Thursday, December 31, 2009

Trends of the 2000's

The defining trend of the 2000's has been the apparent domination of bat over ball. An accompanying trend has been the emergence of the Coach - overall Head Coaches, as well as specialist batting, bowling, fielding, spin bowling and wicketkeeping coaches.

Out of 209 players who played at least 15 Test Matches, 23 averaged 50 or more in Test Cricket in the 2000s. 6 others averaged between 48-50. 55 out of 209 players averaged 40 or more. In all, 585 players appeared in Test Cricket in the 2000s. So we can say that roughly 4% all Test players in the 2000's averaged 50 or more, and about 10% of all Test players in the 2000's averaged 40 or more. If one were to speculate further, then, if we consider that Test teams usually play 6 specialist batsmen, then about 7.3% of all specialist batsmen averaged 50 or more, while about 17.4% of all specialist batsmen averaged 40 or more. These are very rough estimates, but in my view reasonable ones.

If we take away Tests involving minnows (Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), then (using the measures above), 20 out of 460 players (4.3%) averaged 50 or more, while 47 out for 460 (10%) averaged 40 or more. If we account for just specialist batsmen, about 8% of all specialist batsmen averaged over 50 in Test Cricket, while about 19% averaged over 40. Many of these batsmen don't average over 50 for their full career (for example VVS Laxman), some others do, but don't in this decade( for example Sachin Tendulkar).

In the 133 year old history of Test Cricket (using the same measures above), 34 batsmen averaged 50 or more, 162 have averaged 40 or more. 2423 players have appeared in Test Matches. Assuming that teams have always played 6 specialist batsmen, about 2.5% of all specialist batsmen average over 50, while about 12.5% of all specialist batsmen average over 40 in this history of Test cricket.

In the 2000's
1 in 5 specialist Test batsmen averaged over 40 in Tests. 1 in 12 averaged over 50.
Since 1877
1 in 8 specialist Test batsmen averaged over 40 in Tests, 1 in 40 averaged over 50.

There are several reasons for this. Uncovered wickets, amateur cricketers, minnow teams (New Zealand didn't win a Test for their first two decades as a Test team), large differences between playing conditions home and away, just to name a few.

But clearly, more runs are being scored in this decade. It is said that averaging 50 today is like averaging 40 or 45 in an earlier period. But this is a slippery argument. Would it also mean that averaging 30 with the ball today is like averaging 20-25 with the ball in that earlier period? Are Michael Holding or Andy Roberts on the one hand and Zaheer Khan for example, equally good bowlers? One could argue about this endlessly, and believe me, it would be a close run thing in the end. For example - one could argue that Zaheer Khan bowled on ridiculously flat wickets most of the time. When he did get useful wickets to bowl on, like in England in 2007, he got plenty of wickets quite cheaply. One could also argue that Roberts and Holding propped up each others averages because they bowled in extremely strong bowling teams, giving each of them a few cheap wickets, just as a few of the Australian batsmen in the 2000s have made cheap runs.

A better comparison of bowlers would be the strike rate - which is a frequency of wicket taking. Here, the figures are quite interesting. Shane Bond, Dale Steyn, Mohammad Asif, Shoaib Akthar, Waqar Younis, Allan Donald, all have superior strike rates compared to any of the great Australian or West Indian fast men of the fast bowling heyday of the 1970s and 1980s. The 2000's also saw the dominance of the two greatest spin bowlers in history - Warne and Muralitharan, in addition to the two Indian spinners - Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble each taking over 300 Test wickets in the decade. The Pakistan fast bowler Shabbir Ahmed for example, took 51 wickets at 23 with a strike rate of 50 before he was banned for chucking in 2005. Darren Gough, Glenn McGrath and Dennis Lillee ended their careers with identical strike rates, but very different bowling averages (28.3, 21.6, 23.9 respectively).

Strike Rates are useful, because inspite of the apparent explosion of batsmanship in the 2000s, more Tests have ended in results than ever before in history.

The following table shows decadal strike rates since the beginning of Tests.

We have plenty of apparently contradictory evidence. Batsmen are scoring more runs, bowlers are conceding runs at a faster rate, but, bowlers are also taking wickets at a faster rate. It depends on what you believe i suppose - Is it that batsmen can only score runs when bowlers allow them to, or is it that batsmen can score runs on the amount of risk they are willing to take?

I take the latter view. In general i think that the contest between bat and ball is one where the bowler tries to maximise the risk the batsman takes in scoring his runs, while the batsman is at all times trying to manage this risk. Factors like the match situation, the condition of the pitch and the tactics of the fielding side go into this assessment by the batsman. On good wickets, it is rare for a bowler to keep bowling unplayable deliveries - so it becomes an attritional contest.

One of the underrated phenomena in this decade in my view, is the fact that the difference between the Home and Away wickets has narrowed. Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Sydney, Adelaide, Trent Bridge, Georgetown, St. Lucia, Antigua, Trinidad and even Melbourne, have all been fairly flat for the most part of this decade. Wickets in India have not been square turners eithers. Mohali and even Ahmedabad (in addition to Mumbai) have had something for the faster bowlers. This gap has also narrowed because of the enormous experience all batsmen gain very quickly of playing on all kinds of wickets.

Ricky Ponting - statistically the preeminent batsman of the 2000s (9000+ Test runs in 100 Tests with 30 Test hundreds, not counting minnow Tests), played 100 Tests in the 2000's. He played 58 Tests in Australia in the 2000s and made 5333 Test runs at 65. His batting average Away is a shade over 50.

This is one of the major reasons why batsmen average more i think - they play so many Tests so frequently, that good form usually means 2000 or so Test runs very quickly.

Coaching has also played a massive role. Not in the popularly imagined domain of tactics and strategy (as John Buchanan would have you believe), but in the more pedestrian area of producing more complete batsmen with more regularity. Just the other day, I heard Sunil Gavaskar point out on commentary, that when Viv Richards walked across his stumps in the 1970s and 1980s, it was considered freakish. Today everybody from AB deVilliers to Tillekratne Dilshan does it. Every single established Test batsman today can more or less play all the shots in the book and a few more, if not at the start of his career, than by the time he becomes well established.

The other major reason for this expansion of stroke making ability is limited overs cricket. ODI's and now T20 offer an arena where in the contest between bat and ball is fundamentally skewed in favor of the batsman. The makeshift opener originated in ODI cricket with Sanath Jayasurya and Romesh Kaluwitharna and Sachin Tendulkar. Today Shane Watson and Ashwell Prince are opening the batting for Australia and South Africa respectively, while Tillekratne Dilshan does it for Sri Lanka.

