Monday, November 29, 2010

The UDRS in the wake of Brisbane: I would really like the English and the Australians to respond to this

Update: marginally revised
The BCCI has been criticized for not backing the UDRS. Further, every single time there is an issue with an umpiring decision in a game where UDRS isn't available, there's a predictable chorus about how the backward BCCI is standing in the way of the technology. People seem to have developed this exasperatingly binary view of technology in cricket. As if there isn't any technology other than UDRS. Brisbane might offer the beginning of a breakthrough, because both England and Australia have been hurt by UDRS. My uncharitable, but accurate reading of UDRS is as follows:

"Umpires can make mistakes, and since this is so, we will allow the players to make at most two mistakes in an effort to correct the umpires mistakes"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On Sehwag and South Africa

Virender Sehwag the Test Match batsman has been made and broken against South Africa. He made a century on debut at Bloemfontein, which included a 220 run stand with Sachin Tendulkar. He also played a full series in South Africa in 2006-07, where 6 innings brought him 89 runs. He was subsequently dropped. He made a comeback a year later at Perth against Australia, made a crucial 151 in the second innings at Adelaide in the final Test of that tour, and then, welcomed the visiting South Africans with an thundering 319, made at better than a run a ball at Chepauk. Since that comeback at Perth, Sehwag has been unstoppable. 32 Tests have brought him 3395 runs at an average of 63 and a strike rate of 92(!). He has reached at least fifty 24 times in 57 innings.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mark Nicholas - A pompous popinjay

For about 5 hours on November 25, 2010, the truth peeked out at us from the staid, fact riddled pages of the Wikipedia Encyclopedia. Ducking Beamers pointed this out first. I take the liberty to record an unknown, but doubtlessly wise soul's courageous effort to malign Shane Warne's Hampshire captain. Nicholas, who has suffered the nicknames 'Elvis' and 'Jardine' in his time, is introduced as follows in this version of his Wikipedia entry:

Ashes: Brisbane: Still no surprises

Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin rode their luck and their home advantage to produce an epic triple century Ashes stand to provide Australia with an unlikely first innings lead of 221 and leave England with only a slight hope of pulling off a victory in the first Ashes Test. This is what England must believe, for there is enough time for them, and enough difficulty in the wicket for them to consider defending 100-120 in the fourth innings. It also shows you how far behind they are in the game.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Ashes: Brisbane: No surprises

This is a mid-table Ashes clash (unlike say the 2005 Ashes, or even the 2006-07 Ashes) and Day 1 at Brisbane was indicative of this this mid-table quality. England won the toss, and despite all the pre-series talk about the Brisbane wicket, felt confident enough to bat first. It was a day which, apart from the temperature, might well have been in the north of England with prolonged spells of cloudy weather interspersed with moments of bright sunshine. The ball swung nearly all day, but the wicket did not appear to be lightning quick. It was a Day on which they might have bowled, especially given the high opinion they have of their own bowling.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fitness in Cricket teams - II

To continue and clarify my argument against the fetishization of physical shape (fitness) in cricket, in which I used the ongoing spectacle of New Zealand diving about in the in-field and being considered to be at the cutting edge of cricket for doing so, I point to this example with thanks to achettup at Short Of A Length (whose conflation of someone else's questions about committment and my question about this obsession with a certain narrow kind of fitness I don't quite understand).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fitness in Cricket teams

The New Zealand XI is one of the best fielding sides seen India in a long time. Every single member of their XI seems to be able to field well, sometimes irrespective of back injuries! And yet, it all seems quite wasteful. New Zealand are not a group of journeyman cricketers who are aware of their limitations and work within them. It's a team of gifted cricketers who do not seem to lacking physical fitness. New Zealand's fast bowlers move as well as Suresh Raina does. Nobody would mistake Kane Williamson, Jesse Ryder, Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum, Tim Southee, Andy McKay or Daniel Vettori to be lacking in talent or physical fitness. Their opponents are unlike them in every possible way. India's batting line up is dominated by three veterans who would be the first to admit that they are not the swiftest individuals in cricketing whites.

