Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Why India are number 1 in Tests": the batting part

Steve Waugh was asked during his recent India visit if the Indian Test side deserved to be ranked number 1 even as it is struggling to bag 20 opposition wickets. Steve responded, tongue in cheek: "If the team continues to struggle to take 20 wickets, there will be no wins and top position will automatically go away".

I agree..and see it happen soon if things do not change.

However the current exercise is not to explore the future of the #1 team in Tests. We only are trying to find out what got them there.

Let us look at this list from cricinfo's S Rajesh. It shows the top 10 Asian batsmen in terms of 'averages in Asia'. We can see that 2 of the current Indian players are in the top 5, and another is hobbling just outside that list (Rahul with current Asian avg of 50.52). Enough reason why India have been scoring heavily at home in recent times.

Now look at this list. This is the list of Asian batsmen with highest 'away from Asia' Test averages of all time. You can see that out of the top 15, India has 4 current batsmen and another one (Ganguly) who retired fairly recently. In other words, 5 out of the six batsmen in the batting order for better part of post-2000 performed remarkably well offshore.

Probably this rare combination of batsmen succeeding both at home and away, along with the A-Z bowling combo in away Tests (Anil-Zaheer, before you assume I am hinting at hidden bowling riches), led to India's consistent successes culminating in the number 1 ranking.

Rahul back to his post-35 struggle (something that keeps itself away from Sachin):
At the top of the heap on this 2nd list is the currently struggling Rahul Dravid with a run'away' average of 57. I am surprised as a Sachin-Dravid fan. The surprise is not exactly because the average is still so far ahead of everyone else's (including Sachin's) away average, but because I had seen Rahul's away average touch 65 odd about 4 years back and this is quite a fall from those standards. Probably the failures in 2007 in SA & England took their toll.

I was also checking Rahul's recent series averages to check if he is struggling to keep his place. It appears he has done rather well in all Test series since that post 26/11 England team's visit of India in late 2008. He has kept his Test form up till he landed in Sri Lanka a few weeks back. These long gaps between Test series are surely no help to a 37 year old batsman who is picked only for Tests. But like it or not, Rahul looks like having another personal battle on his hands going into the 3rd Test.

He beat the 'final demons' once in end 2008, just after I made this near-farewell post on him. Can he do it again??

Update 1: Perhaps on SL tours RD needs a 'Bagger Vance' all of his own who can clear the webs in his mind so that RD can 'let the shot find him’ and ‘get out of his own way’.

Cricket, the Aussie way

Here's Andew Hughes' fun take on the Aussie cricketers' own rules of the sport. Besides enjoying the humour, many of us would admiringly agree with Andrew's findings from the last day of Australia's recent loss to Pakistan:

"Why don’t they give up? Every other nation on earth would have gone through the motions this morning. Where does it come from? It certainly isn’t a genetic inheritance. The English way is to give up properly and give up early, before mounting a completely futile rearguard action when all chance of victory has gone."

To be fair about that second part, it seems to be changing since the millennium turned. The days the English are formidable 'pests in Tests'.

But coming back to Aussies' approach to cricket, I recall Steve Waugh visiting India last week. He was asked about Australia 'slipping' in recent times. Steve named South Africa, England, India, Sri Lanka and Australia as the simultaneous 'almost number 1' teams in Tests. However he also said some more words that communicated a quiet confidence that although times will keep changing Australia wil never be found close to the bottom of the heap.

You never do in Test cricket unless you keep giving up.

Update 1: Here's an interview of another guy who never ever gave up - and in fact did way better than just doing that. He is the one man you don't want to see in your opposition team even if you have Bradman, Richards (both Viv & Barry) and Sunny playing for you. You can be Alexander the Great and yet with him on the other side you will end up giving your most famous (albeit disputed) quote:

"I am not afraid of an army of lions led by sheep but an army of sheep led by lions."

In the interview he narrates how he came back from his 1987 retirement lured by the prospect to win a Test series against the 1980's WI side in their backyard. He was seeing a win where other 35+ guys would be relieved to have retired and thus avoided ignominy. That is more like the Imran Khan I know. Suits the man far better than coming back to aim for a less impressive 50 overs World Cup win.