ODI cricket has destroyed the aura of the new ball. The new ball (especially the 2nd new ball) is now seen not as something to be watched carefully, but as something which set batsmen can take apart. The old virtues of line and length remain intact, but have become harder to implement, because batsmen are challenging line and length more than they did. Technique is not completely independent of the specific contest between bat and ball (be it 50 overs, 20 overs or Tests).

What then does one make of the mountains of runs that have been scored in this decade? 1 Quadruple Century, 7 Triple Centuries, 86 Double Centuries, 851 centuries in this decade alone. I think it is indicative of a shift in the contest between bat and ball - of batsmen taking greater risks for greater reward, but of bowlers benefiting more often, albeit at higher cost. Has it been easier to score runs in this decade? That question is not as simple as it seems. The clearest away to answer it, would be to say the risk has been assessed differently by batsmen in the 2000s, thanks to better coaching, more frequent Test matches, greater familiarity with conditions, and the emboldening influence of ODI cricket. The coach as a grand strategist has been a failure, but as a specialist trainer, he has been invaluable.

This has truly been Cricket's golden decade.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The moment of the decade

Has to be this one i think. A pivotal event in the 2005 Ashes, made all the more memorable by Benaud's unforgettable commentary. You could feel the triumph and tragedy of the moment in those three names. A supremely edited presentation (and it was live!).

England needed two wickets at the start of the day and victory seemed to be a formality. Yet, the ground of jam packed before the first ball was bowled. They had to turn people away. Lee and Kasprowicz magically took Australia close, as if the sheer aura of being World Champion was taking Australia to invincibility, only for Steve Harmison to produce this inspired bouncer with Australia three runs away from a 2-0 lead in the series.

England win at Durban

Graeme Swann took 9/164 in the match including 5/54 in the second innings to give England an innings win at Durban. Ian Bell, Alistair Cook, Paul Collingwood and Mathew Prior all crossed 50 when England batted to allow England to at 7/574, a lead of 231 on the first innings. Swann adds variety and teeth to England's attack and his emergence will ensure that England don't feel Andrew Flintoff's loss in the bowling department as much as they might have feared.

In an post about Graeme Swann, i suggested 8 characteristics which an orthodox finger spinner must possess in order to be effective on any wicket - such a bowler may not run through batting line ups, but would be able to threaten at all times.

1. Unerring accuracy - by this i mean that the spinner must be able to bowl each delivery exactly where he wants to bowl it.

2. The ability to turn the ball - this does not mean that a spinner should turn every ball, but should be able to give it a rip should he require it.
3. A side-on action, which ensures that the bowler will get some drift away from the right hander.

4. An understanding of length and flight - this is key, for it enables the spinner to adjust his length and flight to each batsman.

5. The ability to bowl a well-disguised straighter one and to change pace without distinctively changing one's bowling action.

6. The ability to bowl both round and over the wicket at both left hander and right hander.

7. The ability to bowl long spells (say 20 overs).

8. The ability to withstand an assault.

Swann currently also has enough quality at the other end to sustain pressure on the batsmen.

These qualities were on display at Durban - a wicket which had some pace and bounce, and with the footmarks outside the left hander's off stump, because quite useful for the spinner. Swann's bowling against left handers is a feature of his game. His understanding of pace and flight and length leaves batsmen guessing, and, early in their innings, makes them hesitant about leaving their crease to attack him.

Simon Briggs makes the point in the Telegraph that South Africa have gone off the boil since their great series win in Australia in 2008-09 - they lost to the Aussies in South Africa. It's hard to know what this means and Briggs argument that the errors in judgement from Kallis and Duminy were symptomatic of this decline is unconvincing. They probably do need to tweak their team balance a little bit. They haven't found another reliable specialist opener since they found Graeme Smith early in this decade. They have used converted middle order batsmen since them, and Ashwell Prince is the latest. This move is quite puzzling especially as Prince was quite successful in the middle order.

Batting is not South Africa's big worry. They will be more worried that in 11 innings in 2009, South Africa have bowled out an opposition for under 300 only twice - they bowled out Australia for 207 in the 2nd innings at Johannesbug, and bowled them out for 209 in the first innings at Cape Town. Other than that, South Africa have conceded 445, 257/4 dec., 466, 352, 331/5, 422, 356, 574/9. None of South Africa's bowlers have distinguished themselves this year. Paul Harris has taken 26 wickets at 33, Steyn has 22 wickets at 33, Morkel 15 wickets at 40, Ntini 13 wickets at 57, Kallis 7 wickets at 42. These are not totals that a winning Test side concedes.

Still, England's early victory in the series sets up the rest of the series very nicely. It's always more interesting when the visitors are defending a lead. England's success is not very surprising either. They beat South Africa in South Africa the last time.

It will be a very good New Year for England.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A team of the 1970-1990s

Following along the lines of the earlier team, a team consisting of players who played Tests in the 1970s and in the 1990s would have to be chosen from the following players:

GA Gooch, MW Gatting, JE Emburey, DL Haynes, N Kapil Dev, AR Border, AJ Traicos, Javed Miandad, JG Wright, Imran Khan, DB Vengsarkar, IT Botham, DI Gower, CG Greenidge, IVA Richards, MD Marshall, Sir RJ Hadlee, Abdul Qadir, PR Sleep

The wicketkeeping position is a problem for this team much like it was for my team of the 1980s - 2000s . The closest choices are Rodney Marsh, Bob Taylor and Syed Kirmani. Otherwise, one is spoilt for choice in selecting this team.

My team would be

Graham Gooch
Gordon Greenidge
Viv Richards
Javed Miandad
Allan Border
Ian Botham
Imran Khan (C)
Syed Kirmani (wk)
Richard Hadlee
Malcolm Marshall
Abdul Qadir

The captaincy would be a close run thing between Border or Imran, but Imran would be captain in my view, because Qadir is in the side.

This is a much stronger side than the 80s-2000s side in my view, because only Tendulkar from that side would make it into this side (ahead of Border), while even Vengsarkar and Gower would make the 80s-2000s side ahead of Hooper. This side also has better balance on account of the leg spinner, and deeper batting, with Marshall batting at number 10. I pick Kirmani because of his experience of keeping to spinners and because of his immaculate record with respect to byes.

A third (veteran) team for the 2000s

I specifically invite comments on this post and on my previous one where i posted a couple of teams. I am playing selector in both these posts and my choices (and my biases) are evident.

I have been trying to build a third team - consisting of playing who played in the 1980's and in the 2000's.

These are the players who are eligible:
SR Tendulkar, SR Waugh, CL Cairns, HP Tillakaratne, Waqar Younis, PA de Silva, Wasim Akram, CL Hooper, CA Walsh, Ijaz Ahmed, MA Atherton, A Ranatunga, M Azharuddin, CEL Ambrose.

