Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Rahul Dravid's International T20 debut

What a tragedy it was! 21 balls. 21 balls of Dravid not caring about batting. 21 balls of the bowlers not trying to get him out. His first ball in T20 cricket was delivered by Jade Dernbach. Dravid played it quietly into the offside. His second leapt at him from a length, caught Dravid on the glove and went behind the wicket on the off side for a single. His third, bowled by Stuart Broad was played to cover. On his fourth ball, Dravid tried to swing Broad to leg and missed. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) it didn't get him bowled. But Dravid gamely tried again. This time, it went to the short fine leg for a single.

To call the short fine-leg a fielding position is like calling Chris Martin a batsman.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Are Test Bowling Stocks At A Generational Nadir?

Barney Ronay makes this claim in the Guardian. His claim is based on the ICC's Test XI of the year, which is: Alastair Cook, Hashim Amla, Jonathan Trott, Sachin Tendulkar, Kumar Sangakkara (capt/wk), AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann, Dale Steyn, James Anderson.

Ronay's point of comparison is the 2004 ICC Test XI, which was: Matthew Hayden, Herschelle Gibbs, Ricky Ponting (captain), Rahul Dravid, Brian Lara, Kallis, Adam Gilchrist, Chaminda Vaas, Shane Warne, Jason Gillespie, Steve Harmison.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Most Valuable Players In Tests - A Single Measure For Bowlers

Yesterday I posted my method for determining the value of a player to his team. In the interests of giving a nuanced reading of players records, I proposed that three factors be read together in the case of bowlers:

1. The players workload (% of his teams overs delivered by him)
2. The players Bowling Performance - a measure described in detail in my original post
3. The difference between the player's bowling average and his teams for the games that he played in.

This generated much discussion. I have taken a suggestion originally made by the Cricket Couch and tweaked it to propose a single measure for Value. I think this is quite elegant. I would still encourage you to browse the detailed tables as these might give you several interesting insights. But here is my measure for Value:

Value = (1/Workload)*(Bowling Performance)*(% of 20 wickets taken by bowler)*(1/Bowling average)

So the most valuable bowler is the one who produces the best bowling performance by taking the highest share of the 20 available wickets, in the smallest share of overs at the lowest cost in term of runs.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Most Valuable Players in Tests

Over the past few weeks, I have been developing a way to determine the value of a player to his team. By value, I refer to a player's importance to runs his team scores or concedes and the wickets his team takes. In this introductory post, I will explain how the determination of the MVP works, and focus on bowlers. At the outset, the "value" of a player is not the same as the "quality" of a player.

It was originally my intention to be able to provide a single statistic to represent the value of a player. However, since bowling works differently from batting, the value of a bowler is a collection of statistics. The new statistic that i wish to introduce is quite simple. I am currently calling it "Performance", and it is calculated as follows:

A bowler's performance in a Test Match =
(Wkts taken by bowler)*(Cost of each wicket taken by his team) - (Runs Conceded by Bowler)

A batsman's performance in a Test Match =
Runs Scored by Batsman - (Number of times the batsman was dismissed)*(Cost of each wicket for his team while batting)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Why did India fail so badly in England?

An under-prepared Indian Test side, decimated by injuries, illnesses and a wide range of preparedness (from Rahul Dravid who came into the tour in fine form, to R P Singh who played at the Oval after interrupting his vacation in Florida), faced a well-prepared, fully fit England squad in the middle of England's home season. One of the interesting paradoxes of Test Cricket is that on result wickets, i.e. wickets on which it is unlikely that the contest between bat and ball will reach a stalemate, it is much easier to win Test matches than it is to draw them. The standard idea, that if you can't win, you should at least not let the other side win, does not easily apply. To make things worse for India, England found three fast bowlers who could bowl fine lines and lengths with great consistency throughout the series. 

But I am interested in a more basic question. Why did India fail so badly at the basics? It is true that if you take out Zaheer Khan, India's fast bowlers are not very good. It is also true that the conditions, the opposition and the unusual spate of injuries have conspired to produce a result that is far worse for India than anybody in India or England expected. In Test Cricket, having 4-5 players able to perform at Test Match quality, against a side which has 8-9 players performing at Test Match quality is a recipe for disaster. From a cricketing point of view, the 4-0 result is reasonable, and easily explained. But why did a good team and a good squad, collapse so spectacularly?

Monday, August 22, 2011

On India's Batting

England have demolished India 4-0 in England in the summer of 2011. Two of the four wins came by an innings, while the other two came by 196 and 319 runs respectively. England used 13 players in the series, while India used 16. Two England players suffered injuries - Jonathan Trott and Chris Tremlett and were ably replaced by Ravi Bopara and Tim Bresnan. Bopara, England's sixth batsman proved to be unnecessary. He walked in at 596/4 at Edgbaston and 487/5 at The Oval. Bresnan on the other hand, has been lethal. He made 154 runs at 77 in 3 innings in 3 Tests, and took 16 wickets at 16. This was India's 4th white wash in England, and 7th overall. They lost every single Test in England in 1959, 1967 and 1974 before this. In addition they also lost every single Test in 1962 in West Indies and 1999-2000 in Australia. They also lost both Tests in New Zealand in 2002-03 and at home against South Africa in 2000.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