Friday, November 19, 2010

On Harbhajan Singh

Harbhajan Singh is one of India's all time great spin bowlers. Only Anil Kumble has taken more Test wickets for India amongst spinners, and only Kumble (66) and Chandrashekhar (66) have better Harbhajan's strike rate (68 deliveries). Bishan Singh Bedi took a wicket every 80 balls, Prasanna, a wicket every 76 balls. For Venkatraghavan the figure for 95 balls. Look beyond the famed quartet, and we find Vinoo Mankad taking a wicket every 91 balls, Subhash Gupte doing so once in 76 deliveries and Dilip Doshi doing it once every 82 balls. Only Kumble (2.6), Gupte (2.4) and Chandrashekhar (2.5) took more wickets per innings than Harbhajan has done - 2.3. Amongst finger-spinners no Indian spin bowler - not even the classical orthodox spinners, have done better than Harbhajan Singh. This, despite the fact that Harbhajan has faced far more professional batting line ups than any other Indian spin bowler except Kumble. Armies of computer technicians and simulated wickets dissect every quirk that a bowler has these days. This hurts spinners the most, for spinners rely on mystery and guile far more than the quick men.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tendulkar's dismissal at Uppal

On the third morning of 2nd Test between India and New Zealand at Uppal, Sachin Tendulkar charged down the wicket off the seventh ball he faced from the New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori. His intended lofted drive over mid-on ended up going to first slip where Ross Taylor held a fine catch. Tendulkar was beaten in the flight and hence his stroke became a slog across the line in the end as he tried to account for the shorter-than-expected-length in mid-stroke.

In his 173rd Test, in a year when he's made Test hundreds for fun, it's hard to dismiss this as a rush of blood. You could call it a bad shot if you like, and I won't argue with that. But I doubt very much that it was anything other than a calculated risk - one which did not come off. Daniel Vettori deserves credit for having read Tendulkar well. It was apparent from the beginning of the day that Tendulkar wanted to score briskly, much like he did against Australia on the third morning in his recent double century at Bangalore. He made 62(72) in the morning session that day and batted aggressively especially against the short ball early in the day. I think he wanted to pursue a similar approach today.

Another reason for Tendulkar's belligerence is the fact that at Ahmedabad, Vettori tied him down. Tendulkar made 5 runs in 55 balls off Daniel Vettori in his innings of 40, and may have felt that he had to disturb Daniel Vettori's line and length early in the day. If he had succeeded, it would have paved the way for a run-filled session for India against the lesser bowlers.

It didn't come off. It's the nature of attacking batting. We are used to seeing it from Virender Sehwag, but not from Tendulkar. The New Zealand skipper had the better of Tendulkar today.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is the UDRS the only review method in the world?

Regular readers are probably familiar with my position on the UDRS. But this is becoming quite tiresome. Everytime an umpire on the field makes a mistake, a lot of people cannot understand why the UDRS is not in use.

Let's consider the VVS Laxman dismissal.

1. Vettori bowls to Laxman. It's an arm ball.
2. Laxman plays for the turn, get's an inside edge on to his front pad. He's beaten in the flight and is not as far forward as he would like.
3. Vettori thinks it looks good and feels he's got his man. He belts out an appeal.
4. Umpire gives it Out.
5. VVS, after a moment of total surprise, walk away.
6. VVS has just walked past the non-striker, and we have seen the replay of VVS expressing surprise on TV.
7. The Third Umpire, unless he's fast asleep, saw this too.
8. By the time we see the replay, VVS has reached the position where mid-off was standing on the way back.
9. The third umpire has seen it too.
10. By the time the guy from deep fine-leg reaches his captain to congratulate him, everybody in the known universe except the two umpires and the fielding side know that there was a palpable inner edge.

Every sane person at this point is thinking "Call him back! You have a wireless connection to the Umpire's Ear!"

