Sunday, January 31, 2010

Ball-Tampering: Afridi v Broad

What is the key difference between Shahid Afridi's ball-tampering and Stuart Broad's alleged ball-tampering? First, lets look at the key similarities.
1. Both were caught "tampering" only once. Afridi's method was to chew on the ball, while Broad's method was to step on it with his spikes (this is an accurate description of what he did, just as Afridi's actions have been described accurately)

2. In both cases, the on-field umpires noticed nothing. In Afridi's case, the third umpire noticed something, and pointed it out to the on-field umpires, who decided to change the ball at the start of the 45th over. The chewing, as far as i can tell, happened in Over 42 or 40, as we know that Asif was the bowler. In Broad's case, the third umpire probably dug a deep hole, jumped inside it and put a "I'm not here" sign outside.

Now the difference:

Afridi admitted his guilt. He spoke more truth in his post match interview with Geo than Stuart Broad has spoken in his entire career as an England cricketer. Let's look at what he said:
"I shouldn't have done it. It just happened. I was trying to help my bowlers and win a match, one match," he told Geo TV, a Pakistan-based news channel. "There is no team in the world that doesn't tamper with the ball. My methods were wrong. I am embarrassed, I shouldn't have done it. I just wanted to win us a game but this was the wrong way to do it."
There are three essentially true things that Afridi said - first, that he shouldn't have done it. second, he did it because he wanted to help his side to win. third, every team in the world does it.

Compare Stuart Broad's reaction - Broad was "astonished" that anyone think it noteworthy that he stepped on the ball after it was thrown to him in an unusual way. Further, he said all he was, was lazy, because it was 40 Celsius in Cape Town that day.

Oh, and remember Andrew Flower's brilliantly cynical proactive defense of Broad's efforts? He said that the scoreline suggested that there was obviously no ball tampering. Afridi could have said the same thing. Because it was true in Afridi's case as well. But he didn't.

Michael Vaughan asked "What would we say if it was Pakistan?" at the time. Nasser Hussein answered his question for him "Stuart Broad and James Anderson were wrong to behave in the manner they did and I've no doubt that if a player from another country did the same we'd have said they were cheating."

Now we know what we would say.

As a cricket fan, I will now view England with utmost suspicion - any time an England bowler gets the old ball or even the new ball to go off the straight (remember Murray Mints? or Lever's Vaseline in 1976-77 in India?), I'm going to assume that they cheated to do so. Where as anytime any other bowler from anywhere in the world gets the ball to go off the straight, i will assume it was high skill. Because you see, England have been shown to be above the Law. Other sides get caught.

Pass this around if you agree. I'm tired of this two-paced nonsense from England and the Referee System.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

On Pakistan and Afridi

Of the many geniuses who walk the world cricketing stage, Shahid Afridi stands out - for his obvious and outrageous talent, and for the absolute stagnation of his cricket. No other cricketer emerged on the world cricketing stage with more ability - none has been better equipped to be a murderous champion cricketer.

Consider Afridi's talents. He can make Test hundreds - has made Test hundreds opening the batting and in the middle order, usually at breakneck speed. He can play every shot in the book, whats more, he can play one shot to any ball better than any other batsman in the game. The closest all purpose equivalent to the Afridi Swing (there, i coined a new stroke, and my name is a damn sight better than the "DilScoop"), is the sweep which many clueless batsmen aim at a spinner when they don't know which way it's turning. This is a more instructive analogy than you might immediately imagine - batsmen play the sweep because they are unable to find any other way to score off the spinner, cos they are not reading the flight or the turn. Afridi plays the Swing (usually aimed in an arc from backward-square-leg to mid-off) for no apparent reason. He can sweep, he can cut, he can block, he can drive and he can leave. He just doesn't want to. Oh, and he can bowl too. He bowls in the most difficult style possible - leg breaks. He can turn them square when conditions are right, and he can land them with a regularity that would do Shane Warne proud.

Afridi is also exactly the same cricketer in 2010 as he was in 1997. He still tries to hit everything out of the ground, preferably in the vicinity of mid-wicket, and he still bowls about as well as he did when he was 17. The difference between Shahid Afridi and Virender Sehwag, is that there is a method to Sehwag's madness, while there is none to Afridi's. It is mind numbing to watch Afridi bat. Here is a guy who pre-empted the empty madness of T20 Cricket by more than a decade. Except for very very short periods of time when Javed Miandad or some other hard man kept tabs on the cavalier Pathan, the cavalierness has ruled.

Much the same criticism can be offered about Pakistan cricket. Think about it. Here is a side which has a handful of reasonably gifted opening batsmen - Butt and Farhat are just two, a middle order, which even after the retirement of the great Inzamam Ul Haq is still supremely accomplished, a wicket keeper batsman who is tremendously gifted, a spin bowling cupboard which is not bare by any means, and a steady stream of medium fast and genuinely quick bowlers who are very very good on their day. Add a Sehwag to that mix and i might as well be describing India. Oh, and Pakistan also produce a Mohammad Asif and a Umar Akmal every now and then. All-rounders? Did i mention Abdul Razzaq and Azhar Mehmood? In short, Pakistan boast of a middle order that ought to be second to none, South Africa's depth when it comes to all-rounders, a bowling attack which compares favorably with any other, and yet, they are no better than mid-table.

Like Shahid Afridi, there has been no method to Pakistan's madness. They have been led by 8 captains in 10 years and at least a couple of those eight captains have had multiple stints in the job. Their most promising batsman and captain can't make up his mind as to whether or not he wants to play, wants to captain or even wants to be considered for the job. They keep changing coaches, and their fastest bowler - Shoaib Akhtar, who should have led them to the top of the Test table once his bowling action was deemed to be legal, can't seem to stay out of trouble. Their obsession with beating India has been a double edged sword, and most tellingly, has not been reciprocated by the people who run Cricket in India. Yes India want to beat Pakistan as much as Pakistan want to beat India, and yes India want to play Pakistan as much as Pakistan play India, but losing a Test series to Pakistan, like India did in Pakistan the middle of the last decade, did not lead to recriminations and punitive firings in India in the way that it led to these things in Pakistan. Coaches are routinely sacked, and Shoaib has even had to appear before a medical commission after he broke down in the middle of a Test at Rawalpindi that India went on to win. Never mind that the other Pakistan bowlers couldn't conjure up a wicket for love or for money in that Test. Pakistan have played better against India than they have in general in the past decade. One only has to look at the records of players like Salman Butt and Shoaib Malik to see this. What good has this done to their cricket?

It's a crazy place. And yet, it is impossible to write Pakistan off, just as it has been impossible to write Shahid Afridi off despite his astonishingly dogged pursuit of mindlessness on the cricket field. Afridi will play his 300th ODI in 2010 (a brave prediction, given how things work in Pakistan) and Pakistan will look for their 9th Test Captain in 10 years.

Maybe they should let others run their cricket. People who don't care about it, but who are interested in running things smoothly. And maybe Shahid Afridi should start thinking about developing an actual approach to batting, rather than Swinging. Cricket needs Pakistan as much as Pakistan needs Cricket - the Sport, not the vehicle of nationalistic passions.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Badrinath: Debut or Comeback?

