Monthly Archives: July 2010

Oh, Irfan Pathan, You Have Been Wronged

Regular readers know I have long nursed an unhealthy cricket crush on Irfan Pathan, once India’s answer to Kapil Dev’s retirement and now a national tragedy that barely gets a look-in for the national T20 side. Gary Kirsten underlined the length of Pathan’s downfall recently when he said:

“If he is going to be a batting allrounder, he has to be able to make a contribution with the ball. We can’t have a guy bowling at 115 kmph, holding up one end and getting one wicket every five Test matches. He has got to be able to make a proper contribution with the ball. Irfan [Pathan] was certainly one of the individuals that we earmarked, but he is probably a little bit light on his bowling side.”

Imagine — this was the guy who reduced Pakistan to 0/3 in the Karachi Test not too long ago (and that was a Pakistan that had Mohammad Yousuf and Younis Khan, not the no-name youngsters in their place now). To call Pathan light on the bowling side may not be inaccurate, but it’s just so unbelievably depressing. What exactly did Ganguly and Greg Chappell do this guy? Why did he drop pace from high-130s to mid-120s? And why has the same thing happened to Munaf Patel, L. Balaji and S. Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma?

For those interested in reliving the glory days, enjoy:

Mohammed Aamer Is The Chosen One

I second Samir Chopra’s take on Mohammed Aamer, this 20-something wunderkind. It’s not just that he knows how to swing the ball both ways, and can do so at decent pace. (Exhibits A and B are those two deliveries post-Tea on Day 1 to dismiss S. Smith and M. Johnson.) But this guy is also really, really smart — Exhibit C is the delivery that got rid of M. Hussey on Day 3. Aamer delivered a scrambled-seam ball, but he did so, as Michael Holding said, almost like a spin bowler — the ball, rotating as if on leg spin, landed on the seam and bounced more, taking Hussey’s edge to the slip cordon.

Now, Chopra also says that if Pakistan cannot win from here — needing about 40 more runs with 7 wickets in hand — they might as well join with Bangladesh, for old time’s sake. Maybe — but I join a much older line of thought that has suggested that the perfect cricket team would combine Pakistan’s uncanny ability to produce great bowlers with India’s arrogant, thoroughly deserving and imperious batsmen (this Sri Lanka Test excepted). A fool’s dream, of course.

Tony Grieg Is Talking Nonsense

It’s far too late here in the United States to be watching cricket, but I can’t sleep. And in such a mood, Tony Grieg is not very easy to handle. As a general rule, I like Grieg; he more or less introduced me to cricket when he was part of the 1996 World Cup commentary team. He does have one major flaw: he’s unbelievably, ridiculously opinionated.

Take this flap over the URDS. Burned by a few previous incidents, India said they didn’t want it this Test series, even though Sri Lanka, the home team, did. Now, we can disagree about this (and we have; see here). But I think it’s ridiculous to make assertions about which team made the right decision based on one successful appeal within the first half-hour on the first day in the First Test. That is, however, precisely what Grieg just did, after A. Mithun gave a good shout for LBW against T. Dilshan. “That would have been one for India,” Grieg said. “Maybe they made the wrong decision.” (Maybe, but the sample here is very, very small.)

He then went on to say that the “ICC needed to get its act together,” and allow home teams to choose the URDS if they wanted. Again: ridiculous. Yes, some teams haven’t figured out the URDS, but it may just be that captains, already burdened with a long array of choices, do not want to confront another one (should we appeal the umpire’s decision? Where did that ball land? Should we save them?). Besides, it’s not as if the URDS is perfect; there have been more than a few quibbles that batsmen can be found both in and out on the same ball depending on how inconclusive TV replays can be.

And finally: cricket home teams have curators, audience, the ability to quickly  call in substitutes — why on earth would you want to give them something more?

Worried About India-Sri Lanka

There are a couple of storylines emerging from the sports journalists about the Sri Lanka-India Test series: 1) Murali’s final goodbye. 2) India’s bowling malaise. 3) Possible pitches that allow batsmen to go on and on.

And I’m really worried. If you give or take away certain Tests, I think you’ll find that most subcontinental Tests are extremely boring. The typical way to win is a) win toss; b) bat forever; c) use spinners and pressure and 7-2, or even 8-1, fields to stifle opposition. Repeat x2. That’s not nearly as much fun as the ebb-and-flow of English Tests, where the weather can determine if one team has been bowled out for 100 or not at all.

So, this could be boring. Even worse, it could be exciting — but bad for the Indian team. There’s nothing worse than the sight of a haggled Ishant Sharma, his badly lined teeth staring from his open mouth, as he trudges through the heat with his impossibly long run-up. If the ball doesn’t seam, and Harbhajan doesn’t grip, this could be a long week.

A Problem With Shahid Afridi

Shahid Afridi has been around for a long time. I still remember when he first burst on the scene; the biggest debate he provoked at the time was whether or not he was, in fact, the youngest player ever to join an international cricket team (many Indians felt the Pakistanis simply found this guy just to spite Sachin Tendulkar, who previously held the record).

Now, obviously, Afridi is no Tendulkar. He’s not even a Virender Sehwag. There are players who occasionally trot out the cliche that they refuse to change their style of play (see: Yuvraj Singh in Tests; Kevin Pietersen in everything). But they’re never completely true — Sehwag, for instance, has also said he likes to play as he has always played, and to a certain extent, only Sehwag will try to reach a century or milestone by risking his wicket for a boundary. At the same time, however, Sehwag knows when to relax; some of his best innings feature a certain caution and inhibition. (That’s why he averages over 50 and Afridi only 36).

