Sunday, July 31, 2011

On the Decision to Recall Ian Bell and the "Spirit" of Cricket

If you read the press reports of the episode involving Ian Bell at the stroke of Tea on Day 3 at Trent Bridge, you could be forgiven for being utterly confused. If you are like me, and your feed died about an hour before Tea time, Sambit Bal's description is probably your best bet. Some in the English press have trying hard to make it look as marginal as they could. But even they have been unable to hide their discomfort at the decision.

Sambit makes a number of telling observations:

1. Praveen Kumar's reaction suggested that he didn't wasn't sure about the 4.
2. Eoin Morgan's reaction suggests that it was clear to him that the ball was still very much in play.
3. The Umpire did not hand Ishant his sweater until after the stumps were broken. They did not call Tea either.
4. The Umpire did not declare a boundary (this is the clincher in my view)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rahul Dravid

Rahul Dravid does not possess a single stand out stroke. He has never been accused of being able to hit good balls for runs. He has rarely featured in the mini-battles that make up the Test Match contest from time to time. Has it ever been argued that the stand out contest in a series would be Warne v Dravid or Steyn v Dravid, or Shoaib v Dravid or Murali v Dravid despite the fact that Dravid has gone into series against Australia, South Africa, Pakistan and Sri Lanka occupying that most glamorous of batting positions - Number 3? It is a measure of our limitations as observers that this has never happened. For Dravid, as Siddharth Vaidyanathan tells us, has always been there.

This great man has now made as many Test hundreds as Sunil Gavaskar, more Test runs than any player other than Sachin Tendulkar. At Lord's Dravid became the most prolific Number 3 batsman Test Cricket, passing his great rival and contemporary, Ricky Ponting. Only Sachin Tendulkar has made more runs in a single batting position in Tests.

On Being Reflexively Anti-BCCI And Anti-anti-BCCI About DRS

I always watch cricket on mute to shut out the commentary. Occasionally, I listen to TestMatchSofa, but even that gets tedious after a while. But once in a while I listen to the post match shows. Today I started listening because I saw Rahul Dravid being interviewed at the end of the days play and wanted to hear him talk. These are some of the most sincere interviews one gets to see on television. This was a great interview. Rahul Dravid couldn't remember his century at Headingley in 2002 for a while. He came across as a genuinely happily weary man. What happened after that is what this post is about.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Inside Harbhajan Singh's failures

I don't want to write a long introduction to this post. The general sense about Harbhajan Singh seems to be that he has been in decline since 2006. 186 wickets in 47 tests at 37.26 suggest this. His first 50 Tests brought him 219 wickets at 27. I've tried to look underneath these numbers. I compare Harbhajan Singh to Warne, Kumble and Swann. The following facts and assumptions underlie this post.

1. The average successful Test bowler takes between 4-5 wickets per Test Match.
2. A bowling failure in a Test is one in which a bowler takes less than 4 wickets in the game.
3. An average bowling performance in a Test is one where a bowler take 4 or 5 wickets in the Match.
4. A successful bowling performance is one in which a bowler takes 6 or more wickets in a match.

Keeping this in mind, consider the following table.

The Ball Tracking Chronicle

Ball tracking technology and the Decision Review System represent the most revolutionary change in Cricket since the advent of over arm bowling. How does ball tracking technology work? How accurate is it? How reliable is it? How does one compare the accuracy of ball tracking technology with that of an Umpire? How is it used in DRS? I've been interested in these questions for two years now. Reliable information is hard to come by about these issues, either from the ICC, or from what the vendors of the technology publish on their websites. I interviewed Paul Hawkins of Hawkeye Innovations to find out more about this. This article is based on that interview and other published information on this subject.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Who was India's worst bowler at Lord's" and other questions

Amazingly, the one India bowler who is copping a lot of the blame is Harbhajan Singh! An off spinner bowling at Lord's after his team chose to field! India lost Zaheer Khan on the first day, but when he left, the score was still 127/2.

