Saturday, April 28, 2007
As Cricket matches go, this was a one-sided affair. Sri Lanka batted reasonably well in their run chase, but were never really (and Jayawardene was honest enough to admit as much) in it once they fell behind in the first 10 overs. Earlier in the day, Adam Gilchrist played as only Adam Gilchrist can - full of the joys of life as he cut, drove and pulled his way to a 72 ball century, eventually ending up with 149 in 104 balls. With the game in hand, the Australians played well enough in the 44 overs after Gilchrist's dismissal to win by 53 runs. Duckworth-Lewis came into play, bringing with it all associated confusion, and for two overs in the Sri Lankan run chase, nobody knew what the target was.
In the end, everyone was happy, because all the usual conclusions could be drawn and all the usual lines could be written and said without too much risk. Namely:
1. Australia are by far and away the best team in the world and get better and better with each passing season.
2. The ICC is hopelessly out of touch and produced an ill managed event, beset with problems, doomed from the start, and the alleged "farce" at the end of the World Cup Final merely encapsulated their problems.
Lets look at each of these observations:
Australia and World Cricket in 2007:
Two themes have dominated cricket in recent times - the first being Australia's dominance, and the other being a lack of competitive matches. I suspect that Australia have in a way been responsible for the lack of competitiveness in World Cricket. Imagine a marathon with 8-10 equally gifted runners running in a pack - they are all evenly matched and run a predictable race as a pack. Every now and then, one run attacks the pack, resulting in a disintegration of the pack as some runners summon up the extra steam to chase the attacking front runner. Eventually, the front runner is hauled back in and its a pack again for a while. Repeated attacks by the same runner, suggest that this runner has something that the others don't, and eventually (and this has been the case with Australia), there is so much pressure on the pack from this front runner, that some runners don't keep up, while others do better. Still others are mercurial - they are able to keep up for a while, but drop back ever so often. If the distance between the runners is the "competitiveness" between them (a large distance suggesting less competitiveness while a smaller distance suggesting more competitiveness), then - the pack would be less competitive if pushed by a really strong runner - a runner who is in a different league. Australia has been that runner. They have shattered so many stereotypes and so many moulds in which ODI cricket has tended to get cast from time to time, that they have hastened the development of the game and pushed other teams out of their comfort zones like they have never been pushed before. This results in other teams occasionally surpassing themselves (like South Africa in that World Record run chase) or self destructing (like South Africa in the World Cup Semi Final). It also results in the chasing teams being further apart from each other at any given point in time than they would be in a normal pack. Hence the lack of competitive games.
What Australia have done is to extend the realm of possibility in One Day cricket. Pinch hitters and specialist batsmen who are aggressive ("hitting over the in-field") in the first 15 overs have given way to entire line ups itching to pinch hit. Stray fielding greats have been replaced by great fielding teams. This has doubtless affected contests between other teams as well. Competitiveness will return to ODI cricket only when Australia are hauled back into the pack for good. That will require an Australian decline as much as it will require improvement on the part of the other sides. For now though, Australia are the reigning World Champions - the best team in the history of cricket.
The commentators (Nicholas and Atherton) were quick to dub the events at the end of the day a farce. What they failed to recognize is that the Umpires were absolutely right, and that Ricky Ponting and the Australians were unsporting in the premature celebrations once the Sri Lankans were offered the light. The game had not been completed. Instead of pointing this out (and it was not pointed out even once), the commentators went into a long moan about how there was no leadership on display. The ICC was right to let the Umpires have their way. Jayawardene had to come to the rescue at the end and offer to have his two batsmen come into bat and face up to Symonds and Clarke. Commentators (and here i refer to all those who comment - both on TV and in the papers) are quick to criticize the ICC for not following their rules - in this case, the Umpires on the field did a magnificient job in the face of some un-champion like behaviour from the Australian cricketers.
In a Test Match, in a similar situation, they would go off for bad light, and ONLY the Umpires would have the right to make the decision to declare the end of the match. So it should have been today. Sadly, there was an absolute loss of perspective on the part of Nicholas and Atherton who could have used the opportunity to explain what was going on. That the umpires are the sole arbiters on the field of play is not an "arcane ICC rule" - it is the most basic rule in the game.
Technically, Ponting ought to be hauled up into a disciplinary hearing - but the ICC Match Referee and the Umpires in this case are likely to have enough common sense to let the matter rest. Apart from the Jayawardene LBW, the Umpires had a magnificient day.
They have looked like the only side capable of challenging Australia in this tournament and it was fitting that they made the final. They played very well, and had it not been Gilchrist's day, they might just have pulled it off today. As it happened, once Gilchrist went from 49(42) to 149(104) - his last 100 runs coming off 62 balls, it was all academic. They had a glimpse of a chance when Sangakkara and Jayasurya were batting - but a successful run chase today would have required an innings which transcended the required run rate - just like Gilchrist did - not a measured ODI innings a la Jayawardene's in the semi finals, but more an exhibition of magic batting. In the end, Adam Gilchrist was too good for them. He took 30(25) off Vaas and 23(23) off Muralitharan - both of whom went wicketless on the big day. The shortened match favoured Australia - they had the bigger, more powerful strokemakers and they made it count.
But Sri Lanka can look back on a terrific year with Jayawardene at the helm. They shared Test series in New Zealand and England and made the World Cup final. They have discovered a quality opener in Upul Tharanga, and Lasith Malinga has come of age. In Jayawardene they have discovered a worthy leader - whats more, captaincy seems to agree with his batting. In time they will face their own generational upheaval, but for now Sri Lankans can be proud of a compact, competitive team which is exciting to watch.
So ends the World Cup. Mr. Woolmer's death threatened to derail the tournament, but the brilliance of the Australians, competence of Sri Lanka and New Zealand, the uncharacteristically erratic South Africans and the fearless Bangladeshi batsmen have rescued the tournament. The shadow of Mr Woolmer's passing will never completely go away, and neither should it - at a horrific price it may just reveal that all is not well with Cricket after all.
Of the 10 Test playing teams, 6 will have new coaches. Brian Lara and Glenn McGrath will not be seen in international colors again. Inzamam will not be seen in colored clothing again. Many of todays great players will not play a World Cup again. What we are seeing is a maturation of the four year Cricket cycle. In the future, players careers will increasingly begin and end with World Cups - and so it should be. The World Cup will remain a great marker in international cricket.
For now Australia are the masters of Cricket World.
Friday, April 27, 2007
If you look back at various semi-finals and other sudden-death games, Sri Lanka have excelled in the field against the Australia. It is the batting which has been problematic, especially in recent times, chasing modest totals. Further, Sri Lanka have almost always faltered batting second outside the subcontinent. The last time they beat Australia chasing a total outside the subcontinent, was in Hobart in January 1999.
This Sri Lankan batting has done well outside the subcontinent in recent times. They beat England 5-0 in England and then drew a series in New Zealand 2-2. They also achieved 1-1 draws in England as well as in New Zealand in the Test Matches - which if anything is an even stronger indicator of class and quality in the Sri Lanka batting. Sri Lanka's best bet is to bat first, make a competitive total, and the put Australias largely untested middle order a thorough examination.
There is a similarity between the two sides in terms of their bowling - except for the presence of Glenn McGrath. Nathan Bracken and Chaminda Vaas are similar bowlers (and this similarity goes well beyond the fact that both are left arm medium pace). Bradley Hogg is similar to Murali - in the sense that both bowlers are not always picked by the batsmen. Malinga and Tait are slingers, erratic and capable of producing a match altering burst - Tait is probably marginally quicker, but Malinga's is the more unorthodox bowler. Both sides possess additional bowling options as well, and here Sri Lanka are better equipped - with the experienced Jayasurya filling in as the fifth bowling option. Dilhara Fernando is not quite Glenn McGrath, but has the happy knack of producing wicket taking deliveries. On days when he gets it wrong however, he can be spectacularly wayward.