Everybody except the Cricket Press, the ICC and Virender Sehwag, who are thinking "Damn! If only there was UDRS". Oh, and the Indian captain is evidently thinking "What a stupid umpire!"

I know the wireless device is small and cool and hi-tech, but it isn't yet drilled into the Umpire's skull! People can see that it's there can't they?

Sometimes institutional inertia can make you want to tear your hair out....

Two prospects

Too many experienced observers have remarked that Rohit Sharma has a lot of ability, for there to not be at least a small grain of truth in it. Yet, the man himself finds himself on the fringes of India selection, with performances in limited overs cricket, with all their vagaries coming into play in his undoing. We live in an age where a Test player must first prove his spurs in limited overs cricket. VVS Laxman was the last Indian Test batsman to make it into Test cricket solely on the basis of his limited overs performances. Since then, Virender Sehwag, Mohammad Kaif, Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina have all first proven their worth in the limited overs format. The two exceptions to this rule are the opening batsmen - Shiv Sunder Das, Sadagopan Ramesh, Wasim Jaffer and Murali Vijay. The only middle-order Test player who didn't make it in ODI cricket first, has had the shortest Test career for India in the last 10 years - Subramaniam Badrinath.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Zulqarnain Haider helps put Aamer, Asif and Butt in perspective

A few months ago, when the spot-fixing scandal broke in the English summer, Dileep Premachandran wrote an account of how threats of kidnapping and violence are used to enforce gambling scams in The Guardian. I hope Zulqarnain Haider's story helps put the alleged actions of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and the 18 year old Mohammad Aamer's stories into perspective.

The PCB and the Pakistan Government comes out of this with egg all over their face - Haider could not have let it be known more clearly that he doesn't trust either his team, his board or his nation's law enforcement. I expect that the Pakistan establishment's response will be substantially vindictive - for to concede Haider's point would be to any remaining credibility that they imagine they have.

There is much more to be said about story. I hope some careful reporter who is not afraid to name names tells us about it.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Reverse or Blessing?

Once India allowed New Zealand to get within 28 runs of their first innings total of 487, there were only two results possible - A draw or a New Zealand win. Now, there are three. India could still win this game from this position. A 4th innings target between 150 - 175 might prove to be tricky for New Zealand and give India enough time to bowl New Zealand out. With only 130 overs left in the game and a lead of only 28, India wouldn't have had enough time to make enough runs to declare, especially on this wicket where fast run scoring has proved to be difficult, and then take 10 wickets. It's relatively easy to shut shop and play out time on this wicket, much harder to score at any pace if the bowling is reasonably accurate.

The last three Tests played by India have panned out in the same way. It was India batting 2nd on those occasions. Sri Lanka were reduced to 87/7 in the third innings in Colombo, Australia lost 10/105 at Mohali and were bowled out for 223 in the 3rd innings at Bangalore. This time, India are batting third and were reduced to 15/5. This is remarkable given that two New Zealand bowlers who bowled 32 overs between them in India's first innings are unable to bowl in the third innings.

New Zealand begin the final day as favorites, and India's modest bowling attack - they let New Zealand escape from 4/137 to 10/459 makes it more likely that they will go on to win. But I suspect that this game has another twist in it.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Reputations, Expectations and Australia's impending Ashes success

England are favored to win the Ashes by many observers, including Sachin Tendulkar. This is not as straightforward as it sounds. England last won the Ashes 2-1 in Australia in 1986-87 under the captaincy of Mike Gatting. That team had David Gower and Ian Botham, and the Australians of 1986-87 were probably the weakest Australian side of the 20th century. Yet, England only won a narrow 2-1 series victory.

Monday, November 01, 2010

The Ranji Season begins

The 2010-11 Ranji Trophy season began in earnest all over India today, with both the Plate and Super League games starting today. With India not playing anywhere, most of the top limited overs India players were on show. With the first Test against New Zealand starting on Thursday, members of the Test squad did not participate.