Monthly Archives: May 2009

The ICC World T20 Championship

With IPL-2 now over, we can now turn our attention to The ICC World T20 Championship. It starts on 5 June in England with a match at Lords’ between England and The Netherlands.

Even though Shoaib Akhtar is out with warts in his unmentionables, Wasim Akram reckons that Pakistan will start off the tournament as his favourites. Sachin Tendulkar initially refused to rate title holders India but has cautioned her players (especially Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir) to rest prior to the tournament. More recently, he has indicated that India, the title holders, will start as favorites and has termed India as the “most balanced side in the world.” Dilip Vengsarkar, former Team India Chief Selector, echoed Tendulkar’s sentiment and warned Team India of fatigue, to which, M. S. Dhoni, the captain, simply said, “Fatigue is part of Indian cricket.” In other words, for those players who complain of fatigue, there is an option: shape up or ship out!

The fact, however, is that Zaheer Khan is still not 100% fit. He did not play the last half of IPL-2 tournament for his Mumbai Indians. His shoulder is still not fully recovered from a clumsy tumble/fall in a Mumbai Indians IPL game.

I do think that Australia will be the favourites with South African and India being close seconds.

In my view, if her players fight off fatigue, India stands a good chance. Having just come off a huge IPL-2, the Indian team would be match-hardened and ready.

But as Mickey Arthur, the South African coach says, “what would matter in the Twenty20 tournament is the speed at which the teams adapt to conditions in England next month.

India will play two warm-up games — against New Zealand on June 1 and Pakistan on June 3. India then take on South Africa in her opening match of the campaign. Not much time to get things right. But the problem, in my view, is one of figuring out which option works best. You just can’t afford to blink in the T20 World Championships. You’ve got to hit the ground running.

India have a good/strong team that is capable of winning the ICCWT20C.

For the practice matches, I’d go with the following team and take it from there.

Virender Sehwag (V-Capt)
Gautam Gambhir
Suresh Raina
Rohit Sharma
Yuvraj Singh
MS Dhoni (Capt)
Yusuf Pathan / Ravindra Jadeja
Irfan Pathan
Harbhajan Singh / Pragyan Ojha
Praveen Kumar / Zaheer Khan
RP Singh / Ishant Sharma

The only question mark in my mind is Ishant Sharma and the necessity for a second spinner in Pragyan Ojha. I’d have preferred Abhishek Nayar instead of Pragyan Ojha in the team. Having said that, I would not deny Ojha after his excellent performances with the ball for Deccan Chargers.

The team looks excellent on paper. There is strength, balance and the presence of a few “game-breakers” (in Mickey Arthur’s words).

I am looking forward to a terrific ICCWT20 Championship.

Mohan

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Overhypes and “Under”hypes of IPL-2

The 7th and 8th teams of IPL-1 are in the finals of this year’s version. Who would have thought that? Kumble, at the time of announcing his retirement, said that he will represent RCB this year to satisfy the terms of his contract. Rahul Dravid and Jacques Kallis have not been the selectors’ choices in the limited version of the game for their respective countries. Add to the mix, two exciting talents in Manish Pandey and Virat Kohli and you have a winning team this year. It will be interesting to see if an Indian will lift the DLF-IPL this year or will it be an Australian again. I wanted to take a crack at identify the overhyped players of this IPL-2 (both financially and otherwise) who have been total disappointments and, at the same time, list the expected underperformers who showed otherwise.

The Overhype X1

Robin Uthappa

Graeme Smith

Kevin Pieterson

Jacob Oram

Albie Morkel

Andrew Flintoff

Brendon McCullum

Jesse Ryder

Tyron Henderson

Ishant Sharma

Sreesanth

While Sehwag and Gambhir were probably the biggest disappointment as a comination, they did have a couple of decent outings to miss the above X1. I am sure there are a few more like Mashrafe Mortaza who could be part of the list but may not have played as many games. I have included Tyron Henderson because Rajasthan paid 650,000 for him and he hardly played a game. You could add some poor performers to the list such as Sanath Jayasuriya, Manpreet Gony, L. Balaji etc.

