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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