Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What's in a surnaM?

Sean M? (,) armed with a curiously query-ous surname, has understandably asked himself a few questions on batsmen's ball reading abilities. Without uttering a word on that "M?" puzzle Nagraj Gollapudi gets straight down to business in his article on Sean's observations:

At international level, when a fast bowler is bowling, it takes about 600 milliseconds for the ball to reach the batsman from the point of release, and approximately 900ms for a spinner. The total time the batsman takes to make his movements is much greater. The visual processing of the information takes about 200ms, the movement of the feet about 350-400ms, the back-lift about 200ms, and the downswing another 200ms. "So, you can't wait till late in the ball's flight or bounce to start making your decision," says M?

Guess we thought very differently all these years. BTW Nagraj is still not offering an explanation, not even a line of it, for the M? name and proceeds:

M? says that most batsmen can't verbally explain where the information is coming from. They just tend to be able to predict where the ball is going when they are shown videos, which means the information is received on a subconscious level. "It comes through numerous hours of practice, exposure to different environments, facing different bowlers, facing the same bowler many times," he explains.

It is a bit like sensing what a woman likes, I guess. Some people are pretty special at guessing what women want, while others subscribe to Double your Dating emails. We are nearing the end of Nagraj's piece and still there's no explanation for the M? (That was not my punctuation - I intended to end that sentence with a full stop but....). That is not all; now comes the bad news for us bowlers:

M?s research has the potential of allowing coaches to understand which parts of the body information is picked up from to predict the length and the type of ball that will be bowled. And that, he thinks, will benefit coaches and help them understand and identify talent, as well as help batsmen understand how bowlers operate.

And there ends the article. It leaves me rather Mbattled, and still wondering about the '?'. But bowlers yo, do we aim to M*** (Maul, Manhandle......or m, m worse) this Sean M? for bringing further trouble upon the bowling fraternity?

Ah....that soothed the heart no end. Never before till today did I realise that the joys of putting a question mark without feeling odd about it are comparable to delight after bowling a perfect (and intended) yorker.

Long-toothed horses still kick the hardest

Kumara Sangakkara puts his money on ageing greats conjuring up one final blast this World Cup before walking into the sunset.

A unique World Cup this turns out to be in that so many of the great men taken to be playing their last World Cup still carry the tag of 'Best Player of the team'. They do so on the back of solid performances rather than history. Look at Brain Lara and Inzamam-ul Haq: they are still the go-to men facing a steep chase and also the skippers of their teams.

Turn to Sanath Jayasuriya - he is another of those big-chase men and capable of bowling out his quota on any track. Invaluable. Ask Dhoni, if you must. Not for nothing do I love to call him the Gary Sobers of one-dayers.

Only Adam Gilchrist, with his waning form, faces serious competition as 'the player to watch' from his skipper's willow magic. But then such are the ways of Cricket Australia that this might as well be the 32 year old latter's final hurrah!

We turn to South Africa and there shines pure gold in the hair and cricketing form of Shaun Pollock. These days he bowls like a dream, bats for the team and catches like a scream. Hard to believe if you last saw him bowling off-spin in Sri Lanka, eh? Check here!

Think of these names once again: Sanath, Inzamam, Lara, Pollock, Gilchrist, Ponting. Now think of their shows in the year gone by. Don't you think they still laugh their way into any world XI?

And you really thought I missed out on India's Sach, didn't you? Well that's because I do not imagine this to be Tendulkar's last Cup at all! But then you again have a final-hurrah-seeking Ganguly-da pushing Sachin hard as the 'best man in blue' these days....

By now I expect you to have worked out that 'Old is Gold' was indeed the original (?) title of this post.

Postscript: Quite irrelevant to the topic, actually. There was a good amount of surprise involved in reading certain passages in that Kumara Sangakkara interview, especially when he says:

"I was pretty ordinary at both (batting & fielding), if I have to be honest, when I started. I had to work really hard. Guys like
Mahela Jayawardene have been exceptionally talented since they were young and I am not of that mould. It's been a lot of hard work.."

Try telling me you thought likewise about the silk-man...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Adios, wise man

Quite a few interesting words have been mouthed by cricketers during the past fortnight, none better than Sujith Somasundar's excellent parting shot appearing in 'cricinfo quotes':

"It was a tough decision, but to quote Confucius, you need to change your profession every 15 years to retain your passion, motivation and commitment."
Sujith Somasundar sets the standard for retirement speeches

I remember Somasundar getting sporadic opportunities in ODI's during the mid 90's but was dumped soon after. The wisdom of those words tells a poignant tale; essentially that life to him is, was and will be about more than just cricket.

There's another one to keep you busy for some time, for altogether different reasons. I will have a difficult sleep unless I confess that my general ignorance about non-World-Cup football made me search for FIFA rankings to enjoy this one to the fullest:

"For us to beat Australia would be like the Faroes beating Brazil at football. In fact it might even be bigger than that - more like us beating Brazil when Berti Vogts was in charge."
Scotland batsman Majid Haq on his country's prospects in their World Cup opener next month

For others like me: Scotland are ranked a respectable 20th in the latest rankings while Faroe Islands, as expected, are nowhere to be seen on the scrolldown until we reach the 183rd spot, ages after we pass the mighty Indians (20,000 times more populous, no less) at 157.

