Monday, January 26, 2009

Pakistani ICL Players On The Warpath

And about time too, if I say so myself. Word has it that all Pakistani ICL players who have been barred from representing their provincial sides, and therefore ineligible to represent their country, are taking legal action against the PCB for denying them the right to earn a living as and where they see fit. That this class of legal action was inevitable was quite obvious, however, this particular comment brought a wry smile to my face:
"Sources say that the PCB itself is interested in removing the ban from its players for appearing in the rebel league and wants the cricketers to initiate legal action so that the board will have grounds to reinstate them without losing face in front of the ICC or the Indian Cricket Board."

When was the last time an administrator coerced legal action upon itself to fight a third, and seemingly omnipotent, third party. The PCB receives no favours from the BCCI, yet the Pakistanis see fit to cow-two to the BCCI's every whim so as not to lose face. That's almost as inexplicable as Andrew McDonald being selected to play Test cricket.

While I have not had any exposure to Pakistan's employment laws, I don't imagine that they are so well developed as to allow the courts to compel the PCB to re-admit the banned players. However, we all know back-room deals hold precedence over the constitution in Pakistan and the courts will, in some way shape or form, find in favour of the dissenting players.

The question then becomes, what then will the BCCI do? Throw money at the PCB and bully them into enforcing an unwritten rule that ensures that ICL players remain ineligible to play international cricket? Probably.

A more pragmatic and practical solution would be to institute a total revamp of the domestic cricketing structure in almost all countries, an amalgamation of the various rival competitions and the inclusion of all forms of domestic cricket.

It will be an arrangement where franchises (if that is the chosen model) buy players who play solely for them, unless called up for national duty. A situation similar to international football where a Brendan McCullum would play only for Otago, or New South Wales, or the Kolkata Knightriders, not all three. This structure will require extremely tight management by the national boards and a water-tight contract which forces a player's employer / owner / franchise to release them for national duty, when asked by the national board.

International football has gone half way to this ideal world. However, it too has fallen prey to the power of those that wield the wads of cash. A power that has turned most international matches into mere exhibition games.

This idea is not revolutionary, nor is it ground-breaking. However, a successful implementation will require sleeves to be rolled up and noses to be put out joint. It will also require a resolute and strong-willed ICC to uphold the primacy of international cricket, particularly Test cricket, in concrete deeds and not just cheap words. Such a structure would also need to be accepted and championed by the BCCI (for obvious reasons) if it is to become, first a reality, then a success.

Quite frankly, the current office-bearers of the BCCI and the ICC have far too many political and personal agendas and are far too prone to severe bouts of greed for this to happen during their time in office.

Anyone willing to join forces to start a cricketing revolution?

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Continued >> >>

Manchester United: Champions Of The Future

The best is yet to come.

Foster, Rafael, Fabio, Evans, Ronaldo, Anderson, Possebon, Nani, Rooney, Welbeck. This teams would send shivers down anyones spine, not just yours. Not only because they are Machester United players, but worringly for opposition supporters, this will be the team that will grace our world in the years ahead.

This team not only has flair but it also has grit. Anderson will develop over time to become the worlds best play maker, his passing is on par with Barack Obama's eloquence and his defensive game is not to far behind, the fact that he has been able to shut down Gerrard regularly is testament to this. Over time we will see Anderson develop into the Scholes mould, dictating the game and scoring at will. He will be partnered by Possebon who is a Carrick clone. Flank these two with Ronaldo and Nani and need I say more?

Rafael, Fabio and Evans will form the blockade to United's goal. Evans would walk into any other team, Rafael and Fabio will change the role of Fullbacks as drastically as Gilchrist changed the role of a wicketkeeper in cricket. There attacking intent is second to none and combined with Ronaldo and Nani on the flanks, will be unstoppable.

The fact that United have such a young, dynamic and vibrant squad is testament to the transfer policy that the gaffer has had in place for some years now. Unlike Chelsea, who tried to build a team of champions, United have built a champion team. Unlike Liverpool who can't tell the difference between a good player and a dud, United have picked young quality time after time and unlike Arsenal, who pick young players with the determination of a two year old, United have picked players with grit and flair.