Now, I agree that Ishant Sharma is still inexperienced. He has over 100 Test wickets and has played 30 odd Tests (nearly the same as Graeme Swann), but still, I'll grant this. I'll set aside my view that he didn't bowl particularly well in West Indies despite his wickets. I'll grant that he bowled well. But here is his first spell at Lord's after India had won the toss and elected to field, and after Zaheer Khan and Praveen Kumar had bowled tight first spells. When Ishant came on to bowl in the 15th over of England's innings, England were 23/1. Zaheer had removed the in form Alistair Cook.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

England In Charge At Lord's

Day 3 of the Lord's Test saw a very different quality of cricket from the second day. The second day was marred by a very limited Indian bowling attack, further hampered by the fact that their best bowler was missing, bowling against an in form English batting line up. Today, an in form English bowling attack at full strength took on a very good Indian batting line up and bested them in reasonable batting conditions. The key of course, was line and length. England's bowlers were consistently much fuller and bowled a tight line on off stump. The ball that got Sachin Tendulkar out was emblematic of England's attacking fast bowling. Tendulkar, who was going like a bomb, countering England with some classy stroke play, had to play at one pitched on a fullish length outside off stump. The ball moved away, took the edge, and Graeme Swann completed a fine catch at slip. Had Andrew Strauss and Swann taken the edges that Stuart Broad produced off Dravid and Laxman's bats in his very next over, England would have done much better than a 193 run lead at the end of the day.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lord's Test, Day 2, Morning Session

England made 90/1 in the session in 28 overs. Given that the batsmen batting were Bell, Pietersen and Trott for the most part, India did OK runs wise in superb batting conditions. A friend of mine messaged me today before the start of play saying "Good batting day today. MSD should have batted after winning the toss.". How Dhoni must have wished he could wind the clock back to the toss!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

DRS and Dissent: From the Ashes to the Pataudi Trophy

One of the least discussed aspects of the Decision Review System is the way in which it changes the relationship between players and umpires. During the 2010-11 Ashes, Ricky Ponting was fined after he vigorously disputed the outcome of a review involving Kevin Pietersen. At the time, I was cautious about the Match Referee's decision even though he went by the book.
"While he deserved his fine going by the pre-UDRS era Code of Conduct, it is a bit rich for the ICC to demand good behavior (and define it now as though nothing has changed post-UDRS) after giving in to Ponting-style behavior and allowing players to question umpiring decisions in the first place. If players can ask for reviews, and then look at the same evidence that the Umpire can, then, if the Umpire decides to reverse a marginal call, players are well within their rights to feel aggrieved. If it is the point of the referral to provide teams with an assurance that obvious errors will not stand, then is it not a problem when marginal decisions are overturned sometimes, but not at other times? As a stakeholder in the decision making process, a Captain's protest in such an event has to be seen differently from the way it was seen in the era when the Umpire's decision was truly final."
Look at what has happened since then. Every single decision made by an Umpire in a series where DRS is not available, is still verified using ball-tracking. Even experienced observers like Tony Cozier, who has been watching cricket for over half a century, could not help but comment on the absence of DRS during the recent series in the West Indies.

When Alistair Cook was given Out LBW at Lord's today, the first reaction of one of the commentators was "There's no DRS for LBWs and that means Cook has to go!". The other one looked at the LBW decision and the first thing he said immediately after the finger was raised was "Well! That's a surprise... ". This must have had something to do with the brilliant form that Cook has been in. But the amazing thing was that the commentators seemed to suggest that Cook was somehow hard done by because he didn't have the option of asking for the review! Only after seeing the ball-track hit the top of leg stump, did the commentators say that it was a brilliant decision. And it was not just the ball-track, but the ball-track with the full LBW protocol. The conclusion for where the ball would have gone was not "Umpire's Call", but "Hitting". These are not lay viewers, these are former international cricketers, whose careers began and ended in the pre-DRS era. They could not bring themselves to make an informed judgment based on what they say. An informed judgment, even to my decidedly amateur eyes would have read something like this.

