Tuesday, March 31, 2009

BCCI money buys pitches?

Anand Vasu has this amusing story about so-called conspiracy theories about pitches. He uses a peculiar weasel technique that seems to be a speciality of reporters who write stories about subjects (such as cricket or football or tennis or bollywood or music) which are not matters of life and death, but offer a good living those writing them anyways. The method is as follows:

1. Insinuate that there are all these conspiracy theories.
2. Go around peddling them to a few people (usually your standard go to guys for this kind of stuff)
3. Get a quote from one of them

Voila. Story!

Of course, the source of the conspiracy theories themselves is thin. So it is likely that these could have developed in the press box - you know, one cricket journalist says to another - "did you know....." , the second one replies - "no i didn't, but thats interesting...". Keep adding equally ignorant voices that are less than 3 feet away at regular intervals, and you have a conspiracy.

This is one way. Another way, is that this conspiracy theory is being pushed by some specific character, and the journalist (in this case Vasu) is doing his bidding. There are probably other ways by which you could build a conspiracy theory, one of them being having too much time on your hands and getting tired of twiddling your thumb.

The result, is a couple of stray lines which look like this:
The most cynical of these explanations is that New Zealand Cricket is bending over backwards to make sure they do not irk the financially powerful Indian board. The other is that broadcasters are desperate to ensure that matches go the distance in these difficult financial times.
These cynical explanations, are apparently without source, but a denial of these explanations is! Its either the BCCI or the broadcasters (you can also use sponsors here, sometimes). Really Anand? And won't you in another story use the exact opposite argument - that broadcasters want a good contest between bat and ball, because otherwise, the ratings drop when the cricket is "dull".

But wait. Lets give Anand Vasu his due. He's actually indicating that he's skeptical of these theories himself. "High-pitched conspiracy theories" is his cleverly punned title.

Except, that the theories themselves, going by Vasu's story, are a figment of Vasu's imagination. By writing them in the story, he reinforces the so-called conspiracy. Where does it come from you might ask? According to Vasu, you just have to trust him that its there. Now, if you were to have to trust him that its all hooeey, it would make for a fully made up story. Hence the quote from the unnamed producer.

What does he get out of it? A simple, run-of-the-mill story about a fielding captain and coach being upset that the pitch played as well as it did, becomes a much bigger story. And it leaves the poor busy guy who reads this with his morning tea or with his lunch, with a little doubt in his mind.

Its a wonderful thing taint. It makes for a great story.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Case Study about Hawk Eye

Napier, Day 4, Pre-Lunch Session:

33.2 Patel to Gambhir, no run, loud shout for lbw as Gambhir pads up. It landed on a length outside off and straightened a touch and that saved Gambhir who stumbled forward to pad it away. Hawk eye shows it would have taken out the off bail. Close. Pressure. Pressure makes you do funny things.

Last week i wrote a post about the use of Hawkeye for LBW's, arguing that it was basically a useless tool. This LBW appeal against Gautam Gambhir is the perfect illustration of why this is so. "Hawkeye shows it would have taken out the off bail" - a meaningless statement, because given the margin of error on Hawkeye, it basically means "it may or may not have hit the bail" - a statement which you do not need Hawkeye in order to be able to make.

But there is a larger issue here. The problem was not that Gambhir exaggerated his forward movement after the ball hit him, it was that the ball did not hold its line. Thats what the umpire was looking for. If the Umpire had been convinced that the ball had carried on with the arm, and had been misjudged by Gautam Gambhir to be an orthodox off-break, he would have given it out, and it would have been the correct decision irrespective of what Hawkeye said, because the conjecture would have been reasonable - that it was an arm ball, headed in the direction of the stumps and Gambhir offered only his pad. The key part of the LBW law is the phrase "in the opinion of the umpire". That should never be changed to "in the opinion of Hawkeye", because Hawkeye can never understand the LBW law. LBW is about whether the ball missed the bat and was then stopped from going on to the stumps by the pad or any other part of the body.

If the Gambhir appeal had been referred, after the not out decision, and if the predictive element of Hawkeye were not used, we would be none the wiser. If the appeal had been referred by Gambhir, assuming the umpire had upheld the bowler's appeal, we would probably have not had grounds for a reversal either. So, in any event, you would be hard pressed to explain why the decision by the umpire was wrong. So, there would be no "wrong" decision possible.

This is the essence of the marginal decision. If you have an umpire who is not sympathetic to batsmen offering no shot, then its likely that he would give it out. If you have an umpire, like Dickie Bird who tried to find every possible reason to rule in favor of the batsmen, and only if none was available, gave the LBW decision to the bowler, he would probably give that not out. Generally, the top umpires tend to be in the latter mould, although, the best umpire in the world right now - Simon Taufel, tends to give plenty of LBWs.

The question with Hawkeye then, is whether it is at all necessary to find obvious mistakes - mistakes which cannot be determined by other technology, such as HotSpot or the simple pitch map (which in my view should be placed by the third umpire and not by the TV Company). If such a situation exists, then Hawkeye is worth it. If it doesn't then it isn't.

By the way, i am puzzled by the fact that the "prediction" from Hawkeye is considered only the part of the trajectory of the ball after it passes the bat, when in fact, the whole trajectory is a prediction, including the part where Hawkeye predicts the point of delivery.

The influence of Hawkeye is fairly obvious though - especially when you see a reference to it in seemingly innocent lines of commentary. Most readers would be right to think that Gambhir was lucky to survive that appeal based on that comment. As we have seen, this is not necessarily so. Any batsman is always somewhat lucky to survive once an appeal is made, because it then becomes possible that he could be given out. The Hawkeye prediction does not change this at all in any real sense - in that it adds no useful information about the situation. But it does influence the discourse, because its simple, and it exists.

The question is whether it needs to. This is not a popular question, because once a technology becomes a product, necessity takes a back seat. The point is that the technology has very serious consequences. In the case of Hawkeye, these are not to benefit of decision making by Umpires or decision analysis by spectators.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Napier Test Day 3

It was New Zealand's day at Napier. For most of the day, India didn't play badly. But Rahul Dravid's dismissal late in the day triggered off a session of rank insanity, which ended with Dravid finding himself back in the middle to see India through to the end of play as India followed on.

On a good batting surface, Daniel Vettori's men bowled to their field. The field was set to promote attacking bowling. In this Test we have seen how the sweeper cover on the boundary can be used as support for attacking bowling, and also (from India) how he can very quickly descend into a long stop for long hops. Jeetan Patel, especially in his spell early in the day bowled a very attacking line outside off stump, and was rewarded when he got Sachin Tendulkar caught at slip off a very well pitched floater.

Everything was going reasonably well for India until the period just before the second new ball was due. Rahul Dravid, after having battled 205 balls for 83, made a fatal lapse in judgement to be out caught at the wicket off the bowling of Jesse Ryder, who seems to possess the midas touch of New Zealand. Once Yuvraj Singh was dismissed trying to drive on the rise against the new ball, India were in trouble. Dinesh Karthik spent an uncomfortable 30 minutes or so at the wicket, where in he seemed to catch a few balls which bounced awkwardly, before he too tried to drive one on the up and was caught at third slip by Jesse Ryder. New Zealand bowled a very fine length with the second new ball, and held their catches, including a fairly difficult one off Zaheer Khan's bat finish the Indian innings at 305.

