Monthly Archives: December 2009

Another Chapter in Indian Cricket

Year 2009 is almost over and the men in blue are the newly crowned test champions. Their victory in New Zealand at the start of the year and the trouncing of Sri Lanka towards the end of the year resulted in the desired outcome to an earnest campaign that Saurav Ganguly and his men began almost ten years back when the Prince took over India’s captaincy in early 2000. The leadership of Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, and Virendar Sehwag helped pave the way to achieving royal ascent to the crown. None of this could have been achieved without the constant guidance and “unparalleled” role that the Master, “Sachin Tendulkar” has played in all these years and all these successes. Alongside, many young and not-so-young cricketers including VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh et al have played crucial roles on various occasions to boost India’s performances.

At the end, one of the most intelligent and successful captains of the current day, MS Dhoni, held centre stage as he picked up the “Mace” for test cricket and deservedly so. Dhoni, in my opinion, has brought in a new dimension to Indian cricket. While Ganguly took the fear out of the game, Dhoni has coaxed, cajoled, and goaded the team to believe that nothing is really impossible. And, he has done so by leading from the front. He has allowed himself to be flexible and yet at the same disciplined, and, delivered almost at will. Indians, under Dhoni, are and will maintain or at the least pose a constant threat to supremacy in all forms of the game in the foreseeable future.

India’s ascendency combined with renewed interest in the longer version of the game resulting from the recently concluded and ongoing series in Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa provide a great platform for the future. One hopes that, with the current performances, India does play more than the handful test matches in 2010 and onward. There are some areas of concern though. The referral system, UDRS as they call it, is a farce. I do not believe nor am I convinced that the technology currently being used is adequate enough to meet the requirements. Traditional umpiring still works and should not be supplemented until and unless technology becomes more reliable. Another area of concern is perceived referring biases. As was evident in the Australia/India, England/India, the recent WI/Australia series, referring has been lopsided to say the least.  Referees like Chris Board are a disgrace to the game. I am in full agreement with Sunny Gavaskar about is comments on the Broad affair.

These issues aside, 2010 looks to be another interesting year for cricket. The expectations for a SA/India test series are in full swing, IPL-3, T20 World championship all making it into the year’s bill.

Looking forward to another year of exciting cricket. Happy new year to all from all of us here at I3J3.

Cheers,

Srikanth

Blueprint for Cricket’s Future

Given that everyone (and their dog and their lamp post) is talking about “saving cricket” with their own plans, we at i3j3cricket decided to write an article on the future of all forms of cricket. But before we set forth with the development of a plan, we had to ask the tough question on whether or not cricket needs to be saved.

Yes. It does.

It needs to be saved from the clutches of T20, which, by the way, is a legitimate form of cricket.

So, much to the potential chagrin of several cricket purists, cricket needs to be saved from its own recent successes!

In fact, in our view, the T20 format can be seen as a legitimate vehicle for the introduction of players and spectators alike. This is especially true for new countries and regions where the T20 format can be akin to a table wine to Test cricket’s Grange!

Some of the questions that need to be asked are

  • Can cricket continue to support all three forms or products (sic!)?
  • How can Test Cricket — the form that is considered the purest form of cricket — continue in a world that is increasingly dominated by the “curse of the instant”?
  • Is there a place for the ODI form of Cricket in the landscape?

There are many that feel that the ODI format has seen its last days and must be done away with. After the recent success of the T20 format and the impact of burgeoning tournaments on the cricket calendar, there are several amongst us that feel that there is space only for two forms/products. We are not entirely sure what additional skills (or entertainment value) the ODI format brings to the game that is not covered by the other two formats (Tests and T20). The T20 format is packaged for maximising entertainment value for the masses while Test cricket allows players to exhibit their finer skills in front of a more discerning audience!

However, we are proceeding with the rest of this article on the assumption that there is a place for ODIs provided:

  • The ICC introduce some radical changes to the ODI format,
  • The ICC carries out a review of the place that ODIs have within a 5-year period.

Moreover, cricket’s audience must grow. Its reach must exceed former colonial outposts. Cricket must embrace audiences in US and Europe. And for this to happen, perhaps T20 is the route for cricket to take as it broadens its horizons, wings and reach to hitherto sceptical audiences.

So, in our view, all three forms can co-exist provided cricket’s reach extends beyond its current boundaries and provided there are some radical changes to the ODI format and provided there is a thorough market-tested review of the ODI format by 2015.

Overall, our feeling is that cricket does need a radical change.