Now, how about the unexpected.

“Under”hype X1

Manish Pandey

Jacques Kallis

Brad Hodge

Rahul Dravid

T. Suman

D. Karthik

Roef Van der Merwe

R. Vinay Kumar

A. Kumble

D. Nannes

Shadab Jakati

Other names that come to mind include Fidel Edwards, Naman Ojha, B. Akhil etc.

 

Looking forward to a final with a beer and a newspaper in hand!

– Srikanth

IPL2 :: Semi-Finals Stage now…

IPL2 has now reached the semi-final stage.

Bollywood has been kicked out as Priety Zinta (Punjab), Shah Rukh Khan (KKR) and Shilpa Shetty (Rajasthan) head home along with the land of Bollywood itself (Mumbai)!

What’s left behind is real cricket sans the glitz and packaged entertainment from Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi; three teams from the South of India and one from the capital city! Make of all of that what you will.

A few weeks back in my IPL-2 Preview, I had predicted a Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai finals. We almost got that! Mumbai has been my major disappointment of the season. Bangalore was almost fading away until Kumble came on the scene. He transformed the team into winners and showed — as he has done all through his career — that Shane Warne is not the only magician in town! Except that Kumble has always chosen to perform his magic without the glitz!

Rajasthan just did not have the team to make the semis this year. Without Sohail Tanvir and Watson and with a struggling Graeme Smith, they were always going to struggle. They did. As Shane Warne said, in his characteristic flourish, “Mate, the only positive thing to emerge for me at this year’s IPL might be my blood test!” They have a lot of work to do in the off-season.

KKR have issues aplenty. The coach and his entourage has to go in my view. Their season was derailed by Buchanan from the start of the campaign and it did not recover from there on in. We had a fake-IPL player reveal itself as a shadow yesterday! The revelation compelled Shah Rukh Khan to launch into an explanation in elementary physics! He said, “Shadows … being merely negative projections that are created due to a light source being blocked by an opaque object, have no … qualms!” Phew! I also think that their captaincy was in the wrong hands. But I tell you what? Having one lousy captain was a darned sight better than having 5 lousy captains on the field, each trying to outdo the others’ mistakes! On completion, KKR skipper, Brendn McCullum (in reference to the “shadow” fake-IPL player) said, “I suppose this is the first time that a shadow has thrown light on something. Heh heh!” KKR have a heck of a lot of work to do in the off-season too. And one of them would be to ask if Ganguly’s time is completely up!

Punjab have issues too! They need a right-handed batsman in the team! And the captain has anger-management problems! He said, “Well, actually it is getting the worst out of me. I am getting very angry on the field, I don’t know why.” They have a lot of work to do if they want to challenge consistently good teams like Delhi and Chennai.

Mumbai was the biggest disappointment for me. With Jayasuriya, Tendulkar, Duminy, Malinga, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan and Dwayne Bravo in the team, they were an early pencil for me for the last-4 berth! That list above was a set of 7 constants in every team that took the park! That is a fantastic starting card for any team to have in its armoury! All they needed to do was to fire up a wicketkeeper (and they had Pinal Shah and Takawale to chose from) and three local boys — and in Abhishek Nayar, Ajinkya Rahane, Dhawal Kulkarni and Rohan Raje, they had all that they needed! But they blew chance after good chance through a mix of bad captaincy, bad decisions and poor play. I do think Sachin Tendulkar needs to sit down with Mukesh Ambani and re-think his captaincy role! Chief Mentor Shaun Pollock said at the end, in what I think is a brutally frank assessment, “We’ll look at the positives. Our captaincy was positively puzzling, and our batting was positively ridiculous.”

So that leads us to the semi-finals. I would be very surprised if it is not Delhi Vs Chennai. But I’d also be quite happy to be surprised!

