Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Opinions on... UDRS

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Is the UDRS about technology or the process by which decisions are delivered? 

We are all for technology. But not for technology for technology's sake. Unlike MS Dhoni, we  do not believe technology should be 100% fool proof before it is deployed. Unlike Sachin Tendulkar we do not claim to understand the reliability of Hot Spot over Snickometer. We don't really understand the cost issues around adopting UDRS, so we can't say whether the BCCI is justified in its relentless opposition to using UDRS. 

What we do know is that the process of delivering decisions using technology is flawed. Make the UDRS a tool of the on-field umpire not a tool for the players to challenge his authority.

So the recent announcement that UDRS will not be deployed for the title clash in South Africa, should make us happy. Not really, because its completely missing the point and unlikely to influence that case of our concern. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ashes 1.5: A Made To Order Pitch?

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  1. So is this what the hoopla was all about? We all worked ourselves up to a frenzy to see bowlers struggling to take 2 wickets for 600 runs on the last 2 days of a Test Match. And this is supposed to enthuse the world into becoming fans of Test Cricket? Are we sure that this was Brisbane and not Ahmedabad?
  2. The only other time Australian bowlers were treated to such humiliation at home was in Sydney 1986 when Srikanth, Gavaskar and Amarnath, Nos 1-3 scored 100s. Is this an indicator of how bad the Australian bowlers are? Or is it the pitch?
  3. Many believed, me included, the first session of play will decide the Ashes. That may well be true but out of sheer coincidence than anything.The force is with England. 500 odd for 1 declared is not just a score...Its a visual, a picture that will likely give Ponting sleepless nights. It tells a story of how placid the pitch was, how unimaginative the Australian bowlers were and how relentless English batsmen are going to be this summer. It also raises a question...Was this pitch made to order a draw? 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ashes 1.4: A Rare Captain's Knock

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  1. What a day for England... from thinking of a draw as a win, they must now wish they had scored a tad faster and been in a position to force a win
  2. It was the kind of opening partnership that usually ignites the "save test cricket from subcontinental pitches" movement. This one by Strauss and Cook came in the 3rd innings in fightback. This calls for questioning the skills of the Australian bowlers and sanity of selectoral decision makers In recent times 3rd innings of test matches in the subcontinent have been tricky for the batters. They usually throw open a game in stalemate. This one effectively killed any hope of a decision by knockout. Yet ESPN cricinfo curiously think Strauss and Cook Reignite Contest. Perhaps they meant "contest" as in not this test but the entire series. Or may be they have a thing for draws
  3. Strauss's counter attacking innings reminded me of Saurav Ganguly's century at the same venue in 2003. It set the tone for the series and any talk of "targeting" the opposition captain was resigned to the dustbin. The last time a visiting English skipper scored a 100 in the 3rd innings of an Ashes Test match, they ended up winning the test match. It was 115 years ago though. Gooch scored one in 1991 saving a test match in the 4th innings.
  4. For Australia, they must think they are still in the game. If they can remove England by mid-day they can have a go at the total.Seems quite outrageous but that's what McGrath, Warne and Hayden did for a living.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ashes 1.3: England can win this with a draw

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  1. Hussey scored probably the most important century of his career. Certainly one of his most proud. For a casual viewer though with no allegiance to any side it looked like Hussey and Australia went to lunch on Day 3 124 for 7 and 329 for 12 respectively
  2. While I claim no sympathy for England, it was hard not to feel any for Anderson. On any other day Anderson could have bowled half as well as he did today and gotten an LBW decision on Hussey even as he inside edged it on to the pads.
  3. Most experts on Channel 9 kept calling Swann, the best spinner in the world. It made me cringe each time. Not because I have an alternative candidate, but because they may well be true.
  4. The match is poised brilliantly for England to win it with a draw. Its the next best option to actually winning it. Get yourself into so much of a hole that you spend half of the test match playing for a draw. The draw then seems as good as a win and the side playing for a win feels like they lost it. It worked in South Africa and the previous edition of the Ashes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ashes 1.2: England Take a Second Look

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Players seem to have more faith in Technology than the on-field umpire. England certainly do. They lost both their challenges in a session and a bit more of cricket. Players in general don't seem to be knowledgeable about the limits of the technology in use. When you challenge, its not whether the batsman is out or not out, rather its whether the technology will provide enough evidence to over turn the original decision. Players seem too eager to challenge, discounting the limited evidence technology can capture.

Australia are slightly ahead if you just look at the scoreboard. However, the way they batted it was pretty obvious reclaiming the Ashes was going to be extremely tough. While with England you could sense the batsmen were capable of much better, with Australia no such thoughts entered the mind. Ponting continues to be horribly out of form, which puts Michael Clarke under pressure - something he has a knack of not handling, and North isn't due for a 100 until sometime after the Ashes

After a nerve induced performance on day one, England seemed to have taken a step back, deep breath and played Australia on current form. England should win from this point on.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Is England Real?

