Monday, June 29, 2009

New Team, Old woes

I suppose a lot of people in India are following the ongoing ODI series in the West Indies. India won the first game and lost the second, and the pattern has been a familiar one. With the first choice ODI bowling attack unavailable, India are back to winning when their batsmen fire. If the batsmen don't fire they have little or no chance of making a game of it. This is what kept happening for most of 2007 (chiefly in England). In 2008 this problem was addressed somewhat and India's bowlers did do reasonably well. Atlthough we have only two games to go on, the signs are not promising.

The batting is a smaller problem. Rohit Sharma for example has had a superb few months in the limelight of T20 and before that, did very well in the first class season. His form in ODI cricket has been less than stellar but it would be premature to write him off so quickly. I maintain that among all the new Indian batsmen - Raina, Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Rahane and co., he is the classiest batsman and is most likely to end up with 20 Test hundreds by the end of his career.

The problems faced by this generation of batsmen are more complicated than say those faced by Tendulkar or even Ganguly & Dravid 7 years later. The craft of batting in ODI cricket has changed over the past 3-4 years, the craft of batting in T20 is only just emerging, while the craft of batting in a first class game or Test Match still endures. Ironically, the most adverse effect of T20 cricket is likely to be on ODI batting, and not on First Class or Test Match batting, because both T20 and ODIs tend to begin at the same frenetic shot-a-ball pace. The catch in ODI's is that a batsman, especially a top-order batsman, still has to build a proper innings over 30-35 overs (ideally more). The pace in the first few overs of the ODI must be set keeping this in mind. There is also the time honored truth about a batsman's first mistake being the only one he is permitted in most cases.

This is where Tendulkar will be missed by India. Not for the big runs that he makes, for India have enough firepower in the middle order to make runs, but for his mastery of these early overs. His ability to judge the bowling, the wicket and the match situation and adjust. How well does he do this? Lets look at his record. In 303 innings as an ODI opener, Tendulkar has made 13568 runs at 48.11 with 39 centuries and 70 fifties. His strike rate is 88 runs/100 balls. So in 109 out of 303 (or slightly better than 1 in 3) innings, Tendulkar reaches 50. He faces on average 51 balls per ODI innings. He has reached at least 30 in 163 out of those 303 innings. He has survived 30 deliveries (half of 10 overs) 172 times in 303 innings or 57%.

Compare that with say Adam Gilchrist. 9200 runs at 36.50 (strike 98.02) with 16 centuries and 53 fifties in 259 innings as an ODI opener. Gilchrist reaches at least 50 once every 3.75 innings (for Tendulkar this figure is 2.77 innings). Gilchrist has survived 30 deliveries in 128 of his 259 innings or 49%.

Surviving 30 deliveries is one thing. How often does Gilchrist reach a score of 30? 119 times in 259 innings (46% of his innings). How often does Tendulkar? 54% of the time.

Comparing Gilchrist and Tendulkar is instructive, because they were different types of ODI opener. Gilchrist, in theory, did not bear the burden of shouldering his teams innings to the extent that Tendulkar did. Gilchrist did not open the batting because he was the best batsman in the Australian side. Tendulkar did it because of a simple reason - he was the best batsman in the Indian side, and so it made sense for India to have him face as many of the 50 overs as possible. This argument has not changed much over 15 years, even though the later batting has definitely been superior in this decade. Given this role, Tendulkar has more than met the targets set for him by the Indian side. As has Gilchrist for Australia.

But India's batting strength, which has been the basis of their success (given the moderate pace attack) has been built on Tendulkar managing the early overs (with Ganguly for a few years and then with Sehwag). The absence of Tendulkar may not become apparent on a game by game basis, but if you look back on a year or two without Tendulkar (which will soon become possible), you will most likely find that the Indian batting performance in ODI cricket is poorer over such a period than you are accustomed to, despite the middle order doing very well.

There are those who argue that Tendulkar has merely benefited from the easiest scoring period in a limited overs game. They do so by citing the fielding restrictions that come with the new ball. Of course, they don't take into account the new ball, fresh bowlers, fresh fielders, and most crucially, Tendulkar's game plan and the tactical expectation from the team which says he should try and bat for 50 overs. Seen in this light, Tendulkar's early assaults are fraught with greater risk than say Gilchrist's (i want to also say Jayasurya's but im not completely convinced that Jayasurya's role in the SL batting, despite his methods, is anything like Gilchrist's).

It is a complicated task, and Tendulkar has for almost 15 years, single handedly borne this large chunk of India's limited overs batting workload. He has done it with aplomb. It remains to be seen whether Gambhir and Sehwag can do his job, or whether the job will be retired with Tendulkar and future Indian ODI opening batsmen take up more Gilchristian roles.

I remain convinced that a successful ODI batting lineup is built around one crucial batsman in the top 3 (Gilchrist had the luxury of having the amazingly consistent Ponting at number 3). Whatever strategy India choose, they will have to find a great player in at least one of those three positions if they are to maintain their recent batting performances in ODI cricket.

Yuvraj Singh has emerged in the middle order for India and surpassed his predecessors. Dhoni has emerged as the most astonishing floater in limited overs cricket (4521 runs at 49.68, strike rate 90!). India need to find the player who will take over Tendulkar's job. So far, this batsman has not emerged.

Of course, if India find a couple of crack pace bowlers, everything would change. But then again, that has proved elusive...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

England follow Australia

England have just completed a visited to a World War I grave site at Ypres. If you recall, the Australians visited a World War I battlefield at Gallipoli on their way to England for the 2001 Ashes. Of this visit, Steve Waugh writes
"To me, 'bonding' is an overrated term normally linked to reminiscing about past escapades with a truckload of grog on board. I've had my fair share of these nights, and while they can create a few laughs and a better understanding of each other, the experience is shallow and soon forgotten. True bonding experiences stand the test of time and become part of you, and most certainly, visiting Gallipoli together on our way to England for the 2001 Ashes tour had a profound effect on most of the squad" (Out of my comfort zone, p. 597-8)
Waugh also quotes John Buchanan (who wore his father's war medals on the visit) as saying 'I felt compelled to ring my [18 year-old] son, Michael, and tell him how much I love him, as you never know what might happen tomorrow,'.

I suppose there is something to be said for doing something together that is quite apart from your day to day life.