Here were some of the other juicy verbal volleys:

"I got some pretty funny text messages from him after every one of the games - 'how are you ... are you on the next flight over?' and 'you can have your job back, I don't want it any more'."
Ricky Ponting jokes about the text messages he had been receiving from his stand-in captain, Mike Hussey, during the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy

"My theory is that every time a batsman plays and misses he should be asked to take off one piece of protective clothing of the bowler's choice."
Michael Kasprowicz takes a novel approach in the plan to contain batsmen

Message to Aussie cricket coach John Buchanan: please take your team home as the Black Caps are missing out on valuable practice for the World Cup."
A pithy letter to the editor in Christchurch's The Press

"I actually don't think we did too badly with the ball and in the field."
Michael Hussey shows he is slipping comfortably into the captaincy role of trying to find positives in defeat

"Look what's happened to the West Indies since we stopped having them as overseas players, their game has gone downhill."
John Emburey believes he knows the real reason for cricket's decline in the Caribbean

And to end with Brazil again,

"I'm probably the best Brazilian cricketer in the world because no-one has actually heard anything in Brazil about cricket."
Adelaide United footballer Fernando Rech

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Stats-2: the darker side of a big chase

(continued from previous post)

No, if you ask me.

There's another level of adversity to be added to
that stat. Those averages cover ALL big chasing wins, i.e. chases under the sun as well as chases under lights. Now that is a mixed bag.

I used not to think much of this difference until a couple of years back. Then I saw a list of win-loss percentage results of international sides while batting first and second in ODI's. I was pleasantly surprised to find that India, traditionally poor chasers either side of last year’s 17 match record of consecutive successful chases, have more wins than losses chasing in day ODIs.

Now I am hardly blessed with a photographic memory but the instant feeling was that the overall chasing record was not that great. A few stats searches later I had inferred that the dark half of the stat came from chasing in the darker hours.

A year and a half back I had filtered the performances of leading Indian batsmen in night-time chases. A look at the tables in
this post and the problem comes to the fore. [Notice Sachin's record there.] If it is some consolation, Indian players are not alone there.

Coming back to the
cricinfo list of ‘big game hunters’, Inzy, Sanath and Lara have got the better of big totals many times over come sun or moon. Many matches come to mind when they, especially the first two, have led mammoth chases under lights.

The two recent Inzy innings chasing big totals against India that promptly came to mind - the 1st match of the 2004 ODI bilateral series in Pakistan (day) as well as the 2nd DLF Cup match at Abu Dhabi in April 2006 (night) - did not even contribute to his phenomenal big chasing average of 104 as they were scored in losing cause.

But the breakup may not be so even for all the names there. I am not sure how board leader Sarwan fares in the ‘darker' game of chase but as we saw in that old post Yuvi, under lights, has certainly not been a patch on his day-time avatar.

Batting second in a high scoring day-nighter, even in the subcontinent, often proves to be a different ball game for most batsmen and Yuvi is one of them.

A study of 'Batting averages in big chases under lights' (irrespective of results, obviously) should make for some interesting reading. Those year-and-half old chasing stats of Indian batsmen were for all kind of totals - no '275+' criteria was involved. Willing to take up the unfinished work, anyone?

"Naah," probably. Rightly so too. Why bother ahead of an all-day-matches World Cup???

[to be concluded]

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Stats: Should "in matches won" be a criteria to judge individual performances?

Yuvraj Singh averages 84 in SUCCESSFUL run chases above 275. Dravid and Ganguly are the only others in his team that average 50+ in similar situations. Sachin averages 42 which, though good, is just half of Yuvi. Incidentally Sarwan is Bradmanesque (118) in big chasing wins and so is Inzy (104). Jayasuriya averages 90 while Brian Lara returns 77.

I am a keen follower of cricinfo's 'The List'. However the purpose of this post is not to praise that particular stats filter but to ...well, not exact bury but question it. I have serious reservations about this 'averages in wins' bit. Why bring a 'win' into the equation? A win is a combination of numerous factors that no individual player has control over - unless it is THAT day of his life. Even Andrew Flintoff struggled to win the match of his life on his own; when the wheels were falling off he needed Harmison to clinch the win.

While analysing a large number of samples in a team game, is it not a given that wins are performance combinations where a high percentage of the team's players do well? The stats filter under discussion then does little more than stating the obvious. It can be argued upon as an indicator of match winning potential but certainly not as a definitive measure of real worth of a player.

Remember Kaif's glorious 87 in that 2002 Natwest Final when India succesfully chased 327? That innings was magnificently well-paced but it still contributed only just over a fourth of the total. You faintly recall more than one match when some guy scored bigger runs in a smaller chase at a handy scoring rate and yet ended up on the wrong side. Worse, some of these guys have scored big runs more often in their careers than Kaif.

Kaif’s match winning abilities are not in question but it is singularly unfair to cast a shadow on those other folks’ performances just because their teammates were not up to scratch in those matches. Even Kaif could have been the tragic hero had Yuvraj not fired along with him on that summer evening of 2002. Going back to the last ball of that Edgbaston cliffhanger, it is comparable to looking down upon Flintoff’s capabilities after Michael Kasprowicz had edged Harmison for a match winning brace just beyond the reach of a legside diving Geraint Jones.

