Monthly Archives: March 2011

My problem is not with Navjot Sidhu…

For some time now I have been quite substantially irritated by Navjot Singh Sidhu’s cricket ‘commentary’ on TV.

He does appear in non-cricket TV shows too. Whenever he guffaws his way to silliness in the many reality TV comedy shows that he appears in as judge — and he does — I do not reach a heightened state of paroxysm. I just switch to another channel. I do. I have a choice.

I do not have the luxury of such a choice with my cricket viewing. And for that, I do not blame Navjot Sidhu. I lay the blame squarely on the broadcaster, ESPN-Star Sports.

Avirook Sen wrote a brilliant piece in DNA on Navjot Sidhu’s ‘commentary’. I do not intend repeating what he has articulated exceedingly well. I wish to comment, instead, on the broadcaster’s responsibilities in thrusting Navjot Sidhu down my throat.

My cricket viewing commences with the pre-match analysis, the pitch report, expert’s views on team composition, the toss, the respective team captains’ reading of the pitch and their comments on team composition. My viewing experience then moves through the game and into the mid-point review of the game situation and ends with the end-game analysis. In the above, I am talking of cricket’s ODI and T20 formats — topical now because of the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. I suspect there are many like me in India that suffer the need to be continually engaged with the game. It is also quite likely that not every cricket fan is like me and that I am in a substantial minority.

When I watch the game, I need the match commentary. I cannot watch a match with Kishore Kumar, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Lata Mangeshkar, A. R. Rahman or Pink Floyd singing in the background. I know I am at fault here. To me, watching a cricket match on TV is akin to a religious experience. I have to have the frills, the bells and the whistles that adorn a match. It is, to me, almost as important as the match itself. I cannot hit the mute button on my TV. I need the crowd noise. I need the commentary. I also need the commentary that tells me the things that I cannot see; that opens my eyes to that which is not obvious; that explores possibilities through anecdotes and personal experiences of the commentators. I need additional insights that can be derived from listening to perspectives from experts who have either played the game or who understand the game differently, if not better, than me.

Over the years, this need in me has been appropriately satiated by radio and TV commentators who have made cricket the game it is for me. I have listened to Henry Blofeld, Brian Johnston, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Alan McGilvray, Geoffrey Boycott, Richie Benaud, Tony Cozier, Ian Chappell, David Gower… and more recently, Nasser Hussain, Mike Atherton, Kerry O’Keefe, Geoff Lawson, et al.

I am now pained, grated, numbed and tortured by Navjot Sidhu.

Is Navjot Singh Sidhu the best that India can produce in terms of commentary?

I do not wish to explore and expose Navjot Sidhu’s limitations — and I can fill many pages writing just about his limitations. He has many! To ridicule these limitations in a medium like this would be inappropriate. I am confident that he has a constituency which loves his studio clowning. It is likely, too, that he has an incredibly astute marketing brain. He may have struck a personal brand formula — a USP — whereby he only allows himself to operate in that branding space which a few (perhaps even many) of his constituents find attractive. If that is the case, more power to him.

So, the aim of my post is not to expose Navjot Sidhu’s limitations or to question why he has developed in the way he has, so as to please his fans and constituents.

Having said that, I wish someone would tell him that it is not necessary to start every sentence of his with “Goodness Gracious Me” or “Good Lord”! Further, I wish his producers will request him to stop using phrases like “my friend” or “you knowwwweee” in every sentence. I either know or I do not know. If he is not stating the obvious, it is likely that I might not “knowwwweee”! The alternative, of course, is that I already “knowwwweee”. In which case, he states nothing more than the obvious!

And therein lies my main problem with Navjot Sidhu. The man appears incapable of rising above the obvious. If he is capable, I must grant that he is incredibly intelligent at masking and hiding his own intelligence from us. And because he is only able to state the obvious, it is likely that he masks the resulting shallowness by doing two things incredibly well: (a) he shuts up everyone by shouting over every thing that breathes in the studio, and (b) he peels off an unrelated string of hackneyed banalities that the world refers to as “Sidhuisms”!

Instead of composing his thoughts and addressing questions in a considered manner, he launches immediately into answers (even if the question is not directed at him), that draw on trite nothingness. In a match involving Sri Lanka, he launched into an analysis on a bowler and mid-way through the sentence, forgot which bowler he was talking about! He clicked his fingers and asked everyone in the studio, “What’s his name… Karuppusekara?”, and had to be told, “No. Kulasekara” by the enormously patient, gentle and sedulous anchor!

