Thursday, March 31, 2011

The 1975 World Cup

A look back.

Pakistan v West Indies
What would Pakistan not have given for Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas in yesterday's side!

A World Cup 2011 XI

About a fortnight ago, I posted a poll ask you to vote for your team of the 2011 World Cup. I collected the results today, and they make for interesting reading. I divided the poll into six parts - Opening Batsmen, Middle Order Batsmen (3,4 and 5), All-Rounder, Wicketkeeper, Spin Bowlers and Fast Bowlers. Voters were asked to produce an XI by choosing from some or all of these parts. Selecting teams is never straightforward, it is about selecting a team, and not just XI players. It is also not about who "deserves" to be in the side, because at any given time, there are always more than XI players who belong in this set.

Further, many of these categories are obviously problematic. For example, opening batsmen can be all-rounders and wicketkeepers (Watson, McCullum, Haddin), as can middle order batsmen (Sangakkara, AB de Villiers, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh). Some players classed as specialist spinners are good enough to be considered all-rounders (Daniel Vettori), some others are explicitly considered by their teams as such (Botha).

In posting this poll, I hoped that you, as voters or selectors would encounter these category muddles and the general difficulty of trying to select a team. My intention in posting this poll was not merely to pick winners, but to offers a simplified simulation of the process of selection. Even though I hoped that you would select an XI, I did not create the poll such that you would be forced to pick an XI. Some of you have probably picked less than XI players, others have probably picked more than XI players. Some of you probably felt that your side didn't need a specialist spinner, others must have felt otherwise. This is all absolutely fine with me.

Finally, there might be some of you who willfully tried to mess up the poll. I'm going to proceed on the assumption that this is a reasonably small number, even though this was decidedly easy enough for you to do.

I had a few expectations from this poll. I felt it would reflect the fact that the teams are fairly equally matched - that the difference between the best and worst teams amongst the top 8 Test playing nations (and no, Bangladesh are not in my opinion a patch on West Indies - just look at the records of Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul and the talent of Taylor, Roach, Ramdin, the Bravos and Russell, all of these would walk into a Bangladesh side) is not as large as it might have been in 2007 or 2003.

Before reading the poll, I should tell you what my team was. If I remember correctly, it was - Tendulkar, Sehwag, Ponting, Sangakkara, Kallis, Dhoni, Afridi, Vettori, Steyn, Zaheer and Murali. This, it is arguable, is probably not the strongest team (Dhoni could easily be replaced by AB deVilliers), but our teams must reflect our biases. Mine was for the versatility of the Indian captain.

A few players were picked by more than half the voters - Tendulkar, Sehwag, Sangakkara, de Villiers, Dhoni, Afridi, Steyn and Zaheer. On the flip side, two great batsmen seem to have fallen out of favor - Ricky Ponting and Mahela Jayawardene. The former is one of the two or three greatest batsmen of his age, and the latter, while he possesses an inexplicable ODI average is one of the most gifted, canniest batsmen in the contemporary game. Imran Tahir was preferred by more voters than Harbhajan Singh and Saeed Ajmal and the unorthodox Ajantha Mendis. This could be because he was the best available leg-spinner, and because there is already a proliferation of off-spinners - Murali, Swann, Harbhajan, Ajmal, Botha, Krejza.

Amongst the fast bowlers and spin bowlers, voters indicated fairly clearly who the best were - Steyn, Zaheer, Malinga and Lee, and Murali, Swann, Vettori and Tahir.

The voters have picked the following team in my view:
Tendulkar, Sehwag, Sangakkara, Kallis, deVilliers, Dhoni, Afridi, Muralitharan, Swann, Steyn and Zaheer.

