Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is this time for South Africa to unchoke?

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One day, India will lose a World Cup game to Pakistan. Till then every unanswered win against Pakistan in any 'world event' is cause for celebration. 

Champions Trophy does not count. 

And even if the World T20 is not a World Cup, we will call it one; especially now since Pakistan have yet again lost to India.

For those of us who have lived through Sharjah...may the wins keep coming.

The current Pakistan team had gathered a lot of adulation and respect for their performances over the last year. They betrayed that thoroughly today. They fielded like the Pakistan team we know of, batted with little brains and their bowlers lined up to pay tribute to and further feed the legend of Virat Kohli.

Can't remember a more hollow win for India against Pakistan. 

Both teams are still alive. Both teams can lose their last Super 8 games and still hope to qualify on 'Net Run Rate'. Both teams to a large extent control their own destiny. Purely in a logical sense, India are better placed however. They play last knowing exactly what they have to do in their game against South Africa. Pakistan on the other hand will be at the mercy of Shane Watson. A daunting task for any team. 

A cricketer I had initially written off as Australia's version of Sanjay Bangar or Manoj Prabhhakar. Shane Watson, has since silenced me but the way he is playing in this tournament, if he were to compete as his own country he would start as among the favorites.

Australia and Sri Lanka do look like they could win this thing. Sri Lanka along with West Indies was of course in my list of teams favored to win the World T20 but now I would like to swap West Indies with Australia. 

There haven't been very many close matches but close finishes do not define a good game of cricket and the Super 8s have been exciting even without them.

South Africa and New Zealand have been surprisingly disappointing but while South Africa have always choked from positions of strength, this is the first time they are playing with their backs against the wall.

Who knows...

This may trigger a South African resurgence that might get them their first ICC Trophy. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Undropppable Mr Sehwag

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Once selected for a tour, Virendra Sehwag is essentially undroppable.

What I mean is with players like him it is the selectors who need to drop him for poor performance. It should not be left to Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Its unfair.

The only way for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to come of this unscathed was for India to win the match and once he executed on this ‘most difficult decision’ he exposed himself to criticism if India lost the game.

They did lose the game and the criticism that was expressed as analysis during the match is now a full blown questioning of Dhoni’s decision making abilities.

I feel for Dhoni. The selectors are not doing their jobs and the task of managing the egos of the seniors while still trying to win games is squarely on his shoulders.

During India’s 0-8 run, he never once influenced any change in the batting team composition or the batting order but in the LOI format he feels he has enough control to exert his influence.

I have always argued that Virendra Sehwag is more comfortable with the Test format and his consistency after a decade of LOI cricket nowhere near his Test match consistency. His career should be managed like VVS Laxman’s and preserved for Test matches.

That will require selectoral consensus, which was too much to expect from Srikkant’s team. Will Sandip Patil be any good?

Time will tell

The skill gap on paper between India and Australia without Sehwag is too huge. Even with Sehwag in the team the bowling is threadbare.

Had Sehwag played and scorched a 100, I have no confidence that our bowlers would have defended the score. Not with the rain that clearly hindered an almost all-spin attack.

I think the right thing for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to now do is to show he is flexible, get Sehwag back in the side for the must win game against Pakistan and deal with the issue of Virendra Sehwag with the selectors.

There are a few players who are above such policies like ‘horses for courses’. Even in the most abject of forms like the one he is in right now, Virendra Sehwag is one of them.

Dhoni should be applauded for trying but in the supposed power struggle between him and Virendra Sehwag, he may have raised the stakes higher than what was necessary.

It’s better to lose with Virendra Sehwag in the team than lose by benching him

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The World T20 finally poised for a take off

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The World T20 Story so far... 

3 matches affected by rain. A must win game ends in a no result and we find out that West Indies make it to the Super 8s without winning a single game. More rain is expected and the ICC responds to questions of the scheduling of the tournament with “Everyone knew and agreed to the schedule”. Actually such is the pull of cricket’s newest format that ICC can organize a night game in the North Pole in the middle of the summer and make a profit. This one though has all the makings of another Champions Trophy from a decade ago when India bowled twice in the finals on consecutive days only for the second innings being washed out on both days. 100 overs of cricket and the trophy was shared.