  • Test Matches must be exciting and result oriented. The key points to ensuring this happens are:
    • Pitches that ensure the relevance of both bat and ball in a game (mandated by an ICC-organised QA of pitches before each game). In saying this, we are not suggesting that pitches must have grass or that pitches should not take turn. Our view at i3j3Cricket has consistently been that just as bounce, seam and swing are important facets of the game that “test” a batsman’s skill, dust-bowls that offer prodigious spin and uneven bounce are an equally important “test” of a batsman’s skill.
    • Rule changes that put a premium on easy runs (for example, through the simultaneous use of old and new balls).
    • Stronger incentives for the captains to produce results (for example, points should reflect the margin of victory – number of wickets and/or runs – and location – Home vs Away.
  • ODIs must stop becoming boring in the middle overs.
  • Audiences must be encouraged/enticed/induced to attend Test matches.
  • More programming control and regulation by the ICC is necessary.

From the above, it is clear that our hypothesis is that Test cricket, often considered the pinnacle of achievement in cricket, is suffering too. Test cricket needs change too. While it is not yet in a “moribund” state and while we do not wish to sound like doomsday merchants, a lack of changes to Test cricket rules will see it fade in the wake of the T20 phenomenon. Apart from Australia and England, where we still see healthy audiences at the venue, Test cricket crowds seem to have deserted cricket grounds. India can still attract crowds to Test cricket by taking all of its Test cricket to places like Mysore, Dharmasala, Bhuvaneshwar, Pune, Rohtak, Mangalore, Rajkot, Cochin, Guwahati, Coimbatore, Jodhpur, Agartala, Bhopal, Visakhapatnam, Cuttack, etc. But that still robs visiting teams of playing in iconic venues and cities like Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Mohali, Nagpur, Kanpur, Hyderabad, etc.

The ODI game has become predictable and boring. Teams tend to adopt a mechanistic approach to the game in the middle-overs. The PowerPlay idea has not worked because the bowling PowerPlay is taken immediately after the mandatory PowerPlay, while the batting PowerPlay is shoved to the end-game! The stupor-state of the middle-overs is killing the ODI game which has become staid and formulaic. Once a game reaches those proportions, the only sure outcomes that can afflict players, administrators and spectators is boredom followed by a slow death.

There is no “programming window” for exciting and instant-fun concepts like the IPL and Champions League.

What is desperately required are a series of innovations, improvements and changes to all three forms of the game.

Hence this article.

We have the following suggestions for (choose your pick) improving/changing/enhancing/augmenting each of the three forms of cricket.

Test Cricket:

  • Minimum overs per day: 100
  • Day-night Test cricket is adopted.
  • Breaks in Play: There are no lunch/tea/drinks breaks in Test cricket anymore. The teams play for 50 overs before a “dinner break”. A further 50 overs are played after this dinner break. So there are two sessions per day. Like footy games in Australia, “runners” bring in drinks during change of overs or during stoppage of play. Play will see one session before dark and one session at night! In most environments, play for the day should start at 2.30pm and should end at 10.30pm with a break between 6pm-7pm to accommodate news channel requirements! In India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan perhaps the timings are pulled up by an hour with play starting at 1.30pm with a break between 5pm-6pm and with play ending at 9.30pm.
  • 4-day Tests: With 100 overs bowled over 7 hours each day/night, we should not need 5-day Tests. This will have two effects: (a) there are more days for cricket, (b) teams will tend to play more attractive cricket in order to force results – and in some cases, manufacture results. We are already seeing the effect of the ODI and T20 format on Test cricket, in which a daily run rate of 4 rpo is more the norm, while even 10 years back, a run rate of 3 rpo was seen as a good days’ play! So given that teams will play 100 overs per day, 4-day Tests should be a definite possibility.
  • Bowling teams that do not bowl the required overs in each hour of play are penalised by adding “over rate extras” to the batting team’s total. This “over rate extra” is calculated as: ORR = [2* run rate for that 1-hour block * number of overs short].
  • Ball change: Every ball must be changed (mandatory) after 60 overs. At that time though, the bowling captain can continue to use the old ball — but only from one end — for a further 20 overs after which it cannot be used again. In other words, although a ball can be used for 80 overs (maximum), it must be used in tandem with a new ball once it is 60 overs old.
  • Two tiers/groups with Group-A containing Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, England (the current top-5 ranked Test nations) and Group-B containing West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Teams move up and down every two years.
  • Each team plays each other compulsarily over a 2-year period as part of a revamped Future Tours Program (FTP). In fact, the ICC should become the custodian of the cricket calendar. Apart from a nominated period in the year, say 2 blocks of 6 weeks each, all programming should be dictated by the ICC. Individual member countries are free to organise events only in those 12 free-from-ICC-FTP-weeks.
  • New teams are admitted into a Group-C: Ireland, USA, Holland, Kenya, Canada, Hong Kong, UAE…
  • At the end of each two year block, a Test Championship Tournament is held between
    • TCGroup-A: A1-A2-A3 (3 teams)
    • TCGroup-B: A4-A5-B1-B2 (4 teams)
    • TCGroup-C: B3-B4-B5-C1-C2 (5 teams)
    • This will serve to make each Test match interesting. A team placed at A4 will want desperately to beat another team in a Test series so that it escapes the clutches of TCGroup-A. Similarly, a team placed at B3 will desperately want to beat another team so that it makes B2 and hence, has a crack at making it to TCGroup-B, which will then give it a crack at making it to Group-A through the Test Championship round robin.