A direct contrast to Navjot Sidhu is the surprisingly calm, informative and erudite Sourav Ganguly. Yes, he might be boring in the studio. He may not send the TRPs soaring. He may not get the heartbeats thumping. But he is a studious man. He has studied the game and enters the studio like a diligent kid might, an exam! He knows what he has to talk about and prepares meticulously for it. When he entered the studio prior to the India v West Indies game, he must have known that he would have to talk about R. Ashwin. He had done his homework. He knew that R. Ashwin bowled well and grabbed a 5-wicket haul at Chennai in the Ranji Trophy match in November 2010 between Delhi and TN. He does his homework and comes across as a zealous professional who is quietly forthright. He speaks calmly and adds to our collective body of knowledge.

When Sourav Ganguly said what he did about Ashwin’s bowling, Sidhu immediately pounced on this nugget of information and bellowed, “My friend, you knowwwweee, this man sitting next to me was once referred to as the Prince of Kolkata, but now, my friend, you knowwwweee, he is the King of Kolkataaaaaaaaaah”! The resulting frown on Sourav Ganguly’s face was larger than the frowns he threw in the direction of opposition players who sledged him!

But as I said before, the aim of my piece is not to paint a picture of Sidhu’s limitations or the many ways in which he irritates me. Many of you might say that I have a choice. I can switch off or mute the commentary.

But that’s my problem! I cannot. And I do not have a choice of another channel that shows me my cricket in the way I wish to see it!

Enter, the broadcaster.

The broadcaster has a responsibility here. And that responsibility cannot be just to increase TRPs, for if that were the case, the broadcaster could fill the screen with obscene pictures of scantily clad men and women in the pre-game show; that might send TRPs soaring!

It is the broadcaster’s duty, I believe, to stamp their identity on a program. Just like Test Match Special, or ABC’s “Summer of Cricket”, or Channel-9’s “Wide World of Sports” — brands with a strong identity and commitment to their listeners/viewers — ESPN-Star Sports has a responsibility to build and develop a brand: preferably one that speaks quality.

If, however, their marketing indicates that thumping tables, studio shouting and “Sidhuisms” sell and that “mindless banter and vociferous raillery” is the brand that they wish to project, then that is fine too. The broadcaster should get a few more people in there that shout in a raucous and disorderly manner. They could throw in a few cleavages too. They would thereby announce to the die-hard cricket fan that s/he need not bother rocking up to the pre-match show! I can live with that.

Instead, they try and lure the cricket fan like me by having scholarly commentators like Harsha Bhogle, Ian Chappell, Dermott Reeve, Sourav Ganguly, Pat Symcox, Simon Hughes, Nasser Hussain in the studio. The broadcaster takes a bet both ways, drags me in and assaults me by thrusting on me a madman who leaps into my living room with a machete!

So, my problem is not really with Navjot Sidhu. He is what he is and he has become who he is!

My issue is with the broadcaster who lures me with the scholastics of Harsha Bhogle and Sourav Ganguly, only to leave me at the mercy of a lunatic who shouts and numbs my senses!

Hence I plead with the broadcaster: Please have two parallel programs. After all, you have several channels on which you can pipe parallel pre-show programs. Please have one for people like me who are boring and old and one more for the more interesting people of this world who need their testosterone levels (re)charged by a sword brandishing man who thumps tables and shouts!

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

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One match to go…

A week ago I wrote that there were more ‘positives’ emanating from India’s loss to South Africa in the Cricket World Cup 2011. One of these ‘positives’ related to India’s possible QF opponent. If India had finished top of Group-B, her opponent would have been Pakistan (according to my prediction then). I had attempted a prediction of the results of the remaining games and hence, a prediction of the QF line up too.

All of these were correct calls, I believe, apart from my prediction of last nights’ game between Pakistan and Australia. I should have listened to the heart and not my mind when I made that call. You never know with Pakistan. I should have stuck with the heart and predicted in favor of the mercurial unpredictability of Pakistan.

I did just that several weeks back when I had primed Pakistan and South Africa as the eventual finalists of WC2011. That early, risky and flame-worthy prediction is partially vindicated at the half-way stage of the World Cup because Pakistan and South Africa have topped their respective groups.

So why the change of heart/mind from Pakistan to Australia in last week’s result predictions?

The change of heart/mind was mainly because of Michael Hussey’s presence in the Australian team. Hussey lends stability to a middle order that is struggling with a weak Ricky Ponting an unsure Michael Clarke, a ‘lost’ Cameron White and an over-rated Steve Smith. Michael Hussey, who entered the squad as a result of Doug Bollinger’s departure, offered stability and sanity where there appeared to be neither.

That was the only reason I had changed my original prediction from Pakistan to Australia. However, even Hussey wasn’t able to prevent a Pakistan win in last night’s game.