Me No Love
The minnows, who don’t like to be called that we learn, had earned much sympathy and love during the 2011 World Cup and the previous edition of the T20 Cup 2 weeks ago or so. This time with most matches being lopsided, the minnows have been shown their place and the only love they are getting is based on ‘archived in statsguru’ performances. Much like the lifeline India’s seniors are enjoying

The Format
Even after a week, the tournament feels like its still in the warm up matches stage. SA have batted for all of 19 overs, England technically ‘threw’ their match against India for it was a game of absolutely no consequence and no matter how hard the ICC tries they just cannot design a format that can keep all stages interesting. In that the fault lies less with the ICC and more with the disparity of skills between the Test and the non-Test playing countries.

The Leading Unfavorites
India - I am not reading too much into the embarrassingly thumping win against England for India. For all its experience with the IPL, India seems to be a side just a nudge away from completely falling apart. Ever since Virat Kohli carried Sachin on his shoulders after the World Cup win, the list of seniors that India have had to carry is mounting. Sehwag, Gambhir, Zaheer… and now, Yuvraj. I was very excited with Yuvraj’s return and said to whoever would listen that he would be biggest thing in Indian cricket for a while but he just does not seem match fit to me. It’s only a matter of time when one of these non performing seniors will cause the camels back to break only for the blame to be shifted to Ashok Dinda.

Of the Other Unfavorites
England are not as stupid as they looked against Harbhajan and Chawla, South Africa are actually looking good, Pakistan likewise. Australia were mauled by Gayle and remain along with India the most unfavourites.

If the rains stay away most of the games in the Super 8s will be worth watching. Also with no baggage being carried forward from the previous rounds all teams start as equals. The idea of carrying forward points while it worked to create an incentive to take every group match seriously, had the downside of not allowing lower seeded teams any room to make a run to the top in the Super 8s. 

Better to have meaningless matches in the group stage than in the Super 8s

Personally, I would love for West Indies to win. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Unfavourites

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If cricket boards across the world could figure out how to make money on the sighting of Haley’s comet, they would find a way to make that thing appear every other year. With T20, they don’t have to do anything as dramatic other than dropping the ‘World Cup’ tag from this tournament. People are somehow conditioned to think that World Cups happen every 4 years so by smartly dropping the tag it has allowed boards to have this tournament every week if they so choose.

Of course we will be following the World T20 cup. So lets kick start the coverage with these teams who are most unlikely to win the cup; “The unfavourites”…

There is enough evidence to suggest that wearing the same uniform design does not yield similar results. From what I can tell the strategy failed in Tests. I have vivid memories of India wearing whites when they became the #1 Test side in the world and then promptly lost 8 Test Matches in a row; also in white. In addition the ROI on winning the World T20 cup is questionable.

There was a bowler... correcttion.. Fast bowler. He was once carted for 6 sixes in 6 balls. He now captains his country. Enough said. On the bright side England are united and united they will fall.

South Africa
At the end of the day they are a team of proper cricketers. Ultimately too good to win the World T20. On the positive side I did not suggest they will choke

Their captain will not even make the 15 member squad of 80% of the countries including Ireland. Its hard to see why he would end up holding the T20 cup. They are also ranked below Ireland in the T20 rankings. There is nothing to be said on the brighter side for Australia

In all probability they will end up issuing a formal complaint to the ICC that no one told them that the game they just won against India was a warm up game. Then they will boycott the rest of the actual tournament and hold their own World T20 cup. Ajmal will win the man of the series award.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sri Lanka and West Indies cricket take the lead

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The recent decision by the Sri Lankan and West Indies Cricket boards to scrap Test matches in favor of ODIs, possibly involving India in a tri-series is a brave one. After the initial rolling of the eyes, I settled down to understand that this is actually a sane decision.