In my view therefore, 'averages in chases' (irrespective of match results) is a far better indicator of performance. We will look at a very recent example that demonstrates the loopholes of that filter in a 4 match capsule.

West Indies chased in all four matches of their
recent series versus India. Three of them were big chases and West Indies could win just one of them. Shiv Chanderpaul played in three matches (two of them big chases), aggregate the highest runs [230 at an average of 115] and yet ended up on the losing side in all of them.

The highest average in a 'winning big chase' - their only win which Shiv sat out - was thus a race between Samuels (98) and Lara (83). Of the two, Samuels scored consistently over the series but Lara featured there inspite of failures in all other matches.

Now this 4 match case study throws up three stereotypes amongst 'players that are discussed’. The types do not necessarily hold true for these particular players over their careers but here they are:

One: Those who perform well in most matches and happen to do so in the 'win' too - like Samuels (heh)
Two: Those who perform well in most matches but unluckily miss out when the 'win' comes, like Chanderpaul
Three: Those who are inconsistent in the long run but happen to score big occasionally - and are hence often the difference between a loss and a win, like - Lara!!

[Needless to say but talking of career performances Lara & Chanderpaul are cat-1 (category one) in both forms of the game while Samuels is firmly in cat-3.]

The whole point of this long analysis: Filtered results for 'Averages in wins' can glorify cat-3 players more than they deserve; similarly it can belittle cat-1 or cat-2 players for little fault of theirs. This is not to say cat-3 players have no place in the game. Far from it… (else what are the Sehwags and Afridis doing in national WC squads?)

Statistics, like they say about electricity and the domestic LPG stove, is a very good servant but a bad master. It is wise to use them with clarity of purpose, judgement and perspective.

So, do we crown 'averages in big chases' as the prime indicator of a batsman's ability to cope with adversity and keep the filter at that?

[to be continued...]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Australia are no more roaring - just crouching

What, you may ask, is happening to the world leaders?

Hayden scores 181 and yet ends up on the losing side. The world's top team is whitewashed in a 3 match series, once scoring too less and twice too much. And this is hardly all.

A little thumb-rule analysis on the Australian team that lost 3-nil to NZ, however, should stop any ringing alarm bells. Symonds, Lee, Gilchrist, Ponting and Michael Clarke are missing from this Oz side. Now if we recall Ian Chappell's criterion for a winning team as Zainub points out here, each big team should have six players of significant impact: "two world class batsmen, one all rounder, one batting wicket keeper and two top notch bowlers".

The team touring New Zealand had its two world class batsmen and one top-notch bowler in Hussey, Hayden and Bracken. But as on date Watson, Haddin and Tait - or for that matter even the great McGrath - are not substitute enough for Symonds (all rounder), Gilchrist (batting wicket keeper) and dead-Lee (the other strike bowler).

I would not write off Australia from a certain semi final berth based on this evidence. If anything, this 'ragged' look ahead of the tourney suits them just fine as some teams may just happen to underestimate their resilience and end up relaxing at a crucial passage of play. We all know what that results in, don't we?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Finally India looks prepared for the business

"Fernando to Yuvraj Singh, SIX, Caressed away for a six! Full and drifting down leg side, Yuvraj leans forward and flicks it away. Up, Up and over long leg. Pure timing and oodles of class."

That was cricinfo's live commentary text for Yuvi's 1st scoring shot today off the 5th ball he faced in the Vizag ODI. A distinct indicator that he is on course for the World Cup he is perhaps destined to put his stamp on.

Yuvraj carries on in that vein and brings the match to an abrupt end, racing from 73 to an unbeaten 95 in six deliveries four of which were fours and another six.

Once upon a time in my infanthood I used to be a Yuvraj Singh baiter; here's when I changed ends.


"21.2 Bandara to Ganguly, SIX, Imperious! 175th six for Ganguly. He waltzes down the track, backing away from legstump in the process, and sends the ball screaming over long off."

"21.5 Bandara to Ganguly, no run, Googly that lands on the middle stump line, Ganguly itching to come forward, spots the variation and defends. Good delivery that."

Time to turn to the man who nurtured the raw Yuvraj and remained unseparated with him at the crease today. Those two deliveries from the 22nd over of the Indian chase today neatly demonstrate the threat Dada poses to the spinners. He can come down the track every now and then and yet remain uncommitted to the now-famous lofted drive that has returned more sixes than any other in modern one day cricket.

The trick he does better than everyone else in world cricket barring Lara (and that includes Sachin) is to remember playing the ball on its merit. It lets the bowler know that there's only one guy that can win the contest.

The other day Sachin got out to a similar one (it was a normal leg-spinning delivery but then Sachin bats right handed) from Bandara at Rajkot. I recall even part time bowlers using this 'early commitment syndrome' of the Little Master to pull down an unexpected shutter on some unfolding Sachin masterpiece. None of those recollections is more vivid than Mark Waugh's leg stump wide at Mumbai in the World Cup clash against Oz in 1996 which stumped a rampaging Sachin at a blistering 90 while chasing 259.