In terms of batting, Sangakkara and Gilchrist are the two best wicketkeeper batsmen in Cricket today. Jayasuriya is one of the great opening batsmen - while Ponting is possibly the best batsman in the world right now. Hayden as mentioned earlier is in the form of his life, while Tharanga has shown the ability to play big innings. Hussey, Symonds and Clarke have not really had to break a sweat yet, while Chamara Silva, Tilekratne Dilshan and Russell Arnold, while not being required to performance rescue acts, have had a significant amount of batting to do. Jayawardene is in great form with a fine century against New Zealand in the semi finals. It remains to be seen whether Shane Watson and Farveez Maharoof play in the final. Watson is more likely to play, all though, with all the wicket taking options at their command, i would not be surprised if Sri Lanka played Maharoof instead of Fernando to bolster the batting.
The two teams are uncannily similar and can indeed be seen as prototypes of the modern ODI team - 6 specialist batsmen, including a wicketkeeper who is good enough to play as a specialist batsman, one quality spinner, a left arm bowler, a right arm pace man, a tearaway quick bowler and an all rounder. Both sides could do better with the quick bowler and Sri Lanka would probably feel that their batting after Jayawardene (Dilshan, Arnold and Silva) might be more accomplished with some big hitting potential..... but both sides do possess the core components of the perfect, well balanced Cricket team, especially for the ODI game.
It should be a cracking game. Will Jayawardene spring Arnold or Dilshan at the Australian left handed openers early in the game, if there is no evidence of seam movement or swing? Will Ponting promote Hussey to ensure that a left-right combination is as the crease as long as possible (especially when Murali is bowling)? Will Tait and Malinga have a good day? Will the Australians demolish the third subcontinental in this World Cup final?
History is on Sri Lanka's side. Lloyd's much fancied West Indians lost to India in their third World Cup final. Australia, after winning in 1987, won in 1999, after not making the knock out stage in 1992 and making the last four in 1996. Similarly, Sri Lanka won in 1996, failed to make the knock out stage in 1999, and made the last four in 2003.
I have not had a good time of it with my predictions - but the form book as well as conventional wisdom about Cricket would point to Australia winning the World Cup Final on Saturday, and unless Sri Lanka's left handers intervene, the World Cup will stay down under.
Lets just hope its a better World Cup final than the previous 2.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Matters are not quite so simple though. The problem arises when the reasons for performance are probed, and speculation (mostly blind speculation) strays into defamatory territory. We have an attitude, especially in India that Cricketers by definition cannot be defamed irrespective of what is written or said about them. Anything goes - their wealth is thanks to you and me, and so their dignity is subject to your whims and mine.
Tendulkar has been the subject of the most vicious, two-faced newspeak - even Orwell might have been stunned if he had come across what Tendulkar has been experiencing. Every time he gets criticized, it is "unprecedented" as i've said before - and the irony of this is lost on most people. Tendulkar is an addiction which we trying to kick - the more we try, the more we get hooked. In many ways his spotless public record, his reputation for being thrifty with his opinions, his record of quiet dignity under the most fearsome pressures and his batting average, all count against him.
Many years ago, in the mid eighties there was a move in India to get rid of the "OT's" from the team - OT being short for Over Thirty. Sunil Gavaskar, Madan Lal and a host of senior cricketers were targeted. Their response was to win the World Championship of Cricket in Australia in 1984-85. Something similar is taking place now. Yet, as with most things this time around, the reality is truly ironic.
Chappell and Dravid, along with the More selection committee did bring in a youth policy which started brilliantly, but went pear shaped - first in the West Indies and later in the hit or miss lotteries of Malaysia and the Champions Trophy. By then the momentum had been lost and the selectors made a U-turn, discarding the youth policy. There was some early success, but when it came down to the end game in the World Cup, two bad games ensured an early exit and all policy went out of the window. It turned out that Chappell, for all his cricketing vision and brilliant know how about batting and bowling and fielding, moved too quickly and could not prevent violent U turns in policy - which left the players bewildered. When it came to the crux, a shattered, defeated group of players turned on Chappell - Tendulkar ended up as the face of this mutiny.
The organization of the Board proved too weak to manage and contain the crisis - to protect the team and the management - to save what they had invested two years in - something which had been promising. Chappell's fault was that he wasn't the perfect cricket coach. The Board, on finding itself between a rock (Chappell and his team management) and a hard place (the general public) - disintegrated and issued a wide array of flailing directives.
So it is with Tendulkar. He is no longer perfect. And hence, nothing is left untouched. Cake cutting, endorsements - you name it. He was the second highest run scorer in the South African tests. His recent run of ODI scores is 55, 31, 0, 60, 100, 54, 1, 7, 57, 0 - thats 5 scores of 50 in his last 10 innings. Yet, it is his bad hour against Paul Harris in Cape Town and his inability to keep out a terrific Dilhara Fernando off cutter early in his innings which the public chooses to remember.
This is so because those whom we expect to be perfect, are seen to fail. In a cruel sort of way, our reaction does confirm the view that our Cricketers are Gods - and that the Cricket team must be the paragon of perfect virtue. The Coach must be perfect, the premier batsman must be perfect, the bowling must be perfect....
And all this in a game of Cricket..... Can you really make sense of that? And would you be willing to try for a moment and make sense of what it must be like to be Sachin Tendulkar?
There seems to be a crippling disconnect here - they can be Cricketers, but we want Gods... Ian Chappell wants them to be Cricketers too. Sadly, his comment is viewed as a comment about a God.... which queers the pitch even further.
The best we can hope for, is that Tendulkar can make some runs and bring some sanity back to the world. Has any sportsman ever been under so much perpetual pressure to produce runs?
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
This is Cricinfo's description of the first 5 South African wickets:
|2.3||Bracken to Smith, OUT, Smith again walks down the pitch to meet the ball, shapes to hit over the top and a sniff of swing takes the ball past the bat and into the off stump|
|GC Smith b Bracken 2 (10m 5b 0x4 0x6) SR: 40.00|
|5.3||McGrath to Kallis, OUT, Kallis again gives himself room and advances to meet the ball, but McGrath fires in a yorker which clatters into the off stump|
|JH Kallis b McGrath 5 (12m 9b 1x4 0x6) SR: 55.55|
|8.5||Tait to de Villiers, OUT, full, de Villiers drives with no foot movement, and a thick kick carries straight to Gilchrist. A fourth delivery over 90mph, a good mixture of length, and now South Africa are up against it|
|AB de Villiers c Gilchrist b Tait 15 (39m 34b 3x4 0x6) SR: 44.11|
|9.4||McGrath to Prince, OUT, And that might be it ... about the worst ball McGrath has bowled, wide and angled away from the left-hander, but Prince slashes, gets a thin edge, and Gilchrist does the rest|
|AG Prince c Gilchrist b McGrath 0 (4m 2b 0x4 0x6) SR: 0.00|
|9.5||McGrath to Boucher, OUT, McGrath on a hat-trick ... much better ball, a stock McGrath delivery, Boucher plays a nothing prod and the ball is held low down by Matthew Hayden at first slip|
|MV Boucher c Hayden b McGrath 0 (1m 1b 0x4 0x6) SR: 0.00|
As Graeme Smith sheepishly admitted, the South African's tried to be "nice and positive". At 5/27, it was over.
Not only were both teams defeated, they were beaten convincingly and the game was over long before the last wicket fell. The two semi-finals were the 45th and 46th one sided matches in this world cup out of 50 matches so far. The Ireland - Zimbabwe tie, the Sri Lanka - England game, the West Indies - England game and the Sri Lanka - South Africa game are the exceptions.
South Africa decided to be positive and that strategy backfired spectacularly. Batsman after batsman tried to force the pace - all to no avail. It is a measure of how far the South Africans feel they need to be outside their own comfort zone in order to compete with the Australians - when it comes off it looks spectacular. Most times however it looks silly. In reply, Australia, with only 150 to chase batting normally - like an international cricket team would circa 2007.
