Saturday, March 31, 2007

Anil Kumble... India's most prolific ODI bowler....

In an ODI career spanning 17 years, Anil Kumble took 337 ODI wickets - the most by an Indian bowler. It is a record which Agarkar amongst current bowlers is most likely to threaten. When Kumble quits Test Cricket, he will leave as India's most prolific Test bowler as well. That is the measure of this magnificient cricketer. However, he hasn't left Test Cricket yet (thankfully!) and so one must consider Kumble in ODI's here. His Test record is for another day, and indeed, the last words in that epic are yet to be written.

Kumble was the original mystery bowler in World Cricket. When he came along in 1990, the mercurial Abdul Qadir of Pakistan was Cricket's freak bowler - and he was a classical leg spinner. The 1980's had been dominated by medium fast and fast bowling, and indeed the only mystery faced by the world's batsmen was that occasionally that red blur coming their way would get lost - until they turned around and saw the wicketkeeper nonchalantly toss it to the grinning slipper. Kumble emerged as a fastish leg break bowler, who rarely turned the ball. His chief weapons were unrelenting accuracy, quick pace off the wicket, a slippery faster one and a tireless work ethic. On dry wickets, he was lethal. If ever there was a bowler who embodied "You miss, I hit!", it was him. Batsmen seem to read him off the team sheet and took a while to come to terms with his bowling. Playing him as a classical leg spinner was fraught with risk. By the time batsmen realized what he was all about, he had established himself. These were great years for Kumble - from 1992 - 1996 when he took 150 wickets in 103 games at 24.88, including 61 in the year 1996. This tally has been surpassed only by Warne and Saqlain for a calender year. He was also highest wicket taker in the 1996 World Cup.

The Sri Lankans, led by the brilliant Aravinda De Silva were the first to sort Kumble out, and many other teams followed their lead. Typically the anglo-saxon teams "played him like a in-swing bowler", while Aravinda played him like a spinner! A lull followed, when it seemed that Kumble's mystic was gone for good. He was still unplayable at times in India in Test cricket, but in the late 90's, not only did his ODI returns fall away, so did his overseas Test performances. This was truly a mid career crisis.

He emerged from this, by working on a googly, introducing more variety in his bowling, bowling slower through the air, mastering the art of bowling round the wicket to both right and left hander. This process reached maturity only by 2003. In the intervening time, Kumble devastated all comers in India, and occasionally demonstrated why he was so valuable to India simply because he was - well.... Anil Kumble.... He spend the 2001 Australia home series nursing a broken arm and nurturing Harbhajan Singh towards a virtuoso 32 wicket haul in a thrilling 2-1 series victory over the world's best team. If ever an event had pointed towards the value of a full time bowling coach - this was it.

He never really recovered in ODI cricket from the slump which began in 1997. His accuracy at that point proved insufficient and batsmen became more and more irreverant, willing to sweep from the stumps without a second thought. Kumble was one of the unfortunate victims of the evolution of ODI batting. The addition of variety took away some of his relentless accuracy and he could no longer control the game in the middle overs of an ODI like he did in his hey day. He was however always in the squad, and occasionally teamed up with Harbhajan Singh and even took his place.

Kumble was once a great ODI bowler. That is but a small part of his story. Having to bowl without men around the bat in ODI cricket, Kumble was like Arjuna with a borrowed bow. He was like Kapil a great trier. As an ODI bowler, he belonged to another era.

We will not see Kumble in Blue again. However, im looking forward to watching him on top of his run, his earnest eyes set, the red cricket ball being flicked with his wrists as though it were an extension of his person. Kumble prepares himself in his studied, deliberate manner as the batsmen faces up - the close in men waiting to pounce. It is in this moment, that India play their best cricket. It is a moment delivered by Anil Kumble.

Cricketing View

Friday, March 30, 2007

Endulkar? Version 2.0 - Should Tendulkar retire?

Ian Chappell's comments about Sachin Tendulkar, have invited swift reaction in the press - who - true patriots that they are must have taken the trouble to contact a number of ex-cricketers and ask for their views on Chappell's remarks. Other important questions have also been posed. Tendulkar also features prominently in other "inside" scoops - untold stories of a scandalous debacle. Everything from disharmony and disagreements to ego problems and communication gaps have been cited, each supported by their own evidence as the reasons behind India being dumped from the World Cup.

All this analysis reveals an unhealthy, misguided obsession with the phenomenon that is the Indian Cricket team, and a complete disregard for the idea of sport. Chappell makes his observations very well - without being apologetic about the fact that he is treading on dangerous ground (he doesn't live in India, or else his house might have been stoned by now). Chappell's article intends and succeeds in its intention of provoking thought.

Chappell's introduction of Brian Lara into the debate is in my view flawed, because Lara's position in the West Indies side as batsman is very different from Tendulkar's position in the Indian side. Lara has always been the preeminent batsman in his side - a situation Tendulkar found himself in through out the 1990's and thrived in. Tendulkar's decline as a batsman - thanks to injuries and the wear and tear that must inevitably come from playing international cricket for 17 out of his 33 years, has coincided with an improvement in India's overall batting side. From being the linchpin of the side, Tendulkar has been reduced to being a crippled elder passenger. I don't think that sits too well with the great man. Further, the position in which he made his name as an ODI batsman - where he remains unsurpassed in modern day cricket has now been taken away from him. With Lara on the other hand - whatever his own form/fitness situation might have been, his position as the pre-eminent West Indies batsman has never been in question. Lara has had numerous slumps
in his career, where as the last two years represent Tendulkar's first significant slump in his 17 year career.

How has Tendulkar reacted to the changes - to his injury woes and his batting decline? By all accounts, his response to injury has been exemplary. Inspite of so called fitness concerns, Tendulkar runs between wickets better than all Indian batsmen bar Yuvraj Singh, he fields better than all Indian batsmen bar Yuvraj Singh, has proved more adaptable (in terms of run output) than all Indian batsmen bar Rahul Dravid. The record suggests this. So his response to these developments has been above reproach. It is equally true that his batting has been in decline. He is no longer the best batsman in the world, possibly not even the best batsman in India. Even though his place in the side is never going to be in question (because he is still miles ahead of the next best Indian batsmen - something which is not the case in Australia - Michael Hussey was pushing Damien Martyn for a Test place and is clearly as good as Martyn), Tendulkar now finds himself a prisoner of his past.

Should he retire? Hes not too old, hes still clearly good enough to play for India - in terms of batting and fielding. Does he want to retire? Clearly, thats not something anybody other than him can say with any authority. Should we leave him alone? That is something only we can answer with authority. The debate is not about whether or not Tendulkar is good enough to continue - it is about whether he is still needed. In my view, he is absolutely needed.

If we look at "Team" rather than individual, he is needed. If we look at "individual", then it has to be his decision. This is a paradox - the commentary in the press on the one hand is about "stars" and "individuals" and the lack of "Team". And yet, the discussion when it comes to real issues, rarely progresses beyond the long, dark shadow of the "star". When Greg Chappell refers to "player development" and "youth" and "process" - these are treated as buzzwords. When Kiran More talks about "player development" - and points to a stellar record - both in terms of results and giving young players the opportunity to play international cricket and actually identifying who is and isn't ready, people can't look beyond his alleged unfavorable equation to Ganguly and in some cases beyond his less than compelling hold over the English language.

In Tendulkar's case, it is a matter of him reinventing himself as an India player. The player development process which had to be put on hold in order to cobble together a World Cup side, which has failed and proven Chappell and More right (in purely cricketing terms, all though this is an argument which patriotic Indians are unlikely to understand, mainly because they are not the sort of worry about the details of arguments), involves not only the unearthing and nurturing of new players, but also of the reinvention of established players.

Ajay Shankar of the Indian Express is the classic example of a journalist getting sucked into the disappointment of defeat and losing perspective. That article (linked above) is not reporting - it is a collection of disappointed confessions which are of no consequence. There is as much disagreement in the Indian camp as there has been in the Australian camp. The difference is that the average quality of cricketer in the Australian XI is superior to that in the Indian XI, thus ensuring results - which paper over the cracks like nothing else.

So should Tendulkar retire? Thats the wrong question to ask. The real question is - how can Tendulkar contribute in his remaining years as an international cricketer? Captaincy is only on the far horizon, all though his appointment as vice-captain is an admission of the fact the fact that there is nobody in the new generation who is good enough to be a future captain. There was Kaif, but he doesn't make the Test team or the ODI team. There was Sehwag, but its the same story with him.

I see the team management - Dravid (C), Tendulkar (VC) and Chappell (Coach) being retained - for a period of 12 months - until the end of the Australian tour. The national team clearly is not the problem area of Indian Cricket right now, and Tendulkar is the least of India's problems. The real solutions lie in the India A fixtures and the revamp of the Ranji Trophy schedule. The Australians took 13 years of rebuilding (from 1987 - 2000) in order to become the best team in the world. Lets not fool ourselves that India will get there any sooner.

