad selection for the World Cup has been quite muted - a testimony in my view to the well articulated selection process and the fact that the selection has taken place with the team management and the selection committee ending up on the same page as the World Cup has approached. That this has been possible with the Dravid-Chappell-Tendulkar/Sehwag management with two seperate selection committees (More and now Vengsarkar) is significant.

Selection is one of the most fascinating aspects of sport, more so in cricket, where the selection committee wields enormous power, unlike a sport like football or rugby, where the coach is all powerful and selects the squad. There has been tremendous debate in India about the "honorary" nature of the selection committee. Several new age global citizens of varying vintage demand accountability and professionalism from selectors, and want them to have a full time paid job (the subtext being that someone will have the power to sack them if they don't like the way the job is being performed - the classic definition of accountability in the corporate world). The election process of BCCI is more powerful than people imagine and has come to the rescue consistently over the past 8-10 years. The practice of zonal selectors is an excellent one and the ridiculously reductionist notion that it propogates "quota" selections can be dispelled simply by taking a piece of paper drawing 5 columns on it - one for each of the 5 zones and listing the players from each zone for each squad selected to represent India over the last 10-12 years.

In the matter of selection, i come down squarely in favor of the selectors. I think they do an extremely difficult, thankless job very well. I have been having an interesting discussion with Homer about the selection process and he describes two distinct criteria which seem to have guided selection to the national squad in recent times. The following is a quote from Homer's comment at the end of his post.

1. One approach would be to identify a group of people, with identified strengths and weaknesses, and then tailor the process around them so as to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. (This is referred to as the personality based selection criterion)

2 .Another approach is to have the process itself sacrosanct and to mold the people associated with the process to meet the requirements of the process. And in doing so, people are picked or discarded on how best they facilitate the smooth implementation of the process and add value to it. (This is referred to as the process based selection criterion)

The first is a process focus while the second is a personality focus. I would argue here that both points of view have to be, and are adopted by selectors and one does not negate or contravene the other. If you look around the world, the most successful talents to have been selected successfully into international teams in recent years (this has possibly always been true but i don't know enough to make the broad generalized claim), have all had glaring technical flaws if viewed classically, have invariably been unorthodox and have many a times not had extraordinary success at domestic level before they got selected. I would point to Irfan Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Virendra Sehwag (he did enjoy plenty of success at domestic level though), Marcus Trescothick, Chris Gayle, Hershelle Gibbs, Lasith Malinga, Mahendra Dhoni, Michael Vaughan - have all been selected on faith, inspite of the existence of one of more obvious weaknesses. At the same time, there have been instances of players who look perfect not going on to make it - such as Mark Ramprakash or Greame Hick.

Selection is inevitably risky because it involves making final judgements about human beings. Therefore, on occasion, players will be selected on faith on other occasions, they will be dropped on faith. The dropping of Ganguly and Zaheer was an example of the second approach explained above.

The dilemma and difficulty of analyzing selection in cricket is greater because Cricket, even though it is a team sport, is for all intents and purposes an individual sport in disguise. Plays are made by individual batsmen facing individual bowlers. Most criticism of selection policy ignores important realities. For example, if you think about it, the following practical criteria would seem to have been absolutely crucial when it came to selecting the Indian squad for the world cup.

1. The limitation of being able to pick only 15 players.
2. The requirement of having at least one spare batsman, spare fast bowler and spare spinner.
3. The requirement of enabling the team management to select an eleven with 5 specialist bowlers or one with 6 specialist batsmen (which in effect dictated that Sehwag and Pathan had to be selected)
4. The availability of batting talent (only 2 of the top 15 run scorers in this years elite Ranji Trophy division were realistically in line for India selection)
5. The availability of bowling talent
6. Fitness

If we are to be fair, then any criticism directed at the selection committee must have already considered all of the above factors. Over and above this, there needs to be some basic courtesy which ought to be extended to the team management and the selection committee, given the nature of the job. To be fair though, reaction to this selection has been very fair by and large. One major issue though, which one hears and reads very often, is this notion that selectors "reward" players by selecting them and "punish" players by dropping them. In that sense, selection is very much a process which adheres to the 'process' criterion. The non-selection of Ramesh Powar being a case in point. It is not reflection on Powar that he wasn't selected. You could make the case that Powar might have been preferred ahead of the great Anil Kumble, but equally convincing arguments could be made in Kumble's favor - a particularly persuasive one being that Kumble is likely to play only on absolutely helpful surfaces, because he will play as the second specialist spinner only.

