Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ever checked out on that notion with stats?

I did today, in order to confirm something I believed about NZ skipper Steven Fleming. Here's what resulted.

India get the World Cup in 2011, Aus in 2015, Eng 2019

No I'm not posing as Nostradamus, nor am I busting some secret tournament fixing by ICC. That is not my take on World Cup winning teams from the future. It's just the distribution of future Cup hosting rights as announced by the ICC today.
Bad luck Punter and Straussie, but you'll never get to play a World Cup at home!
Oh - what about Jammy? By the way do you remember that Rahul Dravid made his ODI debut in the Singer Cup Tourney at Singapore in India's first match following that Eden 1996 semi-final defeat to Sri Lanka? After his 1st two matches I faintly recall a friend getting amused at this new player who "keeps batting rock solid before getting out for these 3's and 4's".
It's been 10 years of 'wall'ing since narrowly missing out on a home World Cup. So what are his chances of featuring in the 2011 World Cup as a player?
If you ask me the chances are bleak, real bleak.....

Friday, April 28, 2006

The 15 day retirement

Blink and you’ll miss it,” went Cricinfo’s "All Today’s Yesterdays" column today. For a moment I mistook it for a reference to Shahid Afridi’s 15 day old retirement that got reversed today. It seems only a few hundred left-button clicks since I read Osman Samiuddin’s breaking news about Afridi withdrawing himself from Test matches. The wise man that he is, Osman remembered to add these last moment prophetic words before rounding off his article:
“Given the sudden timing of his announcement, however, and the fierce speculation now surrounding the circumstances of his axing from the last Test, it is unlikely that we have heard the last of this.”

Bukhari, secretary of Afridi’s home association KCCA, hints at a disappointment at being an in-and-out member for too long. "It was unfortunate that Shahid was sidelined from the Pakistan team for quite some time before he staged an exciting comeback. He appears to be upset after being dropped in the recent Kandy Test against Sri Lanka.”

A few days back we also had this stereotypical ‘unnamed’ official (there are millions of them crowding the corridors in the subcontinent) throwing his unstated weight in by confirming Afridi’s reasons of retirement:
"This has come as quite a surprise although he intimated that he was not up for the Sri Lankan tour saying that he had played too much cricket. He actually asked to be left out of the Test side at Kandy."

Osman read the game well. One can sense that half-smile of his tearing through the pages as he now writes:
“Less than a fortnight after announcing a surprise retirement from Test cricket, Shahid Afridi has reversed his decision following talks with Shaharyar Khan, the Pakistan Cricket Board chairman and Bob Woolmer, the Pakistan coach. “
PCB chairman Shahriyar Khan has come out with his interesting thoughts on the possible reason behind the original Afridi decision. "I don't think it was due to any differences within the team. I think he felt the pressure of having to perform for a crowd every time he went to bat. In Faisalabad and Karachi recently the ovation he has got has been absolutely phenomenal. Some English players told me when they played in Karachi they'd never seen the type of reception Afridi got when he came out to bat. In Faisalabad, people left the stadium when he was out."
Now here’s the curious part: Pakistan skipper Inzamam does not get a mention in the coverages dealing with Afridi and his retirement since Afridi mentioned having spoken to him about the matter while announcing his hiatus. I checked it out with an article search on Cricinfo archives. Inzamam, till the moment I write this, continues to stay out of the loop even as we learn of Afridi reversing his ‘retirement’ decision.
Everyone involved with the career of Afridi – Bukhari, Shahriyar Khan, Bob Woolmer – has issued statements urging the allrounder to reconsider but not Inzamam. Do we assume that he has only this uneasy silence to offer on the issue or is Pakistan cricket growing used to giving him a cold shoulder off the cricket field? “Perhaps Inzamam does not exactly welcome Afridi back with open arms in his Test team,” some unnamed source may be itching to come up with this quote. Seriously though, anyone used to the ways of cricket in the sub-continent will suspect a hidden angle to it.
To be fair to the Pakistan captain he had issued a formal reaction on the matter to the media: "I would not like to create any pressure on him to do something he does not want to do at this stage." Even so, this is hardly the father figure that broke his silence during the Shoaib Akhtar issue less than a year ago and aired his views on the errant champion with an aim to align the bowler’s personal aspirations to the team’s cause.
Frankly these are mere speculations that are part and parcel of any contention. Circumstances often invite people to read more into some words, and silences, than they should. Pratyush Khaitan interpreted the Afridi retirement thus. Why, this could even be a mid-career ‘brand valuation’ exercise carried out by an unintroduced canny person behind the popular Afridi personality, a smart celebrity that intends to assess the quantum of hay that can be made while the sun shines on his cricket career.
Afridi knows his body and its requirements better than anyone else. He has a good chance of lenthening his ODI career by opting for Test retirement and that may not be a dumb move at all. We all are aware of the popularity (and consequently, brand value potential for its stars) that one-dayers enjoy in these parts. Ajay Jadeja could never cement his Test place and has last played international cricket 5 years ago and yet he gets regular invitations to TV shows for his views when India plays one-dayers. Everyone remembers Ajay as a one-time hero who hit mighty Waqar Younis for 22 and 18 in two overs in a World Cup quarter-final.
Afridi’s initial decision to retire, the subsequent reversal and the reasons he stated for each will be re-assessed in the light of events that occur in Afridi’s career in the lead up to 2007 World Cup. A feeling remains that we are further away from an end to the affair than Shahid Afridi, Shahriyar Khan and others in the know would like us to believe.

