Monday, 13 May 2013

Let the bat and ball do the talking!

The Indian Premier League, which has been promoted more as an entertainment show (going as per the television advertisements) than a cricket series, has had its fair share of drama over the years some of which has helped to attract a greater audience attention. IPL edition 6 has had some wonderful close matches so far, but as expected it hasn’t gone down without any controversy. The recent Kohli vs Gambhir duel on the field or Kohli’s remark about the booing crowd at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai raises some serious disciplinary issues.

Passion vs. Aggression? Are they interrelated or is there a fine line separating the two. It is interesting to note that a considerable number of fans consider a player who is more expressive as the one who shows a lot of passion and aggression in the game. When things were going well for team India, Dhoni’s cool outlook was given a lot of credit for his excellent handling of the team, but when they were on a losing streak these were the same reasons given for India’s poor performance. It was said, he takes it too casual and doesn’t really show the kind of aggression needed to change a team’s fortune. Kohli was hailed as the captain India badly needed to take them out of the dire situation. There were no doubts of his skills as a batsman, but people viewed that with his aggressive streak he could be the next generation captain for India.

But looking at the way the IPL has progressed the question arises if Kohli is the right man to lead India in the future? His aggressive bursts in the field for any misfield or poor execution of the bowlers can be demoralizing for a player. Will he able to mentor a junior player and pass on his suggestions to a senior player in an equably respectable way? It is too early to judge a player of Kohli’s class, and there is no doubt that all the anger which he expresses on the field is due to the passion he has for doing well for the team. But here arises the dilemma. How much is too much? As of now his performances at the international level have been outstanding which has allowed him to get away with all his antics on the field. At some point or the other in his career, there is bound to be a stage where his performances will dip, and that’s when his character will be tested.

The likes of Gambhir and Kohli getting animated when their plans don’t go right or getting into a duel don’t augur well for the game. There is no harm in a little bit of banter between players of the two teams and in fact at times it even increases the playing intensity of the game. Some of the greatest duels in the game have happened after a verbal too! Having said that it is important that with a large number of youngsters following the game, it is necessary that they are taught the good aspects of the game which includes on field conduct as well. The pillars of the game Dravid, Kumble, Tendulkar, and Hussey have shown how to play the game hard but with exemplary conduct on the field.

The recent on field spat between Gambhir and Dravid, left Gambhirs stocks decline even more. Even if he was just trying to suggest Dravid that probably he should talk to Watson about his behavior rather than to Bisla, his aggressive past, has put him in bad light whether he was right or wrong.

With the IPL being extremely popular among the younger generations, players have to realize, that they not only play for the team to win, but also are ambassadors of the game who inspire the next generations of cricketers. As the theme song of the IPL goes by Isko sirf dekhne ka nahi(It is not just to be seen) it is a tournament, where new fans get to learn and take up interest in the game as well. How they conduct themselves on the field may define how the next set grows up.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Has Dhoni rediscovered his captaincy mojo or is it the calm before the storm !

If ever one wanted to know how fickle minded the Indian media can be, one doesn’t need to look at more than the ongoing Border Gavaskar Trophy between India and Australia. After a horrendous run of form over the past 18 months in Test match cricket, along with a series loss at home against England, MS Dhoni came into this series under a lot of pressure. Both his captaincy and his place in the team as a wicketkeeper were in question. A couple of emphatic wins against an inexperienced Australian side has turned the tables completely around for him, with former batting great Sunil Gavaskar suggesting he captains the team till 2019!!

A couple of months back, it was said Dhoni had lost his sheen, he looked jaded, he had become a defensive captain, and no one really noticed that the entire team was failing as a unit. The openers were not firing, the middle order looked out of sorts, bowlers albeit not their strongest point (but more than a handful in spinning conditions) looked inept at the international level, nothing seemed to be going right for team India.

