Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What is the new Coach supposed to achieve?

If Captaincy is difficult to gauge, then Coaching is even more so. Captaincy takes place in the full glare of the playing field, coaching happens the in the dark confines of the dressing room and in the lonely arena of net practice. What does a coach do? How do you differentiate a good coach from a bad one? What can a coach contribute to a side, and more importantly what can't he contribute? These are questions which have not been answered satisfactorily so far and indeed are probably not being asked, except rhetorically.

Harsha Bhogle suggests that a quiet achiever is what India needs, not a messiah. Sunil Gavaskar, a member of the committee which is charged with recommending a coach to the President of BCCI, apparently feels that an Indian should get the job this time around. The players feel exactly opposite. This in itself seems to be an unhappy situation - for one of the two parties is going to be aggrieved in the end. I see no mythological Narasimha-like being on the horizon who can be neither Indian, nor foreign, neither quiet achiever, nor messiah. What is also clear, is that whoever takes up the job next, is going to be human - even Dav Whatmore, the miracle worker from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh is capable of a colossal yahoo like he did recently in the Mirpur Test - c0-authoring a decision to field first - which meant that his side spend two days in the field for 3 wickets. Does that become a black mark against Whatmore's tactical acumen? Sure it does.

A good coach will not be selected, if his role and his goals are not clearly understood by all parties - the coach, the team and the BCCI. The selection of a new coach has to be part of a larger overhaul of the Domestic Cricket and the international calender. The BCCI has the means to do this - they do not lack money or clout. One wonders whether they realize that this is necessary. The problem with Chappell, and to a lesser extent with John Wright (and this extent was in my view a function of their individual personalities) was that their goals and their plans were not supported by BCCI. There was no coherent effort from BCCI to buy into and support Chappell's plans for player development. When the going got tough, BCCI and the Vengsarkar Selection committee - for better or for worse, shrank from standing by their coach's policy. Not only that, there was no significant communication between the BCCI, the selectors and the coach which ensured that they were all on the same page - indeed, there was no page to be on.

A Coach alone will not make India the best team in the world - if that is the expectation, then a quiet achiever or a big name - both will be viewed as messiahs. Make no mistake about it, Wright was viewed as much as a messiah as Chappell was - the difference was that Wright did not carry the baggage of having averaged 53 in Test Cricket and did not have his own website. The decisions about domestic cricket, the national coach, the selection committee make up, the selection committee tenure, the international calender - these are not independent decisions which have no bearing on each other. Taken together as part of one coherent strategy, they can and probably will make India the best team in the world within a reasonable period of time. Taken independently, they will merely prove to be fertile ground for endless parasitical speculation until they lose steam and wither away.

If the expectation is that any individual will come along and turn this group of players into the world's best, then thats unrealistic. Bobby Simpson, the first high profile coach of an international cricket team began a process which came to fruition only 13 years later, and that too only because of the serendipitous accumulation of extraordinary talent in Waugh's team of 2000-2003 and Ponting's subsequent team. It would be a mistake to assume that Indian Cricket can some how perform a miracle in a year or so.

Whoever becomes coaches, whatever his personality may be, will fail unless the BCCI backs him to the hilt - and that means addressing the domestic format, the international calender and ensure that more domestic cricket is played with Indian players participating - more reasonable international cricket is played (detours to Scotland should really be scheduled better than between an important tour match between the second and third tests and the third test v England). Thats more important than the identity of the person who becomes coach.

Monday, May 28, 2007

An Annual Cricket Calender - Urgently needed.....


Every now and then, an Indian captain complains about "too much cricket" or "crammed schedules". These are interchangeable complaints and the ensuing sparring between the board and the captain usually covers these two issues. Now it has happened with Rahul Dravid and the undaunted Mr. Modi of the Sharad Pawar BCCI. The following is a count of Test matches and ODI's for each calender year in this decade.

The numbers for Pakistan ought to be viewed in the context of the impact of 9/11 on Pakistan as a venue. There is some truth to Mr. Modi's contention that India have not played more cricket than Australia or England. Infact, England have played more Test Cricket than India have.

The BCCI is a rich, powerful board, but seems unable to use this power and influence to establish a definite Indian Cricket calender. I agree that it is difficult, given that India share their season with every test playing country except England. With a well defined season, with some amount of cyclic regularity, will ensure that there isn't the adhoc bunching of series with 18 month "seasons", followed by 6 month breaks, which are then filled with off shore games.

Clearly, this has to be the most pressing need of the board, in addition (and possibly allied to) the revamp of domestic cricket. This would be a worthy fight for Mr. Modi to wage. Without this, every captain (or in some cases, the same captain every few years), will continue to complain, with undeniable merit, that the cricket schedule is too cluttered.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Slow" Batting and the nature of Cricket Analysis.....

I was contemplating a follow up to the earlier ramble about percieved "flair" and "imagination" in Captaincy, when i came across this article about Tendulkar's slow batting. It is my contention that analysis about a particular player/team is cricket is a function of how much is known about that particular player/team. Some teams are more minutely analyzed and written about than others, as are some players. These teams and players (they include most of the top test teams and most of the top players) therefore fall prey to stereotypes - because beyond a point, analysis refers to previous analysis and not current performance. Now, that previous analysis is invariably dipped in the euphoria of a great victory or in the despair of crushing defeat. The Cricinfo article is a classic example of an imagined stereotype about Tendulkar becoming the dominating reference point for discussing his innings against Bangladesh.

Bangladesh as an opposition were irrelevant - that was the expectation given that they were minnows, and that became evident during the series. They have only 2 players who can threaten good opposition - Mortaza and Ashraful, and Ashraful has serious problems with temperament. So, as a series to determine the quality of any Indian cricketer, this was quite irrelevant. Four Indians made hundreds. Wasim Jaffer's was a typical understated innings - the innings of a seasoned first class cricketer. Nothing excites or bores him enough to disturb him. Dinesh Karthik was like a Cat on a hot tin roof, and like anyone on a hot tin roof, he exhausted himself very quickly. Rahul Dravid was the luckiest of the lot. He played the post tea and pre lunch sessions against a tired and demoralized attack and made the most of it (made 88 runs in the 37 over post tea session, if he had known, he could have joined Farokh Engineer in making a hundred in a session in a Test). Tendulkar played two consecutive sessions, and like every other player who did so, suffered in the process. The first session brought him 54(91) while the post lunch brought him 38(79). The post team session brought him 21(25). He was clearly tiring in the post lunch session and against fields set purely for containment on a slowish wicket, it was tedious going.

The Mortaza - Tendulkar contest was intriguing, in that Tendulkar was unwilling to hook the short ones. This was possibly due to the fact that the bouncers were not quick, indeed the ones that he left were loopy, there by indicating that it might have been hard to time a hook shot. It was by Tendulkar's calculation an unnecessary risk. Increasingly, that has been the hallmark of Tendulkar's play - calculation. His batting is extremely measured - mindful of his own limitations and constantly referring back to his own experience. His has been troubled by SLA bowlers before - bowling into the rough. The most intriguing contest in England will be between Tendulkar and Panesar. Panesar's predecessor Giles was content to be bull-headed and attack leg stump from over the wicket - a SLA's leg trap if you will, while Panesar, especially without the influence of Duncan Fletcher, might be unwilling to do that.

In essence, the Cricinfo article suggests that "this is not the old Tendulkar". They are quite right. Today's Tendulkar is not quite the rich mans Mohammad Ashraful that he was 10 years ago. If analysis involved what analysis should involve, then this reference to the Tendulkar of 1997 of 1998 might have been easily dismissed. When Tendulkar says that he plays for the team and that his role has changed, it seems to be ignored. The evidence suggests that he does indeed play for the team, and that he has changed his role, keeping in view his declining competence. What we are seeing in the case of Tendulkar is accumulated experience trying to compensate for the wear and tear of time. That in itself is rare.

Now, you might think that i am trying to paint Tendulkar's efforts in a brighter light than they command, and if you have observed the decline in his batting as i have, then you would probably be right. But it is here that the crux of the matter lies. You might ask - If he is in decline, should he really even make the Indian side? Now, that is not a useful question - because his selection to the national side depends on whether or not he is better than anyone who he might be replaced with, not on whether he is as good as he was 10 years ago. Tendulkar is in decline, but ever the student, he is attempting to be a different batsman, and not just a lesser batsman. That suggests that he still really does want to play. Add to that the fact that he is still miles ahead (thanks to his experience and his understanding of his experience) of next batsman in India (barring Dravid), and it is clear that his place is not under threat. Put very simply, if the realistic range of results which Tendulkar is capable of achieving is superior to that which anyone else is capable of achieving, then that is the framework within which Tendulkar's place and his quality should be discussed.

If you extend that to captains - the argument becomes very simple - any discussion about the quality of captains which ignores the realistic range of results which the batsmen and bowlers in the captains team are capable of achieving, does not do them justice. Because this range is a difficult and complicated reference, stereotypes cast in hackneyed prose are the norm. Thus Tendulkar is slowing down, Dravid the captain is unspiring and every other cricketer who ever achieved anything is one thing or the other......

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Flair, Imagination and Captaincy

Rahul Dravid lacks flair and imagination. Ganguly had the personality of a leader. Ponting was a poor captain at the beginning of his tenure. Fleming has been a fine innovative tactician and captain. Imran Khan was a great leader. Sunil Gavaskar was a cussed, defensive captain. Mark Taylor was a brilliant captain. Steve Waugh was not quite so brilliant (in his case his personality as an individual cricketer more than made up for this in people's minds). Every commentator, every fan... even people who are not particularly interested have an opinion about this.