The wicket of Dinesh Karthik brought Harbhajan Singh to the wicket, and there began a bout of rank bad batting from India. In an inexplicable turn of events, Harbhajan and then VVS Laxman decided to come out swinging. VVS who had been so careful outside off stump seemed to lose patience and go for everything. Harbhajan Singh himself actually charged Chris Martin on the 5th ball that he faced! I cannot help but contrast this craziness with the level headed approach taken by these same batsmen in Australia last year. That tactic seemed to be based on an altogether saner premise - that the Indian tailenders could be counted on to survive against pace or spin on a good batting wicket. Daniel Vettori didn't even have the chance to think about whether or not to spread the field for VVS Laxman, who was well set, and past 50, because Harbhajan Singh came charging at New Zealand like a mad bull.

As with most craziness, this didn't last long, and India were asked to follow on 314 runs behind New Zealand's first innings. On a perfectly good batting wicket, India had thrown their first innings way in a fit of inexplicably petulant late order batting. 

But the worst was yet to come. Virender Sehwag played an unbelievably irresponsible stroke against Jeetan Patel, to vindicate Vettori's decision to enforce the follow on. In the first innings it was Vettori who got the wicket after the Indian Captain couldn't help himself - trying to sweep against the break after already having hit a six earlier in the over. Here in the second innings, with it being obviously crucial that Sehwag stay in until close of play, Sehwag aimed two sweepshots at the first two deliveries he had faced from off-spinner Jeetan Patel in his Test career. He connected the first one, which was not a particularly bad choice of shot, since it was a rank half volley on the pads. He missed the second one, which was dead straight, and he was rightly given out LBW.

It rarely happens that a batsman Captain plays the same silly stroke (silly in terms of choice of stroke, but absolutely devastating in terms of what it says about Sehwag's view of the seriousness of the context), in a bad situation the first time, but in an even worse situation the second time around. And to think that the man that Sehwag is standing in for as Captain has made his reputation by always batting according to the situation. And this has nothing to do with Sehwag's "natural game". Sehwag has in the past shown a great ability modulate his game according to the situation. His century at Adelaide was a case in point, where he batted an entire session (between Lunch and Tea) scoring only 29 runs because the team needed him to stay at the wicket.

Im fairly sure that some stern words will be said in the Indian dressing room at the end of this Test, for they have, in three days of cricket embodied by Virender Sehwag's two dismissals, all but thrown away their precious series lead. A series lead which was built through very careful batting in conditions which were much more challenging than they are at Napier.

New Zealand were solid all day, and there is no reason to think that they will be anything but solid come Day 4. This Test is now New Zealand's for the taking, with 9 wickets to take, 267 runs as a lead. India's challenging in their first innings was to bat for 4 sessions in their first innings. Having failed, their challenge now is to bat 5 sessions in their second. Even for this magnificient middle order, thats a tall order.

Napier Test - Day 2

India continued their tactically oblivious show on the 2nd Day at Napier. Starting at 4/351, you would expect New Zealand to post something in the region of 550 - 600, and so it turned out. 9/619 was score which indicated that India had been comprehensively demolished in the first innings of the match. New Zealand had ground the Indian bowling into dust and were picking off the exhausted offerings of a couple of part timers towards the end.

But Test Matches are not lost after just one innings. Their direction is usually determined at the end of both first innings. So India still had a chance to save themselves - an opportunity to show that their difficulties with taking wickets (New Zealand lost 3/23 at the beginning of their innings and 3/14 at the end, but made 3/582 in between those to batting collapses) and  had much to do with the flatness of the wicket. Besides, batting is their stronger suit.

Virender Sehwag clearly saw this Test Match differently. There are those who say (with some merit), that Sehwag is a match winner on this day and that we ought to expect him to do stupid things sometimes, because he can win games for his side with his brand of batting. And Sehwag is exceptionally gifted and skillful. But there is a difference between getting out while playing your natural game, and getting out while committing suicide. In Virender Sehwag's case, this is clearly discernible. There are occasions when his play becomes so horribly pre-meditated, usually due to a bout of extreme confidence, that the danger signals are bright unambigious. This Test Match has been full of these danger signals. India's tactical disdain was summed by through Virender Sehwag's innings.

Sehwag's best innings have been very astutely built. He is at his best when he is well prepared and has some sort of approach planned. In Australia in 2003-04 his approach was to give the first few overs to the bowlers and then open out. Indeed, the reason behind his success in Tests as against his limited success in ODI's was that in Tests he could play at his own pace, and not find himself chasing a run-rate. With Sehwag, you expect the occasional square cut which might go straight to hand, or the odd cover drive which goes to slip or on to the stumps instead of into the covers. Thats part of his game. What is not part of his game is this overt display of contempt.

Consider this - Daniel Vettori, a bowler whom the Indians respect, given the way they have played him in both the Tests and the ODI's game on in the 9th over of the day, when the ball was pretty much brand new. It was fairly obviously a signal - one with large round blinking red lights that Vettori was bowling to lure Sehwag. It should never have worked. And would not have worked. Sehwag at his sane, skillfull best would have seen it for what it is, and played straight. He may still have gotten that six to long on, for that was a rank half volley, which was dispatched as only Sehwag can dispatch those. But he would not have played that pre-meditated slog-sweep. It was so embarassingly amateurish, that im fairly certain that Vettori himself couldn't believe it. Sehwag may have been slightly unlucky that the edge caught just a faint edge and not a better one which may have sent the ball away from the fielders, but boy did he deserve that bad luck. In fact, i think Vettori had banked on the fact that Sehwag may charge him - hence the slightly slower, more flighted spinner on off-stump.

After he got Sehwag's wicket, Daniel Vettori took himself off, and brought the fast man on. The stand-in Indian captain had played into the New Zealand captains hands.

Sehwag needs to start playing innings again. Since he played that amazing 201 not out at Galle against Murali and Mendis, Sehwag hasn't made a substantial first innings score in 9 Test Matches now. In each of those 9 Tests, the story has been one of helter-skelter 30's and 40's and 50's. There needs to be some re-adjustment in his approach, for i don't believe for one moment, that Sehwag's penchant for big scoring is simply an extention of these crazy 30's and 40's. Some of his recent comments indicate that he feels pretty much invincible. There may be nothing in the NZ bowling to stop him, but there is plenty in his own lack of regard for his opponents that can.

I have nothing against arrogance. If you can be arrogant successfully, nothing is likely to be more crushing for the opposition. But then, when you do stupid things, nothing lifts the opposition more than this. And Virender Sehwag, if you ask me, is not an arrogant batsman, in the same way that say Matthew Hayden built his game on tactically taking chances. Sehwag's game is built on watching the ball and playing it on its merits, as he sees them. But he has to actually watch the ball.

India need to turn their back on their stand-in captain's approach for the rest of this batting innings if they are to save this game. I wrote in my review of the first Test, that inspite of India's huge advantage in Test Match experience, the real Test will come when New Zealand have the better of the conditions. In this game, this has happened. But India's position at the end of day 2, is not because of their lack of experience, but because of their complete disregard for experience - embodied by Virender Sehwag. India may well go on to save this game - its still a good wicket, and the follow-on is 340 runs away. 4 sessions of batting are called for, 5 preferably, because 4 would still give New Zealand a sufficient chance to build a lead and force India to bat for most of the 5th day.

