Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Ticket Collector comes calling

This made me smile. (Hat tip: sfx)

Ajmal Amir Kasab, the sole surviving gunman from 26/11 has just been charged for not having a Platform Ticket when he entered CST railway terminus that evening to wreak havoc. That chargesheet will probably include charges which may end in the death penalty, but, the man didn't have a ticket.

Mid-day has more details about the charges - Murder, Arms Act, Explosives Act, Passport Act, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, car theft and various provisions of the Railways Act.

Back in the days when i used the railways everyday (1996-2005) the punishment for not having a platform ticket ranged from Rs. 90 to Rs. 150. 

I believe they have made the fines stiffer now. Im also thinking that this is one charge he did not expect.

Insane Referrals continue - West Indies v England

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The ICC has been trying out their clumsily designed referral system for about 9 months now, over a number of series. Such is the institutional inertia of the ICC, that even though this is supposed to be an experimental system, it has not been modified based on their experience in the India v Sri Lanka series. It would be so interesting to be a fly on the wall during these ICC committee meetings to hear how the argument actually progresses.

In a post about this referral system before the start of that series, my issue with this proposed system was that it involved the players unnecessarily, it introduced no new technology (such as custom designed camera systems for the umpires) and as such seemed like an unnecessarily convoluted way of involving the third umpire as a corrective force. The first two Tests of that India v Sri Lanka series saw 25 referrals take place and i found then that apart from LBW's the technology used was not useful in delivering any compelling evidence (with respect to low catches for example) which would clarify things. The application of the LBW's in general was quite good and the general principle where the TV Umpire would essentially adjudicate on the LBW himself, decide whether or not to give it out based on the replays (without the prediction by Hawkeye about where the ball was going), and then, if there was a compelling case for changing the on-field umpires decision, this would be recommended.

Todays events at the Kennington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados where four West Indies batsmen were given out based on the referral system (apparently clearly dubious use of it in two cases - Chanderpaul and Nash). The West Indies are rightly livid and a day that should have been remembered for Ramnaresh Sarwan's magnificient century (his third in this series) will instead be remembered as the day where the West Indies were robbed.

There were several other problems with the referral system. I alluded to some in that post during the India v Sri Lanka series last year. The most telling problem though, is that if you leave out situations where there have been blatant inside edges (for LBWs) or absolutely clear misses (in the case of catches), none of the parties involved act based on decisively better information than the on-field umpire. The Umpire is in the best position on the field to judge things (thats why he stands where he does). But the batsman doesn't necessarily know exactly where his leg stump is or where his off stump is. Remember, the very fact that he got hit on the pads suggests that he was beaten! The fielding captain or any of the fielders don't have a view down the line of the stumps, and so their decision is largely instinctive too.

In a fit of inspired bureaucratic re-drafting, the ICC decided early in February 2009 to reduce the number of appeals available to each side per innings to 2 in a bid to prevent "frivolous challenges" by the players! The ICC has also said that the feedback from the referral system has been "generally positive". I think that means that it has been slammed by nearly everybody who said anything about it.

They say a camel is a horse designed by committee, but that idiom will have to be set aside from now on. The Referral System is an appeals system designed by the ICC. On the heels of their spectacularly complicated system of Match Referees and a Code of Conduct which governs everything from cheating to sneezing on the cricket field, this is just another example of the capacity of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations to design a disastrously clumsy apparatus for righting an innocent wrong. Consider the following:

1. The players (batsman or fielding captain) may request a referral, but are not allowed to take a second look at what happened before they do so. So they do not appeal based on information, but do so based largely on instinct. How can a captain at mid-on be sure that an LBW shout was a good one? The people with the best view of the situation (apart from the umpire at the bowler's end) are the bowler - in his follow through, and the wicketkeeper who never really sees the ball hit the pads.

2. The third umpire can get involved in a problematic decision only if it is referred. So if a decision is blatantly wrong, but if the fielding captain doesn't refer it, too bad.

3. The decision can be changed only if there is "compelling evidence" to change it. This is a good idea. But the problem is that the means of identifying that evidence is still hopelessly bad technology (hawkeye is accurate to +- 5mm - the stumps are 34.9mm - 38.1mm in diameter, while TV cameras can't accurately represent low catches because its a 3D situation being projected on a 2D image). So the system is likely to be useless other than in situations where it is blatantly obvious that an error has been made.