Selection then is a difficult job. It commands decency and courtesy on the part of the observer. It is inherently political and can never be an absolutely rational process, any more that wagering can be an absolute scientific certainty. If you look around the world - the Australians have selected a squad with Lee, Clarke, Ponting and Symonds all out injured right now. South Africa have embraced their own brand of affirmative action and go into the world cup as the side ranked number 1 in the world. England have selected their squad on a prayer with nothing much in terms of performance to go on in recent times. The West Indians have selected a squad with a debutant and another player with a potentially career ending bookie investigation hanging over his head.

All this just goes to show that selection is fraught with risk. Stereotypes about "aggression" and "committment" and "killer instinct" and "professionalism" and that much abused word - "accountability" inform most of the criticism which selectors and the team face. And if viewed carefully, most of the criticism is ill-conceived. I suppose these are some of the perils of playing God. "You go and represent a billion people in the world's biggest cricket tournament, because me and my colleagues think you are the best available person for the job" - saying that to a 23 year old with little first class experience is as difficult as saying it to a 34 year old with well known technical weaknesses and a history of poor fitness. The Selectors seem to play God - but their real job is to place their trust and the trust of their employers and supporters in individuals.

And that is how it must be seen.....


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Australia lose by 10 wickets.... slump to a 9 year low

The Australian slump is turning out to be a nightmare and Australia now find themselves faced with the prospect of two must win games if they are to win this series in New Zealand on World Cup eve. To add to their woes, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist have been rested for this tour, while Andrew Symonds is out injured.

Australia have now lost 4 of their last 5 ODI games. The last time this happened was in the 1997-98 season, when in 5 ODI's from a game in Napier against New Zealand on 12th February 1998 to a game on 7th April 1998 at Kanpur against India, the Australians lost twice each against India and New Zealand and managed a sole win against Zimbabwe at Ahmedabad. Just to put this in perspective, that defeat at Napier was ODI 1292, while this one at Wellington was ODI 2524 - almost half of ODI history.

Australia have had 4-5 instances in the last 9 years where they have managed to lose 3 out of 5, the worst being a streak (if you can call it that) where they went Lost, Won, Tied, Lost, Lost from ODI 1591 to ODI 1633.

The full Australian side is still probably very very difficult to beat, and Ponting has a 104-25 record in 137 ODI matches as captain - the best record in history. Others who come closest are

Clive Lloyd (64-18 in 84 games)
Viv Richards (67-36 in 105 games)
Hansie Cronje (99-35 in 138 games)
Shaun Pollock (59-29 in 92 games)
Steve Waugh (67-36 in 106 games)

John Buchanan asked for a fight just before this disastrous run - it may well happen, that New Zealand will ask Australia for a fight after todays result! After an unrivalled run of success as Australia coach - having created and managed the most successful ODI and Test sides in history over the last 8 years, is there to be that proverbial sting in the tail which may curse John Buchanan's life as Australian coach?

The Ratings on 16th February 2007 are as follows:

South Africa 0.609
Australia 0.571
New Zealand 0.536
India 0.516
Sri Lanka 0.510
England 0.497
West Indies 0.486
Pakistan 0.465
Zimbabwe 0.310


World Cup 2007 - Statistical Preview - Australia are strongest, but South Africa in best form......