Boy have India missed Dhoni! 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sufiyan Sheikh

Selected to tour Australia with India U-19.

I hope
he does well in Australia. Im thinking that his father's insistence on discipline and his skepticism of Cricket as a career is probably better than pushy parents dreaming about a Tendulkar in embryo. The maidans of Bombay are littered with failed Tendulkars.

Anjuman has been a great cricket school for decades now. Wasim Jaffer was the last Anjuman player to play for India.

IPL as Imperialism - Haigh

Gideon Haigh thinks of the 2nd season of the IPL what many Americans think of George Bush's Presidency - that it was a missed opportunity. But he also thinks of the IPL, what many in the rest of the world thought about Bush's Presidency - that it was Imperialism in disguise. In Haigh's fantasy world, with its vast array of ideas - from Globalization, to Indianness, to Imperialism, to a deeply personal appreciation of the inter-personal politics of recent BCCI bosses (Haigh probably hasn't seen the Godfather series - or else he would surely have brought the Corleones and the Tattaglias to life here).

In Haigh's world, Jagmohan Dalmiya's efforts in the 1990's to break the Anglo-Saxon hegemony in the International Cricket Council was an effort to "globalize" cricket. In Haigh's world, the BCCI is going to be desperate in the next few weeks to discuss how they are "building bridges and making new friends". In Haigh's World, the BCCI's last minute decision to move the IPL off shore is a sign of their obduracy, and their attempt to wish away the attacks on Mumbai in November. Strange how these people are so willing to fire at the Indian Cricket Board over the shoulders of the Mumbai attack! Never mind that the BCCI tried to work out a compromise with the Government of India to schedule the games so that security could actually be provided. Never mind that once it looked like this didn't seem to work, they began looking for other places where the games could be held. Never mind that they actually had two bidders to choose from! 

Haigh is trying to have it both ways - his essential point seems to be that BCCI is a semi-competent Cricket body, narrowly focussed on generating cash, which protects its interests fiercely, and also has an insidious imperialistic motive - "the point is not to bring an attraction to another country but to create a satellite India on that country's soil."

This shifty paranoid rhetoric would be laughable coming from any other writer, but is especially sad when it comes from the author of my favorite cricket column in recent years -
Odd Men In. Haigh's muddled application of concepts like Globalization and Imperialism reveals an irrational paranoia about the BCCI and their capacity for creating wealth.

The IPL and its move to South Africa is not without its absurdities, but Imperialism it is not. Imperialism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is
"a policy of extending a country's power and influence through colonization, use of military force, or other means." Globalization is "the process by which businesses or other organizations start operating on a global scale." Both these concepts are complicated, but their application to the IPL's last minute move to South Africa as a stop gap measure is absurd.

The IPL was already a global phenomenon in its first season. I understand that the highest paid cricketer amongst the second season signings is Kevin Pietersen (ironically a South African who became Captain of England before being dismissed in favor of another South African). Upcoming players from all over the world are being giving the opportunity to make huge sums of money (and in my view waste their time in a rubbish format of the game).

The article is littered with observations such as the one about why South Africa was a better choice compared to England - apparently because the South African fans embraced every country in the world during last years T20 world cup! Has Haigh seen the interest in England when India, Pakistan or West Indies play there? Its unclear what the point of making such a weak argument for such an observation was, but then again, it is not just this single part which leaves me puzzled.

So what should BCCI have done? Haigh tells us towards the end. "A genuine cricket visionary would now be playing up the idea of making IPL a gift and an example to the world rather than an Indian self-celebration involving some incidental beneficiation of the South African hotel and airline industries - by reinstating the luckless Pakistanis, for instance, or pledging the franchises to coach locally, as the Australians did so successfully on their recent tour."

Really? A PR stunt? Thats visionary?

As for the incidental beneficiation of the South African hotel and airline industries, Haigh probably hasn't seen this. As for reinstating the luckless Pakistanis, im sure the BCCI would want to reinstate them - Shoaib Akhtar can draw a mean crowd. Except of course that its the Pakistan Cricket Board which has barred them from participation!

Its the most astonishingly bad article ive read from Gideon Haigh. To argue that BCCI is a tightfisted, myopic imperialist is not only a glaring oxymoron, but it is bizarre, because there is nothing to suggest that this move to South Africa was anything more than a last minute contingency plan brought about the increased focus on security in the Indian sub-continent after the Lahore attacks (which Haigh does not mention at all), and the fact that India's security apparatus would already be deployed on Election duty.

It is also an insult to all self respecting imperialists. For vision is a prerequisite for imperialist ambition. So is some notion of racial superiority. Lalit Modi has neither. He's a businessman. He is no Cecil Rhodes.

Besides, T20? What a vision a globalized T20 conjures up in my mind! The thought that we could have batsmen running indiscriminately at bowlers in every major city in the cricketing world - is this really what Haigh wants, and what he thinks BCCI is averse to because it lacks vision and has imperialist ambition (you see this paradox only because it can be typed)?

Its just sad. Please start writing Odd Men In Gideon. Leave the BCCI alone.

Sourav Ganguly v [Fill in the Blanks]

John Buchanan, who coached an Australian team brimming with once in a generation talent, has acquired a reputation for thinking out of the box. This is a reputation built mainly on some fairly novel ideas that Buchanan has talked about, such as the possibility of ambidextrous cricketers for instance.

Now he has come up against Sourav Ganguly, and his innovation is not sitting well with the former Indian captain. He is reportedly stunned by Buchanan's proposal to name 4 captains over the 20 Over contest, instead of letting Sourav Ganguly run the show in keeping with his "Icon" status. Ganguly's reaction is particularly peculiar, because it was under his captaincy, that India tried out the idea of having a fielding captain, a batting captain and a bowling captain, who would be responsible for these aspects. These were not official positions of course, but in 2003, for the most important tournament of the day, Sourav Ganguly and John Wright did precisely what John Buchanan has proposed in 2009 for his Kolkata Nautanki.

But fear not folks. The Badshah of Bollywood has come to the rescue. Shah Rukh Khan has decreed that "Sourav is our main man. No idea or decision will be taken without Dada's consent and agreement. And the whole KKR respects and loves him no end. So, there is no reason to overreact by any of us right now,". But of course King Khan must also keep his whiz-coach happy. Nobody can ever accuse Shah Rukh Khan of not having his ear to the ground. He very quickly dispells any idea to the effect that Buchanan may be in any way comparable to (gasp!) the evil Greg Chappell!

So what do we have here? A coach floats an idea. His captain reacts as though this is the first time he's hearing of it. And the owner steps in the keep everyone else happy. Meanwhile, our Bengali brethren have been busy renacting the protests against the Simon Commission in Lahore in 1929 by chanting "Go Back Buchanan" outside the Eden Gardens. Except, unlike that truly heroic protest where the indomitable champions of Indian Independence braved the lathis of the oppressor Brits, here, we have the protestors burning effigies of John Buchanan. Wonderful things effigies. There is no risk of effigies being endangered either!