Lara's back as West Indian skipper ....again

Pratyush hopes for the sake of the West Indies that this turns out to be a good short term move instead of a horrible backward step that puts future of West indian cricket in jeopardy.
Here's another post of his that touches a chord. It celebrates the joys of watching domestic cricket and observes that the West Indian people, contrary to a perceived notion about recession of cricket's popularity in the islands of late, still exhibit a fair amount of longing for the glorious game and turn up in some numbers for their domestic matches.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mr. Twinkle Toes at 43

Mohammad Azharuddin playing his last Test in 2000 at age 37 could still make Ian Chappell rave about his ability to stay on the 'balls of his feet' while playing slower bowlers. It ain't much different at 43.
He was playing veterans' cricket in Pakistan a few days back. Did you expect a stiff, pot-bellied old hat to pretend as the erstwhile batting artiste? This man quite resembles the Azhar we knew. Take a glance at his feet and his poise - he still stays on the 'balls of his feet' and looks good for a few years at the highest level to me.
Time for that impossible wish - that some episodes in Indian cricket had never happened - to rake up some old heartaches.

Form is temporary....

…and who better than a South African named Herschelle Gibbs to testify for its quirks? Ask him about his last one-day innings; chances are you will notice the old sparkle come back to his eyes. It was that scarcely believable knock of 175 out of 438, a sublime innings that orchestrated the greatest one-day chase against the topmost ODI team in the world.

The downward spiral of Gibbs' form that followed the innings of his life was once again scarcely believable. In the 4 tests he played since that 5th one-dayer against Australia Gibbs has eked out a dismal 121 runs - less than what he got in that one innings - over 8 completed innings at an
average of 15.12. This, on top of a meagre average of 25.70 over his last 10 Tests, has left the selectors with little option but to drop him from South African Test squad after the 1st of 3 Tests that the home team are scheduled to play against New Zealand. Suddenly that innings seems like a thing of the distant past!

The game sure is full of uncertainties, many of them far from glorious to the players.
[cross posted at Different Strokes]

So will the real number one please stand up?

I like Mahendra Singh Dhoni much, and wish him the very best in life and career. In fact I am a fan of him. If I were to be sealed off in a remote island for 3 months and then be asked to guess ‘the world’s best ODI batsman now’, Adam Gilchrist and Dhoni must be two of the first names that would occur to me. The ICC ODI world #1 ranking for his batting, as such, is an expected return that no one should grudge him.

But incidentally I have been watching cricket for the last three months, and there are two one-day players today who seem to be batting on the 3rd floor while all others, Dhoni included, are fighting it out on the 1st to win a ticket to the 2nd. The Australian skipper and #2 batsman Ricky Ponting is one. The other is Dhoni’s team mate and winner of three consecutive man-of-the-series awards, Yuvraj Singh. He is ranked number 10 though.