This table shows a statistical summary of the top eight squads selected for World Cup 2007. The figures are cumulative ones for the whole squad. The last field - Team Index is calculated based on the idea of performance per ball, as discussed in my rating. This is the cumulative performance of the squad per ball in ODI cricket. The ODI ratings taking into consideration matches upto the first Australia v New Zealand game are as follows (The ratings are explained in the link above):

South Africa 0.609
Australia 0.596

India 0.515
New Zealand 0.512
Sri Lanka 0.509
England 0.497
West Indies 0.486
Pakistan 0.465

The ratings may be viewed to be indicative of current form, while the statistical summaries of the squads show the relative strengths of the squads. The Australians are going in with the strongest squad, while the South Africans are going in with the most in form squad. I plotted the ratings at each month end starting November 2005. These are shown in the figure below:

As observed by the statistical summary as well as the charts, apart from Australia and South Africa, there is little to choose between the sides. Every team has experienced slumps and crests in the past 13 months and deliciously, the weakest side - England have just knocked Australia off their high pedestal, there by making predictions even more fraught with danger.

Australia still have the strongest side, but not decisively so in my opinion. Strength is important - because the format of the World Cup ensures that 2 bad games will not result in elimination as was the case in 1999 and 2003. In the super 8s each side plays 6 games, and it is not out of the question that the 4th side to make the knock out stage will have a 4-3 record (counting the game from the early round), with the three losses coming in the super 8s. Teams which are inherently strong could weather early set backs are still stay in the hunt. Teams in great form on the other hand, could easily make the knockout stage on a successful streak of victories. These sides will have to watch for burn out, and could easily come up against a class side (like NZ did against Pakistan in the 1992 semifinal).

India go into this World Cup with 3 batsmen who have more than 10,000 ODI runs, including possibly the greatest ODI batsman ever. New Zealand have the the best bowler (statistically speaking) - Shane Bond, while Sri Lanka have the best spin bowler - Murali. Australia are the fastest scoring batting unit, while the South Africans are the most miserly bowling unit. The hosts West Indies have the only player out of the 120 players representing the top 8 sides in the world, who will make his ODI debut in the World Cup if he makes the eleven - Kieron Pollard. Pietersen and Hussey are the two best batsmen in statistical terms, both average over 50 and have strike rates over 90. Pakistan go in with one of the stronger squads, but have had an inconsistent run over the past 15 months.

All in all, this is a world cup, where any side could win, with South Africa being the team to beat.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Cricketing View got nominated as a sports blog in the indibloggies weblog awards. I was pleasantly surprised. Do have a look at the Indibloggies blog. For the next few says you'll find their link just below that superb black and white photograph of Dennis Lillee bowling to 9 slips. If you tend to be politically opinionated, do visit (you can use that link in that graphic i think...... do stop to admire the field set in the picture) and vote. I would also encourage you to have a look at the nominations in the various categories. Some very interesting people there.

Thanks are in order to Atul (veteran blogger - writes 3 seperate blogs!) who introduced me to blogging (and since then, has relinquished the right to be free from cricket :) ).

Im quite fascinated by the notion of an Indian blogging community. I wonder if there ought to be a formal Cricket blogging community......

In any event, do visit CricketingView often.....


Monday, February 12, 2007

India's World Cup Squad.....

As far as my predictions go, this time, my expectation from Rahul Dravid was proved right..... My own prediction was wrong, only because the Indian selectors in all their wisdom did not select Ranadeb Bose in the World Cup Probables list released earlier.

As far as selections go, this one has a touch of fait accompli to it. Of the 15 member squad, 3 players are untested for current form (Yuvraj, Sehwag, Pathan), two have been selected mainly because there isn't anyone available to replace them (Ganguly, Kumble), and one fast bowler (Sreesanth) has also been picked for the same reason. Which leaves 9 players who have made it because they are truly first choice, and would be selected truly unanimously to the squad by any set of selectors. This is easily the worst fielding unit going to the 2007 World Cup amongst the top 8 teams. It is also the least fit unit, with Munaf and Yuvraj having chronic fitness problems.

But you know what? It is probably the strongest squad that could have been selected at this point in time for India. This is a scary thought. But then again, a less fancied Indian side once went to a World Cup and won.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Unruly, fathomless cricket......... Welcome to World Cup Eve.....