Subramaniam Badrinath will almost certainly bat for India against South Africa in the Nagpur Test, if not in the whole series. With Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh both out through injury, and only six specialist batsmen in the squad, it is only a question of his spot in the batting order. The selectors also chose a Board President's XI for the opening tour game. While the upheaval in the batting line up is major news, a couple of other selections are even more noteworthy in my view. But first, the squads

India squad for first Test: MS Dhoni (capt/wk), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, S Badrinath, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha, Ishant Sharma, M Vijay, Sudeep Tyagi, Abhimanyu Mithun, Wriddhiman Saha.

Board President's XI: Abhinav Mukund, Parthiv Patel (wk), Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma (capt), Manish Pandey, Cheteshwar Pujara, Abhishek Nayar, Piyush Chawla, R Ashwin, R Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Shikhar Dhawan, Umesh Yadav, Manpreet Gony.

Dinesh Karthik has been effectively dropped as the understudy for M S Dhoni. Parthiv Patel's selection for the tour game signals the Selectors intention to look elsewhere for the stand-in wicketkeeper. It remains to be seen whether Karthik retains his spot in the Limited Overs side.

Abhimanyu Mithun becomes another in a long list of pace bowlers who keep getting selected to the India squad. The weakness of the India's first choice pace attack (with the exception of Zaheer Khan) is quite apparent. Apart from Zaheer, every other fast bowler is on trial. The list is a long one - Ishant Sharma, S Sreesanth, Abhimanyu Mithun, Munaf Patel, RP Singh, VRV Singh, Sudeep Tyagi, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan. The tradition of picking a pace bowler immediately after one good season is also a long one. Ranadeb Bose, Thiru Kumaran, and Debashish Mohanty are a few bowlers who got thrown into international cricket in this way.

Spin bowling is a little bit like wicket keeping. Harbhajan Singh's place as the first choice spin bowler for India is undisputed, and pretty much every other spin bowler is on trial - Piyush Chawla, Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha are the current front runners.

This is not so with the batting. The Indian specialist batting is world class, and as such the bar is set extremely high for someone to do better. Today, the first choice India XI fields arguably the world's best opening pair - Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, each a world class batsman in his own right, followed by three middle order batsmen, each has played over a 100 Tests and averaged 50 or better in Test cricket over the last 10 years. Yuvraj Singh, whose difficult, and often thankless job it is to follow these batsmen at number 6, averages nearly 50 in the last 12 months (about 10 Tests), and has played one match winning innings, a couple of rescue acts after India were reduced to four down for next to nothing (one of these was in the shadow of Rahul Dravid's majestic 177), and 5 fifty plus scores in all. And yet it is said that "the noose slowly tightening around Yuvraj"!

I do not subscribe to the view that Yuvraj Singh has not cemented his place in the Test squad. In my view he has - easily. In the Indian Test batting line up, where at least one opening batsman has made a Test hundred in the last half a dozen or so Tests, batting at number 6 is either too easy, or too hard. Coming in at 350/4 or 500/4 is fairly thankless, and coming in at 50/4 is very hard, because remember, it is four out of five world class batsmen who have been dismissed early - batsmen not given to gifting their hand away. Yuvraj Singh has served his apprenticeship and deserves a spot higher in the batting order. But where is such a spot available on a regular basis?

It is in this light that Subramaniam Badrinath's upcoming Test debut must be seen. It is unlike anything we have seen in the history of India's Test Cricket. This is no hyperbole, even though it sure sounds like it. Which other India Test debutant can boast of praise from a group of batsmen as accomplished as Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Hussey and Matthew Hayden? Yes Badrinath has made runs in domestic cricket, but so have many others - one only has to look at the batsmen in the Board President's side to know that. Sridharan Sriram, the last Tamil Nadu batsman who was to be India's next great batsman never translated his domestic form to International Cricket. Wasim Jaffer, Captain of Mumbai, Captain of West Zone, who makes centuries like you and I eat hot dinners in First Class Cricket has just learnt that he is no longer on the periphery of the India Test squad - and Jaffer has a first class record which will put most batsmen to shame. Then there are Virat Kohli, Manoj Tiwary and Suresh Raina who don't even feature in the tour game, but have stood out at one time or the other.

If you read about Badrinath today, it almost sounds as if he's making a comeback, not a debut. No selection for the Indian Test or ODI side in the last few years has been allowed to pass without some mention of his name. It is quite amazing that this selection is seen as something that was Badrinath's due. This is far from clear, for he has not by any means been the stand out performer in domestic cricket over the last three or four years. He has been one among half a dozen stand out performers - many of whom have outperformed him.

I hope for his sake, that he does well. But i am instinctively suspicious about players who complain about things - about Selection in particular. They seem to claim special status for themselves - Stuart Broad is a great example of this. He has asserted that his over-the-top behavior is simply a symptom of the fact that he wants to do well for England very badly. This is absurd, because it implies, however inadvertantly, that every other player who doesn't behave that way is a fool and is not trying as hard as he should be. Badrinath, who has hardly ever played (as a great Yorkshireman would tell you), comes across in much the same light. Have you heard similar comments from Cheteshwar Pujara, Manoj Tiwary or Ajinkya Rahane?

Badrinath does have runs to his name this season. It's a good time for him to make his debut.

Badrinath's scores this season
vs Mumbai (Irani Trophy) 13, 34
vs Railways 111
vs Gujarat 50
vs Mumbai 250
vs Hyderabad 122
vs Delhi 15

The key point is that to be picked as a Test Match batsman for India, is nothing like being picked as a fast bowler or even spin bowler these days. Before Dhoni came along, even being picked as a wicketkeeper could be added to the latter list. India players in these roles (with the exception of Dhoni, Zaheer and Harbhajan Singh and of course Anil Kumble) have played because they have been the least worst out of a modest pool. With the batting, it's a different story. I would argue that even Yuvraj Singh is streets ahead of all the prospective India batsmen (Badrinath included) mentioned in this post, because he has made runs against good bowling in difficult match situations and playing conditions. Almost all of his Test hundreds have come when India have been in desperate trouble. And this is only taking in the consideration his batting in Test Cricket. I am under no illusions that India's current middle order will be adequately replaced. They have set a magical standard and spoilt us all. For example, no other batting pair in the history of Test Cricket have made more century stands than Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. No other batsman has been in more century stands in Tests than Rahul Dravid. The same middle order that participated in the Mumbai Test against Australia in 2001, played in the Chittagong Test against Bangladesh in 2010 (Ganguly has retired and his spot taken by Yuvraj Singh). Injuries apart, India have been blessed with a steady first choice middle order for nearly a full decade now! This is unheard of.

Being a Test batsman for India is a different ball game compared to being any other type of Test player for India. That is why i am so bemused by the Badrinath story. Nervous statements like "I am not under any pressure when it comes to playing either Test or short versions of the game. I am well experienced to handle the different formats of the game." are not only meaningless, they also point to a sense of entitlement on Badrinath's part for the spot. I sincerely hope that he feels he is under tremendous pressure. He is replacing Rahul Dravid - being chosen to do the job that that great player normally does for India. He is not replacing Ashish Nehra or Deep Dasgupta. He is not replacing someone who has failed, but someone who in injured.

I hope he makes runs. But greatness is a long way away. And it does not come from being a fringe player in a great batting line up. A debut is a debut. It is a step into an unknown, extremely difficult realm, where correct technique is often not good enough, where great talent has time and again strutted in, only to be blown away. Michael Hussey, Badrinath has reminded us, also made his test debut as he approached the age of 30. But so did Brad Hodge, who didn't play more than 6 Tests despite making a double hundred. Others like Martin Love also played only 5 Tests despite regularly hammering hundreds against visiting attacks. No other batsman since Michael Slater has made more noise before his Test debut. Slater made 58 in his first test innings and 152 at Lord's in his second Test.

