Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Duncan Fletcher

Duncan Fletcher will be India's new head coach. His appointment is for two years. He is not certain to accompany the team to the West Indies, but will participate in the England tour from July to September.

The appointment has been criticized by Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Ashok Malhotra, to name just three, because they would all have favored an Indian to take over from Gary Kirsten. Sunil Gavaskar proposed Mohinder Amarnath's name for the job. It is difficult not to be sympathetic to his point of view that Fletcher's appointment merely reinforces the proposition that Indians aren't good enough. It also reinforces the fairly dubious view that Indians won't be able to stay "above politics". This view is dubious because Gary Kirsten and John Wright weren't successful because they stayed out of politics. They were successful because they played politics very astutely. Politics, as a term has pejorative connotations - the alternative being some sort of detached, dispassionate, bloodless, absolutely rational, completely transparent decision making. The opposition to politics suggests a number of things in this context - first, that the "best interests of the team" are always absolutely clear and can be known totally in advance, and, that the only way to advance those interests is to stay above the fray and be totally disengaged. Both Wright and Kirsten will tell you otherwise. Chappell will also tell you otherwise, and he'll also tell you that he didn't play politics well. His efforts to get Ganguly, who by 2005 was well established passenger in both the Test and ODI sides, to relinquish the captaincy were disastrously ill-conceived, as was his misjudgment of the value of commenting publicly on things. It is absurd however, to say that Wright and Kirsten didn't get involved in politics, but Chappell did.

Be that as it may, the appointment of Fletcher is a decidedly corporate, conservative decision. Fletcher comes with an impressive resume that is commensurate with the job of running the world's best cricket team. Mohinder Amarnath doesn't.

Fletcher will also be far less crucial to India's cause than Wright was. Even Kirsten, who is currently universally hailed as a coaching genius, was, I would argue, less important than Wright. He was probably superior to Chappell, in that he kept a lower profile and worked at earning the players trust (a decidedly political action, by any reasonable definition of the term). But the work of preparing the team, by the time Kirsten came along, and during Kirsten's tenure, was taken up by an increasingly professional support staff - something the Wright did not have, and had to fight tooth and nail to initiate. By the time Kirsten came along, the BCCI was far more receptive to spending money on coaches and technicians - medical and statistical, to work on the details.

Kirsten's great skill was that he was, by all accounts and meticulous details man. As such, as long as Fletcher does not go off at the deep end, he should do Ok. The teams results will not depend on him any more than they depended on Kirsten. The team will keep winning if it finds a couple of fine fast bowlers and 3-4 top batsmen in the next 3-4 years. There are no miracles that Kirsten worked, and there aren't any that Fletcher will need to work. What Kirsten did do, and what Fletcher may not be able to do, given his age, was work himself to exhaustion in training sessions.

The fate of India's team, and Fletcher's tenure will depend on how well he manages the details. Even John Buchanan's blue sky thinking was largely for the benefit of the press. Fletcher was an early proponent of UDRS (now DRS). It remains to be seen whether he changes the Indian players attitude towards this. I suspect that the newer players - Dhoni and Sehwag especially (based on what they have said in public), are far more open to it than Tendulkar. Tendulkar won't be around for ever.

Fletcher a decidedly conservative choice for Coach, and possibly the first one has gotten the job without the backing of some specific players. Rahul Dravid had a huge hand in John Wright's appointment (they had a Kent connection in the late 90s), while Sourav Ganguly had a huge hand in Chappell's appointment. In Kirsten's case, nearly every single member of India's team of 2007 had played against him and knew him well.

The system is in place, and well tuned. Its Fletcher's job to keep it that way.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

India and Tendulkar on his 38th Birthday

Its April 24, Sachin Tendulkar's 38th birthday. He spent the evening playing a 20 overs a side match between two scratch teams which are likely to change next year and probably earned a 7 figure rupee sum for doing so. In addition to his Grade A contract from BCCI, which brings in 10 million rupees each year, and an IPL contract whose value is estimated to be about USD 1.8 million (or ~80 million rupees), Tendulkar also has his endorsements, his match fees, his World Cup bonus and sundry income from investments. Money is clearly not at issue for the great man on his 38th birthday.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Assessing India - II

As a follow up to yesterday's post, here are a few figures on the basis of which I claim that India have been steadily improving since Chappell took over, that the last transition phase of the side was when Sourav Ganguly was fired from the captaincy in 2005. Since that time, India have built a record in run chases that is second to no team bar the world champion Australians.