[Incidentally a line below that 1996 scorecard says:

"Australia's 1st ODI win against India since the 1992 World Cup (India have won 3 in the meantime), Australia's 1st match in India since 1989, and their 1st win against India in India since the 1987 World Cup. "

Aaaah - those were the days.]


India have managed to neuter a 0-1 deficit and win the SL series 2-1. The triumph is significant, though not as big as it would have been if the Sri Lankan tour party were to include Murali and Vaas. Things are looking up for Dravid's boys at just the right time as the only two batsmen with question marks in their form books till yesterday, Sehwag and Yuvraj, have now got extremely important runs under their belt.

The one major remaining concern is Irfan Pathan. Dravid will now have to pick teams for the less critical group league matches (as if there ever were any) judiciously with an eye to ease Pathan into a workable form. Rush hour is about to start......

There's another bit for Dravid to worry about: the only regular Indian spinner to back up the early good work of Indian pacers and do some middle-over damage in recent matches has missed his flight to the Caribbean. [I say 'regular spinner' because Sachin has been the best of them in this period!]

Think of the Sri Lankan batting recoveries in each of the three matches, of Harbhajan's lack of penetration even in that dustbowl from the 2nd one-dayer against West Indies, and you are inclined to bet on India missing the services of Ramesh Powar in the Caribbean.

Friday, February 16, 2007


If you have a mean streak about you
And love to keep it a secret too
If you resist a chuckle at others' misfortunes
Only when risk of identification stalks you

If you can howl at his twist and laugh at her fall
And treat those two just the same
Martin Williamson will be the man, my son,
To share your lack of shame!


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

DC preview on South Africa

is up. Told you about my latent poetic talent.....

Other collaborative WC'07 previews on DC:

West Indies
Sri Lanka
New Zealand
Bangladesh / Kenya
Minnows [Scotland / Holland / Bermuda / Ireland / Canada]

The best kept secret

Can you guess the REAL reason behind India's performances during the past year or so? Sunil Shinde presents you the truth.

Monday, February 12, 2007

India-v-Aus ODIs in 2000s

As mentioned in my ball no. 4 here I checked out on cricinfo records for India-v-Australia ODIs from the current decade.

India, it turns out, have won 5 matches out of the 26 they played against Aussies since 1st Jan 2000. I take back my words there - but not before pointing out that 3 of the wins came in a 4 match streak over six months fairly early in the decade - from the ICC trophy QF in Nairobi played in Oct 2000 to the 3rd match of the 5-match home series in March 2001.

Since the 2003 World Cup final India have played 14 times against the team to beat and won just twice, none of them in the last eight matches.

That’s the over

Six unrelated thoughts from Sunday’s cricket watching:

0.1 Harbhajan Singh bowled Dilshan off a doosra in the
Rajkot ODI today and straightaway looked the way of his happy captain in rejoice before the latter hugged him. The nice n’ professional look of it gratified the mind, especially if one remembers the contents of the controversial Desai report leaked to the media.

0.2 The first two Indian wickets to fall were amply illustrations of the quality of background work that goes into the international game these days.

Rahul Dravid played on to the stumps yet again, enticed into a cut off an in-cutter too early in his innings. This particular delivery is a famous Achilles heel for Dravid and most international bowlers are aware of it by now. The Uthappa wicket was more revealing. He fell gloving a sharply rising ball on off stump – for the second successive innings.

So what if he is 5 matches old and his last innings was against another country; his game has already been mounted on drawing board and analysed for weak areas. Now those flaws are going to be tested. Bad time to be a rookie this - no more do they get the customary 10-15 games as ‘unknown quantities’.

It also shows the quality of Sri Lankan support staff and the potency of Farveez Maharoof, who got both these wickets with his scarcely lively medium pace offerings (but surpassed himself later by unbelievably catching a Dhoni skier in the second last ball of the match to seal the victory.)

0.3 The Tendulkar-Ganguly partnership was pure Time Travel. Golden strokes flowed from both bats and about the only reminders of our existence in 2007 (rather than the late 90’s primetime of the Sachin-Sourav era) were, well, the golden strokes on Lasith Malinga’s designer hairdo!

0.4 Andrew Flintoff’s shaking-to-jazz celebration of the Mike Hussey dismissal in the 2nd final of the CB series was thoroughly enjoyable. It is a pleasure anyway when that guy does well and it’s even better when Freddie enjoys some much-awaited success heartily.

From a romantic’s angle his team have now done the ODI equivalent of their 2005 Ashes win now by becoming the first team to beat Australia in a one-day final this decade. Why, England may even be the first team in eternity to get the better of this Australian outfit in 3 straight encounters! (Have India won that many in this decade against Australians? Got to check this one.)

The build-up to the World Cup is on and we could hardly hope for more exciting developments than inability of defending champions and reigning favourites Australia to get past the 7th ranked Englishmen in a best-of-three finals. As Ian Chappell says on cricinfo:

“..this victory has done wonders not just for them but for the other teams as well - Australia is a beatable team, particularly if Andrew Symonds is not in the squad.”

[Just imagine how difficult this upset could be on WC previewers. I have been criticising sports mediafolk in every other post of mine but for the first time in ages I feel sympathy…]

0.5 Rajkot saw two of the three biggest hitters in world cricket, Virender Sehwag and Mahendra Dhoni, come together after a mini collapse – with a lot of scoring and very little big hitting to do [India had to get just over 100 runs from 22 odd overs at that stage].

