Sunday, July 29, 2007

India v England: Test 2 - It's Not A Question Of Luck

I wonder if Team India reads newspapers or cricket websites? If they did, the players would find their obituaries published well before the end of a series, or even a Test match. It is an unfortunate situation where some journalists, or media organisations, seem to have a personal agenda that allows them to draw rather curious conclusions about the performances of certain players and teams.

The first two days of play of the second Test match at Trent Bridge has seen the Indian bowling attack rip through the second best team in the world (for the second time in two innings) and set the match up for their batsmen. The batsmen on day two, led right from the top by Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik have overcome tough conditions and bowlers who revel in such conditions by playing positive, sensible and courageous cricket.

We can all complain about luck taking up residence with one team or another. In fact Sambit Bal believes God also resides in India now. I'm surprised it took him so long to figure it out, but good on the man for finally getting there. The fact remains, that luck is made by the individual who is more willing to be positive and take his chances. Sambit, of all people, should have learnt this by now.

For a team that has been accused of recoiling into its shell when presented with a position of opportunity, yesterday was the most comprehensive reply to its critics that we have seen for quite some time. Every batsmen attacked and took the opportunities that were presented, irrespective of whether he had been beaten the previous three successive balls or whether he had been hit on the head.

Nobody played a spectacular innings, but the runs were still milked at a pace that allowed the team to score at 3.21 runs per over at the end of the day. Luck had its role to play in determining how the scorecard looked at the end of the day. Sambit, and the school of thought he belongs to, fails to give credit where its due. What were the batsmen supposed to do, say "sorry Michael Vaughan, we were lucky to survive the last few balls, so you can have my wicket this time around"?

Instead of haranguing the players for enjoying the hand of God when it is finally resting over them, lets applaud them for doing pretty much everything they can to make sure its used to their utmost advantage.

Sambit Bal has an agenda. Us readers of Cricinfo need to know what it is so that we can put read his commentary with the context it needs.

Continued >> >>

Thursday, July 26, 2007

India v England: Were They Really That Bad?

"An escape from jail. Saved by the heavens. England robbed of victory. Indian galacticos choke again." These headlines were the flavour of the day. Predictions of doom and gloom for the remainder of the series abounded and once again Team India found itself backed into a corner. One could reason that all the articles and predictions bear an element of legitimacy, in their own right.

However, we all know that good news stories don't sell newspapers and bring eyeballs to TV screens. Thus, it would be fair to conclude that there are many vested interests at play in the publication of all this dribble.

The Attack

The real story to come out of this test is that the Indian bowling attack is the strongest link in the chain. This is something that is oft forgotten when those who apportion blame, come to do what they do best. After a dreadful start to the first session of the first day, the bowlers came back with aplomb and did everything that could be expected of them for the remainder of the match.

It should not be forgotten that least vaunted of the lot, RP Singh, showed them all how it should be done. It would be remiss of me not mention that he was ably supported by the other three, especially Sreesanth who bowled well, for little reward.

A Fear of Failure?

The batsman (recipients of much scorn in the last few days), if anything, showed the waste that is generated from not converting starts. That, for mine, is the negative. Whether it is the fear of failure that has caused this or whether it is the messing of the team management with a batsman's head that is the root cause, is a moot point.

From where I sit, the affliction of conservatism that envelopes Indian batsmen in the twilight of their careers has as much to do with being Indian as it does with what is asked of them by the team management.

Compare Sachin Tendulkar with Sanath Jayasuriya. The latter has remained at the top of the order for the last gazillion years, irrespective of whether his own form or that of team's. The former has been asked to cover for the inadequacies of those around him, as if trying to get the best out of his own abilities isn't tough enough. As such, he has been shunted up and down the order and asked to perform roles that should have been fulfilled by others. I am in no doubt that Sachin Tendulkar's 'strange' mindset over last few years has been caused by this, more so than any other reason.

The case of VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, IMHO, has more to do with the increased satisfaction that many Indian men of their age derive from merely surviving. This attitude is extremely dangerous and disruptive to team morale. Sourav Ganguly, especially, falls into this category for it is quite evident that the confidence that was once associated with his game has been lost, probably forever (if he goes on to make a match winning century in the next match, I will be happy to be admonished for this comment).

The Takeout

The takout for me is that all we have spoken of previously, need not matter. As I eluded to earlier, each and every batsman got a start, Mahendra Singh Dhoni even played himself into some form - that too in difficult conditions (even Kevin Pietersen thought so). It was especially heartening to watch Dinesh Karthik, VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni playing attacking cricket during the last innings, when many previous Indian teams would have shut up shop in order to avoid defeat and got themselves into a right royal tangle.