— Mohan

Exciting Indian Talent

It may be premature to speculate on the possible team composition for future India (particularly for the test side) as watch the IPL move towards its grand finale. However, watching some of the Indians perform at the IPL and at the same time following the Aussie team composition for the Ashes, made me start thinking about how the Indian team structure will be post-Tendulkar/VVS/Dravid era. I am particularly excited about players like Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina and would expect them to make it to the test side as well. Here are my thoughts on a possible 11 (in batting order) for India possibly sometime in 2010/2011 + 3 benchmen.

Sehwag (will eventually give way to Abhinav Mukund)

Gambhir

Suresh Raina

Rohit Sharma

Yuvraj Singh

MS Dhoni

Irfan Pathan

Harbhajan Singh

Amit Mishra (Pragyan Ojha)

Zaheer Khan (should give way to RP Singh eventually)

Ishant Sharma

+ Cheteswar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja, Munaf Patel (Pradeep Sangwan, Kamran Khan, or Shoaib Maqsusi seem good candidates as well)

I would consider Yusuf Pathan, T. Suman, L. Shukla, Shadab Jakati, Virat Kohli, Naman Ojha and a few others for the shorter version of the game. I am concerned about the pace strength and would hope that some of the newer talent would come through with more consistency. I am not convinced that Sreesanth is ready to be back mentally and physically. RP Singh has done enough to justify a recall into the test version. He seems committed enough and fields much better than Munaf Patel.

Piyush Chawla and Dinesh Karthik may have performed reasonably well in the IPL 2 but, in my books, stand a remote chance of getting back. D. Karthik may still be considered a back up for Dhoni since none of the other keepers have really demonstrated good keeping skills. I think Irfan Pathan should be given another go at test matches simply considering the fact that he is such a handy all rounder to have. That way the Indians can essentially play five bowlers with Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina, and Yuvraj Singh turning their arm over as well.

I still look forward to watching Tendulkar, Dravid, and VVS bat in at least another test series (Tendulkar possibly for longer) but, at the same time, look forward to watching some of the exciting talent come through in the next ten years. I am particularly excited about Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina and rate them very highly and expect them to take over Indian cricket into the future. With Dhoni’s captaincy the way it is. India should continue posing a threat to the Aussies and South Africans.

– Srikanth

IPL final stages – Some random thoughts!

According to Dhoni, we witnessed some of the worst bowling in the IPL as the Super Kings lost to the Knight Riders. Seriously, Kolkata actually won! McCullum fired 12 games too late, he certainly salvaged some pride for his team. Dhoni’s outburst was probably targeted at Balaji and to some extent at Morkel. They actually did bowl leaving their brains in warmer conditions, bowled and fielded with cold hearts and hands, no desire to win. I still wouldn’t panic though, CSK is more than likely through to the semi-finals. This game, however, showed the sharp contrasts in talent and intelligence that captures this side. Dhoni’s presence of mind in standing ground to ensure he retained strike after Raina was caught, his moving to the outfield to lend some speed to the fielding unit, Murali’s brilliant spell and Raina amazing batting were examples of sheer brilliance. Badrinath’s poor fielding, Balaji’s stroll in the park (Morrison’s calls this village cricket), Jacob Oram’s clueless presence on the field were the contrasts.

Dhoni calls his a safe side without any exceptional talent. He is probably true. They are batting heavy and miss a strike bowler to support Murali. They should seriously consider looking out for some pacemen for IPL 3 and onward. I also feel that they still do not have the right team on the field. They should consider playing Ntini instead of Oram in the next game, bring in Gony for Balaji and bring Vijay back for Parthiv Patel. It will take a herculean effort for Chennai to outplay the Daredevils to contemplate winning IPL 2. 

My other team, Mumbai Indians, were quite disappointing towards then end. They blew several opportunities to move to the next stage of the tournament, thanks to inexperience, some strange captaincy, and constant changes to the team. They did miss Zaheer Khan sorely in the final games and Jayasurya hasn’t fired at all in the tournament. They should consider trying to acquire Rohit Sharma, somehow, and strengthen their middle order. This would allow Tendulkar to go back to the top of the order, reduce the dependence on Duminy and Nayar, and bring an added spinning option. 