I do believe that this Australian team needs a lot of re-work to be resurgent in world cricket. Change is necessary. And that change is right at the top. Ponting must morph himself or he must go.

Australia’s woes run deep at the moment. They could still win the World Cup from here. However, despite the proud and significant 34-match run of World Cup victories — interestingly, sandwiched by two losses to Pakistan in 1999 and 2011 — the chinks in Australia’s armory are worse than Ponting’s scowl might reveal. The scowl has now deepened into a semi-permanent fixture on his face.

Ponting is not just going through a rough patch. It is now a horrible patch. He is a proud man who protects his significant impact on the game with the fierceness of a terrier under attack. The now dreadful series of Ashes losses look terrible on his CV. He would like to redress that imbalance by visiting England again. And for that he must win the World Cup. He must know that only a World Cup win will protect his place in the Australian team. I doubt he will play under another captain — that is just not the Australian way.

Moreover, there was a time when Ponting appeared to be catching up on Sachin Tendulkar’s career aggregate, average and number of centuries — somewhat meaningless first-order measures of a batsman’s impact on the game. My sense is that Ponting worries a lot about things like that too. Over the last 18 months Sachin Tendulkar has hit a surreal patch of sublime resurgence. He has put daylight between himself and Ponting in these stats tables. I think that that daylight and the Ashes losses are weighing heavily on the mind of the Australian captain. He is just not playing like he can (or indeed, has).

A few months back, Ponting alluded to Sachin Tendulkar’s sublime form and indicated that he would draw inspiration from that resurgence. I personally think he has put too much pressure on himself. He is playing with less authority and composure these days than ever before. He reminds me of the unsure Ponting that suffered in India in 1998. And that lack of confidence reflects on his team.

Meanwhile, India has a somewhat important match coming up in a few hours’ time. I say “somewhat important” because the result doesn’t really matter as far as I am concerned. If India wins she will play Australia in the quarter finals (QF). If India loses, she will play Sri Lanka in the QF. Although I would have preferred India to meet New Zealand in the QF, she must either beat Sri Lanka or Australia in Ahmedabad to progress to the semi-final.

Either of these QF opponents will do. Both Sri Lanka and Australia are terrific teams — I say that, despite Australia’s batting woes. Sri Lanka suffers from the same woes, in my view. Apart from Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara, there is nothing much in the Sri Lankan batting. So as a result of todays’ match against West Indies, India will face either a strong bowling attack (Australia) or a slightly stronger bowling attack (Sri Lanka). In either scenario, India’s batsmen will have to do the job of scoring a large number of runs and put the opposition under pressure.

In today’s game, India needs to sort out her team balance and commit to it regardless of the result.

There are some doubts over Sehwag’s fitness. I cannot see how Ashwin can be left out. India has a 15-member team in which two players rule themselves out due to “confidence” problems. One player — Sreesanth — does not appear to have the team captain’s confidence and another player — Piyush Chawla — who, by his own captain’s admission, does not have self-confidence. So that automatically makes this a 13-member team with two players fighting to be drinks’ carriers!

Therefore, given Munaf Patel’s reasonable performance, through a process of elimination, the only choices that need to be made are which ones of (a) Suresh Raina or Yusuf Pathan, (b) R. Ashwin or Ashish Nehra. It appears that the current choice is for Suresh Raina and R. Ashwin. Interestingly, both play for Chennai Super Kings! Call it luck or the whatdoycallit-red-dot-on-forehead syndrome.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

More positives from India’s loss to RSA…

At the risk of getting my nose out of joint, let me state at the outset that I am quite glad India lost to South Africa. South Africa played exceedingly well over 60-overs of the match. However, they were aided commendably by India’s Bollywood-style “glamour” batting. The result was that Group-B becomes quite interesting — if it wasn’t enticingly poised already!

For the first 40 overs of the game, it appeared as though the only question worth considering was the margin of India’s victory. Then the wheels started falling off the India innings. India lost 9 wickets in 29 runs. After being 267 for 1 wicket after 39.3 overs, in the end, India did not even bat out the full quota of 50 overs! Moreover, India captain Dhoni — probably one of the best finishers in the World ODI scene — was left not out on 12 off 21 balls! It was more than mayhem. It was daylight thuggery. India had fallen some 40 runs short of what would have been a competitive total. More importantly, India fell about 70 runs short of what I thought the team would make — at the 30-over mark, India was 197 for 1!

South Africa needed 297 to win. Although India bowled and fielded well, the total was never going to be enough.