Part of it is because the Captain and Coach are the faces of the side. When a team wins, its the match winning innings or the match winning bowling spell which gets the the plaudits - it is rarely the captaincy. When a team loses however, it is the captain and the coach who must come forth the face some fairly shrill music. The public's ire is directed at the easiest target. As the most visible target, the Captain is also the most analyzed. His personality often defines how he is viewed as captain. Thus Brian Lara is invariably viewed as self centered and a poor man manager, Tendulkar was viewed as someone easily frustrated by the lack of ability and performance from his teammates.

In part, it is true that personality does contribute to the way an individual captains a cricket team - in the case of great players, their approach towards their own specialist skill may often guide their approach to Cricket. What seems to dominate however, is that their percieved personalities are somehow invoked in order to explain the results teams achieve on their watch - thus, a defeat under Ganguly was never because Ganguly was staid or unimaginative - it was invariably because the team looked "flat" on the day, while a defeat under Dravid almost always involves a line about "unimaginative, uninspiring captaincy". Steve Waugh always took fewer risks than Mark Taylor and Taylor was always ice cool and in complete control in delicate match situations. Vaughan is more aggressive than Hussein was. When it comes to coaches, it is even worse, because nobody is able to place their involvement in events.

I cannot help but feel that these "personalities" are media created archetypes which tend to caricaturize cricketers - the image overtakes reality. Let me give you an example - Rahul Dravid's great 233 at Adelaide is invariably described as "determined, steely minded.... marathon" - in my view it was one of the finest displays of classical strokeplay in recent times. Very few batsmen play the cover drive as classically as Dravid - with the full stride forward to the pitch of the ball, the ball played close to the pad. The same is the case with the on-drive. His square cutting off the spinners is the result of a masterful reading of length and the break off the wicket. He plays all the strokes in the book, and in that particular innings he matched VVS Laxman run for run. He reached his hundred with a slightly miscued hook for six for Jason Gillespie. Yet, the one thing Dravid's innings are never known for is decisive attacking intent - which is the hallmark of his batting in my view. The very fact that he attempted a hook off Australias best bowler bowling with the new ball is a signal of the intention to dominate. Take Brian Lara - his innings are invariably strokefilled, but most people ignore the fact that he has unbelievable fitness and powers of concentration - and a very tight defense, which are as crucial to his run making as his strokeplay.

This is just batting - which is far simpler and probably involves fewer dimensions than captaincy. Captaincy is truly complex and is in essence a managerial and directorial task. Success in captaincy is a function of other peoples performance. By definition it is a function of other people's efforts. Now, obviously a captain has an influence on that performance - in the sense that some captains inspire more loyalty and therefore greater effort than others (all though i would venture that in these instances it is the entire situation, of which the captain is a part - that inspires that little bit extra from the players).

What i want to do, is put in perspective the captain's situation in international cricket - he wields limited influence compared to that by each individual batsman, bowler and fielder - the captains effort is simply to manage the show. Can captaincy influence the outcomes of games? Sure it can - if gambles pay off. Are some captains better than others at weighing the odds - i have seen no evidence to suggest that any captain's ability to weigh the odds in favor of or against a particular decision is better or worse than any other captains. Every international cricketer can read a cricket match better than almost anybody else who is watching it. But every captain may not necessarily have the means at his disposal to effectively deal with that read. This is in fact true in most cases. Captains end up making the best of the resources at their disposal - but they only have the resources at their disposal and no more. So a reference to Rahul Dravid as uninspiring and unimaginative because Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, VRV Singh and Ramesh Powar did not possess the wherewithal to break the Mortaza - Hossain stand, is a bit silly, and more than a little bit unfair. One look that these bowlers records will reveal that they haven't had a great deal of success with the ball in Test Cricket. Or commentary about Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh's captaincy, as compared to Taylor's - even though both have achieved far superior results compared to Taylor is simply the result of a stereotype surrounding their respective personae.

My point is - if batting is so sadly misunderstood - then, the next time you read about someone making an observation about any captains "captaincy" or saying that such and such captain is "unimaginative and uninspiring", take a moment and think to yourself whether such a sweeping comment is at all reasonably possible. I enjoy reading and writing about cricket as much (probably more) than the next guy, but i am weary of commentary tending to characterize what a player is about. Stereotypes exist in newspapers and news-magazines, not on the cricket field.....

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chittagong Test Review....

The Chittagong Test ended in a draw, only 219 overs of play was possible out of a possible 540 overs. India went into the Test with nothing to gain and everything to lose. A fight put on by Bangladesh would have reflected poorly on India and the Indian captain's tactical acumen. The perception that this was somehow a "win or else.... " series for India, in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup is hard to dismiss.

Add to that, we had an already rookie (albeit promising - Munaf and Sreesanth are good bowlers) Test bowling attack further depleted - first by injuries to Sreesanth and Munaf, and later by illness to Anil Kumble during the match - which a prescient Team management had accounted for by picking 5 bowlers. If you look further at the Indian side, it might have been hard to determine whether it was India or Bangladesh who were the minnows. A makeshift opening combination - where the specialist opener got a pair, a pace attack where the established first team bowler bowled rubbish and one of the fill in bowlers bowled superbly. It would be safe to say that the Test squad was in disarray - thanks to selection, injuries and form and a traditionally weak pace attack.

And yet, India were able to declare twice in the game - which just goes to show what a mismatch it was against an upstart opponent. Bangladesh are at a peculiar stage in their development. They have seen glimpses of what their future can be and stray elements of their team - like Mortaza and the impressive Shakibul Hassan promise a great deal. Yet, on the other hand, they are on the whole a very weak side and the self-belief/arrogance on display from the likes of Mohammad Ashraful (an under performing disaster if there ever was one) means that they are currently sprawled across the chasm between the wannabe Test team and the actual Test teams. The young Shahadat Hossain seems to have the ability and the attitude worthy of a pace bowler, and indeed in this game, new ball bowling was the one area where Bangladesh might have infact enjoyed an edge over India. Of course, this was masked, and masked effectively, because Mortaza and Shahadat came up against Tendulkar and co., while the Indian pace attack was able to scalp Habibul Bashar and Mohammad Ashraful and co. The contest is hard to describe, because it is hard to identify in the first place. The Indian batting seemed to play within itself, and the team selection betrayed a patched up Test team (that was a job well done).

In terms of the numbers - Tendulkar and Ganguly helped themselves to runs, and in Tendulkar's batting one sensed a little bit of the certainty which has been apparent since the overseas leg of the 2006-07 season began in South Africa. He is such a superb player - a master - that it is hard not to sit up wondering what he might achieve in England later this year. Hopefully, the flurry of injuries are a thing of the past - the vice-captaincy should help him get back that edge which seemed to be missing in his play. He is now clearly one of the elder statesmen in the game and his demeanor on the field betrays it. Ganguly made runs, but if you watched those last 20 runs that he made on the third day against Shahadat and Mashrafe, full of desperate pull shots and bobbing and weaving..... culminating in that involuntary 100th run, before he was dismissed trying to pull - it is hard not to wonder he might just be the tonic Steve Harmison needs to return back to his best form. I can't see England trying to dismiss him outside the off stump. It is easy to picture the field - 2 slips, gully, cover point, a cover (squarish), a short leg, a backward short leg, a squarish mid-wicket and a fine-leg placed for the skied hook/pull. There will be no mid-on and no mid-off, because there will be little in Ganguly's good length area. With Ganguly's inability to push a single to save himself, he will have to wear a lot of the bowling to score any significant runs. But, with his runs in SA and now the Chittagong hundred, he can't be dropped and he has no choice but to face the music. What Ganguly can look forward to in England is Monty Panesar and the expectation that spin will come to the fore more than usual in the late summer this year. Dinesh Karthik will open the batting for India at Lord's. He is being persisted with, and he has done enough to merit atleast 3-4 more Test matches.

Mashrafe bin Mortaza would walk into any Test team in the World bar Australia and a full strength England. Thats how good he is - he looks like he was born to be a sportsman and has a terrific ability to think things through as was evident during his expert handling of Ramesh Powar's teasing offbreaks. It was not until Tendulkar came along and he and his partner couldn't read the googlies that one felt he looked vulnerable. The wicketkeeper Mashud has a disastrous come back and i wonder why Mushfiqur Rahim is still sitting on the sidelines in the Test team. Ashraful is the most talented batsman in Bangladesh and has the skill to go with his talent but somehow you don't feel that he will make too many runs consistently - the occasional great innings - sure. Habibul Bashar is going to retire after this series and Bangladesh will have a new team management, what with Whatmore retiring as well. Bashar and Whatmore have been good for Bangladesh and hopefully the next management will complete their journey into to league of the top Test playing teams in the world.

For now though, the current Bangladesh squad have one more Test to play against the current Indian squad.

Monday, May 21, 2007

And intriguing final day.... rain permitting....

Rain has already played spoilsport at Lords - not that the English bowling achieved anything significant in the 22 overs of play in the 4th innings - it hard to say that the rain saved the West Indies, with them at a healthy 0/89 when play ended.