I doubt whether Morne Van Wyk is really the second best wicketkeeper in the World Cup, and voters have ignored McCullum, Haddin and Prior because I put them amongst the Openers. They were placed there because this is where they play, just as Watson was put amongst the openers because this is where he plays. So a Second XI would be

Watson, McCullum, Amla, Taylor, Yuvraj, Hussey, Pollard, Vettori, Lee, Malinga and Tahir

Consider the make up of these 22 players - 5 Indians, 5 South Africans, 3 Sri Lankans, 3 Australians, 3 New Zealanders, 1 Pakistani, 1 Englishman and 1 West Indian. This more or less reflects the rankings in ODI cricket doesn't it? A similar exercise for the 2007 World Cup would probably have been dominated by three sides - Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

Selecting teams is always fun, but its very very hard.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

India reach their 3rd World Cup Final

The architects of a workmanlike effort
It was a scrappy game riddled with error. Both sides have produced a much higher quality of cricket in the past, and the pressure of the occasion seemed to weigh heavily on even the most experienced participants. The remarkable number of false strokes and fielding errors produced plenty of contrived excitement, but if you wanted to see a high quality cricketing contest, then this was not it. The game between India and South Africa for example, produced a far superior quality of cricket.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

For the Right to face Sri Lanka in Bombay

A cricket match will be played in Mohali, India between India and Pakistan. Mohali, situated to the south-west of Corbusier's Chandigarh is equally distant from Delhi and Lahore, and has what is possibly the best cricket ground in the sub-continent. Set in the foothills of the Himalayas, it is a pleasant place at this time of the year with temperatures in the 20s. Amazingly enough, Weather Underground predicts a 30% chance of rain tonight (night before the match) but a clear afternoon and evening on match day.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Source (h/t Sidvee)
"I float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee."
Ali didn't know it, but he was not talking about himself. He was talking about a turbaned spin bowler of Delhi, Northants and India. Bishen Singh Bedi.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

England Outclassed, Tournament Wide Open

Utterly and in all respects. Sri Lanka had a modest day in the field, but so thoroughly did they outplay England with bat and ball, that it didn't matter. England were thumped by 10 wickets, with 63 balls to spare. After tenaciously hanging in there, despite some terrible performances, England finally suffered the sort of defeat that they have kept escaping throughout the tournament. Can you remember one single game in which England was ahead?

Friday, March 25, 2011

South Africa Eliminated, but did they 'Choke'?

Can entire teams really choke? This anthropomorphism about what is a social group and deserves to be dealt with on its own terms, is intellectually lazy. Harsha Bhogle set out in his post-match analysis with the goal (as he said) of not turning the show into a discussion about why South Africa lost, thereby giving short shrift to why New Zealand won. However the show, with the exception of Tony Cozier's comments, degenerated into amateur psycho-analysis of South Africa. It seems to be characteristic of a particular brand of popular analysis, in which anything that is hard to explain, is 'explained' away as a serious character flaw. So losing teams (or failing players) "lack the stomach for a fight", "fail a test of character", "choke" - are somehow lesser people, and that explains it all. This is rank laziness, and a total failure of analysis. In any case, even if you believed that being humane was not necessary when it comes to criticizing someone, as a piece of criticism, it is useless to say that a particular side "choked". What could the recipient of this criticism do with this information? Not "choke"? If so how? "Choking" is a non-thesis - it is like accusing someone of being a witch.

But what of South Africa's history, you might ask.  Yes there is such a thing as history, but it is a mistake to conflate it with memory. They are not synonymous. History is the critical interrogation of memory.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Australia Eliminated by Improving India

A measured century from the great Ricky Ponting was not enough to prevent Australia's elimination from the 2011 World Cup. India beat them by 5 wickets at Motera today. Half centuries from Tendulkar, Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh allowed India to overcome the tremendous pressure of a 260 run chase under lights. It is worth taking a moment to think about the enormity of this event. Winning three consecutive limited overs World Cups may never be achieved again, and today the Australians showed us glimpses of the type of cricket that brought them those three World Cups. In the end, it was their inability to find a batsman to support the Captain, and a good spinner to support the stellar Lee that left them with 20 too few with the bat and too much to do with the ball.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Chennai, Pressers and World Cup Madness

Do watch this video. There a little bit of gloating about Chennai at the start, but if you can get past that, its quite revealing. I suppose Match Ka Mujrim has its genesis in theses pressers.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tendulkar and his ODI Runs

There have been plenty of murmurs (again) about Tendulkar's inability to make his runs count towards India's wins. His two centuries in this World Cup - 120 v England and 111 v South Africa, resulted in a tie and a loss, while his four scores below 50 came in games when India won. A persistent undercurrent exists about Tendulkar making runs when it doesn't matter. In this post I present some data to question this persistent trope. This has been done before, and people offer lots of statistics to prove their point. Im going to do the same. It is up to you to decide if these stats are self-serving, or whether they have reasonable standing in this argument.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Powerplay Problems

