Wednesday, December 30, 2009

This time it's Kotlagate

The inability to produce a one-day wicket suitable to international standards should be a story of the past. But the Feroz Shah Kotla (FSK) groundsmen seem hellbent on proving me wrong in this past week. Will India still be chief host of the upcoming World Cup?

The ICC is breathing down the necks of the BCCI, amidst the fallout of 'Kotlagate', and the question is being asked whether India's pitches are fit to host the World Cup. Pakistan has already been removed as co-host; something about terrorist activity. And if India's incompetency strikes them out too, I expect South Africa would love to raise their hand for this one too.

India needs this. Bad. Real bad. Delhi is already rubbing its face in the mud with Commonwealth Games preparation, so another failure would demoralise even the most loyal Indian fans.

The egos must slide and the preservation of cricket's dignity in India must come to the fore. The bottomless pit of cash which is the BCCI should be spent handsomely in getting the curators from Australia to sort out this schoolboy error which has become FSK. Australian pitches have stood the test of time in a climate similar to that faced by curators in India, so why not take the pearls of wisdom that their curators could pass on?

Then again we are talking about the BCCI. A machine solely involved in self-preservation and showing its power in cricketing circles by shoving wads of cash down their counterpart's mouths. Hardly the father figure who will lead by example.

But knowing how important cricket is in the country where gods have names like Tendulkar and Dhoni, let's hope the issue is dealt with properly, so we can move on and enjoy the spectacle of the World Cup in India.

Continued >> >>

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What If...?

Did anyone else watch the re-enactment of the Wato-Kats run-out fiasco on the second morning of the Boxing Day test? Wat if Kats should have been the one to put bat-under-arm and done the walk of shame back to the pavilion?

During Warney's and Slat's review of the first day runout between the Australian opening pair, they played a split-screen clip: one down the wicket, and the other square-on to the crease. Everyone is in agreement that Katich grounded his foot first. But what the clip showed but neither the third umpire, Ashoka De Silva, nor the commentators noticed, was Katich leaving his crease shortly after realising Wato was crying foul next door. Fortunately - for Kats - the bails had been dislodged just before his Sunday stroll. But WAT if he had walked out just prior to the bails being blown at the other end? Then Wato would've been given out incorrectly, due to umpire ignorance; and still, would anyone know?

Shame it didn't play out that way, but what if...

Continued >> >>

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Team India Are Finally No. 1 In Test Cricket

World rankings, like averages and strike rates, can be very deceptive mathematical creations. Some people believe in them, many don't. On which side of the fence you sit depends almost entirely on how high or low your favourite team or player is placed - Ricky Ponting's goal in life went from "staying number 1" to "playing good, consistent cricket" as his Aussies descended the ladder of greatness and ICC rankings. However, we must live in the present and it is an official and indisputable fact that MS Dhoni's Team India are currently the best Test team in world cricket.

This was a journey whose seeds were sown as a footnote to the infamous match fixing saga and the Aussies' marauding of Sachin Tendulkar's Team India in 1999/2000. Indian cricket awoke from its decades-long slumber and became serious about winning cricket matches, at home and away. John Wright was installed as the team's first foreign coach, and with Sourav Ganguly as the powerful, ever-confident and aggressive captain, he formed one of the most formidable partnerships ever seen in world cricket.

Series wins at home continued with these two at the helm, but the real highlights were the regular away Test match wins that were added to the register. Unfortunately, the postscript to this era was the Chappell years. Team India appeared to fall back to the deep, dark abyss of the pre-Ganguly years. For a time it even appeared that Rahul Dravid, sometime captain, would be lost to the cause due to the politicking, pettiness and ineptitude of the powerful few.

Fast forward to England 2007, Team India conquered the colonialists after many nearly efforts against the Aussies, English and the South Africans. This was Team India's 'giant leap' and the foundation on which first Anil Kumble, and then MS Dhoni built this castle.

Details of victory after glorious victory are now folklore. In hindsight, it is irrefutable that MS Dhoni's ascension to the throne has been the most significant factor in Team India's sustained run of successes thus. His calm demeanour and unifying force are oft lauded. However, his talents with both gloves and bat in the 5-day format are seldom given their due. There is no better 'keeper-batsman package in world cricket today.

This feat could not have been achieved more emphatically. Two thumping innings victories against not-so-feeble opposition only serves to underline Team India's dominance over the previous 18-20 months.

The cliche goes that it's easy to get to the top, a helluva lot harder to stay there. It does not need me to preach this to Dhoni or the team - this is why Gary Kirsten exists. Indian cricket has traditionally been a poor front runner. The Indian media will play its part to ensure that the team is given every opportunity to lose focus. The BCCI has already played its hand with abysmal scheduling.

Despite all such external obstacles, the length of time Indian cricket stays at the top will depend entirely upon whether its individual members can win the battle in their minds, for the team has all the components to be a formidable unit for many years yet.

Having said this, now is not the time for answers. The road has been long and occasionally painful. Many corks need popping and bottle tops need opening. This is one party every Indian cricket fan needs to enjoy.

Continued >> >>

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

10 Questions About Indian Cricket I Need Answered (On-Field)

With the general environs as imperfect and contradictory as they are, I've found it nigh on impossible to constrict this list of on-field questions to 10. Tell me what you think (in no particular order):

1. Why do all Indian "speedsters" capable of bowling north of 140 km/h suddenly feel the need to become military medium trundlers who struggle to reach 125 km/h? Of the current crop, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, Munaf Patel, Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth are prime examples.

2. Why does Harbhajan Singh deem it of utmost importance to bowl flat on middle and leg when he is well aware the result will be easy runs, irrespective of the batsmen's incompetence against spin? Moreover, is he so vital to Team India that he can't be sent back to Ranji cricket to rediscover his mojo?

3. Why do Indian fielders, irrespective of their fielding prowess (or more commonly, lack their of) lob the ball back to the keeper? Surely, a throw of intent fired in over middle stump, even in a non-run out situation, will plant seeds of doubt in the batsmen's minds the next time they consider a risky run?

4. Why does Team India need to put in an atrocious fielding effort before it can pull its finger out and set the field on the fire in the next game? The marked improvement in performance over the course of a few days signals a lack of intent and poor attitude in the previous game, which effectively implies effort levels deep south of 100%. When did players begin picking and choosing the matches in which they could be bothered putting in? What is the difference between this attitude and a vague form of match fixing?

5. As a continuation of the fielding theme, why don't Indian wicketkeepers run up to the stumps more often than not after every ball? Why do they take the ball with one hand while the other lays limp by their sides? Why do they not demand that fielders throw the ball to them within a 30cm diameter of the stumps?

6. Why does the team management continue to select players who are clearly unfit or have shown zero net improvement in their game, eg. Munaf Patel? For all his great work and success it is a blight on MS Dhoni's captaincy to see and hear him back players of Munaf's ilk who appear to have no desire to improve their attitudes and / or take their games to the next level.

7. Why does VVS Laxman always give the opposition at least 5 opportunities, in the first 15 balls he faces, to send him back by hanging his bat 3 miles from his body? Such peace offerings to the 'keeper and slips cordon have, in my estimation, resulted in a career average approximately 5 runs per innings lower than what it could have been for Team India's very own Picasso.

8. When will Yuvraj Singh be told to lose his spare tyre or lose his place in the team? Yuvraj's fielding standards have been receding faster than Virender Sehwag's hairline and Yuvraj's recession can be squarely attributed to the rise in his love handles. Surely this is reason enough to read him the riot act.

9. When in and set during overs 15 to 35 in ODI's, why does MS Dhoni, and recently the remainder of the batting line up, feel it unimportant to send the ball to and beyond the ropes? Logic dictates that an increased tempo during the middle overs will lead to higher totals, no?

10. Why can't Virender Sehwag bat in ODI's like he does in Test matches? Even if Sehwag scores 5 in the first 5 overs of an ODI, but manages to get his eye in and timing going, a more prolonged period of mayhem is likely to follow than when he tries to start butchering from the very first ball he faces.

