Sunday, December 21, 2008

Centuries galore

I had gone past the part on the report on 3rd day's play at cricinfo which said Kevin Pietersen had just scored his 15th Test ton but I came back to the line a little while later to re-confirm what I just read. I did so after I recalled that the present English skipper made his Test debut less than 3½ years earlier in the Lord's Test of the 2005 Ashes.

Kevin is brilliant in his shots, worth going miles to watch and, after the marginal decline of Ricky Ponting in the past year, perhaps the most consciously dominating Test batting great in the world game today(*) - if only amongst those who approach cricket 'normally'. But it still came as a huge surprise that KP is scoring nearly 5 Test centuries a year. What does it convert to - a ton every second match? That would place his ton rate per match, and thereby his batting average maybe, next to Don Bradman.

I rush to KP's player page on cricinfo. Batting average first. He averages a shade under 50, which I reckon to be a bit of an underselling of his ability. I was expecting it to be 60 or thereabouts. But then that average make the tally of 15 centuries even more eye popping. Interested, I move to the 'number of caps' column for Pietersen. There. Turns out that the 2nd Test at Mohali is already his 45th Test match. A century in 3 matches and a conversion ratio of over 50% are still rather special but at least we have seen comparable figures in the past against people not called The Don.

45 is a lot of matches for a man to play in under 3½ years. I had a similar shocker last year when I learnt that Matthew Hayden has scored circa 25 Test tons in a period of just over 6 years, and that Ricky Ponting had taken his tally of Test hundreds from 10 to 32 in about the same time frame. No one in history of Test cricket has even been that prolific in notching up tons. Then we looked a little deeper.

While the 'number of hundreds' column does reflect Hayden & Ponting's brilliant form over these periods, we also see the other side of the coin when we find that these players never did cross the so-near-yet-so-far 60 mark in their overall averages even during these glorious phases of their careers. The large number of tons, therefore, are more a product of these modern greats playing many more matches than previous great batsmen in history rather than them going through patches of form unforeseen in other non-Bradman greats across the ages.

Tailpiece: I hope you already know the famous snippet that even Don Bradman failed to match English opener Herbert Sutcliffe's unique feat of never letting his overall Test average dip below 60. And that really means NEVER in Sutcliffe's full career spanning 11 years! Amazing, isn't it? Striking too, because Sutcliffe ended with a barely sixty plus average (60.73) in Tests while Don ended with you-know-what.

(*) - The Test batting strike rates will put Graeme Smith & Matthew Hayden over KP & Ponting but I suggest you take a vote from the opposition bowlers and the captains as to which players, on their day, can make perfectly good Test bowling line ups look toothless and scurry for cover at the same time. This statement once again excludes freaks. E.g. men from Najafgarh, India.

The Never Never Land of Virender Pan

Excerpt from Rohit Mahajan's article on Virender Sehwag (courtesy cricinfo's Surfer) which attempts to dissect 'Sehwagism' in the aftermath of Viru's match-turning opening salvo in the 4th innings of the Chennai Test last week:

There are tales, and then there are tales, one more incredible than the other, about Virender Sehwag.Shane Warne narrates a delectable one in his recent book. Playing for Leicestershire against Middlesex, Sehwag found Abdul Razzaq reverse-swinging the ball alarmingly.

He called his batting partner Jeremy Snape over and said he had a plan. "We must lose this ball," Sehwag said matter-of-factly. Next over, Viru smashed the ball clean out of the ground. The ball was lost. The replacement ball would, obviously, not reverse right away. "We're all right for one hour," he told the non-striker, who told Warne. Mission accomplished.


For the rest of this discussion we assume this incident to be true. And for the discussion we also freeze the video of this incident at the point he has stepped out of the crease (we assume he did that - for poetry's sake) to meet the ball for the last time. What happened thereafter is besides the point.

When he actually set out for that launching shot he gave us a chance to call it 'audacity'. You can also call it 'backing one's ability' as it actually came off. But more amazing is the realisation that he tried to think of a way to actually solve a problem like stopping a bowler from swinging a ball.

Even the perfect skipper in Ian Chappell's book will have seen a bowler swing a ball and said 'Right mate, we have to play through this phase with common sense and try to ensure we lose as few wickets as possible.' Even that other-worldly super-brain from Chappeli's book would have seen this problem as an unsolvable one. Where then does this shot and its reason place Sehwag?

Mahajan says Sehwag has ' a razor sharp mind'. I am willing to go one step further and point out that it is a mind whose thoughts we mortals - complicated ones - will perhaps fail to comprehend on most occasions. Especially if it results in more misses than hits. We will say 'there is little percentage in it' and refuse to acknoweldge that this freak actually saw this problem as a solvable one, and that he tried to do something about it so as to turn the tables in his favour rather than wait for fate to take its course.

Let us see it from another angle. Let's say Virender Sehwag had the limited batting ability of his dependable percentage playing Delhi teammate Aakash Chopra. Had he then thought of this plan to stop the ball from swinging, the idea would still be just as invaluable for the reasons cited above. But then this plan would never have seen the light of the day as
a) Aakash Chopra, with his ability, has no realistic percentage of pulling this off and
b) it is not one of those things that you dare ask your partners do even if they are more talented!

That act of actually attempting a hit to make the ball disappear (that the ball did disappear, I again emphasize, is irrelevant here) therefore shows a culmination of the following traits in Virender Sehwag:
1) an urge to break new path the desperation of which is rare even in the greatest of cricket minds,
2) an instinctive knowledge of the percentage of success he may have on his various shots, and
3) a remorseless readyness to cop the flak upon failing on a low percentage choice made knowing fully well that the plan will have no takers without the backing of success.

Some things never change. It is a joy the world of Sehwag features amongst those.

As Sambit Bal states in his review of the Chennai Test:

Sehwag is a man of incredible batting skills but his mind is pure genius: doubt is not allowed to hover nearby, let alone enter.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

The wall's papers

Half of us are waiting for those, and the other half too have started accepting that the papers will come sooner rather than later.

For valid reasons. While watching Dravid walk out to bat in the last half hour of play today, it was a given for me that he would get dismissed in the pre-dusk play on 4th day of the Chennai Test against England today. It took me an immense effort to grit my teeth and say to myself 'He WILL bat tomorrow." It seems almost a creditable feat that he has lived up to it and is still there on 2 not out. To think he is our no. 3, a slot supposed to be manned by the best bat.

You thought that was irony enough? Half a decade ago, Dravid scripted a famous, incredible, savoured win for India at Adelaide by scoring a double century today.

To be fair to media and Dravid's critics, I do not think anyone has really questioned Rahul's place in the team earlier than it should have happened. In fact I respect them all for having been more patient with Dravid than they have been with Tendulkar & Ganguly.

When cricinfo's Sambit Bal rates Rahul's ninety at Perth as Dravid's only contribution in an Indian Test win in the past 2 years he has my support. Players in this sport often go through similar rough patches. Some, like, Mark Taylor, Sachin and Ganguly, had extended ones in Test matches. But you start to suspect recession of a player's abilities when he keeps getting runs against lesser opponents while faltering against the big fish.

Rahul Dravid's aggregate profile over the past two years will show that his already modest Test average of 30 in this period would be downright dismal if fair weather runs and runs against lesser opposition could be counted out. In the build up to the recent Australia series he got two successive 50's in the Irani Trophy but then struggled right through a big series where every other batsman in the top 7 did well. It is almost unbelievable that we are talking about Dravid here. The same man whose innings used to be the platforms for these same other batsmen to score match winning runs in some of the biggest matches of Indian cricket.

It is really dark out there for Dravid. But then let's hope we see another day that brings rays to him. I truly wish I could go out with a guitar to Chennai tonight and sing, like young actor Imran Khan does in the hit Hindi movie 'Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na', to grief-stricken Aditi-like Dravid: 'Raat ke baad hi to savera hota hai.' I will half-expect his intelligent and sensitive skipper Dhoni to be doing something akin to that tonight.

All these excesses of emotions come out not just because I am a Dravid fan, but because I STILL believe he has 2-3 solid years of cricket left in him.

