Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Turning Twenty Three and counting…

A couple of weeks ago, Sachin Tendulkar announced that he will consider about his retirement series by series. A statement by Sachin will always be a headline, and once it was of this magnitude, it was bound to send shockwaves throughout the world. It has almost become a fashion now, people commenting on what Sachin should do or shouldn’t do. Don’t worry; my article won’t be one of the same! 

Sachin, for many is the greatest batsman to play the game, for some he’s just behind Sir Donald Bradman, for others he lies somewhere in the top 5. I really don’t know where to place him as it would be unfair to compare him with batsmen of previous generations. In the case of Sachin, it is really hard, as he has endured which no sportsperson must have ever gone through. His presence lifted the hopes of the nation, his dismissal brought about despondency among the masses. It is hard to imagine any other person who had to face such ordeals. 

Sachin’s career has to a large extent symbolized everyone’s dream. As a small kid, you always wanted to be a national sensation at a very young age, be adored by your country-men, be a celebrity, best player for your team, play match winning knocks, take your team to victory in a stiff run chase, being the brave hearted warrior when everyone around you is struggling and above all a World Cup winner. The lesser I talk about the magic number of 100 international centuries it is for the better. One might argue that only half of his centuries have resulted in victories, but it is a number which has to be respected. It is a feat, which even the very best will find it hard to achieve. No matter how irrelevant one finds statistics, this is an accomplishment which everyone silently in the minds would wish was theirs. 

Back when it all started
He has had an illustrious career and it is remarkable how well he has sustained his performances for the last 23 years. Twenty three years! These are numbers which you generally don’t tend to hear for sports personalities. To still remain at the top is stupendous. At a tender age of 16, the nation had pinned their entire hopes on him, and he rarely failed to deliver. Perhaps many of us were realizing our unfulfilled dreams through Sachin. Maybe it’s no coincidence that India’s economy was on an upward rise as Sachin was growing up, and as he is reaching towards the end of a glorious career, the economy is going down. 

The World Cup victory for India last year was the icing on the cake. It was a dream for Sachin to be a part of a world cup winning squad, and for a billion viewers watching him with his child like smile run onto the field after the victory in the final, gave us hope, strength and the credence that one day, if we pursue our goals and dreams with utmost dedication, it will be fulfilled. 

 Virat Kohli summed it up best after winning the world cup final in 2011, by saying “Tendulkar has carried the burden of the nation for 21 years; It was time we carried him”. I think Sachin deserves his space to make his decision regarding when to leave the game. We owe him atleast that much. 

Having said this, it doesn’t mean he can go on irrespective of his performances, but for now he seems good enough to carry on for a while longer. His whole career has been scrutinized with disdain, for once if we stop marking each and every move of his during the twilight of his career, we might be able to watch the child in him play freely, relieved of all the burden on his shoulders. Until then, let us sit back and enjoy a once in a life time player, wield the magic with his willow and bring a smile on the faces of a billion people.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

T20...A Specialist's game?

Recently concluded was the 4th edition of the T20 World Cup, but a lot has changed since the inaugural tournament in 2007. Back then, T20 was a relatively new format with most teams not really sure of what to expect. With India winning the 1st edition, it led to the creation of the IPL and with that the number of T20 matches being played has spiraled up. With 5 years of serious international T20 being played, it probably is a good time to analyze how the game has evolved, and see which players have had more impact than others.