On England's visit, captain Andrew Strauss says

"It's important to take a step back from cricket at times and this visit was a deeply moving and humbling experience for all of the players and management. We learned a great deal about the sacrifices made by a previous generation of England cricketers and I would like to thank the people for making us so welcome."
The England head coach Andrew Flower has a slightly more propagandist take
"This visit was part of ongoing efforts designed to broaden horizons and learn more about the role of leadership and team ethics. Everyone came away from the visit with a greater understanding of what it really means to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for your country. We hope it will help strengthen our own bonds within the team as we prepare for what should be a very exciting Ashes series."
The most interesting aspect of Steve Waugh's account of the Australian visit to Gallipoli is something that he mentions only in passing. The Australians had a Turkish guide. This guide's grandfather had died in combat. The Ottoman Turks of 1915 were fighting against the British Empire and France in World War I.

If these players are actually learning something from these visits (apart from "bonding" which comes from going on a sightseeing visit together), i wonder what they thought of this obviously interesting titbit. Did they grapple with it - with the fact that their tour guide's grandfather spent his time trying his best to kill as many of those distant Australians as he could. It is distant history now, but the point is, which Gallipoli (the invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula was known as the Dardanelles Campaign as the time) were the Australian's visiting? Did it involve finding out the reason why the Australians were there in the first place? Andrew Flower's rather pompous claim that this sightseeing trip gave the members of the England squad "a greater understanding of what it means to stand shoulder to shoulder and fight for your country" (lets leave aside the fact that Flower himself is Zimbabwean), or Steve Waugh's "certainty" about the efficacy of the bonding exercise as Gallipoli, would ring truer if they actually involved serious grappling with reality - with the facts. With complications. Not with visits to impeccably manicured cemeteries in beautifully cut suits.

I can think of nothing worse than ginning some kind of nationalistic, jingoistic team 'ethic' by making a sightseeing trip to a battlefield colored with other people's blood. This pretense that participants in a cricket series (however storied it may be) somehow require inspiration from real battlefields where real blood had been spilt, and real flesh burnt, misses the point and essence of both sport and war. Wars are brutal and vicious where the purpose of the participants is to kill, for otherwise they might get killed. Test Matches are not.

The definitive last words on this were uttered many years ago by the great Keith Miller who demolished a Michael Parkinson question about the pressure of playing Test Cricket by pointing out that
"Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse, playing Cricket is not"
The cricketers making a days outing to Ypres or Gallipoli and pretending to learn about camarederie and 'bonding' is no different from Charu Sharma pretending to an expert commentator by asking Mohinder Amarnath silly questions on TV.

Australia didn't win because Buchanan told his players that they should broaden their horizons and learn lessons about life. The Australians were already doing that before Buchanan showed up on the scene. And one of the two players most responsible for Australia's success - Shane Warne, has made no secret of his misgivings (i think he would say contempt) for these things (boot camp, Gallipoli and whatever else). They won because they played better Cricket - more skill, more talent, more discipline, than the opposition. It was not because they were better friends with each other.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Protect the IPL

It appears that fatigue has been established as the major reason for India's early exit from the 2009 T20 World Cup. To the extent that there can be a serious reason for any T20, this is a pretty good one.

It is amusing though, that people are saying that the IPL is not the sole reason for this fatigue. Lets examine the facts.

1. India, by virtue of having signed off on the Future Tours Programme of the ICC are already committed to playing each of the other Test playing nations twice every 5 years (or possibly 4 years) - Home and Away. This agreement extends upto 2012.

2. The IPL came about after the FTP was in place, and therefore, commonsense dictates that it is the IPL which ought to be considered the additional burden on the players and not the schedule of the FTP.

Furthermore, the IPL as a tournament lasted for 5 weeks, which is slightly longer than your average 3 Test series lasts these days. Furthermore, the IPL almost certainly involves more travelling than a Test series does and hence is much more exhausting, even if the cricket is less strenous.

Besides, in these 5 weeks, all the players except Australia and Pakistan who completed a part of the FTP obligations with the ODI series in the Gulf and England and one visiting team (in this case West Indies) who would have played the scheduled May-June short Test Series in England (has been going on since 2000), would have been on a break. Including India.

So yeah, India would have had a break. The scheduling, if you take the IPL out of the equation, has infact been admirably standardized in international cricket in this decade. There is still some residual imbalance - England tend to play longer Test series than other sides, but even that has begun to be remedied in the second half of this decade. In terms of calender year, there is a naturally cyclical aspect to the FTP - in some years India tend to play 15-16 Tests, in others they play only 6-7.

To say that the IPL is not solely responsible for fatigue is inaccurate. It is, because it placed an additional extraneous burden on international cricketers. It is absolutely the outstanding reason for an unnecessarily cluttered schedule.

Besides, fatigue per se is not the issue. If you look at the amount of cricket English professionals used to play in the pre-war (and even post-war) summers (upto 35 first class games in a season - enough for a bowler to bowl a 1000 overs and take 100+ wickets!), followed by winter tours, you will see that they played enormous amounts of cricket - and players did well at the end of the summer. Im weary of arguments about tiredness, and arguments about scheduling - players who are tired have the option to opt out, as Dhoni did in Sri Lanka last year. Losing teams tend to make these more often than winning teams. In India's case, these are being made for them.

So did the IPL clutter the international schedule? Yes it did! Is that why India got eliminated from the T20 World Cup before the knockout stage? No.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Iranian footballers "retired"

A total disgrace.

The Guardian also reports that Mr. Ahmedinejad has been
"Ahmadinejad, a known football fan, has taken a close interest in the sport's affairs. In 2006 Iran was banned from international competition by the world governing body Fifa after claims of improper interference by his government. The ban was later lifted."

"This year the national team coach Ali Daei was sacked, reportedly on Ahmadinejad's orders, after a 2-1 home defeat by Saudi Arabia."

Shades of Pervez Musharraf there.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A fitting final

The Gods are smiling on the game. It is fitting that the final of the T20 World Cup should be between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Many of the players from Lahore feature in this final.

This is the silver lining of an ordinary tournament with a modest format.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Anthony Bourdain and Cricket

Anthony Bourdain used to be a chef in a "turn and burn" restaurant in New York City before he turned to writing books and then hosting a number of travel shows. He has also written for the New Yorker. He hosts a show on the travel channel called No Reservations which is a food and travel show where he travels to different countries in the world, typically for a week of show and eats about 10 meals in 50 minutes of show time. In the more distant places he also tends to sample some of the local culture.

How do i know all this? Because i had to find out about this guy after watching this video:

There is something deeply amusing about the fact that a show which has visited England should get introduced to Cricket in India. Bourdain makes the unforgivable error (in my opinion he should be sued!) of calling Kolkata the
"spiritual home of Indian cricket". Im pretty sure it was that silly moustacheod, parochial Kolkatan (or is it Kolkataite) who fed him that bit of disinformation!