In the 2nd of the two-match DLF Cup series versus Pakistan at Abu Dhabi, everyone except Yuvraj in either team had a struggle during their respective stays at the crease. Dravid played more than 100 balls and yet never looked entirely comfortable with the stroke making. It would be ditto with Inzamam in their innings. The older ball was clearly causing problems.

India’s nemesis Mohammad Asif returned with Rana Naved during Indian ‘slog overs’ to strangulate the Indian innings and the two were largely successful at that. Exit set batsmen Dravid and Dhoni and enter new player Yuvraj Singh, coming in at twilight, against two very accurate seamers, bowling in a groove with the virtually unhittable old ball. He plays a few balls in typical fashion and then breezes 18 runs from 4 balls in an Asif over. No brawn, no power, no luck; just pristine timing of the ball. It becomes the single largest reason that India go past 260 with the decisive extra runs that prove to be too much for Inzamam and the Pakistan lower order in the final analysis.

The quality of the innings was put in perspective when the two bowlers regained full control immediately after Yuvraj departed. In recent memory only Ricky Ponting exhibited such clean hitting in the
Johannesburg record-breaker but he got great competition from South Africans Herschelle Gibbs and Graeme Smith on a batting beauty. Yuvraj’s surgical dissection was a one-off in the four innings played during the series and even Rana Naved’s inspired assault on Indian off-spinners during Pakistan’s chase was no patch on it.

Cricinfo’s Dileep Premachandran summed it up thus:

“The innings lost momentum towards the end, with Naved bowling a fine spell full of subtle changes of pace. Mahendra Singh Dhoni played with great intelligence for his 59, but the disdainful manner in which Yuvraj Singh thwacked 24 from just 10 balls made you wonder whether he would have been a better option at No.3. On a pitch where the vast majority of strokes were mistimed or heaved off the square, Yuvraj's wondrous sense of timing stood out, and the three fours and a six off Asif's penultimate over transformed a competitive total into an imposing one.“

That brings us to a few questions. Just how much of these rankings is based on past and present statistical records? [It is common knowledge, after all, that prior to this phase Yuvraj had precious little in the ‘achievements’ column to even dream of getting near at the top.] And, to what extent do they weigh in non-statistical factors like impact of scored runs on the game and match situation when runs were scored?

Let us face it: no ranking methodology is ever going to offer an explanation that satisfies all, and any brewing debate on the topic is best abandoned on that futile note. There are certain occasions though when our eyes tell us so much more than the stats pages. The present batting form of Yuvraj Singh is a case in point.
[cross posted at Different Strokes]

Malcolm Speed on his last lap?

Scott Wickstein hopes so in no uncertain terms. Another post by Zainub at Different Strokes takes a swipe at the ongoing Indo-Pak cat and mouse game for passing the buck in seniors' cricket controversy.

Why don't they make more men like Imran?

He won me all over again today. Here's the post that deals with this renewed admiration for the Pathan.
Statutory warning: The post has nothing to do with cricket!

Friday, April 21, 2006

WG comes to Sheikh Zayed stadium

1st ODI of DLF Cup between India and Pakistan at Abu Dhabi: Pakistan, chasing 198, are 70/2 after 17.3 overs. Irfan Pathan bowls the 4th delivery and Inzamam cuts it to left of point. The diving point fielder Yuvraj Singh denies non-striker Younis Khan a view of the ball as the latter bolts off the blocks expecting it to go past Yuvraj. But Yuvraj recovers from a rubbery full-stretch dive in a flash, ball in hand and flings it at the bowler’s end where Younis is now scampering back from mid-pitch. Throw comes at the wrong side of the stumps.

Pathan crosses the pitch and barely grasps the ball, arms outstretched. The momentum is taking him away from the stumps. Pathan twists his overbalanced frame and tries to back-flick the ball on to the stumps in a jiffy, quite unaware of the large distance Younis still has to cover behind his back, and misses a crucial runout chance. That missed opportunity rankles the bowler and anguish shows up on his face.