It sets up a fascinating final - Sri Lanka are unique in the cricket world (along with the full Pakistan side - Shoaib, Asif included), in that they have the quality and variety in the bowling to compete with the Australians. The Sri Lankans executed a tactical retreat in the Super 8's clash against the Australians. It remains to be seen whether that move works. It won't surprise the Australians, because they will know what to expect.
All in all, the two best teams in the competition with face off in the final. That in itself is testimony to the quality of the tournament format.
McGrath to Kallis, OUT, Kallis again gives himself room and advances to meet the ball, but McGrath fires in a yorker which clatters into the off stump.
The normal Kallis would have dug in and produced a hard fought innings, and certainly would not have kept charging Glenn McGrath. Instead today Kallis was not just playing the Australians, but also his doubters - an impossible ask.
Jacques Kallis will play many great innings in the future and the South Africans will win against the Australians as well - but here..... he found himself defeated already before he took the field....
It is what experienced watchers (and distinguished commentators, who know what they are doing when they comment on cricket) would call an "uncharacteristic stroke".
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Just goes to show that sitting back and taking ones foot off the pedal is never an option in international sport. When the going is good, everything that needs to be done to ensure that it stays that way has to be done, and one of those things is to never compete at less than one hundred percent. New Zealand did that against Australia. The Sri Lankans did so as well - but that was a tactical selection and not just meant to give Murali and Vaas a rest. Murali and Vaas did return against the Irish.
Where does that put rotation? Rotation has been controversial, but it makes a lot of sense to me. The core premise is that any combination chosen from the squad is as competitive as any other and every combination is the first team combination. When Rotation is implemented in this spirit, it must work - as it did for the Australians. Sure, sometimes they lost when McGrath didn't play, but the point of the exercise was not to rest McGrath, but to throw the new bowler in at the deep end. The attitude with which this is carried out must make a huge difference to the squad. A squad minus the star players must not percieve the safety net that them losing is not so bad because the full Australian side would hammer the opposition anyways.
In some ways, with other sides in transition or with players who are past their prime, this policy is likely to be even more beneficial. It is possibly also the best way to build squad depth. How will this work? It will possibly have to be a directive from the Employer - in India it would have to be approved by the BCCI working committee.
Crowe's reaction might be percieved as being harsh - but his point about resting players is well made.
The Sri Lankan bowling proved too much New Zealand and a middle order collapse triggered by an opportunistic claim of caught & bowled by the great Muralitharan meant that the first semi-final joined 43 out of the 48 games so far as one sided affairs. The thing about one sided affairs is that supporters of the winning side think they're very exciting, while everyone else thinks they are a waste of time.
Stephen Fleming retired as New Zealand ODI captain after 218 games in which he came away with a 96-108 win-loss record. 2004 was his best year - New Zealand produced a 16-4 record in 22 games that year. If you consider only this decade, then Fleming's New Zealand came away with a 78-78 record. Thats surprisingly poor considering Flemings reputation as a "great" captain. It only underlines the fact that a captain is only as good as his team - something which makes Graeme Smith and Ricky Ponting very fine captains. In fact, it makes Ponting the finest ODI captain in history - better than Clive Lloyd, Steve Waugh or Hansie Cronje.
What can we look forward to tomorrow? A batting slog fest where Bradley Hogg will emerge as Australia's match-winning trump card? Or will Makhaya Ntini make a triumphant return and demolish the Australian top order? What kind of game would you prefer to watch? A tense 525-550 run game where 5 good overs for either team will not end the other teams chances but will dent them considerably, or an outrageous 750-800 run slog fest? I would prefer the former. However, with the prodigious six hitting prowess on either side and the small boundaries at Beausejour Stadium, i wouldn't be surprised if we had the latter - or worse, if we have one side racing away to 350 and the other crashing to 225.
Both South Africa and Australia have beaten Sri Lanka in this World Cup. However, the final promises to be a great game, irrespective of which of these two sides qualifies.
My prediction - South Africa to win - with Makhaya Ntini producing a sterling spell and Jacques Kallis scoring some responsible runs. I have to be right this time! :)
After 37 overs, Sri Lanka were 164/4 with Jayawardene 31(64). They ended 289/5 with Jayawardene 115(109). Mahela Jayawardene made 84(45) in the last 13 overs of the innings. At the end of 50 overs, you would have to say that it was a "brilliantly" paced innings. However, had Jayawardene made one mistake in say the 38th over and been dismissed, you can rest assured that he would have been nailed for holding the innings back. As it happened, he ended up planning it just right - played watchfully, got his eye in, and im sure he will say at the end of the day, that he aimed to "stay till the end".
Sri Lanka have made 102 runs in the last 10 overs. If New Zealand face the same equation chasing, it would be considered nearly impossible. Even though there are reports that the wicket might afford some turn later in the day, i am intrigued by the fact that anybody who got going scored at a run a ball - which indicates fast scoring playing conditions.
New Zealand will have to play very well to win....
Monday, April 23, 2007
Australia v South Africa, April 25, Beausejour Stadium, St. Lucia
World Cup Final, April 28, Kensington Oval, Bridgetown Barbados
This is what it all comes down to six weeks into the World Cup. All the upsets, all the one sided games and all the minnow bashing later, the four best teams in the World at the moment meet in the final knock out phase. This World Cup could yet see a revival in fortunes.
The mind games have already begun. Shane Bond is aiming for Sanath Jayasurya, New Zealand aim to exploit the extra bounce on offer on Michael Holding's home pitch, and the Australians want everyone to believe they are all over the South Africans like a rash. Matthew Hayden believes his team intimidates the South Africans, while Ricky Ponting aims to get the "slow" Jacques Kallis in early. Some Australian fans believe there is a thin line between confidence and hubris which has already been crossed. Others think that come Sunday morning, Australia will be World Champions irrespective of what anybody says.
That none of these sides can consider it an achievement to have reached the World Cup semi finals is a telling comment on the state of World Cricket. Would India have felt they had achieved anything significant by qualifying for the last 4? Qualification for the semi-finals is akin to making the pass grade in the world cup. The teams that didn't qualify "failed" in a sense.
These two matches have already taken place once in this World Cup - Australia and New Zealand emerged winners on those occasions. With all the history associated with Australia v South Africa contests, only a brave man would pick a winner. The Australians go in as favorites of course, but then again, how much meaning does that have anymore? Have they gone into any contest in the last 8-9 years as anything less than firm favorites? The South Africans have a reputation for choking in big games - an uncharitable accusation in my view, especially given their sterling world record run chase in a must win game against the Australians last year. Im must confess here that i find myself squarely in the South African corner for this game. The man to watch out for - Makhaya Ntini. That the World Cup Semifinal is going to be a repeat of the Group game on March 24th, at the same venue as the group game is in itself interesting. If it ends up being a batting v batting shoot out, then given the pressure of the occasion, one would expect the side batting first to have the advantage. Why? Because, as the South Africans showed against the West Indies, the side batting first, with wickets in hand can hammer almost any amount of runs in the last 10 overs of their innings - such as making 152 in the last 11 overs like the South Africans did against West Indies. Chasing down 152 in the last 11 overs, even with wickets in hand, is that much more difficult. The Australia had the advantage of batting first the last time.
In the other semi-final (thats exactly what it is...... the "other" semi-final), the battle is between the classical orthodoxy of the New Zealand attack and the unorthodox variety of the Sri Lankan attack. Scott Styris seems to play spin bowling the best amongst all the New Zealand batsmen, while Kumar Sangakkara is Sri Lanka's best player on quicker tracks. In 1999, New Zealand were demolished in the semi-final by the elegant blade of Saeed Anwar. Kumar Sangakkara has had a quiet World Cup so far, and with the spotlight squarely upon Jayasuriya and the Sri Lankan Captain, Sangakkara and his left handed compatriot Russell Arnold will play an important role - especially against Daniel Vettori who is in the form of his life in One Day Cricket. For New Zealand, they will hope that Stephen Fleming produces one of his specials - like he did against the South Africans in the 2003 edition. Ross Taylor and Peter Fulton will be tested in the big game, while Craig McMillan may just be the joker in the pack for New Zealand. Chamara Silva demolished New Zealand in the Test match earlier this year, but a World Cup semi-final will test his mettle.