So the referral system is good for little other than blatantly obvious decisions. Thats why its getting bad reviews. This also points to another problem, which people who watch cricket and complain about the fact that "technology" is not used often don't get. The technology is very poor today. The technology for studying on-field events with a view towards making an accurate decision according to the laws, is not even good enough for a beta test, let alone serious full time usage.

The other salient feature of the referral system is that its main priority seems to be to protect the umpires, instead of getting the decision right. In this effort, even the sanctity of the distance between umpires and players (whereby players are in no way involved in the umpires decision) has been compromised. The third umpire, even though he is the only person who gets a second look at everything, cannot take any initiative. After all, the egos and the status of the on-field umpire is sacred. The on-field umpire will never refer a decision he has made for a second look. The third umpire won't take the initiative and tell his on-field colleague that he is wrong, so the only option is for the on-field umpire to be forced to do so by the players!

Besides, its still a judgement call even for the third umpire.

The system should be set aside.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Vettori in T20

This analysis by Siddharth Monga falls into the very trap that i described in my previous post. Vettori is a fine bowler who has all the basic qualities that a classical spin bowler needs - a steely mind, the ability to turn the SLA, the ability to bowl a good arm ball, the ability to wheel away over after over, tremendous control of line and length. In ODI cricket where batsmen have some incentive to protect their wicket, he's quite miserly. As Captain he has 35 wickets at 30.79 in 34 games (econ. 3.79) against the other 7 top teams in the world (Monga's numbers are inflated by minnow matches - he has played 10 games as captain against the minnows taking 17 wickets very cheaply). Before he was captain, his record against these top 7 teams was 148 wickets at 37.2 in 166 games (econ. 4.30). As for the impact of the captaincy on his bowling performance - his bowling record before he became captain shows steady improvement through this decade. Infact, if you leave out his early years in the late nineties, Vettori has always been a miserly performer in ODI cricket. But this paragraph in Monga's article is typical of the application of Test and ODI views of bowling to T20 (where in my opinion they don't apply at all):
The kind of start India had in the first match of the series would have scared any bowler. But Vettori came on in the sixth over. His first over went for two runs and yielded Yuvraj Singh's wicket. Today, with India making a more sedate start, he held himself back and, when he did come on in the eighth over, he applied the brakes, negating the momentum in the middle overs. Yuvraj did hit him for two back-to-back sixes, but his response was typical: one run and a wicket in the next over. The sixes excepted, he gave away nine runs in 22 balls.
What does that even mean? It tells us nothing about the bowling itself, but uses a completely meaningless description of the effects of Vettori's bowling to try and drive home some obscure point - one which is borrowed from ODI cricket. In constructing his hero-myth, Monga gets his most important fact completely wrong. Vettori did not come on to bowl in the sixth over of the first game as he says, he came on in the 7th over. In the second game he came on in the 8th over. This is a huge difference, because the 6th over falls within the powerplay period, while the 7th and 8th don't. It also suggests that there was no real change in Vettori's bowling strategy in the two games - the choice of the 7th or 8th over was probably dictated by a choice of ends. Towards the end of the article, Monga does pay some lip service to what Vettori actually does:
Vettori enjoys the challenge. Though he lacks Gul's armoury, he is a thinking bowler. He exploits the crease and bowls the orthodox delivery at different paces, as opposed to using the arm ball as the only change of pace. All this while, his approach to the wicket and his arm speed don't give much away. And he's especially effective when he bowls really slowly, which takes big heart.
None of these things are exceptional for an international spin bowler. For a spinner being able to use the crease and vary the flight is a bit a batsman being able to play the late cut as well as the square cut. None of it explains why Vettori does so well. None of it explain why he gets hit for two sixes by a batsman who is otherwise unable to score freely off him.

One of the things about T20 cricket, given the way the fields are set and given how bowlers choose to bowl, is that batsmen basically try to score of each and every delivery, especially once the 6 over restriction is over. Out of the 24 deliveries that Daniel Vettori bowled at the Indian batsmen, 11 were not scored off. Of the 24 that Harbhajan Singh bowled, 12 were not scored off. By contrast, of the 12 that Yuvraj Singh bowled, only 3 were not scored off.

Vettori bowls so well not because he's hard to hit for six or four, but because he almost never gives the batsman the chance to score off the backfoot against him, and the batsmen are unable to push him for singles.