He can once again be the no. 1 player at no. 3. It is another matter if he will be.

Update: I must take this opportunity to express thanks to the present England cricket team and their authorities. Considering the larger picture, any result is acceptable to us Indian cricket supporters as the match is at least happening. That the experience has been heightened by the quality of contest is a further credit to both teams. But the match being set up in the final session today with a posibility of it going right into the final session tomorrow with all 3 results still possible is entirely the work of a genius from Najafgarh called Virender Sehwag. Plays like his innings today serve as life saving drugs for the failing health of Test cricket.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Dravid on Laxman's special 100

What is intriguing about this article? The fact that it was written in the midst of a crucial test match which could see a change of supremacy in world Test cricket. And that it was written on a day when the writer had scored a duck in continuation of a disappointing string of scores. And hence also that it was written with some uneasy questions surely arising somewhere in the back of the writer's mind.

You need some kind of calm to even agree to write in these circumstances, let alone author in this unaffected article just to join your colleague-friend on his day of deserved glory. But you need that calm anyway to script such tide-turning innings as Dravid has in the past. Sadly those epic essays are not appearing these days. Here's hoping that they come once again, sooner than even his followers suspect.

Going by their individual approaches, Sourav has the potential to be a very good analyst and commentator, while Rahul may just turn out to be a thoughtful columnist.

Since we are already into discussing the future when the two 1996 Lord's debutantes have moved on from cricket, the thoroughly missed Siddhartha Vaidyanathan has shared his thoughts and emotions on the single biggest cause of distress to more than a generation of cricket lovers in India.

Here's an oldie - a Rahul tribute to Kumble in cricinfo magazine. It was written during better times on the professional front for both the subject and the author.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wanted: Umpires with no affinity for showbiz

Upon the fall of last wicket in the Australian first innings of the 2nd Ind-Aus Test, Cricinfo ended its text commentary on the innings with a cricket fan's rant-in:
Billy Gane writes in to say: "Seriously; is anybody else out there sick of the "slow death" finger of umpire Koetzen? Can't we get back to the umpy being a non-entity and letting the players shine?"

C'mon folks, let's allow them umpires a few things of their own liking as long as those are not called 'bad decisions'. We don't mind Shoaib Akhtar taking off after every wicket as if he won the match with it, or the regular fist pumping of batsmen after reaching their centuries. So why grudge Rudy Koertzen his slow finger or Billy Bowden his crooked one as long as the receiving team has no grudges against the umpire?

Billy has a disability that prevents him from straightening his finger. Maybe Rudy too has a mystery disease called 'cold muscles' where the muscles on his arm go cold due to prolonged inactivity. This can explain the he takes to raise his arm in the event of a dismissal.

Going by that logic, his speed should increase at the end of a hat-trick. Surely the arm muscles would be sufficiently warmed up by then. I am willing to spend millions to get a video where some bowler bags a hattrick with Rudy officating at the bowler's end. Oh yes - the last wicket should be lbw. The TV guys forget about the umpire when a bowler hits the stumps.

I am tempted to stretch the imagination further on that last line. The 3rd ball hits the stumps but the bowler oversteps. Will old Rudy be as slow in stretching out his right hand in the other direction to crush the aspirations of the bowler dreaming of a hat-trick? Not necessary - the affliction may only be on his wicket-taking left-arm. Even for the left arm the problem may only be restricting movement in one direction (i.e. the same left arm may well be quick as a flash in signalling no ball which requires hand movement in another axis).

Isn't it strange (and shameful) that I do not recall Rudy's speed (or lack of it) at raising either of his now-contentious arms to signal no-ball? I must have seen it umpteen times during various matches.

Too many open threads. For now let us assume that Rudy has slowness stacked up both his sleeves and in both directions, and that he uses it to mill-grind the hattrick hopes of this imaginary bowler. I do not wish to read the unreadable thoughts of the bowler with crushed hat-trick hopes but some of the batsmen given out by Rudy's finger would certainly feel appeasement by the sight of him finally administer 'slow death' to a bowler instead of a batsman!

Sehwag's straight bat

An excerpt of cricinfo's text commentary on a passage of play in session 3, Day 3 of the India-v-Australia 2nd Test at Mohali:

15.3
Siddle to Sehwag, no run, fires in the yorker on middle and leg, Sehwag manages to squeeze that one out
15.4
Siddle to Sehwag, FOUR, Slower delivery, full and outside off, and Sehwag launches that over extra cover, one bounce and into the boundary
15.5
Siddle to Sehwag, 1 run, Sehwag steer a delivery that was angling into him to cover point

That fifth delivery needs better explanation. Coming after a rather wide slower ball that was despatched to the fence, it was a sharp delivery that jagged back from back of a length into Sehwag and sought to breach any gap between bat and pad. The same gap that Zaheer Khan successfully found in the defence of mighty Hayden in the Australian first innings. Sehwag had none on show, and the good fifth ball in that Siddle over could only help raise a muffled appeal from the only man on the field unable to see its contact: Haddin, the keeper.

That sequence shows emphatically that Virender Sehwag is back at his world-beating best. Not only is he judging deliveries on their merit, he has also fully revived from his form slump of 2006 when he was visibly falling behind on the basics that had catapulted him into the elite group a few years earlier.

Sehwag was always a miser at feet movement but the straight bat of the young Sehwag could break the heart of many a fast bowler. Good to see him get back to doing that again. Another piece of joy: he used to be no heavier in his early days than he is now. Looks like he has also regained control on his increasing love for that extra dish of delicacy.

Test of Dhoni's Test character begins at lunchtime, 4th day

At the end of 3rd day India have taken a lead of 300 runs with all 10 second innings wicket intact. Barring a spectacular collapse inspired by now-unfamiliar Aussie aggression (not the verbal stuff, but the real challenge they can throw at others at their moment of reckoning) India are looking at a lead of 400 plus with 5 sessions and plenty of wickets in hand. Declaring at 400 will be the stuff that relives Test cricket back from dead. But all skippers these days are known to be slightly more defensive than that. Part of the blame goes to declining balance between ball and bat. 450 should be enough. We agree.

But what if acting skipper MS Dhoni is more defensive than we think he is? An Indian declaration with a lead of 450 will allow Australians well over 4 sessions to get those runs. He knows that the Australian batting line-up, if they get going, can bat at run-rates well over that requirement. This pitch shows no signs of decay as yet. So what does the ultra-defensive avatar of Dhoni do at such times?

If Dhoni IS the braveheart we know him to be, he will ask his batsmen to play positively and declare just after lunch. If they get 450, good. If they get more, even better. If they get slightly lesser, no problems with that.

But if Dhoni is unable to profess "we will get them before they get us"to his men, we will see a less than eager middle order tomorrow who will try to ensure that the Aussies have not only more runs to get but also less time to get those. We may even see the Indians slowing the run rates all by themselves, so that they can give themselves the excuse of delaying the declaration. ["We planned to declare at 450 - but Australian negative bowling tactics ensured we could reach it only at tea"].
Here's hoping that on the 20th of October, 2008 Team India will be led by the man we saw at South Africa, the man that led a bunch of young guns to a magnificent, brave and well-earned T20 world cup.

Amit's noble feat, and its undesirable but certain fallout

I have not seen much of Amit Mishra except in the IPL matches. An inevitable comparison comes up with that other young hope of Indian leg spin bowling, Piyush Chawla. Based on the IPL show (which was hard-fought, top class competitive event), at this stage I rate Amit to be a little ahead of Piyush Chawla. Chawla is talented and can bowl genuine wicket taking deliveries but he can also be profligate. Amit Mishra seems to possess all of Chawla's skills but also gives away very little.

To replace a legendary bowler-cum-skipper like Anil Kumble in a debut Test match must be pressure enough. To do it against Australia would be even more difficult. His teammates did well to compensate for those burdens on the young shoulders by batting first, putting up a good score and then, vitally, knocking of early Australian wickets (including Hayden) before Amit came in for his first spell. But credit goes to him and only him for bowling as well as he has done in the Ist innings and earning 5 wickets from good batsmen using classic leg spinner's guile. The feat shows a wealth of potential lurking beneath his unassuming persona. How about having Lalit Modi to divert some of his time from ICL-beating and ensuring that the boy plays for Rajasthan in the next next season to gain some more knowledge of his trade under the tutelage of Shane Warne?