Seriously Shah Rukh - your most serious problem right now is not that your coach and your captain Icon have a disagreement, it is that they apparently first learnt of it in public! Wouldn't you think that even in a half-assed outfit where cash is being handed out like its going out of fashion, tactics and strategy would be first discussed at least over drinks at the fancy reception that was closed to the press?

This is the recurrent theme of the IPL. That it somehow landed from outer space, and like all those truly fancy spaceships in the movies, theres nothing inside the shimmering skin that actually works, because nobody has actually taken it seriously. So you have Umpires, TV Umpires and Referees, but no actual Code of Conduct for the Referee to implement. With the result that you get idiotic situations like a referee (Farokh Engineer!) suspending an Umpire! If this happened in a comic book, you would probably have the Umpire turning around to the referee and going "What are you doing! We're on the same side!!!" The matter is papered over by saying that the Referee implemented the ICC's Code of Conduct. Of course, this code gives the referee absolutely no jurisdiction over the Umpires.

This is the basic difference between BCCI and Zee (running the ICL), between Test Cricket and the IPL - the former in each case, has a serious body - of accomplishment, of effort, of work, of resolution, of refinement, of detail, while the latter, to put it mildly is something of a fly-by-night operator, completely with the fancy logo, but nothing you can really lean on.

But, Shah Rukh to the rescue. So its all good. So what if a man who played a 100 Tests is reduced to being a caricature in the process. This is Test Match Capital being wasted on short term gains.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Napier Test - Day 1

New Zealand had a rollicking first day at McLean Park in Napier, thanks to centuries from Ross Taylor (151) and Jesse Ryder (137*). After early trouble against the new ball, Ryder and Taylor took full advantage of an Indian performance in the field which was amongst the weakest in living memory. Their record stand of 271 came in less than 60 overs, and has set the foundation from which New Zealand can now dictate terms. The wicket was a superb one for batting and Daniel Vettori and Andy Moles's decision to play the second spinner looks like a master-stroke after todays play, which significantly raises the prospect of India batting fourth on the 5th day.

The luckless Tim McIntosh fell yet again to an iffy decision (he fell caught at first slip in the 2nd innings at Hamilton to a Sachin Tendulkar take which would probably have been disallowed had it been referred), but the batsman's grievance must be tempered by the technical problem which Ishant Sharma seems to have pointed out in McIntosh's frontfoot play. That was the only probing that India did all day, for from that point on, all the fast bowlers seemed to want a wicket every ball.

As brilliant and adventurous and resourceful Ryder and Taylor were, India's approach, if it can indeed be called that, was bizarre. The stand-in captain Virender Sehwag spread the field early in the day, defending the deep point boundary. This would have made sense on this flat first day batting paradise, if the bowling had taken cue, throttled back and bowled one-side of the wicket and played on the patience of Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder.

There will be plenty of comment about the dropped catches by Yuvraj Singh and all the failed bets Sehwag made with the positioning of his slips and gullies (Ryder and Taylor seemed to find the gaps there at will!), but the problem with India's play today was not the number of runs they conceded, or the errors they made on the field, these things can happen on a flat wicket to the best of fielding line ups.

The problem was more fundamental than that. It was unclear what the Indian approach was. Did the fast bowlers have licence to attack every over like they might have in more helpful conditions where the batsmen couldn't hit confidently through the line the ball? Or was it, as Sehwag's fields suggested, to sit back and strangle the scoring? Such was the New Zealand approach against the Indian pace attack (which is actually a fairly good quality attack), that they could afford to play out Harbhajan Singh and eschew all risks against him!

The session between lunch and tea was a disaster - with a field set for restrictive bowling, and yet with Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Munaf Patel going for broke every over. Towards the end of the session Virender Sehwag came on to bowl and got hammered. It was poetic justice i though. The last 18 overs of the post-Lunch session cost India 75 runs, and these 18 overs included a 9 over spell from Harbhajan Singh where he was quietly played out for just 11 runs!

The score line at the end of the day can be put down to some adventurous batting from a naturally aggressive number 4 batsman, and a very classy hundred from the in-form Jesse Ryder, a couple of dropped catches from a make-shift slip fielder and some general good fortune (which was very well deserved i thought) for the batting side. But beyond the scoreline, lies the total tactical schizophrenia of the Indian side.

There is a case to be made for an aggressive approach even on a good batting wicket against aggressive batsmen - but then it has to involve aggressive fields, where just about any chance will find a fielder. The idea of giving bowlers the licence to go flat out, by giving them cover for bad bowling is destined for failure. The bowling was also consistently shorter on this wicket than it was at Hamilton. This may be due to the fact that here at Napier there was absolutely nothing on offer off the wicket. But surely, if its going to bring about square cuts on a regular basis, then it is not being executed well.

The purely oppositional description for todays play might be that India's bowlers fully expected to blast New Zealand out of the water by Tea time, such was their total disregard for the inexperienced NZ batting. This belief was reinforced by the early successes. But once the Taylor- Ryder stand gathered momentum, especially in the brutal overs just after lunch, when 65 runs came in less than 9 overs, and the century stand came up in under 19 overs, India were shell shocked for a while. They regrouped somewhat in the second half of the session, but by then it was too late, because you had two set specialist batsmen on a flat wicket, against a fielding side forced to concede singles on a smallish ground.

This is probably more interesting, but it is also probably fairly shallow. What allowed New Zealand to get away in the first place (apart from superb batting) was the fact that India seemed to be in two minds about how to approach their task of bowling on this flat wicket, especially once they had tasted early success. Ironically, i think the early success probably played into New Zealand's hands, for it encouraged Zaheer and co. to attack a little while longer than they might have if New Zealand had gone to lunch at say 80/1.

The fate of the day's play was decided in the first hour after lunch, when India's bowlers came out all guns blazing, with a field which at best could be said to have hedged its bets, and were demolished mercilessly.

India missed Dhoni today. They did not control the game, and allowed New Zealand's batsmen to take full advantage, despite the early loss of wickets. Since the wicket of Martin Guptill, New Zealand have made 1/328 in 79.5 overs. Taylor and Ryder were superb.

It was New Zealand's day. India are going to have to work out an approach before hand, and then stick with it tomorrow if they want to avoid spending the rest of this game trying to save it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Napier Test - The Usual Prelude

The old bogey of the green wicket refuses to die. New Zealand coach Andy Moles has made his wish.

"We need a typical New Zealand wicket where it nips about for a couple of days so it brings our seamers into the game against their batting attack which is used to the ball being true and turning a bit," Moles said.

"We've seen in the past they don't like the ball when it goes sideways a little bit -- that's our best way of nullifying their batters."


This report is from Sunday, March 22, which would have been the 5th day of the Hamilton Test. On the same day, a report from Cricinfo indicated the Jeetan Patel, the off-spinner would be back in the squad. A subsequent report on the NZ team composition on March 23, indicates that Patel is very likely to make the squad. On the face of it, it appears as though New Zealand are planning to play two spinners on an imagined green top.

This green wicket thing has become the reflex reaction of all losing coaches after their side has lost against India. The sheer irony of the fact that New Zealand lost at Hamilton in large part because their first innings batting effort was significantly hurt by the green wicket seems to be lost on Moles. There is something about these reflex arguments which seems to transcend cultures. It seems as though green wickets are some kind of safety blanket for the New Zealanders just as dustbowls were the safety blanket for India for many years.