So here's one thing worth looking for in a T20 game. In the period from over 7 to over 20, the side which bowls more dot balls wins. I havent seen the numbers on this - but this is similar to the way a lot of ODI games are decided. Bobby Simpson's 1987 Australian ODI side lived by this dictum.

Daniel Vettori is a good example of a bowler who makes very few mistakes. It is the one thing that is in the bowler's favor given that he has only 24 deliveries to bowl - he concedes no wides or no balls, he gives the batsman nothing at all to hit off the backfoot - i can't remember Daniel Vettori being pulled or cut for a boundary in a long time. He bowls a full length and consistently attacks the stumps. Like any good spin bowler, he's not easy to push for a single down the ground - this is moot, because batsmen aren't likely to settle for that sort of thing in any case.

So Daniel Vettori wins not with brains but with discipline. It is the only thing a bowler can count on in T20, other than black magic.

Analysing T20

It has been amusing to see all the conventional wisdom applied to India's performance in the two T20 games in New Zealand. All the cliches about batsmen and bowlers have been applied to a contest which nobody understands. The Indian batsmen have been accused of throwing their wickets away, the bowlers have be accused of losing the plot. Batsmen played too many shots and the bowlers bowled the wrong length. But what is the right length? What is the wrong length? What could be the right length if the batsman pre-meditates nearly each and every boundary stroke? How can a batsman play too many shots when playing properly and scoring 100-120 runs in the 20 overs is not an option?

Twenty20 is easy to talk about in these end-justifies-the-means ways. If an attempted slog is miscued into mid-offs hands, its bad shot selection. If it goes six feet to either side of mid-off and reaches the boundary, its a very well-crafted stroke. The point is that in any event the batsmen have no choice. By pre-meditating, the conventional notion of line and length doesn't hold either. Of course, tactics probably still matter, but nobody really seems to know what these tactics actually are for a contest of this length.

The one telling statistic in T20 cricket so far is that for games featuring only the top 8 Test playing nations (i choose these because there isn't likely to be excessive difference in class between any two teams out of these eight in the same way that there might be between one of these eight teams and any minnow side), the home side has won 23 out of 35 games (66%). This distinct home advantage makes some cricketing sense as it is probably fair to assume that known conditions and home advantage in general probably helps the odds of a player pulling something off and therefore winning.

How should T20 games be understood then? The contest between bat and ball must necessarily be completely random, or at best a guessing game between batsman and bowler. As the game becomes more mature, it will become a more sophisticated, somewhat more educated guessing game. A good line and length, as is conventionally understood will be meaningless as will the classical batting technique.  The ideal T20 all rounder is not necessarily a players who can bat well and bowl well in the traditional sense. The ideal T20 bowler is one who can bowl a full yorker length consistently hit the long ball - a non-suicidal Shahid Afridi.

After two T20 games in New Zealand, the concern for India is the injury to Ishant Sharma. It would be unspeakably sad if this talented young bowler were to miss out on the serious cricket to be played in the rest of this tour because of an injury sustained in a thankless gamble of a contest.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A R Rahman for Slumdog Millionaire

Update: Rehman's "Thank You" speech after he got off stage
And so it has finally happened. I wonder what Rahman thinks about it. If you ask me, his best work was in this film:

Another one of my favorites:

Gavaskar, Lillee and the Code of Conduct - II

I was going to post this as a comment in response to Jonathan's many interesting comments on my original post.

That post was written from a Gavaskarian perspective. The point was to say that there are cultural biases inherent in the norms of behavior expected in international cricket and that these biases, such as they exist are largely anglo-saxon biases. The ICC Code of Conduct systematizes these biases because its implementation must be arbitrary.

For example - i think that an old white umpire would feel more uncomfortable with a vehement and vociferous Indian fielding side appealing for everything on the 5th day of a Test Match than he would feel if it were Graeme Swann and England appealing in a similar situation. Therefore, he would be more likely to report Harbhajan and the Indians for over-appealing than he would Swann and his English colleagues.

Now, I don't blame the umpire for feeling more uncomfortable in one situation than the other. No serious observer would call it racist on the part of the umpire. These are cultural differences at play.

The problem arises when you have a Code of Conduct with a referee who watches everything from an air-conditioned box who sits and adjudicates these cultural differences. The problem arises when the umpire is put in the impossible position of being asked to be "fair" in his reporting of these situations, while he is a part of them.

