Category Archives: Australia

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast — Episode 2

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast (Episode 2), where Mahesh Krishnan Paddy Padmanabhan, Vish Krishnan and Mohan Krishnamoorthy talk about Kohli’s evolution, the England-India ODI series, Bangladesh cricket and a few other things that only 3-4 other fans care about.

The second episode of our once a fortnight cricket ramble. Have a listen…

Who’s more ‘clutch’? Tendulkar, Lara or Ponting?

By Ajit Bhaskar (@ajit_bhaskar)

Who is the most clutch among these three legends from our generation?

The Stage

Given the somewhat sensitive title of the post, I tried to think of a lot of emotional, heartfelt introductory content but I failed miserably. But it suffices to say that these three players are the best from our generation, particularly in the ODI format of the game. A couple of folks (Ian Chappell and Nasser Hussain) have opined on who’s the greatest among the three ‘modern greats’. Honestly, it is a tough ask to rate the three for each is excellent in his own ways.

I’m not here to ‘rate’ which one of them is the best among the three. What I’m going to address, is each batsman’s ability to perform in the clutch, which is one of the measures of a player’s greatness. After all, such performances tend to ‘define a player’s legacy’!

I am going to compare (statistically), the performance of these three players under ‘clutch’ situations.

Also, it makes some sense to compare these three players in particular because:

  • They have played in the same era.
  • They are all top order batsmen and have spent a vast majority of their careers batting in 1-4 spots in the batting order.

Ground Rules/Assumptions

  • I’m going to restrict this conversation to ODIs alone.
  • Clutch’ is defined as chasing a target. I will try to make things more granular as I proceed further.
  • Only India, Australia, West Indies, Pakistan, New Zealand, England and South Africa have been considered for this analysis. Sorry Zimbabwe, Bangladesh et al.
  • Only run chases are considered.
  • The pronouns HE and HIS used in generic sentences encompass BOTH male and female human beings. Do not hassle me with ‘sexist’ and other epithets.

A brief note on ‘clutch’

Various images flash across our minds the instant we hear the word clutch. Like Michael Jordan’s buzzer beating “The Shot” against Cleveland (followed by Jordan jumping in the air and then throwing his elbows exactly three times after planting his feet on the ground), Javed Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma (I hate Nataraj pencils just for that) and so on. As far as ODIs are concerned, a clutch situation typically involves chasing a target. The pressure that is associated with chasing a target, particularly when two good, competitive teams are playing makes for good drama and excellent cricket. The players who shine repeatedly and consistently under such circumstances become legends of the game.

The reason for emphasis on run chase will become clearer during the course of this article.

The Statistics

These are obtained from Cricinfo directly after applying a filter for ‘fielding first’.

Key observations:

  • They’ve been involved in enough run chases to qualify for statistical analysis
  • Lara has scored nearly half his runs chasing targets!
  • The ‘chasing average’ of all three players is pretty close to their career averages. This suggests that the pressure associated with a run chase doesn’t influence their performance significantly. In fact, Lara (on an average), scores 3 more runs during chasing.
  • All players show the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome, i.e. elevated averages when their teams win during a run chase and reduced averages when their teams lose while chasing a target.
  • It’s the extent of this syndrome exhibited by the three players that is quite intriguing.
  • If we define Differential Chasing Average or D = Chasing Average during Wins – Chasing Average during Losses, it represents the degree of discrepancy in individual performance while a team goes on to win or lose. In principle, a ‘legendary’ player is expected to play the same way and produce at a high level regardless of the outcome of the game and the performance of other players on the team. So lower the D value, greater the degree of consistency of a player during run chases.
  • The D values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 19.53, 40.11 and 39 respectively.
  • Let’s pause and ponder over this for a moment. Taking Lara as example, when WI chases a total successfully, he tends to score FORTY MORE RUNS than when WI fails to chase a target. While an average of ~68 runs is fantastic during successful a run chase, that also indicates a lot of variation in performance. In other words, consistency is lacking. The same is true of Ponting (Differential = 39). However, the key difference between Lara and Ponting is that when their teams lose while chasing a target, Lara still manages to score a decent 27.5 runs, Ponting manages only 19 runs.
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, shows the least variation (D = 19.53). In fact, the variation is half of Lara’s and Ponting’s. This indicates more consistent performance during run chases.
  • Lara has the best Chasing Average in Wins by a distance. He scores nearly 10 more runs than Ponting and 16 more runs than Tendulkar during successful run chases.
  • Tendulkar has the best Chasing Average in Losses. It’s is about 13 runs or 67% greater than Ponting’s. He also scores 4 more runs than Lara during unsuccessful rn chases.
 Figure 1. Graphical representation of performance of Sachin Tendulkar (SRT, blue), Brian Lara (BL, Red) and Ricky Ponting (RP, green) during run chases.