Assessing India

As the World's Number 1 Test team, and the winner of ODI Cricket's premier trophy, India can stake claim to being the best team in the World. The South Africans could challenge this claim and even modestly reasonable observers who possess the ability to think beyond absurd analytic of choking will take such a challenge seriously. Plenty of predictable bouquets have been hurled at M S Dhoni, the leader. From stately honor of a honorary commission in the territorial army, one which Dhoni now shares with one Group Captain Sachin R. Tendulkar of the Indian Air Force, to platitudes from the Prime Minister, MS Dhoni has been told sixty four million times that he is a fine leader of men.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Questionable Numbers Games

S Rajesh has posted an analysis of "the best second-innings batsmen in ODIs, and those who've scored the highest percentage of team runs in an innings" in his prolific cricket statistics column on Cricinfo. The analysis is quite problematic. I recognize that these are all numbers games and that one shouldn't take too seriously the proposition that Shane Watson is the best second-innings batsman in ODIs. In general, I think its fine to use statistics in arguments as long as they are not egregiously wrong. In the case of this post, they are.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Fringe of the Best Batting Line Up In The World

Like Munaf Patel, Rohit Sharma is not a popular cricketer. He's gone through a rough phase in the last 12 months or so. In any other side, barring possibly South Africa, Rohit Sharma would have made the World Cup Squad. But with India, such is the competition for places in the XI, that he's merely one of a promising second tier. Virat Kohli's ascent is indicative what it takes to break into the world's best batting line up - oodles of talent, skill and most crucially form.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

DRS and LBWs

This post on Cricinfo argues that "[t]he DRS has clearly shown that umpires have been too conservative in considering lbw appeals in the past, and that batsmen have been getting away with murder for years"

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Munaf Patel

Munaf Patel is one Indian player whom most of our well-heeled, corporations and corporate-efficiency-loving cricket fans have loved to hate. He has been one of my favorite Indian players. He has tremendous skill and ability with the ball - far more than many of the bowlers who have taken the new ball for India ahead of him over the past 3-4 years. So it is wonderful to see Eric Simons refer to him as one of the "unsung heroes" of India's successful World Cup campaign.

"His work ethic is enormous; he has a very strong and steady head on his shoulders and calmness in any situation. He gave Zaheer the freedom to bowl very freely and aggressively."

A Petition for Ireland Cricket

Please read this petition and support it if you like.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Help Ireland and the Associate Members

The ICC's decision to eliminate spot(s) for Associate Member nations has effectively shut out Ireland from the 2015 World Cup in South Africa. In light of the superb Irish performance in the 2011 tournament, this is ridiculous. At the very least, the Associate Member nations have done enough to merit an opportunity to compete for spots at the 50 overs World Cup. Being granted a large number of slots in T20 competition is well and good, but it is no substitute for the more serious 50 overs contest, in which these teams are tested more rigorously and find it harder to upset. This is what makes Ireland and Kenya's results in recent World Cups so noteworthy. Over the years, the ICC has done quite well in promoting the sport and now counts 105 members. The move to shut out all but the 10 Test playing nations from the 2015 World Cup is counter productive, and on the face of it, a rank concession to narrow, myopic commercial interests.

Have a look at this record and then ask yourself why Bangladesh should get to vote on keeping Ireland and Kenya out.

A concerted effort from everybody right now when people are still paying attention to all things World Cup, will help. Gary Naylor of 99.94, The Tooting Trumpet and TestMatchSofa has collected a list of the ICC's Commercial Partners.

If you think that Ireland deserves the opportunity to at least compete for a spot in the 2015 World Cup competition, then contact the ICC and its Commercial Partners asking them to reconsider their decision.

ICC Contact Information:

Contact Information for the ICC's Commercial Partners:
Pepsi | Reliance | ESPN Star | Emirates | Reebok | Castrol | Moneygram

Back Cricket Ireland on Facebook

On Afridi

After the Semi Final of the World Cup, I wrote a post about Pakistan's cricket, which as far as I can tell, has been read more widely than my usual fare (which is read about about 5 people each on average!). This World Cup has had a tendency to blow everything out of proportion, including traffic on my blog. I wrote that post because as an observer of cricket, I find Pakistan to be terrifically gifted, exciting practitioners of the game. I enjoy watching them play. I was moved, as were many others, by Shahid Afridi's efforts to be reasonable and try and put things in perspective. He used reasonable facts to support his point - I think it is fairly clear that hindi movies, their music and hindi tv shows are popular in Pakistan.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Comparing World Cups and Formatting 2015

The 8 best Test playing nations since 1975 have been - West Indies, India, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England. While some of them were not Test playing nations for all of these 36 years, they have nevertheless been the 8 best Cricket teams in the World during this time. Zimbabwe in the late 1990s came closest to challenging this group, but they have since fallen away.