Monday, July 18, 2011

India in England 2011: The Hosts Have A Clear Edge

The India squad for the 2011 England tour is possibly the strongest, and best balanced of all time. It has India's most accomplished pace attack ever alongside a genuinely great middle order. Despite the Sehwag problem, on paper, this is a formidable squad. Zaheer Khan or Ishant Sharma or Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid or VVS Laxman or MS Dhoni or Gautam Gambhir could well dispell any doubts anyone might have about this team on the  first day at Lord's. But I must confess to having severe doubts.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What India Will Miss In England Thanks To The IPL

The most destructive Test Match batsman in the history of Test Cricket will miss at least the first two Tests of India's tour of England, because he played the IPL after India's 2011 World Cup victory instead of immediately attending to the shoulder injury that prevented him from bowling during the tournament. Now, I know what most of you are thinking. There he goes, blaming the IPL again. But listen to this. The BCCI has plenty to answer for here, for Virender Sehwag is annually contract with them to play for India. They also run the IPL, and hence are also interested in Sehwag playing the IPL. Sehwag himself should face some uncomfortable questions.

Given that Sehwag played the IPL to delay his treatment, the BCCI's Selectors could not, with a straight face, have dropped him from the England tour on grounds of fitness. From a cricketing point of view, it is easily worth taking Sehwag on the tour, even if it is for just one Test. Realistically, it can be expected that should Sehwag not be fit in time to play against Northants on August 5, he will miss the full tour unless Abhinav Mukund or Yuvraj Singh do so poorly in the batting order that even without match practice, Sehwag is a better option.

But here is what India and cricket fans in England are missing. A Test batsman who makes Viv Richards at his blistering best look cautious.

India won in England in 2007 by playing percentage cricket. Their bowlers were steady, their batsmen reached England early played limited overs games, prepared well, and stitched together painstaking innings. In 2011, they face a far superior English team which is in mid-season form. Percentage play will not be enough. They need an edge. Sehwag is the one player in cricket who can crack open a Test Match with the bat in a single session of play. 

At full strength, India have the team to beat this English side in England convincingly. But they are not going to be at full strength, and will struggle unless the rest of the batting buckles down and produces massive runs. A crucial matter like unsettled scratch opening pair might just prove to be fatal.

Maybe a difficult England series will be what the BCCI and the Indian Selectors need to resolve the obvious conflict of interest that their involvement in the IPL has produced.

England and Graeme Swann will be very pleased that that Najafgarh Nugget will not face up at Lord's on July 21.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is it time to distinguish between Stalemates and Draws in Test Cricket?

Wins, Losses, Draws and Ties are the four recognized results in Test Cricket. But in practice, the possibility of a Draw throws up a number of distinct results. As the 2000th Test Match is upon us, I think the idea of the Draw should be reconsidered. Specifically, I think we should recognize two kinds of games in which outright victory is not achieved - the Stalemate and the Draw.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dominica Is Baffling

There's been a lot of debate about the draw in Dominica. Siddharth Vaidyanathan has this compelling blow by blow account of the afternoon's play. The Cricket Couch argues that a win and a defeat were both equally minimally probable, while the draw loomed as a near certainty. Dileep Premachandran offers some perspective in the Guardian and reminds us that this was not the full Indian side. Andy Zaltzmann makes the pedestrian but essential argument about a problem with teams having the choice of calling off games. Samir Chopra argues that "true champions" show "the desire and the ability to respond to challenges, to find a way to transcend limitations and rise to the top of the game". I must confess that I have no idea what this platitude means. Neither do I understand the business about "guardians of Test Cricket" at the end. To me, it sounds like "I don't care about anything. I didn't see them go out swinging, so they are crap". It is nonsense, couched in acceptable language.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

West Indies escape with Draw, Lose Series 0-1

West Indies started the final day of the Dominica Test Match at 224/6 in their second innings, having faced a first innings deficit of 143 in the first innings. Their last 4 wickets batted for 98 runs, and more importantly 48 overs, thanks in large part to the magnificent Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Rahul Dravid will look back poignantly at that missed chance at slip in the final over before Tea on Day 4. Had that stuck, Chanderpaul would have been out, and West Indies 116/4. The game might well have been over yesterday, with India facing a simple double digit run chase.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Finger Spinners in Test Cricket

