Friday, August 31, 2007

ICL, BCCI and Cricket....

The Indian Cricket League is possibly the biggest competitor to the BCCI since its inception. One area where they have unquestionably trumped BCCI is in having a website. Normally, it takes about a month to build a presentable website - 3-4 months if you want to do an elaborate job. BCCI could have had one 10 years ago, and I'm still waiting for them to establish themselves in cyberspace.

The threat to BCCI's monopoly has been much discussed. Ironically, had BCCI not been as successful as it is, ICL would probably have had no competition and with the amount of money they are able to throw around, would have hired the whole Indian team and most of the fringe players as well. In effect, it is the success of BCCI and the Indian cricket team (which in my opinion is extremely competent - in fact it is India's only competent sporting team competing at world class level - and its players are trained in India unlike some of our neighbors), which stands in ICL's way.

At best, ICL is an entertainment show like "Chappar Phaad Kay" or others of that ilk. In Harsha Bhogle's words it comprises of "has-beens and never-will-bes". Mr. Bhogle is probably right with the possible exception of Mohammad Yousuf, who along with Ponting was the best batsman in the World in 2006. What it has achieved however is that it has roused the BCCI into action, and for that reason alone it has some merit. It can never be a serious threat to BCCI unless the clubs which are currently associated with State Associations which are members of BCCI switch affiliation from BCCI to ICL. ICL seems to have no ambition in this direction. I'm not entirely certain why BCCI reacted as petulantly as it did to ICL.

The broader question of monopoly is an interesting one - not from the point of view of whether or not there should be one, but whether there is one in the first place. The ICL website states for example that BCCI refused to "recognize ICL as a cricket league". I wonder why that is necessary. BCCI does not own cricket, either in India or anywhere else in the world. I don't think they can direct any player not to play in the ICL either. So why has ICL sought BCCI's permission at all? Is it because the BCCI employs all the fine players in the country - the very ones who do not make up a "reasonably competent cricket team"? Without involving BCCI (if not willingly, then by positioning themselves in conflict with BCCI), ICL would just be another game show. Indeed ICL has sought BCCI's attention, because such attention legitimizes ICL as a cricket thing.

Any agency which was genuinely interested in cricket and in administering the game well in India would have started at the bottom - built new clubs and invited existing clubs, built high quality local leagues, non-televised ones, in a handful of big cities with a cricketing tradition. Then they might have built an inter-city league based on these leagues. It would have built new facilities in those cities and a new parallel cricket structure to that of the BCCI affiliated clubs. It would have funded schools to build age group cricket teams and developed inter-school leagues. It would have built up loyalty. But that would have taken genuine effort and brought no immediate returns. I doubt whether Kapil Dev or Zee TV are interested in that sort of thing (and I'm not referring to over hyped fast bowling speed gun competitions, where the fastest bowler bowls at 125 kph). ICL does propose the creation of residential academies as a kind of a talent feed for their league. The prospect of a factory churning out cricketers must make traditionalists squirm. Considering the fact that it took Sachin Tendulkar 5 years of near full time serious organized cricket to get from being a rank newcomer to an India player (and he is a genius), one wonders what sort of time frame these academies have in mind.

Unless ICL can convince ICC to discard BCCI, they are not challenging a monopoly in any real sense, because the ICC has no intention of entertaining two Indian teams. The great thing about cricket is that it has traditionally been a truly international sport. I certainly hope that what we accept as the Indian cricket team remains a monopoly in the sense that there is only one national Indian side.

In any case Counterfeit BCCI is not the kind of challenge BCCI needs; for cricket's sake.

Note: This article also appears on desicritics. It has been revised keeping in view the first comment on that post. Thanks to the author of that note and apologies for the error...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Too many malfunctions.... handicapped India on the brink of series defeat.

Ravi Bopara, who wants to be England's Sachin Tendulkar and Stuart Broad who wants to establish himself as an ODI all rounder produced a measured, level-headed 99 run stand in about 25 overs to steer England to an important victory at Old Trafford in the ongoing NatWest series.

Old Trafford is reputedly the quickest wicket in England these days and there was ample evidence of this as Sourav Ganguly and three Englishmen fell due to the extra pace and bounce on offer. India have had 6 performers in this series so far - Tendulkar, Dravid, Yuvraj and to a lesser extent Sourav Ganguly and the spinners. The pacemen have been dismal and the fielding has been less than fleet-footed. Against an English side which seems to discover new talents almost every game, carrying 5 passengers and 11 poor fielders has been an enormous handicap. The 1-3 score line is fair at this stage in the series.

Rahul Dravid can take whatever decision he wants to at the toss, but if his
(fast) bowlers don't support him, anything he does is doomed from the start. A great example of this no show by the pace bowlers, was Zaheer Khan's no show in his second spell at a crucial phase in the game today. As Bopara and Broad were trying to establish themselves, much of the commentary seemed to disagree with the Indian captain's strategy of persisting with the two spinners instead of bringing back his pace spearheads and go for the kill. I would not go so far as to suggest that this belief was based on a overly simplistic connection between pace and effectiveness, but i would suggest that peoples view of the Indian ODI pace attack (especially with the older ball) varies sharply with Rahul Dravid's. In my view, Rahul Dravid has got it right. Why do i think so? Just take a look at Zaheer's two over spell - overs 35 and 37 of the innings where he went for 15 runs in 2 overs. Of those 15 runs, there were two four balls - one drifting down leg (after expressly setting a field with fine leg square and the extra fielder on the off side) and the other short and wide outside off stump. Any batsman worth his salt with some batting ability (which the English tail doubtless has - more on this later) would have hit both. Add to this one unbelievable backfoot off drive which Chris Broad might have been proud of, and you have Dravid's trump card failing him miserably. RP Singh doesn't look like he can lead an attack and so his efforts as a support bowler ought not to come under too much harsh criticism.

In 50 overs, there is a limit to what the captain can do with his bowling changes given the 10 over restriction. The spinners were bowling well - they were beating the bat and inducing errors. With a bit of luck one of them might have broken through. It was not to be.

Should India have made more than 213? Take into account the following:

1. India's long tail (because we don't have a player who can bat and bowl - like Flintoff or Broad or Giles)
2. The English pace attack - superior to Indias in quality, depth and pace
3. The English batting's efforts against the Indian new ball attack - in my view they played too many strokes and gave India too many wickets - the dismissals of Pietersen, Bell and Ganguly, and Tendulkar's stubborn refusal to hook or pull should give you a good idea about the wicket.

Considering all that, Tendulkar and Yuvraj played terrific innings. Both were dismissed just when they were about to take the attack to English bowlers. After three good games, Dravid had a failure and Dinesh Karthik further underlined the fact that he's not quite ready to play the number 3 role in ODI cricket. He seems in many ways to be the anti-Sehwag. Sehwag was able to establish a great batting rythm in Test cricket - his natural ability to hit the ball, along with the opportunity to bat without the pressure of the run rate enabled him to play his game in his own comfort zone. In ODI Cricket, the same Sehwag lost his ability to be discerning in his choice of balls to hit and basically tried to the wham bang approach, which didn't work. With Karthik its the same. He seems to be far more comfortable building an innings in Test cricket. In ODI cricket, the pressure of having played out a maiden the previous over seems to get to him. This may be a hasty judgement, but like Sehwag he seems to have found it difficult to make the adjustment - albeit from the other side (if you see what i mean). Dhoni fell to a beauty from Panesar - the sort of ball spinners dream about.

There are questions about the batting line up though. The obvious question is - if Tendulkar and Ganguly were going to open the batting, why did the selectors pack the reserve batting with two opening batsmen and a wicketkeeper batsman? Should Tendulkar and Ganguly be opening at all? In Tendulkar's case it seems Ok - because he seems to play better opening the innings. He can also play in the middle order - and do well by any standards, but as an opener he's in a class by himself - on this England tour in 7 matches against top opposition, he's reached 50 4 times in conditions where the new ball offers the severest threat during the innings. With Ganguly its a similar matter, but in his case his limitations with regard to rotation of strike and running between the wickets, in addition to his own obvious preference seem to dictate this. The rotation of strike issue is uncharacteristic. It seems to be a recent problem. But its serious problem for India because not only does it slow down Ganguly's own scoring, it puts extra pressure on the player at the other end because he's effectively denied the strike for a large number of deliveries.

India need to rethink their batting order for the next game. The Dinesh Karthik experiment is not working. Neither is the Ganguly experiment in my view. India have little choice on the 5 bowler front. It is also a sound strategic idea in the long term.

Right now though, they need to stem the rot and win something. Teamwork worked in the Test series. In the ODI game, its time for someone to put up a marquee performance in the 5th game. If India cannot find XI contributions, they must find 1-2 extraordinary ones. Like the NatWest Final in 2002. That result confirmed the reputation of Ganguly's team. Yet that particular game was a result of India playing absolute rubbish when they were bowling and for all but 30 overs of their run chase. That win was down to the individual brilliance of Kaif and Yuvraj more than anything else. India need a brilliant hundred or a brilliant spell from somewhere. Given their recent track record, the former is more likely. And it is Yuvraj who threatens most to find an innings that will blow England away and destroy their momentum more than anyone else in the Indian line up.

Lets wait and watch......

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Do India lose because of their batting or their bowling?

This post is in part a response to a comment on my earlier post about the 3rd ODI between England and India at Birmingham. I suggested in that post that the bowling was the primary cause of India losing the Birmingham ODI. The table below can be read as follows:

W,L - Win, Loss; SA - Runs/wicket scored, SR - Runs/Over scored; CA - Runs/wicket conceded, RA - Runs/Over conceded.
These results from India, Australia and Sri Lanka take into consideration matches involving India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, England, South Africa, New Zealand and West Indies only.