I would however make one suggestion to Tendulkar - something he may want to think about as he decides what he wants to achieve in the next few years - that he should retire from ODI cricket and concentrate on Mumbai and Test Cricket. There is no question that this will hurt India's ODI side. But it will have a beneficial effect on Cricket in general in India - in that it will reduce the profile of ODI cricket and raise the profile of domestic cricket.

If Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar concentrate on First Class Cricket and Test Cricket, it will be the best possible thing for Cricket in India. And by that i mean for the way it is percieved.

Update: I am not making the argument that Tendulkar should join Kumble in retirement. Make no mistake - Kumble as an ODI player has been past his prime since about 2003, while Tendulkar is still one of the top 3 ODI batsmen in India. Tendulkar should retire, even though he would walk into the ODI side, because he needs to take the lead in conveying a message which the public needs to recieve and take on board. Kumble's is a far more conventional retirement.

However, both have an equally important role to play in domestic and Test cricket.

Cricketing View

New Zealand v West Indies Match Review


New Zealand beat West Indies by 7 wickets to make a winning start to their super 8's schedule. The West Indies now find themselves behind the clock as far as qualification goes, needing to win atleast three if not all four of their remaining super 8 games.

I wrote in my Match Preview, which finished when the West Indies were 4/86, that they would have to make their stand in the remainder of their batting innings - as it turned out, they did progress to 150/5, when Lara fell and the West Indies collapsed - losing 5/27. With only 177 to defend, it was going to require a Malingaesque effort for the West Indies to take away the all important points. As it happened, without a mystery bowler, and without the relentless pace of yore, New Zealand won with 10 overs to spare. That in itself is significant because the West Indies have conceded 1 full net-run-rat
e point in this game. Their 100 run defeat against Australia has already hurt their net-run-rate and it is looking increasingly likely that for the 3rd world cup in a row, the hosts may not make the last 4.

The match shows that inspite of the early wickets, (3/77 in 20 overs), a total of 177 meant that it was always going to be a matter of 1 good partnership for New Zealand, and once they got that, it was no contest.

Cricketing View

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New Zealand v West Indies March 29 Antigua - Preview

I have started writing this preview late, and as i write, Chris Gayle seems to have finally figured out that there is a World Cup being played on his home islands. I hope i don't put the wood on him, but Gayle is to the West Indies what Sehwag has been to India for a very very long time - the man who cannot help but make a match winning contribution if he stays in for about 20-25 overs. Gayle does it much better than Sehwag does, but like Sehwag - he has technical limitations and seems to thrive on sheer bloody-minded confidence (it is interesting how often the word bloody-minded seems to apply to cricketers - but then again may be i need to find better options in the future). When Sehwag passes 40 (he has done so in 44 out of his 165 innings), Indias win rate jumps to 70% from the normal 52% in games where Sehwag plays. For Gayle, him reaching 40 gives the West Indies a 7% better chance of winning (from 48 to 55%). Gayle has reached 40 in 58 out of his 160 innings. This win percentage is probably down to the Indian middle order's superior conversion rate. The great value of an aggressive opener firing is that it makes things much easier for the middle order.

Coming back to New Zealand v West Indies, this has traditionally been one of the low key contests in World Cricket. In the context of this World Cup however, this is an important game - especially for the West Indies. A quirk of scheduling has found them playing on three consecutive days. A second successive defeat will leave them a too much to do in their next 4 games. In all likelihood, they will have to defeat England and South Africa to progress. For New Zealand, a win here would leave them with one foot in the semi final. With games against Bangladesh and Ireland (no cakewalks, but easier than say South Africa or Australia) to come, it will essentially mean that they need to win only one out of their next three games against the big teams.

So this contest, which has since the great battles which Richard Hadlee fought (and often won) against the formidable West Indies top order of Greenidge, Haynes, Lloyd and Richards in the early 1980's have lacked the excitement of a great individual contest - if you leave aside the then unprecedented sight of Mark Greatbatch charging the great Malcolm Marshall in the 1992 World Cup and smashing him over square cover for 6, is an important World Cup match. This year, it also features some of the finest individual cricketing talent in the World - Bond, Lara, Sarwan, Gayle, Bravo, Oram, Vettori..

World Cup contests between these two sides have been closely fought and as with most sides, New Zealand have in recent editions had the better of the West Indies after coming off second best in the West Indian heyday (South Africa have proved to be the exception to this rule and have a poor record in multilateral tournaments against the West Indies). Much like India against Brian Lara, New Zealand have tended not to feel the full force of the flashing West Indian blade. Early world cup meetings in the 1975 and 1979 editions went the West Indies way. The first one was a World Cup Semi final and New Zealand collapsed to 158 all out in the face of the emerging West Indian pace attack - led in this game by Bernard Julien, then considered the next Gary Sobers. The West Indies won with ease, thanks to a century stand between Alvin Kallicharan and Gordon Greenidge. In 1979, the two teams met in a group match at Richard Hadlee's home away from home - Nottinghamshire. Hadlee had a moderate day and it was Clive Lloyd who led the West Indies to 244/7 in 60 overs. The New Zealand line up, facing the A list West Indies fast bowling line up could manage 212 in reply.

The next time these two sides met was in the 1992 World Cup, in Auckland New Zealand. An indifferent West Indies batting effort meant that New Zealand were left with 205 to win at the diamond shaped Eden Park ground. With Greatbatch's belligerence and Martin Crowe's class, they ran out easy winners by 5 wickets. New Zealand were favorites in the 92 World Cup and they played like favorites, until another classy batsman destroyed their hopes in 10 mad overs in World Cup semifinal. Backed by the wily Miandad, the Inzamam of 1992 batted
with characteristic ponderous belligerence to devastate New Zealand's hopes. At Southampton in 1999, New Zealand were undone by another West Indian who never fullfilled his potential in many eyes - Mervyn Dillon. Ridley Jacobs, opening the batting lead a successful West Indian run chase of 156.

Their last meeting in the World Cup - at the notoriously unpredictable Port Elizabeth wicket in 2003 was potentially a World Cup classic. Chasing 242 for victory, the West Indies slumped to 5/46 and then 6/80, before Ramnaresh Sarwan and Ridley Jacobs led a brilliant recovery with a 98 run stand for the 7th wicket, a rarity, especially in run chases. The chase was well and truly on, when Sarwan was dismissed effectively ending West Indies hopes.

As i conclude this preview, the West Indies find themselves in retreat in what is a must win game for them - 86/4. Brian Lara and Dwayne Bravo are at the wicket and this is where they must choose to make their stand. It's going to be difficult, especially because the West Indies don't seem to possess the special bowling resources of yore to withstand a siege.

Cricketing View

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

PTI Report on returning Indian team - 3/10

This effort describing the return of the Indian side would have recieved about 3/10 (well - maybe 4, since India lost) from my English teacher in 7th standard. Im amazed that this appears under a PTI byline.

If it was tongue in cheek i take my words back.....

Cricketing View

South Africa v Sri Lanka, Australia v West Indies - Match Review and Match Track....

Two super 8 matches were decided today and the favorites (if there is such a thing in this world cup) came through in both games. The Australians executed a clinical innings in the field and had the game sewn up at early as the 9th over of the West Indies innings when they reduced the West Indies to 3/20. Chris Gayle could not match Mathew Hayden, and the veteran McGrath continued his strong run against the West Indians taking 3/31. Brian Lara had his moments but it was way too many runs for him to chase down by himself. Bradley Hogg - one of the lesser stars in the Australian line up is proving to be their most crucial performer in the World Cup. He brings to the Australian bowling attack that priceless quality - spin bowling which most batsmen in the World don't read very well. He bowls a superb length and i have rarely if ever seen him get square cut. The Match Track confirms Australia's dominance...

The Sri Lanka - South Africa game, one which was crucial to the South Africans, ended up being a thriller, all though one was left with the feeling that it was unnecessarily so. In actual fact, it was a game characterized by 2 collapse. Sri Lanka collapsed from 5/195 to 10/209, while the South Africans went from 2/160 to 9/212 - a loss of 7/52. Lasith Malinga took 4 wickets in 4 balls spread over two seperate overs and what was seeming to be a cruise for the South Africans ended up being a heart-stopping quasi-nightmare. The choking bogie has been raised and some uncharitable viewers called this the Chuckers v Chokers game. In reality, the game reinforced the fact that with the magic of Muralitharan and the class of Vaas, Sri Lanka need only one other bowler (Malinga, Maharoof or Fernando) to produce 2-3 wicket taking deliveries in their spells to make them a potent bowling force. Fernando produced a beauty to Tendulkar against India, and Malinga got his yorkers right at the end against South Africa today.

Greame Smith suggested at the end of the game at the South African's dominated 95 overs of the contest - that turns out not to have quite been the case. The partnership between Dilshan and Arnold had it continued to the 50th over would have given the Sri Lankans 25 extra runs to play with - which might have been crucial. This game, which saw Sri Lanka lose 5/14 and South Africa lose 2 wickets in 2 balls (from Murali) and then 4 wickets in 4 balls (from Malinga) was much closer than the South African captain would have liked.