Unless New Zealand under perform with the bat if they bat first, i don't see Sri Lanka chasing too well. New Zealand on the other hand possess the versatility and depth in batting to win chasing as well as batting first. Hence, i would have to put New Zealand as slight favorites in the first semi-final.
In the second one, Australia go in as favorites, but if a Australia - South Africa world cup semi-final does not produce drama, then we will know for sure than the 2007 World Cup is well and truly jinxed.
Its hard to resist making predictions for these games. So let me go ahead and make mine for this great week.....
1. New Zealand beat Sri Lanka in a tense run chase after winning the toss and fielding first.
I'll make a prediction about the Australia v SA game tomorrow.
For now, it will be Shane Bond taking the field on the holy Sabina Park turf which once belonged to the mighty West Indian pace quartet.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
This picture, taken from Cricinfo's collection of the West Indies tour of England in 2000 epitomizes Lara for me. He was the quintessential West Indian batsman. There was a bit of Gordon Greenidge in that pull shot as there was Viv Richards in the cover drive - played low on bended knee with a typical flourish. It is said that only Gary Sobers could boast of the same high back-lift and full follow through that was signature Brian Lara. He was the only "360 degree" batsmen of his generation (360 degree referring to the arc covered by the bat from back-lift to follow through). The exaggerated shuffle never caused him to be late on the ball - a sure sign of an extraordinary eye. I was once watching a video of Lara make 153 against Wasim and Waqar at Sharjah in the early 1990's as West Indies chased down 280 odd (a huge score in ODI cricket in the early 1990's) - the two W's were genuinely quick and got prodigious late swing in the abrasive Sharjah conditions. Waqar let one go - aimed fullish outside off.... and Lara's eyes lit up as he lined it up to send it crashing to the cover boundary... only to see that the late swing meant that the ball was now headed for his middle stump instead of outside off.... and in the blink of an eye, what began as a cover drive, ended up as a screaming on drive between mid on and mid wicket - the balance as impeccable as ever inspite of the late adjustment. It is estimated that a batsman facing a genuinely quick bowler has about 0.45 seconds after the bowler releases the ball before the ball goes past the stumps at the batting end. Clearly, that time was enough for Lara to play not one, but two strokes against Waqar Younis in the early 90's!
Viv Richards was considered the "fastest" batsman of his generation - a reputation earned in World Series Cricket and subsequent test tours to Australia in the late 70's and early 80's when he took on Lillee and Thomson with aplomb. Brian Lara was without doubt the "fastest" batsman of his generation.
One thing which people take for granted about Lara is his ability to concentrate for long periods of time which is at the root of his ability produce truly mammoth innings. He is the only living batsman to have reached 400 twice in a first class innings, and if im not wrong, is one of only two in the history of cricket - Bill Ponsford being the other. He has scored more double hundreds than any batsman bar Bradman and every third innings he played yielded atleast 50. Flamboyant stroke play, flawless judgement and unwavering concentration formed a happy coalition when Lara was at the wicket. To top all this, he possessed that stroke of genius which allowed him to respond to challenges. Lara was at his best when his quality was questioned. He broke Gary Sobers's world record in 1994 at Antigua, and ten years later broke it again - at Antigua, after suggesting on the eve of the game, that he was playing well enough to do it!
In one day cricket, Lara was no less brilliant. That form of the game is evolving rapidly - the batsmen are becoming better and better at making and chasing down big scores. However much this evolution may continue, Lara is one of the few players would be brilliant in any era of ODI cricket - be it the age of Zaheer Abbas and Vivian Richards, or that of Mathew Hayden and Kevin Pietersen. His 94 ball hundred against the South Africans in the 1996 World Cup sent the favorites crashing out in the quarter final stage, while his masterly 116 gave the 2003 World Cup a classy and auspicious opening, and gave the West Indies a winning start. He made 19 One Day hundreds, 34 Test hundreds, 11953 Test runs and 10405 ODI runs. He made nearly 22000 first class runs in 19 years as a first class cricketer.
Lara leaves the game as one of its greats with many of its records in his name. Some of those records will be broken soon, others may stay for a long time to come. But that is really besides the point. Brian Lara was a West Indian original - arguably the greatest of them all......
Saturday, April 21, 2007
The game was a textbook example for match track which reveals that the West Indies squandered their position of strength (173/3 in 31 overs) and let England back into the game. In the end, England held their nerve to sneak home by one wicket.
This was the second close game out of 47 in the World Cup so far - the other one also featured Paul Nixon and a spirited English run chase against Sri Lanka - on that occasion England fell 2 runs short of their target. It is not a surprise that the only chance for close games has been when the chasing side has fallen behind the run rate and yet found the target realistically attainable.
How do the rankings look at the end of the Super 8's? They couldn't be more exciting. We have yet another epic Australia v SA game to look forward to. New Zealand enter their 4th World Cup semi final, while Sri Lanka feature in their 3rd. The South African's play their 3rd.
South Africa 0.624
New Zealand 0.555
Sri Lanka 0.515
West Indies 0.465
The number 1 team in the World will feature in the World Cup Final. More on the semi finals later...
That seems to be theme of the BCCI - "we have taken some decisions". Now, every organisation must act in the face of adverse results. However, it is in the aftermath of the World Cup that we have seen the real weaknesses of the BCCI - they are unable to articulate a BCCI decision, as a BCCI decision. It is always a Selectors decision, or "bcci officials" or "ravi shastri" or "rahul dravid" taking piecemeal parts of decisions - which are revealed at the drop of a hat. Inside scoops have lost meaning, because everything is an inside scoop. This is how the BCCI communicates its decisions. Thankfully, with Dilip Vengsarkar at the helm of the selection committee, Tendulkar and Ganguly were atleast aware that they were going to be dropped before the team was declared.
We search for grand strategy, or even the merest inkling of a grand vision in every little move BCCI makes. It is however revealed to us (by us i refer to cricket fans) in such a piecemeal fashion, with all its innards on display, that it is hard to view it as anything but an exercise in playing to the gallery - there is never a BCCI opinion, there is always an agglomeration of the wishes of various individuals.
Most collective organisational decisions must surely involve aggregation - but intelligent well-synthesized aggregation of individual opinions almost always reveal themselves as one lucid plan. Nobody ever says "We have taken some decisions". If thats the best Mr Shah can come up with, then he shouldn't really be speaking for BCCI.
In much of politics, everything always seems to be reduced to good publicity and bad publicity - every problem is a PR problem. So it seems to be with BCCI. Their problem seems to be communication between the various parts of their own organisation - which manifests itself in the way their work is communicated to the outside world. I have no interest in whether or not it was the right decision to "rest" or simply rest Tendulkar and Ganguly for the Bangladesh ODI's. Running BCCI well must surely be a matter of getting good communication between the various committees which comprise it - the selection committee, the working committee, the team management.... Instead, what we find revealed repeatedly are petty (and in most cases inconsequential) power struggles.
The point is not that there are power struggles (one would expect those to exist) - the point is that there seems to be no organizational structure to contain these struggles and ensure that a synthesized output is what is revealed - convincingly and honestly. Instead, all we find is various tentacles of the BCCI octopus tickling various elements of the press, who enjoy the tickling and pass it on.
So the gallery reports a captain pleading for his erstwhile vice-captain to be retained, Ravi Shastri bringing in Dinesh Mongia, the Working Committee ordering Tendulkar and Ganguly to be ignored for the Bangladesh ODI's.... no mention whatsoever of what the Indian Cricket Team is looking to achieve during their next cricket tour.