Why do bowling sides take the bowling powerplay between overs 10-15? What is the tactical status of the bowling powerplay? Do bowling sides take it to keep the runs down? How often have we seen a batting side take 50 or 60 runs of the first 10 overs of an ODI innings, only to see the bowling side immediately take the bowling powerplay? Considering games played between non-minnow teams (top 8 Test playing teams excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe), the Batting Powerplay overs have yielded 36/435 on the 17 occasions when the batting powerplay has been taken. On the 20 occasions when the bowling powerplay has been taken, it has yielded 9/516. So run scoring in the batting and bowling powerplays has been more or less even, but wickets are almost 5 times as likely to fall in the batting powerplay than in a bowling powerplay. But there's more.

Friday, March 18, 2011

World Cup 2011 Final Weekend: Are Tactical Defeats useful at this stage?

Of the 14 teams participating in the 2011 World Cup, 6 have now completed their group stage engagements. 2 games remain in each group. In Group A, Australia face Pakistan and Zimbabwe face Kenya. In Group B, Bangladesh face South Africa, while West Indies face India. Only two games in the World Cup have not produced outright victories - England tied with India, while Australia's game against Sri Lanka was rained off. The ICC's preliminary group stage has been a great success. Only a rank upset - Bangladesh beating South Africa, will prevent the top 8 Test playing teams from advancing to the knockout phase.

In this post, I contemplate a few tactical defeats . A tactical defeat is one in which a team which has a realistic chance of winning, chooses to lose a game (by resting key players, or simply by experimenting with batting orders and bowling orders, and letting the other side win) in the interest of their position in the tournament. Australia, Pakistan, India, South Africa and West Indies all have this opportunity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

England survive in yet another tense finish

England have beaten West Indies by 18 runs in a close game in which the West Indies made an unconventional attempt to chase down England's 243 on a wicket on which the consensus seemed to be that the runs had to be made early against the new ball, if the chase was to be successful. They hit 9 sixes in a total of 225 all out. Instead of the classic method of trying to bat out the 50 overs, using specialist batsmen (which would almost certainly have brought West Indies about 250 runs), they seemed to go with a pinch hitting strategy, where a series of big hitters would try and race to the score, while Ramnaresh Sarwan played the anchor role. The West Indies decision to drop Shivnarine Chanderpaul has passed without much comment. How they missed him in today's run chase!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

10 years ago

It was Day 4 of the Kolkata Test of 2001. Since that day, the two men who batted all day against one of the best bowling attacks of all time, have made fifteen and a half thousand Test runs including 36 centuries for India. Both men have gone on to play 100 Test matches for India, VVS has played 99 since that Test, while Dravid has played 108.

It was a day that changed the fortunes of India and her cricket. Can you imagine an India in which cricket went into decline in the aftermath of the match-fixing scandals of the late 2000s? Would there have been the generation of the 1990s? Would there have been the IPL without that day?

On 15 March 2001, exactly 124 years after the first ball was bowled in a Test Match, a miraculous stand by two wonderful players changed the shape of India's decade. I hear on the grapevine that those two gents will be sharing a meal tonight.

Would it not be fitting if India were to fulfill the promise of that day by winning the World Cup?

Build a WC XI

Calling All Cricket bloggers, observers, fanatics, occasionals, weekenders and others. I invite you all to build your own World Cup XI here. Build your strongest team, using your own favored balance between batsmen, bowlers, all-rounders and wicketkeeper-batsmen.

The Poll closes March 31.