At the end of it all, three of 4 teams from IPL-1 should make it through to this year’s semi-finals also. Deccan Chargers seem most likely to replace the Royals as the 4th team. It should be an interesting finale to the IPL-2. 

Looking forward!

– Srikanth

T20’s challenge to Tests

Chris Gayle has announced that he would rather play T20 cricket over Test matches. This may have come as a shock to many, but I am quite surprised that people didn’t see this coming. Expect to see more of this in the future.

I am part of the minority that loves Test cricket the way it is – spread over 5 days, each team playing 2 innings and the game sometimes changing direction from session to session when evenly matched teams play. I believe that Test cricket also separates the players from the pretenders – You have to be sufficiently skilled to survive in this genre of the game compared to the 20 over version. And you have to be sufficiently crazy to enjoy watching test cricket over five days, too.

I know I am.

Most cricket fans around the world these days would rather watch T20. The proof is in the dwindling crowds even in places like India which traditionally attracted large crowds for Test matches.

In a Test match, you pretty much know what the result between Australia and Bangladesh is going to be. T20 on the other hand, makes for a level playing field – you could even have a team like Bangladesh beat South Africa or KKR beat DDD. Okay, KKR winning a match is a bad example 🙂 – but you do get the picture, right? And fans love that.

So, if the fans themselves would rather watch T20 cricket, why should the players feel any different? It makes perfect sense, actually – you spend less time on the field, get paid more and don’t have to be as skilled as a test player. And add other things like less chances of getting injured (due to less cricket), and you have a strong case for playing just T20 cricket.

This is also one of the main reasons that even young players decided to go against their Cricket boards and sign up for ICL in hordes, even if it meant they would be giving up their chance to play cricket for their domestic side and country.

So, if players don’t play for their state and country – how do they get into the T20 teams, you ask. We could be looking at a whole different model. Take Kamran Khan of the Rajasthan Royals, for instance. Forget the fact that he has a "suspect" bowling action, he was pretty much pulled out from obscurity and made into a star of sorts – watch out for more such things happening in the future, when IPL scouts scour the country looking for raw talent.

It is also the consumers that drive the product. With consumers hungry for more T20 games, the people who run the game will oblige. We may also end up having more domestic T20 tournaments for upcoming players to showcase what they’ve got.

Chris Gayle may eventually soften his stand by saying that he was misquoted or whatever, but the fact remains that more and more players would start thinking along similar lines. T20 cricket is going to thrive at the expense of both Test and ODI cricket. I am not actually writing the obituary for Test cricket. Not yet, anyway – but unless Test cricket reinvents itself, it is going to struggle to justify its existence. It may not happen tomorrow or next year,  but it is eventually going to happen.

As much as I love watching T20 cricket, for someone who also loves Test cricket, it is a frightening prospect.

-Mahesh-

Indian Sports Minister fumes at 6UP

There are several good things that the IPL is doing for cricket. And there are several things that it is doing that are plainly irritating. For example, we do not have sixes anymore! These are now known as DLFers or “DLF maximums”. We do not have a brilliant fielding that affects a run out or a brilliant catch anymore. We have a “Citi moment of success”!

While it is irritating to see a sixer being referred to as a DLFer, what the IPL is certainly doing, is associating the sponsors brand much more closely and intimately with the product itself! Sponsors like DLF, Vodofone, Citi, Fly Kingfisher, Hero Honda and Sony SetMax appear to be reaping the benefits of their association with cricket through the IPL.

A more recent entrant to the field is one that has raised the ire of the Indian sports ministry!

The Indian sports minister MS Gill has rapped the IPL on the knuckles for its official sanction of an SMS text-messaging product during IPL games. This product is also promoted actively by the same commentators that promote the DLFers and “Citi moment of success” through their commentary! The competition, called 6UP is one in which users can win by predicting either the run-sequence in an over or the number of runs per over. The sports minister has taken offense to this — as this is akin to betting and gambling which are banned in India — and has requested the BCCI to ban this competition.