I have sorted the table for each edition first by the number of wins and then by the number of defeats. In the early World Cups there is some irregularity in the number of games played by each side against top teams because of the uneven nature of the groups. I have also added a column which shows the number of teams that each team defeated in any given World Cup.

The World Cup is Cricket's premier limited overs tournament and so looking at how many matches a side wins against the good teams and how many different good teams it beats, is a good assessment both of the side, and of the World Cup format. 1992 is generally considered to be a great format precisely because it tested these two aspects the best. Ironically, the team that beat the most teams in the World Cup - New Zealand, did not make the final. No other side has ever beat 6 of the top 8 sides in a single World Cup.

The Winner of the each World Cup has beaten at least 3 different teams. On most occasions it has been 4, but in 1983 India won the World Cup having beaten England, Australia and West Indies (twice). In 1996 Sri Lanka won the World Cup have beaten India, England and Australia (not counting the forfeited games).

The four teams that have won World Cups undefeated have also been (or in the case of the West Indies of 1975 went on to become) amongst the greatest teams in history.

Most teams are not good enough to sustain mastery over all opposition over a period 5 - 6 weeks. Most teams peak at some points during the World Cup - and one team typically peaks at the right time. The Australians of 2003 and 2007 have been the exception. Even when they played badly during these World Cups, they were still good enough to survive.

The 2015 World Cup, rumor has it, will feature 12 teams - the 8 top Test teams, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and 2 Associate teams. Things could change dramatically between now and then, and Bangladesh could well be a serious team, if not a serious contender by 2015 (as could Zimbabwe). The West Indies could have collapsed by them, although I doubt that this will happen. So how should the 2015 World Cup be played? The following should be taken into account I think:
1. The winner should have to beat a number of good teams.
2. The winner should have to win a number of matches.
3. As many matches as possible should count towards progress in the tournament.
4. The minnows should get a fair chance.

In 2011, the league games didn't matter at all, because the top 8 sides were guaranteed passage (England's antics notwithstanding!).

Several ideas have been tried. The Super Six and Super Eights, with carry over points have been tried, a single group phase has been tried as well.

The two factors which have to be considered, are that first, broadcasters would like to be guaranteed a certain number of marquee games, and second, that supporters visiting from foreign countries should have the chance to make a itinerary for a sizable number of games to make the long journey worthwhile.

Here is what I propose.

Sunday Front Pages, April 3, 2011

THE Moment

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The New Wankhede and Sudhir Vaidya

Watch this segment of Running between the Cricket. The interview with the statistician Sudhir Vaidya is a must watch.

India Win Clarifying World Cup Final

This has been a strange tournament in many ways. The persistent message has been one of parity. There has been a sense that the difference between the teams was not significant - that the winner would merely be the best  team on the day. In the Final at the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay, India produced a performance which, while it may not completely satisfy the most critical eye, settled the batting question. Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni and Raina are the world's best limited overs batting line up in any conditions by a decisive margin.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Gundappa Vishwanath, 114 v Australia at Melbourne, 1980-81

This is a fascinating video. Watch Dennis Lillee's superb leg-cutters. Also watch Karsan Ghavri and Viswanath getting sawn off by the Umpires. Sunil Gavaskar and the Indians were so fed up with the Umpiring that Gavaskar snapped. Note especially Ghavri's run out, and then consider it alongside an episode described in Prabhudesai's biography of Gavaskar - that of Umpire Whitehead checking to see if Kirmani had broken the stumps with his bails after Allan Border was bowled round his legs by Shivlal Yadav.

We enjoy abusing Gavaskar these days, and one can argue about his commentary, but if India do win the World Cup on Saturday, it will do so on the shoulders of giants like Gavaskar.

A few other things to note - Vishwanath had a century to his name, and was batting with number 10 in the batting order, yet, Bruce Yardley was bowling to him without a deep fielder in front of square on the leg side! Can you imagine any contemporary captain doing this?

Pakistan's defeat hurts

Shahid Afridi returned home. This is a snippet of an interview he gave to the media. At one point he asks

"Why do we dislike (the word he uses is nafrat, and could also be translated as 'hate') India so much? Aren't there other teams?"

A reporter interrupts "Its 5-0 now." (He's referring to the fact that India have now beaten Pakistan 5 times in World Cup games, and never lost). Another reporter chimes in "It's not a question of dislike/hate, but of rivalry".

But then Afridi makes an unanswerable point...

"We watch Indian dramas in our homes, our weddings happen with Indian customs, we watch Indian movies, so why do we hate them so much"

Finally, he ends by stating that Pakistan have beaten other big teams (Australia, Sri Lanka).

MS Dhoni could ask the exact same questions of his Indian interrogators.