As it happens, it was a great result for the super 8's, which now stand as follows:

Australia 4
South Africa 2
Sri Lanka 2
New Zealand 2
West Indies 2
England 0
Bangladesh 0
Ireland 0

Cricketing View

Times Of India Ends Kumble's ODI Career

The Old Lady of Boribunder seems to be taking leave of her senses. This story runs with the headline "Kumble announces ODI retirement" and one would expect that he made the announcement and offered his thoughts on the World Cup. Yet, scroll down to read the story and it starts with

"
Master leg-spinner Anil Kumble is all set to swing his Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) office-bearers in action to arrange for a formal announcement on his retirement from One-day cricket in the next few days.

Before he goes public with his decision, Kumble, the ever-courteous and morally upright cricketer, took the trouble of taking his colleagues in confidence in Port of Spain before the team left for home on Tuesday. "

!!

Even considering the low standards of the press and the age of the venerable newspaper, this has to rank amongst their vilest efforts. The report lauds Kumble as an "ever-courteous" cricketer and reports his communication to his team mates, yet the act of filing the report with a very misleading headline not only reeks of opportunism and indecent haste to break a "story" (even though Anil Kumble had already declared his intention of retiring from ODI cricket after the World Cup), but also denies Kumble the opportunity to make his actual announcement. The public has a right to be puzzled when Kumble actually announces this retirement after reading this story in the Times of India.

The reporting ignores the very qualities it admires in Kumble - his courteousness, the grace and class in his remarks to his teammates and his sheer honesty. A player, any player must surely have the right to declare his retirement without the so called story being "broken". This headline is typical - tantalizing, yet ultimately misleading. When we learnt to write essays and stories in school, the advice about framing titles was that the title should not mislead, and should not reveal too much, yet give an indication as to the subject of the story. Clearly, this was a story which could have been held back a couple of days. "Breaking" it created no real advantage to anybody.

Im going to wait for Kumble's actual announcement and i hope that Times of India and their affiliated TV and Radio networks get lost on their way to the announcement.

Update: Other publications reported the story as well:

Kumble to announce ODI retirement - Rediff
Kumble to quit ODI's - Central Chronicle
India's Kumble to announce ODI retirement
Kumble to announce ODI retirement on return to India - The Hindu

So clearly - there are two different stories out there. When other people are willing to be careful enough to report accurately, why not Times of India? Some others have used headlines such as "India's Kumble retires from One Day Cricket" - which is still fine as an accurate statement of fact.

Cricketing View

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sri Lanka v South Africa, Guyana, Preview

This contest will bring back terrible memories from 2003 for the South Africans. Mark Boucher blocked the last ball of Muralitharan's over, believing South Africa had put themselves ahead of the rain rule score, only to find that this was the score to tie. It cost them a place in the super 6's in their home World Cup.

Since South Africa's reentry into World Cricket, their contests against Sri Lanka have been easy to predict. At home, they have dominated the Sri Lanka, while in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankans have let the South Africans win only 1 game. Sri Lanka demolished South Africa 5-0 during their last meeting in South Africa, while South Africa have achieved 4-1 and 5-1 victories in series in South Africa. At neutral venues, it is even stevens - 8 wins a piece. Muralitharan is a threat for South Africa at neutral venues - he has taken 23 wickets in 13 games, at a fine average of 20, and an economy rate of 3.80.

The South Africans possess the world cup's most potent new ball attack - Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock. Jayasurya and Tharanga will have their work cut out for them. The veteran has struggled against the South Africans, averaged 24.9 against them compared to his career average of 33. Sri Lanka's best chance is to bat, put up 250 and defend it with Murali in their ranks. Smith will be a key player because South Africa will depend on the runs they can against the new ball, especially if their concerns about the wicket turn out to be well founded. This is a new ground, with an untested wicket. The other new wicket in Antigua played very well today with the Australians scoring their 6th consecutive 300+ score (i wrote it was the 7th consecutive score in the earlier post about the Australia match but it turns out it is the sixth). Sanath Jayasuriya has participated in all but two of his country's ODI games against the South Africans. Kumar Sangakkara amongst all of Sri Lanka's batsmen has the best record against the South Africans, he averages 40 against them.

South Africa are my sentimental favorites in this world cup, now that India have been eliminated. I would really like to see them win - as a tribute to their courageous policy of affirmative action in their national cricket team, and now also as a tribute to Bob Woolmer. Having said that, it is hard not to admire the Sri Lankans, who play very skillful One Day cricket. They are the masters of defending scores in One Day games and there was a period between 2000 and 2005, where they had a 100% success rate at defending 250+ when Murali played, and had only 1 defeat defending 250+ when he didn't play - Inzamam inspired Pakistan to a successful run chase of 290 odd in South Africa. That string of successes was broken by the brilliance of Mahendra Dhoni who made 183 not out chasing 298. After that, the Sri Lankan record has been chequered.

From the point of view of the World Cup this will be an important game for the South Africans. If they lose this one, then they will have to win 4 out of the next 5 to qualify, while Sri Lanka and one out of Australia and West Indies will be 2 victories clear of them.

The ICC must be wondering what it must do to ensure that its plans for revenue generation don't keep going kaput. With the losses due to the exits of India and Pakistan, the rain rule ensures that only half the Australia v West Indies game will be televised. The South Africa v Sri Lanka game will overlap with this one and there is bound to be further drop in advertising revenue (assuming it works based on whether or not the games are actually televised to the full TV audience)

I hope the South Africans win tomorrow, it will make the super 8's that much more interesting.

Cricketing View

Chappell wanted youth..... hang him!!!! - Hes covering his tracks now.....

This is interesting news. It will generate the usual comments about "rift". Should Chappell have revealed this to Rajan Bala? Its the sort of information journalists invariably recieve, in good faith. Happenings in selection committee meetings are confidential - but are not secret - in so far as the fact that the revelation of these deliberations do not constitute a security threat or even a cricketing threat.

People are likely to go to town about this "shocking" evidence of "disharmony" in the ranks. Without ever having gone into any selection committee meeting, i can tell you from my experience of meetings that there has never been a meeting (except possibly in Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Command Council), were the participants have agreed about everything - that is the precise reason why meetings happens - to get people with different ideas together.

And if Dilip Vengsarkar was upset about the backlash, after seeing the nonsense on TV in the last week, can you blame him? Just underlines the point that i made in my comment in the discussion on this earlier post. The article was meant as a discussion about trends in ODI cricket, but turned into one about the World Cup result for India - "the problem with ODI cricket, especially in India is that it is impossible to rebuild a team because the public does not tolerate reverses."


Chappell's had emails he sent to the BCCI chief leaked to the press. He can be excused this small indiscretion - especially because it brings home to roost the fact that the national cricket establishment feels threatened by its own supporters.

Meanwhile - that shining example of a rehabilitated late bloomer - Matthew Hayden has just made 158 with 3 overs to play against the West Indies. Australia look like crossing 300 for the 7th consecutive game in ODI cricket.

Cricketing View

West Indies v Australia, March 27, Antigua

The Super 8 stage of the World Cup commences with the hosts taking on the rejuvenated Australians at the brand new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua tomorrow. West Indies v Australia contests have a rich history. This was the first great contest (if not rivalry) of the televised ODI cricket age. The West Indies were frequent tourists to Australia in the 1990's and rarely was a Benson & Hedges World Series played without West Indian participation. They met 45 times in the 1980's and the West Indies dominated these contests.

In the World Cup, these two teams have met 8 times - twice each in 1975, 1983 and 1996 and once each in 1992 and 1999. They participated in the first World Cup final - the West Indies won comfortably, inspite of a last wicket stand between Lillee and Thomson which threatened briefly. In the earlier group stage, the West Indies had won with even more ease - by 7 wickets. The World Cup final saw Clive Lloyd make a brilliant hundred and the great Rohan Kanhai in his final international appearance a patient 49, which saw him go scoreless for 12 straight overs at one point. Viv Richards failed with the bat, but effected 3 run outs, which proved crucial in the final analysis. By 1983, the Australian greats had aged and the West Indies were in the ascendancy. Two more victories were achieved by the West Indies - the first by 101 runs, and the return match as it was called in that edition of the tournament by 7 wickets thanks in large part to brisk 95 not out by Vivian Richards. In 1992, the first hints of West Indian decline were emerging and they went down by 42 runs in a low scoring game. Neither West Indies nor Australia distinguished themselves in the competition. While 1996 edition confirmed the West Indian decline, it also provided a glimpse of what was to come in the future - after the West Indies had won a hard fought victory in the league match, they seemed to be cruising to victory in the semi final at Mohali. With the West Indies going strong at 163/2 chasing 208, Steve Waugh produced his greatest delivery to beat the outside edge of Brian Lara's defensive bat and clip the top of off-stump. Then Warne took over and Australia stole a 5 run win to sneak into the final. By 1999, the wheel had come a full circle - Australia were now top dogs, while the West Indies were one of the also rans, wistful of their past. The Australians toyed with them after an inspired spell by Glenn McGrath had the West Indies struggle to 110 all out. With a keen eye on the run rate, the Australians batted 40 overs to overhaul the West Indies score - the last 49 runs coming from 21 overs. The Australians had Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan at the wicket when victory came. In 2003, the West Indies did not qualify for the second stage, and there was no meeting.

