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 >> >>
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