I can see one fallout of Amit's feat that is as certain as it is unfortunate for him. His 5 wicket spell will be used by the Indian sports media to put more pressure on Anil Kumble when Anil needs it the least - in the middle of a tough series, perhaps the toughest in world cricket today. Kumble is 37, injured, coming from a poor last series and went wicketless for the first time on Indian soil in the series opener. Amit is 25, fit, has played for Kumble and took 5 wickets in his very first innings.

Poor chap Kumble - if I were him I would have nausea today even at the thought of the possible contents in tomorrow's sports coverage in media. And our selectors - how will they react when they select the team for the last 2 Tests?? While they have every reason for resting Kumble and continuing with Amit in the 3rd match, the selectors can also jump the gun and end up sending Kumble out of the team he was leading a match ago.While that is a little unlikely, I would not exactly be stunned if Anil Kumble is deselected, feels humiliated by his non-selection in the last 2 Tests and ends up declaring that he has played his last Test.

Brings another such occasion to my mind. Waugh Jr averaged under 28 in the 10 tests preceding the Australian away series against NZ in March 2000. The last series before that was against Indian visitors. Among middle order batsmen, Ponting was in best form against India. However he got injured (as far as I recall) and had to be replaced by Damien Martyn who (unbelievably) used to the bench those days. Martyn topped the middle order averages in the NZ series while Mark Waugh was the least impressive. While Mark Waugh did quite well to still average 47, many of us from the sub-continent suspected that he was likely to lose his place when Ponting returned. Nothing of that sort happened though. When Australia played their next Test against West Indies they went back to the same middle order that played the last match against India before the Tests in NZ. Martyn went back to the benches.

Mark Waugh was also past 35 & struggling a little at that time. However the selectors thought that Mark still had enough cricket left in him to be considered ahead of a peaking, younger Martyn. And Waugh proved his selectors right by doing well for better part of the next 2 years till he finally lost his touch and quit for good.

Of course Mark's retention in 2000 was helped by the fact that the next Test match against West Indies, which saw Ponting's return, was played 6 months later! How Kumble would have loved his shoulder injury to have deferred itself till the Nagpur Test.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Predicting Australia's strategy on the 5th day

I had a chat with blogger friend Homer a while ago on the fourth day's proceedings. He thinks Australia are playing for a draw.

I do not think that is the correct assessment. I would say that, unlike other Australian teams from the past 10 years that tried to force results with both bat & ball (even from positions of disadvantage), these guys have gone back a step and decided that bat will save the match and set it up for ball to win it. Automatically that cuts down chances of a result as slower scoring rates mean less time to get the opposition out. However as I see it, the Aussies are backing themselves to bowl out India on the final day. And if that is possible in their book, why not reduce risk of losing the game at the same time by batting longer in the second essay?

Of course they would still have liked to set India in excess of 400 with nearly 5 sessions to go. But the Indian tailend resistance, combined with the absence of one Shane Warne and one Adam Gilchrist (that time Australia got 44 more first innings runs batting a session lesser than in 2008 on the back of Gilly's near-run-a-ball 104) , have denied them the luxury of having the best of both worlds. They will not risk losing for a result - at least not in this crucial 1st Test - and have designed their plans at Bangalore around that. It may be a retrograde step and give India space to escape with a draw, but I will still be pleasantly surprised if India manage that.

Now the reason why Australia feel they can bowl out India in the second innings even in the limited time remaining:

India have a few performances in the past 3 years that will encourage even teams much lesser than Australia to think that Indiare are more than likely to succumb if asked to secure a draw by batting over 2 sessions on final day. Leaving out the Sydney Test (which we could have surely saved had umpiring been better) we have done horrendously on the 5th days of 'live' Tests. Thank heavens that the current one is not the final Test of the series, which makes the filtered results even worse.

In the recent past the Indian batsmen, barring Sehwag & Sourav, have excelled in becoming sitting ducks on the fifth day by allowing the scoring rates to dip way below 3 very early in the final 3 sessions. That will again be the death trap that Australia will lay in the first 25 overs of the Indian innings tomorrow. They will try to remove Sehwag and then revert back to just restricting India for the 1st 2 hours. The 2nd burst of attack will come much later, after the drinks break in post-lunch session.

India will need to score at least 85 or 90-odd in those 25 overs without losing too many wickets. If India get stuck up in the first 25 overs, even retention of wickets will not matter in the end and they will certainly be in a soup. Getting stuck automatically means that the asking rate (for a win) goes beyond 5 with more than 40-45 overs remaining. An India win out of the equation rather early, Oz can then start manning up fielders around the bat that much earlier and prise out wickets.

Greg Chappell was around and has noticed the unbelievable transformation of Indian batting tigers to stagnant sloths on the final day in quite a few Test matches. If he missed Bangalore 2004 vs Aus and Bangalore 2005 vs Pak, he was with the team when India messed up Mumbai 2006 vs Eng. Then India repeated the story in Kingsmead 2006 & Capetown 2007, both against SA. The last occasion was not even a 4th innings, but the match was handed over to South Africa on a platter by an inexplicable withdrawal into shell by Dravid-Sachin in the 3rd innings leading to subsequent (and inevitable) dismissal of all middle order giants barring a positive Sourav.

It was almost the same story at Lord's 2007 vs Eng but rain came to India's rescue.

Rain and MS Dhoni, to be precise. Dhoni tried to be positive in that innings without being cavalier. In each of those above-referred innings of capitulation there has been at least one Indian batsman (even a lower order one) who has seen through the problem and tried to be positive. This batsman was the best player in the ruins mostly due to his right approach to the situation at hand, but lack of support from others had generally undermined his efforts and led to a loss. Kumble at Bangalore 2005 stands out in memory, as does Sachin at Mumbai 2006, Sourav-Dhoni at Kingsmead 2006 and Sourav at Capetown 2007.

During his stint as Indian cricket coach, Greg Chappell had identified the malady of the 4th innings immediately. He made an attempt to address it in Nagpur 2004 vs Eng, a match that saw India lag behind England all along, by sending out Irfan Pathan at number 4 on the final day. Ahead of Sachin. Agenda: playing a cameo quick innings. There was a controversy on that promotion and it was not necessarily a solution to the problem. I still think that promotion, and Irfan's quick 35, was a 'bluff' to prevent the strike rate dipping too early than an actual attempt to carve out an unlikely win. But it certainly did prevent England from manning up close-in positions till the final session (i.e. too late) and the game was 'successfully' drawn. However, the familar problems returned later in the series at Mumbai to cost India a series win.

As we can see in the instances above, India have been caught repeating the familiar "crumbling to own methods" act at the business end of Test matches in recent years, twice at this venue. We have seen no indication of any lessons being learnt by the middle order batsmen. They are still without glares while crossing the highway called "5th day" across to safety of a draw and the headlights of a car called "Rivals' stifling strategy" can still catch them unawares in middle of the road. Greg Chappell and Ponting will the last people to let go of this opportunity to throw back the hosts' old ghosts on their faces and try to eke out a 1st Test win that will hugely impact the outcome of the series.

When walking is not fun

"There used to be a bloke who gave himself out by walking when he'd hit the ball. The popularity of that within his team-mates may be shown by the fact that since his retirement, they no longer reply to any emails, phone calls or text messages."

Adam Gilchrist gives a tongue-in-cheek response to his own philosophy of 'walking'
[source: cricinfo quotes]

Tongue-in-cheek? I thought I detected an element of hurt in it.

Now we get a hint how difficult it can be for an Australian who intends to practice walking at international level. It is equivalent to risking being a social outcast! Makes Gilchrist's decision to continue walking even more divine.

The half-evil power of 3 on Day 3

What do you think of the coincidence that only the 3 "bad boys" of Greg Chappell in the Indian team -Ganguly, Bhajji & Zaheer - have done rather well with the bat in the inaugural innings of a Test series just when Greg Chappell has departed from the Indian camp and is watching from the rival camp as their batting coach?