The situation has become so dire for the other 'big 3' clubs, that unless they start to get some decent young talent in the near future, the future for the rest of the world could be two words, Manchester United, for no number of Ballacks and Decos will be able to counter the well molded, solid and flamboyant team that Sir Alex would have built up over the years.

Champions of England, Champions of Europe, Champions of the World, we might as well add Champions of the Future to the list.

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Continued >> >>

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Next Big Thing: Shakib Al-Hasan

Bangladesh cricket is going through somewhat of a growth phase at present. This may seem a bizarre statement, given 2008 yielded 8 losses and a rain-affected draw in 9 tests and 5 wins from 26 one dayers for the Tigers, with 3 of those wins coming against Ireland. Despite this, the more important sign over the past year has been the improved ability of the Tigers to remain competitive for sustained periods in games, despite losing the majority of their encounters. The player who has led the charge on most occasions is 21 year old bowling all rounder, Shakib Al-Hasan.

Al-Hasan’s stocks are rising and rising at a rate where cricketing experts are even regarding him the best left-arm spinner in the world. Based on current form, he is one of the top 5 all-rounders in the game and would be a strong case for an Asia XI selection.

In 2008, in 8 tests (15 innings), he scored 414 runs at a solid 29.57 average with 2 fifties. His 96 on New Year’s Eve against Sri Lanka was almost enough to carry Bangladesh to the world’s biggest successful run chase, with the Bangas ultimately falling 108 runs shy of their gigantic 521 run target. His bowling in 2008 was the major highlight with 30 wickets in 12 innings @ 25.76, the highlight of the year being his amazing 7/36 in the first innings of the first test at Chittagong which skittled New Zealand for 171. Shakib nearly propelled Bangladesh to victory with the Tigers falling an agonizing 3 wickets short in their quest after setting the Kiwi’s a 317 run target (incidentally resulting in their highest successful test run chase).

In ODIs, Shakib impressed with 408 runs @ 24 in 18 innings with the bat. Given the Bangas propensity to be 4/20 off 10 overs on a regular basis, Al-Hasan has regularly contributed in rear guard knocks. His 108 off 120 balls against Pakistan in Multan was an absolutely brilliant display, guiding his side to 210 after being 4/16 at one stage. The fact Mashrafe Mortaza’s 38 runs at number 10 was the second highest score of the day just shows the load Al-Hasan had to carry for his nation on this occasion. Shakib also took 22 wickets @ 33.45 in 19 innings with the ball last year.

He has taken his form into the New Year and in the tri-nations series involving Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, which completed earlier this month in Bangladesh, the 21 year old was named player of the series. The masterful 92 not out, off 69 balls in the final preliminary round game against Sri Lanka, which propelled his team to victory with 5 wickets in hand and more than 7 overs to spare, was the innings of the tournament. His 2/22 from 10 overs that nearly saw the host nation to victory in the final was also an exceptional effort.

Shakib Al-Hasan is only 21 years old, a point which can be overlooked in assessing cricketers on the world scene amongst their peers. Given his side has a fair share of underachievers, their will be a load of expectation whenever he graces the turf to do battle. Through his match turning innings and bowling spells, Al-Hasan has shown the ability to handle pressure on the biggest stage which sets him in great stead for the future.

With many years of cricket ahead for Shakib Al-Hasan, we hope that his teammates can also step up their game to create a generation of success in Bangladesh cricket. Mohammed Ashraful and co, you have a match winner in your team, please support him.

Continued >> >>

Andrew Symonds Lets Rip

On Brendan McCullum:
"lump of sh*t"
And get this, on Matthew Hayden's wife Roy believes "a side glance":
"helps the meal go down amply well"

Those familiar with the Andrew Symonds situation will be familiar with his 4 misdemeanors in a hundred and forty-odd days. This latest slurring rant on national radio surely is the end of his Cricket Australia contract. Surely.