 

Cranking up the pressure to ‘ultimate clutch’

While the analysis so far has provided an indication of the extent of consistency of these players, it hasn’t truly separated them as to who is the best among the three. So I’ll up the ante a little bit and crank up the pressure.

I’d like to evaluate these players’ performances under extreme pressure.  In many cases, teams are chasing fairly small targets of 100 or 150. While the task is still challenging, it is not as daunting as chasing a larger target. Say 250.

How do these players fare when chasing targets of 250 or above? The reason for choosing 250 becomes clearer when we take a look at how teams fare when they chase such targets.

Data Acquisition

  • Get the ODI inning by inning list for Tendulkar on cricinfo.
  • Set a filter for ‘fielding first’.
  • Open every single match/scorecard and choose only those where targets of 250 or above were chased.
  • Note the runs scored in each inning under two columns based on whether his team won or lost.
  • Calculate various parameters (Average, average during wins and losses etc.)
  • Not outs are considered as outs for calculating averages
  • Repeat the process for Lara and Ponting. Note that in Ponting’s case, a tied match is included for calculating chasing average.

Here’s how the three batsmen fare:

Key observations:

  • There is a LOT of collective failure! Just take a look at the W-L records. With these legends representing India, West Indies and Australia respectively, they have won ~30, 25 and 40% of their matches while chasing 250+ targets. The collective success rate is just 31%!
  • So, if anybody tells you chasing 250+ is an easy task, just show him this table. Even the ‘invincible Aussies’, who have boasted some of the game’s premier batsmen, bowlers and perhaps some the most balanced sides ever, have failed to win even half the games while chasing 250 or above!
  • Tendulkar’s average while chasing 250+ targets (39.9) is virtually same as his regular chasing average of 40.03. This is remarkable consistency. Lara and Ponting on the other hand, tend to score nearly 5 and 3 runs lower than their regular chasing averages respective, when chasing 250+ targets.
  • Tendulkar also averages the most during 250+ chases. While Tendulkar and Lara are separated by one run, Tendulkar scores nearly 3 more runs than Ponting.
  • The differential (D) values for Tendulkar, Lara and Ponting are 10.3, 34.2 and 46.6 respectively.
  • Let me emphasize a bit more on the D values. Regardless of W or L, you can expect consistent performance from Tendulkar. Lara and Ponting, on the other hand, tend to play extremely well when their respective teams are winning, but tend to score poorly when their sides are on the losing side. This is particularly true of Ponting, whose average of 18.5 when the Aussies lose chasing targets 250 (probability is 26 out of 44 games or 59%) or above is quite frankly, poor!
  • WI has lost 39 out of 52 games while chasing 250+. But even under these circumstances, Lara pretty much assures you 30 runs (chasing avg. during losses).
  • Tendulkar, on the other hand, gets you 7 more runs than Lara and nearly 18 more runs than Ponting on days when your team is not doing a good job at chasing. This is a very significant difference in my opinion, given the fact that India and WI do not end up on the winning side often while chasing 250+ targets.
  • But when their teams win, Lara and Ponting fire and fare much better than Tendulkar. This is clear from their chasing averages during wins.

Figure 2. Graphical representation of performance during 250+ run chases for Tendulkar (blue), Lara (red) and Ponting (green).

Bottom Line

The bottom line is, no matter how high the pressure is, whether the game is being played on earth or elsewhere, no matter what kind of target the team is chasing, Tendulkar provides the most steady, consistent performance. Lara is a gambling man’s pick, while Ponting is (compared to Tendulkar and Lara) more of a hit or miss case. If snoring is a problem, you may need ZQuiet.

To me, this analysis puts Tendulkar and Lara a cut above Ponting. Particularly because Ponting has enjoyed the benefit of better overall teams than Lara and Tendulkar have enjoyed over their careers. But more importantly, the averages of 18.95 during unsuccessful run chases and 18.5 during unsuccessful run chases involving 250+ targets is something I wouldn’t call ‘stuff of legends’.