I mean, lets face it. Until Sourav Ganguly came along Kolkata was the place with the cricket ground with the biggest seating capacity in India where players from Bombay and Karnataka and Hyderabad made Test Hundreds, and the Kolkatans watched pretending that Azharuddin and Gavaskar were their home town boys. Before Ganguly, Bengal's contribution to Indian cricket amounted to Arun Lal and Deep Dasgupta and an assortment of other one Test wonders.

Whats more, thanks to the evil Youtube, Bourdain's outrageous lie has been watched by 20,270 viewers (as of now), many of whom are probably unsuspecting, innocent cricketing neophytes who will come away believing, as Bourdain has been lead to believe by some horrendously evil denizen sympathetic to the eastern metropolis that Kolkata is the "spiritual home" of Indian Cricket.

Then to add insult to injury, Bourdain visits Bombay in the same show. Any self-respecting, honest man would have corrected Bourdain. "No, the next city you visit is actually the spiritual capital of cricket in India". But n0!

Its actually a really good travel show.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A troubling selection

The Indian Selectors have chosen the Indian squad for the ODI tour of the West Indies. Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan have been rested. Virender Sehwag and Suresh Raina are out injured, while Munaf Patel and Irfan Pathan have been dropped.

The reason i say this is a troubling selection is that it appears to rely on performances in the IPL, in T20 cricket for selection in 50 over games. Both are limited overs games i agree, but there is a difference between bowling 4 overs in a game and bowling 10 overs in an ODI. The 10 overs can involve at least one full length spell of 6, 7 or 8 overs. The selection of RP Singh and Ashish Nehra is hard to explain, other than by taking into account performances in the IPL.

It is hard to know the rationale behind the selection of RP Singh and Ashish Nehra and the dropping of Munaf Patel especialy, because Munaf, going by the figures, outperformed both RP and Nehra in the IPL.

RP Singh:
23 wickets in 16 innings, 59.4 overs, at 18.13 runs/wicket, conceding 6.98 runs/over, strike rate 15.56 balls per wicket

Ashish Nehra:
19 wickets in 13 innings, 51 overs, at 18.27 runs/wicket, conceding 6.78 runs/over, strike rate 16.1 balls per wicket

Munaf Patel:
16 wickets in 11 innings, 34.5 overs, at 15.06 runs/wicket, conceding 6.91 runs/over, strike rate 13.1 balls per wicket

If we look back, Munaf Patel played two games in New Zealand and went wicketless. Whats more, he went for 93 in 9.2 in New Zealand, including 79 in 7.2 in the game at Christchurch, where Tendulkar made 163 and India made 4/392 in 50 overs.

Statistically, there is no clear reason for the selection of either Nehra or RP Singh over Patel. This in itself is fine. One expects the selectors to look beyond the numbers. The problem here is they have looked beyond the numbers into T20 cricket and fished out two bowlers have been tried in the past, and unsuccessfully at that. RP Singh especially was not dropped because of injury. I think dropping Irfan Pathan was right, because even though his batting is a very tempting aspect of his game, he's not proved himself good enough to be counted amongst India's 4 specialist bowlers in an ODI game (where a bowler has to deliver 10 overs).

I really hope that the selectors were able to disenthrall themselves from the IPL before they made this selection. On the face of it, it appears as though they have not managed to do so. But, the selectors have invariably chosen wisely in the recent past, and i hope this selection turns out to be is yet another good. Its an especially good opportunity for Ashish Nehra who is basically an extremely good bowler. Im less convinced about RP Singh and would have preferred the classier Munaf Patel in his place. There have been persistent rumours about RP Singh being able to swing the ball both ways, but when it comes to the crunch, he tends to bowl very straight. He has also tended in the last couple of years to be extremely mercurial. He does have the knack to produce the most peculiar wicket taking deliveries, but a much more telling measure of his quality is his inability to keep the runs down in any form of the game. He goes for 4.02 in Tests and 5.36 in ODIs.

Even though this is a very short limited-overs-cricket-only tour, this selection is troubling due to the apparent importance of the IPL (which in terms of the quality of sides is about equal to a County level T20 tournament) in making the choice of two previously tested cricketers. If they had used the IPL to pick say Kamran Khan, that would have been one thing. Using it to pick Nehra and RP is quite another.

Lets hope Nehra and RP Singh prove me wrong.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A fine match report

Say what you might about Christopher Martin Jenkins, but the veteran journalist can still write superb professional match reports. It is the sort of writing you will not find in an Indian newspaper. Nor will you find it on a blog. It is the report of a man who actually follows Cricket and doesn't just show up for match after match after match.

It is a report about the first day of a county game. Sussex v Somerset at Hove. The scorecard of the days play rounds off the report. It's a simple report. It tells us what happened in the day, giving pride of place to the day's two exceptional performers - Marcus Trescothick and Piyush Chawla. Relevant recent histories of individual players and both competing teams are effortlessly woven into the report. Some context with respect to the situation in the county championship is provided. Its all very routine and unexceptional.

Even so, it draws you into the day's play as you read it. It tells you the story of what happened at the Cricket. When did it begin to appear that the tide was turning? When you reach the end of the report, you feel like you were there at the cricket. I can almost see in my minds eye, Justin Langer shaking his head in disgust at the LBW so early in his innings (possibly his first assertive stroke), half at the injustice of the decision, half at the fact that he missed the ball.

It was not an exceptional day of cricket. Nothing dramatic happened. The batting side reached 9/314, the opening batsman made a hundred and the leg spinner got 5 wickets (Piyush Chawla getting numbers 2-6 in the batting order). But it was enough for a seasoned old professional journalist who still writes match reports about County games.

Something for us to learn there...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Analysis, Reverse Swing and the Keeper of the Mints

I did say that that there would be serious analysis of the India v England game. Not street corner analysis, but actual considered words from people who have been there, done that.

From the
Hindustan Times:
Erapalli Prasanna makes the point (and lets concede that this is a good one, now that the press has told us the Dhoni agreed it was a mistake) that Ravinder Jadeja was wrongly promoted by Dhoni at number 4. But he follows it up with "Even Harbhajan Singh could have given us the required thrust"!!

Syed Kirmani offers this nugget - "You have the talent and you are rated as favourites but this is what happens when you don't click. Sehwag's absence dented our prospects"

Lalchand Rajput aims his fire more broadly, always a safe thing to do.

But the most interesting comment came from Dhoni when he observed that "the ball was reversing" when he and Yusuf were batting.