Any batsman will tell you that converting a start is a helluva lot easier than getting out of a rut. Leaving statistics aside (because we all know how well they tell the real story) and except for Sourav Ganguly in the second innings, none of the batsman looked to be really struggling.

I would be very surprised if we didn't see a more pleasing batting effort from the whole line up, not just the galacticos, in the next two Test matches. The bowlers, I'm sure, will continue to deliver the goods without ever receiving the accolades they deserve.

There, I've made my call. Are you game enough to make yours?

If you support Team India click here to purchase a Team India Nike ODI cricket shirt

Continued >> >>

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ronaldhino Has A Small Brain

Charan Gupta, via email, also points out that Barcelona's main man Ronadinho may not be suffering this affliction on his own, if these researchers are to be believed. Admittedly, the tests were only conducted on college players, but the implication can be made - no?

Word has it that the repetitive action of heading the ball causes the brain cell loss. Two questions come immediately to mind:
  1. Can this study be extended to determine whether David Beckham's rather feminine voice was the result of such a sporting injury?
  2. Can we apply the results of this study to the case of Justin Langer, and form a similar opinion about the size of his noggin?

Continued >> >>

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Socceroos Were What!?

Under prepared, according to Australian and Everton start Tim Cahill. At a press conference where grim faces were a distant memory and big, toothy smiles were the order of the day, Cahill had this to say:
"We can't help going into games with them knowing everything about us and us not having the answers at the start. We have acclimatised and adjusted, and now we are starting to find our feet."

Errr.. yes you can help it, mate.

Its called video footage - of matches that your opponents have played over the last year, and a bit. Correct me if I am wrong, but I was of the distinct view that it was the coaching team's role to ensure that the players knew everything and anything about their opponents before the first whistle.

I have no doubt that Tim Cahill did not intend any harm to Graham Arnold through this comment. However, in international sport where the real news is said off the record, one cannot help but read more into his comments.

Cahill clearly states, in the quote above, that the Australian do not know much about their opponents before kick-off. This fact beggars the question, what does Graham Arnold do if he doesn't even watch footage of previous games played by Australia's Asian Cup opponents?

"Under preparation" was the most common reason offered for Australia's shoddy performances in the first two games of this edition of the Asian Cup. By "under preparation" the pundits were referring to a lack of training time where the team could gel as a unit, not a sub-standard performance from the coaching team that led to the players not knowing what to expect from their opponents before they took the field.

A friend recently opined that the reason Australia were performing so poorly under Arnold was because they don't respect him, because he didn't have the coaching credentials to support him in his position. Cahill's comments make it abundantly clear why Arnold does not have the said credentials - he does not seem to have a clue about how to prepare a team for a tournament that is second only to the FIFA World Cup in the Asian/Oceania region.

Without stating the bleeding obvious, relying on a product of lesser quality has only got Australia in unnecessary strife. With all the millions that Australian football is earning from international tournaments, the appointment of an international coach with the highest credentials is well and truly overdue.

Continued >> >>

West Ham Holding Up Carlos Tevez Transfer To Manchester United

That is the official line being trotted out by Kia Joorabchian after Carlos Tevez's medical did not go ahead, even after Carlos Tevez turned up in Manchester. With the impasse between West Ham and Kia Joorabchian showing no sign of letting up for the next couple of weeks, Carlos Tevez has decided to take a short holiday, with a possible extension if he misses the August 31 deadline for all transferees to have signed on the dotted line with their new clubs.

It seems baffling that in a world where lawyers pore over every ink-laden pixel in a player's contract, we have a situation where a businessman and a Premier League club are arguing over who owns a player's economic rights. It is equally lamentable that it has taken the parties concerned this long to deduce that they should request FIFA's help to sort out their problems.

Joorabchian quite obviously has absolutely nothing to lose in this matter. He could potentially be sitting on (or the majority of) a 30+ million pound pay day. The men from FIFA will tell us whether this goldmine is his or not.

In the meanwhile, however, the mind boggles at why West Ham has been so publicly reticent about letting Carlos Tevez make the move to Manchester United. Once a player has decided that he is on the move, it is in his current club's best interests to do everything possible to make the transfer a seamless process and earn their fee in return.

Football administrators (like their cricketing counterparts) have not always proven to be the sharpest tools in the shed. This situation is purporting to be another case where money has made many minds boggle.