The scrapping of the Test Matches means that both Sri Lanka and West Indies can allow their players to play the entire season of IPL. While the presidents/executives of both boards will deny this, and indeed Sri Lanka's has, the motivation for this move is transparent to all.

Test Cricket needs to be played in earnestness or not at all.

When India and New Zealand shoe horn a 2 Test series with no practice games, when marquee teams like Australia and South Africa play a 2 Test series, when South Africa are in England for as long as they have been this summer and have only 3 Tests to show for it, when India's players treat tours to the West Indies as an entirely voluntary exercise, its like even the game's leaders are simply ticking the Test Cricket box on a checklist as conformance to the Future Tours and Programs.

Lip Service is what that is.

The Future Tours and Programs is increasingly looking like a weather forecast or worse an astrology reading. Its not a guarantee for anything other than the likelihood that the featured events might occur.

By contrast the lesser boards; lesser in monetary terms strictly; do not have the funds to even pay the lip service to the format like India, England, South Africa and Australia do and are thus forced to take the lead in confronting the truth that unless there is a will among the cricket playing nations, Test cricket is not worth the trouble. These smaller boards by their actions will either accelerate the eventual demise or force the men who matter to decide if cricket should follow the money at all costs.

When men like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble suggest that all 3 formats can survive, without the need to address anything really, I wonder if they are simply joking, saying a straight faced lie, are incapable to comprehend the impact of IPL and the other leagues, or are simply reading out from the BCCI party line afraid not to jeopardize future incomes. Whatever the case, these statements sound hollow, far removed from reality, and clearly not what these gentlemen truly think. Because as players they were both analytical and articulate.

India obviously want to milk every dollar they can via the IPL and are in no mood to play the lead in devising anything that might sustain Test cricket. So while its administrators and legendary players continue their lip services to Test Cricket, the New Zealands, Sri Lankas and the West Indies of the world will adapt their cricket to the new model and the Test World will shrink.

When a game far more boring than cricket, Golf, that like Test cricket goes on for 4 days before a winner emerges, can be a money making machine; I do not quite get the do-nothing-because-there-is-no-money-in-test-cricket line of wisdom

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pakistan unnecessarily wallow in self pity over Saeed Ajmal

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With so many ranking systems, awards, and the various world cups I had assumed that outside of the ODI world cup these things were only instituted to generate sponsorship money and largely artificial interest in the sport of cricket. Ok and perhaps to help seed teams and draw schedules (a purely functional exercise but relevant nonetheless)

It is quite amusing to follow ESPN cricinfo’s headlines covering the on-going ODI series between England and South Africa. They were generating a feeling that the #1 ODI ranking was changing hands every ball. South Africa is not fielding their best team for this series for whatever reason and England are united without Pietersen. Neither team is giving any indication of really playing for the #1 ranking. I seriously doubt either of them really care one way or the other for the ranking.

There is only one real World Cup and its going to be pretty difficult to shake that off. While a Test Championship will be welcome for its promises of high quality cricket, I doubt it will be the new World Cup

I have never really paid much attention to the ICC awards.

They too like the T20 Cup seem to come around every few months but then I must be confusing them with the ESPN Cricinfo awards. Even so I have rarely paid much attention to them. I simply assumed they are another vehicle to generate money, generate employment and create a superficial buzz around the sport.

This year though, I have been browsing through the stories and blogs crying foul over the exclusion of Saeed Ajmal from the Test Cricketer of the Year award.

In general, I feel for Pakistan only because they play their cricket with a natural flair that is a joy to watch. However I also feel the state their cricket is in is largely their own doing. You can’t blame India or the evil West for appointing comical chiefs to head your board who consistently pick the wrong battles to win. The new chief Zaka Ashraf seems a little more sensible but its still early days and the signs are not good.

Once again the PCB picked a wrong battle to win.

Saeed Ajmal has had a pretty spectacular year in Test cricket and plotted a clean sweep of England the then #1 Test side. His efforts were recognized with his name being included in the nominations for the ICC Cricketer of the year award.