(Please click on the image for a larger view)

The choice of Australia, India and Sri Lanka was determined by my perception of the three teams. I percieve Australia to be the best batting and bowling side in the world (high SA, SR, low CA, CR); India to be one of the best batting sides and one of the worst bowling sides (high SA, SR, high CA, CR); Sri Lanka to be not as good as India as a batting side, but superior with the ball (medium SA, SR, low/medium CA, CR). This perception was largely borne out the numbers. Extracting these numbers from the Cricinfo database is time consuming and hence i have limited it to these three teams.

The numbers show that Sri Lanka inspite of scoring slower than India in almost every year has a better win/loss record, simply on account of its superior effort with the ball. The difference between an economy rate of 4.5 and 5.0 is 25 runs. Australia are consistently successful mainly because of the consistently low CA numbers. A case in point would be their record in the year 2007. They won the World Cup, but also endured a streak where they lost 6 out of 7 matches just before the world cup. In those six matches, here is their sequence of totals: 200 all out chasing 293, 291/5 chasing 290, 252 all out, 152/8 in 27 overs, 148 all out, 336/4, 346/5. The totals they conceded in these games are: 292, 290, 253, 246, 149, 340, 350.

For both India as well as Sri Lanka, their best years have coincided with their best bowling years - where they have managed good economy rates and good bowling averages. Not surprisingly, lower economy rates almost always mean better bowling averages (CA). Even in 2003, when India reached the World Cup final, their economy rate of 5.16 is bloated because of a 7 match home series where they conceded over 6 runs/over in 6 out of the 7 games (they lost that home series 3-4).

The moderate quality of the Indian bowling is indicated not just by economy rates, but also by bowling averages. They have been unable to take wickets consistently enough in the long run. This is easily indicated by the fact that our best ODI bowlers invariably average in the late 20's, while Australia's and Sri Lanka's average in the mid to early 20's.

Averages are not meaningless numbers, they reveal quality or lack of it.

If we go back to the comment on my earlier post, the reference to the "daft" shots by Tendulkar and Kartik is telling. I point this out not because i think this is a one off, but because i suspect this is the generic argument offered by most people. If India lose, the first question is - what did the stars do? And that is a fundamentally wrong question to be asking. If "daftness" is to be questioned, then RP Singh, Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel would have to be asked the same question about twice an over. "Why did so and so bowler offer up a leg stump half volley?" - "Why did the spinner drop it short and let the batsman cut?" - "Why did so and so bowler drag it short and wide?" - these questions can be asked over and over and over again because that is what the bowlers do more often than not.

Bowlers make the play in cricket. Batsmen have about half a second to make their choices and take action. Thats why bowlers win games, batsmen prevent them from being lost - this is enduring mantra of Test cricket. Simply because a team has great batsmen and moderate bowling, does not mean that this mantra goes out of the window! The "daft" strokes were an error of judgement - sure. But by that count, each of the Indian bowlers made an error of judgement alteast once and over - and they bowled 50 overs. 50 (only a ball park figure) errors of judgement at the very least and you get a 280+ total against a batting line up which is not amongst the best in the world.

Do the batsmen make errors of judgement? Sure! But their errors of judgement result in their career records and their records this year (posted earlier). The bowlers errors of judgement lead to the economy rates and strike rates described above and three consecutive 280+ totals being conceded.

So while it may not be the in thing to do, it is a sad fact of life. For all the demands about "team" and all the habitual rants from fans (im not referring to the author of the comment here) about players being "selfish" - these very apostles of the team ethic, forget the first rule of a team - that it is as strong as its weakest link, not as strong as its strongest link.

India's best bowler has delivered 8 no balls in 12 overs in the last 2 games. Enough said!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Wanted: A Coach for Team India (and a PR official for BCCI!)

I just saw this on Rediff. It is a statement from Niranjan Shah. In keeping with the finest traditions of writing weblogs, i consider it my solemn blogistic (see journalistic) duty to reproduce it here and ensure that BCCI's advertisement is read by as many potential India coaches as possible. Here goes:

a) Working closely with the Selection Committee and interacting periodically with the Review Committee to be set up by the Board.
b) Should have the ability to plan and manage programs for the elite cricketers
c) Should be capable of building positive relations with the public and media.
d) Should be capable of motivating players and thus helping them to optimize their performances at all times.
e) Should be familiar with the use of performance analysis software packages.
f) Should be available to conduct clinics and workshops for the local coaches
g) Should have excellent communicating skills as he is required to communicate at different levels like players, team management, selectors and the Board
h) Should be capable of providing the team with tactical expertise

a) Should be a qualified coach with minimum level III coaching accreditation from Cricket Australia, England or India
b) Should have played at least level of First Class cricket.
c) Extensive coaching experience and expertise in working with elite cricketers
d) Should possess basic IT skills to be able to operate the match analysis program
e) Should have been a coach of an international or national team or a coach at an elite Coaching Centre of international repute
f) Should have basic knowledge of Indian cricket, Indian player pathway and Indian culture and ethos
g) Should have basic knowledge of Sports Science and Sports Medicine
h) Should be capable of handling the team under high pressure situations
i) Should possess outstanding organizational skills
j) Should have knowledge of the international coaching trends
k) Should have experience in using the video technology.

a) The appointment as coach shall be for a period of two years, starting from October 1, 2007.
b) The job requires a great deal of time away from home traveling with the Indian team both in India and Abroad
c) Terms and conditions are negotiable

Without reading too much into it, the sequence in which the "Key Responsibilities" are stated is quite telling. Of the 8 key responsibililties (III(c) effectively renders everything else redundant by stating that terms and conditions are negotiable lets not be pedantic here), cricket related responsibilities feature 2nd, 4th and 8th. Relations with the media and the cricket board figures in 3rd, 1st and 7th place. The 5th and 6th points are irrelevant in my view because software packages can be learnt (and in any case India employ a full time analyst for this very purpose. Besides, how can this be a key "responsibility"? For more see II(d)), while clinics for local coaches can be conducted by specially hired expert coaching instructor. Is it prudent to burden the national coach with this added responsibility?

But this aside, the Key Responsibilities section reveals little doubt that this is not an advertisement for a national team coach by a cricket board, but is an advertisement by a cricket board singed to the scalp by Chappellgate. Further more, it is a statement crafted by an amateur and hastily at that. What exactly is the difference between coaching a "international and national team"? There is well established time honored cricket specific terminology - the same might have easily be conveyed by saying that the candidate should have prior experience of coaching international or First Class cricket teams.

Seriously BCCI - please hire a Public Relations person. It is precisely to avoid things like these that firms and institutions employ people exclusively to convey well-framed, concise, clear messages to the right recipients at the right time. And if this is the work of a PR person - please dip into your formidable bank balance and enroll that person in a Public Relations course. If s/he refuses, fire that person! I make typos in my blog - lots of them, and this does weaken my advice to you, but it is well meant. There are worse things you could do than put Niranjan Shah or Sharad Pawar out in front of the hounds from the press. The press doesn't deserve that kind of daily attention. Niranjan Shah or Sharad Pawar are always news stories - even if they just sneeze. If a PR spokesman faints, he might just get 2 lines somewhere deep inside the newspaper. The PR person will be the voice of the BCCI (and by that i do not suggest that s/he will frame the message). All this is elementary - how can an organization float million dollar tournaments on the one hand and not want to find the budget for a PR person? The PR person checks the English and checks for nuances which may reveal more than the message intends.

So please put out an advertisement for a public relations professional. Nothing elaborate - no image make overs or anything of the sort. Just someone who can convey a clear, articulate, concise message (BCCI's message) in correct English/Hindi. It will make the new coach's job much much easier too.....

Bowling, Fielding hurts India yet again......

The Indian bowling had a third consecutive sub-par day as India went down by 45 runs to England in the third ODI of the 7 match series. India have to win 3 out of the next 4 if they are to win this series now and if the bowling and fielding keeps performing the way it has been (more the bowling than the fielding), then there is little chance of that happening. The batsmen will have to play out of even their extraordinarily proficient skins to win with the kind of bowling that India have. India have nobody who is able to control the runs and their best bowler (Munaf Patel) has developed a problem of overstepping and bowling occasional wides - something he didn't have earlier. He bowled 4 no balls in 5 overs today to add to the 5 he bowled in 8 overs yesterday.

India have to control proceedings with the new ball especially against a scratch pairing of Cook and Prior. It is not as though it is Gilchrist, Hayden and Ponting they are up against. England have greater fast bowling depth compared to India and even without Flintoff and Sidebottom, they are able to play 3 bowlers who are quicker than all the Indian bowlers in the ODI squad barring Patel. This pace edge is further accentuated by India not bowling as well as they can bowl. The inexperienced spinners have done an admirable job inspite of having to come on to bowl with the opposition innings in excellent shape. It would be completely different if Powar could come in at 80/3 instead of 120/1.

Just as a comparison, the the 6 (or 7, depending on how many batsmen they played) India batsmen have averaged 36.83 runs/wicket in these first 3 ODI games. In comparison, the top 6 (or 7) English batsmen have averaged 45.63 runs/wicket in these games. To put this in perspective, of the top 50 run-getters in ODI history, only 3 - Bevan, Richards and Greenidge average over 45 runs/wicket with the bat. India have conceded 280+ on 3 consecutive occasions now inspite of having good times to bowl in each of the three games. If they keep this up, people are going to forget very quickly that this Indian bowling line up took 56 out of 60 English wickets on offer in the Test series!

There are limitations with some of the batsmen as well. India have still not found a quality ODI batsman to add to Dravid, Ganguly, Tendulkar and Yuvraj. I can see Sehwag returning in a hurry if things don't improve. Due to the performance of the bowlers, they have been forced to play 5 bowlers even though none of those 5 bowlers qualify as anything other than tailenders with the bat. It puts fierce pressure on the top 5 batsmen (+Dhoni). It forces Ganguly to hold one end up as he did today instead of attacking. 280 is not chased everyday. India keep conceding it everyday though!

