Monthly Archives: June 2009

An Indian Decline, Or Just A Hiccup?

Why do South Asian teams go from brilliance to embarrassingly low depths in a week? More specifically, what is going on with India? On the one hand, you want to blame a ridiculously non-stop schedule (who scheduled this ridiculous series anyway?) and dismiss India’s 2nd ODI performance as nothing more than a blip. On the other hand, there are the usual worries: is Rohit Sharma cut out for the big leagues, or will he only prosper in the Twenty20 format? What’s wrong with Gautam Gambhir? And who knew R.P. Singh could play defense so well?

Don’t have many answers, I’m afraid. I’m relatively happy with the current team, and I’ll give them as much space and time they need before the 2011 World Cup. Thank goodness this flare-up isn’t happening too close to the event.

Australians Worried About Cardiff Spin

Well, Ricky Ponting says he isn’t, but he’s worried enough to look up the stats about spin victims at Cardiff. From Cricinfo:

“There was even talk a month ago about the Test not going ahead there because of problems with the pitch. But we had a closer look at some stats last week and found that something like only 14 of the 69 wickets taken there is the last three county matches have been taken with spin.”

Australia’s only specialist spinner in the touring party, Nathan Hauritz, struggled against Sussex and finished with match figures of 1 for 158. The selectors will consider a four-man pace attack if the Cardiff pitch looks suitable, although Ponting believes Sophia Gardens was in part selected to open the series because of Australia’s lack of a top-class Test spinner.

Hot and dry, a perfect season for some turn. Go, Swann, go!

Michael Jackson And Cricket Fashion

Of all the fashion styles Michael Jackson played with in his short life — military epaulets, silver gloves, neon jackets, shortened black trousers with white socks — I think he missed an opportunity to take on cricket chic as well. Cricket whites and ODI pajamas may not sound superstar worthy, but the sweaters and jackets and baggy greens certainly amount to a posh enough look in my mind. Esquire ran a feature on this very subject last year:

“Cotton-and-cashmere cricket vest ($298) and cotton-and-linen polo shirt ($90), Polo by Ralph Lauren; cotton trousers ($235) by Canali.”

Huh. Certainly a Jackson-worthy budget, at least. MTV picked up on the game’s sartorial snobbishness when Jamie Foxx hosted a reality show “From G’s to Gents.” In the third episode, the contestants — a bunch of clueless men trying to prove their sly “G-ness” (or whatever) — had to learn “one of the most sophisticated games in the world,” all while nattily dressed in ties and cardigans. Wodehouse style, as it were.

Pakistan Wins For Bob Woolmer

Here’s to you, Bob Woolmer:

From Younis Khan:

“This final must go to Bob Woolmer,” he said. “He was doing good things with us in 2005 and especially my cricket. I would be very proud if he was alive and sitting with me because he’s a very nice guy and was a father figure for us. Why I am captain is because in 2005 – at that time I was not a regular player for Pakistan – he was the guy who all the time was chatting with the chairman and the selectors that Younis will be the next captain. So because of him I have became a captain. I dedicate this final to Bob Woolmer.”

Steve Harmison Doesn’t Want To Kill Batsmen

Steve Harmison takes a batsmans head off

Steve Harmison takes a batsman's head off

England announces its Ashes squad next week. There aren’t many mysteries as far as I’m concerned, but there’s still some dead-enders’ hubbub about Ian Bell, Michael Vaughan and, of course, Steve Harmison, the inscrutable subject of this post.

When he’s not looking homesick and forlong onfield, he’s making cryptic moments about peace and love for batsmen. This is the Durham bowler after he managed to lovetap Ian Bell and Some Other Batman in a domestic match:

“It’s the worst thing in the world when you hit somebody,” he said. “I really don’t like it at all. I s*** myself when I hit Tony Frost. I was upset by that. And the same when I hurt Ian Bell.”