The Gavaskarian approach to dealing with these things would be to tackle them head on like he did (although he would probably not want to do so in the exact same manner on the field of play again) - they exposed the issue at hand starkly and brightly. There was no code of conduct then. So what we are left with is broad array of facts from which no apparent resolution came, but which illuminated several important issues in the game.

The same incident today would leave us with a suspended ban or two, and a 70-80% fine, and an implicit claim that the matter was over (until the next such issue which would be similarly adjudicated by punishing someone or by not reporting it at all).

I think its more useful to put players and umpires front and center, instead of Referees armed with rules.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Gavaskar, Lillee and the Code of Conduct

This incident during the Melbourne Test of 1981 was possibly one of the most important incidents in modern cricketing era. This is a bold claim, some may say it is an outrageous one. My aim in this post is to place this incident and the narrative that has developed in relation to the currently prevalent ICC Code of Conduct and its mechanisms. This is video an especially appropriate account of the episode for my purpose.

Martin Williamson's account of this incident at Cricinfo is a fairly typical one. The title, not surprisingly, is borrowed from a quote by Dennis Lillee. India had issues with Rex Whitehead, an inexperienced umpire who stood in all three Tests and gave a number of bad decisions, most (if not all) of them against India. After the series Wing Commander Durrani the Indian Manager documented seven decisions by Whitehead alone which had gone against India. In the case of this specific decision, Sunil Gavaskar was absolutely sure that he had hit it, but the Umpire wasn't and he gave him out any way. If Gavaskar didn't get a touch on it, he was definitely out.

Dennis Lillee's on-field antics were as comical and sad as his subsequent suggestion that Gavaskar was furious only because he was desperate to make runs against Lillee. But, the standards are different for Lillee and Gavaskar - there were and probably still aren't any expectations at all from Dennis Lillee (or most of his current counterparts) - when it comes to fairness or sportsmanship, where as Sunil Gavaskar as the Indian Captain and as an opening batsman, bore the burden of being fair and being seen to be fair. Yet, in this incident it was Gavaskar who came out worse, even though he was almost certainly right about the inside-edge, was almost certainly abused by Lillee (who would consider such a thing impossible by definition), definitely lost his cool and acquired a reputation as a poor loser, which Ricky Ponting of all people used against him.

The decent account of this event is that both Gavaskar and Lillee were great players but got into a bad situation. This is also an account which completely butchers the situation. If you watched the video, note the commentary on it. Note Bill Lawry's words, in particular the comment at 0:20 - "the man who has walked so often in this series, very annoyed with that decision". This observation allied with Lawry's other comments is very strong evidence to suggest that Dennis Lillee is talking out of his hat when he claims that Gavaskar definitely didn't hit it. Also notice how Greg Chappell at slip waves Dennis Lillee away from Gavaskar after Lillee histrionically pointing at Gavaskar's pads to show exactly where the ball hit Gavaskar.

In the larger context, Gavaskar should not have lost his temper. That the umpiring had been poor (to India's detriment for the most part) has not been disputed (except possibly by Dennis Lillee). And yet, it was very important for Gavaskar to have acted in the way that he did, because in that solitary act he exploded the myth of Australian sportsmanship - the competence of their Umpires and the sincerity of their players. The voice over at the end wonders whether the incident was embarassing to Gavaskar or whether it was "an early sign of the belligerence that was to surface in Indian team". The question that was not raised pertained to what this incident did to Australian cricket and to Dennis Lillee in particular. One view is that Lillee was a fast bowler and as such it was to be expected that he would be a sneaky, belligerent, foul-mouthed cricketer, and so it did not affect him at all. But it could not have left the Australians unaffected because it exposed them in the unenviable position of being unapologetic and graceless recipients of systematic umpiring largesse.