It did not work on this occasion. An ill-fated throw of dice from Viru at a critical crossroad of his career separated them.Even if it had worked you have to say that the odds are stacked pretty heavily against such a ‘fiery marriage’ settling down to a partnership time and again. Much as I would love to watch their duet at the crease, I would rather one of them is well set by then.

BTW, initially I struggled to identify Sehwag on the field – his contour has changed presumably from loss of a few inches.

0.6 From hitter-hitter to keeper-keeper. Dinesh Karthik came in at the fall of Sehwag. Another unknown combination was thrown up and followed keenly. However this one passed the test creditably and got separated by a rarity – the gutsy Karthik received an unfortunate lbw ruling from the divine Simon Taufel. It proved to be a killer blow for India in the final analysis; but so things often appear in hindsight for supporters of teams that fail to finish jobs on a regular basis.

While on Simon Taufel, an interview of his appeared today in The Telegraph. At one point he is asked about his reaction 'after knowing he made a mistake':

"I’m disappointed... I feel hurt... That’s because the intention wasn’t to make a mistake... As a professional, my approach has to be to look to the next day or match, for I can’t do anything about the mistake.."

The Seventh Ball: There are two ways for Indian fans to look at the defeat:

“Once again those buggers have capitulated while chasing. And this is home. Even the target was far from monstrous. To think they were 129/2 at one stage….can they reach the Super Eight?”


“India chased 257 and lost by a mere 5 runs to a combative side, the only occasion in the last 22 matches (starting with that fateful 2nd ODI in West Indies to be precise) when we have, er, mounted a creditable chase of any total above 200! In fact only once have India chased successfully(?) in this nightmarish interval – a paltry English 125 in the Jaipur ICC trophy match losing six wickets. This loss is indeed an improvement on the recent past (how ironical). The ‘processes’ are finally yielding tangible benefits as these boys are on the upward curve when it matters. WC semis, here we come!”

Take your pick,
Accordingly as you wanna be happy or sick.

[Don’t you think I’m getting better at this rhyme stuff with every outing? It's fast becoming a compulsion...]

Saturday, February 10, 2007

World Cup team previews on DC

Our friend Desicritics sports editor Huzaifa has called for a group preview of the upcoming Cricket World Cup. We plan to take up one team at a time.

In true tradition of the Apex Event itself we have teed off with the host nation. I have even written a rhyme in it that is sure to stir your souls (for whatever reasons). Keep checking Desicritics for more fun over the next few weeks.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Transcripts of Marlonspeak

...are here.

Well you can only judge these transcripts on your gut feeling - there is little else for backup as yet. I am inclined to go ahead and call Marlon Samuels naive on this evidence, unless it was a most intelligently disguised information-sharing carefully designed to safeguard against tapping.....I mean Marlon truly seems to have a close personal relation to this punter who repeatedly encourages him as a good mate would.

Even so Samuels should be punished severely for compromising non-negotiable rules. But breaching rules is far more forgiveable, and digestible, than the bitter concoction that is breach of trust and adulation.

However I had already handed a clean chit to Robin Singh yesterday even as those misinformation centres called Indian news channels (barring NDTV perhaps, who report an unconfirmed report as such) were deep into speculating 'why Robin Singh could have done this' based on what now comes across as a falsity. I was shocked out of my wits to hear that name when I heard of his mention in the tapes.

Robin Singh is amongst the first names to spring up in Indian cricket lovers' minds whenever someone mentions the terms 'commitment' and 'sincerity'. We have seen his efforts for ourselves and felt for the man when he strived for his team's cause. He has served Indian cricket to the fullest extent on the field and has since continued his good (and customarily unsung) work by preparing youngsters for international rigours.

Listening to coverages of the 'breaking news' across the channels I felt like being pushed to the edge of a cliff. I was obliged to take a side and I chose his. It was as much a vote for Robin as a desperate answer to a question asked of my ability to continue putting faith in distant people that feel like family. I would have (and still have) no option but to give up following and loving this dirty game-of-cheats called cricket if Robin Singh, of all people, is found guilty.

I lost my greatest childhood cricketing hero to the 'black rain' in 2000 but could somehow get over it. This man Robin never got such a pedestal from us and yet is far, far more important to us for what he is respected for. I am praying hard, mostly for myself, that I am proven right by the investigations.

Tailpiece: We learn that Marlon's room no. was 206 that night, which is also the number of bones in his body. I think the West Indian cricket lovers know what to do with those if their boy has strayed.......

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A Wonder in One-dayer called Sachin

When Sachin Tendulkar went to the dais to receive the Man of the Series trophy for his sterling contribution in the series win against the Caribbean boys, he was called for a customary chat with the commentator, ex-cricketer Arun Lal. The latter mentioned a few words on Sachin's exquisite batting on the day that implied 'Sachin Tendulkar has finally batted like Sachin Tendulkar.'

Knowing Arun Lal, he may have meant it as a statement of praise and an acknowledgement of Sachin's return to form. However in choosing that line he ended up criticising the Little Master's less productive innings in the earlier matches. Sachin did not like it too much but was, as usual, strong and well-behaved enough not to let it reflect on his countenance. He could not conceal it in his verbal response though.