I found it HILARIOUS, and would have actually rolled on the floor at the thought had I not remembered that Dravid too made a fifty plus.

Ponting has acknowledged Greg's presence as the Australian batting coach and his role behind his century earlier in this same match. Imagine taking a spy camera in a room having Ganguly / Bhajji / Zaheer and getting them to talk on just the opposite i.e. how Greg's absence has played a role in their good performances.

Come on, let's get a little more serious. 6 is the number of evil. So, if bad is half-evil then 3 should be number of 'bad boys'. Today was Day 3 of the match. Also, today was the 11th of October (11/10) : the numbers total up to 3. The number of bad boys is also 3. So today was naturally meant to be 'bad boys'" day of success against forces that label them as bad.

How on earth did Rahul Dravid benefit from this scheme? I really do not have an explanation except that he bats at 3 and thus may have got a bonus!

The 'First' Gap to bridge with Australia

When I returned to my apartment in the evening today, the last update I had had of 3rd day's play was that India were 196/6 at tea in reply to Australia's first innings score of 433. Imagine my joy now at learning from the evening's highlights package that not only had Indians avoided follow on (something that Australia would never enforce till Laxman and Dravid are dead and burnt) but had gone two better - first by crossing the 300 mark to come very close to reducing the Aussies' lead to two digits and second by managing to keep 2 wickets intact at close of day's play. Bhajji & Zaheer had ensured that the Indian cricket supporters' day ended far better than it started.

In between the breaks I had hopped channels and seen barely enough of a particular news channel which suggested, through repetitive replay of 4 or 5 select deliveries where ball was seen shooting or rearing, that the pitch had terribly irregular bounce early on and this made life difficult for the Indian top order during the 1st session.

However I saw no dismissals in those 'wretched' deliveries. Naturally i was more interested in seeing the next part of the highlights which showed how wickets had fallen. Irrespective of the pitch, you can digest dismissals at low scores if those dismissals were earned by good balls. Here is a synopsis of the 8 Indian dismissals today:
Gambhir: playing across the line to a fast bowler with mastery over swing.
Sehwag: Brooming a wide ball to 1st slip due to lack of control (playing too far away)
Dravid: lbw to a inswinger
Sachin: committed to the pace of a fast bowler who saw that and sent down a slower one to get him caught at covers
Laxman: A terrible waft outside off which could only deserved the result it had.
Ganguly: lbw to indecisive footwork to incoming swing bowling.
Dhoni: Terrible shot (or non-shot) played in Test even by his standards, worse than the stroke he played at Perth '08 in the 2nd innings (at least the team was setting a target then, not looking at 433 with 6 down at 196) - bowled with 3 stumps on view and feet rooted on ground to a slow left arm turning delivery from Michael Clarke
Bhajji: perished to the shotmaking that fetched him 54 good runs.

About the only 2 deliveries where the bowler could take a certain amount of credit in claiming the wicket were those of Dravid and Ganguly (the batsmen took the rest of the credit, not the pitch). Sehwag and Bhajji are exempt from terms like "rash stroke making". They live by the sword, and have shown enough for us to accept that they will die instantly without it.

That leaves four other batsmen. Sachin was dismissed by his premeditation, Gambhir by his indiscretion, Laxman by his lapse, Dhoni by his T20 stroke making intuitions. No great balls, no horrid bounces - plain batting errors. 4 out of 8 is 50%. The ratio of batsmen dismissing themselves does not befit a team that pretends to challenge Australia. This ratio for India will surely go down in the coming Tests as the batsmen will rise. Point to note: Australia, not India, are visiting but they have a lesser percentage of batting errors in the first Test (which, make no mistake, is as tough for them as it was for the Indians when we returned two sub-200 innings in our first Test there last year).

But then it may be too late for Indian hopes - like it was last season. Most of these top batting guys in India are experienced enough to know that the difference between the #1 Australian side and the rest is very often the first Test of a series. The others take it as a warm up match while the Australian win it to ensure they are up in the series and can hence take all the initiatives steps thereafter that suits their style of cricket even more.

This is where the importance of an early big innings from a rival batsman of Australia cannot be emphasised enough. Sourav Ganguly's Brisbane innings in 2004 in the first Test of that series (amidst an early Indian batting collapse) immediately comes to mind. Ganguly's effort helped draw the first Test. In taking away some of the initiative from Australia, that innings paved the way for Dravid's & Laxman's epics in later matches.

Risk it on pitch-and-toss, and lose, and start again

Aakash Chopra. If you followed the 2004-05 Indo-Australian away Test series you will remember the sedate opening partner of a rampaging Virender Sehwag. And like some of us maybe you will always wonder why he never got another fair chance to redeem himself in an away Test series even though he obviously was a good horse for courses where an opener scoring 30 in the 1st session is still doing his job by protecting the middle order from the new ball.

A few days back he got another chance to stake a claim to the Indian Test side against the visiting Australian side. He failed to score big in the match - and must have been the first to know that at his present age he may not get another chance in his career to make amends. He must have been distraught at that realisation. But the man is man enough to put his head up, look back, and smile about it. I thought there was a lot of Rudyard Kipling's "If", especially lines 17 thru' 20, in that post by Aakash(and I thought Aakash expressed that rant on the silly newspaper comment because the comment was too silly not to rant). Am I being over-dramatic? Well, maybe. But I just thought of what the man went through, put myself in his place and wondered if I could bring myself to write that post. I decided that I would be proud of myself if I could 'achieve' writing that post.

That's more like the good Test opener you are, Aakash. Taking some blows and falling over, back on feet quickly with a wry smile, replying to some silly comments passed by the fielders and moving on to the next delivery.

Update: Here's a recitation of Rudyard's 'If' by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal...forget their lack of oratory skills, and find me two other people from the world of all sports that are more worthy of this poem than those two.

Aussie wicketkeeping A.G.....and B.G

Cannot curse my current busy work schedule enough for encroaching upon that 'final frontier' in my personal life: following the last India-v-Australia Test series of this decade.

I missed the entire 2nd Day's play at Bangalore. Today, the 3rd day, was a Saturday and yet I did not get a chance to watch a single delivery live on television. Worse, I failed to catch up with the scorecard after the tea time score of India limping at 195/6.

Coming back home I rushed on to Neo sports and found solace in an ongoing highlights package. Solace stayed for a moment and disappeared soon. I felt a pang. 'Coz the man in baggy green keeping wickets during the Indian innings was not the guy that I would have loved to be seen there forever. There was Hayden at his familiar 1st slip position. There was Ponting with his old signalling habits, Clarke making Indian batsmen look like his bunnies once again, Lee generating the same effortless pace but not the same guy to collect those perfume balls.

It hurt to remember that Lara and Gilly are not playing Test cricket anymore. I removed the sentiments and got back to the game on hand.

I had a second look at the man behind the stumps. By now he had stopped sticking out like a gold coloured button on a black shirt. I recalled that I had liked this guy for his gritty and positive displays at every opportunity he got. I have not seen too much of his keeping but his batting should be as good that of the guy on the other side of Gilly,Ian Healy, which was bloody bad enough for opponents going by the occasions he chose to rise to.

And then I discovered what I did not expect. Watching Brad Haddin in whites for the first time I thought his persona has glimpses of Ian Healy himself. Not to say that the two men look like identical twins; but I thought I saw a reflection of Healy in the stature, manner and movements of Brad Haddin. If you are wondering if it was an illusion effected by tears welling up at the grief of losing Gilchrist, I suggest you have a peek at the photos below.

I have sampled 7 pics apiece of the two Aussie keepers on either side of Adam Gilchrist from cricinfo photos. The 1st four pix cover their keeping, the fifth pic shows them celebrating dismissals, the 6th & 7th ones are snaps of their batting.

Haddin pic 1, 2, 3, 4; Healy pic 1, 2, 3, 4

Haddin pic 5; Healy pic 5

Haddin pic 6, 7; Healy pic 6, 7

Let me know what you thought.