In recent years however, the West Indies have done better against the Australians than many other teams - beating them thrice in the row in the West Indies in 2003-04, a feat repeated only once since - by the New Zealanders in the recent Chappell-Hadlee trophy. It will be an important contest between these two teams - both have carried over points from the group stage, and a victory tomorrow will ease the pressure for them in their remaining games. The West Indian attack looked disciplined against Pakistan and will face its severest test against the awesome Australian top order. Chris Gayle will be the key for the West Indies, for he can match Gilchrist and Hayden on his day at the top. If it ends up being a straight bat v bat contest on a flat wicket, the Australians will win, mainly because they have greater variety in their bowling than the West Indians, in addition to having the marginally better batting line up (especially if Symonds plays). If the wicket is tricky, it could be interesting, because Brian Lara's genius will come into play decisively there. Like Tendulkar, Lara hasn't achieved a great deal against the Australians with the bat in recent meetings. He should look to right that.

All in all, it is the perfect match to begin the Super 8's.

Cricketing View

Monday, March 26, 2007

Loss of Perspective - this time its from England.....

Simon Hughes contributes to the torrent of bits and newsprint at the expense of the Indian cricket team. His commentary is bizarre and reflects the same loss of perspective that is apparent in India in this last week.

The players he names - Agarkar, Zaheer Khan, Tendulkar, Sehwag and Dhoni all have more performances under their belt than any One Day Cricketer produced by England in the last 20 years. Sehwag and Dhoni - much lambasted by Hughes and others have produced more match winning innings in Test and ODI cricket than lots of other international cricketers of repute who are still in the competition at the World Cup. This is not to make a low comparison between India and England, but these are hard facts. Dhoni has an ODI average of 40 - which for a wicketkeeper is unparalleled in ODI history. Even Gilchrist averages only 35. Dhoni has played 69 ODI games which is more than the average career experience of England's World Cup Squad (England's 15 have played 448 one day games between them which works out to an average of 30 games per player.).

I don't want to gun for England just because Hughes has taken aim at India's players. My point is that here is an example of a total loss of perspective.

Think about this - the common complaint about the Indian Cricket team today is that they lack character and spirit. Look around you - how much character do you see in the reactions to the defeat? Not just from the lay public (some specimens of this ilk have truly surpassed what many might have thought possible - from tragic suicides to ridiculous mock deaths), but journalists, commentators, ex-cricketers. If character is not the ability to reason calmly and realistically - to keep your wits about you in the face of the unexpected and in tough situations, then i don't know what it is.

These are good cricketers and im not convinced that some of the senior ones are finished. Before the year is out, they will end up with a better win-loss record than most teams (especially England). Yes they've just faced possibly the toughest losses of their careers. But if you want to learn about character, watch out for the Indian Cricket Team in the next 12 months. If you want to learn about fair weather friends - watch out for their fans.

You read it here first. Take a moment and think about this the next time these same players produce exhilirating cricket.... Sure, with Ganguly and Kumble and some other slow movers in the field, India will never be the best cricket team in the world with the same decisiveness that Australia has been in the past few years - but boy they'll be good!

Wait and Watch.

Thanks to homer for pointing me to this article.

Just one last point - England pay their coach double of what India pay Greg Chappell, yet even though England were smashed in an Ashes series 2 months ago - one for which they displayed the most appalling condescension towards ODI cricket, there is no talk of Fletcher's successor yet. That is one thing India have never done - they have never looked down upon any international contest as being beneath their dignity or given the impression of being too good for any tournament. May be Mr Hughes should point his pen homeward before partaking in the collective glee at India's misfortune. If these are the yardsticks, then it works both ways.

Cricketing View

Vinod Punamiya... Champ!!

He beat the Deccan Queen on a bicycle!!! Railway Minister needs to acknowledge this, instead of indulging in patronizing nonsense about the cricket team at MIT of all places.

Cricketing View

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The effect of the World Cup on India......

Bangladesh beat Bermuda by 7 wickets to qualify for the Super 8 stage of the 2007 Cricket World Cup, eliminating India in the process - allegedly destroying the aspirations of a billion people. This construct - so widely used is quite interesting. I have never heard it said that the Australians carry the hopes and dreams of 20 million Australians on to the field.

The reaction has been swift and as usual desperate. C P Surendran once wrote about Tendulkar that -
‘‘Batsmen walk out into the middle alone. Not Tendulkar. Every time Tendulkar walks out to the crease, a whole nation, tatters and all, marches with him to the battle arena. A pauper people pleading for relief, remission from the life-long anxiety of being Indian, by joining in spirit with their visored savior.’’

Cricket fans across online forums and in the streets have live up to Surendran's perception . When the Indian Cricket team walks out on to the field nowadays, it seems that scum of India walk out with them - ready to erupt at the slightest hint of an adverse result. The team faces the choicest abuse and the most brutal, vicious idiom that each of India's numerous languages is capable of delivering. The innocence of merely seeking remission from the life-long anxiety of being Indian has long since given way to irrational, small-minded, intolerant lack of character - which revels in abuse. Fuelled as it is by shrill sensationalist audio and video sound bytes on alleged news channels, this has changed the nature of the cricket viewer in India.

The Cricket world has marvelled at the equanimity and even-temperedness with which Sachin Tendulkar has handled the attention and reactions of the general public, but little do they know that the upcoming generation will face a viciousness which will leave them wistful of the innocence of the Tendulkar era. I have been trying in vain to find a suitable expression to describe India's Cricket in the context of its viewership.
These pictures describe the situation perfectly if you ask me. However you read them - as an atheist environmentalist or as a horrified devotee, they will convey my view of India's Cricket story (and cricket players form just a tiny part of that story).


Cricketing View

Note: These are photos from the aftermath of the Ganpati Visarjan ceremonies in 2007 at Mumbai's Juhu Beah.

A Brief History of ODI Cricket - The advent of Version 4.0 Where do India stand?

The first ODI game was played at the Melbourne Cricket ground in 1971, when the Test Match scheduled was rained off. The idea did not take root too well and only 82 ODI games were played in the 1970's - a substantial portion of them in the two World Cups. England, Australia and the West Indies were the top ODI sides in this decade. India didn't really play ODI cricket too seriously. Pakistan did better than India. Cricket 1.0 was a plebeian pursuit - the pleasant interlude in the real business of Test Cricket.

In the 1980's, ODI cricket exploded, especially with the emergence of the annual World Series Cricket tournament in Australia and India's victory in the World Cup. India won two major tournaments in the early to mid 1980's and the subcontinent emerged as the market that the ODI phenomenon needed in order to establish itself as the equal of Test Cricket. This was ODI Cricket 2.0. The format was beginning to distinguish itself tactically from Test cricket. Other teams not as naturally inclined to the format as the flamboyant West Indies began to come to terms with it. West Indies and Pakistan were the best teams in the late 1980's, however with the advent of contrived restrictions like the 30 yard circle, tactics and methods became crucial. It ceased to be purely a contest between bat and ball. The clock and fielding restrictions began to make their presence felt as well. It changed the way batsmen batted, it changed the way bowlers bowled. Many time honoured principles about batting fell by the wayside. Some teams embraced these changes more than others - none did so better than Bobby Simpson's Australians of 1987, who laid the foundations of modern ODI cricket during their World Cup triumph. The principle was simple - make the most of the resources you have - play for the single, run correctly between the wickets, field well, bowl with discipline. The cricket world then had only one Viv Richards, and scoring 5 an over was considered very quick. The action became more intense and demands on fitness and endurance increased. With the 1987 World Cup, ODI cricket acquired centre stage in the Indian sub continent. 513 ODI games were played in the 1980's.