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England looked tentative, nervous and played stupid cricket. At no point did any batsman on view look convincing despite getting some runs on the board. Bell and Cook looked like they would grit it out despite the fact that they had not gotten on top of the bowling. But they were simply done in by good, honest, blue-collar bowling.

Siddle, Hilfenhaus and Watson bowled with aggression and purpose and got just rewards. Johnson was the only bowler not to hit his stride. I'm not sure Australia have the luxury of carrying him, if he continues to be so inconsistent. Many had said that Siddle could be the difference and he showed up. His bowling doesn't have the flash of a McGrath or Lillee, but he has the Gillespie-esque quality of bowling with an earnestness of a newcomer and a Vaas-like perseverance of a veteran. Watson is probably enjoying himself more now that his role is clearer. Although, I still feel he is more Manoj Prabhakar than Mudassar Nazar. Or better bowler than batsman. Hilfenhaus constantly probed the off-stump and bowled with a passion that I didn't see from the Australian bowlers on their tour of India.

All in all, it appears that the Aussie bowlers are reveling in home conditions and having Siddle back has been the right boost. Bollinger appears to me to be in the Bichel mold. Solid and decent bowler, but not someone that can consistently turn test matches on their head with bursts of wickets. So it was the right decision to bench him in favor of Hilfenhaus and Siddle. Watson's wicket of Trott was the pick of the wickets.

If there's any ray of hope for England, it's in the fact that they scored 60+ runs after the hat-trick. Australia has a vulnerable batting line-up too. It'll be up to the English bowlers to show that they can exploit the poor forms of Hussey and Clarke and put England right back in this contest. At this time, Australia have England by the jugular. Usually, they don't let go, but who knows.

Ashes 1.1: My 2 Cents

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  1. England have begun preparations for the 2013 Ashes in all earnest. Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower have released a schedule of how key players will be rested on tours and given time off during home summers. Clearly England have more of a knack for the build up to the Ashes than playing it. So now that the crucial, energy sapping build up is over, WAGs will join their HABs starting the end of the 2nd days play.
  2. Aleem Dar is as good as the latest technology. Its is a sorry sight to see England challenge an Ashes Hat Trick. Why can't they let the umpires decide if they need to use technology? What's with this challenge system? Is this ICC's way to make players think that they are "empowered"?
The Hat Trick Aussie Style
The Way the English Saw it

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Season Finale

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Over the next 7 weeks, cricket will allow it most traditional format to take center stage. Staggered over those weeks will be 2 series that will have all the "context" traditionalists crave for.  At the end of it there may well be a new Ashes winner and a new champion for Test cricket. And even if the trophies don't change hands there will be much to celebrate.

4 of the top 5 teams will compete in 8 mouth watering tests. 3 of those tests, in climax, will be over the holidays in parallel. Sri Lanka at number 3 has long been a one trick pony and unless they learn to win consistently without Murali, their matches will fail to invoke global interest.

For Australia, a team that has been on the decline and yet not embarked on a full scale rebuilding, a lot is at stake. Failing to regain the ashes will potentially mean full scale remodeling. Winning the Ashes will mean career extensions and legacy enhancements to an ageing batting lineup and an ageing captain. But its hard to see how Australia will win, even when conventional wisdom is never to doubt Australia in Australia.

England's build up to the Ashes has been picture perfect. Their away record, a criticism usually reserved for India, is not. With just 2 series wins away from home in the past 5 years in New Zealand and Bangladesh, holding on to the Ashes will require a combination of English resolve, Australian under performance, good weather and luck.

South Africa are a team forever flirting with greatness but turning in "cold feats" at the very last step. They will have to win big against India, something that is not entirely beyond them to claim the champion spot. Their racial history seldom allows them to compete with the best X1 but even so, of the 4 teams they have the resources to come out on top. They, along with England have the best fast bowling resources, a spinner that troubles Sachin Tendulkar and a batting line up with the ability and hunger that can match India's

India's rise to the top has been steady. It is no secret that Australia sudden decline and South Africa's inability to win at home has contributed much towards India gaining the top spot. Yet prejudiced opinions, question the ICC ranking instead. India in the last decade has only found South Africa hard to beat consistently. In that sense, South Africa is India's "Final Frontier". India are well positioned to exploit South Africa's recent weakness at home. Holding on to the number one spot even after failing to conquer the final frontier (which is possible) will be hollow.

Once the adults have made the major decisions, the stage can be opened up for the entertainers to decide the ODI and IPL champs

Nagpur Test: Random Thoughts IV

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  1. Dravid was inconsolable, when an off the cuff remark by Dhoni seemed to suggest that India would have won even without Dravid's 191. Dravid is forever condemned to only play supporting roles. Adelaide 2003 too needed Ajit Agarkar
  2. South Africa remain the only team against which India has a losing record in this millennium. 3-0 in India's favor in South Africa...anyone? That will make India the only team to have such a record. 
  3. Suresh Raina, taking a cue from Harbhajan is trying to make a living out of his part time job. Harbhajan is taking his role of a mentor very seriously. Kirsten and Sachin reminded him today that it is his job to mentor spinners and not batsmen to bowl better than himself. 
  4. Now we move on to the more meaningless part of the tour. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

What of India?