This brings me to the ICC's Code of Conduct. This document, which each Test Playing nation has accepted has the ambitious aim of prescribing appropriate behaviour on the cricket field. This behaviour is to be enforced by the Umpires and the Match Referee. What might have happened to Gavaskar and Lillee had the Code of Conduct been in place in 1981? Both Gavaskar and Lillee might have been hauled up. Would it have been a "fair" proceeding? That is far from clear. For the Code of Conduct, as was so starkly apparent in the ICC's early implementation of it was essentially a device to enforce one set of values on all international teams. These set of values, even though they payed lip service to cultural issues were essentially existing English and Australian intepretations of what constituted proper behaviour. It systematized the Anglo-Saxon way of doing things. Why else would it say absolutely nothing about batsmen who don't walk? This is an easily demonstrable form of cheating, but the Australian argument - that the umpire has a job to do and hence it is not the batsman's job to walk, carried the day, even though it is so obviously dubious and lies in direct contradiction with the "Spirit of the Game". Why else would over-appealing be described as the act of running at an umpire and not more broadly in terms of the vehemence of the appeal? Why would questions about cheating be decided consistently in favor of anglo-saxon players and against other players. There is demonstrable evidence to support such an assertion. Take on the one hand the cases of Ponting's catching agreement and his subsequent claims for catches in the Sydney Test, Justin Langer's "hit-wicket" appeal, Michael Vaughan's assertion that India's handling the ball appeal was somehow in bad taste - a comment made during a game which brought him no censure from the referee, Brad Haddin's recent "bowled" incident and take on the other hand the case of Ridley Jacobs' stumping appeal, Rashid Latif's "catch", Harbhajan's Monkeygate, Rahul Dravid's candy incident or even Sachin Tendulkar's cleaning the ball incident at PE in 2001 with Mike Denness - in all cases, the white player got the benefit of the doubt and was cleared after being called by the match referee, or was not referred to the match referee at all, while the India or West Indian or Pakistani player was found guilty, even though if you went strictly by the letter and spirit of the law, there are no good reasons why any of the incidences with English or Australian players were materially any different from the other situations.

Why is this so? Part of it i think has to do with the way the code of conduct is framed - it seems to privilege the anglo-saxon world view when it comes to describing good behaviour. But there are stronger, operational reasons. The two tables below show the distribution of Match Referees and Umpires for Test Matches in the 1990's and 2000's.

Match Referees
Country Overall 1990's 2000's
Australia 80 46 34
England 113 54 59
India 45 13 32
New Zealand 101 51 50
Pakistan 44 19 25
South Africa 85 31 54
Sri Lanka 138 25 113
West Indies 121 61 60
Zimbabwe 5 4 1

Country Overall 1990's 2000's
Australia 296 105 191
England 248 141 107
India 121 66 55
New Zealand 157 82 75
Pakistan 152 55 97
South Africa 197 72 125
Sri Lanka 110 55 55
West Indies 194 85 109
Zimbabwe 79 40 39

In the 1990's 61% of Test Matches had Referees from either England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or Zimbabwe. In the 2000's this number has dropped to 46%. This is probably a direct result of the Mike Denness incident and the ICC's subsequent admission (by ICC President Malcolm Gray, no less) that their referees had probably been inconsistent until that time. 62% of Tests in the past two decades have been umpired by Umpires from these countries. This in itself is not a bad thing. The ICC elite panel has produced some superb umpires from all countries and the really good ones have had long tenures.

But the important thing is, that at the start of this decade, the ICC also reduced the Match Referee's powers by taking away his ability in almost all circumstances to bring a charge against a player. The thinking was that the Referee could not be both prosecutor and judge. This shifted the responsibility of bringing the charge onto the umpires - a group still dominated by anglo-saxon umpires. So when it comes to reporting incidents, the same cultural biases which are inherent in the code of conduct get reinforced, even though the referees have become more diverse. There is also the other issue of some umpires being less likely to report issues than others.

The importance of Gavaskar is that he challenged this comfortable anglo-saxon cultural mileu. Today we have a situation where the ICC Match Referees probably cannot be said to be biased, but the process is still deeply inconsistent - an inconsistency which in my view arises for cultural reasons, both in the framing of the Code of Conduct as well as in the reporting of possible breaches. This is why it is important for someone to keep playing the Gavaskarian role in international cricket. The ICC has to be kept on its toes and be forced to constantly re-examine its practices.

The other side of this story is also evident in the Gavaskar episode. It comes through in Bill Lawry's commentary - the empathy evident in Lawry's description of the situation, in his plea to Gavaskar "think again Sunil!". It was borne out of respect for Gavaskar's skill and for his position as the visiting captain. But it was also borne out of an innate sense of sportsmanship - it is clear from Lawry's commentary that he sympathised with Gavaskar's view that the umpiring had been poor. This ability to empathize is the great gift of intense, high quality international sport. It is not for nothing that the skeptics (Ian Chappell among them) want the referee system scrapped. That additional layer of institutional control has merely systematized the enforcement of a code which has always prevailed in cricket - a code which has somehow been perverted in the process.

If the Code of Conduct is to exist, it requires Gavaskars from time to time to knock it off its comfortable perch. In its current avatar, it is smothering the simplicity of the sport and doing so with the tacit cooperation of every single cricketing nation in the world.