There needs to be a serious rethink with the bowling tactics as well as strategy. The problem with the bowling - especially the fast bowling, is even though three pace bowlers are played, if any of them are missing for a game due to injury or illness, it cannot be said that they would be missed. Out of Agarkar, Zaheer, Sreesanth, Munaf, RP Singh and Irfan Pathan, it would be impossible as of today to clearly mark a first choice pace attack. If ever there was an example of musical chairs in the Indian pace attack, it is now. There is depth in numbers and talent, but there is no consistency. These blow hot blow cold performance must drive Dravid and Vengsarkar and Venky Prasad up the wall! Contrast this with the current Indian batting line up. If you look at the 5 mainstays - Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Yuvraj and Dhoni, for just the year 2007, their record reads as follows (not counting minnow matches):

Ganguly - 540 runs at 45 in 10 innings
Tendulkar - 570 runs at 47.5 in 13 innings
Dravid - 648 runs at 58.9 in 13 innings
Yuvraj - 349 runs at 49.8 in 10 innings
Dhoni - 290 runs at 41.42 in 11 innings

Those are records any team would kill for...... Yet, India have win loss record against non-minnows in 2007 which reads 8-6.

I don't buy the argument that India play on fast scoring grounds on easy paced tracks. India plays on the same tracks that every other side in the world plays on. You don't see Vaas or Pollock or Ntini go for 6 or 7 runs per over in every second game. India ought not to fall into the trap of lowering expectations from the bowlers simply because they can't meet the required high standards. They won't win consistently with bad bowling and the batting will not bail them out every time. Besides, the batting is entitled its off days as well (much rarer than the new ball bowlers having off days!).

Theres nothing India can do about their fielding, because you can't replace Ganguly, Dravid and Tendulkar simply because they are not Jonty Rhodes in disguise. If Munaf and co were to bowl well, India would win inspite of the fielding deficit. The best way to get some balance would be to find an all rounder. Thats why Irfan Pathan is so priceless.

The outcome of this natwest series depends on whether or not India's new ball bowlers recover some semblance of control. If they do, India will win. If they don't then England will. India's beleagured bowlers will do well to remember that they have yet to face the Pietersen and Flintoff willows in full cry. When that happens they might just bottom out.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The value of being a "profile player"

There is little doubt the if viewed dispassionately, Sachin Tendulkar's reaction to being sawed off on 99 amounted to dissent. He first indicated to the umpire that he'd missed the ball, then walked away, then when he found from the English players' reactions that the umpire had ruled in their favor, he looked up in surprise, threw his head back and let it sink in. He then walked away leaving nobody in any doubt that he disagreed with the call. It was only towards the end of this that his innate courtesy began to take over and by the time he had begun to walk back, he was Ok.

It is here that his reputation and his standing in the game came to his rescue. If he'd been say Gautam Gambhir reacting like that, Roshan Mahanama would have definitely hauled him up. But he's Tendulkar and like every other player in the game, he has a reputation. Sreesanth and Nel have poor reputations i suppose, Shoaib has an iffy reputation, the ugly Australian tag hurts Australia, Michael Atherton is forever associated with dirt in the pocket, Ganguly with tardy overrates as captain. Ganguly's is infact an interesting case. There was a time in the early years of this decade when Match referees used to watch him like a hawk. Then came a bit of a lull and he has now returned as one of the elder statesmen. Unless things get out of hand, most match referees are likely to take the view that there is little that Ganguly and Tendulkar can be advised about dissent.

It points to the few things -

1. That match referees, especially in the matter of penalizing players have become less controversial and consequently better at their jobs.
2. Teams have begun to understand the referee system better. For example, India have said nothing in the press about the umpiring. A few years ago, there would have been some indiscreet comments by an Indian captain or coach, or for that matter any captain or coach in the face of some of the rough calls. Instead, what we've seen this time is India having a "quiet word" about the "standard of umpiring" with the referee.

So all in all there seems to be better communication between the match managers and the teams. Things did get out of hand in the Test series and to their credit Vaughan, Dravid and Dennis Lindsay settled it exactly the way it needed to be. Sreesanth got fined for shoulder barging and he deserved it. In this second ODI Collingwood got fined for slow overrates and the rules suggested that England deserved it too.

All in all, in contrast to last years Pakistan series with headstrong characters like Darrell Hair and Inzamam Ul Haq who managed to make a pigs breakfast out of things, this time around all concerned have been sensible.

Most tellingly, Simon Taufel's comment about being more upset about his LBW decision against Tendulkar at Trent Bridge because Tendulkar was a "profile player" was telling. It suggests that umpires and referees are not going to be wooden in their implementation of the playing conditions. Its a fine balance, and i think that the umpires and referees have got it right.

This is not to suggest that Tendulkar was not guilty of dissent. I suspect that if you lined up the ICC panel of referees, they would be evenly split in their judgement in the matter.

Its just that refereeing has evolved and seems to reach some maturity as referees become more and more experienced.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The favor is returned.... bowling frailties remain....

India won the toss in the second ODI at Bristol and produced the sort of batting display that one has come to expect off this experienced line up. Playing with the extra bowler (a move which was to prove priceless later) meant added pressure on the batsmen. The Gloucestershire faithful at the County Ground were treated to some expert batsmanship. This was India's 39th score of 300 or more in limited overs cricket, since their maiden 300+ score in 1995 at Sharjah against Pakistan. Then as now, it was Tendulkar at the top of the order who gave the innings impetus. Had it not been for his wretched luck in the 90's, he might have had 4 international centuries during this England tour - 2 against SA, and 2 against England. This was possibly also his most commanding innings on this tour so far. Once Tendulkar had left, Rahul Dravid came in and produced the sort of innings which had made him one of the finest middle order ODI batsmen in the world in this decade. He paced his innings brilliantly without ever losing momentum. He reached 50 in 43 balls, and his next 42 runs came in 20.

There was a period during the innings, after Tendulkar had fallen where India were a wee bit careful. It was also when the English second stringers were bowling. The commentators - amongst them 2 former international captains and one former international coach, were unanimous that Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh were missing a trick by not putting their foot on the pedal and letting Mascarenhas and co. As it happened, it the lull didn't last and the four major English bowlers were taken for 93 runs in the last 10 overs. Dhoni came and went and by the end India had reached a score England had never successfully chased before.

When India bowled, it was a familiar story, but for Munaf Patel. He went for 70 in his 9 overs, but took 3 wickets. One might have said that those figures do him no justice, but for his generosity with wides and no balls. Clearly he still hasn't perfected his modified technique and needs to work on his no balls. If you look at the 70 runs he conceded though, his wides and no balls alone cost him 19 of those runs (not counting the runs scored of the resulting extra deliveries). A further 12 were the result of inside edges (the cricinfo commentator called them "lemon" cuts). In addition to these 3 edgy strokes, he beat the bat a few other times. Other than that, he showed the priceless ability to hit any length he desired and stick to it - an absolute imperative when the ball isn't swinging or seaming. He brought India back into the game after Agarkar had recieved his second straight hammering. The Indian catching was uncharacteristically sloppy.

That it didn't prove fatal was down to what in my view was the ball of the match. Piyush Chawla beat Kevin Pietersen not by the straighter one, but by the in-drift in his normal leg break. The ball was delivered from reasonably close to the stumps, and drifted in towards middle stump. Pietersen was beaten by the length and was comprehensively defeated. Watch. It turned just enough to beat the bat and the pad and sneak through.

There after it was a case of ensuring that England stayed behind the eight ball. The pressure of the run rate would do the rest. India did well to stay ahead and the 9 run margin flattered England in the end. But in a sense it was fair, because what England have demonstrated in these two games is that they have superior talent lower down the order as compared to India. Chris Broad, Chris Tremlett, Andrew Flintoff and Dimitri Mascarenhas, all have all round ability. I just wonder though whether England needed Mascarenhas in their squad given that the first three were already playing. Might Monty have made a difference? The Indians would probably have played him better than the Englishmen played Powar (who bowled his classical off breaks with delightful guile) and Piyush Chawla, but even so - England lacked variety and they already have Paul Collingwood to bowl in Mascarenhas's style. On the other hand, India at the moment seem to be a team of two halves - specialist batsmen who have done quite well, and a pace bowling department which seems to offer a choice between many equally limited options. RP Singh and Munaf Patel were accurate enough, but the senior experienced bowler - Agarkar, seems to have been targetted by England. If Zaheer is fit for the next game, it might be an interesting decision for the team management.

All in all, it was a win delivered by the batsmen and the spinners. There was little in the wicket for pacemen, and by and large they were not good enough to "not get hit" (something Wasim Akram laid great emphasis on in his bowling). He once said that his experience in ODI cricket had taught him mainly to avoid getting hit ("maar se bach jaata hoon"). It is a valuable lesson RP, Munaf and co can learn from these situations.

This series is nicely set now. England are the better balanced side, with greater depth in batting and fast bowling. They are also the better fielding side. One Day cricket allows them to still be beaten by 3-4 special performances. Today it was Tendulkar, Dravid, Munaf and the spinners who made it happen for India. Unlike in the Test series, this promises to remain the model of Indian victories in the ODI game unless India become a crack fielding outfit and a competent all round bowling outfit.

Oh yeah - and they need to keep the flu away, or atleast pass it on to the next door dressing room!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Case Study defeat......

England beat India by 104 runs in the first match of the 7 match Natwest series at Southampton. It was the perfect home match for England. The visiting Captain won the toss under a heavy cloud cover. Consider the factors. In the test series, the red ball has swung prodigiously for the same Indian bowlers under similar conditions. The white ball swings more than the red ball. Consider also the predicted effect of the dew in the evening, which might make bowling difficult and negate any possibility of swing as the ball would get wet every time it was hit along the ground. All things considered, it probably made more sense to chase, and that is what Dravid chose to do.