Much of the post-match commentary and analysis in India has focussed on whether Yusuf Pathan ought to have been promoted; whether Gautam Gambhir ought to be in the team; whether Harbhajan Singh ought to have bowled the last over instead of Ashish Nehra; why Ashwin is not in the team… yada yada yada.

Some unkind reports have said that South Africa did not win the game — that India lost it. That is not only blind, but rude at the same time! The South African’s played really well. They pulled it back from over-40 and then batted sensibly.

In general though, the papers have got stuck into MS Dhoni.

As for me, I am very happy India lost the game. For me, there are more positives than negatives from India’s loss last night.

Three reasons really:

  • Final Group Standings: If India had won, India would have, in all likelihood, topped Group-B (barring a disaster against West Indies). If India had topped Group-B, the team would have, in all likelihood, faced Pakistan. Australia and Pakistan (despite recent results and despite the baffling and continued presence of Kamran Akmal in the team) are the only two teams that I believe Team India fears in Group-A. My sense and prediction is that Australia will top Group-A and Pakistan will come in at #4 in Group-A. So, as long as India finish either 2 or 3 in Group-B India will be fine. India will do well against New Zealand or Sri Lanka, in my view.
  • Team Balance: I think India team management — what is a “think tank” anyway? I just abhor that phrase and refuse to use it — needed a kick up its stubborn backside. The team balance is wrong and the current “imbalance” compromises and exposes her bowling terribly.
  • Batting approach: The team’s approach to batting — especially in the batting Power Play — is totally wrong and that exposes the rest of the batting. India does not play the power overs well — not because India cannot. The approach needs a re-think that is not really too hard. Especially from a team that wants to “win it for Sachin”, a more considered approach was required in a game in which the Master had scored 111! This was no way to “win it” for anyone! So, I was happy with this kick being delivered in a match that India could afford to lose.

Each of the above factors deserve a bit more of an analysis and that is precisely what I shall attempt below…

Final Group Standings:

At the time of writing this, New Zealand has beaten Canada. In Group-A, the remaining games (along with my prediction of the winner of the game in parenthesis) are:

  • Australia v Kenya (Australia)
  • Pakistan v Zimbabwe (Pakistan)
  • Australia v Canada (Australia)
  • New Zealand v Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka)
  • Australia v Pakistan (Australia)
  • Kenya v Zimbabwe (care factor?)

So I expect the final Group-A standings to be: Australia (11), Sri Lanka (9), New Zealand (8), Pakistan (8) since I expect New Zealand to have a better NRR than Pakistan. The two “tricky” games to predict are Australia Vs Pakistan and NZ Vs SL. But I have gone with Australia and Sri Lanka winning these games, respectively.

In Group-B, the “Group of Death“, the remaining games and my predicted results for these are:

  • Bangladesh v Netherlands (Bangladesh)
  • Ireland v South Africa (South Africa)
  • England v West Indies (England)
  • Ireland v Netherlands (Ireland)
  • Bangladesh v South Africa (South Africa)
  • India v West Indies (India)

The results for this group are a bit harder to predict. For example, the England Vs Windies and the India Vs Windies results are hard to call. But I expect the results to be as above.

Either way, I do not expect Bangladesh to beat South Africa. So, I do not see a danger of India not qualifying even if she loses the game against West Indies next weekend. If India loses to West Indies (and Bangladesh loses to South Africa, as expected), it is likely that India might end 4th in the points table and meet Australia. Oh well. Them’s the breaks.

However, I expect the final Group-A standings to be: South Africa (10), India (9), England (7), West Indies (6) and Bangladesh (6), with West Indies qualifying because of superior run rate. Of course, any number of apple carts will be turned if West Indies beat England and if Bangladesh beat South Africa.

Let us assume that the final standings are as per my simulation above. In that case, India will play New Zealand. I reckon that this is an easier game than either Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. So, in a strange way, I am glad India lost to South Africa last night!

I am not saying that India cannot beat Pakistan or that India needs to “fear” Pakistan. The problem is that one can never be sure which Pakistan team turns up on the day! I would, therefore, much rather prefer India meeting Pakistan in the Finals, if both teams get that far!

Team Balance:

I am even happier India lost because the team’s balance and batting approach are horrible, in my view.

I just do not accept that a powerful batting line-up should (or can) mask poor bowling resources. This is an utter fallacy. If we take that proposition to its logical conclusion, why then would we not stack the team up with 11 batsmen or with 5 batsmen, a wicket-keeper and 5 “bits and pieces” players?