But when the nominations were cut down to 4 only Hashim Amla and Vernon Philander (South Africa), Michael Clarke (Australia) and Kumar Sangakara (Sri Lanka) made the cut.

Saeed Ajmal did not make the list.

Fans were upset. Bloggers thought this was racist, that there is more to this than the ICC were willing to reveal. To an extent the fans reactions were understandable if viewed as frustration. Then the PCB decided to act and lodge a formal complaint against the ICC to include Saeed Ajmal in the short-list. Pakistan themselves were represented in the process that they now question.

The ICC promptly rejected the objection. And now Pakistani fans are frustrated and hurt.

There may be some validity to the perception among Pakistani fans that their team is never given their due. How this latest mis-step by their board that seemed to succumb to its fans’ frustrations is going to help them is anyone’s guess

In my view there is not even circumstantial evidence to suggest that there was any conspiracy to exclude Saeed Ajmal. I mean its simple, if his name was included, I would have accepted it, just as I have accepted his exclusion from the short-list. All these 5 cricketers have very little room that separates them.

No decision making process involving humans can be entirely objective. Does popularity of a cricketer, affiliation to certain countries, personal prejudices play a role in drawing up a short list? I am sure they do. Only Pakistan however can help change that and wallowing in self-pity on every little slight does their image no good at all.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Winning in Transition

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India's transition has one foot stubbornly in the late 80s but ignoring that, the series win against New Zealand though anticipated, is a welcome relief after the string of losses in England and Australia.

The Indian side does not look settled at all but no side can be after the string of recent losses and the retirements of 2 of the game's greats. What is of concern though is that it is not the transitory elements but the established ones that are looking vulnerable. Zaheer Khan averaged 60 for his 3 wickets and Sachin Tendulkar 21 for his 63 runs. Yet conventional wisdom among experts is to 'preserve them' for South Africa. An idea that is unlikely to flatter India's youngsters while also being debatable given the two might be past their prime.

Both Gautam Gambhir and Virendra Sehwag are 'under observation'. Patience with both is running thin and given that both have spoken their minds against Mahendra Singh Dhoni's tactics neither has an option to just be passengers in the team. In normal circumstances, a prolonged period of less than optimal productivity will leave their fate in the hands of the captain and the selectors. Neither performed in this series and set bad examples with the choice of their shots. With the IPL and private money (and thus influence) nothing is normal about cricket any more. Neither the captain nor the selectors may have any say in how long is prolonged. I for one doubt whether the two will produce anything meaningful when India travels abroad. Bad habits have crept into their batting a direct influence of T20 cricket and whether they have the discipline to curb the T20 instincts is something we will know only in time

India’s transitory elements Virat Kohli, Pragyan Ojha, Cheteshwar Pujara and R Ashwin were the core team that engineered the series win and that is the biggest positive from the series.

Even Rahul Dravid has acclaimed Virat Kholi as the best Indian batsman today. It is as much a statement on Sachin as it is a compliment to Virat. How much in future monetary compensation this statement may cost him remains to be seen but cynical remarks aside, seeing Sachin Tendulkar struggle against the weakest team in Test cricket was painful to watch. It is entirely his choice that he is okay to reduce himself to a passenger on the team.

Another problem is Suresh Raina but he is a problem produced by the system or ‘process’ as is fashionable these days with cricket. Whatever ODI opportunities he has been given he has come through. Even in the most high pressure situations; most notably his batting in the World Cup quarter finals against Australia and semi-finals against Pakistan. It is hard to ignore him. His captains and coaches all seem to love his work ethics. His inclusion in the Test team can be justified because he meets all ‘pre-requisites’. Yet I have never harbored any great hopes from him. He just doesn’t look like a proper batsman to me. I hope he has something else in him that will help him sustain his Test career.

In sum, I believe it is reasonable to say that India’s youngsters delivered a series win under Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s captaincy in spite of the seniors.