That little passage of play hits me. It fires a short circuit in me. A
jump cut instantly transports my thoughts back to the age of the bearded doctor. Dr. William Gilbert Grace, WG in short.

“His most conspicuous act as a doctor is thought to have occurred when an unfortunate fieldsman impaled himself on the boundary fence at Old Trafford.”

WG derived corollaries to the adage ‘cricket is a batsman’s game’ all by himself. Even the
umpires of Bristol were not spared WG’s disdain.

Furthering that logic Dr. Grace must have expected the bowlers to ‘serve’ as live bowling machines on the crease while he was batting. [I can picture some of them copping mouthfuls from the legend for showing a willingness to see his back in that blasphemy called appealing.] And close-in fielders would be no more to him than pests asking to be swatted.

Delicious possibilities spring to mind as I imagine the DLF incident to occur in the 1880’s with the Doc at the non-striking end instead of Younis. Shivers, though, run down the spine to think of the throw hitting the stumps…. Sometime in the near future ICC may do an Edgar Allan Poe on Andre Nel & co. and gift them with bedtime horror stories set in the era. That may make Nel count his blessings and wake up less grumpy next morning.

Something fixes the momentary neuron dysfunction up in my head, and I am back in 2006 watching live coverage of DLF Cup. “Younis?” I grimaced at the image on screen. I fail to allow that lean and exuberant young man take over the slot WG was occupying moments back. The cameras swap and a dominating figure now occupies the television screen. And then it strikes me. Younis’ partner there at the crease is the one more likely to pull off a cool ‘WG’!

As much as with the batting, WG keeps popping up in other facets of Inzamam’s persona every now and then. A chip of The Old Doc unveals in that beard of Inzy while another peeps from that looming frame, that age-of-innocence look, that stroll-in-the-park gait of his while relaxing between deliveries (‘Waiting for a bus’ - Dean Jones sums it up).

On the telly screen Inzy fails to put bat on one and bowler Sreesanth has a word to say. Inzamam huffs. This man has disdain for the mere mortals called bowlers - just like WG! I decide to check out online for more tallies between the two specimens. The Doc’s Player’s page for the Doc can probably help me out.

More similarities come to the fore. “Athletic is not a word that obviously comes to mind when contemplating Grace in his prime, though a slim young man did precede the pot-bellied genius who in middle age was far too heavy for any horse to bear.” Remember the droopy-eyed, rangy rookie that played arguably the greatest one-day innings in recent World Cup history during a
1992 semi-final match?

It seems unbelievable today that Bill Lawry even referred to Inzamam as a “wonderful athlete” on live commentary when Inzy returned in the finals to strike a few priceless end over blows in the Pakistan innings.

I’m going ahead with WG2 then….that is Inzy’s new nickname as far as I am concerned!

Having WG2 in the team works out just fine for Shoaib Akhtar too. “It is rather startling when he suddenly appears at the bowling crease,” said the Doctor about English skipper Aubrey Smith, who had a curious, curved approach to the wicket that earned him the unwieldy nickname `
Round The Corner'. With WG2 playing for his side Akhtar can expect to be spared such potential assaults on that not-too-ordinary run up of his.


“This man (WG), for heaven’s sake, opened for England at the age of 50.”
More similarities there!

WG2 gives India a scare and plays a tireless, perfectly paced lone hand in Pakistan’s unsuccessful chase of 270 in the 2nd DLF Cup match. 36 is clearly not the age to even start assessing post retirement options when you can still bat like that. [I may have to withdraw my comment on WG2 in another DS post. “I do not see him doing great things in ODI's for a very long time from here” looks a prediction gone terribly wrong.]

A pest of an opposition skipper dares run him out in that match (and runs away to the boundary to save his skin) but no swear words are forthcoming from the departing WG2. Rather un-WG-like…

“He (WG) was notorious for employing, in order to pursue victory or personal achievement, a variety of wiles and tricks that may be thought of as, well, hardly cricket.” I’m afraid we have reached the end of the road. Do I hear fans of good Samaritan Inzy promptly scream out other dissimilarities? We run the risk of doing Inzy’s beloved game a disservice by letting this piece end on that sour note.