Just two wins, and it all seems to be forgotten, Dhoni is back after coming back from a break is what is being portrayed in the media, he is aggressive, an active captain and no longer a reactive captain. Yes, some of it might be true, a break might have definitely helped his thought process, but didn’t anyone notice that he still kept his deep points and long off as soon as the Australians started attacking?  Even when India was doing well, this was the tactic used by Dhoni, keep the fielders in the deep, strangle the opposition scoring rate and pile on the pressure. The reason why it is working again is the fact that the batsmen are piling on the required big scores. Whether or not the Australian bowlers are good enough for Indian conditions, scoreboard pressure does matter, which was lacking for the past 18 months or so.

With the victory in the 2nd test, Dhoni has become the most successful Indian captain of all time in Tests. Does it necessarily mean that he is India’s greatest captain ever? Statistically yes, and especially the fact that Ganguly’s record is inflated mainly due to 9 victories against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, Dhoni  is miles ahead of any other Indian Test captain. Some say, that Dhoni inherited Ganguly’s team which helped him achieve all the success he had in his initial years. Another way to look at it is, Ganguly had a group of highly talented individuals who were at the peak of their careers during his tenure. Either way, if Ganguly was the sort of character Indian cricket needed after the dark days of match fixing, Dhoni has been the ideal leader which was required for the transition from the generation of superstars to the next set of upcoming cricketers.

It really isn’t the time to hype up Dhoni once again. Yes, his achievements have been stupendous and are a reason for a celebration. But there are further challenges ahead. 2013 and 2014 sees India travelling to South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. How they perform there will be the real test. The selectors have shown they are willing to take hard decisions by dropping out of form senior members Sehwag and Gambhir. 2007 was the year Dhoni became the captain of the ODI Team, senior members Dravid and Ganguly were left out after playing one series under Dhoni. Probably Dhoni didn’t feel they would last till 2011 world cup or the selectors felt he would be more comfortable with younger players. What transpired after that was a golden period in Indian cricket. The test team now devoid of most of the older players and most of them not being mentally scarred by the defeats overseas could result in another glorious period for India. Only time will tell. 

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Day Night Tests- A Paradigm Shift?

One of the boldest steps taken by the ICC recently was the approval of day-night tests. I say bold because in general people are hesitant to change and especially a change to a tradition which has been followed ever since the inception of the game.

With T20 games becoming extremely popular amongst fans, there has been a worry whether test cricket still holds a place in this day and age. Players still feel that Test cricket is the ultimate judge of their skill. There are fans that still love the ‘purest’ form of the game over any of the limited versions, but receding crowds in most of the test venues across the world has added to the fears.

I feel the way the world is moving on right now, it would be really hard to expect a large crowd in most venues during test matches. It is really harsh to expect people to skip working days to come and watch an entire day’s play. We are heading into an era where we will have more and more fans following the game online rather than come to the stadium and watch the game. I remember during the 1st test between Australia and India at Mohali in 2010, when Laxman was performing one of his epic rear guard actions, the number of viewers following the game on Cricinfo was too much for the website to handle causing it to crash.  Yes it is sad that the crowds at the stadiums have reduced, but I don’t think the number of followers have. We have an increasing number of people who keep a tab open on the browser and follow the game ball by ball live. Maybe that would give us a real indicator how much test cricket is being followed around the world.

Having said this, I feel the decision of the ICC to allow day-night tests is a good one. For one, it may add a new perspective to the game, with the game starting at dusk and then extending into the night. The way the batsmen cope with the gradually changing conditions would be really interesting to observe. It can also bring in a lot more spectators to the game as well; people returning from their offices can go and watch the game as well. But there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with before implementing at the international level. The colour of the ball has been a major discussion. Pink balls have been tested and seem to be successful but until we have a large enough sample size we won't be able to pass any judgment. Another problem they will have to look into is venues where day night tests can be accommodated. It will be pretty hard to do so in the subcontinent, as the evenings sets in, dew comes which can provide undue advantage to the batting side. One way to look at the dew factor is that since it is a test match, both teams will have to counter the dew while bowling unlike in ODIs where the side fielding second is at a disadvantage. But the fact is, with the dew in, spinners will find it hard to grip the ball and pitches in the subcontinent being heavily favoured for spin bowling, it could totally negate the effectiveness of a bowler.