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India will roll over a depleted New Zealand today. There may be an odd century from either Ryder or Vettori, but the writing is on the wall. There is no repeat of Eden Gardens coming here. While New Zealand rues it's luck, India will certainly take a series victory.

Positives for India going into the SA series is that Sreesanth is bowling as well as he has ever bowled. His spell this morning despite not getting wickets has been spectacular. Ojha has done enough to merit his place in the side and Ishant too has done enough. The selectors have erred in selecting Yadav and Unadkat. Munaf bowled very well in SA and should have been considered ahead of rookies. If SA is serious business, India should rely on experience not experimentation.

Raina's place is being questioned in the side due to his recent failures. These are legitimate questions, but misplaced. The team can afford to carry Raina. He's an incredibly positive player and an electric fielder. Unlike Yuvraj, he's non-controversial and a happy contributor. All that aside, he's a great ODI finisher and his place in the line-up is specific to this ability. Certainly, he needs to play a rearguard soon to keep his place, but better men have failed in that attempt.

In my opinion, playing Pujara at #6 would be a mistake. His style is very orthodox. Very much in the Dravid mold. He needs to be nurtured for that role and not be confused. He is inexperienced in international cricket and thrusting him into a pressure situation constantly may not be the best way to blood him. He's a special talent and needs to be handled carefully. There are some who may say that he needs to sink or swim. But the sink or swim approach doesn't work for everyone. Rohit Sharma and Pujara are two players who are not built that way. They will grow the steel required to succeed internationally, but don't have it yet.

Raina, on the other hand, is more experienced and has demonstrated that he can finish ODIs. He'll take some time to transfer that to test cricket, but he is talented enough to be trusted to do so. Let's not forget that he's not yet 10 tests old. He deserves to play in SA and be tested. Perhaps he needs the ordeal in SA to grow further as a batsman.

I am not a big fan of Rohit Sharma because he appears too lazy to me. However, he seems to have developed an appetite for the big innings and may be taking this seriously after all. Talking about Rohit is futile because he isn't going to SA.

For SA, India seem ready with their best team. However, it doesn't appear that India's current best will be able to overcome SA. But SA are doing ridiculous things like leaving Duminy out in favor of Prince/Botha. So who knows.

P.S> Sivaramakrishnan is the most annoying commentator ever. Who makes these picks?

Nagpur Test: Random Thoughts III

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  1. You take out Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Suresh Raina; well not exactly in the same league; for just 32 runs. And yet at the end of the day you are looking at an innings defeat. For New Zealand, where do you start extracting positives from this?
  2. India finally batted like India in this series. Rather put up the kind of score this batting line up is capable of. Technically the middle order has still not clicked but with 550+ on the board the collective batting delivered without having to live with the horror of seeing Harbhajan excel at his part time job
  3. For Suresh Raina the honeymoon is getting sour. I hope he can compartmentalize and not let it affect his LOI output. Cheteshwar Pujara must start as a favorite in the first Test but we know how Dhoni operates, he will probably give Raina one more chance to click in South Africa. But I don't think he should bother. When it comes to compartmentalizing, India can do well to hire a Pakistani coach. Not a whistle blower like Haider, please.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Nagpur Test: Random Thoughts II

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  1. The kind of day that has eliminated any thoughts of a New Zealand upset and set up an Indian win. And if that were not enough to draw in the crowd, the day has beautifully set up Sachin's push for the 50th. Why leave it for a different hemisphere when you can do it in the North.
  2. Sehwag and Gambhir seem to have found their rhythm again. It is hard to imagine that a combination as recent as theirs is already challenging and in many cases surpassed more storied partnerships for India. The are hot on their heels to surpass the iconic VVS-Dravid partnership and they are already ahead of Gavaskar and Chauhan.
  3. Tomorrow seems to be the kind of day that would make the New Zealanders  hesitate before they get out of their beds. Its like the script is finalized and they simply have to turn up and play the parts they dislike. Chris Martin with the new ball may come with a sequel of his own....who knows
  4. Its hard to imagine that New Zealand think going into the match that the limping duo of Jesse Ryder and McCullum is better than a fully fit someone else and they are proven right

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nagpur Test: Random Thoughts I

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  1. So now McCullum not only wants to not keep and bat but also not keep, not field, not run and bat. And yet Harbhajan can't out him.
  2. I am not buying this collapse. India can lose from here as well. Like we did against the same team a couple of decades ago. 
  3. Unless of course we restrict New Zealand to below 200. In which case we are still in with a chance to lose.
  4. But let's celebrate for now, the first real day of India's dominance in the series. It came on Day 11. I was planning on the entire series not lasting that long

Friday, November 19, 2010

Picking on Murali

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I don't know why I am picking on Murali today. Perhaps, the trigger was the 2 posts, one @ Straight Points "Is Team India a One Man Army Again" and another @ Confessions of a Forced Spectator "Shut Up and Bowl". The former talked about Zaheer Khan and the later was unduly critical of Harbhajan Singh.