The Chittagong Test has been set up intriguingly. Of the 540 overs of play possible in a Test, only 180 have been played yet, India are 193 ahead and if a full days play is possible on day 5 (98 overs), then i can see India batting for another 25 and leaving Bangladesh 70 overs to survive. It might have been even better for India at the end of 180 overs, but for the brilliance of Mashrafe bin Mortaza. His batting average might suggest that he is of modest means as a batsman, but he played with the maturity of a Miandad as he picked his spots and rode his luck. His Bangladeshi batting line up had played poorly up front at at 8/149 it looked like Bangladesh would follow on. Mortaza dragged Bangladesh past the follow on target of 187 (more about that later) and the momentum of that effort carried them 50 runs past 187 on a fast scoring ground. India tried to buy him out with Ramesh Powar for about 6 overs, before turning to Sachin Tendulkar. 9 times out of 10 Powar might have bought him out, but yesterday was Mortaza's day. He used his ability to clear the ropes judiciously.

Bringing on Tendulkar was excellent captaincy, especially once it was established that the great man had the landing permission that he sought. He bowled superbly and nobody picked his googlies. Later in the day he was back with the bat after Rahul Dravid had been scalped brilliantly by a flying Rajin Saleh.

All in all, a fine days cricket. Rahul Dravid was right to bat on in the morning - his hope clearly was that 4-5 overs of Dhoni would mean 30 additional runs, which would have pushed the follow on target past 200. The follow on target remaining at Score - 200 puzzled me. My understanding was that if a full day has been lost, then the Test is treated as a 4 day game, and the follow on score is Score - 150 in such an instance. May be this is something that has to be agreed upon in the playing conditions prior to the series.

The Dhoni gamble didn't work and Dravid seemed uninterested in letting the world witness the batting prowess of VRV and RP..... that is a sight best reserved for more desperate times. Mortaza and to some extent Saleh apart, the Bangladesh batting let themselves down. India caught with aplomb and Dinesh Karthik demonstrated that his wicketkeeping skills might just come in very handy at gully.

In the final analysis though, it was Mortaza's day......

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Kevin Pietersen's illegal reverse sweep

This picture on Cricinfo reveals that Pietersen's sweep shot strays into a gray area of the law, and given the evidence is illegal in my view.

Pietersen is a right handed batsman, and therefore the top hand on the bat should be the left hand. While playing the reverse sweep Pietersen reverses his grip on the bat playing effectively as a left handed batsman.

Here is the problem - Law 41.5 clearly states that
"At the instant of the bowler's delivery there shall not be more than two fielders, other than the wicket-keeper, behind the popping crease on the on side. A fielder will be considered to be behind the popping crease unless the whole of his person, whether grounded or in the air, is in front of this line. In the event of infringement of this Law by the fielding side, the umpire at the striker's end shall call and signal No ball."
Now, technically, Pietersen and other batsmen could argue that their being right handed or left handed, is not necessarily defined by how they hold the bat but is defined by how they are listed on the scoresheet - RHB or LHB. But, if he changes hands, then what was formely his "off-side" now becomes his leg-side..... therefore, a bowling side which has a slip, a short third man and a short cover point - all behind square on Pietersen's off side (in his normal stance) are now liable to being no-balled. Either that, or the bodyline inspired law needs to be reviewed.

Further the on-side, off-side differentiation is also relevant in the LBW law - the batsman is protected from balls pitching outside his leg stump because the ball pitching outside the leg stump is considered to be on the batsmans "blind side". If the batsman reverses hands, and is therefore no longer blind sided by the ball pitching outside the right handers leg stump, would he be liable t being given out LBW if he misses the reverse sweep? For example - a Slow Left Arm Bowler, bowling over the wicket into the rough outside Pietersen's leg-stump, to which Pietersen reverses hands on the bat (effectively turns around at the crease), attempts the reverse sweep, misses and his struck on the shin in front of his (formerly) leg-stump (now his off-stump) - technically, this wouldn't even merit an LBW appeal right now...... but why not?

Umpires have called dead ball when batsmen have switched hands before - most notably in the case of Craig MacMillan where a boundary was disallowed. Has a resolution been reached since? The Laws of Cricket do not explicitly describe what by definition is a right handed batsman or left handed batsman - may be they need to revise the laws to include this.

In any case, right now, Pietersen is in effect manufacturing a free hit by employing something that is atleast sharp practice. I say so, because this is not a maverick individualistic thing, but is something which has been probably drilled into the batsmen by Duncan Fletcher - Fletcher probably identified this gray area and pounced to exploit it.

Its time the Laws were revised to resolve this - one way or the other. It could simply be a case of declaring that a batsman is a right handed batsman, unless he declares otherwise, irrespective of how he holds the bat. Now, this would be unsatisfactory from the point of view of the LBW law.... but it would simply be one more in a long series of revisions which favor the batsman.

Either ways, something needs to be done. Inconsistent umpiring, where some umpires look the other way, while others (i believe it was Taufel in the case of MacMillan) enforce the law - or in some cases, the same umpire ruling inconsistently in this matter, does not help.


Update: G Rajaraman makes the pertinent point that the "At the instant of the bowler's delivery" clause is the key here. It is the key from the point of view of a fielder in the deep field moving around (which is not technically illegal) - but it could also be applicable to the batsman. There may be a distinction between the batsman making his move before and after the instant of delivery. This would however be difficult to gauge. Especially in the case of bowlers trying to exploit the rough outside leg-stump, this ought not to be a free hit for the batsman in my view.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Two Test Matches..... the return of the cricketing contest....

The Test Match season has begun in earnest after a brief post-World Cup lull. India are playing Bangladesh, while England are playing the West Indies. Given England's recent Home record and given Bangladesh's status as Test Cricket minnows, it would seem that these games are not likely to produce the most heart stopping contests. Yet, in the first two days of play, we have seen almost everything - including the classic "Rain Stops Play" line.

An Englishman made a Test hundred on debut at Lord's - becoming only the fifth player to do so. Interestingly, other two current players to have done so, feature in the ongoing Test Matches. Sourav Ganguly reeled off a century, continuing his good Test Match form from South Africa and Andrew Strauss is Captain of England. In a significant development, especially from India's point of view, Monty Panesar is proving to be the most effective English bowler in a Lord's Test in May - having taken 4 out of 6 wickets to fall. Whats even more interesting is that out of the 89 overs in the West Indies first innings, Panesar has bowled 29 for his 4 wickets, while the other pacemen - amongst them Harmison and Hoggard have bowled 60 for 2 wickets - one of those being scalped by Paul Collingwood. Harbhajan Singh's fate and form become more and more critical by the day. It is also interesting to see India's 5 bowler strategy in this context. Ganguly becomes a vital cog in the wheel if only 4 bowlers are to be played with two of these being spinners.

The Chittagong and Lord's Tests seem to be heading towards a draw, what with Chanderpaul and the exciting Dinesh Ramdin continuing the fightback inspired by Dwayne Bravo's swashbuckling counterattack. This is a glimpse into the new West Indies - Dinesh Ramdin and Dwayne Bravo - two of their most promising youngsters giving a fine account of themselves with the reliable Chanderpaul occupying the other end. Hopefully at some stage during this series Jerome Taylor and Darren Powell will breakthrough similarly. A competitive series in England will enable Sarwan to establish himself as West Indies captain - and build a new West Indian side - one different from the usual caricature of powerful batting and fearsome pace.

India have similar problems and similar opportunities in England this year - but it is the fast bowling which needs to make a name for itself in England this year. Test Cricket is a far more complete arena than One Day Cricket for individual cricketers to express themselves. Take the three half centuries - by Chanderpaul, Ramdin and Bravo for example - a fine example of team play, with each individual playing a distinctive role - Chanderpaul playing the classic batsman's innings, wearing down the bowling to enable Bravo and Ramdin to demonstrate their youthful strokeplay at the other end. On another day, you might see the Chanderpaul pull out his array of strokes, like he did once on his home ground.

This is possible in Test Cricket because it is a contest between bat and ball. Tendulkar and Ganguly's runs yesterday were made in contrasting styles. Ganguly's was built on expansive strokes and boundary hits (13 fours and 2 sixes - 64 run in boundary hits), while Tendulkar's was apparently more sedate (9 four - 36 runs in boundary hits). Yet, both ended with identical strike rates. It is a glimpse into the new Tendulkar. I don't mean this in the hackneyed sense - and i don't mean it simply because it worked. I am endlessly fascinated by how top batsmen build their innings and how their method of building an innings evolves over the years. Most commentary usually brackets batsmen into "dominating" and "gritty" (broadly speaking, i am not for a moment suggesting a lack of nuance amongst commentators :) ). Batsmen who "dominate" are super talented, near geniuses (Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting), while "gritty" batsmen are less gifted, "making the most of their talent" (Dravid, Steve Waugh, Chanderpaul). This classification is false in my view, because it seeks to place cricketers into straitjackets which Cricket as a sport does not yield to too happily.

In my view most (if not all batsmen) attempt to build an innings in a test match. How that innings gets built depends on many many factors - the match situation, the nature of the wicket, the strategy of the fielding side, the quality of the bowling, the batsman's own form... watching an innings being built is as fascinating as watching a great contest between a batsman and a bowler or a batsman and a strategy designed to counter him. Like fast bowling, speed is relative. You could have a fast bowler busting his gut, hurling thunderbolts at 95 miles an hour, and find that the batsmen are playing him easily, because they are "watching" the ball really well, while at the other end you could have a more sedate medium-fast bowler who is troubling the very same batsmen. Similarly, you could have batsmen scoring at a run a ball and find it extremely boring (the middle overs of a One Day game), but later, find a batsman playing watchfully, seeing off a good spell by a bowler and find it gripping. The suggestion that Waugh and Dravid are someone ordinary players who have made it big thanks to some superhuman effort is a bit far fetched - it is as far fetched as saying that Tendulkar or Lara are so gifted that they could not help but be great batsmen. There is a method to every one of these players, and it is that method which Test Cricket tests.