Any team has to be balanced and at the moment it is just not balaced. The closest the team got to achieving that bowling balance was in yesterdays’ game against South Africa! If only the Indians had scored 20-50 runs more (easily possible, in my view) the bowlers would have defended it. Of course, that is a speculative assertion and in this space, any assertion that you make to the contrary is as good as the assertion above! But the fact is that, with a more considered batting approach, India could have scored 330 runs. The fact is that a lopsided bowling attack was not able to defend 330 in Bangalore (and the Bangalore and Nagpur conditions/pitches were similar). Hence my hypothesis that with the additional bowler that India had in yesterdays’ game, with an additional cushion of 30 runs, the bowlers may/would have been able to defend such a total. The South Africa batsmen would have had to take far more risks and may have folded!

But really. All of these are speculative still. I would like to be a bit more considered and firm in my analysis and conclusion.

The team just cannot afford to go in with 2 pace bowlers, 2 spinners and leave that 5th bowling resource to Yuvraj Singh, Virat Kohli (or Suresh Raina) and Yusuf Pathan. The Indian spin bowlers do not bowl well in the bowling powerplay — although they did do the job in yesterdays’ game. If Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel get taken to the cleaners by Chris Gayle or Brendon McCullum, you have to have another pace bowler to fall back on. Moreover, I have generally observed that Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh bowl a more attacking line — even when they are attacked — if they know that the team has additional bowlers to depend on.

So I would like India to go in boldly with 3 pace bowlers and 2 spinners.

This inevitably means that one of Yusuf Pathan or Virat Kohli or Gautam Gambhir have to make way for a bowler.

I would rest Yusuf Pathan for the next game and bring in a spinner for the game against West Indies.

So in my view, the team for next Sunday’s game against West Indies (and for all other games after that) should be: Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj Singh, Dhoni, Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel

That certainly weakens the batting. But with all the top batsmen in good form — everyone in that top 6 has scored well recently — if we cannot do it with those 6, the 7th bat will be useless too, in my view.

So India has to bite the bullet and go with the above, more well-balanced team. I have only been saying this for the last 2 months or so! And I will continue to say it till someone listens to me!

And for my money Ashwin is a better bowler than Chawla because, apart from being very good at his craft, he is apparently mentally stronger too!

Batting approach:

There is no point in blaming Ashish Nehra for the last over debacle. There is no evidence to suggest that Harbhajan Singh would have done a better job. One has to trust the instincts of the leader in the middle. However, with just 14 runs to get in the last over, that becomes a 50-50 situation whoever the bowler is. So discussion on who ought to have bowled the last over is simply quite futile. The captain made a decision based on his knowledge of the game, the opposition players out in the middle, his knowledge of his bowlers’ strengths and the game situation. He made a decision. It did not work. If it had worked, we would have hailed him as a genius! Chances are that it might have worked!

Nehra might learn from this that the yorker has not yet been banned from the game, yet! Generally, it is a good ball to bowl in the last over. Bowling it “just slightly back of a length” is not a smart idea when there are only 14 runs to get; when the batsmen are looking to smash it to mid-wicket! If his confusion persists all he needs to do is see that ball Dale Steyn bowled to Harbhajan Singh!

Ditto, Dhoni’s decision to promote Yusuf Pathan. He made a call. It did not work. What Pathan might learn from his sad outing is that he does not have to go for “glamour shots” off each ball. As far as I know, the “defensive stroke for a single” has not been banned from the game, yet!

But (I feel a Sidhu moment descending on me) one cannot drive forward by looking continually at the rear-view mirror! We do need to move on, really…

The main learning for the Indian batsmen is that they continued to go for “glamour shots” (in the words of Sunil Gavaskar). After being 267-1 in the 40th over, it was nothing short of professional negligence to fold from that point on for a mere 29 runs! In Dhoni’s words, the batsmen “don’t need to play for the spectators – they love sixes and fours in India but at the end of the day….,”.

In my book, a spot-on assessment by a smart captain. Was he right to call it that way? I think so. Tendulkar, Gambhir, Pathan, Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan all went for “Bollywood” shots to please the crowd and the assembled Bollywood stars! Sometimes, it is useful to be boring. Dhoni was being boring. The game had changed in front of his eyes. He had to set aside his ego and machismo to pull things back. Sadly, several other Indian batsmen could not see past the end of their noses to realize that there was a world out there (Oh dear! Have I been listening to Sidhu far too much?).

Conclusion:

So in conclusion, I think there are silver linings all around. India will not top Group-B, and that is good. The team management will look hard at team balance and the inclusion of an extra bowler, and that is good. The batsmen will have learned from the game and will, I believe, try less to be “winners on their own”, and that can only be good.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Does the team need a “mentally weak” player?

I am either quite unhappy with MS Dhoni or in sheer awe of him, and I am not able to decide which of the two states I ought to be in! Indeed, I don’t believe I know which of these two states I am in! For the first time since Dhoni took over the captaincy role, I accept unabashedly that I am utterly and totally confused.