The best they do is "take some decisions"....... Articulating them, putting them together.... seems to be beyond them.
Maybe the BCCI needs to install a Director of Cricket who will be the Cricket face of the BCCI. Someone who has actually played Cricket and can speak clear, correct English (this is not aimed at the BCCI's secretary's poor English..... but miscommunication, which must inevitably result from grammatically poor English is at the root of the BCCI's troubles - they convey information in the wrong way, using incorrect grammar!) would be a good option.
Friday, April 20, 2007
Cricinfo reports that the following squads have been selected:
ODI squad: Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid (capt), Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Dinesh Karthik, Manoj Tiwary, Dinesh Mongia, Piyush Chawla, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel, Zaheer Khan, RP Singh.
Test squad: Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Rahul Dravid (capt), VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), Anil Kumble, Sreesanth, Zaheer Khan, VRV Singh, Ramesh Powar, Rajesh Pawar, Munaf Patel.Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan and Ajit Agarkar have been dropped, while Tendulkar and Ganguly have been rested. The selectors seem to have gone by the form book. With three ODI's and only two Tests being played, and that too against an opposition and in conditions which are unlikely to Test these players - especially the seasoned first class cricketers, it is hard to fathom what the selectors aimed to achieve. What is Manoj Tiwary for example going to prove to anybody by making runs against Bangladesh that he hasn't already proven with his brilliant 90 in the second innings of the Ranji Trophy final?
The selection of Dinesh Karthick as a specialist batsman is interesting, because it is almost certain that Karthick will open the batting in the Test matches. A second specialist opener like Gambhir or Uthappa has not been considered - instead Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Rahul Dravid will compete for 4 middle order places between them. These competition is unlikely to inform the selection of the Test line up to England, because all these players are certainties there. The only other possibility is that Yuvraj Singh is being considered for Sehwag's Test openers slot.
Dinesh Mongia's return to the ODI squad is intriguing. The selection of the ODI squad reveals a desire of the selectors to ensure that there is enough experience in the squad to get the job done in Bangladesh, but is also indicative of a desire on the part of the selectors to nudge Tendulkar and Ganguly towards retiring from the ODI game. By resting them, the indication clearly seems to be that they are now being viewed as the elder statesmen rather than the engine of the squad.
All in all, the selection seems to reflect that turmoil that is evident in the squad right now. It shows the beginnings of a new direction without marking a truly decisive shift. No new players, apart from Manoj Tiwary seem to have been identified. Rajesh Pawar and Ramesh Powar - the erstwhile Mumbai duo have made the Test squad, all though i doubt if both will play. The replacements for Agarkar, Pathan and Sehwag are all known entities - none of whom have proved to be decisively superior to any of these three players.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
As it happened, England collapsed to 130 odd for 8, before being bowled out for 154, courtesy Andrew Hall, whose turn it was to get the lions share of the spoils for South Africa. Graeme Smith and A B deVilliers then chased the English score in true Cricket 4.0 style.
The redeeming feature of this South African world cup campaign has been Jacques Kallis batting at number 3 and proving to be a effective counter point to the belligerence of Smith, deVilliers and Gibbs who bat at 1,2 and 4 respectively. The one occasion when he failed - against Bangladesh, South Africa couldn't find anyone else to hold the innings together and kept losing wickets at regular intervals. His is the key wicket for South Africa's opponents in the semi finals.
With Ireland - Sri Lanka and New Zealand - Australia being the only games remaining for the World Cup Semi-finalists, it is clear that even with New Zealand beat Australia very convincingly, they are unlikely to top the super 8's table. The World Cup semifinal line up looks to be
Australia v South Africa
New Zealand v Sri Lanka.
If Sri Lanka lose to Ireland and loose convincingly, there is a slim chance that they may fall into 4th place, with South Africa moving up into 3rd. The incentive for Sri Lanka is that they can avoid Australia in the semi-finals if they beat Ireland in their last super 8's game.
My ODI rankings as of April 17 2007 are as follows:
South Africa 0.624
New Zealand 0.573
Sri Lanka 0.515
West Indies 0.459
The ICC's ranking's right now are
South Africa 124
New Zealand 115
Sri Lanka 110
West Indies 100
Even though both ratings measure a different match set, it is interesting to note that there is little argument about the top 4 teams in the world right now, whichever methodology one follows. There seems to be agreement that Australia, South Africa and New Zealand are the 3 best teams in the world. Unlike 2003, there will be no easy semi finals this time.
Monday, April 16, 2007
Vaas and Murali did not tour India - Sri Lanka lost convincingly, and when it came to the crunch game in the World Cup group stage, Murali and Vaas were the decisive factors in the Sri Lankan triumph. One just wonders whether the Australians really worry about who plays and who does not in the opposition line up.
The classic Sri Lankan ploy while defending totals is to hold Murali back as late as possible, knowing that this invariably creates pressure on the opposition to attack. Scoring 150 in 28 overs, with 10 of those to be bowled by Murali is completely different from scoring 150 in 28 overs with all 28 to be bowled by the other bowlers. With Murali in their ranks, Sri Lanka invariably put themselves in a position where they can win with one decent partnership with the bat. It is unlikely that they will always make only 86 with their other 9 partnerships around a central stand of 140.
For Australia, Tait had a bad day today. If he gets it right, he has the potential to negate Murali very quickly. With Nathan Bracken proving to be a magnificient ODI bowler, and with McGrath being McGrath, Australia have many more tricks up their sleeve than Sri Lanka do - hence they don't need to make tactical decisions like the Sri Lankans did today.
The Sri Lankan decision also shows the security and confidence within their squad. The decision to leave out Murali and Vaas for todays game would have the total approval of both Vaas and Murali, and both would have bought into the thinking behind the decision, knowing fully well that it leaves them under immense pressure in the big game.
It is fashionable to call the Sri Lankans "little" players, especially in the Indian press. This is quite condescending, because Sri Lanka have been the big boys of ODI cricket ever since their World Cup victory in 1996. Decisions like todays, where they are able to exude confidence and indicate a coherent game plan to take on the Australians show us why they have been the big boys.
Two teams in the world cup - Sri Lanka and New Zealand, embody the value of tactical preperation and of executing prepared plans - both teams have had a core group consisting of batsmen as well as bowlers who have been together for a long time and in this World Cup have cashed in. Sri Lanka still have a weakness on the bouncier pitches in my view, much like their fellow subcontinental teams. New Zealand look to a more complete team - with Bond providing the killer edge that their bowling lacked in Fleming's early years as captain. But both teams have invariably been able to make the most of their ability.
That has to be down to preperation. Sri Lanka played todays game in anticipation of a far more consequential clash against the Australians in the near future. It remains to be seen whether the Murali gamble works.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
In many ways, this story is a microcosm of the larger World Cup story. Everything that could possibly have gone wrong has done so. It started with incomplete stadia - then came Pakistan's ouster, then, shockingly came Bob Woolmer's death. This was followed by India losing to Bangladesh and one surreal week later, losing to Sri Lanka. Tickets priced out of reach of the locals meant that the world, accustomed to stories of a cricket mad caribbean, saw empty stands despite the best efforts of TV producers.
On the field, the cricket has not been particularly exciting either. If you leave aside the England v Sri Lanka game, none of the other games very particularly close fought - the South Africa v Sri Lanka game had a 5 over spree at the end when Lasith Malinga threatened a freak come back. This inspite the fact that many of the games in this world cup have been in the mid to low scoring range, while others have seen 300+ scores. As contests, most games have been decided well before the the 75th over of the match. There is so much data to go by, that it is easy to tell at the end of the first innings whether a particular score is above or below par, or just about par. Therefore, much of the analysis tends to centre around whether or not a particular set of players under performed or performed out of their skins. Describing the cricket is optional.