In the lead up to the world cup, this weekend has been quite tumultous - England have now beaten Australia in 3 consecutive ODI games, the first time this has been done since 2001-02, when the West Indies beat Australia in 3 straight dead rubber games (Australia won that series 4-3). South Africa have just hammered Pakistan - the third in a series of hammerings those two sides have traded. India have just slumped to a significant, potentially momentum killing defeat against Sri Lanka at Rajkot. And the Rahul Dravid - Manager Desai - tour report controversy continues to baffle, mainly because it is so out of character (or rather - out of publicly established character) for Rahul Dravid. Ian Chappell attributes Australia's slump to the absence of Andrew Symonds. Akash Chopra talks about the influence of the media on cricketers.

There is an interesting term in sport - "the form book" - this would seem to be a contradiction at first glance - for form is a fickle unit of measurement. If you follow cricket, you will know that form is like the weather, its hard to predict with any accuracy except maybe for the forthcoming 24 hours. There is of course that other term - Class, which like the climate is slightly more predictable, but in todays warming times, even that is flux. Take Tendulkar for instance - everyone will agree that the man has class. Its just that he has had an abysmal finals record in the past 7 years, and has had a poor time of time of it in recent times. The man is a curse as much as he is a boon, for when he makes runs and India lose, its like he failed India, when he doesn't make runs and India lose, its like he failed India, and unlike youre average Joe cricketer, when Tendulkar fails, like the alarm surrounding climate change and global warming, it all portends towards the apocalyptic.

With the press - they are a law unto themselves, they tend to create their own climates whenever they need to write about something. Patterns are created and destroyed with concise (sometimes verbose) assaults on (usually) QWERTY keyboards, and this activity becomes more and more frenzied as summits like the World Cup approach, much like the Earth Summit and the recent Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change meeting at some Rue in Paris.

Which brings me to question - who creates these climates, who regulates them, who holds their feet to the fire? In an interesting email communication i had recently, some one wrote "
my only fear is that we look at cricket from a distance sometimes and the media shapes our views way too much. not all of it is as honest as it needs to be."

Who else can shape our view of cricket? Its either the media or expert commentary on TV. And in the absence of any standards - for the Cricket Board, the press or the expert commentary (i sometimes wish they would have a commentators union, at least this would invite some form of regulation), Cricket appears unruly, unfathomable - both in terms of the cricket that is played and in terms of the events surrounding it.

At the eve of the World Cup, the only things that can be said with certainty are

1. There are 8 equally strong teams, any of which can win, provided they can summon up the staying power to conquer the World Cup format. This in cricket terms is an excellent development from 2003.

2. The Samuels story adds fuel to a very damaging fire, who's embers had only just begun to die away, and Cricket seems no better equipped to deal with it today than it has ever been in the past

3. In India, the BCCI or the press are as disorganized and as unreliable as they were in 2003.

Rahul Dravid says controversies are part and parcel of life as an India cricketer, and acts completely out of character. Can you blame him if he seems to have acquired some of the right-wings arrogance post SuryaNamaskar?

No you can't, because there are no well-established standards of conduct expected from the Captain of India. Nobody knows the climate, and everyone is enslaved by the weather - and thats about the story of prehistoric cave men - or may be not, even they knew enough to find caves and establish patterns and organize life...


Friday, February 09, 2007

Dravid asked to explain himself for question cricketing pedigree of the Manager to the SA tour.......

Rahul Dravid responded with disdain when questioned about the leaked tour report filed by Manager Desai after the South African tour. He was specifically asked to respond to claims in the report which questioned Sehwag's attitude.