DRS And Marginality

The extent of England's all-round superiority over India has been such that it has managed to push what many thought would be the hot button controversy magnet - the Decision Review System beyond the scope of our attention. Rahul Dravid, India's best batsman in this series, and now, the only one other than Sachin Tendulkar to have made 10,000 runs in a single batting position, must have thought quite a bit about DRS. On one previous occasion in this series, he was give out caught apparently off a shoe lace (he didn't ask for a referral). In the second innings at the Oval, he appeared to have gotten an inside edge in a bat-pad appeal. England's appeal was denied. They reviewed. Despite their being no conclusiveevidence on hotspot or the snickometer, the original decision was reversed and the Dravid was given out.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Managerial opinion writing is rampant in Cricket. I invariably find myself hesitating - usually to a point where I  decide not to write - when it comes to a post which suggests what India should do. I'm usually more interested in what India or some other team are doing. But once in a decade defeats are once in a decade defeats.

Having justified what follows with that throwaway line, here is what I think India need to do to ensure that they stay competitive in Test Cricket. I don't expect most of this to actually happen. But if Plans are to be offered, then this one is at least as good as any other.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

India's Test Tour In A Nutshell

The first over of the Oval Test Match was bowled by Rudra Pratap Singh, a left arm seamer who plays Ranji Trophy Cricket for Uttar Pradesh. 3 years ago, he took a 5 wicket haul at Lord's. He is one of those rare bowlers who looks innocous, but still gets wickets. His Test career was cut short, I suspect, by his propensity to leak runs. RP has taken a Test wicket every 58 balls, but also conceded 4 an over in his first 13 Tests before the present one. He last played a first class game in the Duleep Trophy, January 26-29, 2011. His team was thrashed by 552 runs. He last played a 50 over match on March 8, 2011 in the Deodhar Trophy. His team lost that game by 5 wickets. Since March 8, 2011 to August 18, 2011, he has only played 14 IPL games, the last one was played on May 18, 2011. Not surprisingly, his first over, and India's first over in the Oval Test, was (as recorded by Cricinfo's ball by ball commentary) as follows:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fast Bowling - II

India did not win a Test Match outside the sub-continent between 1986 and 2001. Anil Kumble made his debut in 1990, and as India's premier bowler in the 1990s, was often criticized for his inability to take wickets outside the sub-continent. The essence of that criticism was - He's India's best bowler, how is it that he's not taking wickets overseas? This idea that reputation renders conditions and cricketing constraints redundant is alive and well today. As a result, there are serious observers of the game who think that the batting (Tendulkar, VVS, Gambhir etc.) deserve equal responsibility for India's bad results in England as the bowlers. While the batsmen have not been at their best, here is how I would differentiate between the performance of the fast bowlers and the batsmen in the 3 Tests in England. The batsmen were failing MA examination questions, while the bowlers were failing 8th grade examination questions. Harbhajan Singh faces criticism today that will sound familiar to Anil Kumble.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Great Catch Oval 1971

No its not the one you are thinking about. Solkar's catch to dismissal Keith Fletcher off Chandrasekhar is in this video. But one that I think was the better catch was the one Alan Knott took to dismiss Dileep Sardesai off Derek Underwood. It start at about 7:45.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fast Bowling

Update: Before appearing in this post, some of the stuff below was first developed by talking to the Cricket Couch, and listening to his obvious distress (which I share) at India's efforts in England. The Cricket Couch was upset with 244 all out, while I was more worried about 710-7. 

It is impossible to compete in Test Cricket without fast bowling. As the first three Tests between India and England have shown, having ordinary fast bowling on result oriented pitches can be lethal for a team, even with a fine batting line up. What is the relationship between bad fast bowling and added pressure on the batting line up? Its quite simple. When India bowled (especially when Sreesanth and Ishant bowled), England's batsmen could be assured of at least 2 free hits every over. In addition, they could be assured of at least a couple of other deliveries which could be easily left alone outside off stump. All in all, on a result oriented wicket, they had to survive only two, at the most three deliveries every over that had any chance of getting them out. In one spell, Sreesanth bowled 6 out of 48 deliveries in the general vicinity of the top of off stump. Count that. 1 out of 8. On the other hand, when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman - right handers all, batted against Anderson, Broad and Bresnan, they were defending their off stump almost every single ball.

The Best English Team Since the 1950s is World Number 1

They are now the undisputed Champions of Test Match Cricket. The World's No. 1 Test team. No. The World's No. 1 Cricket Team.

England have threatened to achieve this before in the 2000s. Their greatest Test triumph must remain a 2-1 victory over a full strength Australian side in 2005. That was the culmination of another dominant period that began in the winter of 2003.