Continued >> >>

Monday, November 23, 2009

Australia v West Indies: A Marketer's Nightmare

Simply put, there is nothing about the upcoming Australia v West Indies series that would excite the reasonable woman or the average cricket fan. A West Indian cricket system and team in utter disarray and an Aussie team with no real crowd puller is no less than the complete material with which a marketing man's nightmares are formed. Why should we care?

The Windies are already off to a poor start, with their bowlers getting hammered by a second string Queensland outfit in the opening tour match. Chris Gayle has had no preparation due to being at his ill mother's bedside - mind you, while I hope his Mom regains full health at the earliest, this might be the best preparation for a man who wouldn't honestly profess to loving every moment of practice.

Cricket Australia's spin doctors are already trying to talk up stand-in captain Dinesh Ramdin's credentials. But if the best evidence of Ramdin's leadership "maturity and nous" is that he'll study the Aussies' Ashes defeat, then even the blonde among us can tell that the Windies are struggling. This is not to say that Ramdin won't make a good leader if given the opportunity, as Aaron previously argued, but a spade needs to be referred to by its proper name for the present.

I sadly, but honestly, say that the best we can hope for from the West Indies is one cracking century from Gayle and a number of poor failures. A consistent and classy 40-odd average from throughout series from Shivnarine Chanderpaul. A half century or two from Ramnaresh Sarwan; effectively, much promise but no cigar. Dwayne Bravo will likely chip in with flashy and acrobatic fielding and a couple of quick fire 40's. This ladies and gentlemen, is the likely sum of the visitor's efforts this Australian summer - hardly the class of inducement that would tempt me to reach for my wallet to pay for an overpriced ticket.

For the Aussies, Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Michael Clarke will fill their boots and fortify their averages on typical Aussie roads, which have characterised recent Australian summers. Fringe Aussie bowlers waiting for one of the incumbents to get dropped will have to pray for an injury instead, because the likes of Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson and Ben Hilfenhaus will make merry against a likely, insipid Windies batting lineup. The most significant point of interest in the Aussie camp will be to observe whether the openers who start the series will be the same as those who finish it.

You probably get the impression that I can't find a single reason to stay glued to the box this summer, much less to bear 40+ degree heat and sit in a stadium. You're not far off the mark.

However, the one century that Chris Gayle wallops will be a sight to behold, and if he manages to double that tally then we're talking about the stuff of which a pubescent male's wet dreams are made. If Sarwan can treat us to a prolonged spell of his magic by doubling up on the half century then I can assure you there are likely to be few better spectacles in modern day cricket. If these two can combine with Chanderpaul in the same Test, we may just have an upset on the cards. It's the stuff dreams are made of.

Until such dreams come true, yesterday's All*Star game might just have been the highlight of the summer. Strap yourselves in for a rather innocuous Aussie summer of cricket and tune in to The Match Referee's YouTube channel.

Continued >> >>

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cranky Old Men

It's not often you find former Aussie cricketers criticizing a winning Aussie team. So imagine my surprise when I find a bevy of former stars all having a go at Ricky Ponting's team, in the same article! Would you believe the most stinging accusations (and possibly the most ridiculous too) came from the former cricketer who has been retired the longest: one KD Walters. On the recent spate of Aussie injuries, Dougie says, "I think they make it up, that they've got injuries."

Like, WTF? In terms of quality of insult and degree of heinousness, second only to allegations of match fixing or treason are charges of faking injuries. Maybe Dougie was on one of his famous benders before the interview. How else could he possibly explain seven injuries in the one team, at the same time?

Throughout the course of his rant Dougie also predicts the inevitable death of "50-50" cricket, which is perplexing given the tight finishes and quality of cricket on offer in this particular ODI series. How about laying off the turps, Dougie? You might acutally get to watch some good cricket.

At least the likes of Steve Rixon and Geoff Lawson offered evidence of their theories, and on first glance I must say these two gentlemen have a point. After all, Lawson was coach of Pakistan for a brief period and if there is anybody eminently qualified to comment on players faking injuries, it is erstwhile coaches of Pakistan.

Finally, I am thankful that a spade was finally referred to by its rightful and righteous name. Tim Nielsen's theory that the Champions League was the catalyst for Brett Lee's dodgy elbow is spurious and cheap points scoring. Forever and a day it has been an antipodean cricketing strategy to apportion blame for their problems on ill-gotten pleasures / poor hygiene / bad ground conditions (take your pick, depending on the issue at hand) of the East. How about this theory, Tim: Lee's elbow injury happened because sometimes, shit happens?!

Continued >> >>

Friday, November 06, 2009

The pitfalls of individual brilliance

Last night I was lucky enough to bear witness to one of the most amazing innings in international cricket ever seen, Sachin Tendulkar, chasing down an intimidating 351 on a docile Hyderabad wicket likened the art of batting to that of a Karl Lagerfeld creation on a Milanese catwalk.

One week ago a team mate of mine and avid Sachin fan vehemently pointed out that he would give up the love of a good woman to spend his time with 'the Little Master,' to which I laughed whole-heartedly in his face, however after last night's blistering 175, I think I can see his point.

Despite Sachin's heroics, Team India still managed to fall short in what was an electrifying game of cricket, and something the game was crying out for. This begs the question of, what next for the Indian team? Many will again question their middle order and their inability to build the game around a solid innings such as Tendulkar's. However, many keen observer's will have duly noted the drop catches and inexcusable ground fielding from the Indians last night. Shaun Marsh would have no doubt been laughing, after being gifted his first and most unconvincing century in his short career. So before the critics come out to feast on India's effort with the bat, remember the capabilities of Sehwag and Yuvraj, and more importantly the power of Captain Dhoni and the talented Gambhir. 

Sometimes watching cricket can be a lot more than the result and the mundane repetitiveness of ball after ball, last night once again re-assured me of why we watch this game and couldn't help but empathise with Tendulkar's feelings, reminding me of my still and boyhood hero, one, Brian Charles Lara. Whether it was in Test cricket or the shorter format, Lara, like Tendulkar, carried his team with amazing results individually, but the feeling of team success and victory forever seems to elude them both. 

The two most successful batsmen in contemporary cricket, without consistent team success throughout their careers makes me wonder whether they should have pursued careers in tennis or golf, allowing them to soak up the individual accolades they deserve. However, as the world has panned out, they are cricketers and feed off the success of their team whilst consistently being the major contributors. 

Therefore, as a neutral observer, I implore with the rest of Team India to give their all in the remaining two matches and give Sachin his 'just deserts' after last night's amazing lone hand. The last thing cricket needs is a retired Sachin Tendulkar with a heavy conscience as a result of minimal team success. India are the new emerging superpower of cricket on the field as well as off it. But talk is cheap, the time is now and one can only hope that their talent and ability is fulfilled and does not wither away like the West Indies of today. If not for themselves, it is time Team India gave the fans something else to cheer about besides Sachin's milestones.  

Continued >> >>

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

US$170 Million & Counting, But Still No Progress

Rs 800 crore (US$170 million) is the BCCI's base valuation for the space on the front and leading arm of Team India's shirts for the next four years. This base price is no less than double the amount Sahara has paid for its logo to adorn Team India's chests for the current four year period. Hey, I'm a raging capitalist and firmly believe that the market (helped by much bravado and optimism) will ultimately decide the real price for the India's first XI. But, I'm also a consumer and a fan and demand to know exactly how the endless treasure chest (of which the latest millions comprise only a minuscule fraction) is utilised, for it very well ain't being spent on improving no stadia.

For a country that prides itself on its engineering prowess and making things look beautiful even if they are utterly impractical, Indian sporting stadia are an absolute disgrace. Case in point, the Feroz Shah Kotla which is to become the centrepiece of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. While every other country is competing to produce the most awe-inspiring and eye catching statement of intent and architectural brilliance (this is Azerbaijan's attempt), India has this hunk of concrete refuse to show for all its bravado. To say I'm sickened, is an understatement of Ben Hur proportions.