In a nutshell, if I were to pick one of these three legends to help chase my team a target of 250 or above, which in my book, is a clutch situation given the rate of failure involved, I’d flip a coin. Heads – Tendulkar, Tails – Lara.

Sorry Ponting, you just don’t make the cut on my list. Certainly not in ODIs.

Last Chance Saloon

[by Sunny Mishra (@sehwagology) and Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)]

The promotions for the forthcoming full tour to Australia by India have been on in full force on TV in India. These promos are a source of some mirth and a lot of unintended comedy. We have had former cricket stars hyping the event as “Thunder Downunder”. Shane Watson has the unenviable task of lecturing us on meteorology and climate adadptation. Through these promos, we are reliably informed that, while it is winter in India it is summer in Australia. Saurav Ganguly talks up the series as the ‘battle of the chirp’, referring to the mental fortitude that is required for teams to tour Australia. Bollywood stars have got in on the act. The tour has been called the “Agneepath” (“Path of Fire”) Series. It helps that a movie by the same name is due for release shortly!

Product placement meets TV meets cricket.

An India v Australia match-up has not, in the past, required any additional marketing. Fans of both countries relish the contest. The Border-Gavaskar series had the potential to be billed as The Ashes of the new millennium until Australia lost its sheen. Nevertheless, since the 2001 epic in Kolkata, Boarder-Gavaskar Trophy clashes between Australia and India have marketed and sold themselves. And if interest in the BG Series flagged at any point in time, that Test in Sydney in 2008 ensured that Australia-India Tests would always retain an interest around the world of cricket.

The Border-Gavaskar Series was an opportunity for the most powerful team of our generation to meet the most powerful team of our generation. It presented an opportunity for the strongest team to meet the richest team; an opportunity for the most talkative team to meet a team that was finding its voice (at times, even a provocative rude voice). Every series saw drama, emotion, guts, glory, evictions, fights, breakdowns, fight-backs, back-stabbing, court-room trials and more. This was Survivor meets Big Brother meets TV meets cricket. Always! So, the additional chest-thumping marketing promos have been somewhat strange and mostly unnecessary.

However, India did lose to England in the 2011 English summer. Badly! Most Team India fans have worked hard to try and banish the horribly painful memory of that loss deep into the recesses of their minds. England in 2011? India went there to play? Play cricket? No way!

Subsequent to that series against England, India has made a few small but significant changes in personnel, although the approach has not been changed substantially. India beat England in an ODI series and then beat a hapless West Indies. But both of these series were at home. In India. In familiar conditions. So, it is hard for us to gauge the impact of the reorganization and the restructuring that was necessitated by the horrible English summer.

Moreover, the injuries that plagued Team India in the horrible summer tour of England persist. These have not vanished. India has had to identify, groom and prepare new resources. Quickly.

Meanwhile, Australia is caught in a funny place. We cannot be sure whether they are in consolidation phase or rebuilding phase or start-up phase! That is how unsure the Australian cricket team is looking these days. The cocky sheen has been replaced by an immature diffidence. Australia present an image of a child eager to — and, at times, able to — peddle fast on a bicycle when it can’t remember if it has taken its first baby steps in life. It looks like a team what needs a “re” prefix to describe the process of transformation that it is undergoing, without being sure if it is resurgent, rebuilding, regrowth, regeneration or revival.

After the terrible Ashes loss at home at the hands of England (again!), Australia went about the rebuild that was required in a typically Australian manner. The result was the Argus review. A public enquiry was conducted. All stakeholders were contacted and interviewed. A tome was written.

This series provides an opportunity to assess the status of the sweeping changes brought in by the Argus review. Australia has new selectors, a new coach, a new coaching system, a relatively new captain, and a new T20 league. All of these were intended to arrest the reversals over the last couple of summers. All of these will be under scrutiny. The challenge will be to show demonstrable improvements, and fast.

The first few attempts at regeneration have been very mixed. A good session is immediately followed by a bad session. In the past few months the team has demonstrated excellence and weakness, strength and vulnerability, solidity and inconsistency, toughness and fragility — all in equal measure.

All of this has turned the pre-series Australian Press ritual on its head.

What we normally have every (Australian) summer is the Australian press attacking the visiting opposition captain and key players in a remarkably organised pack-mentality. This ritual would often commence a few weeks before the first ball is bowled. The opposing team would be made to feel the heat and the pressure before the first toss. A siege-mentality would often grip visiting teams even before the actual cricket commences.