  • The Test Championship will determine: (a) The overall Test Champion for that 2-year block, (b) Which teams will move between Groups for the next 2-year block. The top-2 teams from TC-Group-B will move up to Group-A and the top 3 teams from TCGroup-C will move to Group-B.
  • The current ratings system is changed to accommodate home-away advantage and measures such as victory margins, innings defeats, etc.
  • In addition to the pure win-loss points, placings and ties are broken by other means to force result-oriented games.
  • No limits on bouncers-per-over.
  • Rules for wides match the current ODI and T20 format.
  • The entry ticket price for Tests must be less than one half of the price of a T20 game at that venue. This is so that more audiences are involved in Test cricket viewing. This is, no doubt, an artificial measure and a subsidy. But this is a measure and an instrument that is perhaps required in the “instant” world we live in.
  • Referral system in place for adjudicating.
  • Indoor Stadia: Sure, one cannot predict rain, bad light and bad weather in general, but it surely something can be done about maximising value to spectators. In the last year alone, more than 10% of Test cricket playing time has been lost to rain, bad weather or bad light. Some of this “time lost” does affect the result of games as well as value to spectators. Games tend to, as a result, end in tame and boring draws. We can solve this problem by playing cricket indoors. Granted, overcast conditions, sunlight and breeze do have a positive effect on the game sometimes, and not all games need to be played indoors. Then again, we do not have too many cricket stadia around the world where the roof can be closed. But we need to start thinking about playing some games indoors. This would also effectively increase the cricket playing days in a year. Of course, new stadia do not just appear overnight. So, there needs to be a long term plan to build these stadia.

ODIs:

  • 4 quarters of 25 overs each.
  • 2 Innings per team.
  • Innings are played as in Tests. In other words “follow on” and “innings defeats” are possible!
  • 1st mandatory PowerPlay of 5 overs is the first 5 overs in the inning.
  • The Batting/Bowling PowerPlay cannot follow the Mandatory PowerPlay at the start of an Inning (in other words, over 5-10 cannot be PowerPlay overs).
  • The Batting/Bowling PowerPlay must be a 5-over block and can immediately follow one another.
  • Thus, PowerPlay can only commence in any of the overs from 11 to 21.
  • If the no PowerPlay has been adopted before over 16, then the PowerPlay overs kick-in automatically.
  • The Bowling team has the option of nominating whether it wants a PowerPlay at the start of any over from 11 to 16. If the offer is not taken, the Batting team can use up that option.
  • Each bowler can bowl a maximum of 6 overs per Inning and 11 overs in a match.

T20:

  • Creating a programming-window for IPL and Champions League.
  • The existing format of T20 is actually working quite well. But in the future, just to spice things up, the following things could be considered:
    • Each team has a separate Batting XI and Fielding XI. Of course, the same people can be in both teams.
    • Each bowler can only bowl a maximum of 3 overs.
    • A team can decide to pack its Fielding XI with specialist fielders (including the Wicket keeper) in addition to the bowlers.

The above are suggestions that would, no doubt, have to be debated at length. But the bottom-line is that in our view all three forms of the game must see changes — and soon — as we move forward into a brave new world for cricket. A world with more excitement, a broader reach and more audiences.

— i3j3 Contributors

Take a bow Fab Five… Team India is the #1 Test Team

Some 10 years ago, the Fab Five of Indian Cricket undertook a near-impossible journey. After the morass that represented the match fixing scandal Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were left with the near-impossible task of reaching a near-impossible goal.

By the end of the decade, the Fab Five had reached there.

After yet another innings defeat of Sri Lanka, Team India was crowned the #1 Test Team in the ICC Rankings.