For the very beginning, it was apparent that the bowlers had not turned up for the contest. There was no hint of wicket taking menace the English batsmen made merry. Alistair Cook and Ian Bell helped themselves to hundreds and Kevin Pietersen had his fun in slog. There after, it was England's pace bowling edge (which Ian Chappell so presciently referred to) which came to the fore. Sourav Ganguly managed to run himself out and from that disastrous beginning India never recovered. With runs on the board and a freshened wicket, England's pacemen ran in with a vengeance, as if to put behind them the demons of the Oval Test where they had been rendered so tellingly ineffective. Once Tendulkar and Yuvraj had fell in the same over from James Anderson (who seems to like the blue of India), there was no way back.

Anderson also seems to have a special affinity with bowling under lights. His career record now reads 103 wickets at 27.03, in contrast, his record bowling under lights reads 29 wickets at 20.72.

The sluggish Indian fielding side was also shown up on the larger than usual ground at Southampton. There is little that Robin Singh or anybody can do about this in the space of 2-3 weeks. What it will require is rigorous off season work directed by someone like Robin Singh. Even that will bring only minor improvements.

All in all, an off day for India. Dravid's proud record of never having lost an ODI to England as captain was broken today. A look back at the first West Indies v England ODI earlier this season reveals that England won with similar ease batting first, only to lose the next two games when they were chasing.

Will history repeat itself?

For now though England's pace edge has proved decisive......

Monday, August 20, 2007

Shashi Tharoor and a flawed analogy.....

Shashi Tharoor asks in his weekly column in the Times of India - Are we afraid of risks? The context - Rahul Dravid's decision to bat a second time (or in Tharoor's words - "After piling up a lead of 319 in the first innings, Rahul Dravid declined to enforce the follow-on against a demoralised and all-but-beaten England team. Dravid, a man I used to respect, sought to justify this pusillanimous decision by claiming his bowlers were tired.")

The author starts by offering his vision of "new India" - in the form of Santhakumaran Sreesanth's comically bad imitation of a kuchipudi dancer in the throes of the Ramayana War. For some odd reason, this was more than an fluke six connected by a hopeful number eleven. Andre Nel (the South African Sreesanth if you will) was allegedly trying to "intimidate him". The "old India" in Tharoor's view is represented by Rahul Dravid - scared of losing, diffident, cautious, all to its own detriment. His juxtaposition between the old and the new is telling and i will reproduce it here:

What Sreesanth demonstrated in Johannesburg was an attitude that has transformed the younger generation into a breed apart from its parents’. It is the attitude of an India that can hold its nerve and flex its sinews, an India whose self-confidence is rooted in the sober certitude of self-knowledge, an India that says to the future, “come on; I am not afraid of you.”

Dravid demonstrated, haplessly, that the dead hand of the older India still clings on — an India that is afraid to take risks for fear of failure, an India without the courage of self-belief, an India that is all too willing to settle for 1-0 than go for 2-0. This is the India that did a deal with the Kandahar hijackers rather than the India that threw out the intruders of Kargil. We have the capacity to be, in any field of national endeavour, both kinds of country. But I have no doubt that the attitude I saw on the fourth day of the Oval Test is unworthy of what the real India is shaping up to be.

Mind you, that last line suggests that the old India, represented by Rahul Dravid (and i assume the team think tank) is "unworthy" of what the real India is shaping up to be - Sreesanth! Now, if it seems that i am oversimplifying things, it is only to make the point that this is precisely what Mr. Tharoor has done here. He runs roughshod over some of the most complex areas of modern policy, strategy in pursuit of what is ultimately a flawed argument.

The argument is flawed, because it ignores cricket. Based fundamentally on this crucial oversight, Tharoor goes on to murder cricket and whole bunch of other things. Dravid's unfortunate usage of the term "armchair critic" does not escape Tharoor's attention - he suggests that if this were a valid position, then theatre critics would be completely worthless (i can see bollywood's finest smiling inwardly at this idea). Once again Tharoor misses the point of Rahul Dravid's comment. Dravid was asked to explain his decision to not enforce the follow on. This gist of his response (you could actually hear it in his own voice by clicking the audio link on this page) was that he took multiple issues into consideration and took his judgement based based on "what i see and know". Now, the armchair critics line was unfortunate, but seriously - to ignore the gist of his reply and cotton on to the one little bit which is juicy (there is no other word for it) is to do the man a disservice.

By the way, i found yet another example of this kind of ridiculous cherry picking in the press. This is the transcript of Dravid's interview to a Indian news channel, where he allegedly suggested that the obsession with the world cup was unhealthy. Here's how this interview got reported in the press and the media. Yet, when you look into the actual transcript, Dravid did not suggest that the obsession with the world cup was unhealthy in this interview. He merely confirmed something that he had stated before, and his interviewer was aware that it was a old opinion because she brought it up!

Coming back to Mr. Tharoor's argument, it is intriguing that he finds Andre Nel's actions to be "intimidating". I don't find them intimidating at all, anymore than i thought Sreesanth's behaviour at Trent Bridge was intimidating. Could it just be that Mr Tharoor's article is a case of the old India writing about the new and the old India and making a case for the new?

If Rahul Dravid is unworthy of India, then India is not worth living in. I would rather be part of Dravid's India than Sreesanth's. The first represents world class quality, mastery of ones art, correctness, toughness, unforgiving competitiveness, solidity, reliability, an understated brilliance masked by an iron will and unbreakable discipline. The latter is an immature India, thriving on chance, unreliable, with much to learn. It is not hard to choose between the two.

Mr. Tharoor has written extensively about Nehruvian India and his column on the even of our 60th Independence Day was ironically about independence and democracy and Mr. Nehru's work towards ensuring that a fledgling nation developed strong democratic traditions. That surely was more Dravidesque than it was Sreesanthesque. Mr. Tharoor's point about fearlessness is well made, but he is wrong in assuming that the fear that his generation perceives is similarly percieved by Dravid's. If he were to take a moment and think about it, there were equally good and equally manly arguments (the choice of adjective is admittedly a tad uncharitable here) for and against enforcing the follow on. There were also very sound cricketing arguments both in favor of and against enforcing the follow on.

I offer the following with great deference to the views of India's candidate (withdrawn because there was no prospect of winning election) for the high office of the Secretary General of the United Nations. Of course i do not take into account high politics, diplomacy and statecraft in making this reference - but that sort of thing seems to be optional:

What i would like to see is an India which has the wisdom to accept both decisions with good grace, without dragging a great player's name through the mud ("Dravid, a man I used to respect............"), regardless of the result. If we could in addition to this simple courtesy also refrain for misrepresenting nuanced positions by cherry picking from them, it might make us better than we are today.

India v England, ODI Series Preview.......

The longest bilateral One Day International series to date on English soil commences in a few hours time in the port city of Southampton. If the balance of power was difficult to gauge before the Test series, then it is even more so with the One Day series.

On paper, India are the superior side. They have had the better of England irrespective of personnel, especially in India and on neutral ground. In England, they beat England in 2002, and lost 1-2 in 2004 in the Nat west Challenge. England hold no terrors for India. However, in a game designed for the cameo match winning solo, England possess two of the world finest match winners in the modern day - Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff. Its the kind of thing which makes One Day cricket a lottery. The number of close run chases decided by lucky outside edges should tell you a thing or two about the arbitrary nature of the contest. Cricketers try and cloak this arbitrariness with "whoever does well on the day will prevail" - a line that has been done to death, by everyone, from the Bangladesh captain against Zimbabwe to Sourav Ganguly before the World Cup Final.

This arbitrariness also allows pretty much the whole range of predictions to be made. From the English newspaper the Independent comes the prediction that the return of Andrew Flintoff and Ravi Bopara may just avert a whitewash. Further they say that anything better than 2-5 would be demonstrative of improvement in England's ODI fortunes. Ian Chappell on the other hand finds both sides evenly matched and predicts that pace will be the decisive factor.

With Flintoff making a comeback, and with Tremlett, Anderson and Broad also likely to play, the English attack looks strong. Flintoff gives them the decisive edge in my view, because he can be the 5th bowler. India will try and make up the 5th bowlers overs from Yuvraj, Tendulkar and Ganguly. One out of Piyush Chawla and Ramesh Powar will play - not a daunting prospect for the Englishmen, especially on good English wicket. In Test Cricket, India have been hurt over the years due to a limited bowling attack. While One Day Cricket provides batsmen greater scope for affecting the result in ODI games compared to Tests, fielding - another area where India have traditionally been behind the curve also has a greater bearing on events. The top Indian ODI batsmen - Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid and Yuvraj, supported by the peerless Mahendra Dhoni (his record as a specialist wicketkeeper batsman in ODI cricket is unmatched in ODI history) have overcome this handicap repeatedly and successfully.

Chappell is probably right though, in damp conditions, especially with dew expected to be a factor under lights, England pace edge - provided by Andrew Flintoff as the 5th bowler, might play a important role. The teamwork from the Test series will become vitally important, especially when India are in the field.

The rejuvenated Ganguly and the peerless Tendulkar will return at the top of the innings for India as the captain announced. This leaves the number three slot open for Gambhir, Karthik, Utthappa or Sharma. My guess is that Dinesh Karthik will bat at number 3 in the Southampton game, all though Gautam Gambhir has been amongst the runs. Seperating Ganguly and Yuvraj in the line up also gives India the opportunity have left-right combinations most of the time unless both fail. It also gives India to opportunity to play 5 bowlers. Ramesh Powar and Piyush Chawla may both play if that is the case. If not, then Gambhir will in all probability join Dinesh Karthik in the eleven. Karthik would then bat at 6, while Gambhir will bat at 3.