It is a sad indictment of Indian consumers' willingness to settle for the mediocre when our low standards and heightened sense of vanity allow the PCA Stadium to be considered "spectator friendly" and the best in the country despite the lack of a roof for all but the most elite spectators in corporate and private boxes. Are Indians really this enamoured by the mere upgrade from concrete benches to plastic seats? It leaves me aghast to hear administrators and "experts" wondering why crowds don't show for seemingly interesting day matches at such stadia. Could it possibly be because no amount of Fair & Lovely will prevent the sun stroke they are likely to suffer sitting unprotected under the blazing sun?

If it takes Aussies US$240 million to build a 30,000 seat stadium, it is no stretch to suggest that given all the cost advantages of constructing in India, the BCCI could build a modern, aesthetically pleasing and enviable 50,000 seater for the same amount. It is also no stretch to suggest that the BCCI would already have these funds (many times over) sitting in various fixed deposits that would negate the need to raise debt, if it so desired tread this path.

The DY Patil Stadium (once its roof is complete) in Mumbai, Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur and the to-be-finished Pune International Cricket Centre ground in Pune are beacons of hope on the stadium front, however still not enough to give the spectator any hope that their attendance at cricket matches is desired or cherished by the BCCI.

Shocking stadia with poor spectator and player amenities (some of which are described in Aakash Chopra's Beyond the Blues) is by no means the only area of Indian cricket where progress has been non-existent. The issue of a lack of grass roots infrastructure is much larger and its solution requires far more intelligence and application than can be expected of the BCCI's current office bearers. Substandard practice and lodging facilities for Ranji and other domestic cricketers has similarly been paid precious more than lip service by this and previous administrations.

The list of problems is far larger than this one post can handle. It would be too simplistic to suggest a boycott when we are all so eager to catch as much of the action as possible. With the BCCI incapable of hearing anything but the sound of money, does the average fan have another option?

Tell us about your experiences of Indian cricket stadia. What do you like? What don't you like? How would you do it differently?

Continued >> >>

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

India v Australia: He Bangs, He Bangs

I was tempted to add another "he bangs" to the two above, but I decided to spare you the overkill. What is the difference between the pace men representing India and Australia in the this 7 match ODI series? For one, Mitchell Johnson, Peter Siddle and Doug Bollinger are at least 10 km/h faster than their Indian counterparts. Second, they manage to get life out of the deadest of wickets. How? They bang it in.

Javagal Srinath was one of the most successful fast men ever to come of out India because he dug it in and was constantly at the batsmen (it's a separate matter that he would have taken truckloads more wickets had he been a foot fuller in length). When Irfan Pathan started his international career, he achieved success by bowling quick and banging it in. When Ishant Sharma burst onto the scene, he had the best in the business hopping about the crease because he bowled at top pace, with intent and banged it in. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, hitting the pitch hard is the key to a fast bowler's success on all surfaces, most importantly the lifeless variety found in India.

The most common cry from Indian coaches, experts and anybody who thinks he knows something, upon seeing a bowler who bowls faster than 105 km/h is of "line and length". Line and length have their places in the formula for a fast bowler's success, but by no means are they the most important. Nor should they be prescribed in isolation. Just ask Praveen Kumar.

At his fastest Kumar bowls at 130 km/h, moves the ball both ways, and except on the most helpful of pitches, gets hammered. So why is it that every young fast bowler with any semblance of promise and talent is asked to follow a similar path?

Ashish Nehra took Team India and international cricket by storm by bowling over 140 km/h, moving the ball, hitting the pitch hard and making batsmen look silly. Like many young Team Indians, success got to his head, he became lazy and was content to serve the ball to the batsmen on a silver platter at 130 km/h. Nehra is now back, fit and firing. He's bowling with pace, venom and movement. Ditto Zaheer Khan.

Ishant Sharma does not need to traverse this well beaten path. He has more talent than any of his Team India pace bowling colleagues - it's not often Team India is blessed by the presence of a man who can consistently bowl at 145 km/h, move the ball and stun batsmen with bounce. Sharma needs to realise this and follow the lead of Johnson, Siddle and Bollinger. He also needs the older heads in the Indian camp to tell him to let rip like the tiger he once threatened to become and not trundle like the mouse he is currently imitating.

My loathing of Ricky Ponting and dim view of his captaincy skills are well acknowledged. However, the one shining light of Ponting's reign has been his handling of his fast bowlers, particularly Johnson and Brett Lee. Ponting has always asked his bowlers to bowl quick and with aggression. By realising the real strengths of his arsenal, Ponting has helped them punch above their weights. Dhoni and co need to learn this, but only this, from Ponting's book of weak leadership.

I can guarantee India's pace bowling stocks would be in much better health if this structural shift in thinking is implemented. It is a big a shift to undertake and one that needs to start at the top, but the rewards will be well worth the effort.

Continued >> >>

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It Ain't Too Much Of A Good Thing

A seven match ODI series would ordinarily elicit such a label from me. Yes, ordinarily seven matches would have been pronounced two too many, but not this time. Team India's mediocre (if not downright disappointing) performances have left me champing at the bit for a lot more. If I am honest with myself I have to admit that I'm actually really looking forward to the upcoming India v Australia ODI series.

After a few months off the circuit Dhoni's men showed glimpses of form against the abysmal Kiwis and somewhat off-colour Sri Lankans. Team India then treated us to lacklustre performances at the Champions Trophy, which were eerily reminiscent of the 90's with THAT traitor at the helm. I'm not suggesting any hint of match fixing in Team India's recent performances, but after a few years where us fans were convinced that there was still hope after Sachin departed the crease, we seem to have returned to the dark days of a one-man team.

MS Dhoni has achieved success early and often in his tenure thus. He has led from the front and taken the bull by the horns more often than not. He now faces his most significant challenge. Priming a batting order in disarray, whipping a party animal star middle order batsman into shape and galvanising the confidence levels of his pace bowling attack are not tasks easily achieved alone, let alone all at once.

Contrary to popular belief, the Australian ODI team is not struggling to the same extent as it's Test match version. In fact, it's not struggling at all. The Aussies seem to have lost practically nothing in the ODI format, even though the team looks virtually unrecognisable from two years ago. Having studied the Aussies' recent performances Gary Kirsten and Dhoni will know their work is cut out. Lets not beat around the bush, Ponting's Australians are runaway favourites to take this series with a thumping margin.

The loss of coaches who were apparently specialists in disciplines in which Teams India have struggled most does not augur well. The BCCI's deeming of these positions unnecessary and unimportant reeks of arrogance and short sightedness. If nothing else, this irresponsible decision proves that the BCCI's erratic and irrational ways have not mended (the school of thought that believes it will never mend is gaining much traction).

What's with all this doom and gloom, you ask? This is not doom and gloom my friend. This is a crucial juncture in the reign of one of the finest captains ever to lead Team India. This is an opportunity for 'potential' to be realised. This is the moment when Team India begins to sail the ship in the right direction. A direction that will see them standing on the podium as winners of the 2011 ICC World Cup. With all this uncertainty in the air, how could a genuine cricket fan not look forward to this series? All we need now are some fair pitches and riveting cricket.

Continued >> >>

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is This A New Dawn For West Indies Cricket?

Could the thrilling and clinical performance of Trinidad & Tobago in the inaugural Champions League thus be a pointer to a resurgence of the greater West Indies - a resurgence that the cricket world awaits with bated breath? Could the impressive leadership, organisation and commitment exhibited by T&T become a template for the reincarnation of West Indian cricket as a powerhouse once more? But, is it that simple?

Experts more knowledgeable than I have already waxed lyrical about the surprising and successful performance of Darren Ganga's men. Many have hinted that such success may also come to the West Indian team if WICB followed T&T's example. Somehow, this all seems a little too easy and simple, for mine. After all, the Champions League is a domestic tournament. International cricket is a class apart.

Yes, I agree that success comes to those who are well organised, commit their limited resources to the right causes and proactive in their endeavour to raise their own standards. These are some of the reasons why the Australians have ruled the game for a decade and a half. But then we have the likes of England and New Zealand: resourceful, organised and intelligent. These two are everything, but successful.