However, this time around, the Australian press is internally focused — almost entirely. Should Ricky Ponting retire? Should Usman Khawaja play? And if so, at what position? What happens to Phil Hughes now? Why are there so many injuries to key players like Mitchell Johnson, Shane Watson, Shaun Marsh, Pat Cummins, Ryan Harris, et al?

These are some of the questions that have to be asked. And key press outlets in Australia have started this postmortem. The questions and barbs from the Australian media are being directed at the hosts this summer. There are self-doubts. These need addressing much more urgently than the potential gaps and vulnerabilities of the opposition camp. The Australian press is internally focused.

So, this series does provide some interesting story-lines. Some these will be distractions. Others will surely affect preparations.

For India’s senior soldiers, this is the “Final Frontier”. A win in Australia will check off another item on the bucket list of the “Triumphant Trinity”! (Ok, we were struggling here after the Fantastic Five became the Fabulous Four!). The Trinity has come close to a victory in Australia in the past. But the team lacked the killer punch; that finishing touch.

Sachin Tendulkar will be eager to get the 100th 100 completed. [Editorial Comment: Under normal circumstances, we may have said “Tendulkar needs to get that monkey off his back.” However, that would be a tad insensitive for an India tour of Australia! So the Editor culled that cliche out of this piece!] If Tendulkar does not get to his 100th century early on in the tour, this distraction will become as unbearable in the Australian press as it has already become in the Indian press. That distraction is one that the team does not need.

There is a risk of the series becoming a Ricky Ponting farewell tour — that is, of course, if the retirement does not happen before the tour commences. The 2003/04 series became a distraction for the home team as Steve Waugh’s retirement took center-stage in Australia. A Ricky Ponting farewell tour would be a needless distraction on a side lane when the team is struggling to cope with driving the bus within the confines of the lane markings.

Both captains will have to manage these diversions expertly.

One could say that Australia’s overseas assignments in Sri Lanka and South Africa have exceeded the expectations of a team that is in ‘re-build mode’. However, Australia will look at key moments in both these series and will want to ask questions. Being bowled out for 47 at Cape Town was a stunning low-point. At home they have been stymied by a plucky New Zealand side. The Kiwis used the conditions better at Hobart after being outplayed at The Gabba in Brisbane.

The loss at Hobart to New Zealand just prior to the “Agneepath Series” will hurt Australia. Going into the last day, one could not imagine Australia losing. Yes, New Zealand (and in particular, Doug Bracewell) bowled brilliantly. However, the bowling was hardly menacing. What was scary — from an Australian perspective — was the tentativeness and mental fragility that was on display. Apart from Warner and Lyon, briefly, all the other batsmen poked prodded and perished. This slide to ridiculousness was started by Ricky Ponting. Until the Ponting dismissal, one could not imagine an Australia loss. Ponting spent 51 minutes out in the middle. 51 minutes of extreme self-doubt. 51 minutes that defined Australia’s loss. 51 minutes of agony for any Australian fan. 51 minutes of pain.

So much so that the words in the poser: “Ponting will depart? Yeah? When?” perhaps need to be urgently rearranged to: “Yeah! When will Ponting depart?”

Another major concern for Australia is the litany of injuries. While Watson is expected to recover in time for Boxing Day, the return of young gun Patrick Cummins is unknown at this stage. Shaun Marsh should return to his spot at 3. The fitness status of Ryan Harris is unknown.

While the return of Watson and Marsh is welcome news, they will be short on (recent) match practice. The Big Bash League is the only cricket available for Watson and Marsh to secure match practice; and a hit in a T20 game is hardly the ideal preparation for Test cricket.

And while on this topic… Who thought of having a domestic T20 competition in the middle of a first class season, and while the home Test-series is on? Even the BCCI wouldn’t have come up with this pearl of extremely bad programming. The BCCI office bearers would have had to be on a terrible cocktail of hallucination-inducing drugs and vodka to have come up with such a silly concept!

The scheduling is so terrible that even if Patrick Cummins’s injury heals prior to the Adelaide Test — commencing 24 January 2012 — he would have to make an entry into Test cricket without any first class cricket under his belt.

As a Team India fan, I have seen many ridiculous attempts at non-management by the BCCI. But this piece of ridiculousness is something that would make even the BCCI officials reject with extreme and violent disgust.