In my view, we are in the age of ODI Cricket 4.0. There have been complaints from players that the World Cup as the tournament is too long. Indeed, the World Cup, which is supposed to be a celebration of ODI cricket, has revealed all the limitations of ODI Cricket - in its administration and more importantly, in relation to the nature of the contest.
Bowlers are outsiders in the contest and as better hitting techniques get engineered, bowlers tend to become more and more marginalized. In Test cricket, the contest is between bat and ball, and hence both batsmen and bowlers have equal opportunity to develop. Every couple of years, a new stroke is invented, and as each new stroke is invented, more batsmen in each team seem to have mastered the existing range of strokes. Little wonder then that Ricky Ponting should observe that it is the big strong giants like Pietersen and Hayden who are likely to rule batting in the near future - that the age of the pint sized master may be over.
Why are so many contests one sided? The only way an ODI contest can be a close contest is if the chasing side falls behind the clock in its chase and has a realistic chance of catching up. This is the only way that a closely contested game is possible in ODI cricket. Most ODI games where this doesn't happen, are decided by a side batting first and racing away to an unattainable total, or suffering a batting collapse somewhere along the way and not scoring enough runs, or the side chasing collapsing and not being able to recover or having it easy in the chase. On decent wickets, a decent contest is extremely unlikely unless the score is between 260-280. This again.... if you think about it, makes for an extremely predictable contest. In addition, there is the problem that ODI games are often decided by the toss - one side starts its innings in bowler friendly conditions in the morning while the chasing team starts when the wicket has eased in the mid-afternoon.
ODI cricket is fine as a contest to determine who the better team is - but it is severely limited and overly simplistic and predictable as a cricketing contest, if your interest goes beyond determining who the better team is. The reason for this is obvious - bowlers are not really in the picture - not even on sporting wickets, because even there they tend to get wickets on the cheap because batsmen take risks against them which they would not normally take. ODI cricket belies the basic premise of cricket - that it is a contest between bat and ball.
Some months ago, i came up with this idea. Here is the gist of it with some modifications (i'll try to limit this to just the gist :) ):
1. The total match shall consist of 100 overs.
2. The end of the innings will occur if the batting side gets bowled out, or if its captain declares. There will be no externally imposed stipulation of overs.
3. Any 3 bowlers will be allowed a maximum of 15 overs. The others will be allowed a maximum of 8.
4. A Win would be possible in the following way:
The side batting second, will have to match the runrate of the side batting first for the remainder of the overs. For example… if the side batting first makes 300/5 in 60 overs, then, in order to win, the side batting second will have to make 201 in the remaining 40 overs to win.
5. Teams will have the option of using either 2 new balls or 1 new ball and 1 old ball. (And old ball will be 20-30 overs old). For the first 10 overs these balls must be used alternatingly, while after that, the fielding side can choose whichever one it wishes for each over.
6. There will be no fielding restrictions apart from the basic restrictions which are : No more than 2 fielders behind square on the leg side, and at least 4 fielders inside the 30 yard ring.
7. Any game where 100 overs can not be completed will be deemed incomplete. Reserve days will be used to complete any unfinished games.
I encourage you to look through both ideas and i welcome any observations you may have......
Ireland have just finished at 243/7. I think this might just be Ireland's day, especially if the Barbados pitch gives them some assistance.
Friday, April 13, 2007
"I am still hurt and upset at the sort of hostile reception we have got since returning from the World Cup. I have always given 100 percent for my country. But when your family gets threatening calls and our effigies are burnt and our pictures put on donkeys, then I can't lead the team in such circumstances."
It is hard not to admire the upright expression of self-esteem which is seen in this decision by Younis Khan. There are those who will say he's chickening out and isn't interested in captaining a sinking team..... there are others who will shake their heads knowingly at the disaster zone that is Pakistan cricket.... but make no mistake about it, in terms of talent and cricketing ability, the Pakistan team does not suffer in comparison to most teams (except possibly Australia.. but then so do the other 8 Test playing teams).
The whole issue of public reaction, like Woolmer's unsolved murder has disappeared from the front pages in recent weeks. Indeed, once the Pakistan team left the West Indies, nobody was interested in reporting on the Woolmer case anymore. Nobody wanted to get inside scoops and get speculative inside information from unnamed sources once it became clear that there would be no sensational revelation about an inside job. So it has been with the news about the public outcry. Nobody has bothered to follow up with the people who staged those ridiculous protests in India - any investigation (assuming there was one) as to who was responsible for the vandalism of Dhoni's house or making threatening calls to Pakistan cricketers is not front page news.... but some one filing a petition against Tendulkar for cutting a cake at the Indian High Commision in Jamaica is!
We constantly demand committment and sincerity and humility from our cricketers. If Sachin Tendulkar is not as motivated towards the cause of Indias national cricket team today as he has been in the past, then ...... i can hear some of you cut in and point out that "he should quit immediately if he's not committed". But here is the question - who's team is it more? His or yours? Is it even your place to tell him what he should or should not do, especially since it is alleged "fans" and their reaction which is possibly the main reason for Tendulkar not caring any more?
There are those in the press and those in the public who will point out that they have been nothing but absolutely measured in their criticism, that they have not resorted to comments about his endorsements and his earnings, that they have not at all questioned his will or his commitment - that they have merely expressed legitimate concern about his performance, and so as far as they are concerned, he has no grounds for complaint. There will be those who say that his committment and his will can indeed be questioned, without hitting below the belt, and that they have done so. Im sure there are some of us who are blameless in this regard, but should it not be of interest that those who are to blame be brought to account?
Im using the example of Tendulkar (because he is the victim of the ultimate Orwellian newspeak - the press says he is above reproach and above criticism, and yet he invariably gets the dirtiest end of the stick, every breath he takes is scrutinized for even the slightest slip up, and anything which does not confirm to the very highest norms gets dragged through a neon lit gutter), as a general example to basically question - Who are fans to demand performance, when if they themselves are called to account, they shrug their shoulders, look the other way and say "but we didn't do any of that".
Today, do we know the identity or the antecedents of even one of the fools who engaged in those stupid displays for the benefit of Aaj Tak and their ilk? Has anybody bothered to find out who they are? If it is not important to do so, then it can only be because most people don't have a problem with their method or with their message. If that is the case, then clearly, there is absolutely no obligation for the BCCI employed Indian Cricketers towards any "fans". And i disagree completely with the argument that these errant individuals and groups are irrelevant and don't deserve publicity.
Younis Khan and Pakistan are pretty much in the same boat. In addition, they have an ad hoc board which can cease to exist at a moments notice if the President of Pakistan so wishes (and it is apparent that he has not been shy of expressing this wish in the last 8 years), which makes the captain's job even more fraught with uncertainty.
I just wonder whether Younis Khan's decision is something that will become a precedent for Indian Cricketers in the future.... not that it will bother the "fans" (because they care about Cricket, not about the stars.... or so one must assume - which is why they watch domestic games with so much enthusiasm... ).
It may be outlandish to demand accountability from the fans - but in matters where illegal, defamatory acts are committed and broadcast repeatedly, there has to be accountability. If society can not ensure this little thing, then a competent Cricket team is a gift such a society does not deserve and can not claim.....
I hope something can be done to ensure that Younis Khan feels able to accept the honor of captaining his national team. In Tendulkar's case, it is very likely that he will still have two good years before he calls it a day - with bells and whistles possibly...... but it will be like a prize given to an undeserving, ungrateful populace. But at least Tendulkar will look back 20 years from today on a storied career...... Younis Khan on the other hand might find himself wondering what might have been....
Realistically though, i doubt that anything can be done for this Younis Khan..... the real question is...... will the next Younis Khan have to face the same nonsense as this one has?