It is undoubtedly a fact that cricket in the Caribbean will benefit immensely with a WICB that is professional, committed to development and success and less prone to conflict. Clearly, the T&T example is very pertinent. But what about the other component: the X factor that will bind the match winners and the not-so-talented into a cohesive unit and drive them towards a common goal? Nagraj Gollapudi believes that X factor to be Darren Ganga. I'm not so sure.

Glenn Turner undertook this experiment with Lee Germon and achieved disastrous results. It is not necessary that the captain be the best player in the team, but it is true that he must be pretty damn close to it, which is why Ganga is out of contention.

What the West Indies need is a Stephen Fleming, Arjuna Ranatunga or Nasser Hussain. Without leadership of the quality possessed by the aforementioned gentlemen, the many combined strengths of the West Indies will never be effectively harnessed. A return to the charms of Chris Gayle will be akin to stepping back into the dark ages. Aaron has previously mentioned Dinesh Ramdin, but of him the fat lady has still not sung.

Even if the WICB manages to mend its ways in double quick time, the leadership conundrum is of a proportion that all this talk of the renaissance of West Indian cricket will be proved overly optimistic. Until the said renaissance eventuates, lets not get carried away.

Continued >> >>

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Money-Grubbing Is Not The Issue

Greg Baum has a point, but he just goes about making it the wrong way, which is not new for a columnist who, for all intents and purposes, is employed to be sensationalist, for his broadsheet needs this class of diatribe to one-up the senseless drivel that normally emanates from the tabloids. At the heart of the matter: would cricket fans remain fans if their 'marquee' players played for more than one club / franchise / state in search of greater riches?

Admittedly, these are all foreign waters for cricket. A sport that took 20 years to become truly professional (and then only in some countries) is undergoing the most radical restructure it could ever have imagined. Love it or loathe it, but this uncertainty will permeate the air for many years to come. For this, we have only one Lalit Modi to thank.

Prem Panicker tees off on Baum, but IMHO, they both miss the point. It's not the "money-grubbing", per se, that will eject current and future stars from the deep recesses of fans' hearts. It is the divided allegiances they exhibit that will force fans to cringe and, maybe in the most extreme circumstances, disown. Baum, money's got nothing to do with it, mate.

There is no greater example for cricket than football. Football may have 100 times cricket's global reach, but just like cricket it is spread across a number of countries, each with its own culture, history and financial agenda. What is the single most significant characteristic that binds a football fan to their favourite team? The history. The triumphs. The lows. The sense of belonging. The brand.

I am a Manchester United fan. I was a United fan before Cantonna, I remained so after he left. Ditto Beckham. Ditto Schmeichel. Ditto Ronaldo. The point is my allegiance is to the team, not the player. I enjoy the player's skills and the glory he bring to the team while he graces my hallowed turf. I chastise his greed and lack of loyalty when he leaves, but I remain true to my team through thick and thin. It's Marketing 101 folks: it's all about the brand.

International club football is structured such that a player cannot play for multiple clubs simultaneously. It is so because of the integrated nature of the various competitions. An EPL team could theoretically play any club from another national competition in any given year. Hence, the need for a monopoly over players' services to guard against injury, promote team unity and, ultimately, earn a return on the investment.

Cricket is only different in that it doesn't have this integrated approach to global 'domestic' tournaments, yet. The Champions League is a first step to implementing a football-style global structure. However, cricket cannot implement this structure while there exist territorial and financial struggles between franchises and state associations / county clubs / provinces. Below each national board, there can only be one top dog for every pre-defined piece of the cricketing landscape, and guess who they will be? Yup, Lalit Modi's franchisees.

The current cricket structure of disparate domestic competitions allows the Symonds, Flintoffs and Orams of the world to embark on freelance careers. We, the fans, don't mind. We really don't care how many runs Symmo makes for the Cape Cobras in the South African Pro20. Why don't we care? Because, we are not exposed to domestic competitions outside our respective countries. A clear case of out of sight, out of mind.

However, tournaments like the Champions League will change this to some extent. As a Mumbai Indians fan, I'd rather only see JP Duminy play for T20 cricket for my team and not his native Cape Cobras. Hey, I'm possessive about my cricketers, but as a fan I'm allowed to be.

The only way I will get to see this happen is when the franchise owners start realising that their franchise's brand value, merchandising potential and other revenue streams are compromised when 'their' players appear for 'rival' teams. This light bulb is bound to have been lit in the franchise owner's minds after this inaugural Champions League, if indeed it was becalmed up until now. I am convinced that we will soon see an increase in players' salaries as the issue exclusivity of services comes to the fore. In short, from the next round of IPL and other contract negotiations players in the league of Symonds, Flintoff, Bravo, Dhoni and co will paid more in return for offering their skills exclusively to the one franchise. It happens in every other sport, it will happen soon in cricket - mark my words.

From a fan's perspective, this is great news. Fans do not begrudge their sporting stars more money if they can show a modicum of loyalty for a few years and, hopefully, win matches through their brilliance. The franchise owners will be happy for all the extra revenue that isn't flushed down the toilet. So, who loses? You guessed it, the state associations, for who's existence Lalit Modi and his cronies will struggle to find a reason. **Cue Modi's evil laughter**

Continued >> >>

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Are You Still A Fan?

Read the popular cricketing press and you'll find nothing but doomsday predictions pertaining to the future of Test and ODI cricket. Such predictions of death and gore put the greatest horror film directors of our time to shame. If cricket writing were to be given classifications, such commentary would be nothing short of R18+. Are cricket fans really deserting the game in droves? Are you part of the 'once were fans' brigade?

After watching one of the most enthralling global cricket competitions ever played, preceded by a gripping Ashes series and IPL2, I have great trouble believing anyone who proclaims that the older forms of cricket are dead. Hell, even if you didn't appreciate the cricket during the Champions Trophy, surely you were taken by the white jackets presented to the winners?

In all this kerfuffle about the use-by dates of the older formats, why is it that that the likes and dislikes of the nouveau spectator is given precedence over that of the purist? Why must every form of the game conform to the thrill-a-minute expectations of fans with short concentration spans?

It has been said previously and will be repeated ad nauseum in future, any current problem with certain formats of the game have everything to do with the ineptitude of administrators, rather than a fundamental flaw in the format's laws or structure. I do not often insinuate that Sachin Tendulkar is anything but immortal, however he must have been on something pretty potent when he suggested this.

With the Champions League tournament all set to offer cricket fans a viable alternative to traditional national flag-waving contests, we do not need a new format of the game. We need administrators who have the courage to pull their fingers out and learn the art of effective scheduling. As they say, it's not rocket science.

Are you still watching?

Continued >> >>

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Are ODI's A Thing Of The Past?

On The Match Referee's Facebook fan page I recently asked whether there would ever come a time when England could be taken seriously in ODIs. Here, I found my answer. In one fell swoop the Poms have decided that one-day cricket is superfluous to their requirements and clearly not a priority for the future.

I can't help but get the feeling that this is a decision motivated by (wait for it...) financial considerations rather than any stiff-upper-lip English response to the less than pure forms of the game. If it wasn't, why wouldn't they scrap the 40 over competition too?

Given that the ODI Cricket World Cup is going to be around until at least 2015, for that's when the ICC's TV broadcasting deal expires, the Poms have virtually guaranteed their players the most imperfect preparation imaginable for these, still, prestigious tournaments. To be fair, English performances in limited overs cricket have been as inept as the ICC's handling of world cricket over the past decade. The Poms should do us fans a favour and withdraw from future ICC ODI tournaments altogether.

Is the ECB trying to convince the world that ODIs should be reduced to 40 overs or is this decision the strongest hint yet of the imminent disbandment of ODI cricket? What do you think?

Continued >> >>

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is Australian Cricket Missing The Point?