In any case, it got me thinking. Who is the bowler that has contributed most to his side's wins. That's when Murali entered my frame of argument. So here's the deal. When Murali made his debut in 1992, Sri Lanka had all but 2 wins in their name. Since he has retired they haven't won a game yet. During his entire career, he helped Sri Lanka win 54 games. During his career there were only 5 games that Sri Lanka won, in which he did not play. Murali took 438 of his 800 wickets in Sri Lanka's wins. That's a staggering 41% of the wickets. Assuming of course that almost all wins needs 20. How does this rate against the best bowlers of all time?

Well here goes...This is a list of Top 10 bowlers sorted on % of wickets in wins. I only chose those bowlers who have claimed 150 or more wickets in test matches they helped their countries win.

Top 10 bowlers instrumental in Test Wins of all Time

Number 11 on this list is Harbhajan Singh. Ahead of some all time greats like, Ian Botham, Wasim Akram, McGrath, Holding. No I am not making this a "in defense of Harbhajan" piece...may be some other day

The meanest strike rates of all time in Test wins
But sorting this list on strike rate, there are no spinners and Dale Steyn emerges from no where as the bowler with a killer strike rate. A wicket every 5th over! 155 of those over 22 test wins.

In any case, back to Murali. I believe his best contribution to cricket is the comments he evoked from Bedi. I am not saying he was a cheat, but he shouldn't have been allowed to bowl the way he was allowed to. To me Sir Richard Hadlee according to these 2 tables is the better bowler only because he had a legitimate action.

Rules were bent to allow Murali to play. The Asian Block choose the wrong issue to show their might and the authority of the on field umpire was compromised beyond repair all to allow this man, Murali to bowl. His numbers are awesome but...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

India needs to bat like India @ Nagpur

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A series win is no longer a guarantee. It is also clear that we need the pitch to come in play to get 20 New Zealand wickets. In fact on the flat pitches on offer, it was New Zealand that were able to get into positions from where a win was possible. It is thus logical to fear that any juice that is put into the wicket at Nagpur will benefit New Zealand more than India.

In my view then, New Zealand are now favorites to win the series. Then with 3 wins and a single loss to India since the beginning of this millennium, New Zealand will be to India what India is to Australia. Jesse Ryder will be the new VVS.

Zaheer's absence is a blow but we have won without him before so its not as devastating a blow. It is India's batsmen that have failed to put on enough runs on the board. The kind of runs whose magnitude literally causes the opposition to lose wickets simply by looking at the number. That is the Indian way to win matches. The middle order of Sachin, VVS, Raina and Dhoni have collectively not delivered. The kind of runs that Harbhajan can use to buy wickets. He is no longer a bowler to get us to a winning position but he is still good enough to deliver a win once the batsmen get us into a winning position. We saw that at the Eden Gardens, versus South Africa

There isn't much of an history at Nagpur that might serve as an indication. With one win and one loss in that order, we only know India is beatable at Nagpur. The batsmen need to stand up, put their heads down and put in the kind of runs that will be reported around the world as "obscene".

India can't risk a bowler friendly wicket. We need another flat one and ask our batters to forget that Harbhajan at number 8 can bail them out.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not since Sydney 2008...

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...Has India conceded 400+ in the 3rd innings

Amongst many other things; it was India's inability to restrict and bowl out Australia in Sydney 2008 in the 3rd innings that cost us a win. Almost 3 years later we repeat the feat. This time at home.

India accompany New Zealand and Sri Lanka as the teams that lack bite in the 3rd innings since 1990.

Its been the most disappointing of performances in the series thus far. Perhaps we still can't win without Sachin contributing. The void left by Kumble is too much for Harbhajan and Zaheer to fill.

Time for a designer pitch at Nagpur

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ashes: History is the only thing going for Australia

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Cricket is an unpredictable game; as long as we are talking about it being played outside the Ashes. When it comes to the Ashes, no one ever went broke (in the last couple of decades) backing Australia especially in Australia. England make all the right noises, focus all their resources to winning it as part of the build-up; which starts even before the itinerary is finalized but when the thing actually starts, Australia usually do all the talking, even if they are losing. Which is rare...the losing part that is.

For this year's edition however, it may be tricky to place a bet on the winner. The way the Australians have gone about selecting their squad for the first test would put a fifth grader to shame. Actually, it's not so much as shameful as it suggests "compromise" amongst the various decision makers and frankly Australians aren't conditioned to operate that way; at least on the field of play. Greg Chappell, sure has a way to stir things up. Most of the time he makes matters worse. My money though is firmly on Australia. Actually not firmly but...lets just say blindly.