A lot has been made about this. Everybody has put in his/her good word to the Captain, at times at the Captain. Here what i think is happening -

1. Dravid's has read Sehwag better than anyone gives him credit for and desperately wants Sehwag to fire. He is well aware of Sehwag's attitude, as is most of the rest of the team and has surely seen all of Sehwag's reported misdemeanors on this tour as well as before in the Wright era from close quarters. He probably believes that Sehwag responds best to loyalty more than reason and knows that for all his poor behaviour, Sehwag could be the difference between winning the world cup and ending up say 5th. While Sehwag's current form may not inspire the same confidence from the lay viewer (and the reasoned critic), one has to concede that Dravid is entitled to these choices. By coming out so strongly and even arrogantly in Sehwag's corner, Dravid is probably trying to forcefully make the point that he is a players captain and will protect the team and the player as far as possible in such circumstances. Especially in the case of someone like Sehwag.

2. Dravid is extremely upset that the report was leaked. Nobody at BCCI has owned up to how the report was leaked. Along with asking Dravid to explain his position, they ought to come clean about the leak themselves. If they can't, they need to review reporting procedure.

3. Dravid went wrong in invoking the cricketing pedigree of the administrative manager, however right he may have been technically. Contrary to the general opinion however, i do not find it surprising, seeing Dravid's penchance for keeping the press in their place.

It may have been a simple case of Dravid losing it, but i think it has a bit to do with the fact that this is Sehwag we are talking about. One just hopes that Sehwag repays Dravids faith...


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Predicting India's World Cup Squad......

With the Kolkata ODI being washed out, and just the Rajkot match remaining before the 13th February deadline for declaration of squads for the World Cup, its time to select a 15 member squad, just to see how it matches up with the one which is eventually selected by Vengsarkar and c0.

Questions remain with regard to both personnel and squad structure - 7 batsmen, 6 bowlers and 2 wicketkeepers? or 6 batsmen, 6 bowlers and all rounder and 2 wicketkeepers? If Rahul Dravid has his way (and i suspect that he will), then India's world cup squad will be as follows:

Batsmen: Dravid, Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Ganguly, Utthappa, Sehwag
Wicketkeepers: Karthick, Dhoni
All Rounder: Pathan
Fast Bowlers: Munaf, Zaheer, Agarkar and Sreesanth
Spinners: Harbhajan, Kumble

If i had my way, the squad would be

Batsmen: Dravid, Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Ganguly, Utthappa, Sehwag
Wicketkeepers: Karthick, Dhoni
All Rounder: Pathan
Fast Bowlers: Munaf, Zaheer, Agarkar and Bose
Spinners: Harbhajan, Kumble

I am wary of playing Dinesh Karthick as a specialist batsman and i hope he stays purely an alternative in the event of Dhoni being unable to play.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rahul Dravid, SuryaNamaskar, Secularism (???), Politiking and other gobbledygook.....

SuryaNamaskar bring back very dark memories for me. I associate them with discipline, waking up early in the morning, remembering 12 names of the Sun (there are 108 - but only a lunatic would learn them, cos each name is associated with a SuryaNamaskar), reciting each name and doing a SuryaNamaskar. Those who think SuryaNamaskar is easy, should have a look at this.

Rahul Dravid endorsed SuryaNamaskar for school children, and all the usual suspects raised hell. The Hindu Right Wing said it was final and absolute evidence that God (Hindu obviously) was on their side, the Muslim Right Wing said it was a fatal blow against secularism, while others alternated between exasperation and outrage at this crippling assault on normalcy.

I think SuryaNamaskar is fine exercise, especially when you're in school and need disciplined activity to start your day. You will never understand the sheer joy on waking up one morning and watching the clock tick past 8 am, 9 am, 10 am......... 11 am...... the smile inside becoming wider and wider with every passing minute and knowing that for once, the powers that be (elders, grandparents, God himself) have forgotten about you and SuryaNamaskar. If its an OK day, you may have to do them at 7 in the evening, after you return home from playing. If it is a great day, you don't have to do them until next morning! Just imagine how wonderful it would be if suryanamaskar could be outsourced from the home to the school..... you wouldn't have to make any arguments (even the most reasoned ones fell on deaf ears - such as my classic argument on some really early mornings that the sun himself wasn't up yet - the response - hes already up somewhere). As for those lucky children who don't have to do SuryaNamaskar at Home, it would serve them right doing them in School. There is no reason at all as to why children with really enlightened non-suryanamaskar-fundamentalist elders should have the opportunity to miss SuryaNamaskar.

