Monday, May 30, 2011

England begin 2011 season in style

As India's national squad considers its forthcoming tours of West Indies and England, it would do well to look closely at the 3 Test matches that we have seen so far. The West Indies beat Pakistan once and now England have produced a top class Test victory against a strong Sri Lankan batting side. They were very well placed in the game, but not very close to winning by any means - a 91 run first innings lead on the 5th morning, the first innings yet to be completed. England declared as soon as Ian Bell completed his hundred and then proceeded to bowl Sri Lanka out in 24.2 overs.

Friday, May 27, 2011

IPL claims a second victim: Pujara misses WI Tour

The Indian Test and ODI squad to the West Indies has been decimated by the IPL. Cheteshwar Pujara joins Gautam Gambhir on the injured list, and misses a golden opportunity to cement his place in the Test team. Subramanium Badrinath, Abhinav Mukund, Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay have been picked to replace Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh and Pujara. Pujara was injured after a game against the Kochi team at the Chinnaswamy Stadium

I wonder whether Pujara will come to regret this. West Indies is one of the easier tours in contemporary Test Cricket and after facing the at times unplayable Dale Steyn in South Africa, Pujara must have been looking forward to facing the West Indies bowling on West Indies wickets. That it was clear from day one of the IPL that Sachin Tendulkar would not play the West Indies Tests makes Pujara's current predicament all the more tragic. He might have taken VVS Laxman's number 5 slot in the Test batting order.

This is just the beginning. Given that the BCCI is likely to come off second best in their argument against KKR no matter how strong their position, the future is bleak for the Indian Test team.

KKR should be in the dock

A two-fold tendency is emerging in the Gautam Gambhir situation. First, there is a tendency to blame the player - to hold the player responsible for his own welfare. Reasonable. At first glance. Second, there is a tendency to blame the BCCI. This is no surprise, for the BCCI is invariably reflexively condemned for their incompetence whenever something irritating or worse happens.

But here is the crux of the issue. From Andrew Leipus, we know that Gautam Gambhir informed him of the injury at the beginning of the IPL season. Leipus reported that Gambhir's injury was probably an old one, and one which had been revived during the World Cup Final. The KKR physio put Gambhir on a "rehabilitation and management" (i love this phrase, it sounds so posh and expert, and yet is probably complete BS, it could be translated as "he should really rest, but my bosses paid 2 million bucks for this guy, so Ive got to make him play somehow") plan.

In my first post on this episode, I asked whether the BCCI should not have had their own physiotherapist checking on players with central contracts when they work for other employers. I found an answer. A top BCCI official (when will BCCI learn the value of having top class PR?) clarified that "All the franchises are told to work in sync with the BCCI’s physio in case of the players’ injury. For all the players, especially for the (centrally) contracted players, the board must get an update as soon as an injury is spotted."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Another IPL Victim

Gautam Gambhir

Note this sequence of events:
1. Gautam Gambhir sustained an injury during the World Cup Final. To quote Andrew Leipus (now works for Gambhir's IPL franchise): "He clearly recollects a fielding incident where he landed on an outstretched arm and felt a catch deep in the shoulder. In the euphoria at the time, his attention was deservedly elsewhere and he didn't bother telling anyone about it."
2. Gambhir reported his problems to Leipus when he arrived to play in the IPL.
3. Leipus puts him on an "plan of management and rehabilitation", but does not apparently recommend that Gambhir sit out a few IPL games. After the plan was put in place, Gambhir apparently reported pain only "intermittently".
4. Gambhir was one of only 5 players of the Knight Riders Franchise who batted in all 15 games by them this season.
5. Even though Gambhir reported increased pain to Leipus after the May 22 game, and Leipus himself reports that the pain was "aggravated", Gambhir still played in the May 25 game.

After his franchise was eliminated from the IPL, Leipus reports that Gautam Gambhir should rest for 4-6 weeks.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rayudu's Miandad Moment

If T20 cricket is the dumb man's Cricket (one can't call it the poor man's cricket can one?), then Ambati Rayudu is the dumb man's Javed Miandad. Both Cricinfo and the Times of India have alluded to the Miandad comparison. An accomplished batsman, once the brightest star in India's age group batting firmament, Rayudu should be embarassed. The similarity between the two events is limited to where the ball was hit - square on the leg side, what type of ball it was - a full toss, and the number of runs needed off the last ball - 4. Beyond that, those two events are as different as chalk and cheese.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sri Lanka after Murali and Malinga

The touring Sri Lankans have gotten a taste of what life after Muralitharan and Malinga will be like in Test Cricket in their tour game against the England Lions. They were forced to follow on after conceding 8/493 including a rapid 193 from Eoin Morgan and 116 from the much maligned Samit Patel.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