The 1992 World Cup marked the beginning of Cricket 3.0 - with teams rethinking ODI batting. Hitting over the top became an acceptable part of strategy and the 50 over limit meant that batting sides tended to take greater risks. This remained the prevalent format for the next 15 years or so - aggressive opening stands - by pinch hitters who were eventually succeeded by really good batsmen who performed the role with plenty of skill and class. Fielding standards improved - in great part due to the arrival of the South Africans on the international scene. More than any other side, the South Africans have tended to play the most studied, measured and to use a phrase from another context - focus group tested cricket amongst all international side. They trained themselves to execute ODI cricket rather than letting natural gifts rule. Their traditional strength in fast bowling - both bowling it and facing it, stood them in good stead, and they emerged as the most successful team of the 1990's - a decade which saw 932 ODI games and 3 World Cups. Sri Lanka's victory in the 1996 World Cup marked the maturation of Cricket 3.0. The next 8-10 years saw minor variations of the core theme. Fielding standards - set by the incomparable Jonty Rhodes continued to improve and sides began to crave brilliant fielders. Average batsmen with extraordinary fielding skills began to get selected ahead of terrific batsmen who were not quite as agile. Here too, it was the South Africans who led the way. Cricket 3.0 also marked the beginning of another trend - that of the ODI specialist. Australia briefly had two separate teams with two separate captains in the 1990's. Early ODI specialists tended to be bits and pieces men - who could bat a bit as well as bowl a bit, in addition to being brilliant fielders. The most successful sides were the ones who had the best all rounders to support the specialists. Great fast bowling was of course the great distinguishing characteristic - separating the great team from the good.

The defining characteristic of ODI cricket has been the development of batting methods. The greatest weapon in ODI cricket has been quality fast bowling. Batting methods have evolved as each era has given way to the next - and have tended to counter fast bowling better (purely in the ODI context - it has impacted Test Cricket too, but that is another story). The orthodox spinner ceased to be a realistic bowling option a long time ago. This has given us - in a cricketing version of Darwinian natural selection - two of the greatest spin bowlers ever - Shane Warne and Mutthiah Muralitharan. Orthodox medium fast bowling is increasingly becoming ineffectual as well.

The advent of ODI Cricket 4.0 sees a quantum development in batting. This is the closest cricket has been to total cricket. Today most batsmen in a top ODI team would not think twice about attempting a stroke only Viv Richards might have played during Cricket 2.0. Its one of the reasons why Richards was as great as he was - he was ahead of his time. Stroke play becomes more and more exhilarating, and hitting is being nailed down to a science as much as batting was in England in the mid to late 19th century. The reverse sweep, the lofted cover drive, the slog sweep, the paddle sweep, the upper cut, hitting on the rise - every top order batsman is expected to be able to play these strokes as a matter of course. These strokes are practiced and perfected.

Just as engineers take great ideas and engineer them into everyday realities, todays cricketers and coaches have taken the brilliance of Viv Richards and turned it into routine batting. These changes have occured primarily in batting. Fielding has been impacted too.

Some teams have embraced Cricket 4.0 more readily than other teams. There are plenty of reasons for this differential development. Australia and South Africa have been at the fore front of these developments, in part because they have invented them. They have invented them from the point of view of their strengths as cricket nations - strong, powerful, hard wicket players - natural athletes who grow up playing not just cricket, but many other sports. Subcontinental teams have always lagged a couple of yards behind these two sides - mainly because they have had to embrace ideas and methods that are inherently alien to their cricketing upbringing. They have been attempting to implement borrowed ideas, and have been unable to make these ideas their own. This is why subcontinent v Southern Hemisphere contests have always been about the all round excellence of the Southern Hemisphere teams vs the individual genius of the subcontinent. For it is only the geniuses who have been able to compete on even terms with these players. The Pakistanis have done better than the Indians historically, because their players are essentially sub-continental talent honed in county cricket - with the sole exception of Inzamam Ul Haq.

India will never master Cricket 4.0 if it continues to seek to play the Australian way. It has to embrace its own way. Its one of the reasons why India are so much better in India than they are abroad. Because the Indian way works in India.

How then does India bridge this seemingly perpetual generational gap? That is the challenge before BCCI and India as they seek to restart the process begun by Chappell - with or without Chappell. The stop gap World Cup side has failed. There is no going back to the Ganguly era now. BCCI has to dig in for the long haul. It took Australia 13 years - many victories and numerous failures to reach their peak in 2000, and they haven't looked back since.

India began something with Wright and Ganguly, and Chappell is but another stop along the way. What price will an inherently non-sporting nation pay to reach the standards of the most sport embracing nation of the planet? Unless this is understood - the ability to embrace sport, India will never play Cricket 4.0 with distinction.
Cricketing View

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Australia v South Africa, St. Lucia, March 24 - Review and Match Track

In yet another awesome display of Total Cricket, the Australians outplayed the South Africans by 83 runs to achieve a crucial result from the point of view of the World Cup. With Bangladesh and Ireland likely to progress to the Super 8's, the Group Stage points achieve greater significance, as the pressure on A-list Super 8 games will be greater. Currently, the top 4 teams in my rankings are South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and these look like being the most likely semi-finalists. South Africa have struggled against the West Indies in multi-lateral tournaments, while England have tended to compete well against the Australians in ODI cricket.

Inspite of South Africa's position of apparent strength at 160/1 in 20 overs, at the point, they were still required to score at over 7 an over for the next 30 overs at the stage - a huge ask against any opposition, and not surprisingly they fell away. The Australians were relentless and found enough answers to keep the marauding SA batsmen in check.

This was a most interesting game - in that the Australian bowling got hammered and the South Africans were "humiliated" in the field (a favorite word used in almost any context by the Indian press). Some telling trends have emerged in recent months in ODI cricket and these go a long way in explaining what hurt India, where India needs to go, and why it is unlikely that India will get there in the very near future as far as ODI cricket is concerned.

As far as ODI contests go, this was one-sided and the South Africans were never really ahead in the game. The awesome power of Mathew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke was simply too much for the one dimensional South African bowling. In reply, it was Australia's ability to offer the wrist spin of the underrated Bradley Hogg which made the difference.

The Australians have announced themselves, and it is very likely that the setbacks of the VB Series will fade very quickly into the memory. Ponting said he expect a 350+ run fest in the SA match, and his team have delivered. Australia have now made over 330 in 5 straight ODI games.

The World Cup has moved on - onto Cricket. Away from the madness of murder, militant fans and a distraught subcontinent. It is all for the better in my view....

Cricketing View

Good Sense from unlikely quarters......

I never thought id say this, and i certainly never thought id have this guy on my blog.... but he does make sense... even if it is with a oblique reference to himself. I don't care much for his comparison of his own failure with that of a cricket team, but its nice to see that some one in bollywood is willing to be rational

Abhishek Bachchan

Cricketing View

Friday, March 23, 2007

Dravid and Chappell answer questions.........

Note: Originally, this post contained just Rahul Dravid's Q&A from Cricinfo. But after reading the Chappell Interview, im compelled to edit this and say the following:

The first of many such both will have to face....

Cricinfo - Rahul Dravid
Cricinfo - Greg Chappell

Really, there was only one thing the press were interested in - and it wasn't finding out about todays game, or even about why India came up short. The question was simple :

"Who's to blame?"

Once that was established, the press pack, like Hyenas, would get their prey lying on the ground before them. Let me stick my neck out and make a guess here - the answer to who's to blame wouldn't be accepted - it would merely be used for the following line - "Chappell blames _____________ ", and initiate a vicious cycle of blame (which is a reporters dream).

Chappell has done very well (albeit in a direct undiplomatic way) by not letting on. The press however, has wasted a really good opportunity to actually find out what happened. The clearest example of the fact that the press wasn't interested in finding out anything from Chappell was the declaration in one of the questions that "Vision 2007 had failed". Now, that is probably an accurate statement, but how stupid is it put say that affirmatively as part of a question! If only they had asked "Would you consider Vision 2007 a failure?" - it might have created an opening for conversation.

Instead all that we saw was a rancorous tu tu mai mai in which both sides refused to communicate anything. The press got their quotes, Chappell held his own, and you and me - who are really interested in hearing the coach's opinion about things, are left high and dry.

One particular question from the press was particularly hilarious... "You said you are answerable to the BCCI. But aren't you also answerable to one billion fans in India? Shouldn't you say something to them?"
- the silent unsaid line after that question was "they will read what you say through my publication..... so please..... i beg you on bended knee.... please give me something that isn't routine."

The press conference was cruel - the cricket press at its glorious worst.

Really.... it seemed like its the press which had lost and that Chappell was trying to tell them to keep it together and not start a blame game.. Wasn't it our Cricket team that lost to Sri Lanka today?

Cricketing View

India lose by 69 runs.....

The Waugh story didn't work. One day cricket is a zero sum game. If you don't win, you lose. Mutthiah Muralitharan said it best when he said - they were the best batting line up on paper in the competition. Its easy to mistake this as a sly condescending hit below the belt - but i doubt whether he meant it that way. India did have the most impressive batting credentials on paper - and those credentials got on to that piece of paper due to performance. Unfortunately, experience, reputation and skill don't make a batting side immune to batting failures.

253 was 30-40 runs too many, but with India's bowling line up (one of the weakest on paper in the competition), that is the sort of thing you come to expect, and that is the sort of thing this batting line up has overcome time and again. Yet, two bad batting days later, India have been all but eliminated in the World Cup. Only Dwayne Leverock and his Bermudans can save India now.