It was an amazing achievement for a bunch of committed cricketers that started on what seemed to be an impossible journey some 10 years ago. It was a burning passion for the Famous Fab Five (Ganguly, Kumble, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman).

Today, sans Kumble and Ganguly, the team ascended to #1; albeit with help from South Africa and England who both beat Australia in the recent past. Yet, the ascent was palpably obvious. It was measured, considered, passionate and single-minded.

There have been some sensational victories along the way: From Kolkata 2001 (v Australia), Leeds 2002 (v England), Adelaide 2003 (v Australia), Multan 2004 (v Pakistan), Sabina Park 2006 (v West Indies), Johannesburg 2006 (v South Africa), Perth 2008 (v Australia), Mohali 2008 (v Australia) and Chennai 2008 (v England). It is unlikely that the Test at Mumbai at the CCI Ground against Sri Lanka will receive the exalted status and the dizzy heights of a Leeds 2002 or Perth 2008. However, it will be remembered as the Test in which India reached the #1 position.

It has been a long road to redemption. It is a moment for all Team India tragics to savour.

It will be brief — after all an Australian clean-sweep this summer or a 2-0 victory by South Africa against England will snatch this moment from India.

However, for a few good men of Indian cricket, this will be a special moment. When Anil Kumble retired he marked this moment. He will be a happy man today and so will Sourav Ganguly.

Sachin Tendulkar remembered everyone in his post match victory statement when he marked the milestones along this path. What better way to get up than stairlifts?

In his post-match interview he said, “Fantastic to be at this position. I have been waiting a long time to get to this position (No 1). In fact just not me, entire nation. I thought when Gary (Kirsten) and Paddy (Paddy Upton), along with Robin Singh and Venkatesh Prasad, all credit to them for handling the team brilliantly. Also all the players have worked very hard in the last 18 months. Right from no 1 batter to no 7 (MS bats at no 7) we have a solid batting line-up. This pitch was a brilliant wicket. There was some turn on the first day and I knew one roll would settle it down and it did.”

No mention of Greg Chappel!

Dileep Premachandran, in his excellent article, Bestautolenders.com mentions John Wright, forgotten players like Sanjay Bangar (Leeds), Irfan Pathan (Multan), Balaji (Multan) and even staff like Adrian Le Roux, Andrew Leipus, John Gloster and Greg King.

He too has ignored Greg Chappel… Perhaps the one page that some of the current crop of players will want to ignore as they trace what has indeed been a fascinating, interesting and impressive 10-year journey.

Starting from Kolkata 2001, the journey has been painful at times; it has been excting at times; it has been imperssive at times. However, I will remember the journey for the commitment, passion, dignity and focus that the Fab Five showed.

Indeed, it is this journey — and not the outcome — that I will savour for a long long time.

As for the future, who knows what will happen. However, I am comforted by MS Dhoni’s calm assurance that Team India needs to travel well to claim the legitimate top-dog position. He said, “Let’s see when we go there. We can’t play them sitting here.”

The Fab Five will exit the scene one by one. However, I am confident that when they exit stage left, Indian cricket will be in a much better position than when they found it.

Take a bow guys. This is your ascent. This is your victory and thank you for all the good memories.

The resurrection of Sreesanth is complete…

It appears as if the new-look Sreesanth is back in the mix of things in Indian cricket! A new-and-improved Sreesanth minus slap-marks on his face and minus the pre-ball cross-my-heart-and-kiss-the-ball routine and minus the many metres of dingly-dangly thread around his neck (therein lies the clue to Ishant Sharma’s resurrection?) is back in Team India’s ODI and T20 teams for the matches against Sri Lanka! What’s more? He is also seeking out Harbhajan Singh for a hug everytime he takes a wicket! Someone please tell me he has turned vegetarian and is also writing a paper for Copenhagen!

Between 9 December and 27 December, India play Sri Lanka in 2 T20s and 5 ODIs.

The last T20 match India played was at the World Championship. The squad then read:

MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Suresh Raina, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar, Pragyan Ojha, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, RP Singh

The team for India’s T20 games against Sri Lanka reads:

MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma, Dinesh Karthik, Yusuf Pathan, R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Ashish Nehra, Sreesanth, Ashok Dinda, Sudeep Tyagi, Pragyan Ojha.

India’s WC T20 squad squad is sans Praveen Kumar, Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, RP Singh and Ravindra Jadeja.

And unless my eyes deceive me, Harbhajan Singh also feels the selectors’ axe on his neck! Is that right?

