Friday, December 30, 2011

The Test Year In Review

Its been an eventful year of Test Cricket. 2011 began with India threatening to add supremacy in Test and ODI Cricket to its well established supremacy at Cricket's corporate high table. A emphatic triumph in the 2011 World Cup which included victories over every single previous World Cup winning nation appeared to confirm the optimism at the start of the year. Then came the IPL, and some IPL induced scheduled (including 5 Tests in 6 weeks over 2 separate continents), a predictable disaster in England (especially after Zaheer Khan limped off the field at Lord's), declining gate receipts and TV Ratings for the premier franchise tournament run by the ICC - the Champions League, and also for the subsequent limited overs series that India played at home after that. As Rahul Dravid said, there was a change in temperature in the second half of the year. Test wins at home have only seemed to magnify India's problems overseas. But even though India lost the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to an embattled Australian side, it is notable that nearly 190,000 came to the ground to watch.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

India At MCG 2011-12 - Review

Australia beat India in four days by 122 runs at the MCG. It was India's 5th consecutive overseas defeat, and their fifth consecutive defeat against Australia at MCG. Since Sachin Tendulkar started playing for India, India have lost 5 times out of 5 at the MCG. At no other overseas ground is India's record as bad as it is at the MCG. Lord's and the Kensington Oval at Barbados are close seconds - India have lost three out of 4 Tests there. But the MCG, be it the first Test of the series (a traditional weakness with India) or otherwise, has always brought defeat.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Incompetent Reporting From Malcolm Conn

Malcolm Conn seems to think that DRS and any use of the third umpire are synonymous. That is the only way to read this report from the award winning Australian cricket journalist. He writes,
Peter Siddle robbed Sachin Tendulkar of his 100th international century, bowling the little master for 73, but the local pace hero was dudded by technology denied to the Australians when they batted.
He continues
India's unjustifiable opposition to the umpire decision review system (DRS) has left this tour in a technological mess. 
While umpires can use it to check line decisions such as no-balls, run outs and stumpings, and also to check disputed catches, players no longer have the right to review dodgy decisions.
Umpires have been able to ask for the assistance of the third umpire since the year 1992. For at least a couple of years now, they have also been able to check for no-balls when batsmen are dismissed. Conn pulls of a neat trick here, playing on the disappointment of Australian fans over the reprieve that Rahul Dravid got to hit India's opposition to DRS. He denies the utterly radical nature of allowing players to review "dodgy" decisions by casually equating it with the Umpire's ability to review decisions.

At this point, he could have chosen to take the argument to its logical conclusion and asked the really interesting questions - Would we account for the overwhelming majority of bad decisions by allowing on field Umpires to ask for help? Would we do even better by allowing the third umpire to offer help, unprompted if he sees something obviously wrong? Do we really need hotspot and ball-tracking if we do this?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

India At MCG 2011-12, Day 2

India 214/3 plays Australia 333 all out.

This is what the scorecard tells us after the first two days at the MCG. Two days in which India's best players have reasserted themselves. Two days which give us a glimpse of what might have been had India's best players been fit in England. Two days which possibly also tell us the difference between England and Australia.

Test Cricket, it appears has gone crazy. A look at some of the shots batsmen have played in the last few months would suggest an epidemic of loose batsmanship. The early performances of a number of debutants - R Ashwin, James Pattinson, Vernon Philander, Pat Cummins, Umesh Yadav, Doug Bracewell and Marchant de Lange, have all played less than 5 Tests each. Yet, their returns have been spectacular - 106 wickets at 18.1, with a strike rate of 34. To be fair, the wickets have not been flat. But the old method of defending for an hour and seeing off a spell seems to have been abandoned.

Monday, December 26, 2011

To DRS Or Not To DRS, That Is Not The Question

Two Australian batsmen - Michael Hussey and the impressive debutant Eddie Cowan were given out, apparently incorrectly by Umpires Erasmus and Gould respectively on Boxing Day 2011 at the MCG. Both decisions were not howlers in my view, Cowan's decision even less so, even though in both cases, Hotspot showed nothing. Later in the day, Zaheer Khan was denied a very close LBW decision.

Hotspot has its problems. Warren Brennan, chief executive of BBG Sports (who provide the technology), recently said that "BBG Sports is disappointed at how the Hot Spot performed in the UK during the England vs India series." In a report from November 2011 after the Cape Town Test between South Africa and Australia (96 all out, 47 all out and all that), Brennan also said that Hotspot has had problems with blurring. This problem, as Brennan explains, arises when the player swings quickly. The appeal against Eddie Cowan falls in this category. In July this year, Brennan told Cricinfo that Hotspot's accuracy (about 90-95%) was also affected by whether the impact was on the bat or the glove.
"Things off the glove can be a bit hit and miss... There is padding on the gloves, which is obviously quite soft and other parts of the glove probably have some metal, usually on the side of the fingers. We get different heat impressions from the glove. While the metal can heat up, it'll be quite hot and when the ball strikes the soft part of the glove, it doesn't leave a great heat signature."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

India In Australia 2011-12

Australia is a peculiar place to play cricket. Contrary to popular notions about Australian wickets (fast, bouncy etc), these tend to defy stereotypes far more so than Indian, English or South African wickets have in recent years.

Melbourne could be a very good batting wicket, or it could be slightly green, which, combined with the notoriously temperamental Melbourne weather could produce periods of fierceness along with other periods of relative calm.