Finger Spinners are Cricket's gentlest breed. Wicketkeepers perform the most thankless role, and opening batsmen have the most fluctuating jobs, but finger spinners probably started out at fillers. The two styles of finger spin - off-break and slow left arm (off breaks bowled by a left arm bowler), have traditionally produced the lowest returns in all of Test Match bowling. They have been seen as bowlers to do the holding job, giving the more attacking bowlers - be it the wrist spinners or the fast bowlers, to attack from the other end.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Dhoni's Replay and Enhanced DRS Specifications

The ICC confirmed the news that the delivery on which Mahendra Singh Dhoni was dismissed (caught at mid-on off Fidel Edwards) on the first day of the Bridgetown Test was determined to be legal based on a wrong replay. The ICC's Media Release goes on to put the local broadcaster on the dock and quotes the local broadcaster admitting that that they made a mistake. At the end of the release, the ICC says this.
As this series is not operating the Decision Review System (DRS), the enhanced DRS standards and ICC technical official were not in place as would have been the case.
The ICC has said that it doesn't want to get involved in DRS delivery, but they are still responsible for Umpiring since they have taken over the selection and appointment of Umpires for Test Matches. But this last statement intrigued me. What would these enhanced DRS standards be? The ICC has published specifications for DRS Playing Conditions (Appendix 2A) and Third Umpire Replay Playing Conditions (Appendix 2B). The ICC technical official is not an Umpire, but is an expert in the implementation of the technology. The specifications for technology (Appendix 2A(I)) are not published in the Standard Playing Conditions, are "circulated separately". The ICC has been kind enough to email me a copy of these regulations.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

On Harbhajan Singh's Test Record

The widespread view seems to be that India's No. 1 off spinner should no longer be India's No. 1 off-spinner. That he is in decline, and that he never takes wickets. In my previous post I spent discussed his record in brief. In this post, I'll compare him to other bowlers.

Lets look at some figures. I look at 5 statistics.
First, a comparison of the career records of spin bowlers in result Tests.
Second, a comparison of the career records of spin bowlers in win.
Third, a comparison of the records of spin bowlers in result Tests in the last 3 years.
Fourth, a comparison of the records of spin bowlers in wins in the last 3 years.
Fifth, a comparison of the records of spin bowlers in win in the last 3 years, excluding minnows.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

On Bad Bowling

Lets compare two overs bowled by India's batsmen on the 5th day of the Bridgetown Test. First, an over by Ishant Sharma, the 54th of the West Indies innings. West Indies were 128/4 at the start, and 132/5 at the end of it. Here's how the six balls passed (Sequence: Red, Blue, Yellow,White, Green and Orange in the Hawkeye below)

Friday, July 01, 2011

India on Fast, Bouncy Pitches

I hate the phrase. "Fast, Bouncy Pitches". A few years ago, the standard criticism of India's batsmen by their Indian fans was that they were "flat track bullies" who would struggle on the "bouncie traacks of Ostrailia and Suthafrika" (try saying that in the classic yuppie Peddar Road accent). Foreign teams have also not stopped short of making this point. Recently, Darren Sammy, the West Indian bits-and-pieces-man-cum-captain, indicated that he was looking forward to facing India at Sabina Park. He argued that the bounce had helped restrict India in the final ODI in Kingston, and that turning tracks were definitely not the way to go against India in the Tests. The result so far has been that even the terribly inconsistent Ishant Sharma has taken 12/165 in three innings against the West Indian batsmen, and India look set to go into the final Test with the series safe, if not wrapped up. England's Chris Tremlett has been even more forthright. Here's what he said
“I began my Test career against India in 2007...... We played on some pretty placid pitches. There was a bit more bounce at Trent Bridge, and they didn’t seem as keen. So I hope we play on wickets with bounce. It’s our home series and we want conditions that suit us. If we’re playing on slow tracks, that will suit the Indians down to a tee. Hopefully they’ll give us what we want.”
Lets examine some facts, starting in 2002, 9 years ago.