Test Cricket reminds of a great story i heard once. A wise man was once asked "How is the earth supported in space?" He replied "A tortoise sits below and holds it up". The next question came quickly - "Who supports the tortoise?". The reply - "Another tortoise sits below the first one and supports both the first tortoise and the earth". This went on, and all that the questioner got in response was tortoises.. finally he asked "But what lies at the bottom?", to which the wise man replied - "Oh... its tortoises all the way down".

The same cannot be said of One Day Cricket.

Update: Just as i finished writing this, Dinesh Ramdin fell to a fine catch by Paul Collingwood of Liam Plunkett at the end of day three, to leave West Indies 7 down, still trailing by 190 with 2 days to play. One wicket, and they are looking very vulnerable. Chanderpaul will have to dig in and hopefully extend the West Indies effort as close to lunch time on day 4 as possible.... This is ODI cricket in reverse - he needs to play as many overs as he can...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Seeking balance amidst imbalance......

The playing eleven for India's first test against Bangladesh raised many eyebrows - VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh were dropped, Dinesh Karthik opened the batting, five bowlers were picked, and to add to the misery, Munaf Patel joined Sreesanth on the sidelines. If you really think about it though, this is the best possible squad that India might have picked.

The Bangladesh series involves back t0 back Tests, and in this oppressive weather, it makes sense to play 5 bowlers to share the bowling. Playing three seam bowlers is always a good idea, because it gives the captain more options to play with. With Munaf and Sreesanth on the sidelines already it made sense to play the extra bowler.

Coming to the batting - one has to start off by accepting the ground reality that the best batsmen in India are middle order batsmen. Had it not been necessary to pick opening batsmen, or batsmen for the specific task of opening the batting, Wasim Jaffer might not have made the Indian squad. The six top batsmen in India right now are Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Yuvraj, Laxman and Sehwag. Of that there is little doubt, whatever their form at the international level suggests. Gambhir and co are not in the same class, and Jaffer is the best amongst that lot.

Dinesh Karthik queers the pitch a little bit. However he has been picked on potential and is being groomed as a specialist batsman. One of the things that is missed about selection is that it is individuals who are ultimately selected - not batting averages or batting techniques. The ones who get selected to play for India are as cricketers, a class above the average first class cricket - expert eyes can pick out something special, and the art of selection is about identifying someone special and then determining how best that talent can be roped in to contribute to the side. Dinesh Karthik is one such selection - he was a special cricketer, who unfortunately found himself competing and getting blown away by another exceptional talent - Dhoni, and then, instead of sulking, got cracking on improving his batting (which was promising enough to begin with - his hundred in a Ranji Final against Bombay and his 90 odd against Pakistan at Eden Gardens were memorable innings). The selectors have made a leap of faith and accepted that he be viewed as a batsman - and a possible Test opener at that. Tacit in this acceptance is the reality that India's domestic cricket will never produce good quality opening batsmen because it is not designed to do so. The press and the public haven't yet made that leap of faith. Rahul Dravid still has to clarify that Karthik has been picked as batsman, who can also keep if required.

All in all this is a good selection - given the inherent imbalance of the squad. There is definitely a glimpse of sanity in the selection of this playing eleven.
A few questions are worth asking, and might be addressed in England -

1. If Dinesh Karthik can keep wicket, then would VVS or Yuvraj be better batting options than Dhoni?
2. Should Rahul Dravid bat at number 3 or should a more aggressive batsman (Yuvraj/VVS) take his place?
3. If Dinesh Karthik does the job as Test opener, should he also be asked to keep wickets?
4. Should India always go in with 5 bowlers?

and the last question - important because these are two special talents we are talking about -

What of Sehwag and Irfan Pathan?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Zimbabwe situation... An atypical case..

There are three main characters in this story - the cricket team, the cricket board and the government of the country in question. Each have an opinion about Zimbabwe. The players, in their individual and collective opinion feel that a stand has to be taken against regimes like Mr. Mugabe's - their friends from Zimbabwe Cricket (Flower, Olonga and co.) encourage them to take such a position. Governments can't have personal opinions, and Government's rarely take stands based on simple morality. A rigorous, dispassionate assessment of self-interest and the consequences of taking a purely moral stand is conducted, and most often, we find watered down or even plainly confusing opinions emanating from these sources.

The English situation during the 2003 World Cup was similar - the British Government in its infinite wisdom suggested that they agreed in principle with the boycott of Zimbabwe as a venue for World Cup matches played by England, but did not think it right to order the ECB to boycott Zimbabwe. In short, they didn't want to take a stand. Hiding behind civil liberties and the "traditional role of the British Government" was ridiculous given that when it suits them, they trample over all manner of civil liberties anywhere in the World. Most Governments do that - not just Britain.

The ICC, as the governing body of Cricket, finds itself caught between the clear-headed moral position of the players and the astutely weighed positions of Governments. They cop the flak - it is not their place to pass judgement on political issues, and it is unreasonable for the ICC to act against the Mugabe regime when the British Government has been unwilling to do so. At the time, the players were caught in the middle, and with last minute death threats, ridiculous amount of suffocating security cover, and consistently fumbled positions and opinions by the powers that be, found that their own credibility was challenged (many people thought that the last minuted death threat was made up because nobody was willing to admit that there was a boycott on). Nasser Hussein's autobiography has a detailed account of this episode.

Yet, the general public almost never holds the Government accountable - if Cricketers want to ignore the politics and just go there and play cricket (as the Aussies did in 2003), they get criticized. If they are let down by the powers that be and forced into impossible corners (as England were in 2003), they are criticized. If their Government does take a stand, and orders them not to go (as Australia have done in 2007), even then, they are criticized - this time for taking their eye off the welfare of the game. India have been remarkably lucky in this matter, because the Indian Government has rarely been shy of expressing an opinion about a particular cricket tour.

The irony in all this is, that it is the Mugabe Government which ought to face all the criticizm. In my view, it is upto Governments to decide whether or not their national cricket team should tour a particular country. The ICC policy in this regard is absolutely spot on - the only pretext under which a tour may be curtailed or cancelled is security. The players are blameless as well, and most cricket boards are reasonable about allowing individual players to miss a particular tour in such circumstances.

All in all, i think the Australians have done well to boycott Zimbabwe.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

India v Bangladesh May 10..... depleted victory.....

An Indian team selected by BCCI to please all constituencies, beat Bangladesh by 5 wickets, after playing 3 specialist fast bowlers is conditions which were always going to be spin friendly, with the two wicketkeepers selected in the eleven playing pivotal innings, one of them one one leg after having kept for 47 overs in the sapping heat. If that can some how be rationalized by saying "but they won in the end" and that they showed "determination and steel not evident in the world cup", then such a rationalization would ignore the fact that every single one of India' weaknesses was on display yesterday, and the win was not so much a case of India making fewer mistakes, but of Bangladesh making more mistakes and having limited firepower. Lets start at the beginning though.

Zaheer Khan started gingerly and inspite of Sreesanth bowling well, it seemed as though the rub of the green would continue to go Bangladesh's way with catches flying between the wicketkeeper and first slip and Tamim Iqbal playing in effect an action replay of his Queens Park Oval innings at Mirpur. By my count, 1 short pitched delivery was attempted by Zaheer against the hard charging Tamin - that one went for 5 wides because it bounced too much. Zaheer was not at his best and kept drifting on the pads every now and then. The lap scoops which all the Bangladesh batsmen seem to execute proficiently seem to unsettle Zaheer. After that, Dravid seemed to play this match with one hand tied behind his back. The best spin bowling talent he could call on was Ramesh Powar, Dinesh Mongia and Virendra Sehwag! This on a turning track. The specialist spin bowling he had in the touring squad included Piyush Chawla!

It is with this background that this result ought to be viewed. It was an important result, because the "win, or else..... " crowd with their sting operations and punitive diktats would have found occasion to take their derisive crescendo to a new level had the run chase been unsuccessful.

A word about Dhoni - he has now made 2000 runs at 46 - with 15 50+ scores in 62 innings (17 out of 62 innings have been unbeaten), the best beginning ever by any Indian ODI player - and he has been a specialist wicketkeeper all this while. In the process he has played some astonishing innings. He is a phenomenal talent, and more crucially, a phenomenal performer - one of the finest in the world. His method may work better in certain conditions than it does in other - but it might be useful to point out that he has out performed every other Indian batsman - Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Sehwag.... only Yuvraj sing with 2045 runs in 59 games at 45.5 comes close.

Dinesh Karthik delivered crucial runs as well. It is clear that he too like Dhoni is a special player. After a wicketkeeper drought between Mongia and Dinesh Karthik, India now have two candidates for the position who would walk into most Test sides in the World (Australia, SL and SA excepted of course).

The specialist batting seems to have learnt nothing. Gambhir, every time he gets selected promises much but his problem of falling over and planting his front foot too far across his stumps seems to persist. Sehwag was worse if anything. The run chase was well planned and India sought to make the most of the new ball and the power plays with the wicket holding up. One of the corollaries of the "openers should go after the new ball" theory is that the openers, once set, ought to stay in, because coming in against the older ball on a slow wicket is difficult given the prospect of a 5+ required run rate. Yet, Virendra Sehwag, with 171 ODI' s under his belt, and only the captains good word on his side perished trying to manufacture a 5th boundary in an over which had already yielded 16. The man seems to have a death wish.