The immediate aftermath of Ashes 09 has predictably seen a flurry of opinions pertaining to everything and anything that may be wrong with Australian cricket. A lot of this noise has been made by the top chiefs and former players about the need to professionalise Australia's selection panel, with Jason Gillespie the latest to proffer his two-cents-worth. However, does a professional panel necessarily improve on-field results or does it just make them more predictable? I put it to you that in its haste to exhibit disappointment and an appetite for change, Australian cricket has simply missed the point.

I believe that Australia's cricket establishment has been blinded by the success of its recent crop of greats and it should have indulged less in self-absorbed back-patting and doffed the Baggy Green more earnestly to pure and unadulterated luck, for good systems and processes may help to produce more consistent cricketers but true greats arrive on our TV screens through nothing more than the grace of God. It is because of this mindset that Australia's most recent loss of The Ashes is being universally attributed to a failure of the system and the real reasons for this loss are being ignored.

I have no quibble with expert's suggestions that the job of an Australian selector (or that of any other top cricketing country, for that matter) is likely too arduous and important to leave to semi-professional part-timers. It should be made a full-time position and in this post-greats era it definitely should have a greater emphasis on early talent identification and promotion. However, this alone is unlikely to take Australia back to the top of the ICC Test rankings.

It is no secret that talking tough (remember mental disintegration), playing aggressively and appearing clinical in all respects was decisively easier with a team that included players of the calibre of Messieurs Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Waugh, Waugh and Hayden. But in the afterglow of their retirements, Australian cricket has developed a severe case of amnesia. It has forgotten its own two golden rules:

1. The brave make their own luck (ie. victory will not be achieved without taking calculated risks); and

2. Aggressive, in-your-face cricket is the Australian way and must be played at all costs.

The reason Australia lost The Ashes is not because the selectors failed to devote enough time to their duties, but because they took the safe and sensible route when the daring and provocative was the need of the hour. The Australian selectors sent a team to England that ticked all the boxes rather than one that was going to take the proverbial bull by the horns. Then, while in Her Majesty's backyard they didn't exhibit the gumption to make changes as and when the situation demanded.

In contrast, the English selectors, contrary to all expectations, resisted the urge for knee-jerk reactions, backed their instincts and took calculated risks (the most decisive being one Jonathan Trott). At Leeds the English could have stacked the team with batsmen, played for a draw and waited for a fit Andrew Flintoff to return at The Oval. Instead, they stuck to their guns and selected a team they thought would win the Test. They traded on aggression throughout.

On the other hand, Australia's selections favoured out-of-form bowlers and was based more on the captain's comfort level with favourite players rather than the conditions at hand or the interests of a balanced team. Is Bryce McGain so inferior to Andrew McDonald that he doesn't even deserve a place in the touring party? Especially after Shane Warne's debut, surely the selectors have learned that one bad debut Test doesn't warrant eternal exile? Is Mitchell Johnson so indispensable that the selectors couldn't bring themselves to cut their losses?

Professionalism is an oft-abused term in cricket these days. Incompetent administrators simply fail to understand that batting, bowling and fielding is an art and not a mathematical equation. It is very easy to wax lyrical about aggression and ruthlessness when the obstacle in your path is not worthy of its title. It requires heightened self-confidence to stick to those guns when the periods between successive chews of the captain's fingernails become shorter and shorter.

Australian cricket administrators must stop hiding behind irrelevant corporate management jargon. Australian cricket needs to rediscover its mongrel and self-worth, for cricket needs a strong and aggressive Australia.

Continued >> >>

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ashes to Ashes: The Aftermath

Well another Ashes series over and I am sure the reviews and respective post-mortems are already under way, at least for the Australian camp. Despite the fifth test being a lop-sided affair and ending inside four days, the 2009 Ashes has been fiercely competitive and both sides have shown glimpses of test cricket worthy of the number 1 test ranking.  

As is the way with all major test series, actions speak louder than words, but in all honesty, which team will undergo severe changes for the future? Ricky Ponting is once again down to his last fingernail in another Ashes series and holds an infamous record, in that he is the first Captain of Australia to lose the Ashes twice since the 1900's! But will it be his minions that will face a wielding axe, or the triumphant English team?

Ashes 2009 has definitely lived up to the hype of another big series ticket with all dramas starting with Kevin Pietersen's injuries, Andrew Flintoff's retirement and an emphatic English win. So this begs the question, where to now for team England? Flintoff retiring, Bopara's barren spell with the bat and a middle order lacking the stability required to sustain positive results. Winning the Ashes is one thing, but for the likes of Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood, the exit door never seems to far away. Other than his Cardiff heroics, Collingwood proved susceptible to the short ball and could never seem to tighten his technique against the Aussie quicks, and Cook's 95 at Lords was the only showing of his true ability with the bat, along with his inability to convert 50 to 100. I cannot see the likes of Ian Bell or Collingwood for that matter holding their places once Pietersen is fit again, and rumours are that selector Geoff Miller is trying to persuade Marcus Trescothick out of retirement, so watch out Alistair Cook. In addition, the stunning debut of Jonathan Trott will certainly dampen Ravi Bopara's spirits, despite carving up a double hundred for Essex mid week.

However, despite this change, everyone knows the biggest impact after this Ashes will be the Freddie factor, how will England replace the versatile all-rounder? The improvement of Stuart Broad with bat and ball will be a positive for the ECB, but is he ready to bat at seven? In addition, England's bowling stocks seem to be hitting their straps at the moment and gentlemen such as Graham Onions, Ryan Sidebottom and Steve Harmison will be chomping at the bit for their future places in the squad.

You would not think a winning team would require such thought and immense change for the future, but what about the Australians? Can we as selection critics really see big 'Merv' wielding the axe on the squad members? As a batting lineup, it's obvious that Australia's batsmen were personally more successful than their English counterparts, but where does the buck stop? Michael Hussey was a big candidate for future omission, however surely his defiant hundred on a deteriorating Oval wicket will guarantee him a spot for the upcoming home series. Furthermore, Shane Watson proved to be a revelation and Marcus North is fast becoming one of my personal favourites and that's not just because of his big Lara-esque back-lift. So where does all this leave the Aussies?

The coming weeks will make for interesting reading, to see where the criticisms will be directed, no doubt Ponting and his inconsistent leadership along with the selectors decision's over the course of the tour will be the initial talk, but I certainly look forward to the upcoming home test series against an improving Pakistan. Until then, readers, your thoughts over the immediate future over the Australian test team personnel would prove interesting, but for me personally, I honestly cannot see much change, unless they start from the very top

Continued >> >>

Monday, August 24, 2009

It's Time To Go, Ricky Ponting

With the cricketing world appearing more like Big Brother, and less like a professional sporting environment, there could not have been another title for this piece. Ricky Ponting has lost The Ashes (for the second time) and must now make good all his and Cricket Australia's claims of professionalism and accountability by falling on his sword. Period.

Ponting's on-field tactical deficiencies, lack of selectorial vision and penchant for acting in a manner unbecoming of the office of Australian captain should have been grounds enough for his removal many moons ago. Just how long can Cricket Australia afford to support a compromised captain?

Playing a clearly out of form Mitchell Johnson after the first three tests was inexplicable, especially when one considers that Johnson has never consistently exhibited the one trait that is necessary to take wickets in England: movement in the air or off the wicket. Not playing the redoubtable Stuart Clark until the fourth Test was simply baffling. Using part-timers when pressing for victory in Cardiff would be considered unforgivable in a schoolboys match. Omitting Nathan Hauritz for the fifth Test even after the home team was considering playing a second spinner should have indicated the nature of the surface and has proven an inexcusable error. Setting defensive fields during the English second innings of the fifth Test when the clear mandate was for aggressive cricket and quick wickets was the sign of a confused and incompetent captain. These are merely five seminal moments that could have produced a different result against an opponent that, unlike 2005, can only politely be described as mediocre.

One of the pitfalls of Cricket Australia's strategy of anointing captaincy successors very early in players' careers is that significant pressure is placed on the incumbent after a string of failures. And what a string of failures it has proven to be - started by India during the second half 2008, continued by South Africa down under and topped off by lowly-placed England in the just concluded Ashes series! For how much longer can Australian cricket risk its next generation in the hands of a severely flawed leader while there is a well-groomed and more able replacement ready and waiting to assume the mantle?