There are no spinners in the list. The closest is Mushtaq Ahmed who made his debut on January 19, 1990 at Adelaide against Australia, and played his last Test Match in 2003. The second opener's slot is also available. The big problem is that of finding a wicketkeeper. A team of this quality cannot make do with a makeshift wicketkeeper. The closest available keeper is Ian Healy (1989 - 1999). The closest available specialist openers to partner Atherton are Mark Taylor (1989 - 1999) and Navjot Sidhu (1983 - 1999).

On balance, i think an exception ought to be made for the wicketkeeper, but not for the opener. Ijaz Ahmed and Carl Hooper both opened the batting for a brief period (4 Tests for Ijaz, 5 for Hooper). Hooper's canny off-breaks tilt the balance in his favor.

Michael Atherton
Carl Hooper
Aravinda deSilva
Sachin Tendulkar
Steve Waugh
Chris Cairns
Ian Healy (wk)
Wasim Akram (C)
Waqar Younis
Curtly Ambrose
Courtney Walsh

This would probably be the weakest batting side out of the three, with the longest tail and the weakest opening pair.

Two teams for the 2000s

I propose two Teams for the 2000s.

For a player to be considered for the first team, he must meet the following criterion:
1. The player must be a current regular member of a Test team.
2. The player must have made his debut in the 2000's or become a regular member of his side in the 2000's.

The XI in batting order:

Virender Sehwag
Graeme Smith (C)
Michael Vaughan
Kevin Pietersen
Kumar Sangakkara
Mahendra Dhoni (wk)
Andrew Flintoff
Harbhajan Singh
Dale Steyn
Shane Bond
Mohammad Asif

Andrew Strauss, Michael Clarke, Younis Khan, Brett Lee and Danish Kaneria.

For a player to be considered for the second team, he must meet the following criterion:
1. The player must have been a regular member of a Test team in this decade.
2. The player must have made his debut and been a regular member of his side in the 1990's

The XI in batting order:
Saeed Anwar
Gary Kirsten
Brian Lara
Inzamam Ul-Haq
Damien Martyn*
Jacques Kallis
Adam Gilchrist (wk)
Shane Warne (C)
Allan Donald
Glenn McGrath
Muttiah Muralitharan

Rahul Dravid, Ricky Ponting, Mahela Jayawardene, Shaun Pollock and Andrew Flower as reserves

*Damien Martyn is the only player who doesn't strictly fit into any of these criteria. In my view however, any world XI side without Damien Martyn in over the last two decades would be a joke. I have placed him in the second side because he made his Test debut as far back as 1992 and then suffered a 6 year exile.

Note that Sachin Tendulkar, Wasim Akram, Steve Waugh and Aravinda de Silva all do not qualify as they made their Test debut's in the 1980's. Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Waqar Younis fall in the same category.

Ricky Ponting (and Rahul Dravid) would probably be the first name most people think of when picking a World XI for the last 20 years. He has been without question the best batsman of the 2000's. But in my view, given the availability of Brian Lara, the number 3 position is not up for grabs.

Players who narrowly missed a spot in the 16 (or 32) - Mathew Hayden, Justin Langer, Mohammad Yousuf, VVS Laxman, Saqlain Mushtaq, Anil Kumble, Shoaib Akthar, Jason Gillespie.

Mohammad Asif has been picked in the first team because he is astonishingly mature and well prepared for a fast bowler so early in his career, apart from being extremely skillful.

If these two sides met in a serious Test series, with all the players at their peak, would that not be a contest and a half! It's hard to say which side would prevail.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Friends, Referees and Character Judgements

Sunil Gavaskar, in yet another typically incisive column for the Mid-day newspaper in Mumbai (reproduced here) makes the charge that Stuart Broad gets away with a lot of his petulant behavior (which in Gavaskar's opinion amounts to serial dissent) because his father is a match referee, and umpires are thus hesitant about reporting him. This is the sort of column which has convinced me that Sunil Gavaskar is amongst the greatest cricket journalist in India. He is willing to stick his neck out and make serious charges, instead of hedging his bets. The advantage he has over the average journalist, is that he doesn't need 'access'. The average cricket journalist is caught in a paradox - he or she needs access to cricketers in order to do a good job, get stories, make news. This also means he or she is going to be extremely careful about writing stories which are seriously damaging to cricketers. By seriously damaging, i mean, stories which make a serious, sustainable, consequential charge against them. Such a charge would typically be nuanced and not sensational. In the absence of such journalists, all we get is useless shallow nonsense like "Dhoni upset with Sehwag".

Back to Gavaskar's assertion though. While he makes a narrow specific charge of favoritism or bias, it leads to a couple interesting points. The first concerns the Umpires - they are human. They exist in a society of their own, travel around the world umpiring games at strange cricket grounds. They exist in tight knit communities with other umpires, and possibly with their friends in the world of cricket around the world. Umpires and Referees are not allowed to socialize with the participating teams, even though they can participate in net sessions to practice umpiring. They have been most hit in the last 15-20 years in International Cricket. Their job has gotten severe scrutiny thanks to unaccountable commentators - for every error made by the umpires that commentators identify, the commentators themselves make numerous comparable errors themselves. Their job has been nearly taken over by the television company, what with Hawkeye and snickometers and lately, Referrals. The much abused Umpires community is also more powerful - not only have they been asked to continue making on-field cricketing decisions, they are now also asked to make character judgments about players. Referees cannot act on anything unless the umpires report it.

This is because, at the end of the day, the Umpire is at the center of the action. Keep in mind though, that they make character judgements now.

The second issue is about a simple question - In one more likely to make a consequential character judgement about a friend or a stranger, behind their back? The last bit is key - Umpires make character judgments about players - alleging that players are cheats or they are ill-behaved, or they are lying, or they have a bad tongue, not to their faces, but behind their backs during the session breaks, in their little rooms. A similar question could be asked of referees? Let me move you away from where you think im going with this. Would Javagal Srinath be more likely to be lenient with Mohammad Yousuf - someone he has played a lot of cricket against, or Sanath Jayasurya, or with Umar Akmal or Chanaka Welegedara? You would say that this is precisely what is intended - the ICC is not interested in checking the behavior of veterans, but of the new players, who don't always know how to behave. Then comes the next question - Srinath played for Gloucestershire and Leicestershire, would he be more or less likely to penalise someone he knew from those days, or so in the youth sides those days, than someone who is a complete stranger? This becomes an even deeper concern when it comes to South African, English, Australian and New Zealand referees, because those are very tight knit cricket communities with huge amounts of give and take. County sides in England are always on the look out for young players in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. The grapevine is thicker between these countries.