This is another reason Pakistan should have treated New Zealand's supposed accusation with contempt. Would New Zealand have made the accusation if they were facing Stuart Broad bowling reverse swing instead Umar Gul? The appropriate response to this kind of residual prejudice from teams like New Zealand is contempt, not a serious defense.

The other way to look at it, if one were to be wicked (though no more so than Erapalli Prasanna, who, ever the off-spinner, thought that one of his brethren could be a better number 4 batsman than Ravinder Jadeja), one might recall Trescothick and the Murray Mints and ask aloud who the current keeper of the mints is in England's T20 XI.

Of course, such questions are not to be asked. Its England, not Pakistan! And it's India not New Zealand!!

Apology for What?

I think this is plainly ridiculous. Dhoni or his teammates owe nobody any apology. But this instance is worse than that. Dhoni is quoted as saying
"We are sorry for what happened but we can say we gave our best,......... We had experienced guys who can handle the pressure. It was a day when nothing much worked for us."
How does that translate to "Dhoni apologizes to the nation", or "Dhoni apologizes to cricket fans"? I take it that the newspapers used the word apology in its modern meaning, namely: "a written or spoken expression of one's regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another", and not its ancient Greek meaning as applied for example in The apology of Socrates as recounted by Plato, where the word is taken to mean a justification or defense of one's ideas and actions.

You may say that Dhoni did a little bit of both, but i suspect it was essentially in a manner of speaking that he said "we are sorry for what happened". It was futile in any event, for he was burnt in effigy after India lost.

I think a lot of cricket fans, and worse, a lot of journalists probably think this (apology-like quote from Dhoni) was in order. I don't think it is a coincidence that multiple news agencies have reported it as "Dhoni apologizes to the nation".

I also think it was a very bad mistake on Dhoni's part to talk about his tactics - what was a mistake and what was not. These things are not for public discussion, not because they are secret or anything, but because they belong in the team. What Dhoni essentially said was that Ravinder Jadeja failed to deliver for him - and he said it publicly! That is an astonishingly bad thing to do.

But most basically, it is unhealthy. If India's Cricket fans are "emotional" (i sincerely hope Dhoni meant it as a very loaded euphemism), then they need to grow up (however much Lalit Modi may dislike it). Dhoni ought not to pander to them.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On the Umar Gul ball tampering allegations

Umar Gul supposedly got the ball reverse-swing after 12 overs to take 5-6 against New Zealand in a T20 World Cup game. I didn't watch that game (i didn't even follow it on Cricinfo), but i did watch this video a few times, and i can't really detect too much prodigious swing in any direction. The only swinging comes from the New Zealand batsman, all of whom are doing it especially badly!

reaction from the Pakistan team management to the reverse-swing story is especially silly i think. This is what New Zealand said about the whole thing (officially and unofficially):
"Gul's performance was extraordinary and the level of reverse-swing he achieved was unusual," said a New Zealand team spokesman. "We spoke to the match officials after the game to seek clarification as to whether this [reverse-swing] had been achieved by fair means. They considered the matter and said they had no concerns. We are happy to accept their findings and we are not making any accusations of foul play." Behind the scenes, however New Zealand are rather less sanguine. One source described the mood in the camp ­yesterday as "disturbed".
Of course they were disturbed! They kept swinging (and sweeping!) and missed! I don't know about the other. But Pakistan have countered this non-accusation with a statement of their own:

Yesterday the Pakistan team manager, Intikhab Alam, said: "It is disappointing to hear these things. Umar is a fantastic bowler. Not everyone can bowl a reverse ball. You've got to have a special ability to do that. He's quick and his action makes a lot of difference."
Pakistan's captain, Younus Khan, has suggested the ball's deterioration was a result of it being hit into the crowd, a version of events reportedly corroborated by Benson and Tucker. But the New Zealanders believe the pristine nature of one side of the ball made this explanation unlikely, and – rightly or wrongly – all eyes are likely to be on the Pakistan seamers when they take on Ireland at The Oval today.
This is a dubious claim from Inthikab Alam. England's bowlers were reverse swinging the ball both ways in the 2005 Ashes. The Australians can do it, so can the Indians. Lasith Malinga gets reverse swing every now and then. Fidell Edwards does it as well. It is no longer some mystical, phantom skill. Besides, Umar Gul is not an exceptional bowler (among his peers) by any means. He has 76 Test wickets at 31.3 and 89 ODI wickets at 25.6. Good numbers, but they are not exactly those of a Malcolm Marshall or a Wasim Akram. Against non-minnows he has 61 wickets at 32.9 in Tests and 57 wickets at 27.8 in ODIs (econ 5.3). Again, good numbers, but by no means exceptional.

Did he bowl at the stumps, full and fast? Yes. Did produce prodigious reverse swing? Not really. Can you really observe "reverse-swing" sitting in the dug-outs which are not exactly behind the bowlers arm? You can't. Can you observe it from the non-strikers end? No? Should you be taken seriously complaining about it when you're trying to sweep a fast straight one on off-stump at 140 kmph? Umm... No!

Swing, like the Doosra is bowled more often in commentary (both during the game and afterwards in the press) than it is on the cricket field. The best thing for Pakistan to do would have been to ignore New Zealand. That they couldn't do.

I should note the headline from the Guardian. On the one hand it is understandable that the writer should cease on the fact that this game was played on the Oval, but Cricket has moved past the stage where reverse-swing was a Pakistani speciality. It has also moved past the stage where ball-tampering is the solve preserve of Pakistani bowlers. The folkore of ball-tampering has moved on from Imran Khan and bottle-tops to Marcus Trescothick and his Murray Mints.

The swinging ball has meaning if batsmen are interested in playing straight and protecting their wickets. In the T20 context, Swing - either regular or reverse, is largely moot.

Let the analysis begin....

Passion, brutality, victory and defeat (and all this in one evening). Whats not to like about T20?

It is a supreme irony i think, that Yuvraj Singh, who is arguably India's greatest ever middle-order batsman in limited overs cricket (check his record), and reputedly one of India's best fielders (im less convinced about this) should have been responsible for the fatal mis-field at the fag end of England's batting innings that cost India an extra 3 runs (England would have gotten 1 for the wide and 1 for the bye even if the ball had been stopped) which proved too many for their batsmen to chase. Of course, this is no causal link, merely a delicious coincidence.

It's all for the best i think. This ends about 10 weeks of T20 madness for India and its players. They can finally take that much needed break, which was to be available to them until IPL2 happened.

England will be pleased with this. The T20-World-Cup-is-a-sound-indicator-of-Ashes-outcome crowd will have a field day. The Ashes, as i think England's many fans will privately acknowledge, are a wholly different beast.