Footnote: I shall be unfair to Brad Haddin if I fail to add that he is a classier batsman than Ian Healy. The pics 6 & 7 are adequate indicators. By the way, that "A.G." in the title really stands for "After Gilchrist", even if you found that too horrendous after guessing so.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Lesson on 'Never say die'


The sound of bat whacking ball would have Chandidas Ganguly waking up with a start in the middle of the night, only to find son Sourav batting in the drawing room with the domestic help bowling to him.

“My son has gone mad,” the father would say and tell his wife to get her son to realise that there is life beyond cricket as well. But his mother never had the heart to tell her son that it was all over and “he could never make it back to the Indian team”.


Moving lines those, on Sourav Ganguly's extreme dedication to making a comeback after being left out in 2005-06.

I am certainly as inspired by them as most of you, I am sure, are. My prayers are with him this series.

Lessons that will not be learnt

Cricinfo quotes Australian captain Ricky Ponting thus:

"Some of the older players are probably looking at this as their last Test series. There are all sorts of things going around in the media at the moment, with claims that some of them will be forced out and told they have to retire at a certain time. Guys like Laxman and Dravid. And who knows when Sachin is going to call it quits.

"He's probably going to be the only one who is going to have the luxury of deciding when he is going to retire by the sound of it. I'm sure they'll be reminded of that on a daily basis, and not just by us. Their media will be all over them if we start the first Test well and put pressure on them in lots of different ways. "

Sad part is: Perhaps he is true with that last sentence. I remember the Australian captain saying similar words ahead of their 2004 campaign as well. It is like saying 'Indian media will help our cause.'

Even sadder: Very few, if any, in media will feel insulted by Ponting’s insinuation at the the way Indian sports journalists put pressure on THEIR players instead of the opposition. Most of them will STILL do as Ponting says if Australia do well in the first Test.

Ponting goes a step further and predicts the exact words that will come out in criticism of some Indians:

"If we can make their fielding look as bad as it is by some good running between wickets and good hustling and good pressure," Ponting said, "then you know straight away all the old stuff about the old bodies and 'Ganguly can't field' and 'Dravid looks a bit slow', all of that stuff will come out."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

When will we be looking forward to a Test series again?

Agree on some points raised by Mukul Kesavan here. Especially that Rahul Dravid is riding his CV, and that we will probably have a sleepy hollow in Tests in the next few years, or a year at least.

However I think things will be a little more positive than the 'Test will no more be the best' future predicted by Mukul. Yuvraj can still go on to become a very good player if he gains better control on the top six inches of his body. Dhoni, I have always maintained, is likely to be our next great Test batsman. He has already come a long way since I wrote this piece on him and I would like to see him leave the job behind wickets to someone else by the time he is 30 if we are to utilise him fully. Sehwag is no less than the Fab Five (It should always be Fab Five and not Fab Four - 'coz the fifth one is Kumble and he is the greatest of them all). Rohit Sharma will surely be a very good Test bat if he keeps his head in the hour of impending success. Suresh Raina looks like a good all-conditions batasman. The pace bowling should be good in the hands of Ishant, Zaheer, RP Singh & Munaf Patel for the next 3 years.

Yuvraj, I guess, should be the one to make a difference to the future of the Test team. The only question that keeps rearing up in our heads is: will these players consider Tests as worthy as the Fab Five did? I suspect not (other than Dhoni, who I think considers all forms as sacrosanct - inspite of his absence from Tests in SL). And it will be no fault of theirs if they do not give top rating to Test matches. They are not Gods, but simple humans who cannot keep fighting against the tide (dictated by money) over an entire career.

If the new generation of players give in to the demands of the day then we cannot expect to see them playing in Test matches as if there pride depends on it (won't say their 'life depends on it' because it does not). And that, after getting used to the toils of the Fab 5 for 12 years, will be sad.

Update: Going through the post again, I felt the 2nd line of the post gives wrong signals. It suggests I have given up on Rahul Dravid. Far from it. I still believe that he can play well in top flight Test cricket and can claim his place on performance alone for another 2-3 years. It is just that he is not doing so at this point of time, which at age 35 can mean curtains.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Deity and the Idol

We visited Dakshineswar Kali Temple in the afternoon today. The sun was out full blast. Heated stone-paved floors of the temple complex were making us hop alternately on each bare-footed leg as we queued up to have a 'darshan' (view) of the deity inside. The queue was split in two halves - my parents joined me in one of the queues while Titli (my daughter) & Sarmistha (my wife) somehow ended up joining the other queue coming around the shrine. My queue moved quicker and we entered the shrine soon. Queue-driving shoves from the temple folk ensured that the 'darshan' was over in about 10 seconds and I was coming out of the shrine when Titli & Sarmistha were entering.

A little earlier we had spotted a very familiar face outside the Dakshineswar temple complex. I drew the attention of my family, particularly Titli, to a tall lady visiting the temple with her friends / colleagues. 5 year old Titli did not recognise her. Unsurprising. None others in the multitude seem to recognise her either - quite surprising! In a nutshell I explained to Titli the lady's claim to fame and how I knew her.

The lady was Jhulan Goswami, a formidable player in international women's cricket who, proudly for us Bengalis, hails from Chakda in Bengal. And here I was looking at my little daughter, who I would love to see loving cricket some day, obliviously queueing up next to the idol of many budding woman fast bowlers around the world.

The sight was both amusing and intriguing. Amusing, because of the contrast in heights between Titli & Jhulan. Jhulan is very tall. She towered over all the men and women around and was easily taking a peek of the deity over the heads queueing up in front.

Intriguing, because it led me to a question - what would have been Titli's thoughts if she had been older, in love with cricket and wanted to be a fast / seam bowler? The answer was easy. She would feel the same as I would if I ever got a chance to stand next to Curtly Ambrose or Wasim Akram in a queue. She would be going through a moment of unfathomable reverence as both her deity and her idol would be in front of her.

The closest I had with that feeling was when I met Adam Gilchrist at the Mohali airport nearly 2 years back.

"Damn - not again!"

That memory now inflicted more misery as I realised that I was again missing a camera today, missing out on another chance to store a priceless moment.

I simply had to make this post.

[Footnote, perhaps unrelated: I had mentioned Jhulan's hometown, or Chakdaha, in an earlier post on Paara cricket in Bengal. I will remember that place forever as I played my greatest match there!]

Update: Checked and found just now that Jhulan is already the stand-in captain of the India Seniors cricket team for the Women's Challenger Trophy. Here's hoping that she works this opportunity to her advantage after a not-too-successful English tour.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Anantha's rankings place Sachin on top of all-time ODI batting heap - and then...

I wrote an email to some of my friends a while ago, opining on the ODI all-time batsmen's ranking published by Anantha on It Figures, the cricinfo stats blog. I want to share that email with my other set of friends - you:

A cricket writer called Anantha has tried to judge the ODI greats on all counts and arrived at a conclusion that Sachin is the greatest ODI player, just above Richards.

I had once declared to Abhijit that Sachin was the greatest ODI batsman - but I was nowhere near sure I will be able to prove that against that mountain called Viv. I started collecting data in 2006 but then the efort lost steam. However I never thought (and have my doubts) that Sachin is this comfortably ahead of Viv.

It appears Sachin went past Viv quite comfortably based mainly on the fact that he did his stuff for 400 ODI's, a signifcantly greater number than matches played by Viv. And also by those MoM's unfairly awarded to Sachin in the late 90's when Ajit Agarkar took 4 wickets to restrict opposition to 220 and Sachin got the MoM by scoring a facile 100.

And Sanath - he is almost up there with Viv. Wow. Many people may have their reservation about that but I do not. In fact, I am very happy with that because practically the only occasions when an ODI in the last 30 overs has not had the excruciating middle overs were when one of these 2 guys (ranked at numbers 2 & 3) were at the crease after over 20.

Look at the number 10 on that list, by the way. Anyone having doubts on that? Reply to SRK with phone number to talk to King Khan.