We already know that Referees have significant discretion - they alone get to decide what evidence is admissible, and they get to decide penalties within some fairly broad guidelines. My proposition is very simple - unless there is absolutely no difference in how anyone one of us will treat friends and strangers when it comes to making character judgments about them behind their back, it is impossible for the Referee system to be fair.

In many ways, it is the same problem that journalists face. Journalists cannot be friends with those whom they cover. In the same way, Referees cannot be friends with those whom they are charged with judging. But this is impossible - since, in order to be a referee, you have to have had something to do with cricket - since understanding cricket is essential to being a referee. Then there is the whole issue of "knowing what it's like to be there" - we constantly hear commentators say that referees who have been in the heat of battle themselves, know what the current players are going through and hence are likely to make more learned decisions.

Making character judgments about people you know behind their backs is always tricky. Way trickier than saying something about someone you don't know - someone with whom you share nothing in common. Refereeing international cricket a very delicate, and in many ways, irretrievably slippery job.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Was Shane Watson's penalty within the rules?

This is the chart showing the guidelines for imposition of penalties.

To be clear, it is upto the Match Referee to determine whether the new offense is a repeat offense. So Chris Broad would be well within his rights to determine that this was not a repeat offense. So technically, it could be argued that Chris Broad's decision to impose a 15% fine for a 2nd Level 1 offense (albeit a different one from Watson's May 7 offense) is within the rules.

But consider the fact that Watson has been in trouble with the Match Referee (it was Chris Broad on that occasion as well) on October 29, 2008 and May 7, 2009. Broad could have used his discretion to call this a repeat offense - it would certainly be a repeat offense under the catchall clause (which should still apply even if one of the more specific clauses is primarily applied). But he didnt.

The result? Shane Watson justified his outburst saying he was baited by Chris Gayle. As we know from the Suleiman Benn situation, ICC Referees don't understand the concept of provocation.

To be fair, the standards for what constitutes a repeat offense are quite clear. Over-exuberant celebration and dissent are separate offenses, even though both are Level 1 offenses. The catchall clause muddies the waters somewhat, because both could just as easily have been in the catchall clause - both amount to a breach of the spirit of the game. The question is whether the same player being hauled up before the referee repeatedly for one or the other offense (which has nothing to do with either a breach of logo policy or overrates) constitutes a sufficient condition for any subsequent offense within a 12 month period to be a repeat offense in itself. A repeat offense, as the chart above suggests would have required a fine between 50-100% of match fee and the accrual of two suspension points against Watson.

Mark Taylor, the former Australian captain thinks that the current Australian captain needs to do more to keep his players on-field behavior in check. It is far from clear however, given the available evidence, that the behavior of Australia's cricketers is taking place inspite of the Australian captain. It is a far better bet that Australia's cricketers are currently very well led.

I should end with an answer to the question i posed in the title. Yes, i think Chris Broad's penalty was within the rules - with two caveats.

First, the role of the catchall clause ought to be explained. Is it the ICC's claim that dissent or exuberant celebration do not constitute conduct that is not within the spirit of the game? Since such a general charge is now specifically codified as a Level 1 offense, why was it not applied?

Second, how is a referee supposed to decide when a player is a repeat offender simply on account of repeated visits to the referees office, irrespective of the specific charge in each case? Does the referee's discretion extend to that? If it does not, they does this not render the catchall clause moot?

I assume that the exuberant celebration offense was a 2.1.8 offense.

This is the language of the new catch-all provision:
2.1.8 Where the facts of the alleged incident are not adequately or clearly covered by any of the above offences, conduct that either:
(a) is contrary to the spirit of the game; or (b) brings the game into disrepute.
Note: Article 2.1.8 is intended to be a ‘catch-all’ provision to cover all types of conduct of a minor nature that is not (and, because of its nature, cannot be) adequately covered by the specific offences set out elsewhere in the Code of Conduct.
By way of example, Article 2.1.8(a) may (depending upon the seriousness and context of the breach) prohibit the following: (a) the use of an illegal bat or illegal wicket-keeping gloves; (b) deliberate time wasting; (c) cheating during an International Match, including deliberate attempts to mislead the Umpire; (d) failure to comply with the provisions of clause 7.1 of the ICC Standard Test Match, ODI and Twenty20 International Match Playing Conditions; and (e) any
conduct which is considered ‘unfair play’ under Law 42 of the Laws of Cricket. By way of example, Article 2.1.8(b) may (depending upon the seriousness and context of the breach) prohibit the following: (a) public acts of misconduct; (b) unruly public behaviour; and (c) inappropriate comments which are detrimental to the interests of the game.

The curious case of Jonathan Trott

The South African born England player, has been accused by the South African captain Graeme Smith of deliberately throwing the bowlers out of their rythm by not being ready to face up when the bowler is on top of his mark. It is well understood that batsmen must be ready to face up by the time the bowler reaches the top of his mark. This is one of those rules which is typically honored to maintain the flow of the game. Occasionally, a batsman will feel rushed because the bowling side is bowling a spinner to speed up the over rate and back away one ball (but not all the time), or walk down the wicket to tap a crack in the wicket to break the speedy sequence. But this is when it is clear that the batsman is being rushed in a specific part of the bowling innings - not every ball.

What's amazing about Jonathan Trott is how easily the excuse or explanation that "This is how he's always been" has been trotted out. Whats even more amazing, is how totally unchallenged this excuse has been. It is irrelevant that Trott has always been this way - it's still wrong. A comparable situation would be a bowler with an illegal bowling action who comes into international cricket. If, upon comment about his troublesome action, the response is that this is how he has always bowled, that would not stop the Umpires from reporting him would it?

What can the Umpires do? If they determine that the batsman is indeed holding up play repeatedly, they can ask him to make sure he is ready. If it becomes more serious, with the new catchall clause, they can charge him with whatever they like. But a more specific clause is also available. Clause 2.2.6 - "Deliberate and malicious distraction or obstruction on the field of play during an International Match.", is tailor made for this situation. It is a Level 2 charge and hence quite serious. It is also precisely the charge that the South African captain is making.

Jonathan Trott is in trouble here by any reasonable measure of the situation. It is not plausible that the raising of the Trott issue is a deliberate ploy by Graeme Smith. Trott is playing only his third Test Match, and has a modest first class record - 8820 runs at 44.79. It is far more likely that Smith is doing this because it genuinely bothers his bowlers. If so, it is a legitimate complaint.

It remains to be seen if anything comes of this. There's no reason for Smith to not make an official complaint any time soon.

Will reviews change batting techniques?