So here is some considered, often repeated and mundane analysis on offer. No off-spinner has succeeded in Australia. The English bowlers are sort of like Tiger Woods without his mistresses on the bouncy pitches of Australia devoid of seam. Cook, Bell and Pietersen are not exactly Chris Broad, David Gower and Alan Lamb of 1986. You need an Ian Botham or a lesser sperm count version of him; Andrew Flintoff; to win an Ashes. All this is supposed to mean that England can't win or have not fully earned the right to be labelled favorites.

At the same time the turmoil in Australian ranks is hard to ignore. Well its not that they are exactly in turmoil, but I am not underestimating the ability of Greg Chappell. Surely the lack of talent in Australian ranks cannot defend history when it was raw talent in the first place that helped construct such a formidable record at Home in the Ashes. Granted, England haven't won a "live" match in Australia since Ian Botham retired, but these days even an Ishant Sharma with the bat is good enough to make the Australians not want to win. Stuart Broad ought to be more than handy for England. Even a "flush with cash" Pakistani outfit were unable to lose against Australia during the English summer. All this is supposed to mean that Australia can't be favorites either.

If you read the English media, you would feel that England steam rolled the West Indies, South Africa on tours and that their wins against Bangladesh was against India disguised as the Banglas and that the match fixing scandal during the summer subjected them to torture as evil as water boarding. England have worked themselves up to such a frenzy, even before the act, that they might ejaculate prematurely.

That aside, there are a million reasons why England ought to win the Ashes and I can't find many; other than history of course; that suggests Australia can win. Between a team that has developed a knack of losing from any conceivable position and a team that takes immense pride in their ability to force a draw in the face of any target, one of them has to enter uncharted territory.

Whatever the result some things are easy to predict. The series will be used to extol the virtues of Test Cricket. Every England draw will be used to describe how a draw is "as good as a win". Irrespective of the result the series will be hailed as the much needed tonic to heal cricket from the ills of corruption and none of the other 5 teams playing will object to what it infers. (Pakistan have lost the right to be above suspicion) The UDRS will be sold and resold to everyone who is not listening, even if only 5% of the decisions are made by the men supposed to be in charge. Other than the winner much will play out according to script.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"We were almost all wrong"?

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The title, of course, is the quote from David Kay who made that conclusion after finding no WMD in Iraq. Well, we might as well draw the same conclusion about the India-New Zealand series. This performance from NZ is as surprising as Australia's was in 1986. They were expected to be rolled over by the India batting led by Gavaskar, Amarnath, Vengsarkar and new golden boy Azhar. And just like India then stared at follow on in the Chennai test, Martin embarrassed India in Ahmedabad. And here's Harbhajan saving India the blushes again.

Australia came back months later to claim the Reliance World Cup and spark their revival. Is New Zealand going to do something similar?

India have set their sights on a maiden series win in South Africa. But they seem to be headed in the wrong direction. Tendulkar can perhaps be added to the list of Dravid, Raina and Dhoni whose form seems skeptical. Raina is obviously not well equipped to deal with South Africa down under, unless he's playing the older ball and on a flat bed. But it appears that he can't score runs anymore on flat-beds either. Of the lot, Dhoni must be most worried. He's had enough chances in the last two tests to come to party, but has blown it each time.

Meanwhile, a depleted Pakistan is giving South Africa some food for thought. Pakistan's bowling has been intelligent and capable, despite Amla's stupendous form. Just like Sehwag has become the bulwark of the Indian line-up, Amla is the man to get in South Africa. Ian Chappell's piece extolling Jardine's strategy is revealing, though to some it may seem obvious. It's clear that teams without good bowling resources cannot control or plan around the top batsman of the opposing side.

It is in this context New Zealand are doing much better than anticipated. They are planning around Sehwag. If this was basketball, that's like saying we'll not double team Bryant, but shut down everyone else. On a bad night for that strategy, Kobe might pour in 70 points. Likewise, Sehwag might rain a double or triple hundred.

Besides Sehwag and Laxman, India's form seems sketchy. We have to hope that Tendulkar has not peaked too early. Meanwhile, South Africa leaving out Duminy in favor or Prince or Botha seems brainless. Duminy is a dynamite and excluding him makes no sense at all and shows their lack of creativity and extreme conservatism. Neither Botha nor Prince comes close to him for the x factor that he offers. In my estimation, Duminy is just like Andrew Symonds. You don't leave them out.

India seem like they will not get past NZ easily and will go to South Africa, chastened. South Africa will gladly return home after victory in UAE, but skeptical of their batting and surprisingly fielding too.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hyderabad Test: Random Thoughts II

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  1. The resetting of our expectations of New Zealand  is complete. India is actually happy that they "restricted" New Zealand to 350. New Zealand have been competitive from Day 1 of this tour. Without pointing a finger on anything specific, I get the feeling that India did not do enough to prepare for this series. In all honesty there is no reason why this should be such a competitive series. Its like New Zealand hit the ground running while India were looking ahead to the South African series and making travels plans well in advance. All the talk of skipping ODIs to reach South Africa early, was just too English. Lets just leave the Englishness to the English please. For us Indians, its best to be polite and focus on the series at hand. 
  2. Okay, so Harbhajan Singh can take wickets. My apologies...
  3. Sehwag is getting predictable. In his case though it still does not equate to boring but at least can he invent some other ways to get out? Just throwing some options, out there....Handle the ball, hit wicket, hitting the ball twice.... he seems to have enough time to do the last
  4. There should be a full house tomorrow at the stadium in anticipation of the 50th. I am praying the paying public don't get to see New Zealand bat at any point during the day. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trading Debuts