Could not go through the long basis of judgement text, frankly. Will be nice to know about that from some of you.
http://blogs.cricinfo.com/itfigures/archives/2008/09/tendulkar_and_richards_swap_pl.php

-- Angshuman

PS: I just checked - we have an update. The writer has made some corrections based on feedback and also on his own quest on the wide gap betwen Sachin & Viv. Now he has done corrections and with those Viv is 77 & Sachin 75. If you allow me to be the decider, I think that is not fully correct either - Sachin should be just ahead. Why - no answer. Just feel so.

Number 10 has gone down to number 17 and Dravid is above him at number 16. More controversies - stats are difficult. Makes me happy for Dravid though - and if we go through the details we are more likely to find that his peerless ability to anchor chases in his heyday brought him up that far.

The heavyweight at number 8 though could not be moved an inch by these trivial stats tweaks.

Footnote: Concerned at that part of Anantha's closeout note where he says a reader should learn to look respectfully at the many cricketing greats other than his idol instead of trying to belittle them: It surely has come from the comments Anantha has received, and it is quite sad that people need to be told that. Commenting from readers in cricket sites has unfortunately deserved reactions like Anantha's for a major part of the past few years.

Update: In response to Anantha's posts, Ric Finlay comes out with ANOTHER analysis putting Sachin on top once again. However the gap between Sach & Viv is too wide for comfort, much like Anantha's 1st Sep list with Sachin on top. Let's back off from the analysis heat for the time being with the thought that even perfectly logical ratings of these greats can be as numerous and unique as fingerprints.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How many miles can a man walk...

...to be a great left arm bowler? Not much at all, I believe. "Fifteen Paces" should be enough. Or even less, if we pick Wasim Akram as the model instead of Alan Davidson.

Left arm bowlers are rare, and great left arm bowlers are counted on a finger or two. Chaminda Vaas is one of the finest bowlers in our era and certainly the best non-Wasim left arm swing bowler this side of Davidson. He completed 400 wickets in one dayers today. Striking, isn't it?

Striking not because of the number 400 but because that zone of 400+ ODI scalpers now has a population density of 50% for left armers!! Only Murali and Waqar have more than 400 wickets if we count outside of Wazzy & Vaasy. And there are 15 right handers in this world to each left hander, they say! This ratio does not apply to batting - batting is essentially a double handed skill with separate roles for each hand. It should apply to bowling though.

And that amazing left-right ratio in 400+ wicket takers does not look like fading away anytime soon because all right handed bowlers who could have crossed the line are now retired. Only Brett Lee with 303 wickets looks like making it to 400 in the coming few years.

At last lefties have a chance to take their rightful half, right?

Wrong. The date belongs to the summit of right handedness and hence spoils all fun derived by us 'wrong uns' to celebrate our peculiarity. For today is also the 100th birth centenary of the greatest right handed sportsman, Don Bradman. And even leftie Alan Davidson making his observation on the much right handed Don today hardly pleases us.

Damn, did Vaas have to do it today?

- A non Sri-Lankan left arm medium pace bowler & a non-Australian right-handed batsman

Monday, June 02, 2008

The quintessential T20 folk

Since the T20 world cup last year I have been trying to make my mind up on the one cricket personality who is / was literally 'born for T20'.
Repeatedly the name that keeps coming back ahead of the Jayasuriyas, Gambhirs and Misbahs is Billy Bowden.

This umpire is the Bradman of flamboyance (almost as essential to the entertainment aspect of Twenty20 as run making, wicket taking and direct hits are to its cricketing aspect) in an era where no player is so distinctly ahead of competition on any one area.


Billy continued to hit other potential competitors for "double crooked finger six-phase hop" sixes till I came across a league match involving Jaipur's Rajasthan Royals last month. A little right handed batsman opened the batting for them. Swapnil Asnodkar is armed with quick reflexes and a few decent cricketing shots but no one quite knows how he would choose to use them. The only certainty was he would surely use his shots at the rate of one per ball. (Why? He wasn't allowed any more.) He could fall any moment. At the same time he could hit any bowler anywhere irrespective of the game situation. It was like watching a gunfight in an old western.

Now we have seen that earlier. To be more descriptive, we have seen another right handed opening batsman do that on a regular basis through a tournament or a season. Of course sometimes Jayasuriya bats like that when in blazing form but not always. But Jayasuriya is also entwined with this deja vu. Because it was the guy who started off alongside Sanath on the latter's journey to ODI glory in the tri-series against Australia in 1995-96, a series that built up to that frenzied Sri Lankan world cup win of 1996. Romesh Kaluwitharana. He must be as truly born for T20 as is Billy Bowden.

Kaluwitharana fell by the wayside in later years but he will never be forgotten by cricket lovers. Since the late 80's one dayers were never more watchable than in the Kalu-Jaya era (not just because these two belted leather but because their innings could also be over in the space of a few balls as in the Kolkata WC semi final). Apart from Jayasuriya to an extent, no one opening the innings consistently in any form of the game (not even in T20) has perhaps attached as little value to his wicket as the pocket-size Sri Lankan wicketkeeper did in the period 1995 - 1997.

Kalu did it for his team (Sri Lanka) just like Swapnil did for Rajasthan Royals in the inaugural edition of IPL. Only Kalu must have been more compelling as he batted like a suicide bomber match after match in one dayers, in innings played over 50 overs where each top order player can expect to get 40 balls per innings on an average to construct his innings instead of 15 (as in T20). But whenever Sri Lanka batted we saw a man who would have no second thoughts on giving up his right to build an innings in international matches so that the team total could be boosted by an extra 15 or 20 runs. Perhaps Kalu payed with his career when the Sri Lankan team stopped doing well post 1997, but he never went back on playing the self-sacrificing role allotted to him by his captain.

Sad that T20 cricket came a little too late for the guy who was born to play it. The other day I harked back on the thrilling Indo-Pak quarter final played of the 1996 world Cup. It was the 9th of March. Now I intend to recall a little memory from earlier in the same day. This bit is from the 1st quarter final between Sri Lanka and England (this one was a day affair unlike the Indo-Pak one). It was the exact opposite of a 'thrilling' affair. England set an ordinary target and were steamrolled by Jayasuriya in the run chase. I had returned home in the afternoon a little late. I already knew Sri Lanka had just begun their chase and switched on the telly. The first picture I saw was 'Little Kalu' (as Tony Greig and millions others love to call him) walking back to the pavilion. The batsman's score appeared on the screen:


Never saw that match or its highlights again but since that point of time I was sure that the 1st two balls were 2 fours. Mathematically it could have been a six and a two. [5 + 3 was possible but highly unlikely]. But somehow a 'two' did not fit well with the figure 8(3) there. It must be 2 fours followed by a dismissal, someone within me reasoned. I got the confirmation many years later from the cricinfo scorecard for that match that someone was right.
That innings of 8, in my mind, remains the quitessential T20 innings. I care a fig if it was played in another format.
Having played a number of similar innings in a short period, Kalu must rank alongside Billy Bowden as the 'Born for T20' tag.
PS: Just after writing that post I find cricinfo have already done a piece on Swapnil's Kalu resemblance. No mention of the 8 though!

Saturday, May 31, 2008

T20 slowly but surely spreads its tentacles...

"Pakistan have to score 2 runs off the last ball to qualify. Indian quickie Samit Dravid charges in and delivers the ball....it's a good yorker and goes straight through big hitting Suleiman Khan to keeper Aryan Khan. The batsmen run desperately to force a bowl out but the Pakistan dream ends as Aryan hits the stumps. India were already out of the main event and now in their final qualifying match they have shut their arch rivals out of the 2031 T20 world Cup at Italy.

These are strange scenes. Both teams look gloomy after the match. This is the 2nd consecutive time that no sub continent team other than Sri Lanka has qualified amongst the final 32 for the world Cup. It is so tragic for the millions of cricket loving people in these two countries that even the presence of big ATL* stars like Suleiman, Samit and Arjun Tendulkar could not help them break the jinx. Another two years of painful wait has already begun..."

A futuristic bad dream? Not really....

Some things like Indo-Pak rivalry will never change but the famous sub-continent needle has every possibility of decaying into a clash of the minnows in another two decades if Twenty20 has its tentacled way across the global marke and if subcontinent cricketers are not smart enough to keep pace.