I can assure you though - the next time he makes one of his whirlwind 180's - possibly in the Bangladesh Tests, possibly in England, everyone will applaud his style play. It gives you a glimpse as to how analysis is invariably backwards (and inherently dishonest). A victory means that only favorable evidence and events will be cherry picked and mentioned, while a defeat means that only unfavorable evidence and events will be cherry picked and mentioned. Sehwag walks a thin line between recklessness and outrageous confidence - but that line sadly is drawn by journalists. Even if his definition of an acceptable risk may be different from that of an average batsman, it must surely be required that when he seems to take his eye off the team goal, he ought to be brought to book. The difference between the ODI Sehwag and the Test Match Sehwag, is that the Test Match Sehwag is well within his comfort zone, while the ODI Sehwag has no rhythm to his play - beyond a certain point he seems to want to smash everything - that has never worked - even with Viv Richards or Ricky Ponting or Adam Gilchrist. There is a method to Sehwag's Test Match play. There is apparently none that does not amount to harakiri in his ODI play.

All in all, this game revealed the gulf between the two sides - an India squad selected punitively which played terrible cricket for 80 out of 94 overs, and a Bangladesh squad missing its strike bowler which played to its potential with the bat, but had a mixed day in the field. Results like this can often kickstart the build up of momentum for a side. India needed a break. And they got it when Abdur Razzak fumbled a return from square leg with Dinesh Karthik short by about three bat lengths.

May be India will give a better account of themselves in the coming games. But today, they got out of jail.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

McGrath v (Tendulkar, Lara)

Glenn McGrath recently claimed to have enjoyed an edge over Sachin Tendulkar, more so than he did against Brian Lara. It is hard to disagree with him, because Lara did better against McGrath, all things considered, than Tendulkar did. Lara also played more against McGrath than Tendulkar did, mainly on account of the fact that West Indies played Australia in longer Test series, and while McGrath missed two series against India - 1998 in India and 2003-04 in Australia, he never missed a series against the West Indies.

Tendulkar has played 21 Tests against Australia, made 1859 runs at 53.11. In matches where McGrath has been present, Tendulkar has made 662 runs in 18 innings (9 Test matches) at 36.77. This includes the one off Test in Delhi in 1996 (Tendulkar made 10, 0), the 1999-2000 series in Australia (Tendulkar made 278 runs at 46.33 in 3 Test matches), the 2000-01 series in India (Tendulkar made 304 runs at 50.66 in 3 Tests) and the 2004-05 series in India (Tendulkar played in only 2 Tests - the last 2, making 2, 8 at Nagpur in his comeback match and 5, 55 in Mumbai - in all 70 runs at 17.5 in the series).

On the other hand, Lara has played 30 Tests against Australia and 25 of those have been against McGrath. He made 308 runs in 1994-95 (in West Indies) at 44.00, 296 runs at 32.88 in 1996-97 (in Australia), 546 runs at 91 in 1998-99 (in West Indies), 321 runs at 32.10 in 2000-01 (in Australia), 533 runs at 66.62 in 2002-03 (in West Indies) and 345 runs at 57.50 in 2005-06. That 2005-06 series also consisted of 1 great innings - 226 at Adelaide and 5 failures (which produced 119 runs). Lara's efforts in the 2002-03 series in the West Indies have to be viewed in the context of that series - it was a high scoring series if there ever was one - the wickets were the flattest in living memory (almost reminiscent of an India - Pakistan series) - 5 Australians averaged over 55 in that series and produced 10 centuries in 4 Test matches, the West Indies produced 7 centuries in 4 Test matches. 34 50+ scores were recorded in the series. It was also Lara's most consistent series against McGrath - 5 50+ scores in 8 innings.

These figures ought to get you thinking. The 2000-01 and 1996-97 series in Australia saw Lara play 19 innings for the West Indies in which he produced two tremendous innings - his 182 at Adelaide in 2000-01 and his 132 at Perth in 1996-97. Those two innings apart, Lara produced 1 fifty in the other 17 innings. Tendulkar has played 18 innings in all against McGrath. Lara's 4 centuries in Australia have been made at Sydney (277), Perth (132) and Adelaide (182, 226). Tendulkars 4 centuries in Australia have been made at Sydney (148, 241*), Melbourne (116) and Perth (114). Lara's 4 centuries in Australia have come in 18 Test matches, while Tendulkar's have come in 12 Test matches.

Indeed if you look at Lara and Tendulkar playing against McGrath, and measure a 50+ score as a success and anything else as a failure, then Tendulkar has had 7 50+ scores in 18 innings. In 48 innings against McGrath, Lara has passed 50 16 times.

The numbers reveal that Tendulkar and Lara emulate their overall tendencies when playing against McGrath. Lara is the less consistent of the two, but more capable of mammoth scores (213, 226, 182, 153). Tendulkar is more consistent, but is less capable of churning out huge scores (241, 126, 116). Lara v McGrath is defined by two innings played by Lara in 1998-99 - 213 at Sabina Park, followed by 153 at Kensington Oval. Tendulkar v McGrath as a contest is defined by the bold LBW decision McGrath won against Tendulkar in the second innings at Adelaide in 1999 (when Tendulkar ducked into a short ball which did climb at all). Tendulkar's innings are always methodical, Lara's are a work of genius. Therefore, when Tendulkar rattled of a clinical 126 on Day 3 in the decider at Chennai, it was expected that he would deliver that day and he did - without any frills.

What is apparent in Tendulkar v McGrath and Lara v McGrath contests, is that no other bowler in any Australian side that Tendulkar faced could trouble Tendulkar (with the occasional exception of Jason Gillespie). Where as Lara was prone to giving his wicket away against any Australian bowler. This is especially true in Australia, where Lara made 4 50+ scores in 25 innings in Tests where McGrath also featured. For Tendulkar, the corresponding figure is 3 out of 6. Tendulkar was more likely to play a particular bowler rather than play the ball. Tendulkar's strategy against McGrath was often to wait out a good spell, where as Lara was less likely to let a good spell go by - and this is reflected by their respective consistency levels, especially in Australia.

Tendulkar v McGrath was also a direct clash in the One Day game, because Tendulkar opened the batting and McGrath opened the bowling. This was not the case against Lara. In the One Day game, McGrath did have the better of Tendulkar. This is possibly the one thing that influences McGrath's comparison of Lara and Tendulkar.

Given Tendulkar and Lara's overall records, McGrath probably did have an edge of both players. However, the numbers do not reflect that Lara did better against Australia when McGrath played than Tendulkar did. He produced bigger innings, but was less consistent. Lara also never played in a winning series against McGrath, which Tendulkar did.

It is a glimpse into how a cricketer makes his judgements about his peers. It is a mistake to write off a comment by Glenn McGrath as a lighthearted one - or one designed to play off Tendulkar against Lara. It does however show that McGrath rates the genuis of Lara higher than he rates the method of Tendulkar - he felt more helpless against Lara more often than he did against Tendulkar. He felt he controlled Tendulkar (as Tendulkar felt he controlled him) and never let him get away. Where as against Lara it was a far more trigger happy contest - Lara either went early, or killed the bowling. There were no stalemates in Lara v McGrath contests. Tendulkar v McGrath was invariably a stalemate - with neither willing to bite the bullet.

These have been two of the great contests in modern day cricket.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sting operation on the Indian Cricket Team.........

The "news" channel Aaj Tak in a sting operation revealed a divided Indian team according to this story on Cricinfo. I decided to check the meaning of "Sting Operation". Wikipedia provides the following definition:

"In law enforcement, a sting operation is an operation designed to catch a person committing a crime by means of deception."

Even if we grant that the "committing a crime" bit is negotiable, the Aaj Tak story is a bit of a stretch. When you consider that this is one of those news channels which plays the same tape in an infinite loop for days on end for a single story, irrespective of developments in the story, the story is even more of a stretch.

The most interesting thing about this story was which word would be in quotes - sting or revealed. Instead, as you can see, i decided to play safe and apply quotes to "news".

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A format for Domestic Cricket in India

This post proposes a development of an earlier format discussed here, which was inspired in parts by the Cricket Committee proposed revision of the domestic format, the Super 6/Super 8 idea from the World Cup and the need for broader First Class Cricket with more games and a higher profile. I would refer readers to the discussion in the comments section of this post on homer's blog. The outline is for this version is as follows:

1. The Duleep Trophy as we know it will be scrapped. No Zonal team will be constituted.
2. The Irani Trophy will not feature Ranji Champions v Rest of India, but will feature India v Rest of India, and will be a 5 day match scheduled to suit the schedule of the Test team before their international test season starts in October.
3. The Salve Challenger Trophy will also be scrapped.

The reason for Duleep and Challenger trophies being scrapped is that they consist of scratch teams, and are reduced to being rank selection trials.

A look at the domestic seasons in the top test playing nations reveals the following:

Competition, Matches per team, Number of Teams

India (Ranji Trophy), 8, 27
India (Duleep Trophy), 3, 6
Australia, 11, 6
South Africa (SuperSport), 10, 6
South Africa (Provincial), 8, 17
England, 16, 17
New Zealand (State Championships + State Shield), 18, 6
West Indies, 5, 6
Pakistan (Patrons Trophy), 7, 9
Pakistan (Pentangular Trophy), 4, 5

Australia also have a second eleven tournament parallel to the Pura Cup. The number of matches in the above list are based on the 2006-07 season (2006 for England). Pakistan also have the Quaid-e-Azam trophy in addition to the Patrons Trophy and Pentangular Trophy. It is clear that India does not play enough first class cricket. Should India have fewer first class teams? If you consider the population and interest in cricket, you might consider that India should indeed possibly have more than 27 first class teams.

