Saturday, May 31, 2008
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
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:
Agarkar to Patel, 1 run, bangs it in short of a length, he swings and
pulls to the on side
Agarkar to Fleming, 1 wide, slides wide down the
legside, he attempts to nudge it down fine but misses
Fleming, 1 run, slides on the pads, he whips it to the on side for a single
Agarkar to Patel, no run, bowls the slower one this time and beats
him outside the offstump
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
Agarkar to Fleming, FOUR, slides down the leg side,he trickles it off
his pads and the ball races to fine leg
Agarkar to Fleming, no run,
pitches outside off, he shapes to drive but misses
Friday, May 23, 2008
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
Shaun Pollock the captain had a choice to make. He had scalped the in-form left hander Dhawan in his initial 3 over spell. Now he decided to bring himself on for his last over. The very first ball broke the Daredevil partnership as Shoaib Malik skied a catch to mid-off. At that point of time the TV analysts showed Polly's 'pitch maps' against Delhi's left-handed batsmen, and then the right handed.
As expected both pitch maps were a cluster of numerous dots in that familar back-of-length area [propose to rechristen it as the 'Pollock-McGrath' zone]. Just one pitched up delivery each for the left and right handers. The interesting part: that only full ball he had bowled to the left handers fetched him Dhawan's wicket and the one to the right handers got Malik.
That map indicated the full ones were not slip ups but deliberate invitations to batsmen itching to break loose. Only they were bowled slightly slower in pace, with fielders perfectly placed to take an uppish drive (Dhawan) during the powerplay overs or a skied mishit (Malik) during the slog. For the batsmen, they are overwhelmed by temptation when they see a 'loose ball' from the master of parsimony.
The batsmen, meanwhile had changed over and a set Dinesh Karthik was taking the strike. I was wondering about that pitch map when Pollock came on to bowl and sure enough bowled that full slightly-slower ball to Karthik. Sure enough Karthik failed to resist the bait and spooned it up in a bid to hit the ball out of the park but luckily got away with 2 runs as he managed to place it wide of the fielder.
That Malik wicket decisively tilted the game towards Mumbai.
I will go a little further and state that the bowlers are gradually finding their feet in Twenty twenty cricket. Succcessful defence of medium sized totals in each of the last three games is proof of that. Hope some other bowlers can learn and perfect (it is a high risk bait) Polly's trick to further improve the balance between bat and ball.
Update: The bowlers have found their feet and are on the kill, in fact. Tanvir destroys Chennai Super Kings with a 6-for!
Friday, May 02, 2008
While searching cricinfo for those pictures of Greg Chappell in the previous post I came across a rare photograph showing 3 Australian greats Rod Marsh, Dennis Lillee and Greg Chappell on March 14, 1986 after their last match. Like everyone else I too have always known that Australian cricket went into a downward spiral for better part of a decade after an exodus of that magnitude. But this picture told the story with greater precision and impact than all I read on it earlier.
And it reminded me of a similar issue closer home that hit me harder. It is a sad and horrific thought that we are getting closer to the inevitable day when cricinfo uploads a similar pic showing any 3 or 4 of Kumble, Sachin, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly.
Again I have read on the imminent Indian exodus more than once. I have even touched the issue on some of my blogs. But the visualisation of that future picture is far more grim than all the words I took in or churned out.
Afterthought 1: March 14 may be a jinxed day for cricket followers across nationalities. Look what happened 12 years later - Richie Richardson retired from all cricket after that scarcely believable semi final elimination in the 1996 world cup. Wait - this one too had come up in the previous post! Isn't that proof enough that I am getting repetitive even outside of crying about missing Brian Lara? Now you get why I post so less these days.
Afterthought on afterthought 1: While on that 1996 semi final, I suppose Curtly Ambrose still rues the way he and Courtney failed to get the skipper back on strike in that fateful last over. No wonder he compensates amply by supporting his erstwhile boss in another sphere by playing base guitar to Richie's rhythm guitar in their famously named band - The Big Bad Dread and The Baldhead. I would sincerely love to see Steve Waugh float a band sometime soon and get Tubby Taylor to lead it. Imagine what a clash it will be when the two bands perform some day on the same stage for the "World Beater" tag (unofficial). Especially after Steve shares some entirely personal thoughts to Dreads' base guitarist on what he should be doing.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Something in this DC-vs-RR match will linger on in our minds though. In the final overs of the Hyderabad innings we went back to sepia tinted mode. We were back to a once familiar sight of number eights and nines struggling to last and connect every ball to hand over the strike to the well set specialist batsman at the other end. There was every chance of remaining wickets all collapsing in a single over with the number four stranded. This used to be quite a common cause for chewed up nails for supporters during the 80's and even early nineties in all pre-T20 forms of the game. [Famous example: Richie Richardson in the 1996 WC semi final]
A little more specifically familiar was the way all that tension in the air would vanish for some moments whenever the number four was taking strike for one or two balls in the over. He was hitting everything his partners allowed him to face for a four or a six. Every one of those was an absolutely gorgeous cricketing shot played with all the time, elegance and disdain in the world.
Gosh, those exquisite drives through cover were something else. Aah - those pulls. And those lofted drives - slurrp. Those ugly hoicks - absent!
"Wasn't that Brian Lara batting for the West Indies on one of those days of his?"
"Nope, he retired around this time last year. "
"Wasn't there a technical snag in the telecast which they decided to fill in with a replay of Brian's logic defying 153* with Curtly & Courtney in Barbados 1999?"
"Nah - the ball was red and the attire was white in that match rather than the other way round. This man's wearing a biscuit shaded suit. And your Brian was left handed, silly."
That was I talking with me2. And I soon realised what me2 was saying. Yes, this was another match and that was Rohit Sharma of India. Yes, Brian was not number 4 but number 5 in the 1999 match. Yes, Rohit's classicism has more home grown Indian spice than Brian's Caribbean dash. And yes - Rohit's speciality had to end too quickly for my liking as the twenty overs were over.
Wonder what this game, in all three formats, has in store for Rohit Sharma's rare batting talent if he carries it forward thus. Earlier in the day Peter Roebuck hailed IPL in this piece but he also said:
"..India has not produced a high-class batsman for a decade."
We, Rohit's compatriots, will hope to say "you were wrong, mate" to Peter one day.
Meanwhile since it is already May 2nd, let us say 'Happy Birthday' to the guy Rohit so much resembled today in lateral inversion. We have just completed a year of missing the Prince. It was tough and that gaping hollow even made some like me drift away a little from our favourite sport. Let us hope this new kid fills some of it up by showing glimpses of that unmistakable combination of batting genius and audacious flair more often.
Update: Youtube video of the innings highlights including some of Rohit's boundaries can be viewed here.