The reality is quite different. India have consistently done better on good wickets - which offer pace, bounce and some movement to the fast bowlers (not the "gardens" that Harbhajan Singh identified when India went to NZ in 2002-03), than they do on slow turners, where run scoring can be quite tedious. The other problem with this green wicket nonsense, is that they can't be prepared overnight. Neither can a Chennai wicket be turned into a green top of any consequence. There is a reason why the behavior of a any given pitch square can be predicted over a longish period of time.

Besides, do New Zealand's inexperienced batsmen really want to try their luck against a fast bowling attack which is at least as good as their own on a green wicket? Even if we grant that India's batsmen play poorly on wickets with seam movement, how do you think Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill will fare on those same wickets?

Its foolish for New Zealand to keep convincing itself that it lost only because the wicket was a good one as against being a "garden" (Harbhajan Singh must be congratulated on this superb coinage). What they need is to win the toss on a good wicket, make their first innings count and ensure that they compete on the first innings. Then with Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel on a turning wicket on the 5th day, they have a chance. Vettori was hard to play even on that Hamilton wicket - he bowled 35 overs for 90 runs. He has developed tremendously from his time against the Indian batsmen in 2003 when he was an out and out defensive bowler. With Jacob Oram injured, as New Zealand seriously considering green wickets?

New Zealand's best chance in my view, is to hope that the McLean Park wicket will be similar to the Hamilton wicket, and that India's batsmen will be less careful than they were at Hamilton. That is New Zealand's best chance of competing on the first innings - something that is key to competing in any Test Match.

India seem to have no trouble at all. For the first time in living memory, they go into a Test with a well settled opening pair and a three man pace attack of significant quality. But they must play carefully and respect the contest. If they don't it will open them up to tremendous criticism - criticism which is just as old as the green-wickets argument - that they tend to get careless and complacent. I think there is something to the carelessness bit, but im not sure if that extends to complacency.

The nonsense about having to travel to South Africa during their break between the New Zealand tour and the West Indies tour (two tours which are great opportunities to cement their position as one of the world's two top teams) must not distract. If they win convincingly in New Zealand it will be good insurance against any setbacks them may face in the West Indies due to any avoidable injuries which may occur during the South African jamboree.

Im hoping for a tight Test Match. Where New Zealand discover a champion or two. They have plenty of gifted talent in their ranks - Guptill, Flynn and Ryder have all made impressive starts to their international careers, while McIntosh already has a Test hundred to his name at McLean Park against West Indies. For India, i hope they break their standard practice on overseas tours of losing a Test immediately after winning one. The last time they broke that spell, they won the series in England.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The IPL and Security

Will the new venue for the IPL involve the same kind of security as was required in India? Motorcades, bulletproof buses etc. etc. - the kind of security which disrupts normal life in any city to some extent? Will players make do with less security in say South Africa or England?

If the security requirement for the IPL was so severe, that the State Governments would have had to revisit their committments about security to the Election Commission in order to provide security for the IPL games, then should equivalent security not be in place in South Africa or England? Are Indian Test players at less risk in South Africa or England than they are in India?

My hunch is, that nobody's security is sacrosanct as long as there is money at stake. I would be very very surprised (and frankly, i would be very glad that i was wrong in this) if India's Test Cricketers playing in the IPL (and foreign Test Cricketers) are not settling for much weaker security in South Africa or England than they would have in India.

Of course, security is a complicated thing - it is hard to measure, and it is hard to argue reasonably (and maybe it is something that should not be dissected as such) since life itself is at stake. I would like, just once, for an Indian Cricketer to stand up for his security needs the way Andrew Flintoff or Steve Harmison or Robert Croft have. I would like India's Test Cricketers to refuse to play in South Africa or England, just after the New Zealand tour, just before the West Indies tour, unless they are allowed to travel with their families, and unless they are provided the exact same level of security in South Africa or England as they recieved during the Chennai Test in December 2008.

This is unlikely to happen. Because there is too much money on the table. And you know what - i hope that it is unlikely to happen because of this reason, because the alternative explanation would be that English and Australian cricketers care more about their own welfare than India's cricketers do. And that is a horrifying thought.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Where should the IPL be peddled?

The number of IPL games I watched in 2008 is Zero. I couldn't bring myself to watch the terribly boring contest that is T20 after watching the T20 World Cup Final in 2007. As an avowed IPL skeptic, and as someone seriously interested in the General Election in India (as any right minded Indian should be), i watched with great amusement as a serious debate ensued about whether the General Election or the Multimillionaire-T20-Slogfest should get priority when it comes to allocating security forces.

Amazingly enough, this was actually a debate. Now that good sense has prevailed, and the Government has shown admirable restraint from the populist impulses to which Governments are prone as we get close to election time, and refused to compromise on Election security, it is worth revisiting the argument, such as it was. The IPL's basic argument to the government can be best framed by the timeless phrase "thoda adjust karlo". The IPL would adjust, the Government would adjust, everyone would (be) compromise(d), and the BJP, which is the main opposition party would accuse the Government of crass populism (i would be sympathetic to such an accusation). As it happened, the BJP has now accused the Government of having "failed the country over IPL". This accusation comes from Mr. Arun Jaitley, who is a fine lawyer, and is one of the BJP's many Delhi based elitists who has no popular constituency of his own. A more sophisticated criticism has been levelled by Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad, who brings in the country's "prestige" (always a winner). His full statement (from that NDTV report) is worth quoting:
"The decision shows India in poor light that it cannot manage a popular sports event due to elections. So what if elections are being held, don't other important events happen in an election time, This is a stain on the face of the people of this country and will send a wrong message in the world"
Hmmm.

Lets see now. One the one hand, we have the greatest (in my view in every sense of the word) electoral exercise in the history of mankind, with an estimated 714,000,000 voters, 828,804 polling booths with 1,368,430 electronic voting machines in the 7th largest, and 2nd most populous nation on earth, where 29 different languages are spoken by at least 1 million people each, where several hundred languages are designated as mother-tongues. I could go on, but you get the idea. On the other, we have some new fangled well-packaged snake-oil, peddled by multi-millionaires, for whom it is an object of fancy (Priety Zinta "owning" a Cricket team? Does that sound absurd only to me?), in which more time is spent in airplanes than is spent on the Cricket field, and where the Cricket that is played has all the subtelty of Varun Gandhi's assault on all decency.

No, i don't think there is any risk of India looking bad in the eyes of the world.

The BCCI has decided to the IPL will be peddled outside India this year, after the Union Home Ministry refused to "adjust". It is worth noting that the Government of India is being accused in this matter in the same way that BCCI gets accused of all sorts of things, simply because in each case, the said entity is the apex body. The details are typically much more complicated. For example, the Union Home Minister said "I can't exempt any state government from giving to the election commission the forces they have promised".

Besides, the police chiefs from Himachal Pradesh (the beautiful ground at Dharamshala was to host an IPL game) and Andhra Pradesh (Hyderabad is the home of one of the sides) said they could guarantee forces for the games according to the revised schedule. So the IPL did have the option of playing at Uppal and Dharamshala.