India’s preparations have hardly been ideal either. An injury cloud hangs over Zaheer Khan. He has played two first-class games for Mumbai in the domestic Ranji Trophy competition. The comeback signs are good. But, will he last the tour? For India to have a successful tour, his form and his bowling-leadership will be crucial. One is never sure when Ishant Sharma will break down. For some time now, his body appears as though it is being held together by band-aid. Sreesanth is injured. Praveen Kumar is injured. Varun Aaron is injured. Harbhajan Singh is injured. Munaf Patel is injured. Ashish Nehra is not injured, but is not in selection contention. Who knows why? This means that the Indian bowling sports a new, young (and somewhat untested) look about it. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar form the pace attack while R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha form the spin strength.

While the rest of the team was playing against West Indies in an ODI series, a lead party of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Ishant Sharma reached Melbourne prior to full squad assembling in Canberra for the two practice games.

Practice games? Yeah right!

India is scheduled to play an Australia Chairman’s XI for a pair of 2-day games. Typically this side is a clutch of rising domestic stars led by a seasoned veteran. However, since the Big Bash League will have commenced on 16 December, it will be difficult for Cricket Australia to provide a competitive side to play against India. So, will it be adequate match practice for the visiting India Team? We do not think so.

The senior Indian players value structured practice sessions more than practice games. While there is plenty of time for that, what is lacking is net bowlers. CA is under no obligation to provide them net bowlers until when the Tests commence. So there is a scheduling mess here too — once again, caused by a senseless T20 competition that carves up the domestic Shield season in half. India will, therefore, need to ensure that it takes an additional pace bowler on the trip. Either that or India needs to make do with Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar bowling ball after ball to the batsmen in the nets!

The lack of net bowlers is not a new problem that Indian teams have faced in Australia. This issue has surfaced on past tours to Australia too. Net bowlers have often been unavailable and practice facilities have often been “off limits”. Throw downs from the trainer are hardly going to prepare any batsmen — however experienced — for the probing examinations and searing pace of Peter Siddle and James Pattinson.

So, there you have it. It is a strange series that has more doubts than Agnee (fire). And if the teams have a path towards a certain future, this is unknown either. Yet, what we do know is that this has been billed as the Agneepath Series. It represents a battle between a team that is trying hard to rebuild and a team that has to ensure that a rebuild is unnecessary.

An Australian team that is in transition presents India with her best opportunity yet of securing a series victory in Australia. India has challenged Australia’s dominance in the glorious decade that Australia has had. India twice ended Australia’s record-winning sequences. It is now an opportunity to achieve what South Africa and England have both recently achieved — a win in Australia.

For India’s greatest generation of cricketers this is the last chance saloon.

— Sunny (@sehwagology) and Mohan (@mohank)

WHADDAPLAYA

Somebody please get V.V.S. Laxman a dictionary. He needs to be sat down and told that once-in-a-lifetime knocks are not supposed to be played more than once in a lifetime! Not after that 281. And you definitely don’t do it twice in 2 tests running. On 2 difficult pitches, against 2 competitive attacks, and on either occasion, a good strike rate & a bad back. At Mohali, he even overcame the absence of pedigreed company.

Any literature on Laxman is under obligation to make special mention of his record against the Aussies. With due respect to Messrs Border & Gavaskar, the marquee standing of the eponymous trophy is due in no small measure to Laxman. In recent times, India has been served well by Sehwag running away with the game in the first dig (while batting first), with Dravid & Tendulkar providing sound consolidation. Laxman reserves his best for later, the 2nd, the 3rd & the 4th innings.

Allow me to indulge in a sample of Indian victories against the Aussies over the last decade featuring Laxman specials. Starting with the 2nd innings, Dravid’s moment in the sun was put to shade when the Hyderabadi illuminated the Adelaide Oval in 2003 with his radiant brilliance. The  3rd innings of a Test belongs to him, as the theatre does to Naseeruddin Shah. On a Wankhede pitch with more spite than a spurned maiden, Laxman conjured 69 miracles. As with most of his teasing cameos on tricky surfaces, he seemed to be performing a ballet on a different plane. The veneer of pristine virginity in his art often facades the sheathing of steel underneath, an exception being the famous Perth victory. Bartering silk with sinew, and sacrificing finesse for fibre, his 79 was pretty much the margin of victory. And oh of course, the epic at Eden Gardens…enough said. The Chennai Test of the same series set a precedent for the latest 4th innings effort; his final day 66 almost sealed the deal, before it was terminated abruptly by a Mark Waugh blinder.