The bowling offers more intriguing choices. Munaf Patel has returned to the squad. This puts RP's place under pressure in my view, because he has the tendency to be mercurial. He looks innocuous for a large part of his spell and goes for plenty of runs, but ends up taking crucial wickets. Patel offers greater control and has been Indias best ODI bowler in the last 12 months or so. However, it may be difficult to blood Patel straightaway, and Agarkar, Zaheer and RP may be India's seam bowling line up.

It remains to be seen whether India's ODI side can extend its unbeaten record after the World Cup (series wins v Bangladesh and South Africa). What is at stake here is much more than an ODI series victory. A ODI defeat in England will mean that there will be brickbats at the ready when the players step out of the airport in India - a great Test triumph forgotten.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Damned if you do and damned if you don't...... the story of a historic Test series win....

India won in England for only the third time in 75 years and there has been much rejoicing. The twist in the tale has been marked by Rahul Dravid's decision not to enforce the follow on at the Oval Test. He has said much in explanation of the decision, and opinions have been formed based bit and pieces of what he said. What hasn't helped matters is his reference to the World Cup. That still touches a raw nerve and all the usual arguments about endorsements, shame, betrayal, etc. make their insalubrious appearance. If you think that short list is an overstatement, then think again, because thats precisely what is said about our sportsmen.

The story of Kabir Khan of Chak de India - "an Islamic last name and a meteoric temper make for a media-unfriendly mix" confirms the vindictiveness of the Indian public, represented by the usual suspects - the electronic news media, political organizations and other players. This was supposed to be a inspiring, feel-good movie by all accounts. Yet, it is one of the most disturbing movies in recent times in my view. It brought to the fore a host of prejudices more starkly and more vividly than ever before, and that in my view is the greatest value of the film. That there was little comment of the work of the news media (homing in on an innocent handshake at the end of the game), and merely referring to the subsequent inquiry. That was not the subject of the movie - the movie was about the women's hockey team. But even so, that the initial castigation was cast in those terms and neither the director nor reviewers of the film sought to pause for a moment and refer to it, except as the starting point of the narrative, is a comment in itself. That is how the director saw India, and the public seems to have accepted it unquestioningly. This characterization has attracted none of the mob fury which a film like Water seems to attract. Nobody's sentiments seemed to have been hurt by Shimit Amin's portrayal of Kabir Khan's disgrace. It suggests sadly that the writer of the film hit the nail squarely on its head.

In Chak de India, it was the muslim last name and the meteoric temper. In Cricket, the muslim last name is replaced by a whole host of myths - endorsements, commentary about ego's, selfishness and a host of other issues which feed the meteoric temper, fuelled by the TRP crazed news media.

The whole issue about the follow on at the Oval has caused debate not because the follow on was not enforced, but because Rahul Dravid actually tried to explain it without the usual gratuitous, apologetic politeness which accompanies these explanations. He actually tried to give some credit to the naysayers by simply pointing out that he, by virtue of his position had access to information which they did not - namely the state of his bowlers, and his view of the opposition. This was followed in short order by the comment about the World Cup. The response to that has been quite swift - with references (unfair in my view) to the fact that Dravid and his teammates benefit the most from the "unhealthy obsession" with the world cup. None of the players pine for this kind of frenzy. Indeed, if we can refer back to Chak de India for a moment - the Australian penalty taker who missed that last penalty - the reaction in Australia to that miss might have been a telling counterpoint to what Kabir Khan faced.

Ian Chappell in his series review makes a pointed observation about another aspect of the Kabir Khan/Cricket World Cup 2007 mentality -
"However, being captain of India isn't as straightforward as leading, say, Australia. If Ricky Ponting makes a poor judgment, as he did during the 2005 Ashes series, his effigy isn't burned in the streets or his family threatened. This is why an Australian captain is able to challenge his team to become better, which gives him a considerable advantage over his Indian counterpart."

(Contrast Chappell's opinion with Mandira Bedi's disgustingly juvenile assertion after India had recovered in the 2003 World Cup that the effigy burning along with vicious criticism by people of her ilk might have spurred the Indian recovery. She said this on national TV, and it attracted little criticism)

Further, lets actually examine some cricketing evidence. If England had followed on on the fourth morning, on a wicket which wasn't doing a great deal, even in overcast conditions, they would have started 300 runs behind with 170 overs left in the game. If they had matched or even slightly bettered their first innings effort - making say 450, it would have left India with a tricky 100 runs to get. Whats more - 170 overs offered ample time for these 550 runs to be scored at normal Test match pace on the fast scoring Oval ground (India made 664 in under two days). By batting again, India left England 500 to make in 110 overs. This has never even been approached in 140 years of Test history. Teams have however been dismissed many times in 40-50 overs. So purely from a cricketing perspective, Dravid's judgement was sound. He chose to put the game completely beyond England's reach. Further, if you think about the fact that Zaheer Khan was suffering from a bruised heel and had left the ground for treatment on the third evening, it is not hard to guess what Rahul Dravid meant when he said he knew the condition his bowlers were in.

If you think back to the first Ashes test at Brisbane this year - Australia batted first and made 600, England were bowled out in 61 overs for 157. Did Australia enforce the follow on? No! They batted again, made 1/202 and then bowled England out in 100 overs.

India left themselves 110 overs to bowl England out. They got 6 wickets in 110 overs. That gives you a clue as to how difficult it might have been trying to dismiss England a second time (especially with Zaheer injured) on the fourth day. Was Zaheer injured? Did that affect his bowling? Did it affect the way in which he was used by Dravid in the 4th innings? Without any definitive answers coming from the team its hard to say. But lets look at some other evidence. At Lord's, Zaheer Khan bowled 18/91 overs (20%) and 28/78 overs (36%) of the overs bowled by India in the first and second innings. At Trent Bridge, these figures were 21/65 (32%) and 27/104 (26%). At the Oval, these figures were 22/103 (21%) and 20/110 (18%). Zaheer was India's spearhead. Yet the conditions and possibly his own fitness meant that he was used sparingly in the 4th innings at the Oval.
Lets look at one other factor - the effectiveness of Anil Kumble in 4th innings overseas. Anil Kumble has bowled 15 times in 4th innings in Away Tests. His bowling average in these innings is 31.34, worse than his career average. On good wickets overseas, he has never won a Test match for India in the 4th innings. He has had two 5 wicket hauls in overseas Tests (outside the subcontinent) in the 3rd or 4th innings. Both came in low scoring games. The first in Johannesburg in 1992 where the highest innings total was 292. Kumble took 6/53 in 44 overs to help bowl South Africa out in the 3rd innings and restrict their lead and the time they had to bowl India out. The second was at Kingston Jamaica in 2006 where he took 6/78. That was a low scoring game on a minefield of a pitch (India made 200 all out and 171 all out and won!). And Kumble's 6/78 came in a West Indies 4th innings of 219.

So there was little evidence to suggest that the Indian bowling attack, with Zaheer Khan not at 100%, on a good Oval wicket which showed no sign of disintegrating, would be able to bowl England out cheaply the second time around. Dravid as captain would have an extremely realistic judgement about the quality of his bowling line up. By any prudent cricketing yardstick, Dravid's decision to bat a second time at Trent Bridge must be viewed as a sound, responsible, hard nosed, bloody-minded, professional decision. It is no surprise then that Michael Vaughan agreed with Dravid's decision, as did most other commentators. Even those who disagreed with it, conceded that they saw his point.

Conversely there is the Kabir Khanesque view - even in victory, where motives are questioned at every turn and no allowance or consideration is made for possibility that our best sportsmen are human. There is little doubt that Rahul Dravid is absolutely right in his assessment that the obsession with the Cricket World Cup in unhealthy. Yet, instead of the unhealthiness being the issue, the issue is that he thinks it is unheatlhy. Therefore, comment is directed at him, rather than at his opinion.

Sadly, this is not the work of a lunatic fringe. The framework for sport in India has not been set - not by a long way. The vacuum is filled by a sensationalist press and journalists interested in juicy stories (read - stories which are abusive of individuals). Chak de India has cast a harsh spotlight on this vacuum - possibly unintentionally. Cricket, as the one sport where India compete on equal terms with the best in the world (the argument that there are only 10 test playing countries - 8 good ones and 2 poor ones is a ridiculous one in my view - 10 is about the number of high quality national teams around in any sport in the world), has been the context in which this vacuum gets exposed after every series - even in victory. How is the treatment of Kabir Khan in Chak de India different from comments about "gutlessness", "shame", "betrayal", "selfishness" etc etc etc which so dominates the discussion about cricketers whenever India lose? Nobody cares about the actual contest.

Until a healthy, sporting view of sport is taken, sportsmen will continue to engage in a futile (as Dravid must have found out time and again) dialogue. Sport is first and foremost about sport. It is not about winning and losing (this is a simple fact - it isn't some wistful bit of mush). There can be no discussion about sport which disregards the conventions and nuances about the sport. In the absence of this perspective and this context, it becomes a classic case of damned if you do and damned if you don't - overseas Test series wins are worth nothing outside the cricket community. It is the exposure of this reality that is the finest gift from Bollywood and Cricket in this 60th Year of our Nation.

If only we would see it that way.......

Friday, August 17, 2007

A peculiar dilemma.....

Watch this video..

It illustrates one of the most peculiar dilemma's in the game. The commentators (both former England players - Dominic Cork and Ian Ward) think Shaun Pollock is being petulant. Here's the dilemma though. Consider these instance:

Inzamam Ul Haq obstructing the field
Shaun Pollock bowling to Andrew Strauss

If you think that is simple petulance, have a look at the following

Dean Jones Run Out

Batsmen especially when they play forward tend to follow through and take a few steps down the pitch out of habit. This is construed unambigiously in the laws as amounting to the batsman setting off for a run. In fact, unless the batsman intimates the umpires before he sets out of his crease that he isn't setting out for a run (how often have you watched batsmen signaling to the leg umpire before embarking on a bit of gardening..), it is assumed that he is setting off for a run, unless it is after the umpire has signaled the end of the over.