I hope Badrinath makes his debut at number 3, and i hope he makes a century which leaves us wondering why he didn't play for India 5 years ago. The Indian Captain thinks Badrinath is a very talented player. There's pressure.

India's fortunes are unlikely to rest on whether or not Badrinath comes good. There Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh have a greater role to play.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On the UDRS

Jonathan presents a very good survey of the detailed issues in the implementation of the UDRS system. I have argued against referrals before, questioned what the impact of referrals will be on batting techniques, wondered what the apparent certainty (one way or the other) that comes along with TV evidence does to the marginal decision, and recorded situations where Hawkeye has overturned a reasonably plausible on-field decision.

I remain skeptical of technology, and based on the discourse from the commentary box, i fear that influential voices in Cricket are not sufficiently skeptical of it. One need look no further than the total absence of any indication of the margin of error in Hawkeye - a reasonable assumption is that the margin of error should depend on the distance from the stumps at which the prediction has to commence, yet the Hawkeye simulation that we see on TV shows us one and only one path traversed by the ball. No amount of technological sophistication can overcome this scientific issue.

But there are more fundamental questions that need to be raised and considered - ones which I am quite certain that the ICC has considered at some point, but the nature of implementing these revolutions is such that the telling arguments and considerations often tend to be peripheral, temporally contingent ones. For example, if the series just before the ICC sat down to make it's decision was marred by a larger than usual number of umpiring errors, this would sway opinion amongst the powers that be in favor of UDRS, even though the larger issues were still very much at play. That is the nature of these things. Nevertheless, it is worth drawing attention to these questions again.

1. What was the problem that the technology was supposed to solve? Was technology (the evidence it produced) intended to be used for marginal decisions? Was it intended to be used for obvious umpiring errors? Were obvious umpiring errors rampant enough to merit such a massive change?

2. Is it necessary to involve the players in referrals? Could the same effect not have been achieved by limiting the communication between the TV Umpire and the two on-field Umpires?

3. Are the collateral consequences of this new technology worth it? Some of these collateral consequences are as follows
  • The authority of the Umpire has been undermined, and will continue to be undermined as their decisions on the field continue to be questioned by the players. The position of the Umpire as the ultimate authority on the field is threatened.
  • TV Reviews have been used tactically by teams, often resulting in marginal decisions being overturned. This adds to the spectacle, but it also increases pressure on the players - who have no new information to base their review on, unless it is in blatant cases, in which cases, their involvement in the referral is unnecessary, as the error is obvious to everybody. It has become apparent that even though players can contribute no new knowledge to the situation, they have become participants in it, there by producing the Referral as a mini-sport with Cricket.
  • As i have discussed before, the apparent certainty (in my view quite dubious certainty) presented by Hawkeye (especially in the case of LBWs, curiously, Hawkeye is not used to judge caught behinds, i wonder why), has severely curtailed the possibility of the marginal decision, on largely dubious grounds.
In a nutshell, the questions that need to be asked are as follows:
1. Did the problem, as it was originally identified, merit such a massive upheaval in cricket as is indicated by a near re-writing of the LBW law and prospective revision of batting technique?
2. How much of it was a result of pressure from completely unaccountable commentators, and how much of it was a serious problem?

I remain opposed to referrals in which players are involved and i remain opposed to using Hawkeye to judge LBWs. The only three legitimate things for which TV technology should be used for LBWs do not require Hawkeye. These are : 1. Whether or not the ball pitched outside Leg Stump; 2. Whether or not there was an inside edge; and 3. Whether or not the ball was blatantly missing the leg stump or the off stump or was too high. None of these things requires a simulation of the path of the ball.

TV technology, developed for TV broadcasters is a solution looking for a problem. The UDRS as a technology, is similarly misconceived. What is needed is a system which will do the following:

1. Not involve the players.
2. Tackle only the blatant errors.
3. Will use a minimal amount of simulation, preferably no simulation.

Cricket needs to be more confident and less responsive to TV Commentators whose job it is to say entertaining, exciting, hyperbolic things, because they serve two interests - the interests of the Sport and the interests of the Broadcasters. Any review of the UDRS will hopefully go back to the basics and involve a discussion of the Umpiring decision devoid of any contamination from Hawkeye or Snickometer or Hotspot.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

On the so-called "auction"

A few days ago, a bunch of movie stars, cement manufacturers and multinational corporation bosses bid for the services of some of the best cricketers in the world for a twenty overs a side contest. Among these slaves on display, the ones from the nation of Pakistan were especially unfortunate - nobody wanted to buy them. They remained free. Free from having to abuse their cricketing talent for a large number of US Dollars in a foreign country amidst an orgy of scantily clad, perennially, serially abused cheerleaders, and similarly molested, chained-to-the-rules bowlers. Their options are now limited to being individually courted by County sides and Australian state sides for other twenty-overs-a-side tournaments. From being on display on the auction block to being invited into meetings with anonymous cricket people who are actually interested in cricket and couldn't do an item number (showbiz speak for the part of a contemporary bollywood film in which even the pretense of storytelling is dropped in favor of absurd blasts of skin and tease) to save their lives. What a disaster for Pakistan's cricketers!

It remains the sole redeeming feature of the unmitigated mediocrity that is twenty-overs-a-side cricket, that the events surrounding those involving bats and cricket balls so wonderfully resemble a soap opera. Resplendent with petty jealousies, hot women and oily men investing their monies and letting it work for them, and gigantic illusions of competence through a line up of special appearances of experts and specialist coaching staff, this circus ringmastered by His Holiness Shri Modiji, now bears the severe burden of patriotism in addition to the pretense that they are creating "wealth" (typically, cash, but what's the difference?).

Of course, thats not what they will say. They will say that they did not enslave the Pakistanis because Pakistanis do not make reliable slaves - they come with security complications. They will say that like a few Australian slaves, these are temperamental - their individuality cannot be fully controlled by our pious Indian money.

It is a strange inversion. What began as an enterprise to use cricket to create wealth for cricket, has been taken over by cash. Cheerleaders who refuse to dance between overs and actually recoil at the lewdness of the front benchers are not welcome. Cheerleaders who also dance other dances are not welcome either. Not only does our Indian cash have legs, it has the narrow, unread mind of the small-town provincial moneylender - the sort who got hammered by the hero in the films of the eighties.

Maybe that is the nature of Cash. Why has Cricket entangled itself in it like a weak-minded middle class man who gambles away his hard earned money and inevitably becomes indebted to it? Was the game starving before it got dazzled by Mr. Modi and his maidens?

Mind you, the Cash has nothing to do with performance. Just as box office performance has nothing to do with the profitability of bollywood movies, winning or losing makes little or no difference to the bottom line. Every effort has been made to make the relationship between popularity and performance on the one hand, and profitability on the other, as distant as possible. No serious purveyor of Cash is ever going to make the performance of his money contingent on silly things like popularity and public interest.

With it's twin spokespersons - Lalit Modi and FakeIPLPlayer, the IPL marches into it's third season. Cricket be damned. The Pakistanis (and Australians who were "bought out") don't realize how lucky they are. Or maybe they do.

The end of the left hander

Watch this



And then watch this



Elegant Left Hander anyone?

I hope this shatters your faith in the fidelity of digital video. This is fiction. Jason Gillespie bowling left arm over the wicket to Sourav Ganguly, who is batting right handed.