“Grace’s towering presence, more than any other single factor, transformed it (cricket) into the unrivalled spectator sport of summer, first of all in England, subsequently in other lands spread widely across the world. I would even suggest that a true measurement of WG’s unique stature is that he is instantly identifiable, even by some who are uninterested in his vocation, by his initials alone.”

Aah, that’s much better! WG2 will rather be IH after that.

[Quotes courtesy: Geoffrey Moorhouse, Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 1988]
[cross posted at Different Strokes]

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The charm of Ian Chappell

Most ex-players avoid speaking about themselves or referring to anecdotes from their playing days in the commentary box. Probably they feel they are not supposed to do that in the midst of live commentary. Another reason may be a false sense of guilt at 'blowing their own trumpets'.

Ian Chappell does not share that philosophy. He is an ex-player worth reading and listening to. He has a talent for linking some development at the current time to a related incident from his days. Being fair in his observations and viewing things without a bias adds to his charm. He was himself a great and fearless player of fast bowling and averaged 50 against the 70's West Indies (to his overall 42); yet he avoids taking indirect swipes at sub-continent batsmen for being short on that ability.

I have seen or known little of player and skipper Ian Chappell. Ian the commentator appreciates places and players for what they are. Little surprise then that he was such a well-respected leader of men. Not one to swear by averages alone, in 1998 he said Jadeja to be a better ODI finisher than Bevan considering the teams they played in, and has never missed an opportunity to stress the value of Jayasuriya's play to his team.

He was the rare non South Asian commentator who praised India's Mohammad Azharuddin for his skills instead of the 'artistry'. Praising Azhar's other exceptional skills was a strange unstated taboo for a number of ex-player commentators even in those pre match fixing implication days. Perhaps Azhar's well-circulated weakness against short pitched bowling was held against him, rendering him a 'lesser' player to some.

Ian had none of it though. While the Hydrerabadi was scoring his last century in what ended up as his last test in 2000, I recall Ian Chappell demonstrating to televiewers how Azzu played spinners so well and adjusted to variations at last moment by staying on his toes ("balls of the feet" - I still remember Ian uttering that) while some others like Dravid (back then) got rooted on heels and invited problems.

True to his disposition Ian did not stint in showering praise when it was time to bid Jayasuriya good bye in Test cricket. Here's his ultimate compliment to the Sri Lankan master while harking back on Jayasuriya's greatest week in cricket. [On that theme, here's another tongue-in-cheek recollection from the same phase]

Monday, April 10, 2006

Warne's bitten.....

At a press conference on the eve of the ongoing Fatullah Test match Shane Warne reiterated his earlier views on Murali's 'minnow' wickets. Apparently it mattered little that the Sri Lankan mystery man averages 5.7 wickets a Test even without these 'easy' wickets. If not better judgement then that piece of stat should have kept Warnie quiet as he himself averages 4.8 wickets a Test (overall). [We probably need not get into the pros and cons of Murali's and Warnie's fortunes as those are besides the point being made].
More surprising is a man of Warne's stature and experience actually committing the folly of casting aspersions on competitive abilities of a team even before playing his first Test against them! Going by reputation was always the surest way any sportsperson ever knew to earn himself a BIG fall. Things were not too different this time either. Warne went though 20 wicketless overs in the Bangladesh first innings at better than 5 runs an over, a first for him in any innings that had him bowling 10 overs or more.
As Ravi Shastri opined on television at the tea break during first day's play, Warne is a competitor to the core and can surely be counted upon to come back in the 2nd innings and / or the 2nd Test. The pointed lesson though should not be lost on a champion; and Shane Warne without an iota of doubt remains one, notwithstanding his indiscretions.

The Faridabad fiasco

A number of pertinent questions have remained unanswered since the deplorable maltreatment of cricket fans at the venue of the Faridabad one day match. None of the "$ 1 billion" folk came out to accept blame for the shameful mismanagement and about the only words of comfort for the injured came from the Indian captain. Here's Pratyush's take on that.