But still, T20's days are numbered at least until the next IPL, ICL, T20 World Cup or some other pretext for international hyper-inflated twenty-overs-a-side slogfest.

Meanwhile, bring on the Ashes!

Oh, and watch out for serious 'analysis' about tactics, strategy, choices, guts, spinal rectitude, unity, spirit, desire, attitude, killer-instinct (thats an old one!), prima-donnas and honeymoon periods.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

On the Media Mafia's reportage of the Sehwag injury

From Pradeep Magazine in the Hindustan Times. This is the same journalist who wrote a book about bookmaking and cricketers, called Not Quite Cricket: The Xplosive Story of How Bookmakers Influence the Game Today (Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2000).

He starts off by pointing out the media "mob mentality" in the first few lines of his post. The rest of his post (close to 4/5th of it) is dedicated to going after Dhoni, the support staff and the Board!

On Dhoni:
"[His] holier than thou attitude, where he parades the entire team and even the support staff in front of the media to prove that all is well with his world. He even has a skirmish with a TV reporter but such is his clout, power and popularity that no one dares to criticise him."
Exasperation seems more like it to me. Besides, "clout, power and popularity"? So the guy who can be accused by the press with impunity (with zero evidence) of having been responsible for a rift in his team, has so much clout, power and popularity, that him having a "skirmish" with a reporter is off limits?

Besides, the support staff? And the board? Sehwag "underplaying his injury"? This is the first im hearing of Sehwag underplaying his injury. Besides, why is Mr. Magazine asking us all this? Why doesn't he first find out the answers to these questions and then tell us about them?

Apart from his fairly amazing revelation that TV channels have told their anchors and reporters that they should cover cricket stories like they do crime stories, there is zero reporting in this article.

Mr. Magazine is right. This episode is a sign of the times. What he doesn't seem to realize is that he's squarely in the middle of these times. Why not reveal the names of the TV Channels? Since when did that become an illegitimate enterprise? Why not report the names of the reporters and more importantly their publications, and tell us in place about what they wrote and on what basis they wrote it? Mr. Magazine wants us to think that Dhoni has "clout and power and popularity", but think about it this way, given how Mr. Magazine frames the issue. On the one hand you have a 27 year old Cricketer, and on the other you have an entire battalion of journalists who have been playing the game Mr. Magazine has described for years if not decades. In whose favor do you think are the odds loaded?

What exactly was holier than thou about Dhoni's rather novel response to the situation? I say it was wonderful simply because it threw the press off guard. Dhoni seemed to have called their bluff, albeit rather theatrically.

I appreciate the fact that Mr. Magazine has at least deigned to broach the subject. I just wish it was an actual reported story, with facts and consequences. Because there was no actual reporting, Mr. Magazine inevitably lapsed into a "fair and balanced" smudge-job, where he spread the blame far and wide in what ended up as little more than a wistful lament. As an actual, professional, paid journalist, one would think he could do better than that.

Friday, June 12, 2009

From the Press

The publishing company Kraken Opus whose mission is to produce "definitive publications featuring the finest writers, stunning images displayed on an epic scale and presented in a beautifully-designed, luxury format." has turned to Sachin Tendulkar. This book will feature Sachin Tendulkar's DNA sample. The book weighs 30 Kilograms (about 1.25 checked bags on your average international airline in coach) and costs 3000 British Pounds or Rs. 234,460 and 29 paise. And no i don't think they'll write off the 29 paise.

Andy Bull writes about Tendulkar's appearance at an event for the publishing house. Some of the best cricket writing is to be found at the Guardian, both from its journalists like Mike Selvey and on its Cricket Blog.

The Dhoni-media story has taken a peculiar turn with a The Hindu story bearing the headline "Dhoni tries to mend his ways with the media". This is totally bizarre, because the story starts of by blandly suggesting that
[A]fter close to two years as captain, Dhoni's relationship with the media were strained here due to a newspaper report of him being at loggerheads with vice-captain Virender Sehwag.

The report infuriated Dhoni to such an extent that he turned up with the entire squad at a press conference in a show of unity.
Dhoni cleared the air (made filthy by the press) about the Sehwag situation. Typically the story doesn't address the reason for Dhoni getting upset by the media. The suggestion that there was a "rift" between Dhoni and Sehwag is not elaborated either in this story or in others. That the story about the Sehwag injury was leaked, led to the amazing deductive leap by the media that Dhoni and Sehwag were at loggerheads! Armed with this idea, the press pack pounced. It appears though that there was no rift.

If you find a reporter admitting this on the record, let me know. Of course it infuriated Dhoni, because it wasn't true! Yet, the story is not that it wasn't true, but that Dhoni got angry. The equation that the press uses as operative in this case seems to be simple. It goes something like this - If Dhoni talks about Sehwag's injury, then irrespective of anything we may have said, he's admitting his error and mending his ways. On the other hand, if he doesn't talk about Sehwag, then he's still an angry, intemperate captain.

Shane Warne has given in to the irresistable urge to have a go at John Buchanan's new role with the ECB. For Buchanan's part the phrase "elite program" seems very important to him. Buchanan's description of his upcoming work with the ECB is quite bizarre. It appears that he has been hired to meet with coaches and decide if he can find work with them! I suppose the "Shah Rukh Khan's Cricket Manager" bit on Buchanan's resume strengthens his negotiating position. Buchanan does make a good point about secrets though.

Imran Khan continues to try to return the PCB to the days when he was captain, when he was all powerful. He wants the PCB to offer the same kind of support to Younis Khan. Younis Khan and Imran Khan also seem to have seen T20 for what it is - "fun" cricket, or mere entertainment, unlike some others (Gilchrist, Gayle). Sadly, just at this time comes the news that Abdul Qadir has resigned as the Chairman of Selectors for the PCB, citing 'interference'. He goes on to offer as an example (though it isn't clear that it is the telling example) his view that Younis Khan should never have made the T20 squad, and that "younger T20 expert players" should have been picked. As such, Qadir's remarks appear to be rather intemperate and don't seem to be reason enough to resign. The real reason appears to be that he wasn't on speaking terms with the captain. This, you would think would be fatal for a selector!

Tanya Aldred writes about England getting thumped as only an English reporter can.