With the advent of T20, it is going to be interesting how the next generations of cricketers are brought up. Will they adhere to the tradition of test cricket? Or will they just prefer playing the shortest format? It’s like driving a car, if you just want to drive a car, you can always opt for an automatic vehicle, but if you truly want to be a master of it, one has to learn how to shift gears according to the prevailing conditions.

In my younger days, nothing intrigued me more than waking up early on a cool wintery morning, sipping a cup of tea to watch a Boxing Day test live. Maybe the time has come for a change. Maybe it is time to accept, that it will be hard to attract large crowds for test matches in the stadiums, but with growing technology we are heading into an age where we will have more followers online.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Reflecting on the new ICC rules

Last October, the ICC once again changed the rules of the game, especially in limited overs cricket, in the hope that the pace of the middle overs phase of the game which has been considered a drag is picked up.  Though amending the rules, in lieu of the changing demands of the game is fair enough, but doing it frequently can make it really confusing not only for the fans but also the players.

Lot has been made about the new rules, saying it has been once again skewed in favour of the batsmen. In view of that, allowing two bouncers per over is a welcome change. It can test the batsmen, knowing that there can be one more bouncer which can be bowled at them.

The rule to implement two new balls at each end had received a lot of flak, as it would kill reverse swing. It has been in place for more than a year now, and from what I have observed, it seems that conventional swing bowlers have really found this rule to their liking. It would be really interesting to see how the scores have been affected in the first 15 overs due to this change.

One of the biggest changes has been the reduction of fielders outside the 30 yard circle from the traditional five to four fielders. Five fielders outside the circle has been a constant ever since the ODI game has come into inception and it would have taken a lot of thought to modify the rule. This rule has received irk from the captains who have suggested it will be really harsh on the spinners as they won’t have an extra man on the boundary. Their reservations are valid, but I feel one of the advantages with this rule is that the captains are forced to be a bit more attacking. It had almost become a norm that once the powerplay overs were done with, you had captains placing five fielders on the boundary irrespective of the fact that a new batsman had come to the crease. The batsmen were ready to milk the bowlers and get settled and captains were happy to not concede the boundaries due to which some fans have felt that the middle overs were a drag.

With this new rule, the batsmen may have to try more attacking strokes to get runs, which can lead to more wickets. I remember distinctly an ODI in 2006 when Dravid had used the powerplay to get wickets. Pietersen was in one of his belligerent moods, yet Dravid opted to take the powerplay. With the field in, Pietersen probably felt the need to go for one shot too many and in the end he lost his wicket. The decision could have totally backfired, but what it does show here is that once the fielders are in, batsmen can feel the urge to over attack and it can lead to wickets.

I feel this is a positive change, and it can bring in some more positivity from the captains. The only drawback with this rule I feel is how the spinners respond. Will they start bowling flatter or will they toss the ball a lot more to entice the batsmen into a false stroke. Only time will tell.

There are some changes which the ICC have to look into as well due to recent developments, that of Steven Finn. He has a terrible habit of knocking the stumps down during his delivery stride, and it has led to umpires declaring it as a dead ball if the act has been performed repeatedly. It really would be annoying for the batting team if the ball is declared a dead ball when they have hit it for a four or six. It can make a big difference to the result. Probably a bowler can be given a warning, and the next offence can be marked as a no-ball. It is important a rule is created, so as to standardize the decision wherever the game is played.

With the game being heavily in favour of the batsmen, probably there is a case of allowing one bowler to bowl 12 overs instead of the stipulated 10. In the age of heavy bats, flat decks and shorter boundaries, there definitely should be some rules to please the bowlers as well! Whatever said and done, the ICC has to ensure the rules aren’t changed constantly, as it really hard for the followers to keep track of every change being made!

Monday, 14 January 2013

It's Time to Change

It would be an understatement if one said India had a poor 2012. It was a year in which not only the cricket team plunged to the bottom, the country as a whole faced crisis after crisis. It is interesting that the current state of affairs in India match that of the cricket team.

Similar to the Indian politicians and religious leaders who have been making some really lame excuses for the incidents in Delhi, and rather than finding the right solution to stop the menace, have been coldly putting the blame on the women of the country - the Indian board and players rather than accepting the reality, have tried to justify their poor performances due to player injuries, unfair pitch conditions, etc.