Now that the IPL is likely to be relocated for the 2009 edition to some other country, South Africa and England (!) seem to be keen to host it. How money speaks! We now have the bemusing sight of ECB officials currying favor with BCCI officials. Already, a laundry list of reasons why England will be such an awesome venue is being drawn up. We have anonymous officials saying that BCCI bigwigs favor England because there is "a significant amount of goodwill here towards England for the manner in which they returned to play after the Mumbai attacks". Nothing is out of bounds.

This reminds me of that ridiculous advertisement that used to appear on TV in India a couple of years ago. It was an advertisement either for a brand of Mens Suits or Manikchand Gutka (consisting of betel nut, tobacco and katha) where a guy in the back seat of a car is being driven around London and sees a sign on a building which says "British East India Company", and decides then and there to buy it. He says something to the effect, that "they colonised us, now its our turn".

Except, that this supineness associated with the IPL is abusive of cricket, just as the idea of selling mens suits of gutka abuses the idea of colonialism and its demise. Then again,  that was a mere advertisement for mens suits (or gutka, i wish i could remember), this is a whole actual tournament!

I hope the General Elections go off well. As far as the venue of the IPL goes - does it really matter at all? Priety Zinta v Vijay Mallya is a contest im unlikely watch, irrespective of where it takes place.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hawkeye for LBWs

I referred to the poor quality of Hawkeye in my previous post. In this post i elaborate on this idea.

Consider the following facts:
Width of the stumps: 228.6mm
Width of each stump: 34.9mm - 38.1mm (radius 17.5 - 19 mm)
Height of the stumps: 211mm
Diameter of the Cricket ball: 71.3mm - 72.9 mm
3.6mm. In some instance, it is reported to be over 5mm.

So, any ball which Hawkeye shows to be hitting the outer half of off stump or leg stump, or the top of the bails, could be missing the stumps by as much as 3-4 millimeters. Most importantly, the makers of the technology tell you that this could be the case. Do you remember how often you see a close LBW shout which leaves you wondering that it may have been just a little bit too high, and Hawkeye shows the ball passing clean over the stumps, missing the bails by the proverbial whister? Doesn't that leave you satisfied that the Umpire made an terrific decision? Well, it turns out that that ball could just as likely have smashed into the bails.

Or consider the very thing for which Hawkeye is actually used by Umpires in Referral situations - to judge whether or not the impact was in line with the off-stump. In those instance, if my reading of the technology is right, Hawkeye is useless for the marginal calls.

This, it would seem to me is a fairly important problem. But you never hear anything about this from the commentators. They treat Hawkeye like the Gospel. Ian Healy has even gone to the extent of using Hawkeye replays to explain why Umpires are giving more LBW's these days than they used to.

This is why i prefer the use of the pitch map for determining whether or not the ball pitched in line with the stumps, and not hawkeye.

So the next time you see a hawkeye replay, unless it shows that the ball is hitting middle, or middle-and-leg or middle-and-off on on the inside half of off-stump or leg-stump, take it with a large pinch of salt.

Update:
Mike Selvey wrote about this 2 years ago.
An analysis of a Paul Collingwood LBW on Hawkeye 2 years ago (pdf)
Hawkeye should not be used for LBWs - Channel Nine Network.

A possible modification for the Referral System

The involvement of the players in the Referral System is the most uncomfortable aspect of it, for it fundamentally changes the relationship between the players and the umpires on the cricket field. It draws the umpires into the fray, while at the same time giving the players the right to question the umpires. It shifts some of the responsibility for the correctness of umpiring decisions from the disinterested umpire to the very interested fielding captain or batsman.

The involvement of the players, as far as i can discern it, is ironically enough, an attempt to maintain the status of the on-field Umpire. The direct involvement of the TV Umpire to assist the on-field umpires is apparently less problematic for the ICC (and possibly the Umpires themselves, even though if they are asked im sure they will say they don't care one way or the other) than the involvement of the players. As i have observed before the problem with the involvement of the players is that especially in the case of referrals made by the fielding side for LBW's, the players have no information that the Umpire doesn't, and so the referral is an indication of a disagreement borne out of little more than a hunch. This results in the referral system becoming a tactical and political device. This may be a good thing, because the in the end, the goal is surely to make things fairer. The goal of making things perfect is clearly unattainable because the technology is so bad (things like hawkeye for example are terribly inaccurate, while the snickometer readings are impossible to classify), although the hotspot technology which relies on heat signatures rather than geometry or sound, is quite promising. But the basic problem is one of managing the relationship between players and umpires and getting as many decisions as possible right. This includes protecting the status of the on-field umpires.

Before the advent of the referral system, we used to have a communication between the players and the umpire. Cricket being the gentleman's game, batsmen were expected to go when they knew they were out, while bowlers and fielders were expected to refrain from asking the umpire's opinion if they knew that the batsman wasn't. This process of asking the question was known as the appeal. In today's cricket, dismissal's are affected in two ways - if the batsman walks, and failing this, if an appeal from the fielding side is upheld. Appeals are made for LBW's, thin edges, bat-pad catches, run-outs, stumpings and is situations where the batsman is unsure if the ball carried to the fielder.

When the batsman walks, there is no problem.

The way the referral system seems to have interpret the traditional appeal, is to say that there are now two levels of adjudication available - the on-field umpire, and the TV umpire. The referral system allows the player to access the on-field umpire if he disagrees with the on-field umpire's decision (for a limited number of times).

This second involvement of players, after the on-field umpire has made his decision, is a problem. The way out of this problem, might be for the TV umpire to recognize the original appeal himself. The TV Umpire will look for a limited number of specific things. The sequence of events would be as follows:

1. An appeal is made by the fielding side.
2. The on-field umpire makes a decision. The TV Umpire reviews the appeal at the same time.
3. If the TV Umpire finds a specific problem with the on-field umpire's decision, then he must report this to the on-field umpire, unprompted by any request from the field.
4. Failing this, the decision of the on-field umpire will be final.

The TV Umpire must never offer an opinion about a decision made by the umpire. However, he must check for the following:

In the case of LBW's:
1. Did it pitch outside leg stump? (determined using the pitch mat)
2. Was there an inside edge and was it bat first? (determined using hotspot)
3. Did it definitely look like it would have missed/hit the stumps, depending on what the on-field decision is? (The word definitely is key here. This is essentially the converse of what the on-field umpire must determine)

In the case of catches close to the wicket:

1. Was there bat involved (hot spot allows this to be accounted for with substantial certainty, snickometer should be scrapped)
2. Could it be definitely determined that the catch was cleanly taken (or not)?

This would be done irrespective of what the decision on the field is. The players would not be involved. This would also maintain the primacy of the umpire's judgement in the case of marginal decisions.

These questions are key. This shifts the focus on the third umpire's involvement from making the decision to providing definite corrective information if such information is available.

This could be accomplished without using poor quality, questionable technology such as hawkeye and snickometer. Further, to assist the TV Umpire, there would be a dedicated camera positioned and calibrated to assist with where the ball pitched, just as there are dedicated cameras for run out decisions. The pitch mat would be placed by the third umpire and not the TV producer.