For Carlos Tevez's sake, and the hopes of all Manchester United fans, one can only hope that FIFA resolves this issue sooner rather than later. For, Carlos Tevez with Wayne Rooney, in front of a combination of Christiano Ronaldo, Nani, Anderson and Hargreaves will be a sight to behold.

Continued >> >>

India v England: Test Series Preview

Over the past few weeks, The Match Referee has brought you a series of posts focusing on a number of aspects of the upcoming series between England and Team India. The said series of posts have been the most comprehensive series preview The Match Referee has ever presented.

Following is a list of the articles that we are written and that you should devour at the earliest:
  1. A frank discussion of exactly how much talking India's newest "pace" bowling hopeful, Ranadeb Bose, should be doing.
  2. With Rahul Dravid's preference routine of five bowlers being well known by one and all, find out exactly why Team India needs a full complement of six batsmen for this series.
  3. After learning what Cricket Australia is doing with Mitchell Johnson we checked out Ishant Sharma and tried to tell the BCCI exactly what it should be doing with him.
  4. We got a little frustrated with all the rumours about the dropping of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and went to town with a comprehensive critique of exactly why he is the key to success for Team India.
  5. Finally, no preview is complete without a prediction or three. So have a read and let us know if you think were barking up the totally wrong tree.
That is the end of all the poultry you are likely to hear from us. Happy reading, make sure you keep checking back the series and match updates and opinions (the latest of which can be found under the What's Hot section of the right sidebar), but most of all do not figure that it is your opinion that really matters. So say it loud and say it proud.

Postscript: Click here to view the latest articles on India's defeat of England in the recently concluded Test series.

Continued >> >>

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

India v England: Test Series Predictions

Much has been made to date of team India's chances in the upcoming test series hinging on the personal ambitions of the ageing superstars. This is one theory I do not subscribe to.

It cannot be denied that the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman will want to sign off on the last tour of England on the highest note possible. They will also want to be remembered as being entertaining cricketers and match winners.

Personal goals aside Team India's most weapon will be the confidence they have gained through winning test matches on overseas tours. Let's not forget before Sourav Ganguly and John Wright Indian teams seldom won overseas test matches, let alone series. Barring the odd hiccup along the way India has consistently won at least one test match in every series at it as played, to the extent that a series was won in the West Indies and a first-ever test match win on South African soil was achieved.

Success breeds further success in the team's successful performances over the past few years will have given them the confidence that was a visibly absent only a decade ago. This momentum will not guarantee a series win in England, however, it will go some way to ensuring that the two teams start on an even keel when they step on to the hallowed turf at Lords.

Michael Vaughan's team of 2007 is not nearly as cohesive or well drilled as the Ashes conquering side of 2005. Wins over a lacklustre and feeble West Indies could not possibly compensate for the absence of Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones. The decline of England's fortunes began with the injury to Jones. This also appears to have been the signal for Steve Harmison to goal off the boil. Had Harmison been in the team he was unlikely to pose a major threat to the Indian batting lineup, such is the erratic nature of his bowling in this day and age.

Having said that with the introduction of Alistair Cook, return of Michael Vaughan and continued growth of Kevin Pietersen the English batting lineup is much stronger than was at 2005. Add to this the fact that Andrew Strauss may finally be hitting his straps after the last tour game against Indians and you quickly realise the enormity of the task awaiting the Indian attack. We can also not discount the influence of Monty Panesar (a man of whom we are great fans) over the course of this four test series.

If England are to be successful they will look to Panesar to make the big breakthroughs at crucial times. This is a lot of pressure to put on and so young. Taking this into account, and barring the problems in dismissing the tale in the tour matches, I think the Indian attack is more balanced and does not rely on one individual to single-handedly win the match. The big disclaimer that I must add to this proclamation is my predictions will only come true if Sreesanth and RP Singh are able to provide quality support to the main cast of Anil Kumble and Zaheer Khan.

This series is going to be a challenge as great as any for Team India. However, if they manage to make the right moves at the right times they should have all the firepower they need to be successful.

I sincerely hope my sleepless nights will be well worth the trouble.

Postscript: With the chance that Matthew Hoggard is in serious doubt for the first Test, does my prediction hold even more weight now? You tell me.

Click here to purchase a Nike Team India cricket shirt.

Continued >> >>

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

India v England: Is The HMS Dhoni Sinking?