There is no alternative to a rigorous, even gruelling first class season. If India does not use its weather advantage which permits cricket to be played for 6-8 months in most of the country, then it is missing out. Would England play cricket for 8 months if they had a 8 month summer? Of course they would. The argument is made that there are too many first class teams and that there would be too little competition at a reasonably high level in first class cricket - this may be true for the first few years, but - if the people expect India to be as good as the Australians next year, then they are fooling themselves. As it is, competition and quality are both at best moderate - further more, there is too little first class cricket being played.
Harbhajan Singh, Virendra Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh - all came into the national side as raw talents and blossomed into well rounded international cricketers while playing for India. There is no finishing school for India's cricketers other than international cricket. The average first class level batsman in India plays about 15 first class innings in a year! Thats less than the Test team. Apart from Wasim Jaffer, i don't see any cricketer who has played for India with any success as being truly a product of Ranji Trophy cricket. Lets look at the first class records of India cricketers:
These are records in all matches classed as first class matches except Test matches. Therefore these include Ranji, Duleep, Irani, County Cricket, Shield Cricket, Tour matches etc.
98 matches, 146 innings, 15 not outs, 8573 runs at 65.44 with 25 centuries and 46 fifties
114 matches, 179 innings, 28 not outs, 8579 runs at 56.81 with 25 centuries and 45 fifties
125 matches, 190 innings, 26 not outs, 7559 runs at 46.09 with 15 centuries and 48 fifties
56 matches, 88 innings, 4 not outs, 4279 runs at 50.94 with 14 centuries and 18 fifties
50 matches, 80 innings, 8 not outs, 3418 runs at 47.44 with 12 centuries and 16 fifties
117 matches, 191 innings, 23 not outs, 9063 runs at 60.30 with 26 centuries and 41 fifties.
Wasim Jaffer has a significantly better first class record than Ganguly, Sehwag and Yuvraj and a better first class average than Rahul Dravid. He has played for India less than any of those players. And it is not as though India have had strong opening partnerships. And yet, it is hard to fault the selectors on this issue, because his competitors - Akash Chopra and Gautam Gambhir have similarly impressive records. Performance in domestic cricket is not a pre requisite for selection to the national side. Most players selected for India end up paying mere lip service to first class cricket.
Therefore, going back to first class cricket as it is played now, is unlikely to provide too much competition. Virender Sehwag who couldn't stitch together 30 minutes of decent batting in an India shirt, went back to Delhi and smashed a run-a-ball 106 on a bad wicket! Australian players are good and humble, because their domestic system keeps them that way. The irreverance that is so characteristic of Australian first class cricketers towards overseas professionals or established stars from other countries in International cricket has its basis in the highest quality of competitive first class cricket.
How can India, with 1 billion people, and 27 representative first class teams, achieve this kind of quality in first class cricket? That is the greatest question before the powers that be today - one only wonders whether they see it that way.
There are multiple ways of addressing the issue. One way would be to assume that 297 first class cricketers are way too many (considering only the playing elevens) and to reduce the number of first class teams. This will require the creation of another layer of cricket for these 27 teams. The radical solution would be to strip away first class status of the Ranji Trophy and create new zones - a finite number of them - say about 12 and have them play a round robin league - each side playing 22 first class games (playing the other 11 teams home and away) at the end of which the top 4 compete in semi-finals and finals. This might work - but which Cricket Association is likely to concede the right to their own first class team?
It could be possible to view this differently - India has 9 Test Match venues:
9 First class teams could be based at these 9 grounds. This would once again provide select few (99 players) the opportunity to play quality competitive first class cricket.
Whether this is fair given the number of cricketers in India is debatable and it would be hard to ignore the point that with 27 first class teams, over 300 individuals can aspire to a decent living as first class cricketers. That is a reality which must be taken into account.
What i want to get at, is that first class cricket as important as it is for the general health of the sport in India, represents a genuine problem - and the view that it is merely a scouting ground for the national team is a hard sell. There is little doubt however, that this is the problem which must be solved.
Here is the bottom line - take all the current India cricketers, at their respective peak - in terms of fitness and form, and put them together in a hypothetical team, and even that team would not be amongst the top two teams in the world. If you bring bench strength into the equation then India slip into mid-table anonymity on the world stage.
It is why we must value our champion cricketers, and it is also why the solution lies in the reformation of First class cricket and not in psycho-analysts and bowling coaches for the national side. That Chappell considered player development as the major goal for the national team should be enough to drive home this point. It is why attitude, honesty and all other qualities which are without doubt non-negotiable, are not going to be enough in the long run.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
4.1 Franklin to Tharanga, no run, dropped by Fleming. Fullish, outside off stump line, Tharanga drives square, uppishly and Fleming, who had placed himself at square point, stretches his left hand out but ends up palming it.
7.6 Bond to Sangakkara, 2 runs, dropped by McMillan at short midwicket, slower ball that time and Sangakkara is deceived. Pokes at it but McMillan can only get his fingers to it, jumping up at short midwicket and lunging his right hand up towards the ball. Tough chance but a chance nevertheless
10.4 Gillespie to Jayasuriya, 1 run, smacked loft over short midwicket, Fleming throws himself in the air but can only parry it with his left hand. Dropped might be too harsh but these are the chances that turn games.
Sanath Jayasurya is one of the most peculiar ODI batsmen ever. He averages merely 33, but when he does make runs, Sri Lanka's chances of winning skyrocket. As it is, he has played in an extremely successful Sri Lankan ODI side, especially as opener. Jayasurya has played 332 matches (328 innings) as opener. In these, Sri Lanka have won 183, lost 135 - a 55% win record. He has reached at least 40 in 108 out of these 328 innings. In these 108 games, Sri Lanka's win-loss record is 79-23 - a 73% win record. When Jayasurya matches alteast a half-century, Sri Lanka's win-loss ratio is 63-18 in 86 games, a 73% success rate.
How crucial is Jayasurya to Sri Lanka's success? When Jayasurya is dismissed for less than 20 (i. e. a batting failure), something which has happened in 150 out of his 332 games, Sri Lanka's record plummets to 65-77, i. e. 43%
If you compare 5 top ODI players, Tendulkar (opening), Ponting, Lara, Inzamam, Gilchrist and Jayasurya and the impact which their success (>40) and failure (<20) has on the team performance, it makes for very interesting reading.
Jayasurya, Gilchrist and Tendulkar have been measured as openers, while Inzamam, Lara and Ponting have been measured as middle order batsman. Lara and Tendulkar's failures seem to hurt their teams the most, while Lara's bat wields the maximum influence on the outcome of a game (38 percentage points).
Individual performers do have an impact on the result of games, however, it is instructive to note that both Tendulkar and Jayasurya have equal influence (30 percentage points), but Tendulkar has to average 48 to wield that influence while Jayasurya has to average 36 to wield the same influence. Since both players have comparable strike rate (85 - 90), it indicates the contributions of the rest of the side in their respective cases. Sri Lanka have almost consistently been the superior fielding and bowling unit, while their batting has had superior over all depth to India, except stray periods during the early years of this decade.
Lara's numbers are interesting - if you consider just this decade, then Lara has played 124 innings, averaged 38.60 and in these games, the West Indies have had a 40% win rate. When Lara fails (he does so in 44% of all innings in this decade), the West Indies win rate drops to 30%, while when he succeeds, the West Indies win 25 out of 41 i. e. 61% of their games. Lara's influence falls from 38 to 31%, which is still significant.