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When Kane Williamson, scored a century on debut in the Ahmedabad Test, the post Gracious Hosts and the comment on that , triggered some thoughts and the need to dig into the numbers. Also, as an Indian fan I, and probably all Indian fans, I have this perception that India is very kind in helping people "arrive" at the international stage. I wanted to see what the numbers reveal as far as debut centuries go, away from home.

There are two aspects I looked at. First, How favorable is a host country to opposition batsmen making debuts and helping them "arrive". Are they more gracious than most, as gracious as any or plain hostile to debutantes as compared to other hosts. And second, how do debutantes from a country perform as "guests" away from home. Are they likely to be as welcome, very welcome or plain unwelcome as debutantes from any other touring country. Of course countries who don't have too many bebutantes scoring a century on debut while on tour are termed as "welcome" guests. When you look at these aspects side by side, I was able to group countries in these categories.

A total of 1061 batsmen have made their debuts away from home. As far as I can tell debuts are fairly evenly distributed across the hosts. In short there is no country that has hosted a disproportionately high or low number of debutantes. A total of 32 debutantes have scored have scored centuries away from home.

The first is what I call the "Neutral" Category. In this category there is generally a balance in terms of allowing debutantes to "arrive" and using a tour to score a century a debut. West Indies, New Zealand and Australia have a collective 12 debutants who have scored a century on debut away from home and allowed 10 visiting debutantes to score a century on their soil.

The second group is "Gracious Hosts". These countries as on par with countries in the "Neutral" group as tourists but are very gracious as hosts to visiting debutantes. About 1 in 21 debutantes make a century while touring this group of countries. South Africa and Bangladesh fall into this category.

Then we have 4 unique countries

  • Pakistan does not believe in the "arriving with a bang" concept at all. Neither do they advocate it for their own players, nor do they tolerate it in their visitors. There are only 2 Pakistanis who have scored a century on debut on a tour and only 1 tourist has scored a century on debut in Pakistan
  • The opposite end of the spectrum is India, which is strategically and totally committed to the "arriving with a bang" theory. Its a way of life with India. As many as 6 Indians have scored a century on debut away from home and has helped 7 debutantes to "arrive" with a century while hosting them
  • Then we have Sri Lanka, "Welcome Guests and Gracious Hosts". 1 in 16 debutantes are likely to score a century on debut while visiting Sri Lanka and they do not believe at all in overstaying their welcome as guests. No Sri Lankan has ever scored a century on debut while touring
  • Then there is "Hostile Hosts" England. Only 1 in 74 debutantes have scored a century while touring England while Englishmen are as likely to score a century on debut as tourists as players from the "Neutral" group. There are 2 Indians who have scored a 100 on debut in England

Hyderabad Test: Random Thoughts

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  • New Zealand's 0-4 performance against Bangladesh, needs to be investigated for evidence of match-fixing
  • Is scoring a century after a pair as significant as scoring a century on debut? Perhaps its more significant. India really cares about batsmen's careers
  • Harbhajan Singh is now officially just a batsman. The 100 in the previous Test had raised some suspicions but his  bowling figures today confirm the suspicion
  • Umpires aren't willing to even make line calls for no balls. What is this new trend? Are umpires so nervous of being "found out" by technology that they don't have access to, that they prefer to defer all possible decisions to the men with tools inside? 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

6 Reasons England will lose the Ashes

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  1. Australia are sick of losing
  2. England will start resting key players starting with the 2nd Test to keep them fresh for the next Ashes series at home. After 3 Tour games and the first Test at the Gabba, Andrew Strauss is likely to contend that the team is exhausted and he'd like to keep the boys fresh for the upcoming Ashes in 2012
  3. Where's the motivation for England? England get to keep the urn regardless of the result. 
  4. Leading up to the first Test, England have played teams that are worse than themselves. Australia have played teams better than themselves. England look better than they are, Australia look worse than they actually are.
  5. Australia will blunt Swann's knack of taking wickets early in his spell by counting his overs from backwards on the scoreboard. 
  6. Australia can be themselves on the field; without worrying about the BCCI threatening to call off the tour

Monday, November 8, 2010

Delivering Decisions

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When a business invests in new technology to better sales, it does not introduce it as a "Sales Decisions Review System" and have its salesmen second guessing themselves. Hospitals don't use technology to review a doctor's decisions. Banks don't invest in software to review a loan underwriter's decisions. All of them introduce technology as tools to empower their work force. They introduce technology as tools that enable salesmen, doctors and bankers to do their jobs better. To reduce errors. To make them better salesmen, doctors and bankers. Technology is rarely introduced to review and then over turn a decision made by experts.