Less than a year ago, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was touted as the next Adam Gilchrist. Such proclamations were obviously made by the sensationalist and headline hungry media types that wouldn’t know the difference between fact and fiction if it hit them on the head. Although the comparison with Gilchrist is a little far-fetched, it does provide invaluable insight into the skill and temperament of the man. He must be doing something right to for people to think along these lines.

In spite of the oft lacking aggression he brings to Team India, coupled with his never-say-die attitude the cricketing world is abuzz with rumours about his place in the team. If Sachin Tendulkar continues to display the sort of form (vintage 1998) that we have witnessed throughout the last ODI series and the previous tour match, he and Dhoni will be the only two gentlemen capable of upping the ante and driving home an advantage, if and when it were to be achieved.

The majority of calls for Dhoni’s sacking have centered on a perceived “lack of form” and a need to bolster the middle order. I struggle to understand how Dhoni is out of form. Andrew Strauss was out of form, because he hadn’t played a decent know for over a year. It is imprudent to label Dhoni out of form simply because he did not play a major innings in the South African series (where everyone failed). He is a proven match winner and should be given every opportunity to do what he does best.

As far as the middle order is concerned, Indian cricket has long been caught in the trap of planning for failure, ie. “bolster the middle order because the top order fails” or “make the wicketkeeper open the batting because our tail is too long”. It is this class of utter rubbish that has impeded our progress away from home. Throw people in the deep end and they will learn to float. If they don’t, then they simply do not belong.

Additionally, the other option for wicketkeeper is the opening batsman (bad move in my books as there is a specialist twiddling his thumbs in the shed). From his days during the early part of Sourav Ganguly’s reign, Rahul Dravid would well realise the demands on a wicketkeeper who bats up the order. Being the sensible kid that we all know he is, it would be out of character for Dravid to ask Dinesh Karthik to keep wickets.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is crucial to Team India’s success on this tour to England. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot by creating a weakness we can well do without.

Continued >> >>

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Ishant Sharma: Hit The Gym, Son

It just so happens that every time Team India embarks on an international tour to Australia, England, South Africa or New Zealand they take with them two or three raw and untested fast bowlers. I use "fast" in quite a liberal sense. Often times, the selectors are blindly hoping, against all hope and common sense, that the new quicks will somehow manage to succeed. Ishant Sharma and Ranadeb Bose are two youngsters to be entrusted with the duty of miraculously succeeding on this tour to the UK.

My thoughts on Ranadeb Bose are on the record and were evidenced by his performance in the tour match against Sussex. One could argue that it was only one match and he needs further opportunity. However, I do not believe he has the wherewithal to be successful on the international stage. The most obvious limitation in his package being a distinct lack of zip.

Ishant Sharma, on the other hand, seems like he has the raw ingredients to make things happen on the international front. He is able to move the ball when things are going well. More importantly, he maintains his pace independent of how well he is bowling.

With all this promise it must not be forgotten that he his only 18. A tender age when a young man's body is still developing. The body has to cope with that much more, when it is subjected to the demands of fast bowling - genuine fast bowling.

The plan going forward should be to say, sure we had a lack of resources and had to use him on the tours to Bangladesh and England. However, the kid is still raw and physically does not seem to have the body that is capable of withstanding the punishment inflicted on it by a fast bowlers technique.

Therefore, in order to further groom this asset lets get him in the gym with a personal trainer for the next six to eight months. This will build muscle mass and core strength that will stand him in good stead when he is required to perform at peak levels in back-to-back-to-back international matches/series. During this period we will get him to play all the local and domestic cricket he can and this will allow him to continue his cricketing education and allow him a greater margin than that afforded by international batsmen.

If someone doesn't do this for Ishant Sharma, I can see him going the way of Ajit Agarkar and Irfan Pathan. That is, playing 6-8 months of international cricket with some modicum of success and then losing his way through a combination of injury and fatigue.

In an ideal world, the system will take care of these matters. The system of Indian cricket is far from ideal (is there a system at all??) and in its place somebody with a good head on his shoulders, Venkatesh Prasad perhaps, needs to take this step. It will be of much benefit to the future of Team India and Ishant Sharma.

Continued >> >>

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

India v England: The Case For 6 Indian Batsman... opposed to five bowlers and five batsman - the preferred strategy of Indian captain Rahul Dravid. The said case is best made by a fleeting glance at Cricinfo's text commentary and full scorecard of the tour match between India and Sussex.