I just don't see it as a "Hindu" thing. I don't see it as a "Right Wing" thing either. Most of all, i don't see it as something where the Government needs to get involved.

The Right Wing is as much in the wrong, using SuryaNamaskars, Rahul Dravid (the RSS is almost ready to make Dravid their honorary roving suryanamaskar ambassador) and normal best practices from daily life for partisan political gain, as is the left "secular" wing for complaining about something that is really not "non-secular". I have nothing against either Hinduism or the concept of secularism, and i do believe in the notion of the secular state, however, the tragedy of all this suryanamaskar politiking is that this magnificient exercise is the biggest (and possibly only) casualty in the debate.

Why a State Government has to tell schools what exercise they should introduce in schools is beyond me. Why can't the school PT master (or any school teacher for that matter) figure this out for himself? The Government does not hold the copyright for exercise does it? We learnt how to do SuryaNamaskar in my school (in Mumbai, India - cosmopolitan, secular, melting pot), and my school was basically too lazy to have any political leaning.

So - more power to the Captain - continue with the good advice. And to the right, the left, and everybody else wishing for everything from the hindu rashtra to the pseudo-secular welfare state, LAY OFF...... Do not drag the Cricket Captains good name thru the politikal muck.

As Captain of India the man is well within his rights to promote something which he thinks (and i agree) is healthy exercise for school children and even for some of our older citizens (me excepted of course, ive had my fair share already). His appearance at an RSS rally does not need to be seen as a shift towards the lunatic right, any more than Sourav Ganguly's appearance at CPM rallies can be seen as a shift on Ganguly's part towards the lunatic left.

I mean.... really...... whatever next? Is the Namaskar (the kind that is used instead of "Hello" in our country and is probably the most frequently used word in the world) going to be hijacked by the political right (and left) wing as well? Really, politiks*** is the one area were the words left and right can be used interchangeably.

Om Mitrayanamahaa.....


*** There is a difference between politiks and politics, and i think it is self evident.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mumbai - Ranji Trophy Champions

Mumbai beat Bengal by 132 runs at the Wankhede Stadium to win their 37th Ranji Title (and 7th in the last 14 seasons). All things considered, Mumbai's performance was about par - with the India players making all the difference. Apart from a brief period when Ganguly and Tiwari (Dada and chota-Dada if the grapewine is to be believed!) were at the crease. Rohan Gavaskar threatened briefly, but once he left, it was a matter of time. Bengal tried to make a match of it, but after their first innings debacle, it was always going to be too difficult.

What this Ranji Trophy game did show was a glimpse of what the Ranji Trophy can be - if it is expanded and if the Duleep Trophy becomes a viable contest (instead of the knockout farce that it is today). First class cricket will not be played in India until October now. So there is no first class cricket played in India from February to October! The weather definitely does not define this season. With more Ranji matches, you would have more opportunities for India players to participate, and you would have a greater opportunity to sort of up coming talent. Manoj Tiwari and Ranadeb Bose have come to the fore this year. One other important thing that an expanded domestic cricket schedule will do (especially if it is televised), is that it will provide more information to the average Indian about cricket. This will hopefully lead to more informed, and less filmy positions about cricket (Chappell getting assaulted apparently because Orissa wasn't represented in the Indian side, Kaif's home being attacked etc etc). If you really think about it, for the profile that cricket has in India, an astonishing little amount of it is actually played in the public eye.

The high profile match has also brought to the fore shortcomings in ground facilities for spectators, which must be embarassing for the MCA, what with the 2011 World Cup Final scheduled to be played at the Wankhede Stadium.

This blog has a superb set of posts on the Ranji Final and Mumbai Cricket. Do have a look at it......


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ranji Trophy Final - Day 2 - Its settled..... and now its a selection match......