This has happened before, and the whole gamut of possible opinions is well documented - its only a game, - it happens sometimes in sport, -the big guns always fails at crunch time, -they make too much money, -its all a mad circus and may be this is a blessing is disguise ------ the whole range includes many different tangents and many nuanced versions of these.

The hard fact however is that India's Plan B world cup squad has not delivered. The Plan A squad consisted of youngsters - a new look young squad ready to take on the World. That worked for a year or so, but once the wickets got tricky in the beginning of the 2006-07 season, India went into a slump and never recovered. The fall back selection (and the selectors there had little choice) did promise much, but as it turns out, has flattered to deceive. It will be a tough job for the selectors now - there have been 2 terrible defeats - and the tricky thing will be to gauge these defeats. Very strong arguments can be made both ways - for large scale changes as well as for retaining the core of the squad (which happens to be about 8-9 players). Greg Chappell's decision may have a bearing on which way the selectors decide to go.
These are still good players - the best players in India. Its one thing to say that Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly should be replaced - its quite another to actually find someone to replace them with. But thats a story for another day.

For now, this result just reinforces to me the immense joy which a victory by Indias cricketers brings. If we are happy enough to take the victories that they deliver, then we ought to be able to deal with the defeats. (And NO - the converse doesn't hold - they have NO obligation to put up with questions about their professional integrity and assaults on their personal property - for that reason alone, India losing is a GOOD thing).


This is the Match Track for the India - SL game

The simple story is that the opportunistic promotion of the talented Chamara Silva resulted in a counter attacking stand of 83 in 80 balls for Sri Lanka for the 5th wicket - something India couldn't match. They briefly threatened with Dravid and Sehwag, but it didn't last.

Cricketing View

Dravid Falls.....

Dravid dismissed for 60...... once he got that attack of cramps, it seemed like he decided it was all or nothing.... it worked for about 20 runs.

Yet another batting failure, which started at the top of the order - with Tendulkar and Dhoni facing 3 balls between them, and a run out thrown it, it is now looking like the World Cup Super 8's will comprise of New Zealand, England, West Indies, Ireland, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

India have been well and truly ambushed in the Caribbean....

Only Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh and Munaf Patel can prove me wrong now....

Cricketing View

Ok.... Dravid really needs to jog his memory now..........

121/6 - 134 needed in 20 overs.

SL will take their foot off the pedal now - after the recent frenzy of wickets - Yuvraj Run Out, Dhoni dead plumb first ball. Lets hope they leave the foot off long enough....

If Dravid is still batting in the 50th over, India will have won this game......

If Dravid needs inspiration - its right there in front of him..... Steve Waugh, Headingley - 1999 - Australia's last super six match. On that occasion Herschelle Gibbs made a century and yet was told that he had "dropped" the World Cup.

Cricketing View

Its 3/44 - Rahul Dravid..... remember Steve Waugh.........

India are 3/44 chasing 254 and the luckless Tendulkar has just been dismissed second ball. The law of averages caught up with Ganguly before him.

Uncanny resemblances....

I wrote this 2 weeks ago. At the time it seemed academic... but the situation here is so uncannily similar, that there is nothing else to do but to see what destiny has in store for the Indian captain..

Today, Rahul Dravid can pay homage to his hero..... the man he has backed to the hilt stands with him...

Best wishes Captain....

Cricketing View

India v Sri Lanka, March 23, Port of Spain - Preview

Here we are, on the eve of India's biggest ODI game since their match against Australia in late August. That was a must win game, and inspite of showing plenty of fight, India were simply not good enough in the batting department to pull that victory off. Since that time, much has changed in the Indian line up - the middle order is completely new look, Sourav Ganguly has returned and so has Anil Kumble. Some might think India have gone backwards. This in a sense is true, in so far as India have had to fall back on these players because the new ones who had a whole year to make their international careers proved that they weren't quite ready yet.

There is much riding on this game - indeed Bob Woolmer's death is the elephant at the cricket ground (to take brazen liberty with a fine idiom). How important is it really whether or not India win? The Cricket World Cup needs a close contest who's outcome is important to the make up of the tournament, in effect to kick start it. Tomorrow's game between India and Sri Lanka and Saturdays Australia v SA skirmish will tell us which of the big teams go into the super 8's with the inside track. New Zealand have already done that, and the West Indies need to beat Ireland to join New Zealand provisionally at the top of the super 8's.

This is one way of looking at it. This is the boring, cricket centric way of looking at it. If the past week or two have told us anything, it is that everything related to cricket, is anything but cricket centric. It encompasses the whole gamut of human affairs - from heads of state to crime. I am quite ambivalent about tomorrows game. It just seems incongruous that there should be this allegedly consequential make or break game at this time.

May be tomorrows cricket will remind us why we enjoy this game so much - and stay up late at night to write about it. I hope we see some magic tomorrow, which will take us away from mind numbing revelation today about the circumstances of Bob Woolmer's passing.

But for that, there is something that we must give up as well. Let's resolve to watch tomorrows game, as though it were just a cricket match. Lets watch the cricket - lets follow events on the field, with out attributing value judgements to every move (good for "our" team - Good, bad for "our" team - Bad). At the end of the game, whoever wins, lets say a quiet thanks and get on with our lives. Lets allow cricket to win for once.

Make no mistake about it, i want India to win tomorrow, and as long as i watch cricket, and India is involved, i will find myself despairing at an India wicket and smiling at an Indian boundary hit. But somehow, i feel it would not be right tomorrow.

Just my opinion though.....

One small point about the game tomorrow - i don't think Kumble should play as the sole spinner. If 1 spinner plays, it should be Harbhajan Singh. Sehwag at 3 is a good idea and is worth another game. The flexibility apparent in the Bermuda game (batting order wise) was good. One prediction - i think the side chasing will win, all though i do think that given Muralitharan's presence, if any side is more likely to win defending, it is Sri Lanka. 9-2 in eleven games, sadly doesn't count. Neither does the fact that India have beaten Sri Lanka in their last 2 World Cup meetings.

History says India - Cricket says its likely to be an even contest - everything i have read and seen in the past 2-3 weeks says - It doesn't really matter.

Cricketing View

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Cricket Coverage Covered - Perceptions discussed.....

Sambit Bal at Men in White on Cricinfo Blogs

Finally, there seems to be a discussion of events cricketing - some one has taken a step back and decided to take stock. Im not sure if "It's only a game" is an approach which will go very far. It just sounds like a mere negation - and anti-hype if you will. It doesn't inform the debate. It adds nothing further to the debate.

The crux of the matter is this - when Sachin Tendulkar fails in at an important phase in an important game for India, those who report about cricket, must be capable of offering a nuanced, detailed description of the event - not laced with condescension, i-told-you-so's, anger, despair or revulsion, but soaked in the Cricket of the event. What exactly happened? What did the bowler deliver? Did the ball do as the bowler intended? How did Tendulkar read it? Where did he misread it? Was the field set to expect such a mistake? Was it against the run of play?

There is much to write about. The whole description can be completed in one succinct sentence. If you look at the comments to that post, you will find that almost everyone agrees with the "it's only a game line". I don't think this reaction is limited to Cricinfo readers. If it is only a game, then let's talk about the game - about actual events on the field.

If those descriptions and those reports come forth often enough, we will have a better informed viewership - which will look for these things when they watch. The difference between watching a Ranji Match or a Tour match at Brabourne Stadium and watching an ODI game at Wankhede is that when you're at the Ranji match, you feel like youre watching cricket, with other people watching cricket - where a classic square cut for four is applauded differently from streaky edge past second slip. Where anything which results in anything other than a dot ball is not greeted with the same monotonous roar. At the ODI game, its like being in an orgy. There is no passion there - theres is merely a frenzy of ignorance - if viewers can't distinguish between a streaky edge and a crunching square cut, then where is the passion? What "passion" are we talking about?

We make fun of Mandira Bedi (or atleast i did) - and yet she who sits in as the lay person suggests that "the adverse reaction may actually have goaded the side to doing better" (this happened in 2003 - where the biggest myth of all - one which was propogated by all and sundry was that India "started slowly". In actual fact, they were outclassed by the Australians - both and the beginning and the end of the tournament, and beat every one else).

If India win tomorrow, it will have nothing to do with any adverse reaction. How dare there been an "adverse" reaction? How dare people condone attacks on people's homes? If you really think about it, there is no difference at all in the thinking of people who point to the players income at the drop of a hat, and those who attack Dhoni's house. Both are driven by the feeling of being shortchanged and cheated. The former include a large majority of sophisticated viewers who follow the game on cricinfo in India - most of whom have a computer on their desk in their work place. Sure these people wouldn't ever dream of attacking anyone's home, simply because they are far too civilized to do so (or, if you think about it in another way, they are willing to put up with being cheated more easily than the vandals.... ).

As far a cricket is concerned however, there is no distinction between "oh they are interested in their bank balance" and "burn their houses!!". "Passion" yet again, is propogated by the reporting and in turn propogates it. (yes im probably stuck on that essay by Orwell, but that idea seems more than sufficient to explain events)

Cricketing View

More on Cricket coverage.....