6UP is an SMS mobile game. Fans can send their predictions as to how many runs will be scored on each ball of an over, before the start of every over at Rs 5 per SMS. The company that runs offers 6UP is “IPLAYUP Interactive Entertainment”, a UK-based mobile business generation company. They have tied up with Vodafone to offer the product. George Tomeski, co-founder and managing partner of IPLAYUP Interactive Entertainment, has indicated that every day a few fans can make a few lakhs of rupees.

The business model is simple: Out of every Rs 5 SMS sent during a live game, a minimum of 50 per cent of the total pool (number of people who send the SMS multiplied by Rs 5) goes to the person who sends the message, while the remaining part goes to telecom company (Vodafone), governmental tax and Australian ex-captain Steve Waugh’s charity – Steve Waugh Foundation. So there is a charity angle to it too!

Cute!

There are some loosely justifiable claims, perhaps, for this to be classified as “gambling” or “betting”! However, while he is at it, is the Honourable Sports Minister also going to make efforts to ban illegal betting and gambling on cricket? Or perhaps he can allow the IPL to legalise gambling and betting in cricket in India and actually earn the Government money that can be used to either line pockets or be pumped into other sports that are worse off in India?

Furthermore, these proclamations from the Sports Minister would actually hold water if the ministry demonstrated tangible evidence of adding value to sports in the country!

If the Sports Minister had concentrated on the real issues — betting and the potential for ‘match fixing’ — and stopped there, that may have won him his day in court. However, instead of doing there, he went on to take a swipe at cricket and spilled all his sour grapes, thereby, bringing to question his real motives!

He went on to say, “I see the commercial use of cricket for business gains that is going on. I am concerned at knowledgeable comments from serious followers of cricket about the latest venture of encouraging viewers to make ball-by-ball predictions of runs scored for economic gain in the shape of cash prizes. This is viewed as ‘openly encouraging gambling and betting’, which official bodies do not resort to, even in countries where betting is legal; all this ‘to make money and enlarge their TV viewership base'”.

Let us de-construct this comment.

There is really nothing inherently wrong with the commercialisation of cricket. Nor is there anything wrong with either making money or enlarging TV viewership! Indeed, that is one sure way for hockey to become popular again in India! What is of relevance is (a) the actual act of “betting” and (b) match fixing.

Perhaps the sports minister was better off focusing his attention just on (a) and (b) above rather than spill his sour grapes!

Although betting and gambling is considered illegal in India, there is a horse racing and gaming industry in India. This is officially sanctioned! Moreover, we do have state sanctioned lotteries. Millions of rupees are routinely lost, mainly by India’s poor, who wish to invest in these statistically remote make-it-rich-quick lottery schemes in these state run lotteries. The sports minister did not comment on these officially sanctioned gambling mechanisms in India. While it is not necessary for him to have done so, the argument can be mounted that, given the existence of these schemes, could the country not allow another scheme — especially if the Government can use the funds thus generated to improve the plight of sports funding in other neglected sports?

Fundamentally however, what needs to be investigated here is whether the course of a match can be altered through this product. Possible questions that need to be asked are

(a) Can a single user, as a result of an investment of 5 Rupees (roughly 10 cents American) alter the course of a game through her bet?

I would have thought that that would be close to impossible.

(b) Can this lead to “match fixing”?

Theoretically this is possible. It is possible for an “investor” to pay off two powerful hitting batsmen to take 3 singles each in an over to deliver a sequence of “111111” or, say, deliver a sequence “000000” in an over. The “investor” can then place a bet on that specific sequence and hope that (a) no one else has bet on that specific sequence so that the “rigged investment” pays off, (b) a large number of bettors have placed bets on an alternative sequence — so that the “rigged investment” is worth it.

These, and other similar questions, are more pertinent rather than the commercialisation of cricket in India. The sport is banking on its popularity and is finding new ways of delivering value to the brands that support it. Nothing wrong with those principles. What is important is an assessment of whether the game itself is letting itself open to be manipulated by means and instruments other than sporting skill.

— Mohan