In India, we have a tendency to put the blame on the others without analyzing ourselves. Yes corruption is rampant in the country, but before making judgments about others, shouldn’t we put ourselves in their shoes. I am not saying what they are doing is right, but corruption in India really starts from a very young age. Even college students, at the first sight of embezzling funds from the authorities for various college activities do their best to trick them by submitting doctored/tampered bills. The only difference is that the students deal in thousands whereas the politicians deal in lakhs. It isn’t the ideal situation, but it is where the seeds are planted.

Similarly, the Indian team rather than introspecting to identify what they have been doing wrong, resorted to sharing excuses with the hope that all will return to normalcy. But as it generally happens, if one is complacent and over-confident, things don’t go as per plan.

It is time for India as a nation to move on, face the ground reality and try to find solutions than just running away from the problems, hoping it gets solved by itself. Just like how the cold wave has gripped north India, a dark cloud has risen over India and has brought darkness and despair.

A new year has dawned upon us, and what better occasion to start afresh. The tradition has been to make a New Year resolution, but generally people following it has been an aberration. Let us all try together to make India a better place to live in by being accountable for our deeds and focus on offering constructive criticism and providing solutions.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Jacques of all trades!

Jacques Kallis. That is a name which every cricket team in the world would be hoping was in their playing eleven. It is really surprising that despite his achievements in the game over the past decade he is not spoken of in the same league as a Sachin Tendulkar or a Ricky Ponting.  His numbers as a batsman alone rank up along with the best to have ever played the game. To add to it, nearly 300 wickets in both forms of the game, we are now talking about one of the greatest all-rounders to have ever played the game. 

Kallis started as a lower middle order batsman, who could be considered good enough to be a first change bowler in the team. As the years went by, his skills as a batsman demanded a position in the top four. His bowling work load reduced, but Kallis the batsman just went leaps and bounds from then on. An average of over 60 in the 100 Tests he has played at no 4 is a testament to the fact.
For most part of his career Kallis was accused of being an extremely slow batsman. But over the last four years, he has shown a side of his game, which was never seen before. This can be seen in the figures below.

Strike Rate
Overall Career
Since 2008

                                   Statistics showing Kallis record in ODI cricket

His strike rate over the last four years in limited over cricket is 83 as compared to an overall career strike rate of 73. Mind you, despite his aggressive stint, the average is more or less the same which shows that he has vastly improved his game over this period. A part of the credit must go to the IPL, where he has developed his game and took it to the next level.

As a test batsman, he is already the fourth highest run scorer in the history of the game. In the process he has also become the second fastest batsman to score 13000 runs in tests.

There was a period in the 1980s when almost every major team had a great all-rounder. England had Ian Botham, Pakistan Imran Khan, India Kapil Dev and New Zealand Richard Hadlee. It is surprising that ever since, other than Kallis no other player has fulfilled all round duties over a long period of time. Andrew Flintoff, Chris Cairns, Lance Klusner all had their moments in the game, but never could consistently play over a long period of time mainly due to injuries as they couldn’t sustain the vigours of both batting and bowling. Shane Watson, one of the best all-rounders currently playing the game too has had an injury prone career. With the amount of cricket being played these days, it’s almost impossible to imagine an all-rounder having a long career. It is a tribute to how Kallis has maintained himself over the years and be able to contribute in both aspects of the game. Add to that a career tally of 192 test catches, which is the third highest in Test cricket, he is definitely amongst the greatest all-rounders to have ever played the game.

              How does Kallis fair in comparison to all-rounders of yestyears?
Batting Avg
Bowling Avg
Difference (Bat. Avg - Bowl. Avg)
J Kallis
Garry Sobers
Ian Botham
Imran Khan
Richard Hadlee
Kapil Dev

As we can see Kallis is matched only by Sir Garry Sobers in respect to the difference in batting and bowling averages, but Kallis has played more than 60 matches than him and yet maintained his performances. His durability and consistency is something which all aspiring sportsmen should strive to achieve.

Tendulkar is revered as God in India and recently MS Dhoni considered Zaheer Khan as the Tendulkar of India’s bowling. Kallis batting has been as good as Sachin over the years and has nearly taken the same of amount of wickets as Zaheer as. With this one can realize what a multi-dimensional cricketer he has been.