It's quite simple really. It's an extension of the mirror function in photoshop or GIMP or some other image processing software - the function is applied to each frame of the original video. I'm fairly certain that a few of you readers could write this program in less than a day.

Think about Hawkeye and Snickometer and HotSpot and other digital technology in light of this video.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

BCCI, ICC settle Kotla Out Of Court

A deal has been struck. The dodge is as follows.

The ICC bans the BCCI from assigning international games to the Ferozshah Kotla for a period of 12 months. At the same time, the ICC CEO David Morgan lets it be known publicly that he is not in favor of denying the Kotla the right to host World Cup games in 2011. He then says that the appropriate decision will be taken by the experts. What do to experts decide? Why, a 12 month ban, which conveniently ends in December 2010. To round things off nicely, Chetan Chauhan, former India Opener, former BJP MP from Amroha (UP, now Uttarakhand) and currently a Vice-President of the DDCA, points out that this is infact not a ban, since DDCA is not scheduled to host any International Games in 2010 in any event!

I wonder whether the IPL will be considered an "International" Event? Technically it is not, and technicalities have triumphed from start to finish in this episode. The ultimate middle ground between a ban and not-a-ban has been found. This is how matters are resolved at Cricket's High Table.

It is debatable whether the game should have been called off on account of the wicket. It was a bad wicket without doubt, but 23 overs of Cricket was played on it, and India managed to concede 4 runs per over on it. However, we ought to remember that the game was called off and the Match Referee gave the wicket the lowest permissible rating within the ICC's rubric for rating wickets. As with everything else in this matter, these are technical inconveniences. It appears to have been determined at the highest levels that Cricket's best interests lie not in the quality of wickets or the quality of the contest, but in maintaining the good will of powerful Cricket Boards at the cost of things like quality. The DDCA's behavior after this fiasco has been a bit like S Sreesanth's behavior when he starts bowling badly - breathtakingly petulant and audacious.

It is almost as though it is the ICC which is apologizing for not being able to find a way to get the BCCI out of this inconvenient situation more unequivocally. Like the good mafia bosses from the movies, the BCCI will enjoy it's five star comforts in jail. It will be worth watching if professional observers and journalists see this with the gall that it deserves. Or will this be chalked up as yet another great victory for the powerful BCCI?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A revealing innings from Virender Sehwag

He made 45 runs in the 2nd innings against Bangladesh. On the surface it was as usual, at once belligerent and effortless. And yet, there was a subtext to the innings which pointed to discomfort and uncertainty. This, despite the fact that the wicket is playing much better under the bright sun on Day 3 than it was on Day 1, when it was damp under laden skies.

Sehwag speculated outside the off stump and wrestled to find an approach against Shakib Al Hassan. When he left deliveries outside off stump, it was not an aggressive leave, but a reluctant, diffident one. Not the leave of someone unsure of his off stump, but one unsure of his team's position, and his own contribution to that position. The performance of leaving the ball alone and of the forward and backfoot defensive - as if he wanted to confirm to himself and drive home to the rest of us that he actually cared. The stand between Rahim and Mahmudullah shook him a little bit i think. Eventually Sehwag caved in to his instincts against the fast men. But he came up against the same questions and doubts against Shakib Al Hassan. It was those doubts which led to his downfall.

It was a pathetic innings in many ways. The sort of innings Test Cricket forces upon even it's most nonchalantly brilliant practitioners. So what if the wicket is flat?

Monday, January 18, 2010

A fine account of Tendulkar's innings

From Sriram Veera at Chittagong
You could have bet that Brian Lara would have continued to impose himself yesterday, even, and especially, considering the match situation. His ego wouldn't have allowed him to bat out quiet periods against a Bangladeshi attack; he would have chosen to counterattack. Tendulkar's seems to be more complex; he doesn't like to fall prey to his ego. It's a feature of the almost-maniacal, critical self-control that accompanies the Bombay school of batsmanship. They rarely indulge themselves.

Tendulkar's has become such a scientific art these days that he has managed to eliminate risk and has almost made batting appear a routine. It's amazing how he has taken a capricious art and made it look a risk-free activity. It's where he started to drift away from Lara.

It was said, early in his career, that Tendulkar was a mixture of Gavaskar and Richards and at some point, he left the Richards persona behind and went the way of Gavaskar.

On the way to his 44th Test hundred, he crossed 13,000 Test runs and by the end of the innings, he had reached 13,075. Later, he said about the crossing, "I was aware but not that I was counting." You bet his fans are and they must be keeping a close eye on Ricky Ponting's run counter as well: 11,859 runs and 39 Test hundreds. They used to fret about Lara before; its Ponting now. The more the things change, the more they remain the same.
I would be a bit more careful in discussing risk and calculation in Tendulkar's batting - i think he plays a lot of strokes which would normally be considered risky, but are not for him, on account of a third crucial feature - preparation. Tendulkar at age 36 is an irresistible amalgam of preperation, talent, skill and ruthlessness - of a quality rarely found in any walk of life, let alone in sport.

I am looking forward to South Africa in February. The South African pace attack looks deep and fast again - Morkel and Steyn are both fully fit and in full cry, and Parnell and de Wet are both genuinely quick. Tendulkar has not made a Test hundred against South Africa in India. Yet.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chittagong Day 1 - A qualified defense of Virender Sehwag

Bangladesh justified their decision of fielding first after having won the toss, by reducing India to 213/8 at the end of a shortened first day in the Chittagong Test. The press is predictably all over India, given Sehwag's typically unvarnished observation before the game that "Bangladesh are an ordinary side". Even serious cricket publications have been unable to resist gleeful commentaries such as this one titled "Guess who is ordinary now". The key take away from the end-of-the-day press conference has been Tendulkar's response when he was asked about Sehwag's comment.

The funny thing about that article is, that it misrepresents what Tendulkar said. See the title "'Ask Sehwag' says Tendulkar" and compare it to the full quote which is in the article "He said it. You have to go and ask him. I won't be answering questions of that kind." The way I read this, Tendulkar basically told the journalist not to ask him BS questions. The article also goes on to argue that had a lesser player been made available to the press, the press might have "grilled" him harder than they did with Tendulkar. By "grilled", one assumes they would have persisted with what Tendulkar thought were BS questions. And they were. Oh, and by the way, what does it say about the press that they were not willing to ask Tendulkar something they would have asked another member of the side?

Sehwag should probably not have said what he said. But here's the irony. Ordinarily, all of these commentators and journalists - professionals all, celebrate Sehwag's uncomplicated see-the-ball-hit-the-ball game. They suggest (falsely in my view) that he doesn't care about technique. If they like this about Sehwag and if they take this to mean that he is somehow pleasantly unsophisticated, why are they so bothered by his essentially true statement that Bangladesh are an ordinary side? Aren't they? Yes Bangladesh have been steadily improving - in recent tours, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka have all found themselves in trouble in Tests. All have gone on to win. Andrew Strauss has been criticized by David Gower and others for his decision to skip England's upcoming tour to Bangladesh. So playing Bangladesh in Bangladesh, while it is still the easiest Away assignment in Test Cricket, is not as easy as it used to be. Besides, Sehwag's comment was quite sophisticated if you read the whole thing - he said that while Bangladesh could surprise sides in ODI Cricket, they would find it harder to do so in Tests. This is true. The shallower contest that is limited overs cricket makes upsets easier.