In order to ensure that more Cricket is played, heres a modification to the system proposed earlier. Let the two teams be divided geographically int0 2 Zones - North and South.

Teams in North Zone:
Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Services, Tripura, Railways, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Baroda, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Jharkhand

Teams in South Zone:
Saurashtra, Maharashtra, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Orissa, Goa, Kerala, Vidharbha.

Each Zone would have its own Round Robin League - Each side playing 13 games (in North Zone) and 12 (in South Zone) respectively. The 5 Top sides from each Zone at the end of the league phase would play in a Super League - carrying over points against the other 4 Zones in their respective leagues, and playing 5 games each in the League phase. However, a win in the Super League would be worth more than a Win in the North Zone or South Zone League. So if a team carries over 2 points for an outright win from the zonal league phase, a win in Super league would be worth 3 points.

The top 4 Teams would compete in the knock out semi-final and final. The season will begin on October 1 and the Ranji Trophy Final will be scheduled for the First Week of April (the only place India tours in the first week of April is West Indies, so Test players would be available for the Ranji Final. Most schools also complete their final exams by then). The Zonal Leagues would be completed by the end of January - each side playing 13 games in 4 months - October, November, December, January. The super league will be completed by 15th of March - 5 matches for each side in 7 tough weeks.

Each 4 day game will be followed by the corresponding One Day game for the Ranji ODI league. The National One Day Final will be the Final first class game of the season.

Is it possible to fit all this Cricket into a single season? 12/13 or 18 first class games in a season? The New Zealanders do it, as do the South Africans. English counties sides at one time played over 30 first class games in the English season - mid March to mid September - including Test Matches. Given that each association has their own Cricket ground, this is not as difficult as it looks. It will require a great deal of planning and management - every effort will have to be made to ensure that teams are not tired out by uselessly long rail journeys - there are plenty of airline options in India now. But logistically, it is not unrealistic.

Given top quality grounds, televised Ranji trophy matches, and a higher profile in general (possibly 1 overseas player per team as well - but thats a debate for another day), local associations would also be more accountable - would be in sharper focus for cricketing reasons. We may even find better attendance at First Class games if they are televised and hence given a higher profile. Local selectors at the smaller centres will be in focus - and the local associations, which currently wield enormous power (through their vote), but are never held accountable will have an audience which will question and criticize - keeping them on their toes. Also, onces these associations get into the habit of having to organize a first class match every week or every other week - 5-6 months a year, they will automatically learn better cricket management, and engage in superior professional practices.

If First Class Cricketers are gauranteed 12 First class and 12 One Day matches a year - and paid say a flat fee of say 30 thousand rupees for a Ranji match and about 18 thousand rupees for an One Day game (they probably make more now and this figure could be higher - i have only mentioned these figures for the sake of the argument), plus performance bonuses, a domestic cricketer will make 5,00,000 rupees a year atleast which is a decent income ensuring a comfortable middle class existence (its about the same amount of money that an engineer with 4-5 years of good experience makes). This is crucial if the quality of first class cricket has to be sustained. If players are forced to give up first class cricket at the age of 30, not because they're not making runs or taking wickets, but because they need to support a family and can't do so on first class cricket wages, then Cricket is the loser. With better pay, senior professionals from the top first class teams would be encouraged to move to smaller teams to help them out.

The point is the create a counterpoint to the Indian side as far as the abstract behemoth called "Indian Cricket" is concerned. Until this happens, the national team exists precariously, on a brittle foundation.

The Indian Test Team in the coming year......

Today is the 6th of May and India have to complete the Bangladesh tour before they embark on an England tour. India play 7 Test Matches between July and February as of now - at Lord's, Trent Bridge, Oval, Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide. These seven Tests present a severe Test. England have a formidable record in England recently. Indeed their efforts against each of the other Test playing nations in their latest series in England is:

2 -1 v Australia in 2005
2 -2 v South Africa in 2003
3-0 v New Zealand in 2004
4 -0 v West Indies in 2004
3 -0 v Pakistan in 2006
1 - 1 v Sri Lanka in 2006
2 - 0 v Bangladesh in 2005
1 - 1 v India in 2002

They are at this point in time unbeaten at home. They also possess a formidable bowling attack which seems to find a new gear in home conditions - Harmison, Flintoff, Jones (who is well on the way to recovery) and Hoggard supported by Monty Panesar (not India's favorite style of slow bowler) would Test any line up in the world - indeed they bested the Australian batting in 2005 without Panesar.

Against Australia, the challenge is equally formidable. Even though McGrath may be gone, Shaun Tait and Brett Lee are potentially the quickest new ball pair in World Cricket since Lillee and Thommo in 1974-75. Holding and Marshall might have matched them for pace occasionally, and you could argue that Shoaib and Sami were capable of the same sustained pace - but Sami never distinguished himself as a Test bowler (neither has Tait - but if his World Cup is anything to go by, he is potentially capable of as much damage as Shoaib in Test cricket). With Stuart Clark supporting these two bowlers, Australia possess a bowling attack with depth and genuine pace. Contrary to popular belief however, i feel that India's greatest challenge in Australia will be at Melbourne - indeed if they can hold the Australians at Melbourne, they have a great chance of competing at Sydney, Perth and Adelaide. Perth has slowed down over the past few seasons and Sydney and Adelaide have been happy hunting grounds for India.

How should India respond to this opportunity? Much is being made as to whether Sehwag will be in form or whether Tendulkar, Laxman and co will be up to the task. The fact of the matter is, that there will be very little (in fact no opportunity) for the selectors to gauge these players form. Efforts in Bangladesh have zero bearing on selection to England and Australia. There is no first class cricket available between the Bangladesh and Australia tours. The months between England and Australia are packed with One Day cricket. Further, domestic cricket is as valuable as the Bangladesh tour for determining suitability for an English or Australian tour.

Ravi Shastri's first rule - which seems to have become his stock response to questions - that he will try and get India to start enjoying Cricket again seems to be a good beginning. The Indian fast attack is shaping up well - with Munaf Patel being in my view the finest Indian fast bowler since Kapil Dev, Sreesanth shaping up to be a terrific competitor and Zaheer Khan recovering his best form. Kumble remains a formidable force. The impressive Ranadeb Bose is pushing for a slot, as are the usual suspects - RP, VRV, Ajit and Ashish. Batting is another story all together. What is Sehwag's role going to be? Will he be upto fullfilling that role? There will be very little opportunity to determine the answers to this question and many others. All things considered, India's fortunes in England and Australia will rest on 3 players - VVS Laxman, Virendra Sehwag and Mahendra Dhoni. All three are world class match winners on their day. All three have unique problems at the moment.

VVS Laxman is perpetually on trial, and whatever feeble competition there is from the domestic talent pool will knock him off his perch before it does anybody else. He is also unsure of his role in the side, and is singularly unsuited to the number 6 role, even though he does quite well there - he can't run too well between wickets, he can't slog. He is not being used very efficiently there.

Sehwag is similarly safe from competition from the domestic pool, because he has been an extraordinary Test batsman in the last 3-4 years - unique amongst the world's opening batsmen. But he is unsure of his role and in the light of the revelations vis a vis Chappell, one has to wonder how much the Chappell era affected Sehwag. The captain has backed him and backed him to the hilt.

Mahendra Dhoni - a flamboyant Test Match altering player at his best, faces the same problems which his predecessor faced - his position in the side is subject to other factors as much as it is to his form. Dinesh Karthik being selected as specialist opener suggests that he may be groomed to be Sehwag or Jaffer's opening partner, thus enabling India to play a specialist batsmen at 6, and another specialist batsman or Irfan at 7. When Dhoni arrived, Karthik was doing well - especially in Tests, but Dhoni's tremendous run making ability blew Karthik from the team sheet. That whirlwind century in dire circumstances at Faisalabad against Shoaib at his fiercest confirmed the management's opinion. Karthik has emerged by sheet dint of hard work. Dhoni must deliver substantially to ensure that Karthik if selected does not tempt the selectors to leave him out.

How should India make best use of these three gifted cricketers? With Dhoni and Sehwag, it is really upto them and upto their handlers to ensure that they be given the best opportunities to flower. Subject to reasonable efforts in Bangladesh, it would make sense to retain Sehwag as opener in England. Now, the English bowlers were the first to exploit Sehwag's weakness against the short ball in India in 2006, and Sehwag succeeding there is a long shot - but its still worth the gamble in my view. For, if India are to compete in England and Australia, they must have the option of attacking up front with bat and ball. The role of Akash Chopra in 2003-04 in Australia and Pakistan is often referred to - but what is inevitably missed is that Chopra was a foil to Sehwag. The success was Sehwag's - because the runs came from his blade.

One would apply the same thinking to Laxman - he ought to bat at number 3 for India - and with his record and given what is apparent about his position in Indian cricket today, it would be a good idea to gaurantee him the number 3 slot for the full England tour and if he does well, for the full Australian tour - to make him the vanguard of the batting assault. Laxman is upset at being ignored for the World Cup, and would respond well to the added responsibility. That he is being offered the position currently held by his captain - the great Rahul Dravid will not be lost on him. It is worth the gamble.

You might think that this talk is all very well, and that performance in the field always trumps most strategies - but there has to be plan, and all evidence points to the fact that attacking batting is the way to go in England and Australia - not reckless devil-may-care shot-a-minute cameos, but assertive, aggressive batting that can come only from the ability to hit good balls for runs. Tendulkar at his best could execute this type of batting.