A fast bowling all-rounder is a dying breed, and with the standards set by Kallis, it is hard to imagine anyone in the near future matching his feats.  At 37, there might not be a lot of­­­­­ cricket left in Kallis, but he will definitely go down as one of the greatest players to have ever played the game if not the greatest. His loss would be a large void to fill in for South Africa and the cricketing world.  

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Blame it on Dhoni

Poor Dhoni what can you do to stop this horrendous run of losses for Team India. No matter how poorly the other 10 players on the field perform, the fault lies on you. Yes, you hit the nail on its head when you mentioned that you have become the new punching bag of Team India. Sachin coped it for the last two decades, now it is your turn!

On a damp wicket, with a lot of assistance for the faster bowlers, it was always going to be hard batting first. The need of the hour was to see off the new ball and then capitalize towards the end. Like we have been seeing in the test matches for the past year or so, none of the top order batsmen showed any sort of application to play the swinging ball. It is high time, the selectors consider replacing the under performing openers. Does Sehwag really command a place in the ODI team? He has been in poor form in this format for sometime, and to add to it, he is a liability on the field. Already the team is short of quality bowlers, and every run saved on the field will be a big bonus. In the end, Dhoni played one of the finest innings in ODIs saved India from the blushes. All this from a man who doesn’t have the technique to play on tracks conducive for fast bowling. He may not posses the best of techniques, but whatever said or done, he has found a way to cope with it. The fact that he is one of the few Indians who can play the pull shot definitely helps!

With the new ODI rules making it mandatory to have five fielders inside the 30 yard circle, it is important that India choose their 5th bowler wisely. Dhoni has received a lot of flak for going with only four specialists bowlers. Even during the world cup campaign India went in with four bowlers. Batting has always been their strength, and looking at the current crop of bowlers, India’s batting unit will always be stronger than the bowling unit. You can’t blame the bowlers for a poor performance from the batters. The fact that it was stretched to the 49th over shows how well they tried. Dhoni prefers packing the side with 7 batsmen, so that however poor the bowlers bowl, he will have the firepower in the batting to cover it up. Even if the team wants a 5th bowler, who are the options? If Jadeja is selected, all will conjure up Dhoni’s love for CSK players! Finding four good bowlers itself has been a major issue over the years for India, and I don’t see how we can find a decent 5th bowler anytime soon. Other than Ashwin, there is no bowler in the top 30 ODI rankings. The fact that Jadeja is the second highest ranked bowler for India tells you the story. A fully fit Irfan Pathan might solve the problem. Irfan and Ashwin do seem to be good enough to bat at positions 7 and 8. More importantly it will give Dhoni the chance to bat atleast one position higher. With the kind of bowlers India has currently, it is really harsh on blaming Dhoni for his defensive tactics. When Warne and Mcgrath retired, we saw how Ricky Ponting struggled, with his new bowlers. The fact that India did reasonably well during the period 2007-2011 is a testament of how well Dhoni handled his limited resources.

During the India England Test series, the focus was on Sachin’s batting and Dhoni’s captaincy due to which Sehwag and Gambhir got away despite their insipid performances. Sehwag has been underperforming in ODIs for sometime now, and probably it is time to look ahead and give Rahane a chance. If the top order doesn’t get fixed soon, Dhoni will experience what Sachin has endured throughout his career.

Dhoni’s captaincy over the years has been pretty much the same; it is just that now he’s having too many players in the team solely on their past reputations. During such turbulent times it is necessary that the captain inspires the team. He tried his best in the last ODI, running quick singles and two’s despite the fact that he was totally drained out by the end due to the sapping heat of Chennai and trying to give the bowlers some sort of a chance. Compare this to Gambhir, who was more interested in staying not out rather than farming the strike in Mumbai. It may not have made any difference in the result, but it sends down the wrong message. Maybe the right way is to give some of the senior players aspiring for captaincy a kick on their backside and give chance to players with greater zeal and enthusiasm. Dhoni has become everyone’s favourite punching bag; I hope in the new year, he’s the one punching.
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