To my blogger friends, please share this with your readers. I would like to get as many people as possible to participate.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A World Cup 2011 Winning XI: A Poll

This is a strange World Cup. There is no form book to go by. South Africa were beaten by England, England tied with India, and India were beaten by South Africa. West Indies are still to play India and England, but were beaten easily by South Africa. In the other group, Pakistan beat Sri Lanka, but were beaten by New Zealand. New Zealand are yet to play Sri Lanka and Australia are yet to play Pakistan. The Australia Sri Lanka game was washed out and Australia beat New Zealand easily. So there is a strange inconclusiveness to it all. There is no way of knowing which team has been the best in the World Cup so far. India have scored more runs than any other side in the World Cup, but have also suffered the most dramatic batting collapse of all. Even Bangladesh, in their 58 all out innings did not lose 9/29.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hard Choices and their Criticism

Here is an issue which has bothered me for a while now. Despite his recent heroics, I don't think Yusuf Pathan is a particularly reliable batsman, and so, in ODI games, where circumstances can require you to build innings, I remain unconvinced as to whether Yusuf merits a spot ahead of Suresh Raina, who, despite his recent troubles against the short ball, has been a stellar lower-middle-order bat for India in ODI cricket in India.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

South Africa win in tense finish

South Africa chased India's 296 all out with two balls to spare in a close finish at Nagpur today. If they do end up winning the World Cup, this evening in Nagpur will be where they will say they started their victory march. India were 1/267 in the 39th over, and lost this game from there. They failed to bat 50 overs despite being only 1 wicket down with only a dozen overs to play. That hurt them. Had they used up all the deliveries available to them, they might have done enough to keep South Africa at bay.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Group B Scenarios: India could still be Eliminated

At the beginning of this World Cup, the task for the big Test playing nations was very clear. Each had to avoid losing to the minnows. In group B, the big Test playing teams are India, South Africa, England and West Indies (I don't take West Indies being ranked below Bangladesh seriously), while the minnows are Holland, Ireland and Bangladesh. Unlike Group A, where we have had no real upset, Group B has produced some surprising results.  As we enter the final week of the league phase, India, Bangladesh, West Indies, South Africa and England all have a realistic chance of qualifying for the knock out phase, while Ireland and Holland have no chance of qualifying.

DRS and those pesky People

It was inevitable if you ask me. Sooner or later, those pesky human beings would mess up the ICC's best laid plans. The ICC went to so much effort to minimize subjective judgment from the LBW, and try and build a shelf with enough drawers in it to fit every single possible eventuality in the LBW situation. Between the DRS document and the ICC's subsequent draft clarifying and extending their original document, the ICC thought it had all its bases covered. The LBW law, which recieved 91 out of 96 reviews in World Cup as of 2 games ago, seemed to have been reduced to a finite set of possibilities which could be determined with absolute certainty. A law which depended on conjecture had been conquered.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

On Cricket "Fans"

Dileep Premachandran writes about "fans" with his usual perspective.
But even before the match was over, social media networks like Facebook and Twitter had people posting Akmal's address in Lahore. The insinuation was clear - he has messed up, so he must pay. It was frightening to watch and it mocked the notion that such outpourings of insanity come from the uneducated. The moron who made monkey gestures at Andrew Symonds in Mumbai a few years ago was wearing a designer T-shirt and sitting in the posh seats.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Loopy Reports

Severe mismatches are destabilizing for deadline riddled reporters. There's no contest to sink their teeth into. Its far from clear that either side is trying their hardest to win, and all in all, it is a test of character for reporters as much as players. I hate the "test of character" trope when it is used on players. Character is a word bandied about far too much about cricketers in cricket - an elite sport played by millionaires, and broadcast by other millionaires. Cricket is one comfortable gravy train for players, administrators, broadcasters and journalists. There is nobody in this lot that is at all qualified to pontificate about "character". I would also include more colloquial terms like "bottle" or "guts" to this. If anything, it should be used on reporters before it is used on players.

The Lost Umpire

Add this to the long list of UDRS related episodes. Here is the sequence of events:

1. Piyush Chawla bowls to Szwarczynzski, Szwarczynski attempts to sweep from the stumps, ball hits something and goes into the leg side, batsmen take a single.
2. Umpire calls it Leg Byes
3. Then, after the Umpire called it Leg Byes, Dhoni asks for a review, because the line and length looks really good.
4. The replay shows that the ball hit the glove, and not the front pad.
5. India lose a review.