The above in the 16-member WCT20 team are replaced in the 15-member Team India squad for the Sri Lanka T20s squad by Ashish Nehra, Ashok Dinda, Sreesanth, Sudeep Tyagi and R. Ashwin.

Other than the comfortable knowledge that he is from Chennai — which obviously makes a difference in the current set up in Team India — I still do not know what Dinesh Karthik is doing in the T20 team. But he certainly is there in the team!

After the WCT20 debacle in which India exited in the first round, something had to give. Players like Irfan Pathan and RP Singh had to go and re-learn their craft. Zaheer Khan is still not back to peak fitness. So these changes are understandable. But dropping Harbhajan Singh makes sense? I am not convinced that Praveen Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja deserve the chop too.

Having said that, I do think that India’s T20 squad is good and sports a balanced look. I expect the team sheet to read:

Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
MS Dhoni
Yuvraj Singh
Suresh Raina
Rohit Sharma
Yusuf Pathan / R Ashwin
Ashish Nehra
Sreesanth / Ashok Dinda
Pragyan Ojha
Sudeep Tyagi / Ishant Sharma (minus dingly-dangly neck-accessories?)

DRINKS: Dinesh Karthik

India’s squad for the first two ODIs against Sri Lanka has also been announced. Sreesanth makes it to the ODI team too! Munaf Patel has got the chop after the ODI series against Australia. Perhaps he needs to find the neck-accessories that Sreesanth discarded?

Amit Mishra has also been requested to cool his heels somewhere.

And since the selectors could not find a (any) leg-spinner in the whole of Tamil Nadu, Pragyan Ojha replaces Amit Mishra in the team! Further, Dinesh Karthik has been informed that he does not need to carry the drinks and so, loses his spot in the team!

The team for the first two ODIs reads:

Sachin Tendulkar
Virender Sehwag
Gautam Gambhir
Yuvraj Singh
MS Dhoni
Suresh Raina / Virat Kohli
Ravindra Jadeja
Harbhajan Singh
Praveen Kumar
Zaheer Khan / Sudeep Tyagi / Pragyan Ojha / Sreesanth
Ashish Nehra

The absence of Rohit Sharma from this team continues to baffle me. If I were his manager, I might ask him to either (a) wear some dingly-dangly bits around his neck and lose it in a hurry or (b) seek a transfer to Tamil Nadu!

— Mohan

Replacement XI

In the previous post, Mohan had listed the players who have been given central contracts this year and there are names in the list that pop up straight away as replacements for people in the playing XI if someone got injured or is just not available. Vijay, for instance, is an an automatic fill-in for Gambhir for the Mumbai Test. There are also some names in the list I don’t see playing for the national team this year – Kaif for instance.

So, I got thinking and wondered if we could pick an alternate playing eleven (replacing everyone from the previous Test) and this is what I came up with:

  1. M Vijay
  2. W Jaffer
  3. C Pujara
  4. S Badrinath
  5. S Raina
  6. Rohit Sharma
  7. *+Dinesh Karthik
  8. R Jadeja
  9. A Mishra
  10. Munaf Patel
  11. Ishant Sharma

Just to set things straight, the players on the list are there purely on merit and I didn’t base it on whether they are  contracted or not.

Vijay is the standby opener in any case, and although I even considered including Abhinav Mukund (who happens to be Srikanth Mangalam’s personal favourite 🙂 ), I decided to go with the tried and trusted Jaffer. He has shown good form in domestic cricket and brings in the experience that the team lacks. Pujara, the domestic cricket run machine makes it to No. 3. Badrinath slots in at No. 4, while Raina and Sharma take up the next two spots.

Dinesh Karthik dons the gloves as well as the captaincy. In a team of newcomers, the choice of captaincy was only between Jaffer and Karthik –one led Mumbai to their Ranji Trophy last year and the other led TN to the ODI title. In the end I picked Karthik.

As far as the bowlers are concerned Ishant Sharma and Mishra were slotted in easily. My decision to pick Jadeja as the second spinner may raise a few eyebrows, but he did take 42 wickets last season, bats very well and shows a lot of promise. The second seamer option was a tough one – the names of RP Singh, Bose and Nehra popped up, as did newcomers like Tyagi, but in the end I went with Munaf.

So, are the players in my Alternate XI contracted? It appears so. Would this bunch of players win any matches? Probably not straight away – but it does show promise, I think.  Remember it doesn’t have the eight automatic selections for all tests – Gambhir, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. Scary thought playing without any of them…

It was fun making up the list, though 🙂

And you can start flaming me now 🙂 …or better still, show me your XI.

-Mahesh-