Sehwag wouldn't be Sehwag if he didn't make that comment. I think Sehwag is a brilliant batsman - very skillful, very sophisticated and not at all naive, unlike some condescending observers who seem to view him as though he is some kind of uncomplicated small town hero (note: Najafgarh is as good as a suburb of Delhi today). It is unfortunate that after he made his comment, it turned out that he was going to be Captain. I'm sure that Sehwag would not made the comment if he knew he was going to lead.

The professional press has been "ordinary" as usual in their work, as Sehwag would say. Because in their frothing obsession with the humiliation intended by Sehwag in his comment, both before and after the first day's play, they have missed what was a very interesting first days play - with a few freak dismissals, one ordinary shot, some excellent use of home ground advantage, one brilliant innings, one experienced innings, and one astonishing spell of left arm spin bowling. I realize that contempt, humiliation and airy-fairy stories about underdogs always trump details, but then shouldn't these people be in the pulp fiction business and not in the journalism business?

As Tendulkar suggested, the wicket was still drying and the moisture took long to dry out given the weather conditions. We must remember that this Test is being played in the winter in Bangladesh. Virender Sehwag played an astonishing innings on a drying wicket. To recognize the quality of this innings, one only has to see how uncomfortable Gautam Gambhir was at the other end. Gambhir never came to terms with the wicket - didn't time anything except leg-stump half volleys with any assurance, and was ultimately defeated by the wicket more than anything as he missed a square cut. Sehwag on the other hand, seemed to adjust effortlessly. Rahul Dravid got a reasonably good yorker which he uncharacteristically missed. VVS Laxman's wicket was just reward for Shakib-al-Hassan whose spell i will come to in a moment. Yuvraj Singh played a rank bad shot. I may be underestimating the challenge of shifting from limited overs to Test Cricket, but i don't think that can be a mitigating circumstance. Dinesh Karthik also played a bad shot, but that early in his innings, it's hard to criticize him. In general i tend to think that a player who gets out early (say within his first 10 balls) can't be criticized too severely. Having said that, given the match situation, Karthik may have considered leaving the wide, fullish ball alone, especially given the fact that the wicket did not encourage driving.

Tendulkar was lucky, and careful as usual. He seemed to play his drives gingerly as though he wasn't at all sure if he would meet the ball well. He seemed very worried about meeting the ball too early.

The key to the days play however, was Shakib al Hassan. He was able to spin the ball from the pitch (as against the footmarks). This made batsmen very reluctant to leave the crease to play him. Sehwag did this first ball, but didn't do it again. When was the last time you saw a spin bowler bowl 26 overs in a days play and not give the batsmen a single ball to cut or to pull. His length was immaculate. Yes he was aided by the fact that he was getting turn from the pitch proper, but even so, his control of flight and length was supremely good. He is an underrated spin bowler. So far he has taken 52 wickets at 27, all against good teams. Even Harbhajan Singh and Graeme Swann cannot boast of having done that in the last 24 months.

As Tendulkar said, this game is not over yet, and a first innings score of 250 may well prove to be plenty. Sehwag may have been tactless, but even he cannot match the gleeful condescension that the Indian Press has collectively managed to express towards Bangladesh riding on the back of his essentially accurate observation. After all, what could be more condescending that viewing an entire days play through the lens of one misrepresented comment?

Comical Broad's epic at Wanderers

Note: One of the great things about having your own blog, is you can make corrections at any time. An editor would check these things before hand, but i have friends who write helpful comments. Thanks Tifosi Guy

He was within a whisker of being timed out as he followed Matt Prior to the wicket. He didn't seem to care, took his own sweet time. Played a number of very stylish strokes in thin air before the ball was bowled to him. Then, after a few fairly solid defensive strokes, fended off a short ball which was down the leg side.

The ball went clean of his glove. Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher and Morne Morkel (the bowler) were wondering whether or not to ask for their last remaining review, when Broad pointed to his arm guard. I think that convinced Smith to ask for the review!

Broad walked away with a silly smirk on his face after the inevitable reversal came from Daryl Harper. A poetic end to the series for him.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hawkeye get's another decision wrong

The Umpire gave this Out and i think it was the right decision irrespective of what Hawkeye's prediction of the path of the ball says. This is a classic instance of the notion of the benefit of the doubt being completely butchered.
77.6 Swann to de Villiers, no run, review... De Villiers again given out, this time LBW not playing a shot, and he opts to review. He got a massive stride and replays show it going over the top, so a good decision from De Villiers to go to the third umpire.
Hawkeye does not eliminate the doubt, it merely shifts it. You don't actually see the ball travelling, you get a prediction of what the ball would have done, based on some mathematical equations. I would really like to know how these mathematical equations work, because it must be harder to predict a half-volley than it is to predict a short ball. What i mean by this is, it must be harder to predict how a ball will behave if it had not hit the batsman, if it hits the batsman immediately after it bounces - say on the shin, than if it hits him on the elbow or the shoulder. Also, consider two situations - first if a batsman is hit on the front foot, and the ball has 8 feet to travel before it hits the stumps, and the second, where the batsman is hit deep inside the crease and the ball has only 2 feet to travel before it hits the stumps. Surely, the margin of error for hawkeye's prediction in the first instance must be greater than it would be in the second instance. Is this factored into what hawkeye tells the umpires? My understanding is that there is a common margin of error, irrespective of where the impact is. The "umpires call" is determined based on where the ball is shown when it reaches the stumps. But the error in that prediction cannot be the same when the ball has only 2 feet to travel versus when the ball has 4 feet to travel.

How do we know that what Hawkeye shows us so cleanly and clearly is even remotely accurate?

In this instance, deVilliers was not offering a shot, and as such did not deserve the benefit of any doubt. So even though it would have been a marginal decision had it been given out, deVilliers was not padding up wide of off-stump. Yes he was well forward, but it was by no means an unreasonable decision. It was a decision where the Umpire was adjudicating the contest.

England have been robbed in this instance.

Friday, January 15, 2010

More Review problems - England complain against Harper

They keep thinking that there is some way to get at objective truth using technology, and they keep having trouble.

England have argued that Daryl Harper the TV Umpire had his TV on mute! It's a ridiculous assertion. Andy Flower's comment that it was obvious that it was Out because everybody can "hear the nick on referral" is also silly. Everybody can hear something - but how do you know it's a nick? How many times have we heard something which was not actually a nick?

It's one thing to make an official complaint to the ICC, it's another to tell the press about it. The latter is a violation of the Code of Conduct.

The most amazing thing is, that a lot of these commentators, and i suspect a lot of ICC Administrators don't seem to understand what the technology means. Technology by definition accepts a certain input and provides an output. That is how snickometer, hawkeye, hotspot etc work. In most of these cases, the input is video and audio footage.

So the question is not whether or not the Umpire turned up the volume, the question is whether or not the audio is good evidence. It is far from clear that this is the case.

There needs to be far greater skepticism of technology in cricket. There are consequences to the use of technology - it obviously changes to amount of authority invested in Umpires. It also affects the nature of truth claims. For Flower to claim that it was "obviously out" is ridiculous. There was nothing obvious about it.

Besides, doesn't this whole incident demonstrate the gigantic amounts of dissent at the Umpire's decision that the UDRS is promoting? Not only did England ask for the on-field decision to be reviewed, but they have since investigated the work of the TV Umpire, repeatedly!