Given the perpetual discord which the Code of Conduct seems to sow, I wonder whether the occasional cricketer having a fit of temper isn't the lesser evil.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A superb report about a wonderful Test Match

Tony Cozier on the Antigua Test. Cozier is a professional journalist who has covered cricket in print and on radio and television for over 40 years  now. His first Test Match as a radio commentator was in 1965.

Cozier is the author of the definitive history of the first 50 years of West Indies Cricket and has a unique perspective on West Indies cricket today - for he has seen the West Indies played before the Clive Lloyd era, when Gary Sobers was in his absolute prime.

For his sake, i hope this West Indian revival is not another false dawn.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The new India ODI Uniform

The ICC regulations on Commercial Logos on ODI Uniforms says the following:

Clause F(1(b)):

One Day Internationals: In two positions, namely the chest (middle) – not exceeding 32 square inches (206.45cm²)and the sleeve (leading arm) – not exceeding 10 square inches (64.5cm²). Note that as an alternative to the Logo being positioned in the middle of the chest, the Logo may be positioned on the upper right of the chest. In such instance however the logo may not exceed 10
square inches (64.5cm²).

The new uniforms unveiled by the BCCI probably meet this requirement when it comes to the Sahara logo. This was the 2008 uniform, in a different shade of blue. This change has invited much comment. I have no issue with the different shade of blue. The deeply offensive thing in the new uniform is the apparently negotiable color scheme of everything other than the sponsor's Logo. So the name "INDIA" recedes into the background as a pale red on a dark sea-blue. The BCCI Logo (which for all intents and purpose is the India Logo - which appears on the India Cap) has been changed from the classical blue to white!

The only driving characteristic in the design of the uniforms seems to be the prominence of the sponsors logo. That to me is a problem. There is a history to this. Some years ago, the India Test Match uniform had the Sahara Logo on the top left (over the heart) the space traditionally reserved for the national crest. This has thankfully been corrected in more recent Test Match uniforms.

I dont think Sahara is to blame for this sad color combination which inelegantly privileges their logo over the national colors and crest. This is the BCCI's fault. This shows that they have absolutely no interest in the actual design of the uniform. It is not reasonable to expect that color combinations be spelt out in the ICC Code for Clothing and Equipment, especially when it comes to sponsors logos (because sponsors logos may use very specific colors). This has to be managed during the design of the clothing.

Monday, February 16, 2009

England, 51 all out and Antigua

This conversation between Brendan Julian, Mark Waugh, Allan Border and Bob Willis (with Willis doing most of the talking) is pretty much the analysis of the Jamaica Test Match in a nutshell.

There is no historical perspective, and there doesn't seem to be any advantage inherent in the fact that we're listening to 380 Test Matches of experience there. Anybody could have said all that merely by spending 15 minutes browsing the Cricket page of each of the major English newspapers. When Bob Willis, with 90 Test Matches under his belt, refers to "background" issues like: 1. Losing Coach, 2. Losing Captain, 3. Bad performance in the warm up game with Lendl Simmons making 282, 4. IPL, 5. Ashes and 6. Jealousy about the amount of money Flintoff and Pietersen are making, in response to a question by Allan Border about the English second innings performance, it is worse than pedestrian, it causes one to question the wisdom of assuming that just because someone played Test Cricket, he must have some innate capacity to discuss it intelligently.

The thing is, he probably does. But i hope i was not the only one who thought it particularly egregious that a former England Captain should be gleefully recounting the abuse "Fleet Street" has been heaping upon England's cricketers in its ridiculous banner headlines and bylines.

Why was 51 all out so bad? Were English fans really that upset, that they went into "hiding"? Even if we grant that it was bad, would it not be more interesting to find out why it happened? Was it because the West Indies bowled well? Was it because England's batsmen got stuck and then were undone by some good deliveries? Was Ian Bell's dismissal not the sort of dismissal that we have seen over and over again with batsmen who are out of form and low on confidence (Rahul Dravid anyone?)? Did Kevin Pietersen really play a shot that was "ambitious" as it has been described after the fact? Or has that "ambition" been carried over from Pietersen's transparent desire to have Peter Moores removed as England Head Coach? Most journalists would be deeply offended by my last question. Yet it is the exact sort of question that they have consistently asked of England's players. Some have not even asked - they have simply jumped to conclusions. To all this Brendan Julian says "you guys are hard". There's nothing "hard" about this. If anything, it is lazy and stupid. It sheds no light on events and it is deeply unfair to the players.