I can hear a few curses for the sad ending at the qualifiers there. Come on, it can happen in ball games with 32 teams playing in the showpiece event. Take the following piece of information as a message of hope: France failed to qualify for two world cups (1990 and 1994) but then won the next one at home. Of course, that was in soccer which would be ranked second after cricket as a global sport in 1930.

So we can still expect India to win the 2033 T20 world cup at Tibet (T20 world cups come every two years). Perhaps they will manage to overcome pre-tournament odds even higher than 66-1. That would be a nice way to celebrate 50 years completion of
Indian cricket's first world cup win.

* ATL is American T20 League

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Goodbye Kolkata Knight Riders

As I watched the Kolkata Knight Riders' thrilling run chase at the Eden Gardens in their last league match against Kings' XI Punjab draw to a favourable end for my home team tonight, two thoughts filled my mind:

1) You can make memorable matches out of brilliant lone hand displays like Ganguly & Gul did in this match, but you need supporting contributions and boring team efforts to do well over a period / tournament. In addition to the captain you need more members to stick out their head and show willingness to last the distance. So often the main batting strikers in this line up - Ganguly himself as well as Hussey - were busy doing the menial job of trying to stabilise the ship because the others in that role were not staying put. This cost the KKR boys a few matches.

Inspite of the win KKR bowed out of the competition today as they could not manage enough wins to get themselves a semis berth. I tried to figure out the differences of Ganguly's 1st IPL series for KKR from Ganguly's admirable Test captaincy career with India. One was obviously that this was only the 1st season and the skipper himself took some time to get accustomed. I am sure the second season will be better. The other difference was the one discussed earlier - not having foundation laying folk in batting and bowling.

Coming to think of it, Ganguly's memorable stint as India's most successful Test captain at home & away could have been a lot like his 1st IPL season of the Knight Riders had there been no indefatigable Rahul Dravid at one end (at a batting average of 80+) while batting and no Kumble to keep up one end all day in the bowling innings (even as a 2nd choice spinner). T20 might be a short game but you still need to have team members to put your life-savings money on. Maybe this year's IPL will help provide enough data bank to identify the requisite potential in some people.

[It is another matter that Rahul himself wrongly chose to have an overdose of such folk in the Bangalore Royal Challengers and ended up with too low a growth rate on his funds!]

2) The home match of KKR versus Chennai Super Kings on 18th May was decided on D/L method after play was washed out after the 8th over. Chennai, 56/0 at that stage, were only 3 runs ahead of the required target at that stage and were hence declared winners. If KKR had won that match they would still have had a chance to make the semis and Chennai would have been ousted. There is no point ruing bygones but I cannot resist extracting that 8th over from cricinfo commentary of that match - essentially because so many of the home team's failings in that over have been typical to India / KKR in overs-limit cricket through an embarassingly long period:

7.1
Agarkar to Patel, 1 run, bangs it in short of a length, he swings and
pulls to the on side
7.2
Agarkar to Fleming, 1 wide, slides wide down the
legside, he attempts to nudge it down fine but misses
7.2
Agarkar to
Fleming, 1 run, slides on the pads, he whips it to the on side for a single
7.3
Agarkar to Patel, no run, bowls the slower one this time and beats
him outside the offstump
7.4
Agarkar to Patel, 1 run, Dropped: Patel
hooks a short delivery and miscues it, the top edge sends the ball sailing in
the air for like ages and Dinda spills a straightforward chance at long leg
7.5
Agarkar to Fleming, FOUR, slides down the leg side,he trickles it off
his pads and the ball races to fine leg
7.6
Agarkar to Fleming, no run,
pitches outside off, he shapes to drive but misses

Friday, May 23, 2008

Who's better - T20 or ODI?

"It's so boring. You watch the start and then the overs from 20 to 40 are like pulling teeth." Says Chris Cairns on 50-over cricket.

How right Cairnsie. No wonder Twenty20 is becoming hugely more popular [warning: I have this sneaking feeling that evolution of this game too will also see a 'lean period' of 3 or 4 overs in the middle of a T20 innings!] I have a million dollar suggestion: ODI's should have 10 of the 20 powerplay overs fixed between over numbers 20 to 30 as an experiment.

Come to think of it, will that be interesting!! Like Cairns many of us bloggers have opined that T20 gives a cricket lover most of the funs expected from an ODI minus the vices. In other words, you either watch a Test or a T20 match 'coz ODI's do not offer anything unique. With this million dollar change ODI's will never be the same again. They will start off like T20s (as players will think of only 10 over field restrictions), then give us a taste of Tests (as they have still have 40 overs to bat out after the 1st 10), then they go back to T20 mode, then back to 'teeth pulling' mode for 10 overs before the final slog!! This is great variety - you cannot get this either in T20's or in Tests!

Besides, the end slog (overs 40 to 50) will then be a natural progression from the field restrictions of over 20-30, separated by a 10 over window that will potentially decide the match.

Care to try this out, Cairsnie? Talk to Subhash Chandra of Zee now!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

WG_T20

17th May, 2058

I switch on the wall telly as soon as the doctor leaves after routine check up. News channels focus on huge celebrations taking place in India in memory of completing 60 years of summer cricket. Playing cricket in the month of May was unthinkable in 20th century India till then BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya decided to utilise the 'free' time of Indian cricket in 1998 to promote some of the minnows and in the process rake in some extra money for the cricket board. He obtained a schedule from ICC that allowed India to play Kenya and Bangladesh in an ODI tri-series organised in May. It was best remembered for Sourav Ganguly needing mid-innings medical attention for dehydration in the final at his sweltering home ground, Eden Gardens. Strange that he was okay in the previous match at Gwalior where it was drier but the temperature was 10 degress higher. Clearly humidity was as much a killjoy for cricketers then as it is now.

It strikes me that the Indian Premier League are also completing 50 years in 2058. Summer cricket, not explored for a few years after that daring Dalmiya experiment in 1998, came back to stay ten years later in a shorter format. It is ironic that Twenty20 was then the shortest format in cricket. It is the longest one now, at least in the international game. One dayers are extinct. 2-innings cricket is too archaic a form to be pursued on a professional level these days. Nevertheless it is still retained by the respective boards as a test of stamina for bowlers and innings building ability for batsmen, because each team needs at least 3 batsmen and 2 bowlers who are good in 2-innings cricket in order to last these twenty overs with honour.

I casually go through some old blog posts on my Blogger diary 'Pavilion View' and check out my recorded thoughts through a half-century window. I come across an interesting bit of history in an IPL match from the 1st edition. Apparently it took place exactly 50 years back, on 17-May-2008. I feel the urge to have a chat on that bit with my new old friend in early 20th century. My ailing body tells me to refrain but cricket still blurs the logic at times.

I gte up and walk to my arm-band time traveller on the table. This time traveller is an advanced release and cost me a fortune. Not only does it take me across time but it also allows me to cover any distance. I use it to go back by a hundred and fifty exact years.

17th May, 1908

Presently I land up in front of an obese ageing man in England who will celebrate his 60th birthday on July 18. I meet him so often these days; yet it is difficult to place him as the bearded doctor everyone knows. He looks so different from his photographs.

He looks pleased to have me back.

"Was feeling bored - good time for you to come. Should you start bowling?"

"Hello WG. I want to share something with you."

"Don't worry about it. Just tell me what bothers you."

" I told you about this new form of the game called Twenty20."

"That 3 hour mimicry of cricket where players will get tons of money for doing next to nothing? Haven't we had ENOUGH of that? It irritates me no end."

"But perhaps I did not share that not only are the players playing it in coloured clothes but also using their surnames on jersey backs."

"You have already told me that 6 times, old man."

"And the game is most popular in India and thereabouts, rather than your England and Australia."

"That is again a repetition. Is this all you can put up today?" I am pissing the doctor more than a bowler turning his back on him and asking a loud question to the umpire about the doctor's leg. I carry on regardless.

"And that a hundred years to this day one 'born for T20' umpire from New Zealand, Billy Bowden, will utter 'khelo' instead of 'play' to start the proceedings of an IPL T20 match."