Amish Saheba just gave Mark Boucher not out to an LBW appeal from Graeme Swann bowling round the wicket. It was reversed on review. In real time it looked like a reasonable decision and nine out of ten umpires would give it not out, simply because the batsman had a good forward stride in.

The implications of the decision go beyond the state of this one Test Match, because this now means that the review will force a change in the batting technique - batsmen have for a long time been told that getting a good stride in is good insurance against being given out LBW, simply because the impact is then a long way away from the stumps.

So the old batting technique of getting a long forward stride and playing straight is not longer any guarantee. A decision by the umpire which would be considered fair - not an umpiring error, was just reversed on review. In fact, neither the batsman nor the umpire can be said to have made a mistake. The batsman was beaten all right, but not enough to be dismissed.

Anybody who studies technology will tell you that it is never ever a question of simply solving a narrow, isolated problem - every attempt to solve a problem using some technology causes shifts elsewhere, which cannot always be accounted for and which may at times be unintended. In situations where there are multiple motives for putting a technology in place - Hawkeye does not solely serve the purpose of the Umpires, but also of the TV Broadcasting company - then there is an even greater risk of unintended consequences.

There needs to be a clear and specific statement from the ICC about where they see Test Cricket going in the next few years. The fact of the matter is, that they can't offer any such statement because they don't know.

What bothers me with all these innovations, ones which are currently pipedreams such as day-night Tests and pink cricket balls, and ones which are currently implemented - like Referrals, is that the problems which these things seek to solve are far from clear. Why do we need referrals? Are there too many Umpiring errors? How do you decide that there are too many umpiring errors? Compared to what? Compared to the total number of decisions that umpires make? Or compare them to Zero? Is it worth all the interruptions and all the attendant modifications and complications to use referrals to solve these problems? I am all for solving problems - i would just like to know what they are.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ponting's declarations - a conservative gamble

Twice now, Ricky Ponting has declared his first innings closed at a time when it was clear that many more runs were on offer. At Perth he declared at 7/520 in 130 overs, while at Melbourne in the ongoing Test against Pakistan he has declared at 5/454 in 128 overs.

It is worth keeping in mind that historically, sides almost never lose Test Matches after making a first innings declaration batting first. Ponting seems to be banking on two things. First,that the wicket will be difficult to bat on in the 4th innings, and second, that Pakistan's first innings will not come close to Australia's first innings. Even if Pakistan do approach the Australian 1st innings total, they will have to take a lead of nearly 100 runs to consider themselves ahead in the game, since they will have the 4th innings chase to complete.

Having batted for 130 overs, it is reasonable to assume, that unless Australia bowl very poorly, Pakistan will take at least 150 overs to get that 100 run lead. It will take them until the end of play tomorrow (Day 3). That still leaves Australia with a chance to win the game.

There are two ways to win a Test if you bat first and reach 400+ with a few wickets still in hand. The first is to continue batting with the intention of batting only once. In such an event, unless the rate of scoring is very high (which in this case it is not), the match is unwinnable once the opposition crosses the follow on target. Declaring early leaves the bowling side with two opportunities to win - to get a large first innings lead and impose a follow on, or, to get little or no first innings lead and set some sort of 4th innings target.

Ponting's declaration reveals a lot about his opinion of the West Indies and Pakistan batting line ups. He doesn't believe that either of those line ups can reach 450 in the first innings of a Test in Australia. It's worth considering if he would make this type of declaration against India or South Africa or England. It would be worth trying i think.

It's hard to argue that this is an aggressive move i think, mainly because he's giving his bowlers more time and more chances to get him twenty wickets. In many ways one could argue that it is in fact the more conservative strategy. If Ponting was confident that Australia's bowlers could dismiss West Indies or Pakistan in 100 overs or even in 4 sessions, why not do it after having batting for 5 1/2 sessions instead of 4 1/2, with a further 120-130 runs on the board? By hedging his bets, Ponting is being more conservative, and showing less faith in his bowlers than one might think. It is a gamble, because Ponting is banking in part on the surprise element of the declaration. It is also a gamble because it indicates that Ponting doesn't think Pakistan have the batting firepower to out-bat Australia on this wicket. Thats a risky prejudgment to make.

The only way Ponting can be proved wrong here, is if Pakistan make 600 in their first innings. That will take something special from Mohammad Yousuf and young Umar Akmal. It is a very unlikely event. This can be considered an attacking move from Ponting only if you have doubts that Australia went into a Test with a draw first approach. I don't think any Test team has gone into a Test with such an approach for a long time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A few propositions about the Referee System

Soulberry for the video.

This cost Watson 15% of his match fee. Mind you, Watson has been in trouble once before this year - that should mean the fine should be stiffer than in normal circumstances. Before i jump to my proposed ideas, a couple of points are worth noting. First, the ICC Code of Conduct for Players states that the Referee will be the sole judge of the standard of evidence in any Code of Conduct hearing. Second, the Code now allows Umpires and Referees to use general catchall clauses where all they need to determine is that there has been conduct contrary to the spirit of the game, in order to impose any penalty.

Keeping these two issues in mind, Referees should be required to declare, in writing, for public consumption the following issues. This is important because in most cases referees sit in judgement of the personal character of the players. Since they have no discernable qualifications to do the job, they should be asked to do everything with as little discretion as possible:

1. The complete sequence of events which the Referee took into account.

2. Whether the misdemeanor by the player was unprovoked (when directed at another player or players) in the opinion of the Match Referee

3. If the misdemeanor by the player was provoked, what was the provocation? Was this provocation in itself a breach of the Code of Conduct? Was this initial misdemeanor reported by the Umpires? If it was not reported, and if the referee found it to be contravening the Code of Conduct, what did the Referee do about it?

4. A comparison of the two misdemeanors and of the penalties applied. An explanation of why one was greater than the other.

5. If the Referee chooses to use the catch-all clause, then he should be required to specifically state what misdemeanor took place.


6. Referees should be asked to disregard which way a player pleads to a charge in determining the penalty. Given that the referee is the sole judge of what counts as evidence, this shouldn't really matter. Besides, its too easy for players to be serial offenders (as in the case of Shane Watson and Brad Haddin, plead guilty, and get away with lighter punishment).

7. Referees should not be allowed to say or write anything which amounts to a personal judgement about the player. For example, statements like Chris Broad's "Shane is a very energetic and enthusiastic bowler" ought to be banned. To me, as a lay observer, it suggests a discomforting familiarity between player and referee. There has to be a standard by which Referees refer to players - Mr. Watson would be just fine. What has the fact that Watson is an energetic and enthusiastic bowler got anything to do with the misdemeanor? Can Chris Broad point to any bowler in Cricket who is not "energetic and enthusiastic"? Was this a mitigating factor? If so why was it a mitigating factor?