My post yesterday was about the language prevalent in cricket writing. Mukul Kesavan writing at Men in White on Cricinfo blogs profiles two stories which appeared on TV - public vandalism after the Bangladesh match and Bob Woolmer's demise.

TV is far more powerful than newspapers and news magazines could ever be. "Channeling public opinion" takes place in newspapers as well. It seems to me to be classic justification which is used in Bollywood formula films - "But this is what the public wants to see". At least the point of a film is to entertain. News must surely have a broader purpose.

I just hope that this does not come to a boil in the most unfortunate way - thanks to one moment of madness which gets out of hand.

Cricketing View

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Run Rate equation for India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

Correction: The result for todays game was by 198 runs and the game was of 96 overs duration and not onehundred. The calculations below take into consideration the 206 run result in 100 overs. I do not expect the numbers for Bangladesh to change a great deal.

Bangladesh got hammered by 206 runs today। As a result of this, the situation in group B is as follows:

If India beat Sri Lanka, India and Sri Lanka qualify. If Sri Lanka beats India and Bangladesh beat Bermuda, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh qualify. If Sri Lanka beats India and Bermuda beats Bangladesh, then India could still qualify (and probably will, because India will have a better run rate than Bangladesh).

I calculated the challenge that Bangladesh would face in terms of their run rates if India batted first and won by 1 run. If India score 150 and concede 149, their Net Run Rate (NRR) would end up at 1.68. If they make 325 and concede 324, their NRR would be 1.668. If they chase, this is the worst NRR they could end up with, because this considers that they used up 50 overs to make their runs. In such an event, given todays result, in order to have a run rate superior to Indias, Bangladesh would have to score atleast 250 runs and bowl Bermuda out for a grand total of 2 (yes team score 2) in order to surpass India's NRR. If Bangladesh made 400, they would have to bowl Bermuda out for 53 or less in order to qualify.

So it basically boils down to the India - SL game - the run rates are pretty much irrelevant, thanks to Bangladesh getting hammered today. SL's performance does put pressure on India - in so far as it indicates Sri Lanka's form. But India have a 9-2 record in their last 11 games against SL, and must go in confident.

India have a chance to nullify the Bangladesh defeat and take away everything on offer in the group stage into the Super 8's by beating Sri Lanka - qualification as well as points.

India are once again the sole masters of their own destiny

Cricketing View

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Popular Cricketing adjectives.........

There are some words which are repeatedly used to describe the actions of cricketers and events on a cricket field but in my view have absolutely no place in a cricket related discussion. If you really think about it, words like pathetic, spineless, gutless, incompetent should never be applied to performance in an international cricket match - definitely not by members of the lay public (who invariably use them most liberally). George Orwell wrote a great essay about Politics and the English Language, in which his central idea was that bad language is the result of, and results in unclear thoughts. In Orwell's own succinct words - "But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely."

Let's pause for a moment and think about each of the four words mentioned above - these are but a few of these erroneous words which lace lay conversation about cricket - on blogs (possibly even mine), amongst friends, in newspaper reports.

A "pathetic" performance, would be one arousing pity or sympathy - at times scornful. This describes the reaction to the performance, without revealing much about the performance itself. So, while it is probably Ok to suggest that India's performance against Bangladesh was "pathetic", such a statement does not really contribute to a description of India's performance against Bangladesh and says nothing about the performance itself. For example, i didn't think India's performance against Bangladesh was pathetic. I felt no pity, sympathy or scorn for the Indian team after the Bangladesh match. Did i get disappointed that India lost? Sure. But did i feel like lashing out at the players or at their performance? No. I am unable to relate to this notion of a "pathetic" performance in a cricket match. How can sport, which is a privilege, and a celebration of the fitness of mind and body, ever be pathetic?

Similarly, the words "gutless" and "spineless", both of which are metaphors for a performance lacking courage, seem misplaced in cricketing discourse. Killer instinct is yet another phrase which falls in this category. What exactly is a sporting performance lacking courage? In most instances, the state described as "lack of courage" is the stage when one side knows fully well that it has been outclassed. I have rarely, if ever come across a match report which explains in clear cricketing terms that one side was better than the other. The losing side (especially if it is the home side), is invariably "spineless", unless the game has been an epic encounter, lost by very few runs or very few wickets. Even in such cases, the most often used words is "harakiri". What usually happens in such events is that the poor batsman tries to play a ball with the spin and the ball spins just that little bit more and takes the outer half or edge of the bat rather than the middle, and results in a catch - after which the new batsman, who comes into a difficult situation finds it hard to make good - resulting in a loss of momentum and turns out to be the difference between victory or defeat. Or - some fielder who has practiced his catching as much as the other guys who held all their catches on the day, misjudges the flight and pace of the ball as it is spooned up near him, and misses a crucial catch, which turns out to be the difference between victory or defeat. How can all this be compared to ceremonial suicide? Insipid is yet another adjective which is very popular when it comes to describing performance. For some reason, a dour, joyless performance, not resulting in defeat is never described as being insipid.

How can anyone who plays international cricket, who's worked harder than all the journalists sitting in the press box put together have, to become the super achiever with the extraordinary talent and skill that one has to be to be in a top international cricket team, be gutless or spineless or a coward? For that matter, how can he be "incompetent"? How can a team comprising of these individuals be "incompetent"? Sure, players can and do lose the plot occasionally, and teams do get defeated by lesser teams (unfortunately these truisms have been relegated to a thick forbidding black folder labeled "cliche") - thats the whole point of a sporting contest - that results are unpredictable, theoretically both sides can win, and occasionally, the weaker side does win.


Does this inaccurate use of language further fuel a warped view of events on the field among readers? There is a view, that readers (who are supporters of one of the sides, though not necessarily interested in cricket) have a right to expect victory by their side every time they watch they play. Reporters and Opinion writers take these expectations on board, make them their own, and write accordingly.

There is something blindingly stupid about expecting, nay demanding victory, and then celebrating it when it actually happens. How can something that is expected, and therefore not exceptional (no, you cannot expect something and also have it be exceptional at the same time - the exceptional is what it is, because it is the exception and not the rule), invite surprise and extraordinary reaction?

Every article about the Bangladesh - India match, referred to the "poor" batting performance. Yet nowhere were the dismissals described in any detail. I didn't watch the match, and if it weren't for Youtube, i would have had no chance of finding out how the dismissals took place.

For example - i would never have known that the Sehwag dismissal was a result of some good lift, combined with seam movement into the bat. Sehwag broke the cardinal rule of not playing the square cut early in ones innings. This batting rule is from a bygone age, when the pundits adviced "Give the first hour the bowler, and the other five are yours". One day cricket has little time for these rules. Sehwag was also cutting on the front foot, and hence hadn't gone back and across which might have saved him. This of course is due to his famous technique of playing "beside" the line of the ball, which has brought him so many runs square of the wicket. His late attempt to adjust to the seam movement, made it look like an ugly chop on to the stumps. Utthappa attempted to play on the rise, like he does so brilliantly on the front foot, but couldn't get on top of the ball, and didn't find the gap, resulting in a sharp catch at cover point. Tendulkar attempted to play on the rise for a single square on the leg side. It was a stroke he's played countless number of times. He played for turn which wasn't there and hence got the inside edge - the wicketkeeper took a brilliant catch - off the inside edge, just outside and above the leg-stump. It was the sort of dismissal which happens onces in 70-80 games (This is not an excuse - ive seen most of Tendulkar's dismissals, and ive never seen him get caught of an inside edge of a left arm spinner).

None of this is judgemental, no one of this is uncritical of the players concerned. It does however describe what happened. The only place you get to read this kind of thing, is if you follow Cricinfo or Cricbuzz's ball by ball commentary. No match reports include this.

If any reader reads a description of events before he is offered an opinion about them, he will expect a nuanced opinion, which he himself hasn't thought of yet. He will expect a take on events, which isn't obvious. That would be too much work, and would require too much detail.

Instead what we get are reports (and this is one of the better match reports) with a glaring subtext of condescension. There seemed to be a suggestion that making 10000+ runs in ODI cricket, somehow makes batsmen immune to good, accurate seam bowling in helpful conditions! Dravid meets the bowling on more even terms (as though he's striking a blow for the 10,000 club) - the only minor detail being that Mortaza was out of the attack and the ball was older. The "Bangladesh are minnows" preoccupation stops the report from giving any credit to Mortaza as an accomplished practitioner, even though his test and ODI records are atleast as good as Zaheer Khan. In fact, when Chaminda Vaas bowls at India on Saturday, he will recieve more respect from the press (i assure you not from the Indian batsmen, who rate both Mortaza and Vaas) inspite of the fact that both have almost identical bowling averages in ODI cricket.

I wonder whether this reporting ends up defining Cricket and Cricketers. Thus Ganguly was inspirational and passionate, while Dravid is subdued and not quite so inspirational. Such cliches abound. Cricket reporting defines how cricket is viewed, and is in turn defined by how cricket is viewed. The way Cricket is played is irrelevant.

