Friday, July 27, 2007

Sunny opening, and Sach in trouble

This is cricinfo’s statistical reflection on a much-discussed failing of Tendulkar. Essentially it highlights Tendla's diminishing run return as a Test match progresses and the sheer predictability of his failure in the match 4th innings over the present decade.

Before blurting out a fresh curse for a struggling Sachin let us zoom out a little further on this issue. We need to see the stats with tempered emotions. We have to remember that the 4th innings generally sports a Test match pitch at its slowest – a condition more suited for the openers playing tired fast bowlers with a new ball (no reverse swing) than for middle order bats slotted to play spinners waiting eagerly for their business end.

By the time a number four or five batsman enters the crease in the last innings it gets decidedly more difficult to play the slower men or even the faster ones; by then they are gaining ascendancy bowling with a ragged ball on a bruised playing surface. The list of batsmen with best 4th innings batting averages in that cricinfo link just about confirms the supposition by featuring a multitude of batsmen from the top three, including the modern greats Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting.

The weightages are reversed in the match 1st innings (i.e. the first innings of the team batting 1st). A fresh fast bowler with a new ball on a new turf means openers are having all the problems while middle order guys are relatively happier Why not? They will face slower bowlers with a half-new ball on a settling pitch. The track and the ball lose a bit of hostility by the time they come in. Not the worst time to bat.

So for Sachin fans, here is the flip side. We compared the figures of Sunny and Sachin in the 1st match innings. Result: Sunny averages 42 while Sachin soars at 73. Looks like 1-1, eh?

There is another angle to that study that makes the comparison of two Indian greats even more intriguing: Gavaskar, a master opener, played in the era of great fast bowlers – the ones that made the non-striking end look like a distant dream to batsmen of Sunny's trade in the match first innings. Sachin, a middle order virtuoso, plays in the era of great spinners – the same ones that make a living out of twisting judgements of middle order batsmen in the match 4th innings.

Do we have to pass a verdict on the two greats? Here’s mine in case we have to: as far as performance (read batting average) in sternest conditions is concerned, Sunny’s worst is 41, barely 10 points below his career average. However the corresponding figure is 34 for Sachin – a whole 21 points less than his career return. Consistency-across-a-Test-match, thy name is not Sachin Tendulkar.

The net knowledge gain for us laymen from this exercise can be summed up with a slightly modified version of a famous Mumbai catchline:

“One-two ka 4, four-five ka 1”

In other words, batsmen 1 & 2 are likely to make most runs in innings no. 4 while batsmen 4 & 5 profess their love for innings no. 1.

Note: I still harbour this preference for Sachin playing on for another 4 years in ODI’s and withdrawing from Test matches without any further delay. He may score the odd big score but even his success at the crease is much less value for (i) these days even in his more successful 1st innings he keeps getting out for 60’s and 70’s and (ii) his earlier dominance of bowlers, that was worth a multilication factor of 1.5 to the actual runs scored, is not going to return. For the past year and half he has not done enough in Tests to keep claiming that number four position ahead of a promising (albeit cocky) talent, Yuvraj Singh.

Sachin may be already thinking hard on this. We had discussed this half a year earlier. The current series in England may turn out to be a decider for his Test future. Coming to think of it - can Sachin yet be our Test opener like.........


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Geoffrey, Gayle and a lost talent

Meet Kevin Mitchell, an endangered species - an English sports writer / ex player with some nice words to say about the sub continent's darling Sir Geoffrey Boycott. Okay, make that an English sports writer / ex player with any nice words to say about Boycs.

Sarwan thinks of Gayle's fill-in captaincy as 'outstanding'. Wish I had something to say on this but unfortunately I am completely off cricket these days (this is one helluva long hangover and I am seriously wondering...). It may sound weird but I update myself about the ongoing Indo-England Lord's Test only when someone else puts me to shame by asking for one (the poor guys still think of me as a cricket fanatic).

Wish the selectors and the antagonised WICB were thinking as much about Chris Gayle. Terms like 'Discipline' and 'Pride' - terms that Gayle will be the last person to represent or enforce in a team - are proven failures as motivators with the current West Indian lot. So maybe it is time to change the medicine and go looking for new words.

So how about getting them to win a few through 'Fun' and 'Relaxation' and then - when one day they stop going into matches with 'nothing to lose' - make them gradually aware of their place under the Caribbean Sun? Chris Gayle may not a bad choice if you are willing to let the boys work out their path to redemption. It may not work but that will be no decline.

The other day a Hindi news channel on the telly was covering a young ex-cricketer from Central India who had won every award in U-19 cricket but never got picked to represent his state. The boy left cricket to sustain himself. At present he works at a wheat grinding shop. The reasons for that missing call-up is unknown to him and he thinks 'paaltix' plays a role in the fading of talents like him. Was this the guy? I wish I could recall...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Normal Boring Genius

[This post was compiled nearly four weeks back but somehow I managed to defer pressing the 'publish' button.]