However, we all know that for all its political correctness Cricket Australia needs a winning Australian cricket team and the chances of that happening increase many-fold when Andrew Symonds is in the line-up. For this reason, and this reason alone, Symonds will get a slap on the wrist - a fine of some hefty description and a much smaller pay cheque next season.

This issue, however, brings up another important far more important issue about today's sports stars - the fact that watching the proverbial paint dry is likely to be more entertaining than listening to their banal answers to any range of rhetorical questions.

People like Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden (remember the "obnoxious little weed" episode, one the very same radio station it must be added) bring good value and character to the game. They must be encouraged to speak their minds about a whole host of issues, including their best pals' wives. I can only imagine that she is secretly quite chuffed by Roy's compliment. However, we are yet to see exactly how chilled Roy's next beer at the Hayden household is likely to be.

In today's PC world we must appreciate such candidness. Andrew Symonds may be the epitome of the new-age bogan (bogans without pot bellies), but his outlook on life must be heralded by all and sundry and held up as an example of all things that are good to all future sports stars.

Just as an aside, I wonder at the type of glances he has been giving his ex-best mate's fiancé, Lara Bingle. Now that would make for an interesting show down.

Listen to this path-breaking "interview"
and make up your own mind.

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Continued >> >>

NSW's McCullum Gamble Flops

There's something about this summer of cricket in the land down under: it's tight, it's thrilling and there's plenty of drama for the initiated and even those not so. So it was last night at the old Sydney Football Stadium, that Victoria were beaten by an errant umpire, (what turned out to be) an international publicity stunt and some nervy fielding during the closing stages.

Brendan McCullum's start to his one-off KFC Big Bash appearance (see video below) had all the signs that it would end in the Vics being owned and then running to Cricket Australia with complaints of cheating and general skulduggery. Thankfully for everyone involved, especially Cricket Australia, McCullum's cameo had a negligible impact on otherwise great advertisement for cricket.

However, while NSW's tactical signing was a great example of smart administrating and officialdom (now how often do we give away that gong?), it raises the question of which team a player belongs to in this (soon to be) age of global T20 competitions. Fast forward a few years when New Zealand teams are eligible to compete in Lalit Modi's T20 Champions League, Otago makes it to the big stage as do NSW and the Kolkata Knightriders - who owns McCullum?

IMHO, as far as the history of cricket will judge it in a few decades time the current tussle between the banned ICL players and the BCCI is a very minor non-event, for the very reason that fight is akin to David and Goliath. The tipping point will shift dramatically as soon as a big egotistical magnate suffers the 'embarrassment' of having a player for who he paid millions at a cattle call, is ordered to pay for a lowly provincial team to which he originally belonged. Money, in large proportions and flung by the right people, changes everything.

It is for a similar reason that his multi-structured domestic model will not work. The convergence of traditional domestic cricket with the new and glitzy franchise model will happen, and it will happen quickly. There's simply not enough money for it to be a win-win situation for the wealthy businessmen and the poor state / provincial cricket associations.

When the big fat boys with the largest cheque books in the land do take over, what happens to international cricket, and moreover, the "primacy of Test cricket". Given the current quality of clowns administrators that have been thrust upon this great game, I think we will be forced to ask ourselves, "Primacy? What primacy?".

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Continued >> >>

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's Not About Twenty20

My previous post in relation to one-hit-wonder / baseballer Australian cricket's latest new kid on the block, David Warner drew this response from a loyal reader who goes by the name Kebab. I get the feeling that my point about inept administrators at the end of the said post sent confused signals about my view on T20 cricket.

I want to set the record straight for Kebab and our other loyal readers who took umbrage at my apparent disdain for T20 cricket. Just as an aside, it seems obvious to me that Kebab in particular is still young at heart and impervious to the ways of the devious and crooked (read: BCCI office bearers and ICC board dimwits).

The problem is not with T20 matches, as such. The danger lies in the unending greed of cricket administrators. An affliction which will eventually force them to do away with "real cricket" in favour of the popcorn variety. Not a single cricket fan could argue that the last two Test series involving Australia or the previous two ODI's between Australia and South Africa have been anything short of champagne cricket - T20 eat you heart out.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy T20 and the IPL just as much as the next man and his dog (anybody know where I can get an authentic Mumbai Indians shirt from?). But, it's no different to the the latest chart-busting pop song - you get utterly sick of it after a short while and wait for the next big thing.