The first two days of the Ranji Final have been vintage Bombay. The India players have returned and made their presence felt. Two centuries, One fifty and a Five wicket haul later, Bengal find themselves trailing by 290 with 8 2nd innings wickets remaining for Mumbai. Mumbai, in typical fashion sorted out their batting order, and gave young Rohit Sharma the chance to show what he can do - doubtless thanks to a call from Dilip Vengsarkar to Praveen Amre, and Sharma made 57 in quick time before he was dismissed. Tendulkar hasn't come in to bat, and Jaffer has reached 50 again.

Sourav Ganguly made little impact on Bengal - i can just picture him being reminded of the short ball by 11 Mumbai players, him expecting Zaheer to bowl him one first up, and being subsequently bowled off a lame, leaden footed inside edge. One wonders why more international teams don't execute these things as well as Mumbai. Obvious technical flaws ensure that it is not mere poor judgement which can get a batsman out. They represent an inherent weakness which compromises the batsman defense. So it is with Ganguly. The Ganguly innings is built upon little more than a prayer and a stout heart in international cricket and it is prone to fail more often than other batsmen whose innings are built upon a prayer, a stout heart and good technique.

Given Mumbai's collapse in the first innings (they lost 7/52), another twist in this game in not out of the question - however it is quite unlikely.

In other news, Sehwag and Munaf have returned to the Indian side, Powar, Gambhir and Suresh Raina have been dropped possibly ending their World Cup hopes for the time being. The selection of Sreesanth signals an interest amongst the selectors give him another opportunity to make the squad. I suspect that the selectors already have at least 14 of the 15 names penciled in, if not all 15.

Sri Lanka will present a different challenge from the West Indies - they have a better bowling attack and a batting line up which compares favorably with the West Indian one. Murali is probably the biggest middle overs threat in ODI cricket, while Malinga presents a unique challenge. All in all i would view Sri Lanka as a tougher test compared to the West Indies. Paradoxically, India have beaten Sri Lanka convincingly last year, while they struggled against the West Indies.

Such is ODI cricket. Unless you are Australia, or Mumbai :), results are a matter of random chance.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Brewing the Perfect Storm - the quest for a World Cup winning squad.....

The squad for the first two games against Sri Lanka, is the last one that we will see before the 15 member World Cup squad is to be chosen. When the history of Indian ODI cricket is written in the year 2050, the 2007 World Cup squad will be viewed as the end of an epoch. The class of the 1990's is on the wane, and the 2007 World Cup promises to be the last great test that they will undertake. Come 2011, i will be very surprised if the Indian side is dominated by 37 year olds. 2003 was when these players were at their peak, and 2003 saw India make the finals. Since then, it could be argued, that Dravid has actually improved his ODI batting, while Kumble has seen a revival in his international career. The 2007 team is arguably better managed than the 2003 one, and has atleast one major advantage over the 2003 side - in the wicket keeping department.

The 15 member squad would ideally be broken up into 6 batsmen, 7 bowlers and 2 wicketkeepers. Of the 6 batsmen, Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj and Ganguly select themselves. The other two batting positions will be contested for the opening slots, with Gambhir, Utthappa and Sehwag in the running. Right now, Utthappa seems to be the front runner of the three. My pick would be Utthappa and Sehwag. The 4 fast bowling positions present a similar quandary, with only Agarkar and Zaheer being certainties. Munaf Patel, fitness permitting should make the squad. Irfan Pathan is an important selection decision, because he allows India the opportunity to play 5 bowlers. That leaves 1 fast bowling slot open. Sreesanth and RP Singh are contention for that slot, and both have been unconvincing in the ODI game. Of all the ODI bowlers mentioned here, nobody inspires any real confidence apart from Munaf Patel - and he is unfit. The fast bowling there fore, is going to be a bit of a gamble for the selectors whichever way they go. Let me throw Ranadeb Bose into the mix - the tall Bengal paceman has taken 50 wickets in this years first class season, and has shown the ability to swing the ball. In the spin bowling department, we have Ramesh Powar, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble. If two spinners are selected, they have to be the latter two, because those two are viable all wicket options, while Powar is not, especially on the smaller grounds in the tournament. The two wicketkeepers select themselves - Dhoni and Karthik.