Remembering Sophia Gardens

The Fatullah Cricket Stadium in Narayangunj District near Dhaka is about a quarter of the globe away from Sophia Gardens cricket stadium in the British Isles. But the events of this 1st day of the Test series between Australia and Bangladesh have reminded cricket followers of a particular match played between the same sides at the Welsh ground. Bangladesh supporters will hope that today’s proceedings at the Fatullah has the same impact on Test cricket in Bangladesh that that Natwest league match of 18th June 2005 had on their one-day outfit.

Ever since winning the cliffhanger of a final against Kenya at Kuala Lumpur in the 1997 edition of ICC trophy Bangladesh have always shown this ability to surprise big sides in international cricket whenever taken lightly. In one day cricket they have recorded knockout punches against each of their sub-continental big brothers and have occasionally scared a few other traditional Test sides rated as semi-Goliaths to Bangla’s David. The crowning glory was the in-your-face victory over Australians at Sophia Gardens last year that set the tone for the Antipodeans’ Ashes misfortunes later that summer.

Ability, therefore, was not a concern for the fledgling team. The bowling remains thin but that is no shame in this phase of early growth. Over the years though, Bangladesh supporters were let down by recurring non-performances from an unmistakably potent top order batting. For nearly a decade the Bangla batsmen betrayed a reluctance to do it the hard way, which is often the only way in international sport. Aftab Ahmed appeared to exorcise a limpet of a demon with that sixer off Jason Gillespie to seal the Sophia Gardens match. A spurt in Bangla’s one day performances indicates some truth about that take. Bangladesh have won only 15 of the 120 one day matches they played. Of the 15 wins though, no less than 6 have come in a remarkable period starting 18th June 2005.

Bangladesh appears to relish the opportunity to play against the Australians. They first took this formidable opposition by surprise when they batted admirably at Cairns during the second Test of their Down Under tour in 2003. And interestingly that match too had marked an upswing in Bangla’s performances in Test matches. One win and three draws in 22 matches (starting from the Cairns Test) is certainly no renaissance worthy of note. But no wins and a solitary draw in 20 matches till that point perhaps provides....well, an adequate perspective.

Dav Whatmore, serving as Bangladesh coach for three years, has valuable experience of a similar team-building job from his stint with the struggling young Sri Lankan side in the mid 90’s. But success, when it comes, in his present assignment of removing the ‘minnow’ tag from all future references to the Bangladesh team should rank higher than even the 1996 World Cup triumph.

For millions of fans in a nation where cricket is the number one sport the past year or so has been like a generous helping of apple pie after the bitter pills swallowed along the learning curve. They are hoping for the best and urging their team on to another step up the ladder. With that kind of history against the top team in cricket world their prayers may not remain unanswered for long.

That the Bangladesh players have broken their record for best all-wicket partnership and rewritten the record for most runs scored in a day for the second time in a month on this remarkable day is truly of secondary significance. After all the pitch played to the home team’s strengths, the spinners were ineffective on a first day wicket and a left-right partnership did Australian bowlers in on a hot n’ humid afternoon. Notwithstanding all that and a few critical lapses in concentration by the batsmen, the calculated audacity exuded by the team and an abiding picture of batsmen collectively striving to bat the team to a position of ascendancy were the primary gains for Bangladesh during their 88 overs of emancipation.

May Fatullah be the next Sophia Gardens, and much more. And the one person who will not have anything to complain about that is Muttiah Muralitharan.
[cross posted at Differrent Strokes]

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Chappell impact, and the skipper’s vote

A recent e-mail from a friend read, “When Mr. Greg Chappell is done with his present stint he will be writing a book inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. It will be called ‘My experiments with Indian team’.” My friend expressed an opinion gaining ground in a section of Indian cricket lovers. Excessive experimentation with strategies, they fear, may spell doom for Indian team by the time this pre-World Cup year closes. The issue never fails to engender a debate, major points being frequent changes in batting order and repeated switches between 5-bowler and 4-bowler teams (may be rephrased as 6-batsman and 5-batsman teams).