As Patrick Kidd at Line and Length (can’t stop reading it today, sorry) rightly notes, this makes no sense whatsoever:

Oh pull yourself together Harmy. It’s not as if you put them in the hospital. And Frost and Bell made 56 and 79 respectively, they were asking for it. No one wants to see a batsman seriously hurt, but to be upset after rapping an upper-order batter (a helmeted one at that) on the bonce suggests that you didn’t intend to do it. In which case, what was the point of bowling the bouncer?

One of cricket’s more intruiging paradoxes lies in its almost terrifying potential violence. Cricket balls are hard and in the last year, we’ve seen a spate of awful injuries in the game (from Daniel Flynn’s lost tooth to Anil Kumble’s stitched hand). It’s a paradox because this is a game, after all, that prides itself on good cheer and sportsmanship. And yet, there’s the attraction: it’s easy to throw a ball around at someone, but it’s extremely beautiful to watch men develop forms and routines to properly hurl an object upwards of 90 mph at another man without the clear intention of hurting him.

The game fails, then, when a batsman does actually bleed. But that isn’t the bowler’s fault, or even the batsman’s necessarily. This uneasy dalliance with violence separates cricket from American sports like ice hockey and American football, where violence is at the heart of the game’s essence and means. In cricket, violence is turned into good-hearted play: a bowler says he will do everything to get you out; a batsman wears protection and does his best to remain stoic. Wink and a nod; get on with it, mate.

So, cheer up, Harmy. It’s not Iraq we’re talking about. Incidentally, Harmison’s averaging 20 with 31 wickets this season? Surely the English selectors won’t fall for it, will they? Or will we see another leg-side bouncer seal Australia’s fate at Edgbaston? See below (all hail Stephen Fry!):

Allen Stanford’s Possible Prison Sentence

Allen Stanford/The Telegraph

Allen Stanford/The Telegraph

If convicted of fraud for his alleged Ponzi schemes, Allen Stanford faces upto 375 years in prison. The irony of the number isn’t lost on Patrick Kidd over at Line and Length.

Angelo Matthews’ Extraordinary First Over

Three batsmen bowled, all playing on. Ridiculous stuff, from an otherwise lackluster semi-final between West Indies and Sri Lanka. Watch below:

The Flexible Indian Batting Lineup

Must-read blogger Samir Chopra has a post on Cricinfo’s Different Strokes (“Samir Chopra: Because One Blog Ain’t Enough“) about flexibility and the Indian lineup. My thinking isn’t completely sorted out in the matter, but I think I disagree with Chopra’s reasoning. I’m afraid we haven’t fully appreciated the difficulty of balancing stability and adaptability.

Chopra mainly argues that Dhoni wrongly tries to achieve a flexible batting lineup rather than flexible batsmen. So, as Dhoni recently said, who went in as No. 3 depended on who fell first; if it was Rohit Sharma, then Raina would enter, if Gambhir, then Dhoni came in. Chopra argues Dhoni should just tell each batsman to play according to the match situation and be done with it, rather than indulge in a game of musical chairs every match. Good players, Chopra writes, adapt:

If you are a No. 3, and an early wicket falls, you play a little differently than you do if there are a hundred runs on the board. If you are a No. 6, and the team is in trouble, as opposed to looking for a declaration, you bat a little differently. And so on.

OK. So far, so good. But then I’m a tad confused when Chopra talks of one benefit of a more established lineup:

Sure, sending them in at different positions challenges them. But why not give them stability in their expectations of where they are to play and instead demand adaptiveness in their responses to match situations?

And here’s my problem: if we go with Chopra’s argument and each batsman must come in and adapt accordingly to each game (and each situation), then surely that batsman doesn’t enjoy much stability, regardless of where he comes onto the field, right? So, if you tell me I’m your No. 3 no matter what, but that how I play depends on what’s going on, I’d not feel all that stable.