I have a lot of time and a lot of respect for MS Dhoni. He is cool, calm and collected. He seems to have plenty of time on his hands and rarely gets ruffled, even when adversity stares at him. He gets the best out of his players. He is a “straight talk” captain who gets the best out of his “seniors” as well as “juniors” in the team.

Dhoni took on the captaincy mantle after Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble had built the foundation on which this current teams’ edifice stands. Dhoni has stood on these impressive shoulders and crafted his own style of leadership; one that makes him, in my view, the best captain India has ever had.

In his captaincy, Dhoni calmly and easily demonstrates the flair and the “one of the boys” style of leadership of Sourav Ganguly. Dhoni will always be one of the boys. He will never appear or be aloof. Like Ganguly, he will back his players who are “down”. In an early selection meeting he is reported to have said that if his voice/needs will not be heard at selection meetings, he may as well not turn up! He backs his players in the manner of Ganguly.

He also possesses the steel of Rahul Dravid that requires you to be calm in the face of extreme pressure. Dravid has that inner calm as a batsman that comes from both ability as well self-confidence. It also comes from him relishing a fight. These qualities earned him the moniker, “The Wall”. He brought a “no emotion” steel to the captaincy; a steely resolve that made him declare the India innings close when Sachin Tendulkar was on 194; a dogged resolve that made India not go for a win in The Oval because a 1-0 win in England was more coveted! His was a “no emotion” captaincy that drew mainly on his own inner confidence. Dhoni has that too. He is supremely confident of himself. This makes him burn any anxieties inside him. He rarely yells, stomps, glares and huffs on the field — and believe me, this team that he leads gives him plenty of opportunity to do all of that, and more!

Dhoni also possesses the upright earnestness of Kumble, who brought a certain dignity to the Team India captaincy. Kumble, by sheer dint of his dedication, resolve, commitment, professionalism and contribution was unblemished. He had no dark spot on his resume. He expected the same level of pre-game preparation and commitment from his team and got it too. Dhoni has that quality too. He circles away from controversy and seems to have an instinctive feel for the right things to do and the right places to be at. More importantly, he seems to have an instinctive feel for the things he must avoid! He does his thing and he does it well. In a country where the press continually bay for blood, Kumble would have nothing of it because he led a lifestyle away from the night-lights and trance music. For Dhoni to stay away from the trash talk columns while demonstrating a liking for the high-life is indeed quite commendable. He is able to do it because, in my view, he has that Kumble-like quality for dedication, commitment and professionalism to his task on hand. He takes his profession, his art and his talent extremely seriously.

So I do like him as a captain of Team India. If Ganguly, Dravid and Kumble laid the various foundation stones for India’s ascent to the terrace — along with the architects in John Wright and Gary Kirsten — Dhoni is the one that has actually taken the team closer to the terrace.

Regardless of the outcome of this World Cup, I think he will be one of India’s best captains ever — in my book.

So, why am I either unhappy or in awe of MS Dhoni? Why am I confused?

The reason is not Piyush Chawla, but Dhoni’s reason for Chawla’s inclusion in the match against The Netherlands.

Dhoni says, “We are still supposed to give Ashwin a chance, he deserves a place, so he will feature in one of the teams [that will play in the group stages].”

No. The team does not owe any player anything. The team is not supposed to give anyone any chances! The team contains the elite; the best in India. Hence, it is not a socialist republic where everyone “deserves a chance”. But let me give Dhoni some rope and assume that he said, “We will give Ashwin a game, he deserves a place…”

That is still fine by me, especially since he also said in the same press meet, “basically you have to see which was the player that needed this game most, rather than the team needing the player. I felt it was Piyush, who needed this game much more than Ashwin.”

This is sound logic, in my view. Ashwin did not need this game to get game-ready. Piyush Chawla needed the game. So it makes sense that this experiment is carried out in a low-stakes game, earlier in the tournament.

Therefore, even though I have continually mocked the “Ashwin is on the bench today because he is mentally strong” line of thinking by MS Dhoni on Twitter (@mohank) I actually accept that line of thinking.

If all we want is to strengthen the “currently mentally weak” by giving them an opportunity in Team India colors, several people (ranging from Suresh Kalmadi to Kamran Akmal) would be queuing up for a gig! Ok. I am being facetious, but that’s all I can be in my current “mentally not so strong state”!

More seriously though, I accept the principle that a mentally strong person can warm the bench while we strengthen a person who is mentally weak currently.

However, that acceptance is strongly based on the condition that the team actually needs the player who is in the current “mentally weak state“!