So, in all the instance where the ball was thrown at the wicket or such a threat was made, the bowler was within his rights to aim at the stumps. Thats why, when you see a batsman backing away hastily if he sees a bowler unleashing a quick shy at the stumps after he's hit it back to him, he is not backing away in fright, but is in fact try to make his ground. As the Jones run out shows, a dismissal in this fashion is not beyond the realms of realistic possibility especially if batsman turns his back on the ball.

These laws are quite fascinating. For example, a batsman is allowed to position himself between ball and the stumps to save himself from being run out, if he lets the ball hit him. But the batsman may not actively try and block the ball. Something which Strauss tried to do, and Inzamam did. Technically, had Pollock appealed when Strauss tried to hit at his throw, in all probability the Umpires would have had no choice but to give Strauss out under Law 37 above, just as Inzamam was.
Whether or not the batsman is out of his ground is not relevant as per the obstructing the field law.

Would it have been outside the spirit of the game? Younis Khan in the first video might also have been out obstructing the field had he tried to hit Pollock's throw away. It would not have been outside the spirit of the game, because the bowler is well within his rights to try and run the batsman out.

It is invariably assumed that bowlers are being "aggressive" when they threaten to aim at the stumps. If you actually think about it, bowlers are legitimately trying to dismiss the batsman, especially if he's on the verge of stepping out of his crease (within that short time span its very difficult for the batsman to reverse his forward momentum). It is batsman who are being petulant by trying to strike at a throw aimed at their stumps. Sometimes the bowlers throw is way off the mark, either by accident or by design. That is a judgement which the fielder umpire must make.

What spectators at the ground seem to believe however, is that the bowler is threatening to "bean" the batsman or even being unnecessarily aggressive. The primal aggressive indicated by the swift pick up and throw by a bowler in his follow through invariably draws boos or cheers depending on whether it is the visitors or the hosts in the field. Even commentators view it that way.

There are occasions why bowlers threaten to bean the batsman. A run out opportunity has not really presented itself every time a throw is threatened.

How then does one distinguish which is which? Is it within the spirit of the game to attempt to throw down the stumps? Is it any more or less within the spirit of the game than a Steve Waugh or Michael Vaughan style handling the ball dismissal (both attempted to push a ball bouncing dangerously close to their stumps away with their gloves - had they hit the ball a second time it might have been legal!)?

How much has the commentary and the spectators reaction fed the public perception of these events? Does it constitute a poor understanding of the Laws of the game? Is it important and useful that the existing Laws be well understood and well applied by expert commentators?

Whether the intention of the bowler is to throw down the stumps or merely an expression of pure frustration remains a matter of conjecture. There will be those who say we can always tell which is which. But think about this.... Would it be possible to an act of pure frustration as being an attempt by the bowler to keep the batsman honest - not get too comfortable wandering about the crease? Or could it be just a human thing? A act of pure aggression designed (thats a poor word but i know) jolt the batsman?

I am always weary of black and white attempts to paint one party as the villain - in this case the bowler. What about the batsman who has an equal stake in events and is in a contest with the bowler just as the bowler is in a contest with the batsman? By doing something vaguely illegal (eg. Strauss) confident that few fielding sides would risk an appeal for obstructing the field given all the "spirit of the game" conventions, are batsmen in fact taking undue advantage of the situation?

Oscar Wilde said about Cricket : "I never play cricket. It requires one to assume such indecent postures."

Maybe he was referring to more than just the batsman's stance......

The last word on Cricket!

Here it is :)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The finest fast bowling talent in India since Kapil Dev.....

This great article about Munaf Patel appears on Cricinfo today. It is written with a lot of care and provides an interesting character study of Munaf Patel. Of him, one of the members of the Indian team said that he comes from a background most of them couldn't even imagine, and for him the journey to the national side has been "tremendous". You look into the Indian cricket team, where every single player's journey has been phenomenal, and then think about what one of them said about Munaf.

The astonishing thing about him is the tremendous ability he has. He was genuinely quick when he played for India A against the touring New Zealanders in 2002 (and took 5 top order wickets - Fleming and Astle twice each and Scott Styris). Three years later, for Board Presidents XI against the touring Englishmen at Rajkot he took 10/91 in the match. His victims there included Strauss (twice), Flintoff (twice), Jones, and tail end wickets. In that game he showed far greater control than he had in New Zealand games three years before. As T A Sekhar at MRF reveals in the article, he was trying to bowl like McGrath because "line and length" was more important!

Heres the phenomenal thing though - he was actually able bowl with McGrath's control. Its one thing to want to change from being a tearaway to a medium fast metronome, its quite another to be able to actually accomplish that with a substantial degree of success. That is an indicator of extraordinary quality in my view.

Reports suggest that he has reverted back to bowling in his original style. Today was the first day of his comeback. He may also sign for Worcestershire for the rest of the season. Even though it wont be much in terms of match play, it will be a good experience of playing every week in different types of cricket.

I have always felt that Munaf Patel is India's finest fast bowling talent since Kapil Dev. He may just prove to be that killer element who turns India's honest pace attack into a genuinely world class one. Then our batsmen, even in decline will find their runs turning into victories regularly.

Here's wishing Munaf all the very best on his comeback. He won't find better mentors in any other team. If only he can keep the injuries away!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Judging individual performances - India in England 2007

In recent years, grading every player participating in a series has been quite fashionable. Cricinfo does it after almost every series, and have done so for both Indian and English players in the recently concluded series for the Pataudi Trophy. These are cricinfo's grades for each indian player:
Zaheer Khan - 9, Dinesh Karthik - 8, Sourav Ganguly - 8,
RP Singh - 7.5, Mahendra Singh Dhoni - 7, Sachin Tendulkar - 7
Wasim Jaffer - 7, Anil Kumble - 7, VVS Laxman - 6
Rahul Dravid - 5.5, Sreesanth - 5
Its hard to argue with grades like these, but that is exactly what i intend to do. What is interesting is not the grade for each individual player, but what the grades say about their relative efforts. Dravid may not have made big runs, but the runs he scored were crucial - that 37 in the first innings at Trent Bridge, when the ball was new and was doing quite a bit was worth an 60-70 score. The half century at the Oval was quite crucial in setting the tone as well. The same is the case with Tendulkar's contributions. Sourav Ganguly and VVS played a crucial role in playing the second new ball. The most difficult periods - the most crucial phases which laid the foundation for the big innings totals which sealed the series were playing the first 30-40 overs of the first new ball. Thats when the opposition is fresh, the game is in the balance and a damaging collapse can be triggered.
What Ganguly and VVS did brilliantly (much like Ian Bell for England) was to drive home the advantage of coming in against the slightly older ball. Thats why even though 1,2,3 and 4 all averaged less than 5 and 6, i would offer that their contributions were at least as crucial, if not more crucial than those of 5 and 6.
Amongst the bowlers, the story was slightly different. Zaheer Khan was the stand out bowler - who after a poor first morning was outstanding. He was difficult to score off and seemed to possess far more variety and far more wicket taking nous than all the other bowlers on show on either side. RP Singh's bowling career has been marked by largely innocious bowling interspersed with bursts of unplayable deliveries. He has a gift of being able to produce deliveries to dismiss the best batsmen as his scalps in this series illustrate. If you look at RP's figures, he took 12 wickets in the series but went for 3.75 runs/over. Compare that with 2.68 for Zaheer. RP's wickets came at 28.91 runs/wicket, Zaheer's came at 20.33. If RP had gone at 2.68 runs/over in the 92.3 overs he bowled in the series, his wickets would have cost him 20.65. Sreesanth in contrast to RP and Zaheer pretended to be everything they were, but in reality was little more than a show pony. He couldn't produce a consistent line and length and his 9 wickets at 37.55, conceding just under 3 runs/over flatter him somewhat. His low economy rate was a function of his being too wide most of the time. It served India well from the point of view of controlling the run rate, but given that he was bowling with the new ball, it also meant that the new ball was being wasted. Depending on Munaf Patel's efforts in the One Day games, we might just see him replacing Sreesanth in the line up for the first Test against Pakistan.

Anil Kumble, in my opinion was not at his best. He could not consistently control the game like he can in India and there were spells when the batsmen - most notably Michael Vaughan at Trent Bridge were on top. Yet, his experience and his ability to demolish the tail were priceless. Rahul Dravid consistently preferred him to the fast men when dealing with the England tail. His century at the Oval sealed the game for India.In essence, Kumble embodied the core theme of this Indian side - experience, even if the actual skill level was in decline. Dinesh Karthik and RP Singh described the other side of the coin. Sreesanth tried to do so as well and failed. Wasim Jaffer was his usual self. Phlegmatic, accomplished, without ever threatening to stamp himself on proceedings. He lacks the presence and exuberance of Dinesh Karthik, but makes up for it with technical ability.

6 of the top 7 scored over 185 runs in the series. The averages of the top 4 were reduced due to failures in the second innings at Trent Bridge and the Oval, which didn't really affect the outcome of the game. Ganguly's innings in the second innings at the Oval was crucial.

Based on all this i offer the following grading for the indian players:

Zaheer Khan 9
Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dhoni, Karthik 8
Laxman, Dravid, Jaffer, Kumble, RP Singh 7.5
Sreesanth 3

I have tried to factor in the mentoring role played by the senior professionals in the absence of a head coach as well. For England, a similar assessment could be made.