No wonder Immy is the only man I can stand inspite of using as many 'I's as he uses there. I never see him painting a halo for himself. He already has one, so he does not need to.

Update 2:

My orkut profile showed a 'thought of the day' that looked like a nice summary of some immortal-yet-forgettable Australian test innings from the late 80's and early 90's...innings that came mostly from Alan Border and Steve Waugh barring one - the best one - from Dean Jones:
"Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

And Afridi retires...again

Afridi has done it again - from being the Pakistan Test skipper, he has retired from Test cricket after the 1st Test of a 3-Test series.
Today's quote on the cricinfo page happens to be:
"I wasn't good enough"
Shahid Afridi doesn't mince words when announcing his retirement from Tests
And he goes on to drive the point home:

"I took the decision in the best interest of the team and hope a youngster with a Test temperament takes my position. I also feel that there are other players who are not fit for the longer version of the game and my advice to them is to concentrate on the shorter forms."

Anyone unintroduced to Afridi retirements could be forgiven for thoughts like "Phew - this man shows more patience in T20 games than in making career decisions." Probably true, but history shows that this charismatic 'King of T20' takes these retirement calls backed with a sound knowledge that unlike onfield hit-or-block decisions the retirements can be reversed pretty easily, within a very short time, and without asking for referral. Request you to go through some earlier Afridi retirements if you think I am being unnecessarily sarcastic.

That opening quote was pretty blunt for a self-assessment. Having seen Afridi for over a decade now, we can expect that to be a real call, of him calling a spade as he sees it, rather than an excuse to 'leave the battlefield' or 'insult Pak cricket establishment' that some people are accusing him of.

His ex-Pakistan teammate and skipper Moin Khan is relatively moderate. He opines:
"If he was not prepared for Test cricket then he should have thought about this before accepting the captaincy. His decision has come at a wrong time for Pakistan cricket and will complicate issues in the team."

Poor judgement, Moin. Did you truly expect him to have so much 'thought'-fulness alongside a strike rate close to twice that of the next fastest player???

The point is: It can change in the near future - by the 3rd Test, or by the next Test series...or even further down the months, say after the 2011 World Cup.

Why? 'Coz he does not have Test temperament, you see. For most others a career is like one long Test match. To Shahid Afridi, a career probably looks like a series of numerous T20 matches, each dissociated with the other. You never know what the next match throws up!

Take a well earned rest, smiling assasin

This post aims to clear a few 'Murali' cobwebs and let the sunshine come in at the time when this great cricketer most deserves it - on the eve of his Test retirement.
His action first. Here is a frank and reasonably fair assessment of the great Murali's action from that other great Warnie:
"Murali's action has been passed by scientific tests, I always thought it was probably legitimate," Warne said.

"But because of the way he bowled, I was worried that young spinners would try to copy his action and end up bowling illegally."
I loved those last words from Shane Warne. I find it quite possibly the main reason for various umpires outside Sri Lanka crying foul on his action repeatedly even though his bent elbow looked all right to me (and Warnie) by remaining bent till the end of delivery. These umpires, catastrophising on the impact that his action could possibly have on young minds, probably desired to stop Murali more as a precaution than to punish his actual bowling action.

Now to his achievements and the other 'calls' on his reputation. This cricinfo feature, apltly titled "An Unparalleled Match Winner", dwells on various notable career stats of Murali. It reminds our forgetful minds of the magnitude of achievement he is leaving behind, besides the small matter of returning a ratio of almost six wickets per Test.
For starters the man has taken 560 Test wickets since 2000.

We often hear a lot of comparison with that other spinning great Warnie of the 700 plus club. At times partisan cricket followers suggest that Murali's stats are inflated ONLY due to Bangladesh and Zimbabwe tours. S Rajesh does a favour to Murali's argument by presenting a stat for "Best bowlers between 2000 and 2008, excluding Tests v Zim and B'desh (Qual: 150 wkts)".

Under that particular stat Murali still comes out tops over Warnie in the averages, while Warnie returns a better strike rate. Considering quality of Murali's bowling support compared to Warnie's, a better strike rate for Warnie is expected as he found more favourable situations to take wickets and was seldom used as a stock weapon. Murali's better average is still a credit to Murali.