Now that England have posted 9/568 in their first innings of the Antigua Test, does it mean that all the reasons that Bob Willis gave suddenly went out of the window? Does it mean that Paul Collingwood and Andrew Strauss are somehow no longer "jealous" of Pietersen and Flintoff? Does Suleiman Benn (39-5-143-0) suddenly become a rubbish bowler?

The point im trying to make is, that Willis told us nothing about Jamaica Test itself. But the English players have borne the brunt of a press, which in the face of a bad result seems to make a quick and vigorous shift from reporting to the public to speaking for it. This phenomenon is not restricted to the English press. We saw this in India after India's elimination from the 2007 World Cup competition. Im sure most of you will remember instances where your team has been villified after a particularly exceptional defeat. Every side goes through Tests like the Jamaica Test Match. Consider the following -

0.1 Anderson to Gayle, no run, beaten by a total snorting jaffa! Lovely start, swinging away a touch from Gayle whose feet were concreted and he fished and missed

3.1 Flintoff to Smith, no run, Smith goes for a Caribbean-style Gordon Greenidge-style one-legged pull but misses. Flintoff grimaces, baring his teeth like a primal warrior

4.1 Anderson to Gayle, no run, squared up by one which just left Gayle, who tried to turn it to leg, but it fell just short of Harmison in the covers. Dicey time, this, for Gayle

5.3 Flintoff to Gayle, no run, sheesh, that has flown! Reminiscent of Fidel Edwards earlier today, it took off from a goodish length, Gayle fished and missed and snapped his head out of the way

7.2 Flintoff to Gayle, no run, that is a brute! Leapt off a length at waist height and Gayle was lucky not to get an edge on that

12.2 Harmison to Powell, no run, beaten by a cracker - not far away at all. 90mph and it held its line on Powell who fished and missed

12.5 Harmison to Powell, no run, so close once more. Powell prods forward tentatively and it only just misses his outside edge

All these deliveries occured within 13 overs of the West Indies reply on the second evening at ARG. Any of these could have dismissed the batsman, but they didn't. Even granting Cricinfo's tendency for hyperbole (though they are quite sober compared to say Cricbuzz in this regard). One would have to say that West Indies were lucky to be 1/55 at stumps, given each of these instances. We forget, that the ball that we see so clearly on TV as the bowler delivers it, appears to the batsman as a red blur at best, especially at the start of their innings against the genuinely quick men. Thats why batting technique is so important, and thats why the unconventional techniques of a Sehwag or a Gayle are so wonderful to watch (make no mistake, these players also have a technique of playing). Technique is what enables a batsman to survive, to work the odds in his favor. This is also why T20 is so silly, because the fear of dismissal is largely mitigated there. There can be days when some bowlers appear to be just too good for some batsmen.

If you appreciate the difficulty of batting, you will appreciate the possibility of 51 all out, and you will also appreciate the meaning of that oft used line - it takes 10 good balls to dismiss a side. India's batting line up was bowled out for 76 by Dale Steyn and co. in India in 2008. India's batsmen racked up 600+ in the game prior to that one, and won the game after that one. I don't recall anyone making too much noise about that one off incident, because thats precisely what it was. If a batting line up keeps getting out cheaply, then it becomes Bangladesh. England is clearly not Bangladesh.

Test Cricket is too rich to be held hostage by all these shouting matches in the gallery. Journalists, especially ex-players of all people ought to appreciate this. I contend that the Jamaica result had absolutely nothing to do with either the (supposed) goings on in the English dressing room, or in English cricket, or in the broader Cricket world. It had to do solely with events on the field in those 313 overs and can be explained completely within this context.

England have had the better of the conditions in this Antigua Test Match, and it remains to be seen if the hastily prepared Antigua Recreation Ground wicket holds long enough for the West indies to make a match of it. England have clearly moved on from Jamaica. Don't count on the press having done the same.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

ODI Ratings Update - 14 Feb 2009

AUSTRALIA3521140.525 (3)
SOUTH AFRICA3523120.559 (1)
INDIA3521140.550 (2)
ENGLAND3517180.478 (6)
WEST INDIES3510250.417 (8)
NEW ZEALAND3521140.526 (3)
PAKISTAN3514210.428 (7)
SRI LANKA3513220.488 (5)