With the advent of the IPL, there have been a lot of players who have made their name in domestic T20 games and have been fast tracked into their national sides. Keiron Pollard, Sunil Narine, Warner are some of the names which come into one’s mind immediately. They have performed exceptionally well in domestic leagues around the world, but let’s just have a look at who are the players who are the most successful at the international level.
Player Name Innings Runs Average Strike Rate
ML Hayden (Aus) 9 308 51.33 143.92
A Symonds (Aus) 11 337 48.14 169.34
CH Gayle (WI) 28 976 39.04 148.32
V Kohli (India) 14 463 38.58 129.32
MEK Hussey (Aus) 30 721 37.94 136.29
KP Pietersen (Eng) 36 1176 37.93 141.51
Misbah-ul-Haq (Pak) 34 788 37.52 110.2
BB McCullum (NZ) 53 1655 36.77 135.65
EJG Morgan (Eng) 30 758 36.09 131.59
JH Kallis (SA) 23 666 35.05 119.35
Table Showing List of Batsmen with highest averages in International T20 with minimum runs 300
Player Name Matches Wickets Economy Rate Strike Rate
DL Vettori (NZ) 33 37 5.61 20.7
BAW Mendis (SL) 26 51 5.85 11.6
Saeed Ajmal (Pak) 48 69 6.13 15.4
Shahid Afridi (Pak) 56 62 6.22 20.4
DW Steyn (SA) 28 37 6.36 16.2
GP Swann (Eng) 39 51 6.36 15.8
Harbhajan Singh (India) 25 22 6.36 24.5
J Botha (SA) 40 37 6.37 20.9
NL McCullum (NZ) 39 40 6.47 16.2
Abdur Razzak (Ban) 23 35 6.69 15.2
Table Showing List of Bowlers with Best economy rates (Minimum wickets taken 20)
One look at this list and you can realize that hardly any of the T20 specialists have topped the charts in either bowling or batting. The trend continues in this World Cup too. The leading run scorers and wicket takers apart from Luke Wright and Balaji are regular fixtures in the Test sides as well.  Having said this, we will have a look at the overall career stats of popular T20 players. By popular I mean players who have earned a place in their respective national sides through performances in domestic T20 games.
Player Name Innings Runs Average Strike Rate
Luke Wright 32 568 19.58 135.88
Keiron Pollard 26 409 18.68 146.07
Imran Nazir 24 500 21.73 135.13
Craig Kieswetter 25 526 21.91 111.91
Richard Levi 11 231 25.66 155.02

Looking at these stats, one can infer that they haven’t really been consistent. They have had their impact matches for which they have been brought in for, but largely they haven’t been able to put up a series of good scores.  I just had a glance at their first class performances and it’s nothing to write home about.

Maybe it has got to do something with their not so consistent performances in T20 as well. At the international level, they will find bowlers of the highest caliber and if they haven’t mastered the art of playing the long innings, they might be found wanting. There might be just 20 overs, it may not look like it’s a lot, but when you have quality bowlers at the top, sometimes it’s best to weather off the storm and capitalize in the end. It is best illustrated in the Super 8 group match between Australia and South Africa. Shane Watson saw off the initial testing overs of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and then went absolutely berserk.

Before T20 became popular there were a lot of players who were termed as ODI specialists such as Michael Bevan, Andrew Symonds, Ajay Jadeja, Nathan Bracken, etc. Having said so most of these successful players were always good at first class level and at a minimum were always under review for Test selections. Pollard, Levi, Kieswetter definitely do not belong to this category.

One might argue, after seeing Pollard’s knock against Australia in the semi-finals showing that he has the X-factor in him to win games. I don’t question his ability which is obvious to see, but does he have the temperament to play a long innings in T20? In the semis there were only 2-3 overs left when he came out to bat, he had only one way to bat at that stage, but if there comes a point where he comes in to bat as early as 6th or 7th over, will he be able to adjust accordingly?

Looking at the top bowlers in T20, other than Afridi, all are regulars in the Test team. It shows once again if you have learnt to get wickets in first class cricket, the chances of performing in the shortest format of the game also hold true.  Cricket is a simple game, and its best to keep it that way. Probably someone like Jade Dernbach should realize this, for all his variations he has got; he hasn’t been able to hit consistent lengths regularly which has resulted in not so satisfactory performances.

David Warner leads the next generation of cricketers who have started of playing T20 matches before first class games. He has been reasonably successful so far, though his weakness against spinners has been well documented. It will be interesting to see how the young brigade performs in the long run. Ravichandran Ashwin of India, probably their only specialist T20 bowler, rose to stardom after some stellar performances in the IPL. But one must not forget that he was a steady performer in first class cricket before making his name in the glitz and glamour of IPL.

Few years ago, it was said that if you are good enough to play Test cricket, you definitely can play T20. It looked like a joke then; but then looking at the way the game has progressed it is very much the reality. Exciting times ahead - it would be interesting to see if this trend continues.

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