Why then is cricket, where the umpire's decision is considered to be final, positioning and deploying technology as a "review" of the umpire's decisions?

Much has been made of BCCI's opposition to the UDRS, but all of it is due to its funding. Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Sing Dhoni too have spoken against it but both the comments miss what I think is fundamentally flawed about the UDRS.

It isn't about the technology and the need for it to be fool proof. Its about empowering the on-field umpire with the data; images, sounds, heat patterns, etc; available to "off field" umpires and millions of viewers and then allowing him to make a decision.

The process of challenge followed by a referral to an "off field" umpire and a final decision by the "off-field" umpire, undermines the authority of the on-field umpire. Its also distasteful. If players are expected to regard the on-field umpire as the ultimate authority, then the on-field umpire needs to always be in complete control of the game and make the big decisions. And if he needs data captured by the tools; hot spot, ball tracker, snick-o-meter, etc; he needs to be provided access to it.

When a fielding side appeals, the on-field umpire should be the exclusive person to determine the process of decision making, the tools to involve or not involve, and ultimately deliver the decision. If the players do not like the decision; there should be no challenges, no one else to go to.

The problem now becomes how to instantly deploy the data to the on-field umpire. How difficult can that be. Today I get all the data on my iPhone Thousands of miles away. The umpire is only a few yards from where the data is located. The underlying technologies in the UDRS will likely evolve to be more accurate but the process of delivery of decisions is flawed. That process needed to protect the on-field umpires authority and it's failed in that regard.

Crossing The Line

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This is the end of Harbhajan, the bowler. Chetan Sharma once scored a 100 and as far as I remember it was the end of him as a bowler. Warne got close many times but never actually crossed the line. Murali was never close. Kumble scored one and immediately made plans for retirement. When Shastri realized he could flick his way to a 100 and become an all-rounder, his full potential as a bowler was never uncorked. When Maninder Singh scored a 100 in domestic cricket, I read about him trying to end his life a few years later. It screws up your mental being.

If you are not in the side officially as an allrounder, then as a batsman you have no business taking a 5 for, or scoring a 100 if you are a bowler. You begin to feel you deserve a place in the side for the wrong skills.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Unwelcome Guests

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This was supposed to be a mundane Test series. One sided cricket on flat pitches, involving centuries from Sehwag and Sachin, eventually leading to a 3-0 win for India. Instead what we have been treated to is somewhat like a rude shock. New Zealand weren't supposed to compete and they are now in a position fo win; that's completely distasteful.

Winning a Test Match after conceding 400 runs in the first innings is rare. Its happened only 35 time in almost 2000 test matches. Many of those instances involved declarations and tests played over more than 5 days. Some teams like Pakistan and New Zealand have never been involved in one.

Quite surprisingly this will be the 4th straight test involving India when scoring 400 is no insurance of a draw. It was fine, as long as India was winning. I don't like being on the wrong side of the equation even one bit. This is no way to treat a number one team in the world.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Gracious Hosts

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Pakistan is no place to send batsmen to make their debuts. Only one; a certain Len Baichan; has been accorded a cordial welcome by allowing him to score a century on debut.

Across the border, India on the other hand, have been the most gracious of hosts. No less than six; about to be seven tomorrow; have been invited to score centuries on debut.

If it is any consolation, South Africa are just as gracious. Here is the hospitality index since the beginning of time. India is obviously at the top, but have made sure the gesture is reciprocated in kind.

Hard to predict

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Yogi Berra once said that it was hard to predict anything. Especially the future!! It seems that way in cricket today, doesn't it?

Pakistan on a revival or is this a flash in the pan? Zulqarnain Haider has shown enough pluck in his few appearances to show significant class. This would put Kamral Akmal out of business. Umar Akmal seems to have vanished into thin air. Knowing Pakistani cricket, will he make a comeback into the regular XI. Yes, he's blown a few chances, but he's also been somewhat overworked. In a way, I'm glad that Pakistan is playing old fashioned cricket, rather than the SA, Australia championed "method-cricket". India seem to have blended both in a good way due to the talent at it's disposal and are enjoying the fruits.

West Indies are on life-support and are likely to be that way, unless someone (BCCI - the ICC is a surrogate of the BCCI) decides that it's important to expand the pie and not just claim a bigger share of the pie.

SL have won their first ODI series in Australia and it looks like a sweep is in the offing, unless Australia develops some serious flair. But it's team mostly of average performers and without Ponting or Hussey performing some miracles, they look unlikely to overcome their current funk. SL are serious contenders for the World Cup and based on Pakistan's recent performances, they must be considered contenders too.

Ryder came to the party, but didn't convert it to a big one. India's bowling is earnest and that's what's needed out of average bowlers on sub-continental tracks. Harbhajan needs a big game soon. Or he might very well be the reason, India don't win the world cup. He's playing on reputation alone at this time and his batting is not the reason he's in the team. He is tight, but not really getting big wickets.