West Indies win low scoring thriller

A record 20 LBW decisions were awarded at Providence stadium Guyana as West Indies beat Pakistan by 40 runs in the first test of a three match series today. The previous record was also in a West Indies v Pakistan match, at the Queens Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1992-93. In that game the LBWs fell to Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop, Carl Hooper (who took 5 wickets in the Pakistan 2nd innings) Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram. In this one, they fell to Saeed Ajmal, Wahab Riaz, Devendra Bishoo, Mohammad Hafeez, Ravi Rampaul, Darren Sammy and Kemar Roach. That Darren Sammy took a 5 wicket haul tells us something about the kind of wicket it was. Bowling a tight wicket-to-wicket line was a difficult proposition for the batsmen.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a wooden spooner contest, but there were a number of impressive players on display. That Saeed Ajmal, possibly the least understood spinner in contemporary cricket (I think more batsmen pick Mendis now), finished on the losing side despite taking 11 wickets in the match is telling. There was little in the wicket for the fast men, and there were at least two on show in this game - Wahab Riaz and Kemar Roach, who would today walk into the Test teams of India, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and possibly Australia (what with Hilfenhaus and Bollinger having come apart in the Ashes).

The West Indies badly needed this win. For Pakistan, their quest for a first ever series victory in West Indies just got much harder. This test match has set up the series superbly. I hope that it is not killed by dead wickets in the next two Test Matches.

I wonder what Chris Gayle is thinking in the IPL dressing room in India.

Friday, May 13, 2011

World Champions sending B Team to West Indies

Gautam Gambhir will lead India's World Champion ODI team in their 5 match series in West Indies. This, it seems to me, is a singularly ungrateful, graceless act by the BCCI and India's top line players. That they chose to play mediocre cricket 20 overs a side IPL over touring the West Indies with the national side is unconscionable. What were all those tears when they won the World Cup worth if they can't even be bothered to play the next series? Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, MS Dhoni and Virender Sehwag could have all taken a break from the IPL and played the West Indies series. In Sehwag's case, the IPL delayed much needed treatment on his shoulder and has put his participation in the West Indies and England Tests in jeopardy. Would the West Indies not have benefited from a visit by the full World Champion side? 

In the past India have been very displeased when English and Australia first team players chose not to tour India and take rest instead. How can India now do the same to the West Indies, a side that is already struggling and needs all the help it can get. What is more important? Lining the pockets of Messrs. Ambani, Mallya, Mehta, Khan, Srinivasan and co., or taking the harder, higher quality cricket against a struggling cricket team with a great history seriously?

That the IPL produces mediocre quality cricket is also supported by the Indian Selectors decision to pointedly ignore all the fly-by-night "heroes" produced in that 20 over slug fest in favor of more serious performances in First Class Cricket.

I hope the West Indies teach India a lesson in the upcoming ODI games. I understand the need for rest, but to choose the IPL over International Cricket is unconscionable, especially when playing for India is high paying employment.

A Spinner's Pitch in Guyana

15 of the first 22 wickets to fall in the Test Match in Guyana have fallen to spin. Devendra Bishoo and Saeed Ajmal, two spinners who will surely feature prominently in cricket conservations in the coming decade have been amongst the wickets. The West Indies are effectively 100/2, having lost Devon Smith and Darren Bravo cheaply in their second innings.

Earlier, Pakistan's inexperience showed as they were shot out for 160, with all their wickets being either bowled, LBW or caught at the wicket. It is not often that something like this happens. It suggests a wicket which is not playing true and the batsmen have seemed uncertain of what the ball will do off the pitch. A couple of Pakistan batsmen got out mishitting a pull shot, and one of them - Umar Akmal, was well set.

With 22 wickets having fallen over the first two days, this game is almost certain to end in a conclusive result unless it rains in Guyana. While the cricket may not quite be of the quality that we saw in South Africa in December (who could have imagined that we would say this about a Pakistan v West Indies contest!), it has still been an absorbing contest between two uncertain sides trying to rebuild. Tomorrow, the West Indies will depend heavily on their two experienced stalwarts - Chanderpaul and Sarwan, who have nearly 15000 Test runs and 37 Test hundreds between them to produce the stand that puts the game beyond Pakistan, while Pakistan will hope that their latest exciting pace-spin pair, the genuinely quick Wahab Riaz and the unorthodox Saeed Ajmal will limit the West Indies to a manageable total. It promises to be an absorbing contest.

I wonder what Lance Gibbs thinks of Saeed Ajmal.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

ICC Cricket Committee Meet

There has been very little Cricket played since the World Cup final on April 2. Australia beat Bangladesh 3-0 in Bangladesh in an ODI series. Pakistan have started their tour of West Indies with a 3-2 win in the ODI games. Other than that, there has been no Cricket played. The rules and playing conditions of cricket came under review at the meeting of the ICC's Cricket Committee at Lord's on May 11, 2011.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Inexplicable IPL Chart

The IPL has a history of producing totally inexplicable charts. In the past, they have changed the order of teams in a chart without any new cricket having been played. These days, there seems to be some logic at work, which, one has to concede is an improvement. But it still makes no sense to me.