At the very least, I’d feel just as stable as if I had a fixed role in the lineup — pinch-hitter, anchor, whatever — and was sent in whenever my captain felt best. Say I’m Yusuf Pathan and I eat bowlers for breakfast. Why don’t I just hone that skill and then display it whenever my captain thinks the score needs to be accelerated?

My point isn’t that the first system is better than the second. I only mean either way, there’s not that much stability. In the first system, I may be a great pinch-hitter at No. 6, but if a few wickets have fallen quickly, I might end up having to hit singles around for a good 10 overs. Not ideal. In the second model, I don’t even know when to get my pads on. Either way, I have to balance stability and flexibility.

I’ll just add two independent points: first, I think Greg Chappell first introduced this notion of a roving lineup as coach because he felt players had ossified in their traditional roles, stifling creativity and on-the-go thinking. Rather than see a player think for himself during a particular moment in a match, we’d witness too many revolve around the team’s Big Guns — Ganguly, Dravid, Tendulkar — with no one having a credible answer when the three failed. In a way, then, a flexible batting lineup encourages what Chopra wants; it’s a teaching tool. Some may say international cricket isn’t the place to learn the game, but others won’t dismiss it lightly given the average age of this young Indian team.

And secondly, I think we only get to an ideal place in a lineup when everything works according to plan. That’s why the Australians did so well for so long: their openers regularly saw off the new ball (and then some); their No. 3 went on to nicely bridge the middle order along; their lower-order and tail nicely finished off any hint of opposition.

When something gets misplaced in this elaborate jigsaw, things fall apart, as they did for India. No Sehwag at the top and a flailing Gambhir almost ensured things would go screwy. You send Rohit Sharma to No. 2, but then what happens to No. 4 or No. 5? By 2011, however, I’m sure the top-order will look like this: Sehwag, Gambhir, Sharma, Raina, Yuvraj, Dhoni, and Y. Pathan. Good enough for me, no matter who’s where.

Tipping Cricket’s Finances And Twenty20

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting story on Twenty20’s financial revolution in the cricket world yesterday. Since it appeared in an American newspaper, there was the obligatory bemused tone about this strange game that so many people apparently love. That said, the article has some redeeming points, including a basic introduction to the different attractions of Test cricket and Twenty 20:

Joseph O’Neill, author of the bestselling novel “Netherland,” says that T20 is “a kind of home run derby” — his tone making it clear that he doesn’t think much of either T20 or home run derbies. Both Mr. O’Neill and Don Lockerbie, CEO of the USA Cricket Association, compare test cricket to a golf tournament. It’s an “examination of character,” explains Mr. O’Neill, “a test of your weaknesses and strength….The great psychic adventure that constitutes a test match doesn’t happen in Twenty 20 cricket.”

Conversely, when Mr. Lockerbie, who dreams of bringing T20 to America, calls it “home run derby meets running bases,” he means that as a good thing.

And many English fans would agree. Introduced in 2003 to boost the fortunes of the flagging lower-level “county game,” which is the domestic league below the international teams, T20 succeeded at its mission; grounds filled up and the format was accepted as the kind of harmless AAA sideshow the late-baseball owner Bill Veeck, creator of the exploding scoreboard, might have come up with if he had owned a cricket team.

Good stuff. There’s also some interesting figures about IPL wealth. Read the whole thing.

The Underdog Twenty20 Finalists

West Indies just started playing Sri Lanka, but I’ll be sorely disappointed if they win and this year’s World Cup will end as a battle between Pakistan and the Caribbean consortium. Don’t get me wrong; the two teams arrived there fair and square (Daniel Vettori’s ridiculous aspersions otherwise), but I think rightfully this was South Africa’s year. I also have very little respect for this Pakistani side for some reason, even though it’ll be a feat if the team reaches their second consecutive Twenty20 final despite selction issues and, of course, the country’s turmoil.

Still, I suppose this isn’t just the format’s inherent unpredictability, but the exciting tragedy of knock-out rounds.

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