Note that Chris Broad is not saying that Shane Watson has a record of good behavior - that would be something that could be established by looking at a record. Chris Broad is basically saying "He's a good guy, he just got excited". Well, i can see lots of people in the West Indies saying "Well, he's a spoilt brat, who has a history of offenses, i don't care if he's enthusiastic.". After Suleiman Benn, they may say something more strenuous. Is it not clear that Broad's decision looks biased? Why after all, does my hypothetical West Indian view have less merit than Broad's old-boy-slap-on-the-back prettiness?

8. The original complaint (the Umpires report or the team manager's report) should be published on the ICC website.

On the Suleiman Benn incident, see what Anil Kumble and Tony Cozier have to say.

Given these 8 things (all of them, not some of them), i don't think Chris Broad's decision against Shane Watson will stand up to scrutiny. When you have before you a bowler who has not been a regular in the Australian side, but has still found himself in trouble twice within the last 18 months, you have to account for it. You can't merely account for the fact that the bowler is "enthusiastic and energetic".

But all is well. Ricky Ponting is going to talk to his players to behave. Maybe he'll also stop telling opposition bowlers to get off the pitch. He'll have to. He will not have his pet referees to watch his back against Pakistan (this may sound like a cheap shot, but the mounting evidence against Ponting allows no other comment - the Captaincy of Australia makes you an aristocrat in International Cricket).

We will see. I hope Pakistan don't give an inch on these matters. The World will be watching.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Memorable Tests and Innings in India's Decade

The first decade of the 21st Century is drawing to a close. It has been India's decade as far as Test Cricket goes. At the turn of the Century, India were in Australia, getting outclassed by the hosts. They were as far away from the World Number 1 ranking in Test Cricket as you can imagine - their bowlers couldn't bowl sides out, their fielders had difficulty hanging on to routine catches, and their batsmen couldn't bat on "bouncy" wickets. A decade long struggle in overseas conditions had come to a head. A 3-0 defeat in Australia was the result. But it was to get worse. They returned to India to play 2 Tests against South Africa. They lost 2-0 to a South African side which was suspect when it came to facing spin bowling, on square turners at KSCA in Bangalore and Wankhede in Bombay. Sachin Tendulkar resigned the captaincy, and from the grim debris of the match fixing scandal, emerged an Indian side which is today the world's number 1 Test team.

In the 2000s, India competed against the best team in the world as only Pakistan had managed to compete against Viv Richards' West Indies in the 1980s. They won Test Matches in every single Test playing nation. They beat West Indies in West Indies, England in England, New Zealand in New Zealand, and Pakistan in Pakistan. They drew a series in Australia (one of only 3 that Australia did not win in the whole decade), and lost a hard fought series 4 years later - one which contained India's bitterest Test Match defeat, as well as their greatest Test Match victory. These are some of the triumphs that they have claimed and we have enjoyed along the way.

An improbable win against a truly great side. They say that good captains are lucky captains. This was the miraculous game which saved Sourav Ganguly's captaincy. The consequences of VVS Laxman's innings and of his stand with the great Rahul Dravid are impossible to measure. Sachin Tendulkar never bowled better leg breaks than he did that Thursday afternoon. Harbhajan Singh has never bowled better than he did in that series.

If the win at Kolkata was our first glimpse of a steely world class core in the Indian Test team, then Perth in 2008 was where they signed off. Led by that giant of the game - Anil Kumble, they emerged from the soul sapping events at Sydney to beat Australia at Perth. Like Kolkata, this Test also broke a world record string of consecutive Test wins. India's best win in this decade if you ask me - possibly their greatest Test win of all time. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid produced a century stand in the first innings, including the only wicketless session in the match. VVS Laxman scored 79 in the second innings - an innings which merely confirmed his status as one of India's greatest ever middle order batsmen. Anil Kumble got important wickets. It was the triumph of good over evil.

Years from now, if Test Cricket survives, people will read that scorecard and wonder. The circumstance of this game, of this series, are not to be found on that scorecard. That England came at all was one of the great triumphs of Cricket itself. That the first Test ended as it did, could only have been ordained by the Gods. The great man made a careful century and watched as the next generation of India's Test team played the game of the future. Virender Sehwag made a brilliant, brutal, buccaneering 83, Gautam Gambhir made a typically gutsy 66, and Yuvraj Singh rounded it off with a strokeful 85 not out. The highest 4th innings total in the Indian subcontinent had been chased down. It was a Test win of a great Test Match side. They won even though they had not played at their best for the first four days. They had lost nearly every single session of play, they had batted poorly in the first innings. They had done well in the field, but only just. Yet, as the 4th innings began, with India chasing 387 after England declared at 9/311, everybody knew India would go for the runs. This they did.

A number of other wins were very fine achievements as well. But these three stand out, for I think they had significance beyond that particular series. The most thrilling development in this decade was the revival of Anil Kumble after form and injury forced him out of the side in 2001. His ineffectiveness overseas seemed to weigh on his mind. Kumble returned in time to take 12 wickets in the 2004 Sydney Test, including 8/141 in the Australian first innings. He claimed over 350 Test wickets in this decade alone. Harbhajan Singh emerged as one of the world's best off spin bowlers. He is only 29 years old now, and already has nearly 350 Test wickets to his name. Zaheer Khan has emerged in the 2nd half of this decade as one of the world's best left arm seam and swing bowlers. He is now the complete bowler who can swing the ball both ways with both the new as well as the old ball. In 26 Tests since his return to the Indian Test squad in December 2006, he has taken 99 wickets at 31 apiece. He has been supported with varying degrees of success by a number of pacemen - Ashish Nehra, L Balaji, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, S Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma have been most prominent. Fast bowling has taken hold in India in this decade.

It is the batting which has stood out though. The tremendous accomplishment of India's current Test batting line up is worth considering. Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman will all end their careers as all time great Test batsmen. Sehwag is probably the most astonishing Test batsman in history after Bradman and Viv Richards. Many batsmen have made runs, but has anybody made them like Sehwag? Giant innings have become common place from India's batsmen. Sehwag himself has made 319 v South Africa, 309 v Pakistan, 293 v Sri Lanka and 254 v Pakistan. Rahul Dravid made 270 v Pakistan, 233 v Australia, VVS Laxman made 281 v Australia, Tendulkar made 241* against Australia. But the four greatest innings by an Indian batsman in this decade are the following in my view. I view the value of an innings not based on the result, or based on the names in the opposition, but on what i believe the innings says to us about the player.