This will save time, as the third umpire's work is triggered by the initial appeal and not by a subsequent referral. It also takes away the players right to dispute the umpire's decision. This is the best way to infuse technology into the process of umpiring decisions. There would be no discussion between the third umpire and the on-field umpire, there would only be specific one-way communication from the third umpire to the on-field umpire. This limitation is important, because umpiring decisions in my view are meant to be made by 1 umpire, not by a consultative committee.

If such a Referral System is formally written, it would be more comprehensive than the 5 questions i have put forth here. But in general, i think that it would be better than the current system, if the third umpire could provide facts rather than judgements and could do so only when these facts are at odds with the decision on-field, without being prompted to do so from the field - either by player or umpire.

A somewhat facile victory

I don't like that phrase very much. But it describes what i feel about India's victory in the Hamilton Test quite accurately. In 2006 India toured West Indies, and were widely expected to win there, especially by those observers not accustomed to India's overseas woes. But those woes, that tag that the Indian Test team are poor travellers, is outdated today. In this decade, India have now won Test Matches in Zimbabwe (3), Bangladesh (4), Australia (2), England (2), Pakistan (2), Sri Lanka (2), West Indies (2), South Africa (1) and New Zealand (1). Their 12-18 away record (against the top teams, not counting Zim and Ban) has been bettered in this decade only by Australia (28-10) and South Africa (16-18). Further, they have done better in England, Australia, West Indies and Pakistan in this decade than they have in Sri Lanka.

India have toured Australia, South Africa, West Indies, England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan twice and are currently on their second tour of New Zealand. In these 14 tours, India's batsmen have excelled.

Rahul Dravid 3878 runs at 54.61 in 82 innings
Virender Sehwag 2722 runs at 52.34 in 53 innings
Sachin Tendulkar 2900 runs at 48.33 in 65 innings
VVS Laxman 3033 runs at 48.14 in 72 innings
Sourav Ganguly 2210 runs at 37.45 in 65 innings

India's bowlers have been less successful. The bowling averages are not pretty, but they have delivered 12 Test wins.

As easy as this win might have looked, a word of caution is in order. India had the better of the conditions and made the most of this. They batted carefully when the wicket was doing a little bit on Day 2 (4/249 in 84 overs) and then opened out on Day 3 (6/242 in 68 overs). They bowled well on Day 1 when the conditions were in their favor. They never fell behind in the game.

There will be a time in this series when New Zealand have the better of the conditions. The true measure of India's progress will be in how they play when that happens. What if New Zealand win the toss and put India in in conditions similar to those on the first morning at Hamilton? India will have to rely heavily on their massive advantage in terms of experience. Right now, many in the Indian batting line up have about the same amount experience of Test batting in New Zealand as many in the New Zealand batting line up have.

This then will be the real test. For now, I am pleasantly reminded that this Indian side the best Indian side ever. We will find out in the next 15-20 months what that means in terms of results.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why is it bizarre?

The outcome of the West Indies v England ODI is in doubt. Cricinfo's commentary on the matter is deeply opinionated -
5.50pm
England are celebrating now. And it's official - England have won. West Indies are distraught, perplexed and embarrassed all because of one tiny little number; and all because the light was a little bit murky. Dyson's still holding the piece of paper with the Duckworth-Lewis stats on, as though incapable of realising what has happened. It was he, though, who beckoned the two batsmen to come in when they were offered the lights. And it is he who will shortly have to explain exactly why. What a sad end to a match which was bubbling into a real beauty.

Dyson's heading over to Javagal Srinath, the match referee, to have a look at the calculations. And they're heading off to have a look. The match is 90% finished and yet here we are, waiting, just because they were a little bit worried about murky conditions. On a ground with a stack load of floodlights. What a ridiculous situation this is. Collingwood's put a torch on his head like a miner's lamp.

The players are out on the balcony and no one knows what's going on. Except England think they've won. This could be one of the most embarrassing cock-ups in recent times by Dyson, who is still trawling over the Duckworth-Lewis calculations. Unfortunately, he's based his calculations on six-wickets down rather than seven. Another incalculable farce for cricket to contend with. And we're still waiting (5.48pm).

5.45pm
West Indies are behind the Duckworth-Lewis score. We will try to keep you updated as often as possible. But hang on a minute, the coach John Dyson is beckoning them in as they've been offered the light. What is going on? Looks like Dyson might have read it wrong here - the players are coming off and West Indies touch gloves! By our calculations, this is a calamitous cock-up and the West Indies are one run behind - but they think they've won. Strauss thinks he's won. Who has won? Stay with us!
Even the commentator in New Zealand begins his coverage of Day 4 of the Hamilton Test with these words:
There's some drama in Guyana in the first ODI between West Indies and England and as I write the players are walking off the field due to bad light and West Indies are actually one run behind the par score. Quite bizarre really.
Why is it bizarre? Why is it "ridiculous"? Why do commentators act as though this sort of thing just hit them even though the matter is perfectly straightforward and perfectly reasonable? What part of the D/L Method is a surprise? It seems to me to be a simple case of Coach John Dyson getting confused and misreading the D/L chart. Why do these people want to convey the impression that the game is somehow being wronged? Why do people who report things to us feel the need to manufacture pandemonium?

South Africa make hay

They made 3/343 in 88 overs on the second Day of their final Test against Australia. Right now they are supremely well placed to win the final Test. They ended the second days play at 3/404, a lead of 195. They have now scored more first innings runs in this Test than they did in the first two Tests combined.

I think it is fair to say that Australia have gone off the boil in this game, just as the South African's did at Sydney. Hilfenhaus and Johnson have both gone for about 4 runs per over compared to their economy rate of about 2.5 in the first two Tests. Siddle and McDonald have been economical as usual. Bryce McGain has been absolutely mauled by the South Africans. Given the opportunity to score a few runs, they took 13 fours and 5 sixes of McGain in 11 overs. In all they hit 39 fours and 5 sixers in 88 overs. Rarely has one bowler copped it so badly in Test Cricket.

But for McGain, the Aussies might still have been in it. Now, 195 in arrears and a lot of South Africa still to get past in the first innings, they are basically out of it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hamilton Test, Day 3

As Harbhajan Singh was finishing the penultimate over of the day, the sun broke through, and i thought to myself, would it be nice if Munaf Patel could return to bowl the final over the day, especially since Kyle Mills was to face up. Dhoni obliged, but what was truly amazing was the over that Munaf delivered. With the sun obscured by the clouds, it was unlikely that Dhoni would have brought a fast bowler on for the last over. The batsmen would have been offered the light and they would have taken it. Munaf came in cold and bowled six superb delivered. There were no warm ups, just pure class.

I felt a sorry for Kyle Mills. This has been a horrible Test Match for him. He was bowled first ball in the first innings, and then got hammered when he bowled in India's first innings. He was then assigned the nightwatchman's job, and in fact, he did complete his job - he protected the next specialist batsman - Ross Taylor. Further, while he was at the wicket he also shielded Daniel Flynn by taking the whole over from Patel. It was sad that he had to fall last ball of the day, not least because the light had probably faded mid way through the over.

Ian O'Brien was the best New Zealand fast bowler on show today - Vettori was their best bowler overall. Vettori was hard to score off even when the Indians already had a lead and Tendulkar was well set. He bowled 16 overs for 38 runs on Day 3 - comparable to his 16 overs for 40 runs on Day 2. His variation of flight and pace was masterly, and had he had some reasonable fast bowling support at the other end, he might have done better than his two wickets. 