In the first innings, after having Sussex on the ropes at 5/144, the Indian bowling attack was back to its frustrating best. It was unable to finish off the tail, allowing the home side to declare only six wickets down, only 88 runs behind. Admittedly, Zaheer Khan has been rested for this match and his presence, in place of Ranadeb Bose (yes, he of "torment the batsmen" fame), might have given this story a different plot.

In a bizarre twist, Team India allegedly started chasing quick runs and are currently 8 wickets down for a meagre 124 runs, at lunch on the fourth day! All this against a rather unspectacular combination of bowlers. This collapse proves three things:
  1. Save for MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh, to an extent, no other batsman is capable of materially increasing the scoring rate.
  2. Save for Sachin Tendulkar and Dravid, no other batsman is able to consistently and successfully get the side out of a potentially tricky situation.
  3. As opposed to a fifth bowler, a sixth batsman (if his stars are perfectly aligned) is more likely to make a significant difference to his team's chances of winning - either by helping mount an insurmountable total or somehow dig the side out of a hole.
Most importantly, leaving aside the odd aberration (such as the performance in this match), the Indian bowling attack has achieved more consistent success over the last season and a bit, as compared to their willow-wielding counterparts.

This is not the time to dupe ourselves into misjudging our real strengths.

Continued >> >>

Monday, July 09, 2007

Can Australia Win The Asian Cup?

It was as close-run a thing as Graham Arnold and the Socceroos would ever like to leave it. Playing a totally unfancied Oman side with no big names and no players on the rosters of any major European club, the Socceroos did all they possibly could to leave the stadium with their post-World Cup reputation in tatters.

In fact, it can be reasonably said that Oman would be kicking themselves for not taking the spoils from the match. Leaving aside their unnecessary and ugly attempts feigning injury, the Australian defence handed them three clear-cut opportunities to well and truly seal the game. It was only the brilliance of Mark Schwarzer that allowed Tim Cahill to scramble through the equaliser in injury time.

Luke Wilkshire, especially, had a night he would like to forget in a hurry. He overhit or misdirected a number of corners and free kicks in plum positions around the opposition box.

Of the Premiership stars, Harry Kewell did little more than prove that he is best utilised when he plays on the left. It was Mark Viduka, however, who was the biggest disappointment of the night. For a player who scored 20-odd Premiership goals last season, he did nothing to justify his position at the head of the Australian attack.

Continuing the lacklustre form he showed in the World Cup, Viduka found it impossible to do little more than pass the ball back to the player who gave it to him in the first place. His fans often cling to the fact that "he holds the ball up". They must realise, however, for a striker around whom so much of the attack is focussed Viduka needs to do a helluva lot more than simply pass pass the ball backwards. On the international stage, he does not seem to have the skill to beat a defender on his own or put a team mate into a gap.

A number of reasons could be attributed to the insipid Australian display tonight. If Arnold is serious about winning the Asian Cup, he needs to reorganise his defence and provide an opportunity to a new striker or tell Viduka to pull his finger out and do the job that his country expects of him.

Click here to purchase an Australian Socceroos football jersey/shirt.

Continued >> >>

Sunday, July 08, 2007

David Beckham: Footballer or Cash Cow

This is a question eternal that the pundits can always agree to disagree on. By his own admission, David Beckham was not the most talented player ever to set foot on this earth. Beckham's achievements have been made possible through diligence and a single-minded quest for perfection.

Along the way, Beckham the footballer has become Beckham the style icon, and more importantly, Beckham the sure-fire brand. A brand that Real Madrid has milked to its utmost, according to this report.

The timing of Real's announcement smacks of a club still smarting from the departure of one its most valuable commercial assets. It's almost a, "we don't care if you leave, because we've already squeezed you for all your worth!"

In this context, one has to cast a suspicious eye at Los Angeles Galaxy's acquisition of Beckham at a recurring cost of AUD$60 million over five years. For all their claims of luring Beckham to improve their on-field fortunes, did the Galaxy build some class of a financial model that told them that Beckham's transfer could augment their bank balance beyond all known bounds? It would seem so, as the footballing prowess of the 32 year old Beckham is well on the wane. Although, like a true champion he still managed to spur a lacklustre mid-season Real to a thrilling La Liga championship.

It is clear that the foray into the United States is seen by Beckham as a step to securing his financial future, by rubbing shoulders with the powers-that-be of the Hollywood Hills. Good luck to the man, he deserves all the green backs he can muster, if only for providing the fans of his two teams, thus far, with many a glorious moment.

As the Beckham gears up for his debut, it remains to be seen which David Beckham the LA Galaxy snared, the footballer or the cash cow.

Continued >> >>
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