The flustered Umpire at first disallows the run, but then makes the correction and converts the leg bye to a run.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

On the DRS Stats from Cricinfo

S Rajesh, Cricinfo's numbers man has produced an invaluable resource. At the beginning of his article, he poses the standard binary bogeyman designed to keep any criticism of the DRS from threatening its well-being. "The Decision Review System has evoked plenty of controversy in the World Cup so far" Rajesh writes, "but even its strongest critic will agree that the system has helped reduce errors". The fact is that most serious, substantial criticism of the DRS has not advocated a return to an Umpire-only situation. My criticism of DRS (I have added and modified my criticism with every new episode as any observer should), relates to the DRS's inability to handle marginality, its involvement of players, and its gradual shifting of the responsibility for judgment from the Umpire to a disembodied System determined by a very finite and limited set of variables (see the ICC's latest revision to DRS as a case in point).

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Draft Of The ICC's Revision to the DRS post-Bell

I recieved the following in an email exchange with Mr. Colin Gibson who is Head of Media and Communications for the ICC. Mr. Gibson explained that this advisory was sent out after two or three decisions, not just Bell's (i suspect these include the Watson decision). I suspect that this document has been drafted as much for the Public as for the Umpires. I have still not received any clarification as to what, if any, advisory might have existed before the World Cup. The explanations for the Bell LBW included this middle-stump rule, a rule which is not to be found anywhere in the ICC DRS document. I have copied out the full draft below. Mr. Gibson has added a comment from Dave Richardson at the end.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

ICC Revises DRS: An Episode in the Manufacturing of Certainty

It is reported in The Hindu that the ICC has revised the DRS rule for the case in which the point of impact is beyond 2.5m. I found no record of such a change on the ICC's website and the point about the middle-stump in the The Hindu article makes me suspicious. This has been a persistent trope about the DRS in nearly everything I have read in the Press about the 2.5 metre rule - that the on-field Not Out decision can be reverse only if Hawkeye shows the ball to be hitting middle stump. In this post, I try to get near the bottom of this rule change. The Press, and the Bell LBW, has a lot to do with, and in ways that you wouldn't suspect.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Two LBW Decisions III: An obvious error with DRS?

Update: I've added to my argument as to why Watson's LBW should have been harder to overturn than Bell's. See the third paragraph after the second screenshot

These are the hawkeye screenshots of the two decisions. The first is of Shane Watson's LBW decision. The second is of Ian Bell's LBW decision. In both instances, the original decision was Not Out. In Watson's case, he was given out upon review, while in Bell's case he was given Not Out. This presents a fascinating case in the story of DRS and Hawkeye. It also helps to unravel the agencies of the various entitites involved in the process. I remain skeptical of the capacity of the DRS method to produce good decisions, although I thank Jonathan for his thoughtful comments on my two previous posts about this episode. I think he's generally right that the ICC DRS code allows for far greater discretion that it is usually given credit for (on this blog as well).

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Two LBW Decisions. Ian Bell LBW - II

Watch the LBW dismissal at 3:40 in this video (video after the jump). This was on February 21, 2011. Hawkeye Reports that the ball hit the pad over 2.5 m from the stumps. The ball is show hitting the stumps on middle-and-off stump, about three quarters of the way up. (h/t Homer)

The Latest DRS Fight: Why "Umpire's Call" Does Not Result in Good Decisions

The DRS has many problems as I have pointed out here. I break down the process of the Bell LBW below, to show why the "Umpire's Call" doesn't produce a good decision, and makes Hawkeye redundant (video of the decision at the end of the post). The ICC has essentially argued that the decision was the correct one, and the system worked, because the point of impact was too far from the stumps for Hawkeye to offer a reliable prediction.

Late trouble for England

For the second time in this World Cup, a side batting first has not done too well in its last 10 overs, and as a result, lost. The powerplay has changed what used to be 280-300 games into 325-350 games. Not only are there 20 overs of field restrictions instead of 15, but now the batting side gets to pick when they take them (and therefore, to a large extent, which bowlers they take them against). Chasing runs has proved to be quite easy under lights at Bangalore, and England didn't help themselves by delivering 12 wides.

The side that inflicted three innings defeats on the Australians in Australia, has now conceded 295, 338 and 329 in their first three World Cup outings, in two cases, to the minnows. The missing links? Steven Finn and Chris Tremlett. I would add Samit Patel, but that would be cruel to England. England's bowling currently lacks that killer firepower, which unlike India, they do possess in their talent pool. Tremlett comes to mind, as does Finn. These are two bowlers who like Morne Morkel does for South Africa, could be used in an attacking first change position.