The choice of James Anderson as the English player of the series was surprising. If anything, it was the decline in Anderson's bowling after Lord's which let India get away at Trent Bridge and at the Oval. The stand out performer for England was Kevin Pietersen - by far and away the supreme batsman on show in the series, and probably the best batsman in the world right now. As with most great batsmen, it was what he seemed to have in reverse which distinguished him from his colleague. Ryan Sidebottom didn't have too much luck - Mathew Prior dropped 5 catches off him in 3 Test matches. He was steady and bowled a searching line and length. Chris Tremlett was impressive in his debut series. He didn't always seem to know where he was trying to get his wickets, but for a debutant, showed superb skill and control. Monty Panesar was tested and eventually bested. His efforts seemed to be inextricably linked to those of the pacemen. If the pacemen bowl well and keep the batsmen honest, then Panesar is a good enough bowler to maintain such pressure and even exploit such a situation. When the pacemen have been taken for runs and he comes in at say 0/80, then he doesn't yet have the variety or the nous to create pressure unless he is allowed to do so (which he wasn't). Every single English batsmen threatened to make a big score at one time or the other, but Pietersen and Vaughan are in a different class from the rest of the batsmen. The English openers were taken apart expertly by the Indian think tank. Collingwood might have followed in the footsteps of Pietersen and Vaughan in his run making, but he had his problems against Kumble early in his innings and also got a rough call on one occasion. For England, my grading would be

Pietersen, Vaughan 9
Sidebottom, Collingwood, Tremlett 8
Cook, Strauss, Bell, Panesar, Anderson 7
Prior 3

This grading reflects quality as well as performance in my view, and fulfills what in my opinion is the primary role of such grades - to describe the relative contribution of players in a team.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Series Victory!!! - The story of hard earned succes....

On the eve of the new millenium, India were at Melbourne - Brett Lee had just made his Test debut and taken five wickets in his first Test innings. Sachin Tendulkar made 116 and 52, India were never even in the contest. They won the toss and fielded in bowler friendly conditions on a lively MCG wicket, and Anil Kumble dropped a sitter at gully (as much of a sitter as sitters come at gully) off Greg Blewett. That set the tone and the Australians through their now usual mixture of relentless quality, uniformly aggressive running between the wickets and all round stroke play produced 405. India limped along, trying to match Tendulkar and Australia, as those 12 players produced cricket of a different class from the rest of the line up. Sunil Gavaskar in the commentary box, and Sachin Tendulkar out on the field, were Indias best weapons in that series - not enough to compete with a rampant home side. The first Test match of the new millenium was a similar story, except that this time it was VVS Laxman who played an outstanding innings opening the batting which ironically signaled the end of his career as a Test opener.

After that tour, India returned home to face Cronje's South Africans. Azharuddin made a come back and a century at Bangalore, India lost 2-0 at home, and all hell was about the break loose in the Cricket world. Even without match fixing, the Indian Test team was in disarray. Not only were India not able to compete overseas, they had lost in India, on square turners at Mumbai and Bangalore to South Africa - the weakest players of spin amongst the top nations. Rahul Dravid's Test career was in a hole, Sachin Tendulkar resigned from captaincy, Anil Kumble's reputation as a home track bully was pretty much cemented, and VVS Laxman's career was at a crossroads.

It was here, chastened by the match fixing episode, that BCCI decided to change direction. A professional coach came in, along with a trainer and a physiotherapist. BCCI presidents who had traditionally left selection to the selectors, now loosened the purse strings in support of the national team. A generational shift was triggered without a change in personnel. If you look through the list of players who played for India in that terrible home series against South Africa - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Wasim Jaffer went to England in 2007. Of these the first five have formed the core of the Indian line up. It is rare to find five players of such quality appearing in the same generation. Progress has been slow and the increasing success overseas has created a legacy for the next generation which Dravid's generation did not have to live upto. First Ganguly and later Dravid have reveled in a strong team support structure and made it their mission to win Tests abroad. I suspect that most of the senior pros in the Indian side would value a test series win in a major Test playing nation ahead of a World Cup victory.

It started with a test win in Zimbabwe in 2000 - that was India's first Test win outside the subcontinent for 15 years. It was followed promptly by defeat. Then India went to South Africa, lost the first Test despite making 350 on the first day. Port Elizabeth happened and India lost a shortened series 1-0. They batted 87 overs to save the PE Test, but the fast bowling was still not able to force victories. Overseas victories came when the wickets suited spin, or when the batsmen surpassed themselves and the weight of runs combined with the deterioration in the wicket produced enough pressure and enough difficulty for the opposition batsmen to enable India to take 20 wickets. Trinidad 2002 and Headingley 2002 were starts. There was a setback on the eve of the world cup when India lost 2-0 in New Zealand on under-prepared pitches. Apart from Tendulkar and Dravid, both of whom reached 50 once in their 4 innings, none of the Indian batsmen had any sort of impact.

At this point, the One Day side was doing well - because the batting was world class, but the Test team wasn't quite doing as well overseas - because the fast bowling was still poor. India were hard to beat anywhere, but they rarely threatened to win. India went to Australia and Pakistan after the World Cup, and stunning batting performances accompanied by an ascendant Kumble and the odd good spell from the pacemen meant that India won at Adelaide, retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia, and won in Pakistan. This was the zenith of the Ganguly-Wright era.

A home reverse against Australia in 2004-05 (final frontier and all that), caused mainly by injuries to Tendulkar and Australia at the peak of their powers marked the beginning of the end of the Ganguly era. With it, it was expected that much of the brilliance of the Indian side would also go away. The new generation didn't quite seem to be there yet. Zaheer Khan had failed to establish himself as a Test fast bowler of any note, Ajit Agarkar flattered to deceive, Ashish Nehra was beset by injury, Srinath and Prasad had retired without an overseas series win to their name.

Wright went, and Chappell arrived. The next two years were tumultuous. Chappell sought to create his revolution and failed despite significant early successes. Dravid and Chappell produced India's most successful ODI season ever (2005-06) with a young team - lean, fleet footed and talented. England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were demolished with ease and the mighty South Africans were held level. The Chappell juggernaut came to a grinding halt in the West Indies, never again to recover the brilliance of 2005-06. In the Test matches though, it was a different story. India won in the West Indies, much like in 1971 against a weak West Indies side. That team had Sobers, this one had Lara. They might have won 3-0 in 2006, but for rain and in the end it took Dravid's brilliance on a treacherous pitch at Sabina Park where India finally conquered their demons and won a series outside the subcontinent. Still, the opposition was modest and India were the better side. The numbers said so. This was not the case on the next Test tour - to South Africa. Subcontinental teams have traditionally struggled there. Chappell by then had become a controversy magnet. In his obsession (im certain he meant well) with changing the face of India's national side, he had made enemies and was beginning to lose the players trust. The work he had put in with the pacemen bore fruit though. Sreesanth bowled India to a unexpected victory in the first Test at Johannesburg. Thereafter, in what was possibly India's worst overseas batting showing in this decade, the lead was squandered and the series lost.

The 2007 World Cup marked the lowest point for the team in this decade. Chappell quit his job and BCCI was left looking for a new coach urgently. Not surprisingly, they didn't come through. In hindsight though, with the core of the side being what it is, the coach may not have been missed. The BCCI did well to appoint bowling and fielding coaches, an acknowledgement of the two weak areas of the side.

Wadekar's results in 1971 in England and the West Indies were one off's. They were important landmarks, but represented little significant improvement in the quality of the side. The spin quartet, though it was brilliant had limited effect against top class opposition in conditions which did not suit spin bowling. It was not until 1981 that India came back with honors even from a tour to a major Test playing nation. That was the high point of Gavaskar's generation. Kapil's team of 1986 took their inspiration from the great all rounder and demolished a weak and dispirited England side. This was a time when England had just returned from a 5-0 thrashing in the West Indies. It was no surprise that India won nothing overseas after that result, for Kapil was in decline in the late 80's and there was no bowler of note on the horizon - paceman or spinner.

What distinguishes this series result, against a very good and highly rated team from those 3 earlier results (and indeed the first one in New Zealand in 1967-68), is that this one is not entirely unexpected. Indeed, India have won atleast one Test match on their last tours to Australia, South Africa, West Indies, England and Sri Lanka. They shared series in Australia and have now won in West Indies and England.

Why are India winning overseas? The reasons are easily evident. The batting has remained world class and now has an assuredness and confidence to make runs on par with those of the home side (Australia later this year will now be a superb test). The recent candidates for the openers slot have made a better fist of their opportunities - compare Wasim Jaffer, Dinesh Karthik, Virendra Sehwag with Devang Gandhi, Sadagopan Ramesh (like Kambli an unfulfilled talent), Shiv Sunder Das and Akash Chopra. The current openers can make runs. Thankfully the selectors have stopped selecting openers expecting them to merely hold an end up and being satisfied when they've done that. But most importantly, even though India have not yet unearthed a Wasim Akram or a Malcolm Marshall, they have steadily built up depth in the fast bowling department. In the 1990's, it was Srinath and Prasad and a plethora of third seamers who weren't even as good as Srinath and Prasad. Then for a while it was Zaheer and Nehra and a bunch of nearly men - Agarkar, Balaji, Yohannan, who bowled with varying pace and success. Now, there is Sreesanth, a rejuvenated Zaheer, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan (he has too much talent to be ignored), Munaf Patel - 5 bowlers who have proven at one time or another that they are good enough.

Sides start winning when their bowling line ups mature. The West Indies in that 1971 series against India had Sobers, Kanhai, Fredericks, Charlie Davis and a host of other fine batsmen. In the late 1960's you could have added Seymour Nurse, Conrad Hunte (in his prime superior to both Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes according to some) to that list. Yet, the West Indies won little of note between the time when Hall and Griffith were in full cry (the 1966 tour to England was their last great effort, even there they were in decline) and the famous pace battery emerged. Australia struggled when Lillee and Thommo retired, until they found a decent attack - in their case it was a steady stream of good bowlers - Alderman, Reid, McDermott and finally McGrath. They became a truly great side when McGrath, Gillespie and Warne were in their prime. Pakistan with their awesome batting talent of the early 1970's won little until Imran Khan came along and have won little without Shoaib Akthar recently.