At Sydney, traditionally seen as a spinners pitch, spinners have returned 41 wickets at 42.75 apiece in the last 5 years, all in result matches. In contrast, fast bowlers have returned 122 wickets at 32.08. The spinners who played at Sydney in the Tests in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 have been no mean spinners - they include Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Graeme Swann and Danish Kaneria - with the exception (and not for long) of Swann, all 200 wicket men. England's innings victory last year was delivered by James Anderson (7/127), Chris Tremlett (4/150) and Tim Bresnan (5/140). Graeme Swann, in contrast, returned 2/112.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Cricketers and Orations

Like a venerable typewriter salesman addressing the National Association of Typewriter Manufacturers, Rahul Dravid told his profession that it must do its best by its customers if it wants to survive. He was speaking yesterday at Australia's War Memorial in Canberra. The occasion was the rather grandiosely named "Bradman Oration".

Many years from now, some mainstream historian will probably see Kumar Sangakkara's address to those old conservatives at the MCC (some of whom probably still regret South Africa's isolation due to apartheid), and Rahul Dravid's address at the Bradman Oration, and see one more reason to conclude that the 2000s were the moment when the game went global. But perhaps he will read these two staid, formulaic - im-from-a-place-thats-foreign-to-you-all, diversity, money, fans, moments, what-a-great-game - speeches, and also see the moment in which the game's primary identity as a global business, and its demise as a great 20th century sport, was cemented.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On The Lyon LBW Decision At Hobart

This was a peculiar decision. It had all the makings of a very complicated LBW appeal. The batsman was on the move, he fell over across the width of the stumps, and the ball was an outswinger to the right hander that started on leg stump. When I say it started on leg stump, I do not mean that it pitched on leg stump, I merely claim that it started around the line of leg stump, rather than around the line of off stump or middle stump.

Further, the batsman was hit on the back pad, and the ball may have brushed the front pad on the way.

All of these things make it a decisively marginal decision. If I was the Umpire, I would have given it not out, simply because there was too much happening, the ball seemed perilously close to missing leg stump in real time. But I can see that other Umpires might give it out, because of the impact on the back pad (much closer to the stumps, than when the impact is on the front pad), because it was clearly straightening, and may well have broken the leg stump.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Sehwag 219

I missed this innings. Today, he was apparently thinking about being patient.

There is much to be said about the limits of Sehwag's virtuosity in conditions where the ball is swinging or seaming. But I ask you to spend a minute or so observing two shots in that video.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Bizarre Analysis From Sanjay Manjrekar

Sanjay Manjrekar has written a puzzling article on Cricinfo today. I say "puzzling", because it is not clear to me what his claim in it is, and what it is based on. Several events are at issue.

First, India's squad for the upcoming Australia tour has been announced, and it does not include Harbhajan Singh.

Second, Harbhajan Singh missed the next Ranji Trophy game that Punjab played after the team was announced, because of a shin injury.

Third, it subsequently emerged that the shin injury was worse than initially imagined, and that Harbhajan Singh is now likely to miss the remainder of the league stage of the Ranji Trophy.

Based on these three events, Manjrekar says the following:

Sunday, December 04, 2011

On Great Batsmen

Whenever a once prolific batsman goes through a lean patch, especially on the wrong side of 30, commentators begin to suggest that maybe it is time the batsman moved on. I've never quite understood the kind of thinking that would cause someone to ask Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid or Ricky Ponting to quit. In this post I'll try to explain why. I will do so by trying to explain why Tendulkar or Ponting or Dravid averaging 30 in Tests for a year, is not the same as some 25 year old in his 4th year in Test Cricket averaging 30 after 3 moderately successful years.

What is a great batsman?

India's Selection Dilemma In Australia

Praveen Kumar will miss India's tour of Australia due to a fractured rib. Three players, according to Cricinfo, are in serious contention for Praveen's slot. Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and Irfan Pathan. Irfan has been in very good bowling form this season, with 21 wickets in 4 games so far. Mithun and Vinay Kumar have had less success. But there are a couple of other aspects that are relevant to this selection decision.

First, there is the value of the swing bowler. India will play Ishant Sharma as one of the three pacemen in any event. Zaheer, should he stay fit, is a brilliantly versatile bowler these days. He can attack with a fuller length, move the ball both ways, and when required, throttle back and bowl back-of-a-length. Given that the new ball usually swings, and given that reverse swing is not unheard of in Australia, a swing bowler, or, more specifically, a bowler who delivers a swing bowler's length, is a valuable commodity. There seems to be a general trend away from the tall back-of-a-length bowler in Test Cricket, in favor of bowlers who pitch the ball up and swing it at high pace. The age of the tall, front on bowler who depends on finding a good length around off stump is at an end. The rise of Morne Morkel and Ishant Sharma has turned out to be an anomaly in an age defined by Dale Steyn, Zaheer Khan and James Anderson and now, possibly by Pat Cummins, Umesh Yadav and Stuart Broad.

Friday, December 02, 2011

India Approach A Record

We live in a moment obsessed with records. With one record actually. Sachin Tendulkar has made 99 centuries for India, 51 of these in Tests, 48 in ODIs and thankfully, none in T20 cricket. I have had misgivings about the recordness, if you will, of this record. I later found out that I shared these misgivings with a far more forthright commentator. Mukul Kesavan memorably called the 100 centuries milestone the "half-wit's holy grail". The value of Kesavan's essay is reinforced by the spectacularly half-witted comments that proliferate among the 179 (at the time of writing this) that appear on Yahoo's website.