Ian Chappell and even James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's CEO, have offered that Ponting may quit cricket altogether if he is relieved of the captaincy. This appears a sorry and irrelevant excuse for an absence of gumption to take decisions that will benefit Australian cricket in the long term, for the presence, or lack thereof, of an individual should never overshadow the interests of the team. If Ponting does consider retirement upon being sacked then Cricket Australia must ensure that he is appropriately counselled.

However, Ponting is a proud and patriotic Australian and has the best interests of his nation at the core of whatever he does, even if some his means are abhorrently misguided. For this reason and given all that he can still contribute to the team through his batting, I don't buy into the conclusion that Ponting would retire immediately if demoted.

Australia is known for backing out-of-form greats, but a realistic and objective post-series review must only come to one conclusion: that Ponting's days at the helm are well and truly numbered. This exit may not require Gretel Killeen's dramatics, but the writing has now been engraved on the wall - it's time to leave, Ricky Ponting.

Continued >> >>

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Only Road Ahead For Test Cricket (Part 2)

(Click here for Part 1)

Given all the recent and frenzied noises about the future of Test cricket from many that walk the corridors of power of world cricket, the following is the second of a two-part series offering a simple, effective and practical solution to fortify the primacy and sanctity of Test cricket.

While I have significant doubts about the validity of the doomsday theories pertaining to the future of Tests, as I said in Part 1, there is a distinct need to ensure that the game changes to adapt to world that is not what it was in the 1950's. Simple things that are the pet peeves of many cricket fans and that need to be urgently improved, include:

The bane of attacking, entertaining and result-oriented Test cricket, host boards must be punished for deliberately producing lifeless and barren pitches. Test pitches must offer some assistance for bowlers. A century should have to be earned, not just a formality after surviving the first 20 balls of an innings. I'd rather have a Test match that finishes in 3 days than one where it takes 4 days to finish just two innings.

Secondly, it doesn't worry me if the pitches offer spin from Day 1. There is simply nothing wrong with a surface that turns square early in a Test match. Fast bowlers are no more sacrosanct than spinners and administrators must resist the temptation to adopt the antipodean view that the best Test pitch must offer something to fast bowlers during the early stages of a match. If this is possible, then all well and good. But, it should not be mandatory, for spinners are just as important as the quicks.

Why is it that when time is lost due to weather or other unsuitable conditions, breaks for lunch and tea remain unaltered. Would it not make more sense to shorten lunch and tea breaks to maximise playing time? Surely, this is a no-brainer.

Points System
Given that I am proposing a league that will require a points table to decide the winner, the relegated and the promoted. It is crucial that the points system actively encourages attacking and result-oriented cricket. After observing the boring cricket played in first class leagues the world over which offer points for a first innings lead, I am convinced that points for a first innings lead must not be awarded in a Test championship. Instead teams should be awarded 1 point for a draw, 2 points for a tie, 4 points for an outright win and 8 points for an innings victory.

This points system will promote attacking and entertaining cricket and will reward teams and captains who are prepared to take risks.

Ensuring the Presence of the Big Boys
A school of thought in opposition to a league-style Test championship believes that it is important to ensure that the big boys continue to play each other, irrespective of the quality of cricket on offer. You might not be surprised to learn that this is not a view to which I subscribe.

My premise is simple: traditional rivalries attract significant viewer interest, and thereby media coverage, only when the two combatants are well-matched. Case in point Australia and West Indies - the Frank Worrell Trophy was keenly anticipated and contested when the West Indies had a team worthy of their proud history. Now, due to the Windies' unbroken decline this series attracts as much fanfare and media attention as Australia v Bangladesh. New rivalries that capture spectator attention are then developed in place of these former "marquee" series, eg. Australia v India.

Therefore, if a former cricketing superpower is demoted from the "Elite" league, this can only be a sign that that team's standards have nosedived to such an extent that that team's series no longer deserve the viewership or media attention of an era past.

Night Cricket
The issue of night Test cricket is one on which I believe administrators, for all their operational and strategic ineptness, actually have their heart in the right place. The fact remains, however, that the integrity of Test cricket must not be compromised by a move to night time cricket. A large component of maintaining this integrity is ensuring that the ball used for night Test cricket behaves in exactly the same way as the traditional red balls in use today. Since this issue is the most significant impediment to the introduction of night Test cricket, administrators must remain firm demanding a like-for-like product when negotiating with ball manufacturers, broadcasters and sponsors.

What do you think? Are these ideas practical? Are they even necessary?

Continued >> >>

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Problem With Indians

Specifically Indian cricketers, is that they love speaking out of turn. They love to blabber even when they are totally out of their depth, and in an eternal quest to be perceived as intelligent they cloud necessary and invaluable debate by introducing irrelevant and nonsensical arguments. Case in point: Yuvraj Singh, on the issue of WADA-conducted drug testing in cricket.

At the outset, let me categorically state that I am in full support of anti-doping initiatives taken by various sporting bodies the world over. However, it is also my opinion that the 11 Indian cricketers rebelling against WADA's draconian testing conditions have a very valid point.

Forests aplenty have been turned into pulp to print opinions galore on this issue and while I don't intent to be the root cause for the loss of another tree, I must admit that I find it bemusing that the powers-that-be are unable to apply the basic human right of privacy (and to some degree the presumption of innocence) when drafting these contentious contracts. Surely the solution is as simple as demanding a phone number on which the athlete is called 6-12 hours prior to a test so that their whereabouts can be ascertained. Surely?

Alas, I digress. Yuvraj Singh's latest rant about drug testing intruding on his "family" time is a load of utter hogwash for two reasons. First, Yuvraj spends too much time in bars and clubs to have any left to spend with his family. Second, even if this were to be proven false, I fail to understand how a 5 minute process of urinating in a cup detracts from his 'family' life. Some might contend that after spending so much time in various establishments, Yuvraj may have no trouble at all in filling up many little plastic cups.

Like many before him (and probably like many after him,, until a capable media manager is hired by the BCCI) Yuvraj has clearly missed the point. His pals are not arguing against the infamous Whereabouts Clause because of an encroachment on their family time, but because their unplanned schedules do not allow them to nominate times and places three months in advance with much accuracy and because of security implications for some of the 11 nominated individuals.

To understand these valid arguments does not require an inherent knowledge of astrophysics. Harbhajan Singh (who, mind, hardly spoke English prior to 2001) clearly knows what he's on about, why is Yuvraj so in the dark? By spouting rubbish pertaining to irrelevant and unrelated matters Yuvraj has once again provided easy fodder for those oppose the stand taken by the Indian players.

If an individual has a penchant for being seen in the media, is it really so difficult for him to at least understand the issue before opening his mouth? If I were MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar a stern phone call to Yuvraj to keep his trap well and truly shut would already have been made.

Then again, what can we expect from the likes of Yuvraj when BCCI officials embarrass themselves thus, "What's the need for cricket to become an Olympic sport?"

Continued >> >>

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Brit Oval Wicket Widget

Ever wanted a cricket specific app for your desktop that gives you the latest news, the newest videos, the opportunity to buy tickets to the next match and the chance to chat with other cricket officianados? Well the folks at The Brit Oval might just have had had you in mind when coming up with the Wicket Widget.

The Wicket Widget worked well for me. It's a small app that doesn't pretend to be anything but a convenient way for cricket fans in the UK to support keep abreast of the action and indulge their passion. Unfortunately, the downside is that it is only for English / County cricket fans at this stage.

The other unfortunate aspect is that I wasn't able to test the chat feature on this app which allows the user to use an IM-type service to connect with other cricket fans. A good way to create a sense of community would be to allow users, who provide their consent, to be found in a similar way to MIRC or other forums.

Anyway, while I believe there are tentative plans to make this app more relevant to an international cricketing audience, at this time UK cricket fans should go to the link above, download the app and try it out. The news is UK cricket-specific, the videos don't lag and the quality is crystal clear and if you have mates who are into County cricket then the chat function is just for you.