The other three slots in the batting order - 4, 5 and 6 will have Rahul Dravid and two out of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Yuvraj. This is a ticklish problem. My own preference would be Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj in that batting order, but Ganguly's runs in South African can't be ignored.

The other joker in the Indian pack is Irfan Pathan. He needs to perform a specific role in Test cricket - 5th bowler, number 7 batsman. He must have the ability to bowl long extremely accurate spells with the wicketkeeper standing up to the stumps - kill the runs and help the captain control the game in the field. That will allow Kumble to attack more. But Pathan faces the same problems that the others do - poor form, no opportunities to prove himself. That he is out of the ordinary is however beyond doubt.

My preferred line up in England (and if all goes well, in Australia as well) would be

Jaffer/Karthik
Sehwag
Laxman
Tendulkar
Dravid
Yuvraj
Dhoni/Irfan
Kumble
Zaheer
Sreesanth
Munaf

with Tiwary, Bose, Ganguly and VRV in the reserves.

The batting order is important - in my view Yuvraj Singh is best equipped to bat with the tail, he has the best shot making ability and his experience late in ODI games and run chases should serve him well here. He also runs well between wickets. Dravid would be the fulcrum of the batting at number 5. It will give him breathing space when things are going well, and equip him well as captain to take charge in the event of a collapse.

If Tendulkar produces the runs i think he has been threatening to (looking at him batting in South Africa), then it will be hard to control this line up. In the final analysis, it all boils down to runs on the score board. But it is the batting order on the team sheet and the mood in the dressing room which define the mindset with which run scoring is approached.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Ridiculous Reporting ....... a story out of nothing.......

This absolutely ridiculous bit of reporting caught my eye, thanks to homer. I saw the photographs, but this report took my breath away. A batsman getting hit by a fast bowler in the nets is not a big deal - but just have a look at the number of conclusions that this report draws, armed with that ridiculous graphic attempting to illustrate what happened. Really, if this newspaper and this reporter was really interested in conveying what happened, they should have gotten hold of a video of the event, posted it on youtube, and then posted a link to that in their report. It would have been far more effective and far less silly.

The Calcutta newspaper seems to have been unable to hide its glee at Rahul Dravid getting hurt (if you think this is petty..... read the bit about the "Eden Jinx" - never mind that Dravid made that brilliant 180 against the Australians there, as well a hundred in each innings against Pakistan in 2005). Then there is the factual error about Dravid never being hit by Brett Lee. It happened famously when Dravid was 91 not out on the 4th evening at Sydney in 2004. He got hit on the helmet trying to hook Brett Lee, and Ganguly declared at once. This was not an obscure event - it was one of the most famous test matches India have played in recent times (they made 705/7 in the first innings), and you would think that a newspaper which takes its cricket coverage seriously enough to develop graphics about Dravid getting hit in the nets would not miss such an event.

Further, there is the ridiculously naive assertion that batsmen getting hit is a function of pace. In fact, pace - as viewed by the speed gun is relative as far as most international batsmen are concerned. How "quick" a bowler is, is for them, not a function of the speed gun, but of how well they are reading the line and length, how early they are seeing the ball, how well their own footwork is functioning. Thats why a Tendulkar can look hurried against McGrath on a slowish wicket occasionally and still play Shoaib like a medium pacer on others. An allegedly serious cricket report would allude to this.

The last line takes the cake though - that RP Singh "......would have enjoyed his dinner, though. His “feat” today should guarantee him a place in the one-dayers for which he has been picked." !!!!!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Glenn McGrath - Master Bowler

Glenn McGrath was not genuinely quick. Neither was he a natural swing bowler. He couldn't bowl two different types of bouncers like Andy Roberts. He couldn't make the ball talk like that wizard Wasim Akram. He couldn't produce magic balls at will like Malcolm Marshall. And yet, these great masters would be proud to have his name taken in the same breath with theirs.

To attribute McGrath's success to his metronomic accuracy alone is to do him a disservice. There was much more to him. There had to have been. That is the only way to explain his astonishing record - 563 Test wickets at 21.64, 380 ODI wickets at 22.02, all achieved with unrelenting regularity. He rarely if ever had a bad year. He was devastating against all opposition - no batting side could say that they had the better of him. His great strength was his ability to determine the perfect in-between length for each batsman that he bowled to, and then hit that length at will. He got in close to the stumps, bowled a great length, had a superb competitors temperament, was supremely fit - both physically and technically. He could bowl marathon spells when the situation demanded it, and his knowledge of the mechanics of his action meant that he rarely experienced the niggles that keep lesser bowlers out of the game from time to time. He bowled better overseas than he did in Australia, and during his career, Australia lost only 5 series - and never lost an Ashes series when he was available to play the full series. England's fortunes in the 2005 Ashes changed the moment he inadvertently stepped on a Cricket ball and twisted his ankle before start of play in the second Test. He never played in a losing home series either.

Much has been written about his contribution to the ugly Australian image - indeed as the strike bowler and leader of the attack, he was the face of Australia in the field. In my view, a lot of the criticism was down to cultural misunderstandings and the fact that the Australians were winning all the time. Occasionally, when Australia had been bested, they showed themselves to be more gracious losers than most other sides. Against India, McGrath had a great deal of success. Tendulkar had his measure, yet could never really master him. That was the essence of McGrath - his correctness and his unrelenting execution of near-perfect bowling, meant that no opposition player could ever have his measure for any sustained period of time.

I was able to watch him bowl at Brabourne stadium - sitting behind the bowlers arm in the North Stand. It was only a tour game. But it was poetry in motion. McGrath bowled from the pavilion end in tandem with Jason Gillespie for an hour before retiring to field at fine leg and mid off. It was classic bowling. I had gone to the game to watch Gillespie and Warne - McGrath was not the sort of cricketer you went to watch. He was the sort of cricketer who enforced Australia's will on the Cricket field. Warne was the flamboyant genius, while Gillespie was the big intimidating quick bowler with genuine pace. Gilchrist and Ponting were the star batsmen, Steve Waugh was the Ice Man. McGrath made do with being known as "Pigeon". After the game, McGrath was not the bowler who stayed in your memory. If you looked at the scorecard, that was where he featured - quiet, efficient and devastating.

His batting improved as his career progressed and he could be relied upon to keep his end up. In that tour match in 2001, McGrath stood with his captain as they played out over a session to take Australia to safety. Many Cricketers view themselves as entertainers, but for McGrath, it seemed to begin and end with "Australia Wins". Had McGrath been a batsman, he would have been part Gavaskar, part Miandad and part Steve Waugh. I can think of no greater measure of his greatness....

John Wright's Indian Summers: A Review

It is quite telling that the best articulated, most careful and caring history of Indian Cricket in this decade is to be found in John Wright's memoir on his tenure as Indian coach. Written along with Sharada Ugra and Paul Thomas, it is a superbly crafted book, where not a word seems superfluous. Even though it is co-written, the personality of the coach shines through. Furthermore, it conveys a genuine interest in India and her Cricket. Wright had the good fortune of being coach when Indian Crickets greatest generation was in their prime - Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Kumble. Not since the early to mid 1980's has India possessed such sustained quality - and even then, Sunil Gavaskar was in decline. Youngster came through - Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Kaif and a team was forged which would for a year and more threaten the best in any conditions. Ultimately, the frailties of the system seemed to come in the way.

Wright's view of the pet peeves of many of India's puritanical cricket fans and victory riders - the selection system and the pressures of stardom is far more nuanced and understanding. At no point does he try to create villains or heros - and yet, he does not mince his opinions. Nothing seems to be left unsaid, and nothing is revealed simply to promote a sale. Wright's thesis - that the cricketers face unreal pressures and lead starry lives, often to the detriment of their existence as normal individuals (and yet seem to be able to retain their equanimity), would seem obvious to anybody who thought things through. His thesis about the the zonal selection system is even more interesting. It was in his book that i first read an account of the selection system which drove home to me a problem with zonal selection. It also brings home to you the wisdom of appointing selectors for two year terms.

These two core problem areas drive home the point that the only way to improve Cricket in India is to reduce the difference between playing First Class Cricket and playing for India. There has to be a strong, popular, well-followed, rigorous First Class tournament in India. A format has to be set which provides the opportunity for plenty of first class cricket and has to be adhered to for a longish period of time so that it can take root. The Indian Cricket Team is a minor problem compared to that of First Class Cricket.

Wright also acknowledges that results dried up in his last season, at the end of which he decided to quit. However, especially in One Day Cricket, one might have argued that the problems began immediatly after the World Cup. It was interesting to note that the next major ODI tournament India played was the VB series - where the record was 4-0 against Zimbabwe and 1-5 against Australia. This was followed by a 3-2 win in Pakistan - which, while it was creditable had one game where India made 350 and won by 5 runs, another game were Pakistan were reduced to 59/4 chasing 250 and still won. It is quite telling that the next Indian visit to Pakistan against an arguably superior Pakistan ODI side (in 2004, the Pakistan side was still reeling from its World Cup exit and a slew of retirements - Anwar, Akram, Waqar), resulted in a 4-1 win, inspite of the fact that two of the batsmen - Sehwag and Kaif were mainly passengers. Wright does make an oblique reference here, when he says that the players, returning from a long break, especially after a successful season/series, tended to be off form and fitness, with the exception of the "real professionals" (such as Dravid and Tendulkar, according to Wright).