Cricketing View

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pure World Cup Magic....

The video starts with David Lloyd referring to the favorable conditions for bowling and how Wasim Akram, Andy Caddick, Darren Gough and others might have enjoyed themselves..... as Malichi Jones sets off purposefully to deliver his first ball in World Cup Cricket to Robin Uthappa (playing his second World Cup match).

A ponderous poke from Utthapa sends the ball flying to the right of Dwayne Leverock - hidden away at a widish slip by Gus Logie's Bermudans. Leverock executes a swan like dive - side on at all times and comes up with the ball - all hell breaks lose. I think David Lloyd forgot who Wasim Akram was at that point.

Dwayne Leverock takes the Catch of the World Cup

Every possible scene is played out - from the winning goal in the World Cup final, to an exhilarating sprint victory... Leverock and Jones encapsulated in that moment the very joy of sport.... all of you must have heard about it, but i promise you, even if you watch it a hundred times, it will still retain its magic.

And what a catch that was!

Cricketing View

India win by 257 runs - Interesting situation in Group B.....

The Indian batting line up came to play at Port Of Spain against Bermuda to rack up their first 400+ ODI score as India beat Bermuda by 257 runs - the largest run margin of victory in the history of ODI cricket. It should in all likelihood come down to India beating Sri Lanka now. The margin of victory should not matter to India, as Bangladesh would have to match India and Sri Lanka's efforts against Bermuda to qualify if they don't beat Sri Lanka. If they beat Sri Lanka, then the winner of the India- SL game wins anyways.

From that point of view, India will be mindful - that while they must obviously beat Sri Lanka, they mustn't hurt the Sri Lankan run rate in doing so. India's best case scenario is that India and Sri Lanka qualify and Bangladesh get eliminated - as then, India will have beaten Sri Lanka and taken the points over to the Super 8s. If India beat Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka beats Bangladesh and Bangladesh beat Bermuda, then qualification will come down to India and Sri Lanka - because Bangladesh will have to overcome both their margin of defeat against Sri Lanka as well as match India and SL's result against Bermuda to catch up on net run rate.

So for Bangladesh to qualify, they have to beat Sri Lanka - if they lose to Sri Lanka, they will hope that India lose to Sri Lanka as well, in which case they only have to beat Bermuda to qualify.

If India lose to Sri Lanka, then the only way India can qualify is if the Bermudans beat Bangladesh - something they have never done before in a One Day International.

The run rate issue has been well handled by India today. Sehwag coming to form - he owes his batsman many more runs in this tournament. Dravid has stood by Sehwag with the same fortitude that he shows while batting in Test matches. Sehwag has to repay his faith, and he knows it. Tendulkar made 59 in 27 balls playing second fiddle to Yuvraj. Yuvraj looks unshakeable at the wicket more than any other player ive seen, he looks like hes in a zone when he's batting - tremendous balance and awesome power.

Ganguly needs to work on rotating the strike - but his great strength is being able to pace his innings. He is the ideal foil to the belligerence of Sehwag and Uthappa. Agarkar hasn't been convincing with the ball inspite of his three wickets, and bringing in Sreesanth for the must win contest might be a good idea. The real dilemma for Dravid will be the Kumble - Harbhajan question.

With 4 lefties in the SL top 6, he might be tempted to play Harbhajan Singh. Kumble hasn't done too well against SL, who seem to have his measure more than any other side in the world. On balance, it seems Harbhajan Singh is the way to go.

The Bangladesh - Sri Lanka match on Wednesday will clarify Group B.

Its all down to Friday's game now.

Cricketing View

Shame!!!!!

Photographs of Dhoni's house being attacked published in The Hindu.

Cricketing View

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I want no part of this "passionate" support for India

Cricinfo's Dileep Premachandran writes about the tragic events in Kingston and reveals some interesting things about support. Cricinfo, Rediff and other web based news agencies are superbly placed to gauge public reaction to cricket matches.

I think there is something completely inappropriate about the fact that the families of India's cricketers have to be placed under armed guard in the aftermath of a match like yesterday Bangladesh match. That such a threat is percieved by the players families is shameful and i want no part of supporting India, if this is what it amounts to.

The Indian Cricket team, which consists of some of the finest cricketing talent in the World, with some exemplary individuals who have worked very very hard to be as good at cricket as they are - is far too good for our fans. The general reaction to Woolmer's passing, especially amongst his fellow cricketers and cricket coaches suggests that everyone believes that stress - especially in the aftermath of Pakistan's performance contributed to the deterioration in his health - contributed significantly at that. That is obviously something only medical science can confirm or refute, but it is quite telling that this perception comes through independently from separate individuals.

International Cricket, first and foremost is Cricket - and hence interest in Cricket has to be an important precondition to watching and commenting on the cricket that is played. Jingoism and mob-like attitudes which emerge mainly from absolute ignorance about what actually transpires on the cricket field cause untold damage - to the cricketers, as well as to the image of India as a civilized country.

If any of the players families are going to feel even the faintest amount of fear for their own well-being, then any victories won by Indias cricketers are futile - because the first and foremost purpose of sport - to build character, will have been defeated.

I am not an India supporter if support for India means that some cricketers home and hearth are being threatened. I am not overstating this case, because even the faintest perception of threat or disrespect by our players and their homes is too much.

Cricketing View

Bob Woolmer RIP

Bob Woolmer died in a Kingston hospital today morning - shocking news. These are trying times for Pakistan, but this news puts all their cricketing woes in the shade.

Some how, it doesn't really matter who wins the World Cup anymore....

I hope these people will take a step back and really think things through. If cricket invites these reactions, then it is not worth playing.

Allan Donald - whos cricketing life was so closely linked with Woolmer - from his time at Warwickshire and South Africa said "He gave his life to cricket, and probably paid for it... "

Bob Woolmer of Kent, England, Warwickshire, South Africa, the Associate Member Countries of the International Cricket Council and Pakistan

RIP

Cricketing View

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The day Cricket won.......

I don't mean this in any cliched, old worldly way. There is a very specific and literal victory that sport has won over business today. The ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 was designed to ensure that while the minnows got their chance, they wouldnt have undue influence during the business end of the tournament. Today both India and Pakistan lost - Pakistan have been eliminated, and India are one step away from joining them on the sidelines.

All the well thought out plans made by the ICC to ensure revenue have been defeated. These were practical plans - but Cricket has stolen the ICC's show. One out of Ireland or Zimbabwe (Ireland are more likely to make it since they have already beaten a Test team, while Zimbabwe need to beat Pakistan or West Indies) will make it to Super 8's and participate in 6 out of 24 Super 8 matches - thus "reducing" the marketability of 25% of the super 8's.

Im not sorry at all...... i may be just a bit if India don't qualify.... :)

Cricketing View

Ambushed!!!........

Rahul Dravid won the toss and walked wide eyed into a Bangla ambush to lose by 5 wickets in India's World Cup opener at Queens Park Oval today. This ground, where India have beaten the West Indies thrice in Test cricket, became the venue for one of India's worst World Cup performances. The early loss of Sehwag, Uthappa and Tendulkar set India back, and they never really recovered. Yuvraj and Ganguly led a recovery, but all their good work was undone by a spectacular collapse - losing 5 wickets for 2 runs in - a batting failure if their ever was one.

The Bangladesh batsmen played to potential with the 17 year old Tamim Iqbal providing the impetus with a rousing half century.

One may question Dravid's moves in the field, but in the final analysis, they didn't have the runs on the board. Like Vaughan against New Zealand, Dravid needed every single move he made to turn to gold if India were going to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. You could question the decision to bat first, especially given the advice of the groundsman that the side winning the toss should field. Dravid has however shown a tendency towards preferring to bat first - this is ironic, given the fact that India world record run chasing streak came under his helm. It is also probably a sign of the super aggressive streak that Dravid has - that of pushing things out of the comfort zone.

Dravid is going to cop it for backing Sehwag - and basically, he and Chappell are going to go thru hell, unless they can turn this around. As it happens, India are no longer the sole masters of their destiny (all though stretching the Bangladeshi run chase to the 49th over - the last 29 runs came for Bangladesh in 10 overs). All they can do now, is Win and Hope.

It will be interesting to see Dravid's approach from here on.... its been a very poor day with sloppy catching, sloppy fielding, and very very poor batting. This Indian side needs to bat well if they want to win anything, because in terms of bowling and fielding, the resources are thin.

Heres an option....

Play Irfan and Uthappa as openers, push Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar and Yuvraj in the middle order and bring back the idea of promoting Dhoni (especially around over 18-20). The flexibility which worked so brilliantly in 2005-06 seems to have been but on the backburner along with the return of old personnel.

So much to do and so little time....... it is out of this kind of adversity that greatness emerges... India's chance is now. They have to win the next two games that they are guaranteed in this world cup.

Cricketing View