The most comical aspect of this is, that umpiring error is now being blamed for undermining the Review System! It's amazing that in the year 2009, Cricket shows this unquestioning, near-religious faith in the power to technology to reveal the truth about events on the field. It's stupid and it's naive.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Number 39 for Bombay

A modest Bombay side, rebuilding after a generation of players - Muzumdar, Bahutule, Nilesh Kulkarni just to name three, sneaked a 6 run win in an epic Ranji Trophy final away from home at Mysore against the in form and heavily favored Karnataka side. The hosts came to the Ranji Final having won 4 out of their 7 games outright, while Bombay had a modest season with just one outright victory in the tournament. Rahul Dravid missed the final for Karnataka, while Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma and Zaheer Khan were all missing for Bombay.

This is Bombay's 39th Ranji Trophy victory, their 9th in the last 17 years. Not bad for a side which many claim is in decline. Whats more, they won even though their two best batsmen - Wasim Jaffer and Ajinkya Rahane failed in both innings. They won despite being reduced to 6/106 and 5/51 in each innings. And they won despite the fact that Manish Pandey made a supreme 144(151) in Karnataka's 4th innings run chase. It was the second new ball which did the trick for Bombay. Ajit Agarkar took 5 wickets in the 2nd innings, while Dhawal Kulkarni added three crucial second innings wickets to his priceless 87 in the Bombay 2nd innings. The innings of the match - Manish Pandey's 144, was sadly on the losing side. Pandey looked a class apart on this wicket, and while he was in, a Karnataka win looked certain.

The quality of cricket in this game was not very high. There was some help for the fast bowlers throughout, even though the movement on offer was by no means alarming. If you have been wondering why so many fast bowlers average less than 25 with the ball in domestic cricket, but struggle at Test level, you only have to look at the number of batsmen who got squared up at the first hint of some outswing. Yet, this was a compelling contest between bat and ball - something only 4 day or 5 day (unlimited overs) cricket can offer. Consider the fast bowling talent on show in this final - Abhimanyu Mithun, Dhawal Kulkarni, Avishkar Salvi, Vinay Kumar, not to mention Ajit Agarkar, and then ask yourself if it is worth wasting all these bowlers by using them as cannon fodder in useless T20 tournaments for half the season. Manish Pandey apart, the batting left much to be desired. I wish Tendulkar and Dravid had played this game. We would have seen a different class of batting - the difference between players who average 50+ in Test Cricket and a player averaging 35 in Test Cricket (Jaffer).

It could be said that Karnataka lost from an eminently winning position, but Karnataka's batting collapse after Pandey's wicket at 3/255 has to be seen in light of the fact that there were only 4 partnerships worth 50 runs or more in this game (including the double century stand between Pandey and Ganesh Satish). The timing of Pandey's dismissal also didn't suit Karnataka, coming as it did 11 overs before the second new ball was due. In the first three innings, 5, 6 and 5 wickets were lost in the first 30 overs of the innings. In all, 22 out of the 40 wickets to fall in this game fell to the newish ball.

Nevertheless, this is yet another addition to the Bombay legend. The great side wins even when they are not at full strength, and even when they are not in the best form. Wasim Jaffer led with typical unflappable calm, controlling the pace of the game expertly towards the end of the Karnataka run chase.

This star-studded final is probably the greatest of all time. The 2009-10 final is probably a close second.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ranji Trophy Final 2009-10

Mumbai face Karnataka at Mysore. The KSCA chose Mysore over the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore because it offers more help for pace bowling. Sides face each other home and away alternately in the Ranji Trophy and it just so happens thats the Ranji Trophy final is an away game for the Mumbai Cricket Association and a home game fro the Karnataka State Cricket Association.

Karnataka have been the form team in this years Ranji Trophy. They have looked unbeatable and must be favorites, especially with Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Rohit Sharma missing from the Mumbai ranks. Amol Muzumdar isn't playing for Mumbai anymore either - he plays for Assam now. Form seems irrelevant for Mumbai of course. They feature in the final and it doesn't even elicit comment.

Karnataka's plan seems to have worked. They have reduced Mumbai to 22/3 on the first morning. What's more, Mumbai have chosen 5 specialist bowlers. Vinayak Samant, the Mumbai wicket keeper can't bat as well as one might expect a wicketkeeper to. Of the 5 Mumbai batsmen, if you leave out Wasim Jaffer (181 First Class Matches), the other 4 have just over a 100 First Class games of experience between them.

But it takes a brave man to bet against Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, even if they lose Jaffer and Rahane within the first hour.

Ponting - Pulling away from greatness

The Australian Captain Ricky Ponting refuses to give up playing the pull shot. He says he's been out pulling twice this summer, but the problem, as his dismissals in 2009 (listed below) show, is much deeper than that. Ponting has fallen 12 times to pull shot in 2009. It was no surprise that Pakistan had a deep square leg out first ball to Ponting at Sydney.

Over the last 3 years Ponting averages 41 as a Test batsman. He has played 31 Test in this period. Reflexes slow with age and patterns begin to emerge as the batting average declines. With Sachin Tendulkar it was observed that he was getting bowled more often than before during his slump from say 2005-2007. His judgement outside off stump was not what it used to be In Ponting's case he is getting caught on the pull - once his great strength. Ponting's eye is not what it once was. Tendulkar made adjustments to his game, he changed his approach as well as his technique. Ponting, going by what he says, seems resistant to both. It is not enough to say that this is a personality trait. It is more directly cricketing than that.

This is the great difference between Tendulkar and Ponting. There has never been a period in Tendulkar's 20 year career when he has not been faced with a new challenge. There are many reasons for this - he played in a weak side, and, for the first 10-12 years of his career in a weak batting side. Ponting on the other hand has always played in a strong side. His prolific phase from 2000 - 2007 coincided with Australia's. For most of that time Ponting followed the most successful opening pair in the game in the batting line up. He almost always batted when Australia was ahead in the game. He has been confronted with fewer technical and tactical problems than Tendulkar. His comment that the pull is "instinctive" is instructive. I don't think it suggests he doesn't think about his batting. I think it suggests that he has largely been able to get away with playing just one way.

The next few years will tell us a lot about Ricky Ponting's ability with the bat. They will tell us if Ponting will end his career classed as a great run accumulator like Barrington or as a genuinely great batsman - to be spoken of in the same breath as Lara and Tendulkar and Sobers. Greatness requires more than just being a complete batsman, which Ponting undoubtedly is. It requires the ability to tackle adversity. This why most batsmen who are considered great, have played in weak sides for at least a portion of their careers - Lara in the 2000's, Tendulkar in 1990s, Sobers in the mid to late sixties, Gavaskar in the seventies, Waugh in the 90s (it could be argued that Waugh had already made his name as a great batsman early in Mark Taylor's reign - by 1995), Gooch in the 1980's and early 90s. For Ponting, like Hayden, such an opportunity has never arisen to any sufficient degree.

But it began to with retirement of McGrath and Warne. Unfortunately, this happened just as Ponting was beginning to recede as a Test batsman of the highest caliber.