Longevity demands substance - T20 lacks it in abundance.

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Continued >> >>

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Cricket Or Baseball?

It was played at the G. There were no pitching mounds in sight. Carlton Mid's won the day over hot dogs with mustard and ketchup. However, doubts abound as to which bat and ball game David Warner was playing. Was it cricket or baseball? You tell me:

In this age of thrills and spills does it really matter? Was Twenty20 not created to ensure that bat always won over ball? Planting of the feet to aid a free and uninhibited swing is not a new phenomenon. Just ask the butcher Virender Sehwag:

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Continued >> >>

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Demise of a Giant

The South Africans have thrilled the cricketing world with a persistent, never-say-die attitude, which has re-ignited the true essence of test cricket. The list of memorable individual performances runs long, and this test series will go down in history as the key point in history when the Australians lost their reign at the apogee of test cricket. The ICC rankings do not agree with this conjecture, but increasing tension with Cricket Australia would say otherwise; as would Peter English.

The Australians fall from grace had begun in the Sydney test against India, where Australia's on-field conduct was brought into disrepute by many prominent cricketing figures, including well-respected cricket journalist, Peter Roebuck. Roebuck identified key senior players, including Ponting, Clarke and Hayden, for their,
narrow and self-obsessed viewpoints...and conduct at the end. When the last catch was taken they formed into a huddle and started jumping up and down like teenagers at a rave.

In 2008, it must be duly noted that except for the Sydney test, Australia was only victorious against the bottom three ranked test nations, West Indies, New Zealand and Bangladesh, respectively. That in 2008, barring the most contentious test match in recent history, the official number-one test team was unable to come up victors against any serious contenders. It is a definite worrying sign for Australian cricket. And on the same token, a very promising sign for international cricket to see South Africa and India testing their mettle against Australia and come through victorious with conviction and valour. And in doing so have begun a new era in world cricket where the tussle for numero uno consists of two nations, neither of which is Australia.

Even if one was to put aside the slow descent of the Australian team, personnel issues within their ranks have arisen. The most publicized being the demotion of Andrew Symonds just prior to the arrival of the Bangladesh team to Australia. This spate of misdemeanours put him out of favour of senior team members, including best mate Michael Clarke. The future of Symonds in the Australian team, given his current injury and the performances put together by Shane Watson, seems very murky.

Added to this was the brief falling out between Ponting and Lee in the Mohali test, where Lee was denied the ball by his captain. Although this spat eventually died, it raised questions of disorder between the senior men in the Australian outfit.

The year has been a telling one for Australia. Their Test crown lies precariously on the edge of the cliff with South Africa and India snapping aggressively at the base in great anticipation. The spirit in which they play the game was brought into question. The senior players misfired on a consistent basis. The selectors have been found out with controversial selection policies. And the captain has been accused of losing his sting. Will 2009 promises more? We'll have to wait and see.

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Continued >> >>

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Pietersen & Moores Situation Spiraling Out Of Control

So it is being widely reported across the cricketing press corps. The blood between the two is so poisonous that Peter Moores may even be replaced in the next few days. This whole fracas is beginning to sound increasingly akin to salacious subcontinental skulduggery than a traditional and a proper British disagreement between two noble gentlemen. One can only assume that the flamboyant English captain has become quite adept in the ways of his pals in the media.

Various media outlets are reporting that Pietersen and even some senior players (does that term ring a bell?) in the England camp believe Graham Ford is currently the best coach in old country. What is it about the Poms and their love of South African coaches?

Curiously though, Ford is believed not to be on the ECB's shorlist of replacement if the blue between Pietersen and Moores cannot be resolved. By drawing up this shortlist, the ECB has already conceded that the captain is more valuable the coach. Is the non-inclusion of Ford a deliberate action on the part of the ECB to ensure that Pietersen does not wield power disproportionate to his position?