It was the innings which defined Rahul Dravid. India went into the Headingley Test with 2 spinners, and won the toss on a wicket which was certain to help the pacemen on the first day. The plan was to somehow put a score on the board in the first innings and stay competitive until the opportunity came to bowl England out on the 5th day. The ball was seaming, bouncing, occasionally leaping off a length. Virender Sehwag gave India his usual frenzied start and was dismissed before he reached 15. Dravid walked in within the first hour of play and was there until after the first hour of play on the next day. It was an innings which encapsulates every essential fact about the man. He averages more away from home than he does at home. He is possibly the greatest away Test batsman of the modern era.

The innings of a genius. Very few batsmen can claim to be a genius and at the same time claim to be an artist. VVS belongs to that rarest breed. Possibly the most important innings ever by an Indian Test batsman.

If Rahul Dravid's innings at Headingley defined him, then Sehwag's 151 at Adelaide in his comeback series will be considered by many to have been quite uncharacteristic of the man. Yet, i include this innings because i think it essentially defines him as a Test batsman. He has made bigger runs, more spectacular runs in Tests - double hundreds and triple hundreds. Yet, this innings, played on a bad wicket with India in trouble, possibly along with his 155 vs Australia at Chennai in 2004, tells us more about Sehwag than any other effort. His scoring rate was still rapid - 151 (236). He played carefully to start with, reached 34(61) overnight, then raced to his century off 122 balls, making 66(61) early on the last day. After his hundred, he slowed down again, because India were losing wickets at the other end, and he needed to be careful as the well set batsman. He made 33(78) after reaching his century, and didn't hit a single four during this time. It is a myth that Virender Sehwag bats without thinking - that his game is evidence of the uselessness of proper technique and temperament. Sehwag is possibly the most disciplined stroke maker in history. The method to his apparent madness is severe and exact, even though it may be imperfect. Nowhere else has it been more on show than in that important 4th innings at Adelaide.

Sachin Tendulkar 103* v England at Chennai 2008 (video, not as good as the first three)
There has been little doubt about the man's ability, or even his temperament. He has been known to be unflappable, to possess technical know how that is second to none, an appetite for runs which seems to be unfulfilled even after 20 years. Against pace and spin alike, Tendulkar has been a master. And yet, said everyone, when it comes to the crunch, the finals, the fifth day, the crucial Test, Tendulkar, through ill-luck or bad judgement, came up short. This innings was Tendulkar's final frontier and he mastered it. A match winning 4th innings century. By no means was it a solitary effort. From that point of view, his 136 against Pakistan 10 years ago must rank higher, but results matter even though they shouldn't. What an occasion he choose! The greatest Indian batsman of all time. The greatest in the world since Bradman. Short of scoring a Test triple hundred, Sachin Tendulkar will play Test cricket in a 4th decade having achieved everything there is to achieve.

The innings itself was characteristically studious. The man who once told an Australian bowler that he would play his natural game, has over the past decade shown us the great range of his "natural game". It was all there in that innings at Chennai. His choice of attacking shot against the spinners was studied as was his measured judgement of the single. He took 45 singles that day. He went through a difficult spell against the brilliant Andrew Flintoff early in his innings, but true to form, decided to see him off. Not for him the suicidal counterattack.

Sachin Tendulkar's mastery of his art is the result of his mastery over his own ego. That is Cricket's essential lesson. It allows a rich variety of characters to participate, to flourish and to be formed. In this decade, India's cricketers have flourished, to an extent which would have been unimaginable in those early months of the year 2000.

I only hope that Test Cricket, in which these rich memories are cradled, survives in the coming decade.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Australians continue to be shitty

And Chris Broad enables them. The fines/suspensions as a result of this episode are as follows:

Suleiman Benn: 2 ODI ban
Brad Haddin: Fined 25% of his match fee
Mitchell Johnson: Fined 10% of his match fee.

Yet, lets note a few facts -
1. The only unprovoked action in the entire episode came from Brad Haddin.
2. The "altercation" between Benn and Johnson at the end of the over was a total accident. Benn was pointing his finger at Haddin and Johnson waded into him (possibly by accident, though it is far from clear)
3. Johnson then shoved Benn - totally unnecessary.

The initial event, where Benn and Johnson collided as Benn was trying to field the ball and Johnson was trying to complete his run was totally fine. It was nobody's fault. Haddin had no business pointing his bat at Benn.

Which is the bigger problem?
1. Pointing your bat at the bowler, even though he did nothing to you? (Haddin)
2. Pointing your finger at the batsman at the end of an over in the middle of which that batsman provoked you? (Benn)
3. Pushing a bowler away even though he didn't do anything to you? (Johnson)
4. Going on and on about something and being abusive (Benn)

In a world view where there is no consideration for fairness or any other similar ethic, you could say that Johnson and Haddin double-teamed Benn brilliantly, and Chris Gayle didn't handle the situation too well.

Oh, and there's another thing. Watch this.

Gautam Gambhir got banned for two Test Matches for this extended elbow while he was taking a run. The same Umpire - Bowden, and the same Referee - Broad. Yet, Ricky Ponting was neither reported nor charged. Billy Bowden probably didn't see Ponting. It's not Ponting's business to shove bowlers off the pitch - it's the Umpire's job to do that.

In any sane world, this sort of incident would bring the Match Referee out of his little room and Ricky Ponting would be told in no uncertain terms that the Umpires would decide whether or not a player was unfairly trampling all over the pitch.

But of course it didn't happen. The Umpires are technically required to report an incident before the Match Referee can take account of it. This typically means that if an Umpire doesn't see something, however blatant it might be, and doesn't want to take a look at it later on TV, nothing happens to any player involved.

But watch those two videos and then think for yourself. The Australians are masters at riling up a player as a team. In doing so they continually skirt the law. It's not clear to me why Mitchell Johnson was fined at all. He didn't do anything wrong. It's not clear to me why Brad Haddin did not receive exemplary punishment for his totally unprovoked altercation with Suleiman Benn.

It is not surprising that a white Referee and a white Umpire found the conduct of the West Indian more problematic even though he was provoked. Since when did it become Ok to get into a fight on behalf of a teammate?

In effect, Suleimann Benn got banned for 2 ODIs for getting upset, while Brad Haddin got fined 25% of his match fee for being a cheeky lowlife. I think monetary fines should be eliminated. There should only be Reprimands and Bans - the former being a warning, the latter being a punishment.

But, it's Chris Broad's reign we are living in, and the Australians are his favorite subjects.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Makhaya Ntini plays his hundredth Test Match

South Africa's rise in World Cricket since their return in 1991 has been one of the great success stories of the last two decades. The rise of brilliant colored and black South African cricketers, thanks in part to affirmative action by the UCBSA is an example of the serious good that Cricket can accomplish as a sport. It has given South Africa a new set of heroes. Makhaya Ntini stands foremost amongst them.