All in all, i cannot think of a more sincere view of an Indian Cricket Team ever being written in the form of a book or in the form of newspaper columns. There is a difference between describing a team dynamic without mincing words or facts, and revealing nuggets designed to fulfill voyeuristic desires of cricket fans. Having followed the first draft of the history of Indian Cricket regularly over the past 5-6 years, this superbly crafted account is a godsend...

If i was a book reviewer id give it ***** out of ***** :)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

On Gilchrist's batting Gloves...

The story goes that Adam Gilchrist used half a squash ball inside his batting gloves and that this was the most telling reason behind the Australian wicketkeepers whirlwind epic in the World Cup Final. What makes this story even more compelling is the fact that Gilchrist's batting had been lacklustre in the lead up to the final and the use of the squash ball may have been a tad illegal. Nobody has actually seen a video demonstration of how the squash ball is used in the batting gloves - the best we have is Michael Slaters animated description (minus batting gloves and semi-squash balls...... which i thought was bizarre given the preference TV commentators have traditional shown for props). Vijitha gave an equally elaborate description in a comment on my previous post.

As far as my reading of the laws goes - it is not illegal. The comparison to the Woolmer-Cronje wireless link or Dennis Lillee's aluminium bat is tenuous at best. Gilchrist has also been using batting leg guards which do not have the traditional flap and are more like a wicketkeepers leg guards. This definitely gives his greater mobility, but lesser protection. As for the effect of the squash ball, i think the controversy will die a natural death the next time Gilchrist makes a low score using the squash ball. Wicketkeepers have long been placing raw steak inside their wicket keeping gloves to soften the blow of having to keep to genuine pace all day long. Andy Sandham - Test Cricket's first triple centurion used a shirt with a foam vest stitched to it by his wife for better protection against the pace of Manny Martindale during a West Indies tour in the late 1920's.

Players will try and in my view ought to be allowed to try out modifications to their equipment as long as these are not in explicit contravention to the rules. In any event, no modification or innovation should be viewed as being laden with the intent to cheat. It may just be that the squash ball is particularly effective given Gilchrist unique grip on the bat, and that for a traditional grip it is not as effective. Sachin Tendulkar uses ulta-light weight leg guards. One of the lesser known side benefits of these leg guards is that the ball flies further off these leg guards than it would off the traditional heavier, ribbed leg-guards. In fact, Tendulkar's dismissal in the 1996 World Cup semi-final was attributed to this. Tendulkar was run out by the wicketkeeper Kaluwitharna when a ball hit his pad and he took off for a single confident that the ball had travelled far enough and had enough on it to enable a single. That was what he had come to except and experienced from his leg guards. As it happened the ball did not travel too far, and Tendulkar was run out trying to scramble back into his crease.

So it can work both ways. Batsmen routinely use reinforced batting gloves against quicker bowlers - does that give them unfair protection? Does close in fielders using all sorts of protection given them an unfair advantage? These are all interesting questions - ones which are viewed as being pedantic in some quarters, valid and consequential in others....

In my view, unless it is established that the use of a certain innovation gives a bowler or a batsman undue advantage - in so far as it skews the contest between bat and ball decisively in one direction, these innovations should be welcomed.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bad Light in the World Cup Final.....

The World Cup Final involved two issues where there is doubt as to whether the correct decisions were taken - the first, relatively minor issue being about Adam Gilchrist using a squash ball inside his batting gloves. The legality of this has been questioned. The second and more consequential issue pertains to the decision of the Umpires to require 3 overs to be bowled in very poor light after the light had been already offered to the batsmen. Typically here, the purpose of the press has been to find a scapegoat (the question they ask is "Who was at fault?". In my view, what they ought to be asking is "What actually happened?"). As it happens, they have found a scapegoat - Jeff Crowe. In this post i will try and describe what happened and hopefully be able to invoke all the relevant laws to explain why the so called "fracas" occured.

The Playing Conditions for the 2007 World Cup includes the following Clause (21.6.2) pertaining to Law 21 in the Laws:

21.6.2 "If the innings of the side batting second is suspended (with at least 20 overs bowled) and it is not possible for the match to be resumed, the match will be decided by comparison with the D/L ‘Par Score’ determined at the instant of the suspension by the Duckworth/Lewis method (refer Appendix 2). If the score is equal to the par score, the match is a Tie. Otherwise the result is a victory, or defeat, by the margin of runs by which the score exceeds, or falls short of, the Par Score."

Further, the reserve day rule is clarified in clause 12.1.2 and 12.1.3:

12.1.2 "All matches shall have one reserve day allocated on which an incomplete match shall be continued from the scheduled day."
12.1.3 "Every effort will be made to complete the match on the scheduled day with any necessary reduction in overs taking place and only if the minimum number of overs necessary to constitute a match cannot be bowled on the scheduled day will the match be completed on the reserve day."

The light at the time was clearly poor and was clearly getting worse. These three clauses read together, suggest the following:
1. There was no necessity of returning the next day to complete the game.
2. The match could have been awarded to the Australians by the referee and the umpires once they judged that the light was not good enough for them to continue.

It is clear that the Umpires decision to request the players to return to the field and complete 3 further overs and complete the match was not the telling mistake. The mistake was that they did not exercise their authority to say that

"We have completed the minimum requirement for a completed match today, and since we deem that the light will not improve, and no further play will be possible today, the match is awarded to Australia as they are ahead as per the Duckworth-Lewis chart at this stage"

By asking the players to return, and having the Sri Lankans face slow bowling for 3 overs, the umpires in fact ruled that the light was good enough for play to continue with three overs to play. Ponting agreed to bowl three overs. What might have happened had Ponting refused to bowl three overs of spin and handed the ball to Shaun Tait? The Umpires might have offered the light to the Sri Lankans yet again, and the Sri Lankans might have accepted it again. Here is the catch though. We might have reached a stalemate, unless one of the captains had refused to take the field. Had Ponting refused to take the field or if Sri Lanka refused to take the field, the Umpires and the Match Referee would have been forced to award to match to one of the teams in accordance with Law 21.3(a) and Law 21.3(b) as modified in the World Cup 2007 playing conditions.

The Umpires and the Referee, the Australian and Sri Lankan team, the broadcasters and the Press were the agencies involved in decision making and communicating this event to the general public. Lets have a look at how each acquitted themselves:

1. The Umpires and Referee were faced with a tricky situation, and made a mistake, even though technically they were right - because they decided that play would continue until the overs were completed, and both teams agreed to play (there by agreeing that the light was good enough to play - no complaint about the light was made by Sri Lanka or Australia in those three overs). They should have deemed the light bad enough to end play for the day, and hence award the match to Australia based on D/L, but they didn't. They chose a second, more convoluted route instead.

2. The Australian celebration was premature and began the minute Sri Lankan batsmen accepted the light. At that point, there was no decision by the Umpires that no further play would be possible on the day. The Australians made this assumption (and possibly so did the Sri Lankans). Technically, this was a mistake. But given the occasion it is understandable.

3. The Sri Lankans accepted the offer of the light, and in the end were the only party to emerge out of the confusion without any blame. The Australians should not have celebrated before they had been awarded the match, and their celebration probably contributed to the confusion. It was left to Jayawardene and Ponting to agree to play out the remaining three overs.

4. The broadcasters smelt an opportunity to abuse the ICC and did so with gusto. There was no calm explanation of events. (All the information in this post was available in that commentary box - the playing conditions as well as the laws.). The attitude was not "Lets try and find out and explain what happened" (communication with the umpires and/or referee would not have been necessary to explain the position as per the law and the playing conditions), it was " Lets try and milk this, because fueling controversy and blaming the ICC for destroying cricket is far more compelling than something that can be simply explained on account of the laws. The point should have been to explain what was happening, before laying the blame.

5. The press called it a farce. In so far as the fact that the umpires chose not to conclude that no further play would be possible that day, they were right. However again, it was too good an opportunity to practice throwing tomatoes and ridding the fridge of old useless eggs.

The casualty as always, is the game. The "real" world does not do it any favors. It was in the end a simple case of the Umpires making a mistake and choosing a tedious course of action, when the law in fact allowed them greater control over proceedings. The delicious technicality that the subsequent completion of the three overs ironically vindicated the umpires stand that play had merely been "suspended" and that the days play had not been deemed over, was missed by observers.

As always, it all boils down to how you look at the game. If you look at it as a fundamentally positive thing, where unless there is cheating, there is no cause for complaint, and any technically/legally complicated situations reveal nuances and a balance of authority which is fascinating (the Oval controversy was one such - sadly, it rarely went beyond name calling and "inside scoops" in the mainstream press), then you can't lose watching cricket. If instead you get your kicks out of calling the very people who entertain you names at the first available opportunity, then the press and the broadcasters will never disappoint you.....

Its a choice - was it a case of a debatable bad light decision, or was it an incompetent farce by the "ICC"? The commentators invariably choose the generalization by blaming the ICC - because they would look like fools if they complained against Bucknor or Dar or Koertzen... three fine umpires who do a very difficult job with far greater integrity and skill than most people off the field of play can even imagine is possible.

The Referee's is a difficult position - he does not have the authority and the respect traditionally accorded to the umpires. The Referee is an imposition on the game by the ICC - and the constituent nations agree that the position is necessary.

I believe that there is a severe need for a counterpoint to the mainstream broadcasters and the press. I aim to provide it whenever i can. For the most part though, the idea is to describe the cricket that takes place. And until the press regulates itself and is willing write about coverage of events rather than merely writing about events, the use of the generalization "the press" is valid in my view.

The press and the commentators were technically right. Purely "technically" however, the umpires were not "wrong".