I had no problems with the team giving extended opportunities to Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and Gautam Gambhir in their “mentally or physically weak” states — both initially (in the times of Ganguly) and more recently. These players have that something in them that inspires confidence; confidence that they will surmount their current problems and reach that higher state of preparedness. They have won matches for India on their own. They have demonstrated talent, ability, guts, determination, resolve and fight. And when they go through dips in form or confidence, the team has to carry them along. So I have no problems with the team “carrying” a few players who appear to be in a mentally weak state currently.

Mainly because there is strong evidence to suggest that (a) that mentally strong state exists for the player under question, and (b) when that player reaches that mentally strong state, he becomes a match winner!

The above conditions — (a) and (b) — are strong prerequisites for “carrying” a mentally weak player in my view. So I think I am being fair, as a fan, to apply these tests on Piyush Chawla before I see whether the team needs to “carry” him.

I believe I am being more than fair when I see that these tests are being applied to a player who upsets the current team balance maximally. So, in my book, there is a third condition that a mentally weak player has to satisfy: (c) The “mentally weak” player who is being “carried” cannot destroy team balance.

In other words, I believe that while it is fine for this current Team India to carry a “mentally weak” batsman who exhibits conditions (a) and (b) above, it borders on professional negligence for the team management to carry a “mentally weak” bowler who does not exhibit conditions (a) and (b) above. This is because the current team is, in my view, imbalanced as a result of her weak bowling attack.

So, even though we have (c) being demonstrated through Chawla’s inclusion at the cost of Ashwin, I would be happy to ignore that constraint as long as (a) and (b) are satisfied. In other words, while I do not mind Chawla’s mind being sharpened and strengthened during the course of an important competition, the question I would like to ask is whether there is much use of such strengthening and sharpening.

I do not see Chawla emerging as a mentally strong player. I am not convinced that that state exists for Chawla. And even if it does (that is, even if condition (a) is satisfied) I am an not sure whether Chawla will become a match-winner in the Zaheer Khan or Suresh Raina or Yuvraj Singh mould! So the question I ask is “why bother” especially when you have an admittedly mentally strong and match ready player on the bench?

Hence my current confusion.

And yes, for the first time since he took over the mantle of captaincy, I am quite unhappy with MS Dhoni. However, as I said in my opening, it is likely that his continued confidence in Chawla will infuse me with awe at his amazing foresight! He must see in Chawla something that I do not (or refuse to) see. Given this, I accept that I am utterly confused.

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

The World Cup Blahs!

I watch this world cup unfold and cannot but ignore the strange things happening on and off the field. Mohan’s tweets (Mohan, I am not sure I have become savvy enough to link your tweets on this blog, so I will let you figure it out!) have wonderfully captured the humor around the various situations that have occurred during the tournament. It will be worth getting a compilation of his tweets and possibly auctioning them off for a good cause. An introductory training course on wicketkeeping for Kamran Akmal, perhaps!! Anyway, I have attempted in my mediocre way of compiling some of my thoughtless observations. Here goes..

The one on top of the list is the Indian team composition. I suggest hiring a highly qualified investigator/analyst to try and figure out the strategy of selecting the final x1. It may be worthwhile hiring a linguistic expert to try and figure out what comes out of Dhoni’s mouth when he is asked to explain the strategy. It seems that the best position to be in for a good player is not in the playing X1. If you have had disturbed childhood, suicidal tendencies, parental abuse, girlfriend problems, weight issues, or any such factors that have made you visit a psychiatrist weekly, you are guaranteed to play in the final X1.

A close second is the team composition of the Pakistani team. Even betting as a strategy may not succeed. I mean, imagine, somebody trying to bet on Kamran Akmal dropping a catch! Abdul Razzaq reminds me of Ravindra Jadeja in the recent times or Ajay Jadeja of the past. More than likely, he is going to score when Pakistan is destined to lose. I have lost track of their batting lineup. Is Saeed Anwar still in the side? If not, maybe he should!!! I thought Younis Khan was a safe catcher. Or was it Mohammed Yusuf?  Irregardless, Pakistan is able to creep into the next stage of every world cup with any lineup that they gather!!! So much for strategy…

If any Pakistani fails to make it to the lineup, he has two choices. He should talk to the News of the World, or better, immigrate to South Africa. That way, they can atleast attempt to spin a web around others’ throats and avoid choking themselves. The one thing that I am certain about, South Africa will not win this world cup, possibly not the next or the one after…. The most effectiveness sledge word on the field would be “choke” when they play. South Africa  in a world cup remind me of Ivan Lendl at Wimbledon. They will successfully retain the “choke” title and Lance Klusener will be there to comment on it!