Go on, give it a whirl.

Continued >> >>

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Only Road Ahead For Test Cricket

The columnists here at The Match Referee have had their say (none with more conviction and passion than evident here), many 'experts' have said their two-cents-worth and yet this car struggles to get out of first gear. However, the results of the recent West Indies v Bangladesh series serve to prove beyond doubt that any form of cricket needs equally matched opponents to appeal to the players and the paying public. For this reason and despite their recent victories against a team comparable to a very weak first-class side, Bangladesh and co do not yet belong in the big league.

I don't often agree with many the things Sambit Bal has to say, however here he makes a valid a point. Competition, drama and entertainment in any sport are at their peak when two gladiators of equal skill, temperament and passion battle to the death. Test cricket's (supposedly) waning popularity owes much to the lopsided non-contests greedy administrators have imposed upon players and spectators alike.

Just as an aside, I struggle with theory that Test cricket's popularity is, in fact, waning. I cannot recall meeting a single person who has admitted to switching from watching Test to T20 cricket for the reasons usually provided by naysayers. Most lovers of Tests have supplemented their passion for the game by also watching T20s, and those who solely watch T20 cricket are new fans of the game. This tells me that Test cricket isn't any less popular than the shorter versions, merely that the T20 cricket has achieved administrators' goals of attracting a wider audience.

However, resting on one's laurels is a proven recipe for future disaster and so action needs to be taken now to strengthen all formats of the game. First, the number of Test playing nations must be reduced to a minimum of six and a maximum of eight countries. Six will guarantee that only the best play each other more frequently, however this may lead to a situation where we are fed too much of a good thing. Hence, eight seems a better number.

Secondly, encourage and support the better associate nations to play a greater number of four or five day matches amongst themselves, thereby enabling greater exposure to the nuances of the longer version of the game. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka (in the pre-2000 period) have been great examples of how difficult it is to apply a limited overs mindset to the 5-day version. Many skills, both mental and physical, learned in the longer formats can prove highly advantageous in T20 and ODI cricket.

Third, introduce a two-tiered league / championship where the wooden spooners from the 'elite' league are demoted to the 'associate' league and replaced in the elite league by the corresponding winners of the associate league. To be perceived as relevant and dynamic, each such cycle should be of a duration no longer than two years.

This three-step plan, or a close derivative, has many of the qualities required to make Test cricket attractive and financially viable (because this is pretty much all the ICC cares about, right?) for all stakeholders now and in the future. Other issues also require simultaneous attention, for they are no less important in improving the cricketing landscape. Anyone listening?

Continued >> >>

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Match Referee's Economic Stimulus Handouts

Being the good citizens that we are, we're eager to spread a little cheer during these glum economic times. We have some great The Match Referee gear to give away, including T-shirts, magnets, posters, pens and caps. The biggest prize among them being this:

Yup, you got it - a limited edition (officially licensed one of one, by me) The Match Referee, Obi-Wan Kenobi, number 13 T. Could you possibly hope to win anything more precious!?

To be in with a chance to win, you need to become a fan of The Match Referee on Facebook and post a comment on our wall (an intelligible comment about which of the above items you most desire be of immense assistance).

The draw will be conducted on September 5, 2009, at 12pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time) without the stifling presence of any government observers, however with my guarantee (if that means anything to you) that it will be honest and fair.

Further, any Facebook fan of The Match Referee who convinces a friend to also become a fan, will receive one extra entry into the draw for every friend they convince to become a fan. I'll leave it up to you decide how you wish to inform us the names of friends you've convinced to become fans.

Remember, prizes are limited - there is only one Obi-Wan Kenobe T-shirt - and the interest in this give-away is immense (however, there are other T's and goodies for consolation prizes). Get in quick and persuade your friends to also become fans to have the best chance of snaffling yourself a place in history.


Continued >> >>

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bangas Schooling the Windies!

Bangladesh have swept the test series 2-0 and are now one win away from clinching the three game one day series in the Caribbean. Despite the West Indies not fielding their best XI players due to the pay dispute between the players and the WICB, the Tigers have nonetheless asserted themselves as the superior outfit.

Even if the Windies were to bring together their big names like Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul for the remainder of the series, I personally would rate them better than an even-money chance to win. Team chemistry would certainly come in to question if a complete overhaul of the lineup did change overnight.

With Shakib Al-Hasan playing to his potential and leading the side superbly, Bangladesh now have placed themselves in a perfect position to move forward in leaps and bounds after this tour. Let’s hope for international cricket the Tigers translate these performances to more consistent showings against all test playing nations. We have been promised this on numerous occasions in the past, however you would like to think a 2-0 test series triumph overseas would be that little bit extra to propel the side in the right direction.

For the West Indies, we hope the pay dispute with the WICB goes away as soon as possible so we see the best West Indian line up take to the field in future. And for the players who have competed in this series against Bangladesh, hopefully their taste of international cricket sees them compete strongly for places in future tours.

Despite not recording the victories on the board, the performances of the likes of Omar Phillips, Travis Dowlin and Kemar Roach has been encouraging and we may be able to see them represent as part of the West Indies strongest XI in the near future.

Continued >> >>

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Does It Hurt, Ricky?

Ricky, first they give you out caught when you clearly weren't in the same suburb as the ball, then they fail to pick up a ridiculously obvious no-ball, and to cap their ineptitude, they don't refer the Philip Hughes decision to the third umpire! Doesn't it just feel like your guts have been ripped out, Ricky? Don't you feel oh so cheated, Ricky? I mean, what drugs are these umpires on, right?

Ricky, mate, I feel for you. No, I'm dead serious. I really, really feel for you pal. I mean, you are the epitome of everything it means to play within the spirit of the game, and to have to face such acts of deception and skulduggery, and that too from the captain of the opposition! Rick, I'm lost for words. I mean, could Andrew Strauss not tell that he'd grounded the ball between his very own fingers?

Ricky, in your career you've faced challenges bigger than Merv Hughes, but this is absolutely ludicrous. I mean, what is it about these Poms? They just can't seem to play the game in the right spirit - from bringing on a specialist fielder as 12th man to run you out, to claiming catches of bumped balls - their integrity is as intact as the Titanic.

Geez, I still can't believe these English would have the gall to select a great fielder to be their 12th man. Couldn't they find a bloke who could at least bat and bowl?

Mate, seriously, you handled the situation impeccably on the field today. I mean, even though you're the strongest advocate of taking the fielder's word on dodgy catches, you did really well to tell young Philip that he should stay in his crease, even after Strauss had confirmed the catch. Mate, that right there is a fine display of the art of astute and ethical leadership.

Now that you've probably broken a few chairs, killed a few bats and generally spat the dummy in the dressing room during the luncheon break, I just want you to know that you shouldn't question Andrew Strauss' integrity during the press conference. I mean it's really not his fault that he's really South African, right? Mate, in fact, you need to use those Popeye forearms of yours to personally eject any journalist who poses you a question about Strauss' integrity. After all, journalists are only ever about causing you trouble, right? What good have they ever done you, mate?

Mate, make sure you give those umpires hell - I know you will, because there's absolutely nobody in the business better at it than you. Oh, and Ricky, don't listen to them when they tell you that you've got sour grapes when you call for Rudi Koertzen and Billy Doctrove's sacking. After all Ricky, what would they know about how much it hurts to lose a Test to a team of cheats and two blind blokes.

You're a top bloke Ricky. I can't believe great blokes like you have to live in such an abhorrent and cunning world. You're a legend mate and you don't deserve to be treated this way.

Give it to 'em Ricky! Give 'em hell.

PS. Ricky, if you need remind yourself of exactly what happened, have another look:

Continued >> >>

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The 'People's Hero'. Are You Convinced?

Freddy's gone. In similar style to that in which Steve Waugh announced his retirement just prior to the India series of 2003-04, Andrew Flintoff has kicked the bucket on his test cricket career, one match into the Ashes series.

Flintoff will officially be finished with test cricket after the second test at Lord's, which commences today, 10:00 GMT.