Friday, August 12, 2011

At Times Like These

When all the usual criticisms and abuse are directed at India's cricket team. They have had a horror series - a difficult series made worse through an astonishingly bad sequence of injuries, some of which were very poorly managed. A very limited fast bowling attack has been exposed mercilessly by an in form English batting line up in their prime. England have pounced on the indifferent, inconsistent lines and lengths from Ishant Sharma and S Sreesanth with even greater gusto they mustered up against Hilfenhaus, Johnson and co. in Australia this winter. A batting line up in which the middle order keeps getting exposed to new ball have been allowed very little breathing space by a very well prepared pace attack that has mastered home conditions.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

10 Questions about Bowlers and Batsmen

If you want to "read" a Cricket Match, here is a simple model. This is how I observe Cricket.

While Test Cricket is phenomenal because for all its vagaries, only one thing really matters. Everything begins from this. Where did the bowler bowl the ball? This is essentially the foundational question of the Test Match contest. And it is so in a very non-trivial sense. For all tactics, all strategy, all guile, all control stems from this basic fact. Even the batsman's form stems from it. Greatness in cricket is based on this simple question.

Where did the bowler bowl the ball? This is not an easy question. It is made up of all the following questions:

Sunday, August 07, 2011

On All Time XIs: Geniuses, Classicists and Lefties

Picking All Time XIs is the cricket tragic's version of playing Super Selector. Cricinfo ran a series about this recently, and came up with some fantastic XIs for each Test playing nation. Their All Time World XI included, in batting order:

Saturday, August 06, 2011

On the BCCI-Gavaskar-Shastri "Scandal"

This is a screenshot of the front page of the Mumbai Mirror, on the day they published their story about the BCCI paying Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri 3.6 crores annually "to toe the official line". The story continues on p 11.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Blame Games

When India lose, a lot of people and institutions get exposed. The BCCI gets exposed for its incompetence and greed, people who praise India when they win get exposed for blaming the BCCI when they lose, newspapers get exposed for "revealing" "open secrets" about Gavaskar and Shastri being contracted by BCCI for an enormous amount of money "to toe the official line". Given that our newspapers spend most of their time pulling their hair out about the fact that the BCCI doesn't seem to have an official line, this is quite a claim.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Why Andrew Flower Would Not Have Done What Dhoni Did In The Ian Bell Case

This question has continued to bug me. Why did England think it was right to ask Dhoni to reconsider an appeal which was fairly clearly within the rules? Why did Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss think that it was the right thing to do? Or were they going to do it simply because Bell was batting so well? Sportsmanship involves doing the right thing irrespective of the cost to one's interests, purely because it is the right thing to do. Surely, the sporting thing to do in the case of the Bell episode would have been for India to withdraw their appeal, then, for Bell to be declared retired Out by England for his tea time score. For if Bell admitted being "naive" or "stupid", what price did he pay for it?

Increasingly, Michael Vaughan's reading of the situation seemed to be the most plausible one. Bell and England "handled the situation" brilliantly to protect their own interests. Sportsmanship had nothing to do with it. Flower's nonsense about an "international incident" was only the last step in that performance.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Being World Number 1 Involves Wanting To Cheat Well

Quite apart from being a brilliant coach at the international level, Andy Flower has also repeatedly demonstrated his ability to keep inquiry about his team's actions at bay during his tenure with England. When asked about the incident involving Ian Bell's Run Out at Trent Bridge, Flower pivoted smartly to point out that had Sachin Tendulkar been given Out in similar fashion at Mumbai, we would have had an international incident!

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Ball Tracking Chronicle - Part II

Last week I wrote a post about ball tracking in which I tried to lay out the it works and how much it has been tested. As a follow up to that, I wrote this article for Cricinfo's Inbox, in which I compare the workings of ball tracking technology in the case of the LBW law to the way human umpires adjudicate the law.

For some reason, Cricinfo have chosen to entitle that article "The Pros and Cons Of Ball Tracking". If you are puzzled by that title, you are not alone. The original title was "Ball Tracking, DRS and LBWs". On Cricinfo's main page, the article is linked under "Blogs". Their short summary for the article here "Prediction is a Problematic Phenomenon" is far more accurate, and would have served as a reasonable title.

Before an article gets on to Cricinfo, it goes through many hoops, even on a minor blog like Inbox. It shows.

Full article after the jump.

India OutBowled, OutPlayed, Will Not Beat England In England

India were bundled out for 158 by a pace attack that had depth and accuracy on the 4th day at Trent Bridge to give England a 319 run victory in the 2nd Test of the Pataudi Trophy series today. It was the performance of an under prepared, underwhelming team against a in form, supremely match-fit English XI in the middle of their home season. England will identify with the position India find themselves in. They went into a tour to Pakistan that immediately followed their 2005 Ashes victory in similar shape. They lost a close first Test at Multan, survived a scare in the second at Faisalabad after a late declaration by Inzamam Ul Haq, and were hammered by an innings in the third. I wrote in my series preview that the hosts had a clear edge in this series. This was even before Zaheer Khan got injured on the first day of the series. Two result wickets have produced two predictable results despite India winning the toss both times. The closest we have come in recent times to seeing a more decisive contest between the top two sides in the world (with sincere apologies to South Africa) was South Africa's tour to Australia in 2001-02. South Africa lost the three Tests by 246 runs,  9 wickets and 10 wickets. India will do well to come away with a 0-2 defeat from here.