He simply said, "I do not bat the way X or Y or Z wants me to; I think after playing for so many years I know what is the best way for me to play and people should respect that." And he said that with a half-smile, without a crease on the brow.

In the last couple of years Sachin Tendulkar has slipped down from the lofty pedestal Indian cricket fans reserved for him. Part of the reason has been his own inconsistent form and fitness, particularly (and
understandably) in Test matches, and a few recurring injuries. A whole lot of it, though, has resulted from the obsession of millions of Sachins supporters and hundreds of detractors to quickly label anything other than superhuman success from the man as failure.

For long I have rated Sachin Tendulkar as the greatest One-Day cricketer I have seen. Let me declare here that I am not putting this up as a challenge or going into a comparison with the only other real contender, Vivian Richards. People are free to give their own rankings to Sachin Tendulkar's career as long as they don't rate him unworthy of an entry.

Of late though there have been too many obituaries of Sachin Tendulkar. My current post is ONLY about Sachin the ODI player (rather than batsman), for I want to share another piece of champion's streak that I found out from Sachin's records today, one that may relieve Indian cricket supporters ahead of the world cup and confirms that we are perhaps still a few years from questioning Sachin's place in the side.

We first need to agree that Sachin's numerous contributions to the ODI team makes him more than just a specialist batsman. He is an excellent package. He can bat as per requirements of the team anywhere in the order, in any phase of the game and in any conditions. He can run singles quickly both for himself as well as to add to his partner's tally. He can reach the ball quickly in the outfield (even now) and save a possible run. [I am ignoring the numerous strategic contributions he makes as a selfless senior player.]

And.....he can bowl. But how good is he? Very....very good, if you believe his records of late. Yes, these last couple of years when his bat has produced less thunder than usual.

A shift of balance since Jan 2005

Here's a set of data:

(ODI)--BatAvg, BowlAvg
Career----44.22, 43.82

Jan '05----38.46, 41.42

It only tells you that
(i) Over the years Sachin has been a batsman providing a part time bowling option to his skipper &
(ii) With a decline in Sachin's batting in the past couple of years his bowling has marginally improved.

Now we break up those 36 ODI's played by Sachin since Jan 2005 and that average of 38-plus in two sub-categories: matches in which Sachin bagged wickets (W) and matches in which he did not (NW). The breakup is:

W: 9 matches since Jan 2005
NW: 27 matches since Jan 2005

Further analysis of these two sets throws up this interesting evidence:

ODI since
Jan'05----BatAvg, BowlAvg

NW----42.35, -
W------28.56, 25.21

[till 4th ODI vs. WI]

In other words, we have one set of matches when Sachin Tendulkar bats quite like 'the Sachin of yore', to re-utter a taboo; and the rest in which Sachin becomes a mediocre batsman but adequately makes up by phenomenally upgrading his bowling. And by that I mean a bowling performance as good as any specialist bowler has achieved playing for his team in recent times.

The recent series and his Man of the Series Award was a nice summary of that development in Sachin's game. Sachin did not score the highest runs for the series but in every match he either scored in excess of fifty or took at least one wicket bowling tight spells.

The New Sachin

Numbers tell only part of the tale - and if not treated judiciously it may even be the wrong tale. Before getting carried away with figures I must point out that we have only a small sample to work with - we are discussing just 14 wickets collected by Sachin from the 9 'W' matches since 2005. But then,

a) those 14 scalps are spread out over the period;
b) all matches have featured formidable ODI teams like Pakistan, South Africa and the recent West Indies;
c) Sachin has bowled 8 overs or more in 7 of the 9 matches, and in only the mad Afridi-blitz match of 2005 did he bowl less than 6; and
d) names of major batsmen like Lara and Inzamam feature in that list.

We need to keep further tabs on this. But we can already sense a new facet of his game shaping up here, because over his career Sachin has averaged pretty much the same with bat in W and NW matches. There leaves the true champion his signature. Sachin still finds a way to make contributions that are not too far below the standards of his best days; it is for us to identify the manner and method he finds to do it.

Do we need any debate on the ODI place of a player capable of that sort of performance in his 18th year of international cricket? As he mentioned receiving the MoS that day, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar indeed knows the best way to play after playing for so many years.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What does the captain think of Sehwag?

A TV news headline today screams: "Exclusive: Rahul Dravid had insisted on retaining Sehwag in the XI for the Cape Town Test regardless of backlash" ...

!!!!What is that again? Is that as bad as divulging national secrets to terrorists? Is that bad at all, for a captain to back the dormant abilities of a faltering powerhouse? We live in strange times indeed, where logical and gutsy decisions, when proven erroneous on hindsight, are so painted as moves made with intention of compromising best interests. It is a crime not to capture people's imagination and Dravid the skipper, post SA trip, is paying for that offence and only a World Cup triumph can atone for that.

But I sincerely expect this news to generate a sense of relief amongst a section of people and ex-players that think nothing of Dravid's conviction in his decisions or in his players. In a recent interview Mr Kapil Dev wondered aloud that Rahul Dravid is proving to be another 'weak leader' who appears to succumb to other people's whims. Someone should rush to the great all-rounder and seek his opinion on this 'Exclusive'.