So here is my World Cup squad -
Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Virendra Sehwag, Robin Utthappa, Mahendra Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and Ranadeb Bose.

Tendulkar should not play as opener - Ganguly and Uthappa should have that role. There is minor psychology at play here. Ganguly will be the senior partner in the opening partnership with Uthappa and it will do him good, instead of being shown up against Tendulkar. The middle order would be a floating affair, with Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj and Sehwag all primed to maintain a relentless attack. With the reduction of the mandatory field restrictions and the availability of powerplays, the role of the opener is no longer as significant as it was before, where the first 15 overs consisted of 2 catchers and only 2 outfielders. The powerplays do not require catchers, and are completely different from the mandatory 10 over restrictions. Add Dhoni to the mix, and you have 5 top class middle order batsmen to follow.

All in all, i think India does have the personnel to win the World Cup. The Dravid-Chappell team has been a good one, and the revival of Ganguly augurs well for India. Everything seems to fall into place, all though, it will take just 2-3 bad games against SL for it to go pear shaped.

But for now, it is possible to make a realistic selection for the World Cup. The World Cup schedule is such that India will play either Australia or Pakistan towards the end of their Round Robin schedule - a cunning plan by organizers to ensure interest. India has the experience to stay the course in a long rigorous format like this one.

It is all a matter of putting in place all the ingredients for the magical storm......


Thursday, February 01, 2007

Ranji Trophy Final - I wish i was there......

I wish i could have been in Bombay right now. The Ranji Trophy final starts at Wankhede Stadium tomorrow and its probably the best match in India, from the point of view of watching it at the ground. International cricket in India ought to be watched on TV, with the mute button on, if you want to really enjoy the cricket. At the ground, crowds (im unable to bring myself to call them spectators) are large, noisy and seem to want to ensure with a vengeance that they get their moneys worth. This usually means plenty of noise, plenty of standing around (with no regard for anyone sitting behind you), absolute partisanship, and almost no interest in the cricket. Domestic cricket matches on the other hand, invites viewers who are basically interested in watching cricket. The Star player does not interest them, beyond the quality which the India player brings to a Ranji match. Tickets to domestic matches are cheap, and hence don't invite those who aren't interested (believe me, this makes perfect sense).

This Ranji final promises to be star studded however - with both Bengal and Mumbai fielding their first choice sides. Bengal is coached by Paras Mhambrey the former Bombay new ball stalwart who also played for India. Sourav Ganguly is playing for Bengal, while Wasim Jaffer, Sachin Tendulkar, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan and Ramesh Powar are playing for Mumbai. The men to watch in this game however, will be Amol Muzumdar of Mumbai and Ranadeb Bose, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala and Manoj Tiwari for Bengal. The Bengal trio has been instrumental in Bengal's powerhouse performance in the league matches (they beat Mumbai on the first innings in the league game at the Eden Gardens). Bose has been particularly impressive with 48 wickets at 13.81, and symbolizes the shift in Ranji Trophy cricket from spin to pace. He has demolished almost every batting line up that Bengal faced, and took 5/69 against Mumbai in the high scoring league game (Bengal made 580 and Mumbai responded with 372) on a flat Eden Gardens wicket. A good outing in the Ranji final will ensure that Bose gets considered for the England tour, what with fast bowling slots in the Test team available. Amol Muzumdar has scored crucial runs for Mumbai this season, and should be a front runner for the spare batsman's slot for the English tour. The Vengsarkar Selection Committee's selection philosophy does not seem to attach too much significance to age, and this will work in Muzumdar's favor should be do well in the final. Tendulkar and Ganguly are in form, and Wasim Jaffer will look to reassure the selectors by making runs against Bose and Sarkar, who have been the most successful new ball pair in the Ranji Trophy this year.

Bengal have never beaten Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, and the Eden Garden's match was the first time that Bengal enforced the follow on against Mumbai. Apart from the big guns, Rohit Sharma - one of the 30 probables for the World Cup ought to make the final eleven for Mumbai.

All in all, this promises to be a classic contest....