I want to meet someone who has bought that Sachin Tendulkar book!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

When context is stripped

17.3 Rashid to de Villiers, OUT, lovely ball, lovely catch - well bowled Rashid! Classic legspinner's delivery which bounced and turned on de Villiers, edging it to Collingwood's right at first slip. Fine catch
AB de Villiers c Collingwood b Rashid 11 (12b 0x4 0x6) SR: 91.66

This is the sort of soul destroying thing about T20 which bothers me no end. Any leg break which pitches on or around off-stump on a fine length and turns towards first slip, is not a "classic leg-spinners delivery". It is a basic leg-spinner's delivery. What makes it classic, is what has happened before it. Because the dismissal banks on the batsman being lured to play away from the body - loosely. To be beaten in the flight. For this, the batsman has to actually care about the flight first, to care enough to not want to be caught away from the pitch of the ball.

At 2/108, with 4 required for the win in approximately 3 overs, i don't think A B deVilliers was watching anything particularly closely. He was aiming for the gap between point and cover, for one of the four runs required. He could have slogged across the line and hit a four, he could have slogged across the line and top-edged to be caught elsewhere. The point is, in a T20 game, each of these choices by deVilliers would not have mattered - one would not have been better than the other in any meaningful way. Not just in this match situation, but in any match situation.

Thats why its bad cricket, because it doesn't matter what choice any player makes. Nothing has any merit of its own. All merit rests on the outcome of the act. So if deVilliers' edge had carried past slip, South Africa would have won. Or if there had been no slip, South Africa would have won. If there had been no slip, nobody would have blamed the England Captain for not having one. Hell, nobody's likely to blame the England captain for conceding 46 singles when the South African's were chasing 112 in 20 overs! Thats just over 2 singles per over, no questions asked.

Why wouldn't it matter what choice deVilliers made irrespective of the match situation? Because no plausible, enduring reason for any making any sort of judgement about such a choice exists. In proper cricket (and even in ODI's) there is the notion of a batsman "losing concentration". It is an empirically observable phenomenon, not dependent on the dismissal of the batsman. There is the notion of the batsman "tiring". There is the notion of the batsman being "set", of being "on top of the bowling". There is the excitement of a batsman approaching a landmark, of the fielding captain seizing on this fact and trying to pry out some advantage for his side by changing the field, changing the bowling - Changing the contest. There is the notion of a bowler being in "rythm", of the bowler being in a "good spell", of him "finding something in the wicket" late in the day. It doesn't really matter if the bowler gets the wicket. That he has bowled well stands on its own. That a batsman spent two hours for 30 runs countering difficult conditions and a difficult match situation stands on its own.

These things in Cricket, reaffirmed by language, make it human. Where are these things in T20? What is the language of T20? The test for T20 having a language, is for the possibility of merit being found in what batsmen and bowlers are doing, independent of the outcome of the act. Right now, it is becoming increasingly clear, that T20 speaks not some new language, but gibberish.

Of course, some viewers may not have bought into cricinfo's description of the deVilliers dismissal. They may have been benumbed - but the point is, there is no real reason for any of the dismissals let alone the deVilliers dismissal. If the new ball swings and a batsman edges it to the keeper in the 2nd over of a T20 game, people immediately jump up and say, "see, there's scope for swing bowling in T20". But there isn't, for swing bowling isn't about one ball swinging, it is about squaring the batsman up, beating the batsman's defense while the batsman is actually interested in defense for a reasonable period of time, by finding just the right length and line to catch the batsman in no man's land (neither forward nor back). It is about drawing the bat away from the pad, when the bat is otherwise unwilling to do so. There is a contest there. There is a context there. It is not enough that discerning observers, used to watching Test Cricket, can identify Adil Rashid's talent in T20, despite the fact that he would go for 6 or 7 runs per over, and bowl with men on the boundary all the time. The point is what these discerning observers determine to be Rashid's talent, is largely irrelevant in the T20 contest. It is not what they identify it to be, because it is inappropriate for the structure of the contest.

To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, in T20 there appears to be no "there" there.

Australia will win the Ashes (contd.)

I remain confident that they will do so, but, but the Old Batsman makes a persuasive point about Australia aging. As for Ponting himself, it remains to be seen how the great Australian acquits himself.

Ponting has toured England thrice before on Ashes tours and has made a Test hundred each time. His Test batting average in England - 42.6 is significantly lower than his 56.2 career average. The Australian batting line up for the first Test is likely to read

Philip Hughes, Simon Katich, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey, Michael Clarke, Andrew McDonald/Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Brett Lee, Nathan Hauritz, Stuart Clark

If Lee is fit, i suspect they will go with Lee first up. Peter Siddle has made an impressive beginning to his Test career (compare Siddle's career to say Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma, and he's head and shoulder's above them in terms of product). Peter Roebuck points out that Australia have selected pragmatically. They have simply packed the squad with the best available players with some basic understanding of team balance, and left the details for the tour managers to sort out. Australia's squad comprises of 6 batsmen, 2 wicketkeepers, 2 all rounders, 1 spinner and 5 fast bowlers. Lack of spin will be a problem for Australia. This Australian side resembles a lot of South African sides from recent years both in make up and in terms of talent. South Africa have not lost a series in England in this decade.

I remain puzzled by the general gloating emanating out of England, doubtlessly magnified by Australia's early exit from the T20 World Cup, but amazingly ignorant of England getting hammered by the Netherlands. As i write this England have been reduced to 111 all out by the South Africans. I wonder what will be worse, getting eliminated quickly against good opposition in a context well-understood to be something of a lottery, or stumbling along painfully through a series of sub-par performances after having qualified simply despite a fairly ignominous (in terms of reputations anyways) stumble. Andrew Flintoff has returned for Lancashire against Durham in the County Championship. Im so glad England had to good sense to keep Flintoff out of the T20 circus. As it happens, Flintoff got in a decent 12 overs in the day (as against a pointless 4 in the T20, where no batsman would need to care about what he was bowling anyways), and some good practice.

Flintoff is the one man who could turn the Ashes England's way. Australia will have to find a way to keep him in check - keeping him out with the ball, and keep him from blossoming with the bat.

By contrast, Australia have two distinct all rounder options, to accompany Mitchell Johnson. Andrew McDonald is the most defensive option - he's mainly a holding bowler and a watchful lower-middle order batsman. Shane Watson is the more explosive man. Watson was Australia's most impressive bowler in India last year. Who they pick will indicate what they are thinking.

It should be a fascinating series.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hurray for the Pirates in Sweden!

The Pirate Party in Sweden has won a seat in the European Parliament. They have a very focused party platform consisting of

1. Reform of Copyright Law
2. Abolition of the Patent System
3. Respect for the right to piracy.

According to its Wikipedia page, this is the third largest political party in Sweden in terms of membership!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Something you may not have guessed

The Press think they're in a relationship with MS Dhoni and his team. They are unable to deal with Dhoni's matter of factly, straightforward responses. All sanity has been relinquished by the press. Note that this is a Press Trust of India report, not some tabloid reporter's embellished storytelling. This is the report that gets printed in a number of mainstream newspapers.
Dhoni, who is already upset with media for reporting a few days back that Sehwag and he were not on even terms, completely lost his cool when it was implied that the news about Sehwag being ruled out was leaked.