[Note: Bagging more wickets per match is an advantage Murali derived from having lesser bowling partners, and tha is why we are not discussing that. I believe Warnie too would have bagged close to six wickets per match had he bowled for a lesser bowling side than Australia - but perhaps his average and strike rate would both have been worse]

PS: This link has another post on Murali's retirement.

Update 1: If you are a Murali fan you may like to go through Rob Steen's excellent piece on the 'Ultimate MVP'

"Should Murali retire now?"

A nephew asked me this question on Facebook. His personal take was that Murali could have continued as he had more to offer.

This is always a difficult question - to 'foretell' what could have been for a top cricketer depending on his advancing age and his diminishing form. We did that once or twice earlier (most notably with Dada in 2005).... we did not spare Sachin in 2006 either...(hard to believe now) - and look what happened.

Nevertheless this was my reply, and it is based mainly on Test matches:
As per my observations for the last 1 year it was time to go for Murali. I checked the stats in cricinfo and they supported me: From 1st Jan 2009 till date (18th July 2010), Murali has taken only 23 wickets in 8 tests against opposition (excluding Ban or Zim). His average in these tests is 47+ (almost double his career avg) and his strike rate was 89 (much increased from the customary 50's). He was too great a bowler to be bowling to ignore that year-and-a-half long signal - getting to milestones matters less than being of value to the team. In this case, probably he is only just holding his place in the team (but still not a burden) - and a great cricketer needs to step back when it comes to that stage.

As usual I backed myself up with stats there. But I confess that I would not have been able to state the above with any conviction had Murali himself not called it a day.
And what about limitd overs cricket? Well I believe he may just have a role to play in the 2011 50 overs WC. but T20 is also going beyond least that was my first thought while watching Murali a few times in Chennai Super Kings matches of IPL-3. He was not quite the Murali we saw in the first edition of IPL.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sachin: Then, now and forever

This video shows how a sixteen year old Sachin spoke in front of TV in 1989, just before international cricket happened to him.

And this one shows how he spoke at age 36 in an interview with Boria Mazumdar in 2009, celebrating completion of Sachin's 20 years in international cricket.

180204 AD:
Manidus (descendent of humans, but more advanced) have found a 21st century relic. After research work they find it is related to the greatest sportsperson of the most populous country of that time, India. The man had lived till the exact age of 100. As a special honour to the man, 21st century society had stored Sachin's face and his smile for posterity using a technique similar to the one used to save mummies in ancient Egypt.

The Manidus people had also restored and watched video records of some on field performances as well as off-field interviews of this man. All agreed on one point: it was amazing that the man's smile remained the same at age 100 (as seen in the relic) as it used to be at age 16. Textbooks of the time confirm that the Sachin the person indeed remained remarkably unaffected by all external factors, including the numerous major developments he saw in his personal life as well as in the world he lived in. The people find it amazing that the story in the textbook can be so readily understood by one look at the expression on his face.

Within months of its discovery "Sachin's smile" becomes greatly popular as an old world relic in the Manidus world, surpassing the fame of Indus Valley civilisation relics - like the bust sculpture of Mohenjodaro priest, the bronze dancing girl from Mohenjodaro and bull engraved Harappan seals - amongst the earlier humans.

Some interesting quotes came through in that 1989 interview, by the way. He liked fast bowling (even the 80's West Indies variety) as 'the ball comes straight on to the bat'.

On an unrelated point, I watched this 'rare' video on recordings of Don Bradman's strokeplay. Some of the comments referred back to the suggested similarity of Don's game to Sachin's before degenerating into a pointless debate - and I must confess I got drawn into it to leave a comment or two.

Looking at the shots I believe the first one (cover drive, recorded from a match) reminds us most of Sachin. In two other shots - the 2nd one (step out and drive straight down) and 4th one (square on the off) - the initial movements of Don remind us of Sach but then the Australian ends the shots very differently. Our seasoned eyes just cannot imagine Sachin stepping out to drive the ball down the ground and yet NOT play a lofted drive.

UPDATE: Just found a better video of those 4 recorded Bradman shots. Also no ugly debate going on in the comments there (not when I read it), hence left no comments...