Now we know the guy that stalled Aakash Chopra's nascent international career in 2004. As Aakash confesses, it was
him again.

The other day Cyrus Brocha, TV anchor and arguably 'the original funny man of Indian Television', invited Glenn Donald McGrath to his cricket show on TEN sports. Among other things Pidge rated Lara 'slightly' ahead of Sachin as the best batsman he bowled against. Apparently Lara is the only one who has played him with a commendable degree of assurance over a period of time. Glenn, of course, remembered to add that he got Lara a mere 15 times to end the affair on 'his side'. That must have been humility for he was discussing someone he admired. No wonder batsmen cannot stand his sight or sound.

"People come to me asking for secret of my continued success expecting to learn a magic formula - and go back disappointed when I tell them they have to bowl 99 out of 100 deliveries at 'that' length hitting top of off stump."

"International cricket is all in the mind and it is better to keep things as simple as possible."

It's the unmistakable normal boring genius of Glenn McGrath, a man whose cockiness and foul mouth has always made the prudish side of me root for his rival batsmen, for the other team.

Normal, coz' those two statements and all their variants are done to death by commentating ex-players. An estimated 47.34% of those utterances have come while this tall Australian was in action.

Boring, coz' they are nothing that we would care to spend much time thinking about. We heard that crap long before we became self styled cricket pundits and it was only slightly less boring the first time.

Genius, coz' they are nothing that international bowlers other than this man and Curtly Ambrose have come close to achieving on so many occasions under telling pressure ever since I fell in love with cricket nearly a quarter of a century ago.

No wonder the selfsame bland words, emanating from his lips, sounded like holy mantras even to people that have hoped (against hope) to see him vanquished in his playing days.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Tale of Two Kings

Hi friends! It is quite a while since we had a chat - on matters non-cricketing!

Although I am a thorough Roger Federer admirer for precisely the things that make him and Pistol Pete 'boring', this article disappointed me. Perhaps because it chose only to read the concluding line of Roger Federer's epic battle with Rafael Nadal instead of summarising the once-in-a-generation story that unfolded on Centre court.

You would know better if you watched the match live. That news outline forgets to emphasize that virtually nothing separated the two protagonists. And that that tiniest of gaps was unthinkably in favour of the 'outsider'. The report reminded me of the celebration of Goran's emotional W-win in 2001, a heart warming event that sadly allowed for little mention of a lion-hearted Pat Rafter. Lion-hearted less for his stomach for a dogfight and more for the generosity he showed in words and deeds for his endearing rival after the classic was over. Such is sports coverage these days but such are sportsmen down the years.

Back to Sunday. I was silly enough to get busy with silly chores and miss this special event until late in the 4th set. But what was that for a fifth set!!! For the first time in a modern sport we have two Donald Bradmen at the same point of time instead of one, two players exhibiting sustained ability, versatility and temperament, not to mention results, that can put them distinctly ahead of other competition for an appreciable stretch of time. It reminded us of the Becker-Edberg classics in 3 successive Wimbledon finals of the 80's - but then Ivan Lendl used to be King in those days.

Federer was playing some elevated tennis even in the 4th set but seldom have his offerings on grass looked as pale in comparison to what came back from the other side of the tape. Serving was about the only thing Fed did better than Rafa. By the final set the defending champ had realised that he had to serve his way out of trouble and decided to gamble on putting pressure on it even on crucial, match deciding points.

Not for nothing has the Swiss gentleman won 11 Grand Finals finals and his superb serving under pressure has always played a part in it but never before on grass could he, a player of near-flawless faculties in most other aspects of shot making, be forced to believe that booming a few high-risk aces were his only resort. In his post match talk Federer himself was the first one to accept the great favour he needed and received from Lady Luck to get even with Bjorn Borg.

And such wonderful sportsmen those two guys are. Rafa showed no nerves under pressure and fought with gritted teeth and yet displayed a little lesson for grumpy sportsmen by taking the defeat sportingly. He flashed his disarming smile upon being told of the certainty of his triumph at Centre court in the coming years and acknowledged the supremacy of Fed on this particular occasion as befits a person assured of his own abilities and performance.

Fed, on the other hand, has seen enough in the last two finals to know that this 21 year old Spaniard is perhaps more certain to make the finals at his backyard next year than even him. He expressed relief at being lucky with his serves and extracting a win, with a clear hint that the pattern of last 5 years may not be a feature of coming Wimbledons if the young Nadal, armed 'with many more years', keeps on answering to the call of his talent.