But what of it? Should we be saddened? confused? angered? in hysterics? or should we even care? I'm not sure. Flintoff's career has ebbed and flowed, due much to his attitude off the field impacting his on-field performance and relationships off it. Leading up to the 2005 Ashes and his performance in that series, Flintoff showed class, comparable to best allrounders to have played the game.

Since then, Flintoff has spent more time nursing injuries and being disciplined than playing competitive cricket. And when the 'People's Hero' has taken to field, his performances have not done justice to his ability, and has frequently seemed indifferent to his form and the impact it has on his fellow teammates.

I would like to open this forum to those who hold an opinion of Flintoff: the player, the joker, and now according to Ponting, the star of the "Circus". Should he be applauded or made to walk the Gauntlet of Shame? As I said earlier, I'm just not sure. The jury is certainly out.

What do YOU think?

Continued >> >>

Friday, July 03, 2009

ICC Chief calls for his own assassination

Well, not literally, but he might as well have done. The ICC president's, David Morgan, call for four-day test matches has provided further evidence of the incompetence of our sport's leading body.

This latest rant coming out of London has done much to make one believe that the loonies in the ICC need to be purged, and for the organisation to start from square one. If the issue here is that crowds aren't gathering to the five-day format currently in place, what does Morgan believe removing one day will change? He might as well remove all forms of the game barring T20s.

I can see evidence that could possibly support the ICC's case. Crowd statistics in several test series have been worth concern: England v/s West Indies, New Zealand v/s Anyone (except India). But the common denominator in these cases is that the cricket being played is boring. With New Zealand it is impossible to tell whether they will get past three days, as has been evident in recent series with Australia. As for the West Indies, well we all know what their captain's thoughts are regarding this format of the game. And we haven't even discussed the role the minnows will play if this idea were to become a reality. These issues only go further to highlight the fact that the problem isn't in the format, but the loss of inspiration and a certain level of incompetency of some nations when it comes to the purist form of cricket.

This problem doesn't exist when India, Australia, South Africa or Sri Lanka play. Why? I would suggest that it is a case of greater enjoyment and understanding of what the game has to offer. When one does watch one a test series involving these teams, at no stage does one get the feeling that the match let alone the series will peter out to a no result. That is why the people flock through the gates in their numbers to watch the spectacle they put on for the whole test match. It is this passion and conviction which has made test cricket so beautiful since the MCC has been the guardian of since 1787. If so-called professionalism requires the fundamental organ of our sport to be dismantled piece-by-piece, we have a serious problem. What has stood strong for this length period can surely not be subjugated to this type of measure to ensure the future of our sport. This is not the way.

The majority of stakeholders in cricket have opted to remain mostly silent on the matter, waiting for developments before making any substantive statements. The most public outcry has come from former Pakistani captain, Javed Miandad. Miandad believes "there will be no difference among mediocre (teams) and an experienced side if we see four-day test matches." Miandad's theory holds much truth. For instance, how many times have we seen Sehwag and Gambhir bat India through two full sessions, leaving the middle order to score a monumental total by the end of the a second day's play. Then how can Chief Morgan even envisage the possibility of obtaining a result from the match.

I will wait in hope that sanity prevails in this matter, and the real issues surrounding test cricket, some of which I have highlighted in this article, are solved. And on the matter of the ineptitude of the ICC, though assassination may not be the best policy, a clean slate with a fresh board is well overdue.

Continued >> >>

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Public Service Announcement: Charity Ashes For The Everyman Male Cancer Campaign

From The Village Cricketer:

"Next Monday 29th June, Barnes CC in London will host the ultimate pre-Ashes encounter: The Village Cricketer's English All Stars v the Cricket with Balls Aussie Code of Conduct XI.

Starting at 3.30pm, its a 30:30 match to raise funds and awareness for the Everyman Male Cancer Campaign, part of the Institute of Cancer Research.

More information is available on the game here and donations can be made here.

Also, please be aware that Jrod, the big cheese of Cricket with Balls, is still looking for Aussies (or pretend Aussies) to make up his side. Anyone fancying a game should email

We'd be really grateful for a plug for the match if possible.


The Village Cricketer"

Continued >> >>

Monday, June 22, 2009

Where To Now For Team India?

As I write this Pakistan are on the brink of cleaning up Sri Lanka for not very many in the final of the World Twenty20 and as much as I'd like to think that this will be an easy chase, every shred of logic tells me that the fat lady hasn't quite reached the microphone. Alas, this is not about the Lankans or the Pakis, this is about MS Dhoni's Team India and where they are headed after the debacle that was their World T20 campaign. Would it surprise you to know that I firmly believe this reversal will do Team India a world of good in the long run?

There is at least one virtue Team India can take from each of the two World T20 finalists. From Sri Lanka we need to learn that specialists will win you more matches than bits-and-pieces players in any format, on any surface (yes, I consider Ravindra Jadeja a bits-and-pieces player at this point in his short career).

For far too long Indian cricket has been obsessed with trying to find the next Kapil Dev, or the spin version of Kapil Dev (remember what Greg Chappell did to Irfan Pathan). If it is accepted that a Sachin Tendulkar is born once every 1000 years, is it not time that we also conceded that a Kapil Dev might take at least another 100 years to arrive? In the meantime lets utilise the services of capable and proven specialists (eg. Pragyan Ojha and RP Singh), especially when they are in rare form.

In most situations I'm loathe to suggest that we should be learning anything from Pakistan, for everything in that country, including the success of its cricket team, appears to occur through pure chance. However, there are a few reasons they've made it further than Team India in this tour. One of them being Younis Khan's open challenge to his senior players to stand up and be counted - and boy have the said players they sprung out of their chairs.

Experienced players are held in high regard because they have faced many tough situations and, sometimes, helped their side come out on top. They have the skills and temperament to cope with adversity and use it as a spur for success. Senior players are not in the team to coast through important tournaments and leave the grunt work to the kids.

Too many Indian teams have treated their experienced players as sacred cows, instead offered promising, but unproven, youngsters as sacrifice. I thought this protectionist attitude was slowly being phased out during the early periods of Sourav Ganguly's revolutionary reign and I was sure that it had definitely been confined to the annals of nostalgia under Dhoni's stewardship. Unfortunately, the pressure of a do-or-die match saw this defeatist attitude make a telling comeback. It has been said ad infintum, but for the record Yuvraj Singh should have been given an opportunity to drag his team out of a hole and gone in at four (if for nothing else than to make up for his abysmal and forever plummeting fielding standards).

India's fielding also requires a change in attitude, and I don't think that this area has received quite the attention it should have from the inept and desperate Indian media. I almost blew my lid when I read that Dhoni doesn't believe his team will ever become the world's best fielding side. An attitude as shocking as this will only serve to ensure that Team India's fielding continues to lose them games. Mahendra, son, set you goals high and you might end up somewhere in the middle - it's a proven rule that you need not attempt to disprove.

The promising aspect of the aftermath was that, unlike many of his predecessors, Dhoni has owned up to his errors. His admission implies that he is still humble enough to accept that he has much learning to undertake on the art of leadership and he is open to mending his ways.

It is this focus on continued improvement and his calm demeanour in victory and defeat that gives me unbounded hope for the short to medium term future of Indian cricket. Let's face it, for all the protestations to the contrary of various players and administrators, the World T20 is all fun and games, for us spectators and the players. The real World Cup involves 50 overs per side and it is the real World Cup through which the players' limited overs reputations are built and destroyed. For this reason I'm happy that this meek surrender has taken place now, rather than in the subcontinent in 2011.

There is plenty of time between now and 2011 for Suresh Raina to learn how to handle the short ball. There is plenty of time for the likes of Ravindra Jadeja to learn how to hit big, consistently. There is plenty of time for MS Dhoni to steel his young charges to cope with the pressure of expectation and enjoy the transformation from hunter to the hunted.

Believe not the doom and gloom spouted by your resident hack. Keep the faith and back your Team India for good times are sure to return - soon.

Continued >> >>
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