Oh, the delicious irony if it all! People having harsh words to say for Chappell’s Way would sing hosannas on ‘sound strategy’ and ‘consistent selection’ to prove their point, and so would those who praise it. Perception of the term ‘consistent’ can be the opposite banks of a river even to people sharing the same roof for best part of their lives.

We limit the current scope of discussion to batting. The conventional or age-old approach to deciding batting strategy of a match assigns the ‘specialist batsmen’ well defined batting positions and allowing them a long run there to prove themselves. The term ‘specialist’ here is meant to express trust on the skills of these batsmen at various aspects of the craft of batsmanship. They are expected to play a number of roles and change gears depending on the scenario developing in the middle.

We have seen this method at work for all international teams since the birth of Test cricket. For example, Sachin Tendulkar batted at number four in the Indian team for over a decade in Tests. His batting position was irrespective of the situation his team faced. He would show the best defence in international cricket at 13/2; and at 200/2 he would be a volcano waiting to explode. Most supporters of this theory also endorse playing same batsmen for all recognised formats of the game. “If they are good for Tests, they will do well everywhere.”

Modern cricket lays more emphasis on optimisation and a new approach is fast gaining popularity amongst teams striving for that extra inch. This is particularly true for one-day cricket. It endorses ‘horses for courses’ to be the right way to go for the desired result. Here a batsman is put through a SWOT analysis and then assigned an unambiguous role. He will then be either an accumulator or a destroyer or a 50-over man, and rarely the all-in-one of the earlier approach.

Promotion of stroke players as one-day openers was the first big step in this direction and New Zealand patented this theory in the 1992 World Cup through Mark Greatbatch. Thereafter one-day cricket degenerated to a drag as novelty became a rarity, but for the occasional bout, until the Indian team of late showed intent of taking it to the next level.

Greg Chappell’s experiment with the batting roles has redefined the term ‘specialist’. For a ‘specialist’ batsman in his team, the function is well defined but his position in batting order shall be ‘real-time’, i.e. skipper and coach will decide during the course of the match on the position he bats at.

In other words this player is not expected to make any adjustments to his game like the ‘old specialists’ and simply needs to carry it out the job on hand WHENEVER his team needs him to. Fallout: he moves up and down the order match after match and even sits out games when the team does not expect his specialised services to be required for a particular match. Chappell’s experimentation with the Indian one-day side and Dravid’s concurrence to it demonstrates their faith in this theory.

Does this new-age approach, attempted for the very first time by the Indian team management at the highest level, go with ‘consistency’? Some say yes, while most disagree even in the face of an upsurge in Indian performances in one-dayers. Concern about its impact on player psyche and confidence remains a major obstacle on its road to popularity. It certainly will be no cakewalk for unsuspecting players to redesign their well-entrenched beliefs all of a sudden and fit themselves in this new mould. Also, the gifted and free-spirited players, though performing well in the early days of Dravid-Chappell regime, may start dipping off under the robotic monotony of their routine once the novelty wears off.

The opportunity to judge ‘Chappell’s hypothesis’ on the basis of records is still a year away, in the least. This theory, much Like Suresh Raina and some other rookies that were selected with an eye on their potential, is another new member of the Indian team. It had an impressive debut but it will have to prove its worth over a period of time. The success or failure of this hypothesis in the long run, primarily in the 2007 World Cup, is linked to what the Indian players make of this vision. That alone will decide Chappell’s place in Indian cricket history as a visionary or a villain.

There is one small point, often given a miss in the exchange of crossfire between opposing factions, that perhaps needs to be kept in mind at all times while discussing this ‘consistency’ theme. The team management and selection committee must display consistency in selecting the playing squads. It matters even more than choice of strategy in the overall scheme of things.

The most important message for a player comes neither thru an email nor at the team meeting nor scribbled on a paper chit. It is there in the newspapers with the announcement of squads. Expecting players to adapt to a team strategy is fair enough but the team management is then responsible for the careers of players that are willing to comply. Players combining right attitude with desired performance levels need to be defended where it matters - in front of the selectors.

A vote for the skipper and the coach in selection meetings can be the logical way to go about it.
[Cross posted at Desicritics: sports]