Ricky Ponting's dismissals to the pull shot in 2009:

c deVilliers b Kallis 64
Australia v South Africa, 2nd ODI Hobart, 18 January 2009
29.2 finally someone holds on, and its de Villiers who sashays across to his left to pouch the offering at deep backward square leg! Ponting swivels on an ambitious pull shot but gets underneath it and sends the ball down de Villiers' throat, the end of a charmed innings from Ponting 152/2

c deVilliers b Tsotsobe 12
Australia v South Africa, 5th ODI, Perth, 30 January 2009
7.3 top-edged and well taken by de Villiers! Tsotsobe gets another, and a good one to get too, banging in a short-pitched delivery which Ponting top-edges back over de Villiers head, but he keeps his eyes locked on the swirler and pouches it as he falls onto his knees 35/2

c Mills b Elliot 16
Australia v New Zealand, 3rd ODI Sydney, 8 February 2009
31.3 top-edge and excellent catch at fine-leg by Mills, short of a length on middle and off, tries to pull it away over square leg, gets the leading edge and Mills, despite the sun being being in his eyes, pouches it superbly 169/2

c Guptill b Southee 15
Australia v New Zealand, 4th ODI Adelaide, 10 February 2009
14.5 and for the umpteenth time this summer we see Ponting top-edging a pull shot. Only difference this time being he does it to the cover fielder as Guptill takes it comfortably. Ever heard of a strength turning into a weakness 57/2

c Amla b Kallis 25
Australia v South Africa, 1st Test Johannesburg, March 1 2009
26.5 Ponting gets a bit of a shock spotting the fielder in the deep, Kallis bangs it in short and the ball comes on to Ponting a lot slower than he would have liked, he goes through with the front foot pull but there's not much of a follow-through with the shot, the ball lands down Amla's throat at deep square-leg 99/2

c McKenzie b Morkel 81
South Africa v Australia, 2nd Test Durban, 8 March 2009
64.3 the bowling change works, Morkel bowls it short of a length and Ponting swivels and goes for his favourite pull over square leg, unfortunately he picks McKenzie who's patrolling the boundary 219/2

c Morkel b Steyn 53
South Africa v Australia, 4th ODI, Port Elizabeth, 13 April 2009
40.6 He's gone now! What an eventful over, could well be the decisive blow. Held it back this time and banged it in short on middle, tried to pull it over midwicket, struck it well but couldn't clear him, Albie Morkel times his jump to perfection and Australia are pegged back again 226/6

c Prior b Onions 38
England v Australia, 3rd Test Birmingham, 30 July 2009
38.3 got him! He's out! A quick bouncer, Ponting went for a hook and got a thin edge through to Prior. Onions has bowled so, so well this morning 163/4

c Sidebottom b Anderson 6
England v Australia, 6th ODI Nottingham, 17 September 2009
8.6 gone! A hint of frustration as he had middled the last few balls but didn't find the gap, Anderson had set it up, hurled it short on middle, Ponting pulled it away disdainfully but straight into the palms of Sidebottom positioned perfectly at fine leg, two down 40/2

c Bravo b Roach 36
Australia v West Indies, 2nd Test Adelaide, 6 December 2009
71.6 a mistimed pull shot, short ball and Ponting on the back foot pulls in the air, a miscued shot straight into the hands of Bravo at midwicket. A big wicket for West Indies. 233/3

c Dowlin b Roach 2
Australia v West Indies, 3rd Test Perth, 18 December 2009
44.5 short and the Aussie skipper pops it to short leg, right at the body in at his ribs and he is gone - brilliant bowling forces him to play defensively to the man in close 134/8

c Butt b Aamer 12
Australia v Pakistan, 1st Test Melbourne, 28 December 2009
9.4 caught! short ball, pulled in the air, not so controlled this time, it goes high in he air picking out the fielder at deep square leg who takes a straight-forward catch 32/2

Saturday, January 09, 2010

BS Commentary and Dismissal of the Decade

First, the BS Commentary:
Just after the one minute mark, Ian Healy, telling us about "the concentration of the Adam Gilchrist" - allegedly the most honest cricketer of the decade - a reputation that he cemented by walking for a bat-pad catch that he most certainly need not have walked for in the World Cup Semi-Final of 2003 against Sri Lanka at Port Elizabeth. His record as a wicketkeeper shows that he was as much the master of the professional appeal as any one else, even Healy himself. Healy probably thought it was just another "aggressive decision" to an "aggressive appeal" (im paraphrasing from Healy in the second instance, the first is a direct quote).

But seriously - "the concentration of Adam Gilchrist"! For a reflex take? For an appeal which he most certainly led? There was never any question of an LBW there, Dravid was well outside the line of the off-stump. What should Gilchrist have done? Appealed for an LBW the second he saw the ball graze the pad, and let the ball hit him? Besides, isn't that kind of incriminating? If Gilchrist was really concentrating so hard, how could he have missed the fact the it missed the edge or the glove? What was he concentrating on?

This is just another example of nonsensical commentary, which, coming from a Test wicketkeeper of longstanding is supposed to be received as wisdom.



Oh, the greatest dismissal of the decade. I won't even tell you what match it's from. This is it (commentary from Cricinfo):
49.4
Kumble to Symonds, OUT, gone! Kumble fires one in flat, and quick, at 102ks, pushing a surprised Symonds back in the crease and he's a sitter in front of middle and leg, Billy Bowden has no doubts and up comes the finger in a flash
A Symonds lbw b Kumble 12 (18m 14b 1x4 1x6) SR: 85.71
Another big wicket and its the captain who gets into the action. Adam Gilchrist in.
49.5
Kumble to Gilchrist, no run, spins in from outside off stump, he gets across and defends
Well, well, well .... replays show Symonds got an inside-edge onto pad. Another poor call. Symonds has reason to feel aggrieved.
It was enough to make even the most hardened atheist doubt his convictions. I have never wanted India to beat anybody more than they did in that game at Perth. And boy did they do that! For that one game i was more partisan than the most vicious partisan. This dismissal reaffirmed my faith in the fact that Test Cricket is the greatest sport ever evented anywhere in the known Universe. The phrase "poetic justice" was invented with this specific dismissal in mind.

I can see it right now as clearly as i first saw it then. I will never ever forget it. In Six Tests against India since Sydney, Australia have lost three and never looked like winning anything. Methinks this spell of Sydney will haunt Australia for a long time to come.

Just to put this in perspective, do read this and this.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Player of the Decade: 2000-2009

Cricinfo has a list of nominees. It's a good list i think. I don't care for Cricinfo's choice of using Test batting averages in victories as a benchmark, but nevertheless, the list consists of

5 Australians: Ponting, Warne, McGrath, Hayden, Gilchrist
2 West Indians: Chanderpaul, Lara
3 Sri Lankans: Muralitharan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene
2 Pakistanis: Inzamam, Yousuf
2 Indians: Tendulkar, Dravid
2 South Africans: Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith

If victories are of some importance to this judgement, then the list has two obvious, notable omissions - Virender Sehwag and Andrew Flintoff.

Sehwag's statistics:
Tests: 6248 runs at 52.50, with a strike rate of 80.44
ODIs: 6253 runs at 36.35, with a strike rate of 103.51 (batting at numbers 1,2 or 3 for India)

Flintoff's statistics:
Tests: 3695 runs at 32.69, 220 wickets at 32.38
In victories: (28 Tests out of 74) 1555 runs at 42.02, 91 wickets at 28.08

Flintoff was worth more to England than merely his runs and his wickets

I don't think it's a close run thing in the 2000s. There are only two serious contenders for the award - Muralitharan and Kallis.

Muralitharan has perennially bowled in a modest Sri Lankan Test attack. He took 333 wickets at 15.49 in Sri Lankan Test victories, 200 wickets at 17.29 in 23 Sri Lankan Test wins against top teams, and 53 wickets in 6 Sri Lankan overseas Test wins, including 10 wickets in a match at Nottingham, Wellington and Peshawar. In all he took 11 10 wicket hauls in Sri Lankan victories against top teams (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). His 560 wickets at 20.87 (in only 83 Tests), 432 at 23.48 (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) boggle the mind.