"You are blaming me for leaking the news... You have all gathered here. Then why doesn't one of you stand up and..." he said. Just then he was cut short and a journalist tried to pacify him by saying "no we are not (blaming you)".
So Dhoni lost his cool when the news media accused him of "leaking" news! Yet, the news media apparently only did so as a matter of routine - there was no suggestion that they had lost their bearings. Of course, when he actually called their bluff about the leak accusation, the monolithic press, worried that one of their own would be shown up as a rat, withdrew their accusation, typically not by withdrawing it, but by denying that it was ever made.
Asked about Sehwag's injury and why there was no update from the team management, he curtly said, "Whatever news related to fitness, you will get it from the BCCI."

Asked why a captain should not provide the update, an irritated-looking Dhoni said, "I'm not going to say anything on that."

On whether he was aware of Sehwag's injury, Dhoni's cryptic reply was "Yes, I am."
Huh? Cryptic? What part of that was cryptic? Sure, it was Dhoni being very correct in saying that its not his job to be the team's media liason and convey routine information to them. I guess its more work to actually ring up three or four people to find out something, than to merely wait all day for the press conference in which everything would be presented on a platter.

Than comes the snark.
In between, Dhoni made some serious noise about the importance of tomorrow's game against Ireland, a claim hardly borne out by the low turnout of his boys in a practice session at Lady Bay nets in the morning.

As many as five Indian cricketers -- Yusuf and Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan, Ravinder Jadeja and Yuvraj Singh -- were absent from the nets.
So Dhoni made "some serious noise" about the importance of the game against Ireland, which to anyone actually interested in the tournament, would be a a fairly easy statement to accept (the difference between qualifying first and qualifying second for the next stage, a difference in how much India are left with in the next stage). Of course, this does not follow that every one of India's players who have been playing T20 until they are sick in recent weeks, would still want to practice.

Then there was this:
Dhoni generally was inclined to give ambivalent answers to questions and when somebody wanted his reasons for batting at number three, his reply, in just a word, was barely audible.
At this point Dhoni could be forgiven for thinking that trying to explain something like that to the press would be like trying to explain calculus to a dog.

Seriously, who is the press accountable to? What are their standards? Given the importance of the work that they do (not so much in cricket, but in other areas), how do we know that they are actually listening and thinking about what they say? Since there appears to be absolutely no in-house critic or watchdog that the general public will be able to hear, we have no option but to take them at their word. Of course there are journalists who actually investigate stories - they spend hours and hours tracking down leads, building up a narrative in response to what they find. But when it comes to day to day reportage of the news (especially cricket news), it appears that the job is given to a bunch of petulant amateurs (and i write this as a genuine amateur myself).

These fights with the team management or with the team members are not rare events, they happen again and again and again. And when India don't win, the press dumps on them like nobody else. The BCCI's response has been the limit its communication withe Press. Now Dhoni is doing the same thing. This may be sensible for BCCI, but it definitely isn't good for us.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Australia will win the Ashes

Over my three and a bit years of keeping this weblog, i have learnt not to make predictions. Predictions are always good to read, and they offer a easy handle for shallow criticism. Such criticism is great fun (even if one is on the recieving end, as i have been once or twice in the past) when it is witty, but more often, it tends to be less than witty. The point of me making this unambigious declarative statement is to offer an opening into an argument for it. Im especially amused by the fact that the English press has been gleefully celebrating Australia's exit from that lottery-in-disguise, the T20 World Cup. Australia were in a particularly tough group (Australia, West Indies, Sri Lanka) and their exit can and should be used to criticise the format rather than to write them off for the Ashes. India by contrast, at the same stage of the current World Cup tournament are facing Bangladesh and Ireland! This, given the absolutely ridiculous T20 World Cup final last time around (if Misbah Ul Haq had played that Joginder Sharma over normally instead of trying to be superman, it would have been Pakistan facing Bangladesh and Ireland, not India) is patently absurd. Whats more, didn't England lose to the Netherlands just a couple of days ago?

As far as the Ashes go, T20 is totally irrelevant, as a measure of form, skill, talent or relative strength. England could very well find themselves being pinged to ultimate World Cup glory in the T20 pinball machine, and it still wouldn't matter as far as the Ashes went. The only thing at issue is pride. Whatever its cricketing merits may be, the T20 World Cup is a major ICC event and Australia's pride has been hurt by the early exit. The last time Australia's pride was hurt in England, they handed England a 5-0 thumping.

That was a different type of Ashes series. Australia had Warne and McGrath (in their last Test series). Warne, McGrath, Stuart Clark and Brett Lee each took more than 20 wickets in the series. Clark took 26 at 17.03, and yet his most noteworthy statistic was that he bowled 194 overs in the series and conceded only 2.27 runs per over. Ricky Ponting made 576 runs at 81, Michael Hussey 458 at 91, Clarke 389 at 78. England were dismissed for under 200 five times in ten innings. They started that tour with 157 all out at Brisbane and ended it with 147 all out at Sydney. They were destroyed by Warne at Adelaide (129 all out) and by an all round Australian effort (with Warne and Lee leading), twice at Melbourne after the Ashes had already been conceded (159, 161).

I don't expect Australia to possess similar firepower in 2009. What i do expect is a terrific display of disciplined, professional cricket. I don't think you will see Australia's batsmen chasing the leather trying to thump England at 4 runs per over. I don't think you will see the wizardry of Warne or the subtle brilliance of seam and length and lift of McGrath from this Australian bowling attack. Instead you will see tremendous discipline - a singular effort to control the game in the field. Andrew McDonald and Stuart Clark hold the key here. Mitchell Johnson, despite his capacity for the explosive spell, remains a mercurial bowler.

In the two years since the last Ashes encounter down under, Australia have played 21 Tests, won 11, lost 6. They have batted 39 times in those 21 Tests and bowled 42 times. In the same period, England have played 29 Tests, won 10, lost 7. They have batted 52 times and bowled 53 times. There's not much in it, although Australia's record could be said to be marginally better, based on these numbers alone. What is more telling, is that Australia have tended to be very competitive both home and away. Despite 2 notable reverses in these two years (in India and at home against the South Africans), Australia have been generally solid Test Match performers. They have had little difficulty bowling out teams, and even against the two best Test teams of this period - India and South Africa, they have won series. By contrast, England have won four series in this period - twice against New Zealand (home and away) and twice against West Indies (in England). They have lost in the West Indies, in Sri Lanka and in India. In addition, they have also lost their two major home series - against India in 2007 and against South Africa in 2008.