Moores' ouster would be an admission on the ECB's part that they got it horribly wrong after Duncan Fletcher was sacked. Would it not seem logical that the board then take the opportunity, especially with an upcoming opportunity to sink a boot or three into the appalling Aussies, to start with a blank canvas and appoint a man widely regarded as the finest in the land? Surely, the continued success of the team takes precedence over limiting the political power of one man?

Maybe my contention is far too simple or maybe this is simply another example of short-sighted and inept administration.

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Continued >> >>

Friday, January 02, 2009

South Africans Bringing Sexy Back

With the help of former English spinner, Jeremy Snape and his sports management research company - Sporting Edge. Through a sensational body of analysis Snape and his cohorts have deduced that the South Africans have been successful in 2008 due to their "watertight shot selection" and focussing on that totally sexy of cricket basics "occupying the crease for session after session". Did the Aussies build their 16 match winning streaks on loose shots? WTF!!

In another case of psychology gone mad, Snape propels Morne Morkel's performances to new heights by telling him that:
"...he is the managing director of Morne Morkel Ltd, and that everything he does, whether it be training, nutrition, or mental preparation, will affect his share price."

The global financial crisis would quite obviously have been avoided if Snape had been able to provide such a succinct explanation on the workings of the share market.

What should Matthew Hayden Ltd to to overcome its current predicament I wonder? Simply scoring more runs would be far too simple, no?

Continued >> >>

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Simply A Matter Of Time & Genes

Modern corporations are hell bent on creating systems and processes that will outlast their best and brightest people. The South African cricket side attempted to employ a similar philosophy during the 90's under Hansje Cronje, only to be labeled machine-like, boring and most devastatingly, chokers. Greg Chappell, that-all Australian taskmaster, attempted to a similar strategy with Team India, only to be ignominiously slapped out of the country.

Such major capitulations can only point to one thing - that mechanically perfect process cannot trump individual brilliance, on a cricket pitch. The Australians have relied on "backing themselves" for the previous 20 years and look at the results it has brought them. Sure, they had processes, systems and a verse from Underneath the Southern Cross, but above all they had natural talent of which even they were sometimes ashamed.

So it is, Ricky Ponting's new look Aussies will keep losing. They will lose until another great spinner is conceived by a cricketing structure that is undoubtedly one of the best there ever has been. They will keep losing until they can find another beefy opener who scares bowlers into submission. They will keep losing, until they can find a captain prepared to take risks, to put his money where his mouth is and above all, to nurture and cajole his wards.

Greg Baum said it perfectly:
"Since, Australia's fortunes have waned, gradually and inexorably. This is a phenomenon as old as time itself, and as predictable; it is the cycle of success. The fact that it has taken so long to turn again led Australians falsely to believe that it could be stalled forever."

It is indeed sad to see such a ferocious champion abdicate so meekly. A strong Australia is as necessary as a proud England and powerful India for cricket to become the entertainment product it wants to become. Unfortunately, instead of smelling Antipodean blood the Poms can only manage another petty squable and it will be some time yet before the Aussies cease their internal blood-letting after what is likely to be a whitewash after Sydney.

As Baum says, there is no point apportioning blame to Matthew Hayden or Andrew Symonds. Both of their egos became so large that such dramatic falls to earth were always on the cards. The Australian management must take responsibility for not staying true to reputation (remember Border, Waugh x 2, Taylor and Healy) and wielding the axe much earlier.

This is the time to wipe the slate clean. Do what the South Africans did with Graeme Smith. Give Michael Clarke a blank canvas on which to chart his own course and then stick by through the thick and thin. Even if Baum is right and Michael Clarke is unprepared, there simply is no better place to learn, than in the deep end.

The proverbial bullet must be bitten. The old casualties of war must be cleaned out at the first opportunity. A new general must take command while he can still learn from the few remaining old heads in his midst. This is not the time for Australian cricket to hope and pray. The men in charge must prove their hardness and take decisive action to avoid a period of prolonged mediocrity.

After all, cricket is in a stiff battle for the entertainment dollar. Right?

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Continued >> >>
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