While it is tempting to view certain players as match winners more than others, the evidence suggests that the the influence of individual players is a function of the overall strength of the teams that they play in, more than anything else. Players in stronger teams have a lesser individual impact on that teams overall success rate (something which is obvious). Yet, the converse, does not always reflect in the win percentage. Individual batsmen tend to be very influential in teams with strong bowling attacks and moderate batting strength, while individual bowlers tend to be extremely influential in teams with strong batting line ups and moderate bowling line ups. Lets take Murali's case for example:
Murali has taken 447 wickets at 22.7 in his ODI career. Sri Lanka have a 168-107 record in the 287 games that he has played for them - a 59% win rate. In matches where he takes 3 or more wickets, Sri Lanka's win record is 42-16 in 58 matches - a 72% record. In matches where he is restricted to at best 1 wickets, Sri Lanka's record is 80-73 in 163 matches - a 49% win rate. If we restrict this to this decade, where Murali has the superior individual record - 259 wickets at 19.72, and Sri Lanka's overall win rate is 62% in these games, then the same success and failure measures for Murali yield:
27-12 record in 39 games where Murali takes 3 or more wickets, i.e a 69% win rate
45-35 record in 86 games where Murali is restricted to at best 1 wicket - i. e a 52% win rate.
In Murali's entire career, the influence of his taking 3 or more wickets in an innings as against his being restricted to just 1 wicket at best, has been 23%. While in the 2000's, when he has been at his peak as a bowler, this influence comes down to 17%! So Murali becoming a better bowler has benefited Sri Lanka less than the fact that Sri Lanka have improved as a team - and we are talking about the world's greatest all wicket ODI spin bowler here.
It is a combination of successes which ensures victory, and for Sri Lanka, Vaas and Murali taking 6/56 and Jayasuriya making 64, is as close to their A performance as you could imagine. They would rarely lose when that happens - against anybody.
Their win percentage is a tribute to the quality they possess in both batting and bowling. That is the difference between India and Sri Lanka - just think about it - line up Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh besides the mighty Tendulkar, in in this whole decade, India have managed a win percentage which is about 6 percentage points behind Sri Lanka'. Our A game, consists of big batting and steady bowling - which is why we tend to win batting v batting shoot outs, where the bowlers are basically little more than cannon fodder. In the lower scoring games, Murali and Vaas come to play.... and thats where Sri Lanka score.
Sri Lanka have produced their text book performance at the right time. Australia should take notice..... As for New Zealand, John Wright did say that their real test would start with this game - and they have faltered. I wouldn't write them off yet. They in a position where 2 good games would make them world champions!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Since then, Dhoni has delivered 615 runs at 32 (still and excellent return for a wicket keeper) and Yuvraj has delivered 499 runs at 41.58 (also excellent). Irfan Pathan has fallen away far more drastically. He has delivered 13 wickets at 39 and scored 172 runs at 15.6. Not surprisingly, he finds himself out of the playing eleven.
Irfan Pathan in my view has been a victim of expectation, and the loss in form and comments about "loss of pace" have undermined his confidence. Pathan was never genuinely quick, all though he could and still does produce the odd delivery in the late 130's. Wasim Akram taught him a few things during the Australian tour of 2003-04 - Shaz and Waz milked that to the hilt, and Pathan was delivering on the field. However, the comparison to Wasim was flawed, because Wasim was genuinely quick to start with, while Pathan was not. Pathan's USP was that he could swing the ball naturally. He suffered in comparison with Wasim, and the speed gun consistently threatened his manhood - he was accused of losing his pace - by inference of not putting in the effort in some quarters, and of being over-coached.
However, in my view, it is precisely in the case of someone like Pathan, where a Greg Chappell is likely to come in handy. It is not surprising that reports suggest that Pathan and Sreesanth were the only two younger players who got along well with Chappell. There is no doubt that Irfan has much to contribute to the national squad. His batting in underrated and he could be a rich mans Daniel Vettori with the bat - he's a better player than Vettori right now, however he needs to approach his batting the way Vettori does - like a specialist batsman. His bowling needs to be specialist as well. Currently, he seems to be a general left arm medium to medium-fast bowler.
If he needs a role model - Wasim Akram is the wrong one. Thats like Mohammad Ashraful looking at Sachin Tendulkar as a role model. It is unrealistic. The role model for Pathan is easy to spot - Warnakulasuriya Pattabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas (just wanted to show off the fact that i know his full name :) ). I was watching Vaas bowl with Sangakkara standing upto the stumps, with the very well defined goal of controlling the game. He was not bowling to take a wicket every ball, he was not bowling to out fox the batsman - he was simply bowling to keep the batsmen in check. It was excellent team strategy and more importantly, appropriate use of resources. Contrast this with Vaas bowling in the 2003 World Cup against India or 2002 in England - Vaas is not very successful in England, precisely because the traditional role does not suit him - he doesn't have the pace off the the wicket or the height to prevent good batsmen from planting their front foot down to him. His counter to this is classic - the wicketkeeper stands up to the stumps, so the batsman has to stand inside his crease, thereby allowing Vaas to bowl a length which he wants to bowl - also giving him greater opportunity to be effective with any movement in the air or off the wicket, something which would otherwise be countered by the batsman standing outside his crease - Tendulkar has done this, as has Hayden.
This sort of thing can't be thought up on the spur of the moment in a match. It can work only if it is developed well in advance. Sangakkara and Vaas have a great understanding, and Sangakkara is able to read Vaas much better than the batsman. For Irfan, this is a viable option, especially with his ability to swing the ball. He will be required to be very accurate, and Dhoni will have to be alert and well prepared.
What it can do for India however is to give India a whole new dimension in the field. With Irfan's batting talent, he could easily play number 7 in both Tests and ODI's. If Dinesh Karthik and Mahendra Dhoni are both excellent batsmen, then India can and in my view should adopt a policy decision to play 5 bowlers and 2 spinners at all times in both Tests and ODI's. For this, Irfan Pathan will have to deliver in his role. If the wicket suits the seamers, then India ought to play Irfan and three other bowlers (i. e. play the extra batsman). Most seam bowlers train themselves to bowl 6-7 over spells at full tilt. Occasionally they deliver an 8th over. In the case of the express men like Shoaib or Bond, they deliver 4-5 in a single spell. Irfan has to train himself to bowl 9-10 over spells so that he can bowl out in ODI games (taking the new ball or otherwise) or bowl for the best part of a session in Test match. Kumble will not tie up an end for India for too much longer.
Essentially, with India's weak and inexperienced bowling line up, it is prepared pieces like these which will help India exert control in the field. It will also put the batsmen on notice - only 4 spots will be up for grabs - i don't see Rahul Dravid's spot being in question for too long.
Mind you, this won't make Irfan a bits and pieces cricketer. Great seam and swing bowlers have in the past bowled with the keeper up to the stumps - the finest example being Alec Bedser, for whom Godfrey Evans stood up to the stumps and effected some memorable leg side stumpings.
In a sense, Irfan Pathan's case is a metaphor for the whole Indian side - the maverick individualism of the Ganguly years gave way under Chappell, before reappearing for the World Cup squad. The approach of Chappell's first year (hopefully minus the rancor that Chappell is supposed to have spawned within the team thanks to his less than tactful ways) needs to return. Irfan Pathan remodeling himself will be a good start. He has much to offer and he ought not to squander it trying to be the next Wasim Akram - because he doesn't possess the basic ingredient necessary to be Wasim Akram - genuine pace. To do so would be to miss the mark, and tragically so.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Todays game was a must win game for both sides, and South Africa gave a clinical exhibition of Cricket 4.0. The contest was beyond the West Indies batsmen even before they started their innings. Lara's unique (and at time baffling) marshaling of his resources in the field (he took the final power-play in the 44th over!) didn't help the West Indies. Against a Cricket 4.0 machine, even playing well is sometimes not good enough. Here we had a West Indies outfit under-performing. South Africa might in fact have been disappointed that inspite of the last 11 overs producing 152 runs, they ended up with a mere 356. The contest was truly over once Lara went and the South Africans cruised home by 67 runs. The match track below shows that the South Africans dominated the contest starting with the Kallis-de Villiers partnership and the West Indies had no answer from that point on.
South Africa have taken a giant step towards securing a semi-final birth today. Now, it is Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and South Africa with more or less secured semi-final slots with Bangladesh and England having an outside chance. Bangladesh will have to beat England, West Indies and Ireland to progress. Each of these teams now are in must win situations though.