The history of both sides since the 2006-07 Ashes suggests that Australia have been the better side. They will also have the benefit of a very underrated Test series win in South Africa earlier this year.

Lets look at the lead in to the 2005 Ashes, which England won by the skin of their teeth due to the absence of Glenn McGrath in 2 Tests, both of which Australia lost (by 2 runs and 3 wickets respectively). Coming into that series, England were clearly the second best Test team in the World. They were also fortunately injury free in that Ashes series. In the period between the 2002-03 Ashes and the 2005 Ashes, England were nearly undefeated in Test Cricket. In the 6 series that they played against major teams, they lost only against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka. They held South Africa to a draw (2-2) in England and then beat them in South Africa. They thumped New Zealand and West Indies (not unlike their most recent efforts against these two sides).

England won the 2005 Ashes because they had a hostile, fit bowling attack. But more importantly, they had Andrew Flintoff. Flintoff made 402 runs at 40, and took 24 wickets at 27, and genuinely world class all round performance. In the 133 year history of Test cricket, only George Giffen in the 1894-95 Ashes and Aubrey Faulkner against England for South Africa in 1909-10 have had more prolific returns in runs and wickets. Flintoff bowled about 44 overs and made 80 runs on average in each of those Ashes Tests. Flintoff and England had prepared for that series the way Imran Khan and Pakistan prepared for their Test series against India in the late 70's and 80's.

Both Australia and England are weaker teams in 2009 than they were in 2005. I don't give much credence to any discussion of team-unity or team-spirit or any other psychoanalytical gobbledygook. What i do give credence to are injuries and team balance. In 2005, Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones gave England crucial balance - they batted deep and bowled deep as a result of these two being in good touch with the bat. Flintoff and Pietersen are Englands two best players and both are not fully fit at this time. Without Flintoff, England will struggle to achieve the balance that they seek, even though Prior and Broad will still offer England some lower middler-order stability. Australia on the other hand have no obvious injury troubles. They also have two warm up games before the first Ashes Test at Cardiff and are free from the distraction of a frenetic T20 slugfest over the next 2 weeks.

Australia have shown that they can beat top class sides (India, South Africa) since the last Ashes series. England have not. On form and ability, Australia should prevail in a close, hard fought series. The man to watch will be Michael Clarke.

The Press continues their phony war with the Indian Cricket team

Note this story from DNA India. Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Rohit Sharma missed an optional practice session. Yet, the key fact - that it was an optional session is hidden deep inside the report. The title of the story is misleading and then there is this:
The only time Dhoni appeared in front of the media was when a bat sponsor made an appearance at the ground and cheerfully showcased a bat which he had brought for the Indian skipper --- a practice he follows whenever Dhoni is touring England.

Since the media reported about an alleged rift between Dhoni and Sehwag, Team India is carrying an issue with the media which was termed by Dhoni as "false and irresponsible".

Dhoni has asserted that he doesn't get upset by media reports but it was shown up as untrue when coach Gary Kirsten admitted to the media that his unit was "hurt by the media reports."

As for Sehwag's absence from the nets today, the media was left to draw its own conclusion on the prickly issue.
There is a strange schizophrenia about DNA India's reporting, because there is another report in the same newspaper which is about the difficulty of finding a place for Sehwag in the XI because Rohit Sharma has done so well now. This reports starts out by saying "Virender Sehwag isn't fully fit yet..."!

Just once, i want to read a newspaper report where a reporter actually has the guts to write about the cricket press. Newspapers ought to have ombudsmen who keep an eye on the reporting done by the newspaper, and report it regularly. As far as i can tell, the press has not offered any actual evidence of a rift between Sehwag and Dhoni, neither have they established that the current rift, it is indeed there, is exceptionally noteworthy (compared to the day to day disagreements which persists in any group of people).

The Cricket press covering the Indian Cricket team has a bout of psychological projection.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Federer matches Sampras milestone

Roger Federer has matched Pete Sampras's 14 Grand Slam Singles titles. He has done so in only his 7th year since winning his first title at Wimbledon in 2003. Whats more, unlike Sampras, Federer has now won each Grand Slam at least once.

The amazing numbers don't stop there. Federer has appeared in 19 out of 24 Grand Slam Finals since his first appearance at one at Wimbledon in 2003. He hasn't lost a Grand Slam Final to anyone other then Rafael Nadal, against whom he has last 5 times. Federer has also not lost to anyone other than Nadal at the French Open (where his performance in Grand Slams has been the weakest) in the last 4 editions of the tournament. This was Federer's 4th straight Grand Slam Final. The irony is, that in the last 15 months of so, Federer has more or less consistently been second best to Nadal.

If it hadn't been for Nadal, Federer would have been professional tennis's equivalent on Bradman! As it is, in mens tennis today, there's Nadal, Federer, daylight, and then the rest.

Roger Federer is 27 years old.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

An Amazing report about Cricket Coaching

R Krishna of DNA India has an amazing fly-by-night article where he poses a ridiculous question and then merely skirts it.
"The basic requirement is technique," says Padmakar Shivalkar, who coaches at the Shivaji Park Gymkhana. "The first thing the boys have to inculcate is patience and staying power."

But isn't this at odds with the kind of cricket being played at the international level, where teams today are expected to score over 300 runs in a day in Test matches, leave alone the scoring rate in a T20 game?
He gets Chandrakant Pandit, the former Bombay coach to sort of say what he wants to say, but his argument is completely absurd.

The current generation of T20 stars, who play these innovative strokes and are so amazingly attacking, learnt in the normal way - the way that Shivalkar briefly describes - learning to play properly. So Krishna's essential argument (and the motivation behind this report) is that todays T20 superstars who have "mesmerized" (really? have they?) young cricketers by their T20 exploits where they "dispatch the ball to all corners of the field" (his examples are Kevin Pietersen and Virender Sehwag - the two high profile under-performers in T20 cricket!), should cause coaches to forget about teaching the basics (you know, batting technique, balance, temperament, building an innings, that sort of thing) of batting properly, and instead focus on things like reverse-sweeps and scoops, even though those very superstars who have been so mesmerizing learnt their game in the normal, proper way. Of course, R Krishna neglects to mention this last part.

He concludes with the question
So are we churning out a generation of Test batsmen when the future might well belong to T20?
Truly amazing.

And to think that his job description probably reads "sports reporter".