Afridi, alas, never modified his game. It’s the strangest thing — he simply goes out to bat and thinks every innings should come close to beating that record he set for the fastest century in ODI cricket. I don’t understand it, because the guy isn’t stupid. In fact, as a bowler, he has shown remarkable maturity and guile (to such an extent, I would argue, that he’s much more valuable for his 278 ODI wickets than his 24 batting average).

The tragedy of Afridi’s short reign is that he was a good captain; certainly much better than Mohammad Yousuf (who, by contrast, is an amazing batsman, probably the best Pakistani one this decade). His captaincy raises difficult questions: does playing talent make you a better manager of people? (Is it possible, in other words, to have brilliant captains who contribute nothing with bat and ball? And if so, are they worth their spot in the team?) Why can some players adapt to different conditions, but not to varying formats?

A Problem With Hawkeye

Some among the technology futurists believe that the ICC should include Hawkeye in the umpire review system. I’m not one of them, for two reasons: 1. the usual, ol’ fashioned creed that readers now know by heart, and 2. of all the ways batsmen can get out, LBW is one of the more mysterious. This is a law that basically requires umpires to predict the future, relying on a) where the ball pitched; b) height at impact; c) where impact occurs vis-a-vis the stumps. But it’s also based on an important value: batsmen bat, they don’t pad.

So when Ricky Ponting does not play a shot against Mohammad Asif, I think R. Koertzen hits the mark when he raises the Slow Finger Of Death, even though Hawkeye later reveals the ball would miss the stumps. I’m not saying all batsmen who get hit on the pad for not playing a shot deserve to get out (though that would be a fine rule). But that ball looked close enough (Ponting’s typical lunge to the right didn’t help) and it showed that it was going to miss leg stump, which really makes it a problem for me (what kind of batsman pads up to a ball that’s swinging in enough to go past his leg stump?).

I just think certain LBWs can rely on more leeway, and padding up is one of them. It would have been a real shame if Hawkeye were used and restored Ponting’s wicket — not just because I hate Ricky Ponting (in a sort of, You’re one of the greatest batsmen of all time, resentful way), but because, in this case, he deserved the duck he got.

Commentary Line Of The Day

Michael Holding has the best line of the commentary today (on the Test match between Pakistan and Australia). After Shane Watson pulled Mohammad Asif across square-leg, Holding said, “Mohammad Asif is bowling from memory here. He remembers when he was quick, but he ain’t quick now.”

Not bad. Perhaps a tad too harsh, because Asif was never that quick — but well said, anyhow.

Pakistan Forgets Playground Cricket Rules

The first task of any pick-up cricket game, as any Indian schoolboy in recess will tell you, is to choose two sides. Two captains, usually arbitrarily chosen, will select among what’s available and the smart ones will end up with a balanced side — some great batsmen, some great bowlers, and then the fat kids.

Apparently, Pakistan’s selectors need to visit Bombay’s maidans (or even their own). This current team is an absolute tragedy. By that, I don’t mean they’re awful, because they’re not. If anything they’ve shown more resolve and steel in Lord’s than at any moment in Australia (and I don’t even think they were that bed then). And that’s wherein lies the pathos: this team has incredible bowlers who are knocking off Australians in just over a day. But their batsmen couldn’t even last more than 40 overs, sending them once more to the trenches (and four more Australian wickets taken).

Just for my heart’s sake, I’d like to see  a completely bad team, one with bad bowlers and bad batsmen. After the beauties that Asif bowled, or that wonderful Kaneria over against Johnson (leg-spin, leg-spin, top-spin, googly), it’s heartbreaking to see this team go down to defeat because their main batsman probably wouldn’t be allowed in R-rated movies in America (that is, he’s young). Next time, Pakistan, just put Younis Khan back in — or at least call Javed Miandad out of retirement.

Mohammad Asif’s Strange Alchemy

During Day 1 against Australia, Mohammad Asif proved to the world, yet again, why even if you stack drug charges, discipline issues and woeful fielding on one side against him, he still weighs more. In one over, he took Simon Katich and Marcus North — the first fell to a ball that seamed away, the second to one that came in.

But how did he do it? The replays showed both balls delivered with the same wrist and seam positions (and it wasn’t clear on which side the shiny surface lay). Michael Holding, looking at the evidence, recounted how a batsman once told him that bowlers usually have no clue how they get wickets (implying that luck and chance happeneth to us all). Holding’s theory made sense coming from a bowler; he responded that as long as you put the ball in the right length and the right line, the little magical elves that lie on a pitch or hang in the air will do their path to deliver cosmic justice.

I like that idea a lot, since it goes to the heart of this blog’s thesis (cricket is about fate and chance; a long parable about the limits of human agency and modernity). But it’s also a huge bummer, right? At one point, Holding even insisted that the great Shane Warne would confess he didn’t know why certain balls he bowled did what they did. Right, fair enough, but I like to think Asif does know why he can bowl balls that always come back off the pitch, and bowl others that do nothing at all.

Either way, I’ll say this: Asif — better than marijuana.

Match Awareness

I wanted to talk about this last night, but The Old Batsman beat me to it. There are a lot of things that cricket players need in the modern era — fine fielding skills, the ability to slog perhaps, ability to handle the short ball. But Shane Warne introduced another qualification during his commentary — “match awareness.” It sounds ridiculous, but it’s just a less fancy way of “good cricketing brain.” (That term, much more established and slightly frightening, always tickled me. Cricket IQ — a new way to measure human intelligence.)

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