India win in India because Harbhajan and Kumble have been master bowlers in India. Their records in India rival those of all the greats mentioned in the previous paragraph. The current batsmen have carried the water for India for the last 10 years, and it is ironic that it is only now - when they are past their best years, that India seem to have attained a critical mass of fast bowling depth for winning Test matches. Kumble has been a great counterpoint to the fast bowlers overseas. A truly great bowler - he is able to control proceedings and keep most batsmen honest even in completely batsman-friendly conditions. Compare Panesar's efforts at the Oval with Kumble's. Panesar made no impression and was unable to control the runs against the specialist batsmen, while Kumble did just that on the fourth morning, dismissing Vaughan and Cook in the process. When he retires, India will not only feel the void at home, but also abroad.

Tendulkar and Kumble especially must have enjoyed this result, after 18 hard years in national colors. Dravid has led magnificiently. This is now Dravid's team. It is no longer Ganguly's team turned over to him. It has become his team. It was a matter of time given the man's greatness as a player. Ganguly himself has returned with grace, bringing his class and more importantly his magnificient, competitive temperament to the middle order. VVS has been reliable as usual. And Tendulkar, even though his play betrays decline, has shown that the fire within burns as brightly as ever. There are very few tougher competitors than Tendulkar (a few in the Indian side compare favorably with him though). If you watch Tendulkar play today, you may be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about, but you will be left with little doubt as to the reasons behind his matchless record.

This team also has the makings of the next generation. A few of those players have gone missing in action recently. But if they can't be inspired to get their act together after this series result (coming as it does after the horrific reaction to the world cup), then they should quit trying to be Test players. Irfan Pathan, Mohammad Kaif, Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag owe it to themselves and Tendulkar's generation to live up to those standards.

All in all, it has been a great series result. A landmark in the history of India's cricket (i try not to use the phrase "Indian Cricket" because i fear it has become as hackneyed and irritating as the phrase "the American people".). Unlike previous landmarks though, this one was not a matter of if, but when thanks to the quality of the senior core of the current Indian side - Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble, Ganguly and VVS. Melbourne 2000, is but a distant memory.

So far, this tour has been a total success - beat South Africa 2-1, beat England 1-0. Its over to the ODI series......

Monday, August 13, 2007

Typical Dravid....

Rahul Dravid has acquired a welcome reputation (in my view anyways) of being quite forthright with the press. He pays his dues and says the usual politically correct stuff most of the time. But whenever India have done very well or very poorly, he seems to tire of the criticism and the commentary and uses his position as India Captain to put some things right.

His reaction to criticism and comment about the follow on, mainly from the general public (as Atherton said), was wonderfully balanced. Most experienced judges, and most tellingly the opposing captain agreed with Dravid's decision to not enforce the follow on. It was a responsible call - the sort that distinguishes the grass roots leader from the idealistic ideologue. Andrew Miller of Cricinfo made the point in Cricinfo's ball by ball commentary when England were about 320/5 late on the 5th day that "this is where England might have been - just past India's score with 5 wickets gone had India enforced the follow on yesterday". He missed the point by ignoring the series situation. Even if England could have made 120 runs for their last 5 wickets (and even with a rested Indian attack bowling on a 5th day pitch, they were going quite well inspite of the fact that Prior was under pressure), it might have been tricky in the 4th innings.

If England had been rolled over in their first innings in less than 65-70 overs, India might well have enforced the follow on. That is the essence of the follow on. First and foremost it is about saying "we are so far ahead, that we should really let you bat again, and then chase down whatever you leave us". Being "so far ahead" is a tricky judgement to make. Having batted for 170 overs and then having fielded for 103 is completely different from batting for 130 overs and then fielding for 60. The latter situation might invite the follow on more often than the former, simply for endurance reasons. Dravid's reference to "knowing his dressing room" and "knowing his bowlers" was significant. At Multan in 2004, in far more oppressive conditions, he had successfully enforced the follow on despite being a bowler short.

There are many things which a captain must take into account. His judgement about his bowlers, the quality of the wicket, the quality of the opposition batting among other things go into such a decision.

I just wonder what Rahul Dravid would say to those armchair critics who were hoping that he wouldn't enforce the follow on :)

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Oval Test - Day 3... The dominance continues....

Since India played England in England in 1996, the two teams have met in 3 series. The ongoing one is the fourth since that tour where India had Navjot Sidhu abandoning the team and returning home, the end of Sanjay Manjrekar's fledgling career as a Test opener and the emergence of two of the finest batsmen in the world - Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. In 2001-02, Nasser Hussein returned to the country of his birth as England captain with a team which in his own mind was inferior to the home side. The notion from ball one was that a battle of attrition had to be fought and a 10 wicket defeat at Mohali sealed by the Indian openers Iqbal Siddiqui and Deep Dasgupta (a Gangulean moment of madness must have prompted that) merely seemed to confirm this. The series ended 1-0 for India, and while England were doing well before the rain came at Bangalore, there was never any real threat of England bowling India out twice. India then went to England in 2002, and promptly lost the first Test at Lord's, despite Ajit Agarkar's hundred (the problem as usual was that the bowlers kept conceding above par totals). That series was squared by the sheer quality of India's batting line up - one of the rare instances in Test history when a Test match had been won not by quality bowling, but by the sheer weight of runs.

In 2006, England came in a different frame of mind. They were Ashes holders, and even with Flintoff at the helm and a flurry of injuries, they were positive and competitive. Monty Panesar made his Test debut and dismissed the great Tendulkar as his first Test scalp. That series was squared 1-1 after England, inspired by Johnny Cash proceeded to bowl India out on a 5th afternoon minefield at Mumbai. In this current series, the Indian bowlers had their usual yahoo's at Lord's, but the rain and the lower order saved India. The bowlers finally got their act together at Trent Bridge, and the sheer superiority of the Indian batting was revealed. This was confirmed here at the Oval. Records tumbled and as a proud English unbeaten home record will fall, unless India have inexplicably poor days tomorrow and day after and England have two of their greatest days ever.

The Indian dominance in this series (had the bowlers had their act together on the first day, India might well have won at Lord's, even with the number of runs they eventually scored in that Test match - 483) may well be attributed to the fact that the English attack has been second string. Anderson has been unable to reproduce his Lord's discipline at the Oval or at Trent Bridge. Sidebottom, while he has been steady and has kept the batsmen honest has not looked like he might run through the line up (luck has not been on his side either - umpiring wise as well as from his own side, Matt Prior has dropped 5 catches off his bowling). Tremlett has been impressive without always looking like he knew where his next wicket was coming from. Panesar has not found the conditions or the opposition to his liking. But what has been more striking - is that the Indian batsmen have made fewer mistakes and have had many more reprieves than the English batsmen. Dinesh Karthik has dropped 2 catches in the series - two relatively easy ones, but otherwise India have not missed too many catchable offers.

Whenever the bowlers have created a match winning chance, the batsmen have delivered. There has been much comment about the Indian batsmen belying their usual methods and "playing as a team". Indeed, there has been talk in the English press and commentators (and even from the English Coach Peter Moores) that the English batsmen needed to go ahead and be "selfish" during this innings. The suggestion here is ridiculous - that the English batsmen aren't selfish on other occasions. What does "being selfish" amount to? It amounts to wanting to make big scores. Not "baby hundreds" - 100, 110, 120; but big scores - "think 180 or 230). This commentary, dripping as it is with condescension, is also wrong headed, for i would be extremely surprised if any Test player doesn't go in to bat thinking that he's going to be happy with a quick 70-80. If this is so with England's batsmen, then may be they ought to rethink their ways, or change coaches or something.

The simple fact of the matter is, that England's batsmen have shown themselves to be inferior to India's so far. The fact that England's bowlers don't seem to find as much swing as India's bowlers is because England's bowlers have tended to concentrate on elaborate plans hatched in the back room for each of India's "galacticos" (a terms coined by England, in England, for India's batsmen.... ). And so, Sachin Tendulkar is tested with the short ball with an elementary leg trap, while for Rahul Dravid the strategy is to kill the runs to mid wicket. For VVS and Ganguly as well, there are variants of this theme. Tendulkar was dismissed off the middle of the bat in the second innings at Trent Bridge when he turned a ball off his rib cage towards fine leg only to find leg gully in the way. But if England think that this reveals a weakness, then they are mistaken. With 10 runs required for victory, Tendulkar is far more likely to take that chance and play that ball, than he is early in a first innings of a Test. As was revealed at the Oval, he successfully ignored much of the short stuff, and must have been quite happy to look concerned with the short stuff, knowing all the while that he wouldn't have to defend his off stump off a goodish length, with the ball still doing just enough in the air and off the wicket.

England have been as much a victim of their own theories (which in some cases appear after the event) as they have been of the fact that India have outclassed them, with both bat and ball. India have possibly had the better of the conditions, but every time when the conditions have gotten tough they have found the skill, the quality and the resolve to come through and stay afloat. Mahendra Dhoni road his luck and batting with characteristic aplomb in the second innings at Lord's. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly played out a tricky period at the Oval after Karthik and Dravid fell in quick succession. There has been a single mindedness and a clarity of thought in India's play which has been refreshing. England on the other hand have been in less control. If you look through the dismissals of the specialist batsmen - there haven't been too many unforced errors by India's batsmen. England's batsmen on the other hand have fallen to unforced errors more often than not - Strauss, Pietersen and Bell all fell to unforced errors in the England first innings at the Oval. While Cook has fallen to the same technical weakness on all 5 occasions.

Ian Howell has had a poor game, which might limit his tenure on the Test Match panel. But India have played the better cricket in this series - and decisively so. England's woes are a down to the quality of their play with the bat and the thinking behind their strategy with the ball. Rahul Dravid has led magnificiently and the batting has been solid as ever. A 2-0 series result should be a formality. It would also be a fair reflection of the efforts of the two sides.