Sachin Tendulkar gave the impression that he felt really good first thing in the morning, and decided that he would have some fun. He went after the bowling aiming strokes at anything he didn't have to block. He made 47 (46) early in the day before settling in the build a stand with Dhoni. He had made 63(69) in the session before shutting shop in the last 15 minutes before lunch. His innings are always meticulously and methodically built and the preperation screams out at you when you watch him in an innings like this. Of course, the odd error is inevitable, and he could easily have been out very early in his innings had his attempted pull shot at a shortish Vettori delivery not fallen far away from any fielder.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is Sachin Tendulkar in embryo, in the sense that no other batsman in the Indian side (either this one or any recent ones) has shown the ability to play according to the situation as Dhoni has. Tendulkar's adjustments are more technical, while Dhoni's are more tactical. Both are very hard to to make.

There was a marginal catch of the New Zealand opener McIntosh early in the New Zealand innings, and i wonder if Umpire Gould's decision would have been reversed had referral's been available. Somehow i doubt it, because replays were inconclusive. Martin Guptill's dismissal was quite sad (i can find no other word to describe it), for he played very well, especially for a man on debut. There is a little bit of Michael Vaughan in his play and the eagle-eyed New Zealand selectors seem to have chosen well (especially given Guptill's modest first class record). I felt that Guptill was beaten in the flight, but in pace more than in length, and seemed to check his stroke because the ball was there when he thought it would be there. I suspect it also held up on his off the pitch - this could also have been a function of the slowness of the delivery.

All in all, it has been India's day yet again, and deservedly so.

The Indian Express on BCCI, ICL and the NZ Tour

The Indian Express has published an editorial about BCCI's conduct with regard to New Zealand cricketers who appeared in the Indian Cricket League (ICL) during India's ongoing tour of New Zealand. Lets keep in mind that this is a serious newspaper, not a tabloid - it is one of India's biggest national newspapers. As such, this is a fairly prestigious editorial page. The editorial i have linked to appears on Page 10 of the March 19, 2009 edition of the Indian Express.

The basic argument in this article is that the BCCI has been behaving thuggishly towards the ICL in general. Further, to lend some seriousness to this argument, the Indian Express goes on to say that not only is the BCCI arrogant, it is also stupid - because it has missed an opportunity to expand its empire.

This is dubious. On the face of it, all that the Indian Express has done is to take some new colors and fill in yet another caricature on the coloring book entitled "BCCI is full of fools". Whats more, they haven't even taken care to ensure that they stay inside the lines. Here's why:

1. The BCCI is not "denying others to live by their skills". It is simply saying that they should ply their skills at ICL run events, not ICC run events. Further, this is probably dictated by the contract that BCCI and IPL have with their sponsors. Remember the issues with ambush marketing? Homer has the low down about the specific case of Craig McMillan.

2. The BCCI has spent nearly a century nurturing Cricket in India - it is an umbrella body for sure, but it is an umbrella body of regional Cricket associations, which in turn are umbrella bodies of clubs and gymkhanas. The owners of the ICL are a business enterprise, who view the ICL no differently than they view their latest grubby soap opera on ZEE TV - its television software. If they want to rake in the profits, made possible by the BCCI, they ought to pay BCCI royalties.

The BCCI is absolutely right to protect its interest, because the ICL has no interest in Cricket - if they did, they would invest money in serious cricket - 4 day games. Something which is not a profitable venture. Besides, for the ICL to be successful, it has to poach players nurtured by BCCI and made famous by BCCI, because this fame comes from playing International Cricket. If you notice, the BCCI has absolutely no problem with India players playing against those English and West Indian cricketers who played in the Stanford T20.

It is unfortunate that a serious newspaper like the Indian Express would choose to print such a sophomoric editorial. If they want to make a serious argument for free enterprise, that is one thing. It is apparent that they just want find an excuse to yell at the BCCI, because the BCCI-Official-As-Buffoon caricature is a popular one. It is also a deeply unfair one.

I hope this post illustrates how easy it is to tell just one side of the story. I agree that lots of stories have only one side to them. But usually, when it comes to stories about Interests, there are two or more legitimate positions. Hiding behind the New Zealand press corps and firing at BCCI over their shoulder is not a serious argument.

Commenters, Referrals and Tosses

Sometimes, commentary and responses from readers on Cricinfo make for interesting reading. I followed the first few overs of the Cape Town Test, and there was an LBW appeal in the very first over -
1.4 Ntini to Katich, no run, loud loud shout for Lbw but it's turned down. Kallis, at first slip, looks at Boucher to say whether we should go for a review but Boucher shrugs. It was full in length and straightened on the middle stump, Katich got the bat way outside the line and was hit in front of middle and off. IT would have crashed into off and middle! oh boy!
Normally, this would have been viewed as an umpiring error. But note the commentary - the discussion immediately shifted to whether Smith and Boucher would go for a referral. This focus on whether or not there ought to be a referral, draws attention away from the umpire, which in my view is a terrible thing. And sure enough, a couple of overs later, there was a comment from one Gareth"
"Gareth: "One thing about this new referal system is that it has changed the burden of a bad decision. Now, if they don't go for a review and it would have been out, the spotlight seems to be on fielding captain for not asking for it, as opposed to the umpire. Probably for the best, umpires have a damn hard job without people getting up in arms for decisions with mere millimeters in it!"
It could not have been put to us in a more damning way - "it has changed the burden of a bad decision". But has it really? It has shifted the burden of the decision from the Umpire, who is on the best position on the field to judge, to the fielding Captain, who is less well placed (the wicketkeeper not too well placed either). In this, the LBW is a special case, unlike the Caught decision, because the LBW is by definition a matter of conjecture. Now, what the referral system has effectively done, is to shift the burden of making the conjecture from the person who is positioned best to make it, to the person who is more affected by the decision that will eventually come about. The disinterested umpire now shares the stage with the very interested captain.

In doing so, the ICC have gone down a very slippery slope. When the system comes up for review, there is almost no chance of it being completely scrapped. When they do revisit it, i hope they do so with the realization of the basic philosophical shift they have chosen. They have now made every dismissal a negotiation - at once a tactical and political event.

There was another interesting suggestion in the early overs. This was motivated by the fact that Ricky Ponting has won the toss six times out of six in the six Tests against South Africa this year.
"Stew from OZ is in a generous mood: "im beginning to wonder if its time for a change from the toss before a match. im glad we won them and put us in good positions, but the same thing has happened to us in reverse also.
maybe they should toss a coin at the beginning of the series and whoever wins it chooses what they want to do in first test. then the other capt chooses in next test and so on. too many matches decided by toss with these flat batting decks now." Whatever happened to the fact that the best team won?"
This is a fine idea on the face of it. But when you think about it, it is in fact quite problematic. Suppose India won the pre-series toss in the first Test of their series against NZ and chose to bat first. In the next game, Daniel Vettori would have to make the choice, and would know this before hand. This would provide ample scope for doctored pitches - a green one for the second Test, followed by an absolutely flat one for the third.

But, given that the ICC has found it wise to involve the players in Umpiring decisions, this suggestion about the toss seems to be worth trying.