If thats not enough, but here is the killer statistic about Murali - He took every third Test wicket for Sri Lanka in this decade. I haven't even begun to mention his ODI performances. Between 2000 and 2005, Sri Lanka did not lose a single ODI in which he played, when they batted first and made 250 or more. His 324 ODI wickets at 20.44 in the 2000s has not been bettered (it has been matched by Brett Lee who also took 324 wickets in the decade).

For someone to match Muralitharan in this decade, he would have to be all-rounder. No other cricketer with a single skill set comes even remotely close. Jacques Kallis with his relentless performances in Tests and ODIs comes very very close. But Kallis has meant more to South Africa than his runs and his wickets. He has been their rock as they have endured a formative era where colored cricketers began to make a serious headway as international cricketers aided by a progressive and not entirely popular affirmative action policy. Whatever his own views on the matter might have been (i don't know what he thought of this, he may even have been very supportive), he has continued to represent his protean South Africa in champion fashion.

World Cups have been events where great players have traditionally completed their careers, from Miandad to McGrath. The next one will be in India, with the final in Bombay. You might think that my loyalties would not be in doubt. But should it come to a Final between Tendulkar's India and Kallis's South Africa - there will be one torn viewer watching anxiously. Of this you can be sure.

My Player of the Decade of the 2000s would be a jointly held award - between Muttiah Muralitharan and Jacques Kallis.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

A few more overs?

The question on a lot of people's minds i suppose. What might have been had Graeme Smith declare about 8 overs earlier than he did? What if the declaration had come at 401/5, as soon as deVilliers was Out? Not much i think. England played out 141 overs. It's not hard to imagine them playing out 150. Besides, the shows that the wicket was still too good.

This is worth thinking about. Typically, a wicket which is good for batting on day 1 and day 2 and then progressively helps all bowlers - spinners - through rough patches and pacemen - through uneven bounce and the possibility of reverse, is considered a reasonable wicket, but we still hear it being called "slow and low" and other such things. But what about a wicket like this one at Cape Town? It helped the bowlers quite a bit over the first two days, but then stayed flat for the next three. It's the sort of wicket made for Shane Warne or Muralitharan and their wrist spin. For Paul Harris and Graeme Swann, both orthodox finger spinners (i think Swann is better than Harris), the wicket is simply too true to help.

So why is this type of wicket considered superior to the "slow and low" wicket which helps the spinners from Day 3 onwards? Is it simply because this type of wicket makes medium pacers look like millionaires (see Onions, Graham) with the ball flying off the wicket? Isn't that simply another version of the T20 syndrome? If wickets are to be judged, take the Chennai wicket of 2008 for example. That in my view was the ideal Test wicket given the weather in the subcontinent. The problem in Cape Town was, that no matter how lively the wicket might have been, 34-35 degree temperatures inevitably turned it into a "road". Look at the evidence. The first 20 wickets fell over the first 174 overs - a wicket fell every 52 balls. The next 12 wickets fell over the next 252 overs - a wicket every 126 balls. And those 12 wickets include the wickets of deVilliers, Duminy and Boucher, each falling trying to increasing the scoring rate.

South Africa in the end were defeated by the wicket more than anything else. It puts Graeme Smith's 183 into perspective. Paul Collingwood's approach was notable. He felt confident of being able to block - to let the bowlers bowl without trying especially hard to score. He felt confident that the wicket would play absolutely true - there would be nothing off the wicket, all the movement would have to be in the air. This was the innings of a man very confident of the fact that he could block anything that was bowled, because the unplayable ball would be highly unlikely. This is in contrast to day 1 and 2, where none of the batsmen felt they were "in".

Could a wrist spinner have done more damage? Possibly. Guile is not a trivial gift in Test Cricket.

There was a little bit of Broad at the end as well. Stuart Broad called for a review for the most palpable gloved catch - it probably stung his fingers long after he had put his feet up in the pavilion, but, Broad being Broad, called for and wasted a review. As clear an abuse of the review as can be imagined. With a specialist batsman at the other end, it says something about Broad's inflated self-regard as a batsman that he felt it Ok to use up a review in a hopeless situation. Or maybe he wasn't thinking - he instinctively grasped at whatever straws given his self-confessed "youthful exuberance"! Gavaskar's reading of Broad becomes more prescient all the time.

It was an optimistically prepared wicket given the weather in Cape Town. With temperatures in the mid to high 80's for most of the Test, trying to prepare a wicket a la Headingley is absurd. Why are these wickets considered better than the ones which are good for batting over the first two days and then help the spinners - even finger spinners?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The ball tampering charade continues

I don't understand why the focus is on South Africa. Surely, the first place from which such a complaint should originate would be the Umpires. If it isn't going to, then the Umpires are probably satisfied that no deliberate ball tampering occured, even though there is TV evidence to occur that the ball was tampered with - it was found under the spikes of a player who has said about a week ago (may be two weeks, i don't know when Andrew McGlashan completed his gigantic investigative report on the "fiery" Broad - somehow that description doesn't suit the fresh faced, boyish England all-rounder-in-the-making) that

"Everyone knows I've got a pretty passionate outlook on my cricket - and sometimes it does get the better of me. It's crucial I do carry myself in the right way. It is something I'm aware of, but my youthful exuberance sometimes gets the better of me."

If you haven't fallen off your chair with laughter reading about someone referring to his own "youthful exuberance" - sounds like the guy was born in a commentary box, read on.

This points to an obvious inconsistency in the Code of Conduct - which is that ultimately, it doesn't matter what the evidence is, if the Umpires don't want to do anything about it, they need not, and nobody can do anything about it. South Africa are making a hash of the whole thing - i think some South African players still believe that an official complaint has been made, if AB deVilliers's comment is anything to go by.

Given Marcus Trescothick's amazingly casual revelation about his use of Murray Mints to shine the ball and other things such as Rahul Dravid being caught using a lozenge that he was eating to shine the ball - it appears that ball tampering, if seen strictly within the Laws of Cricket and the ICC Code of Conduct, is something of an art amongst Test teams. I can imagine post-series dressing room conversations where notes are exchanges between ball managers about how to extract as much as possible from the ball. Face cream, chewing gum, lozenges, sometimes spikes - these are all part of the game. The sub-text to A B deVilliers' comment is that teams do try to get as much as possible out of the old ball. What is considered legal and what is not, is a matter of where you stand. Going by the rules, anybody who is chewing gum or anybody who uses face cream, or for that matter, anybody who didn't rinse his mouth and brush his teeth after a sip of energy drink should not be allowed to apply spit or sweat on the ball. Anybody who starches his pants (an archaic concept these days - i've never starched any pair of trousers myself, neither have i ever worn starched trousers), should not be allowed to shine the cricket ball on it.

If you are Pakistan however, and if you have a stickly Umpire like Darrell Hair, you get penalized 5 runs, then you claim that this, on account of being accused of tampering the ball is a national insult, and end up forfeiting the game! With other umpires who are by nature more playful (if you will) like Daryl Harper, you can get away with it. I think it is very well known amongst the players as to who the more lenient Umpires are. It would be interesting to know what Darrell Hair's response might have been to this incident.

The charade continues. It's becoming apparent that the Umpire's decision is paramount. South Africa probably wouldn't know an official complaint if it came and hit them in the face. I suspect they don't really want to.

In the meanwhile, Michael Vaughan asks "What would we say if it was Pakistan?". I don't think he realizes just how loaded that question is!