Ntini modeled his run up and bowling action on the great West Indian Malcolm Marshall. When Marshall died on 4 November 1999, Ntini had already made his Test debut for South Africa. Ten years later, Ntini takes the field for the Proteas for the 100th time. With 388 Test wickets, Ntini has surpassed his idol, and is now the senior bowler in a young, extremely talented South African pace attack comprising of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and the rejuvenated veteran Jacques Kallis.

With his method of bowling from wide of the crease, it is no surprise that the bulk of his dismissals are caught (293). Ntini has trapped batsmen LBW 24 times in his 100 Tests. The statistics also show that he prefers bowling to right handers compared to left handers, but i suspect that is because there tend to be many more right handed tailenders than left handed ones.

Makhaya Ntini becomes the 49th Test player to play a 100 Tests, out of a total of 2575 who have played Test Cricket over the last 132 years. He is also the 5th South African in the list following Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock and Gary Kirsten.

I hope he has a memorable 100th Test.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Indibloggies 2008 Results

More on the results later. Congratulations to the winners of the poll, especially to Gappa!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How often are commentators wrong?

Umpires have been under increasing pressure with the advent of TV technology. Hawkeye, Hotspot, Snickometer are just three examples of technologies devised by television companies to assist the commentators. They have since been appropriated by the ICC, and used in the newly minted review process for contested appeals.

It's worth considering for a moment the number of amazing concessions that the ICC has made. First, they have turned allowed the decision of the umpire to be contested. Second, they have accepted that television replay is the best way to contest the appeal. Third, they have made the television footage used by the TV Umpire for the review available to television commentators.

I keep bringing the television company and the television commentators into this story, because they are central players in it. After all, why is there increased scrutiny on the umpires? Because, figures in whom we invest much authority (former Test Cricketers and a few select Journalists), tell us whenever they think the umpires are wrong. Hence, umpiring errors are exposed more often, more relentlessly.

Scrutiny of the umpires in cricket is not new. Without going into a detailed history of it, it can be safely said that questioning the umpire's competence and integrity has been a feature of the game since the very beginning. It would be fair to say that Selectors and Umpires are the two most abused figures in Cricket. For many years, Umpires were accused of favoring the home team, since it was typically the host administration which provided the umpires for Tests. With TV, it became obvious that this was a serious problem, especially in the Indian subcontinent, but also in Australia, New Zealand and West Indies. The high standard of umpiring in England was typically put down to the vast experience English umpires acquired due to their almost daily duty in County Cricket.

After neutral umpires were put in place to counter the possibility of home umpires favoring the home team, the concern shifted to competence. There has been no serious scrutiny of Hawkeye, Hotspot or Snickometer by any independent entity (which would have no ties to any Television company) to the best of my knowledge. But thats easily done. What's more damaging, is that there are no standards, no accountability, no scrutiny of the commentators who bring us the game. They don't have to prove to anybody (other than their employers, who are interested in their name more than anything else) that they have the ability to actually explain something coherently to us.

You might say that this is fine - since they are not central to the game. But i would argue that they are. It is commentators who tell us whether an umpire's decision is right or wrong. It is they who resort to conjecture the moment there is an appeal. It is they who repeatedly blurt out first impressions - "I think there was an inside edge", "I think i heard two sounds", or, "I think that was too high". Worse, it is they who often claim that certain replays are conclusive, even before they have seen all the available replays. So they will often see the first replay, and definitively state that the catch was clean, only to then see the second replay and say, "Well, may be not". What's even worse is, the two or three commentators at work disagree with each other!

Umpires obviously don't have this luxury. They must make one decision. Yet the increased pressure on umpires is a result of television companies and their bumbling, unaccountable commentators. Think about it. Poor Steve Bucknor was ask to excuse himself from the Perth Test in 2008, after he had a particularly rough game in Sydney (although, i think close scrutiny would reveal that Umpire Benson made more errors at Sydney than Umpire Bucknor). If the same standards were applied to commentators, how often do you think would commentators get fired?

The point is, there are no standards for commentators. Yet, commentators wield enormous power, as they produce narratives about events on the field, and use television replay and related technology in a most haphazard way.

Examples of what I'm talking about happen in nearly every session of Test Match play. Take the pre-lunch session on Day 3 of the Napier Test. New Zealand were 8 wickets down. Danish Kaneria was bowling at Ian O'Brien, who seemed to have trouble reading his faster deliveries and seemed to get caught on the crease. One such delivery zipped past O'Brien's bat and hit his front pad, and later his back pad. It was a very good appeal, but Rudy Koertzen gave it not out - i suspect because there was some suggestion of the ball sliding down the leg side (Kaneria bowls from fairly wide of the crease, and occasionally from past the perpendicular). Martin Crowe and Waqar Younis were on commentary. Even as Kaneria began his appeal, Crowe exclaimed "Inside edge! Inside edge! I heard two noises!". Then, as it became apparent that Koertzen was going to rule in favor of the batsman, Crowe continued "Well done Rudy!".

Of course, Crowe was completely wrong. The reason there were two noises was because the ball hit the front pad and then the back pad. The reason Koertzen judged (quite reasonably i think, inspite of what hawkeye suggested) that it was sliding down the leg-side was, was that it first hit the inside of the front pad, before hitting the back pad. As such it was a good LBW decision.

The point is, the commentators were completely wrong in their description of what happened. Yet, there was no apology. Instead they spent time discussing how Pakistan had "wasted" their Reviews for a couple of very optimistic appeals earlier in the innings.

Now, lets consider a little experiment. In any given series, count how many times television commentators look at live action and tell you something about it that is completely and demonstrably wrong (as Martin Crowe did in the above example). Lets also count how many times television commentators look at replays and tell you something that is not completely accurate - this would include situations where they look at one replay and decide that something is true, and tell you about it, only to look at the next replay and contradict their own position. Then, lets compare this to the number of errors umpires make.

I suspect it will be no contest. The Commentators will rack up errors at a 15:1 or 20:1 ratio compared to Umpires. Of course, if you do perform this experiment, do not neglect to explain up front how you determined that the error was made.

Yet, these are the same commentators who have over the years built up pressure on the umpires and forced the ICC into ill-considered experiments like the Review systems. Clearly, commentators are quite consequential. They ought to be scrutinized thoroughly, not by the television company, but by the ICC, before they are allowed to commentate on Live Cricket.

Given such scrutiny, we will have better cricket commentary. Regulation is generally a good idea.