"THAT sounds a new one. By the way, did you not use that 'born for T20' term once before?"

"Yes. Who's being forgetful now? I used that for the revolutionary Sri Lankan opening batsman cum wicketkeeper Romesh Kaluwitharana who retired before T20 came about."

"Yeah, from what I learnt from you about Romesh it may be a lament comparable to the world never seeing the exciting Gilbert Jessop play limited overs cricket. That century of him against Australia in 1902 is difficult to put aside. Folks would have loved to have him down there in 21st century."

WG stands up and walks away pensively. "I still cannot believe that a Kiwi umpire will mouth Indian words in front of live audience while officiating." He turns to me, appreciation dripping from his countenance. "This, more than all you said on the Darell Hair affair the day before, tells me a lot more about India's influence over the game in 21st century! To think most of us here still dread visiting India..."

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Adding the extra 20 runs & Dizzy's double

Charles' Davis discusses Brain Lara's 400* and comes up with an interesting stat - probability of a Test batsman scoring the extra 20 runs from 100 to 120, then 120 to 140 and so on. It is based on all Test scores by top order batsmen (almost - perhaps the figures include no. 7 & tailender tons but exclude their scores below 100) in the history of cricket. It shows that approximately 1 out of every 3 batsmen falls before scoring the next 20 runs at each stage.

We have all heard about batsmen scoring bigger in the last 10 years than ever before. That stat would have been even more interesting if broken up in pre-1996 and post-1996 groupings.

For the 0-99 stats we can see that (33822 + 2942 =) 36764 top order batsmen have gone out to bat in Tests till date. Taking the figures from Charles' charts, a top order batsman scoring a double century is achieving a 0.76% probability task for any top order batsman.

Wonder what the figure is for lower order batsmen (nos. 7 to 11). We do not have the figures in Charles' analysis but for the job at hand we assume that 3.5 lower order men get to bat for every six top order batsmen getting a hit in Tests (Teams often do not bat till the last wicket, epecially in 2nd innings). So that 36764 for specialist batsmen will roughly be 21445 for the clan of all-rounders + tailenders.

Charles discussed Brian's highest score. Let me make a point on Dizzy Gillespie's double against Bangladesh in 2006 which turned out to be his last for Australia.

Dizzy's double century works out to a feat of 1 in 21445 i.e. 0.0047 % probability. I wonder if anyone in any sport has had a chance to go out on that kind of a high!

Footnote: Dizzy maximised a bonus that most tailenders get only a few times in their career. He was a nightwatchman in that match. But amongst non-allrounder lower order batsmen who made significant contributions to match results (and even series results) with their batting Dizzy will perhaps rank right near the top. He deserved it all.
Since Charles' stats included batsmen number 1 to 6, this particular Gillespie effort has perhaps featured in it. I only tried to put in a more accurate perspective.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

More of the 1996 Indo-Pak QF

While on that 1996 World Cup QF match, check out at 06:35 min of that same clip referred to in previous post for that memorable altercation between a gallant captain who lost his temper before losing his wicket and a calm but competitive bowler who turned a slipping win into a grand memory for himself and Indians with a great spell of one-day bowling.

One of the memories of that match was the Aamir Sohail-Saeed Anwar opening partnership. While the Indians rode Tendulkar-Sidhu's steady opening stand and Jadeja's famous Waqar-bashing 25 ball 45 to set the old foes a rather big target of 288 (in those days) , that advantage was nullified barely forty five minutes into the Pakistan innings (*). Faced with a big ask, the Pakistan duo took their team score to 84/0 after 10 overs. Saeed Anwar got out in the 11th over to Srinath after scoring the classiest 32 ball 48 you will ever see anyone score under pressure (barring a 32 ball fifty scored by a Sri Lankan number four some days later against the same opponents). Thereafter the QF match gradually turned in India's favour.

A little over an hour and a half later, when 38 year old Miandad's slowing legs ran out of steam and failed to respond to that quick single pioneered by the great man atop them, the cricket world saw the last of Javed Miandad on that 9th evening of March 1996 as Pakistan were eliminated. It was his 6th World Cup spanning 21 years.

You can get a glimpse of the euphoria created by the match in this report.

How sadly incorrect the 2nd para of that report turned out to be four days later. Most Indian cricket fans remember the pain of that tragic semi final encounter with Sri Lanka more than the joy of this memorable win. I, having been a spectator in the Eden stands on March 13, am no exception.

(*) - Here we need to rack our brains and recall that in 50 over games 45 minutes used to constitute roughly 20 percent of the innings instead of 60 percent.

Rashid Latif at his best

If you ask me to vote for the best keeper in the last 2 decades I will perhaps overlook even the towering Ian Healy and point the index finger at Pakistan's Rashid Latif. He was not only neat and efficient but attractive and magnificent too. He was the Brian Lara of wicketkeepers.

Only a few cricketing feats stay as clear in my memory as his breathtaking diving effort to see the back of an accelerating Mohammad Azharuddin in the 1996 World Cup quarter final at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore (for young kids: it is the same place where IPL's Royal Challengers have been unable to win a single home game). The catch was off the bowling of Waqar Younis near his peak and the deliberate edge was passing by the vacant first slip . Rashid did it like it was everyday work.

Catch up on that brilliant moment at 1:46 minutes of this youtube upload.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Fielding: The single biggest gift of T20 for Tests

It is still too early to take a call on the impact of T20 on first class batting and bowling standards, except that I personally find more worth and no greater harm in T20s than the neither-here-nor-there ODIs of modern times. I still love the Test matches and I do understand that a misconstrued perception of success in this game amongst young cricketers can bring danger upon Test cricket. But that apprehension is related only to the key skills, batting and bowling.

Other than purposeful batting, the other big positive contribution of limited overs cricket is the improvement of fielding standards all around the world. Fielding had always been an 'also-ran' in first class and Test cricket. It started to change as limited overs cricket started gaining ground. Catching was not the be all and end all of fielding anymore. A run-out per innings was more of an expectation than a bonus for the fielding. A player saving 3 boundaries over the match had brought down the asking rate by .24 points single handedly - no mean feat. Ditto for the swift runner in the batting side who stole 6 singles where there were none.

However the 50 over format still allowed a little space for less athletic people. Uneven balance of skills tend to even out as the period of play gets longer. The longer the format the more value you get for your specific skills. Conversely, the T20 format asks for more players with all-round skills than specialists at a specific skill. You still have the McGraths and Asifs but then you have to be THAT good. It is quite natural that fielding now becomes a permanently ticked 'option' - also called 'compulsory' in the English language. One dayers need most of your fielders to be excellent while some passable ones can always be accomodated for brilliant bowling / batting skills. In the very near future T20s may well demand ALL fielders to be excellent.

The biggest benefactor of this new outlook should be the subcontinent teams, renowned for brilliant batsmen and master bowlers but also infamous for batsmen refusing to steal that extra run and bowlers refusing to give their all on the field. The 'take it easy' policy will now have to disappear into thin air..

...if it already hasn't, that is. Going by Ashish Nehra's unbelievable diving boundary save for Mumbai Indians on the long on boundary in the 16th over of the Delhi innings
today, we are already seeing a new era of commitment in fielding emerging in Indian grounds. The ball looked like a metre away from the rope when he appeared like superman in the frame from nowhere. Due to the uncomfortable angle left to him he had to put his bowling arm at risk to make the save but he still did it.

Nehra played over 5 years of top flight cricket before injury and a question mark on commitment halted his international career. He played almost all his domestic cricket for Delhi. No one has perhaps seen Nehra do anything like that. Especially the familiar Delhi guys - they were so certain of getting a boundary off that shot that they managed a last-minute single in it where 2½ were on offer!

Only a day ago I thought the catch taken by Dale Steyn to dismiss Rohit Sharma in the Royal Challengers - vs - Deccan Chargers match would not have been taken by any Indian bowler. It is barely 24 hours and I am already wondering how many more days before we see an Indian bowler taking a similar catch in a Test match to tilt the balance of the game (such catches almost always seem to make an impact, don't they?).

Correction: Steyn caught Shahid Afridi yesterday, not Rohit Sharma