'Distorted reporting' is not the topic of this post. Dravid's opinion of Sehwag is.

It can be a little difficult to comprehend the thinking that went into Dravid's defiant backing of Sehwag ahead of the 3rd Test. By then the latter had let him down over and over again, had refused to learn from mistakes, and was a player slowly but surely losing favour amongst the selectors not only as a captain designate but also as a player assured of selection.

Add to it the fact that the two are as different persons as Gayle and Bradshaw. Like his flamboyant ex-skipper Virender Sehwag is from the cocky, 'living by the sword n' tongue' family of players. He cares a fig about the degerating shape of his physique and game and believes things will fall in place soon by a divine intervention called 'return of form' that comes as a beam from heaven without prayer or rigour. Rahul Dravid is a contrast; I need not say more.

Over the past year and a half Dravid has not shown such enormous trust in abilities of too many failing cricketers, leading to side effects like the Kapil remark. Even Harbhajan Singh has had to sit out repeated after form lapses. But Sehwag is quite obviously held in higher esteem.... Why?

At this point it occurs to me that a newly-obtained copy of Peter Roebuck's "It Takes All Sorts" languishes in my bag. I forget the question on my mind and settle down nicely into a book that makes you feel involved with the lives of numerous cricketers small and big that we often see play cricket and vanish behind pavilion doors and surfed channels after the match.

The book is typically Roebuck; you will like it if you have liked his cricket columns. It is all about a whole lot of people of various age, gender, colour and from different backgrounds; chances are his empathy with the people he writes about in "It Takes All Sorts" will make you grow fond of him even more.

Engrossed, I chug along into the 'Soaring Subcontinentals' section of the paperback. Two consecutive sub-heads there bring me back to the question I was pondering over prior to picking up the book. The subheads are: 'Virender Sehwag in Melbourne' and 'Rahul Dravid in Melbourne'.

The pieces recollect two innings played by the two players in the same Boxing Day Test Match Down Under in 2003. It brings back sad memories - like a combined score of 5 runs in 2 innings by the 4 bowlers and an early dropped catch of double centurion Ponting - of a match we lost after getting to 278/1 on the first day; but it also reminds how special these two players can be in their own ways.

The Sehwag episode of 'It Takes All Sorts' also contained gigabytes of giggles, a natural consequence of the Sehwag Way.

Here are a few samples of Peter's take on Viru's batting:

"In his opinion, flighted deliveries must be put out of their misery with the sort of swing perfected by Babe Ruth."

"No one knows what the blighter might try next - including himself and his opponents. One swipe was as poor a stroke as any seen in Test cricket since...well, since his dismissal in the previous match."

" Repeatedly partners march down the wicket to urge restraint upon a man whose entire career has been an adventure. Sehwag listens quietly to their entreaties, smiles sweetly, blocks a couple of balls and generally tries to strike the next one into Richmond station."

"Of course, strokes of this nature are part of a charm more obvious to spectators than bowlers or the colleague occupying the hot seat."

Well, Rahul Dravid was at the other end for some of the time when this fun-filled mayhem went on. Rahul was also the stand-in skipper when Viru Multanated Pak bowling for his triple century in the next series and decided to continue the good work against that formidable side ever since.

That more or less answers my question. I guess those were nice times for a colleague to fathom the worth of the man they call Sehwag.

Instead of expecting Sehwag to morph into another Mr. Dependable like himself Dravid, rather admirably, values Sehwag for what he is, or can be after he relocates his lost run-scoring bats. At that critical point of the series, the beleagured Indian skipper chose to back the guy he had seen turn series and matches on his own. Viru must now learn to believe in that worth and do adequate justice to his talent over the remaining half of his career

Pratyush Khaitan lists his observations on another enigmatic aspect of Viru's cricket.

Update: Should this make Kapil happier?

Monday, February 05, 2007

The great Indian Middle Order dilemma

Our friend Scribbler declares "Tendulkar and Ganguly must open". I look around and expect no protest even from a million miles. I cannot think of a protest statement against their kind of accomplishment when it is accompanied by the heartening reclamation of form that both great batsmen are showing a month away from the world Cup.

After Team India's dismal ODI whitewash in South Africa, Tendulkar was pushed down to the middle order ahead of the 1st ODI clash versus West Indies. Reason: The Indian juggernaut had numerous wheels on the outside but on testing passages only three of them - Sachin, Sourav and Dravid - look any good to carry it over the 50 over mark. Making them bat at the top three batting positions looked too big a risk for comfort.

Cut to the end of the 4th ODI after a 3-1 series win against India's chief tormentors over the past year. Suddenly the team has a problem of plenty.

In these 4 Indo-WI matches the Indian innings had used up its overs twice without the number 6 batsman having a hit, and on another occasion the top and middle order had done even better with the run rate till the lower order squandered away the advantage. This, inspite of having experimented with a few new batsmen.

Assuming flat batting tracks to be the norm in the upcoming World Cup, India are likely to opt for the 4-bowlers-plus-Pathan format. That leaves Dhoni (The world no. 3 ODI batsman at present) with an 'upgradable no. 6' slot and the others to share the balance 5 positions. The 'others' are Sachin, Ganguly, Sehwag, Uthappa, Dravid, Yuvraj, Karthik.