Ravi Bopara scores and is rewarded by being dumped for Collingwood. Collingwood has more or less “limited” his options to T20 will his limited perfomances. Pietersen gets hernia and Bopara’s hopes are raised only to be dashed by the arrival of Eoin Morgan. If Bopara does not play any more games, he might as well consider using the race card!!! Or consider immigrating to South Africa. They are open for business!!

Doug Bollinger decides to train to handle harsh Chennai weathers in April and gets replaced by Michael Hussey. Hussey has apparently developed an unplayable inswinging yorker in the last month or so!!! For someone who was dropped, insulted, and abandoned, the Aussies seem to be placing all their World Cup hopes on Hussey. I guess he bats, fields, and apparently bowls better than anyone else on the team. And he is also mentally stronger!!! R. Ashwin, you might want to consider immigrating to Australia!!

If I have advocated India to playing only three frontline bowlers (if Piyush Chawla is good enough, they might as well replace him with Suresh Raina and it wouldn’t make a difference!!), the Sri Lankans may simply leave the bowling responsibilities with Malinga and Muralitharan. That way they can bat all the way till no:10, and they might need that…. If Malinga gets injured, there is a probabilistic chance that the game may get rained out. That way, they at least gain a point!

On a serious note, I am actually intrigued by the West Indies team. I haven’t seen this lineup much but am looking forward to watching the likes of Darren Bravo, Kemar Roach, and Suleiman Benn against the Indians even if it comes at the cost of tolerating the old guard, Chanderpaul and Sarwan…

If there are other teams playing in the World Cup, nobody told me about it!!!

– Srikanth

Who is India going to face in the quarters?

At the end of the group stage, India will either finish #1  (based on my predictions) or #2, if SA beat India. This means that India will play either the #3 or #4 team from Group A.

So, Indian fans will be eagerly looking to see who will end up in these two spots. Here are the remaining matches in Group A:

  • Australia face 2 weak teams and Pakistan.
  • Pakistan face 1 weak team and Australia
  • NZ face 1 weak team and SL
  • SL face 1 weak team and NZ

…and their current points stand as follows

NZ 6
Pakistan 6
SL 5
Australia 5

Effectively, it is down to two games deciding what the final standings are going to be: NZ vs SL and Pakistan vs Australia.

My prediction is that SL will beat NZ, and Australia will beat Pakistan. Which could mean that India either face NZ or Pakistan…

What are your predictions?

-Mahesh-

Random Thoughts – 8th March

Get Ashwin in

For the game against Netherlands, India needs to bring Ashwin into the team. Ashwin can open the bowling with Zaheer allowing us to get Munaf to bowl one drop. And this has the added bonus of dropping Chawla from the team. Talk about hitting 2 pigs with one bird.

The only thing is that Dhoni needs to be convinced that it is OK to play three off spinners in one team. I think finger spinners are better than conventional wrist spinners while playing in the sub-continent anyway (For the record, I don’t consider Kumble or Afridi to be conventional wrist spinners)

Ladder standings – Group B

Who is going to finish at the top of the table in Group B? I’ve downgraded my outlook for South Africa after their game against England. If they win against India, then they could end being at the top of the table with just one loss (I think they can beat both Ireland and Bangladesh). India on the other hand will beat Netherlands and West Indies, but the South Africa match will be a tough one.  So, my predictions for the remaining games in Group B are:

Wed Mar 9 25th Match, Group B – India v Netherlands
Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi
India
Fri Mar 11 27th Match, Group B – Ireland v West Indies
Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali, Chandigarh
WI
Fri Mar 11          28th Match, Group B – Bangladesh v England
Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, Chittagong
Eng
Sat Mar 12         
 
29th Match, Group B – India v South Africa
Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium, Jamtha, Nagpur
India
Mon Mar 14
 
32nd Match, Group B – Bangladesh v Netherlands
Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium, Chittagong
Bang
Tue Mar 15          34th Match, Group B – Ireland v South Africa
Eden Gardens, Kolkata
SA
Thu Mar 17          36th Match, Group B – England v West Indies
MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk, Chennai
Eng
Fri Mar 18 37th Match, Group B – Ireland v Netherlands
Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Ireland
Sat Mar 19 39th Match, Group B – Bangladesh v South Africa
Shere Bangla National Stadium, Mirpur
SA
Sun Mar 20          42nd Match, Group B – India v West Indies
MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk, Chennai
India

Based on these results, the standings would be as follows:

  • India (11 points)
  • England (9 points)
  • South Africa (8 points)
  • West Indies (6 points)

What about Group A, you ask? Care factor….

-Mahesh-