So Pakistan and New Zealand seem to be finding their bearings (despite the Bangladesh 4-0, I don't believe NZ are a bad team). Australia and West Indies are continuing their downward spiral. Australia due to a talent vacuum and West Indies due to sheer comedy. England, India, SL and SA seem to have settled sides, but SA seems to be reinforcing it's reputation as chokers. England are the team to watch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Signs of Life?

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Several interesting things happening that are worth thinking about.

Pakistan played Pakistani cricket recently when Razzaq conquered South Africa. Since Miandad and his last ball six, we have seen everyone from Salim Malik to Manzoor Elahi and Azhar Mehmood and Shahid Afridi do the houdini act. The world needs Pakistan cricket to be healthy. Unfortunately, they get "distracted" too easily. But an encouraging sign none-the-less.

Chris Gayle stated that the West Indies would "rally around Sammy". Who's Sammy? Not literally, but c'mon Sammy??? Really??? While Gayle's statement is encouraging, there is little substance there to see a spark of revival in calypso cricket.

I remember saying after the infamous 2008 Sydney test that Clarke will face the fate of Kim Hughes. Ponting is not done yet, but it does look like the Aussies will take a while to regroup. Clarke's day is yet to come. His penultimate over to Sri Lanka in the last ODI did suggest that Pup is up to it as a captain. SL may win the series, but the teams are not evenly matched.

Whenever Tendulkar or Laxman don't get big scores, the press (including Cricinfo) talks of a middle order "collapse". India has scored more than 400 runs already. They will not lose from here and there was no "collapse". Yes Raina and Dhoni didn't get going, but it ain't no collapse. Harbhajan's effort makes it clear that one of the NZ batsman is going to score huge runs. My money is on Taylor. But Ryder too seems determined and may deliver.

On another note, my feeling is that India's domination of cricket administration is killing world cricket. Unless, they seriously take some lessons from the NFL on how to level the playing field and create true competition, India seems hell bent on killing the golden goose.

My ashes prediction England 2-1. Australia might actually win one.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Almost Predictable

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No matter how many runs Sehwag scores; when he gets out; you always wonder what might have been. Score-wise today he probably exceeded my expectations, and yet I got a feeling he was only half done.

India are winning and hence can afford to stick to whatever strategy they choose, whether it is contributing to the wins or not but if Gambhir does not get out of this rut in this series, calls for M Vijay to take his place will grow louder.

Dravid's century, for the most part, resembled one of Sachin's when he was struggling for form and runs circa 2006. It only helped to reinforce how out of form Dravid really is. But getting a 100 on the first day even when you are out of form, is what marks his greatness and determination.

All in all, I am tempted to say it was a predictable day once India won the toss, but I got a feeling New Zealand has a lot more stomach for a fight in these conditions than what seemed evident on paper. India did not exactly blow them away, despite a Sehwag special. That does not happen often.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yes We Can't

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It is quite heartening to finally see an Australian team that can back themselves to lose from any position. Having grown sick of being used to see them winning so often for so long from all sorts of tangles they would occasionally get themselves into; it feels quite nice to see them so lost. Its like they look at the score card, digest how close they are to winning it and then say to themselves..."Yes we can't"

I read a report in the Sydney Morning Herald that Marcus North is a shock contender as a captain instead of Michael Clarke. Now, he could get the job and turn out to be another Alan Border; but at this time, I am pretty certain that on skill alone Marcus North would not even find a place in many of the Ranji sides in India.

I have gotten most Ashes predictions right because I blindly say "Australia" when I ask the question to myself. Well, I have been wrong the last two times they lost in England but its still a pretty formidable strike rate on getting the Ashes winner right. This time I am not sure. My head tells me Australia should win but my heart tells me yes they can't.

Monday, November 1, 2010

An Unexciting Prospect

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New Zealand is surprisingly, one of only 2 countries against which India do not have a winning record in tests since 2000. Obviously everyone expects that to be corrected before India move their focus on the other team; South Africa. However the later is a much tougher ask and will take a longer time to develop a winning record against

Since the last match fixing scandal; 2000; India have a collective 14 wins against 9 losses against the teams that will contest the latest version of the Ashes but having ignored New Zealand in favor of more revenue generating cricket, the effects of the 2002 designer green tops are being felt even today. Head to Head NZ have the upper hand over India.

Talk of India winning 3-0 are not entirely misplaced but should spite the likes of Ross Taylor, Jesse Ryder, McCullum and Vetorri into denying India only their 3rd clean sweep.

I remember watching in horror in 1988 John Bracewell and Sir Richard Hadlee bring India down to size at the Wankhede stadium, taking 18 wickets amongst themselves. That was one series India should have won 3-0. Of course that Indian side was seriously in transition and this New Zealand side does not have a Richard Hadlee. But I am cautioning myself, that if John Bracewell can win a Test for New Zealand on Days 4 and 5, Vetorri needs to be handled expertly. He is a threat no doubt.