Now for the principal cause of the dilemma: display of good form and - importantly - international class by a couple of folks originally envisaged to have little more than 'standby' roles. Robin Uthappa has looked classy, aggressive and relentless enough to make a few World Cup teams lose sleep over plotting his dismissal; Dinesh Karthik, a standby for the entire Dhoni package or part thereof, showed flashes of grit all through the South African series and has now scored his highest ODI score on a tricky track which saw many greats bite the dust.

Leaving them out of the playing XI is going to be tough, like dropping Gambhir from the squad against SL was. Also Sehwag has to score NOW to get back his position in the World Cup playing XI. Moreover that does not solve ALL the problems.

Let us explore the option of the team reversing to a Ganguly-Tendulkar opening for the WC as per Scribbler's wishes. Where, then, do we plan to slot Yuvraj, who had a dream last season that saw him in a new-found Finisher avatar unconquerable to all weaponry except a fortune-swinging Bravo slower ball but now finds herself returning from a serious knee injury as the weakest link in the Indian top order? Should it be number 5? For a player of Yuvraj's talent and extraordinary strokeplaying finesse that should be too low a batting position in ODI's.

So we aim to give young Yuvraj number 4. If he shows form in the Sri Lanka matches then we may even put him in at No. 3 while pushing one-down Dravid down to number four for steadying the ship in case it gets rocked early. But what about Veeru then? Are we not failing to utilise Sehwag's innate ability to hit over the top during the powerplays by relegating him to late middle order for the slog, a slog that is already well laden on the strong shoulders of Dhoni and Pathan?

On the flip side, would Tendulkar have not controlled the lower middle order proceedings better than Sehwag, just as a Sehwag in marauding form would have more to offer as an opener than Sachin at the top?

And we are not even speaking of the 'field' guys from Uttar Pradesh, Raina and Kaif, who stake their stifled claims to a World Cup berth principally on the back of being brilliant fielders for a side in eternal need of such men.....

Loads of questions there - I hope the selectors call correctly.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The "Twenty20 Gavaskar" and a wish for even contests

Statutory Warning: Certain contents of this post may shock Shahid Afridi fans like cricpro, who I guess was busy scripting a profile for the Afridi we all know pretty much around the same time as Afridi was playing the innings referred below....

The other day I happened to switch on the telly during a Twenty20 international between South Africa and Pakistan. It was the 2nd innings; Graeme Smith and Loots Bosman were racing to the target. They showed the scorecard of the Pakistan innings and the sixth data on it knocked me hard.

Reason: One gentleman by the name of Shahid Afridi came in at no. 6 in the 10th over of an innings that is scheduled to last just 20 overs and scored a pathetic 7 off 17 balls. Was this the same batsman that often returns inverse figures in much longer versions of cricket? Afridi’s knock on Friday was certainly as much of an aberration as was Sunil Gavaskar’s when the latter scored a Test ton in 1983 against the mighty West Indians - in less than 100 deliveries!

On a more serious note, I am truly disappointed with the rules of Twenty20, or the lack of some as I see it. Is it not a bit too unfair on the bowlers to let 10 batsmen throw their bats over a span of a meagre 120 balls and, at the same time, keep a provision that any one of those ‘blessed’ guys can stay till the end playing 70 or 80 of them? Indeed I am desperately eagerto see a ceiling on the maximum number of deliveries a batsman is allowed to play in a Twenty20 innings, much like the bowlers have in all limited-overs forms of cricket.

Something of that sort happens in the 5-overs-an-innings matches of ‘HongKong Super sixes’ – a batsman has to go out after scoring 30 and can come back only if all other wickets are gone - and I see a lot of logic and fairness in implementing similar stuff in Twenty20 rules. Here, though, I would like to see a simpler rule, e.g. a batsman having a maximum number of 35 deliveries to face after which he has to walk off regardless.

In fact, I am no less disillusioned at the ICC not touching upon the 10-over limit on bowlers in the ODI’s. Even a small adjustment of that rule can lead to interesting repercussions. For example, even allowing 1 (or better 2) bowlers to bowl 12 overs max can convert 2 (or 4) of your potential worst scoring overs from part timers into an extra incisive spell from your leading bowlers that is so often lacking in the middle overs.

Cricket, irrespective of format, is about the contest of bat and ball. Certain rules are implemented in the various formats of the game only to shift the balance of that contest. However we need to critically review the present rules - or lack of them - if these tend to destroy the balance.

The ‘one bouncer per over’ was a nice breather incorporated a couple of years back, one that aimed to return some usurped ground to the fast bowling clan. However teams having strength in their spin department have hardly benefitted from that rule change. The extra-overs-for-some-bowler(s) option we are discussing, however, should be equally acceptable to all teams. What is more, a specialist bowler will have a bigger role to play in the matches that way and that can only add to the attractiveness of the format. I guess you will agree even if you are a batsman.

Ian Chappell recollects a few changes in the limited overs format over the decades since that inaugural World Cup of `75 here. Would it not be a nice gesture if the ensign of change is allowed to proceed forward and bowlers playing in the 2011 edition can be allowed some more leverage?