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 >> >>
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