Laxman has taken people’s minds off Ram. And Rajnikanth! No mean feat this.

Post-script

My previous post is testimony to my theory that in Test matches with high first innings totals, with the team batting second finishing slightly behind, the 3rd innings usually witnesses a jittery collapse, facilitating a victory for the team batting last. A short list of such instances (by no means exhausting):

Thanks to Laxman, the Mohali Test proved to be yet another case in point for my theory. But only just.

-i3j3Guest (TS Kartik)

The Great Escape–Day 5, 1st test

If the only way you could find out the score was through Cricinfo and you couldn’t get through to the site during the final stages of this game, it was because every Indian around the world was frantically hitting F5 (refresh) on his/her browser window Smile

It must have been frustrating, not knowing what had happened. Thankfully, it all turned out to be good news for India. When the eighth wicket fell at 124 and India needing close to a hundred runs to win, everyone (including me) had written India off. With Laxman batting with a bad back and a runner with Ishant Sharma at the other end and just Ojha to follow, it was only going to be a matter of time….but the fat lady hadn’t sung yet.

Somehow, Indian managed to pull it off – this will be remembered as one of the great wins on Indian soil, and firmly belongs with other classics such as Calcutta 2001. The architect of that Calcutta win was again responsible for guiding India through and IMO, should have been named the man of the match. Zaheer went away with the award, but it was Laxman’s magic that eventually won the game. Laxman has had a great run this year and while most people have a modest record in the 2nd innings – Laxman has thrived (his 2nd innings average is 50.47 compared to his 1st innings average of 45.67). Since 2009, every time he has been asked to bat in the 2nd innings, he has had a 50+ score. Laxman has also always reserved special treatment for Australia, against whom he averages 55.58 as opposed to 44.53 against the rest.

Credit should also be given to Ishant Sharma – coming in at No. 10, he scored 31 valuable runs and more importantly built the highest partnership in the Indian second innings of 81 runs with VVS Laxman. When he was out LBW (which was a questionable decision) to Hilfenhaus , India needed just 11 runs to win. What an effort! After a few tense moments of close LBW shouts, over throws, and confusion while running between the wickets, India managed to get those 11 runs. What a win!

Although the match was a nail biter in the end, it had its constant ups and downs. Each team somehow contrived to lose a good position every few hours and the match could have gone in either direction. One can’t help but feel sorry for Australia. I now truly believe that the golden era of Australian Test cricket is over – the Australia of old would never have lost a match from such a position of strength as they had today. Surely, they will rise again, but I wouldn’t bet on them regaining the ashes this year.

This test match had a combination of some good umpiring and some very questionable decisions – and when a match is as close as this, you can’t but wonder what if one of those decisions had gone the other way – India has been hesitant to use the UDRS system and this should be a wake up call for them.

-Mahesh-

Aussies retain advantage–Day 3 1st Test

The batting team cruises along nicely and seem to have all the momentum – then one wicket falls, and suddenly every thing changes. It happened on Day 1, when Ponting’s wicket fell and it happened again today when Tendulkar’s wicket fell.

India had just crossed 350 and both Tendulkar and Raina were cruising along nicely. Tendulkar looked set to score his 49th Test hundred, when suddenly against the grain of play, he fell LBW to North. That was the 5th wicket to fall – soon, the other 5 fell for the addition of just 51 runs.

Suddenly, the Aussies regained the advantage they had lost in the first two sessions, when Dravid and Tendulkar and Raina reduced the deficit sufficiently. Johnson took 5 for 64 and his two wickets of two balls (Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh) was partially responsible for speeding up the demise of the Indian innings.

This is going to turn out to be a really good test. If the Aussies, bat all of tomorrow and put up 250 on the board (plus the lead of 23), it will be a tough chase on a final day pitch.

I’d say that at the end of day 3, the Aussies still hold the advantage in this match. Having said that, if the Indians can dismiss the top 3 batsmen in the morning session of play, Aussies will be in a bit of trouble – their middle order is a bit flaky and I don’t expect the tail to pull through another rescue in the same Test. The Indians would be well aware of that – Harbhajan Singh needs to fire for that and let’s hope he does.

-Mahesh-

What’s all the hullabaloo about?

The batsman is out of the crease – the wicket keeper takes off the bails and as he walks back to the pavilion, someone from the opposition says something. The batsman turns around from his walk, points the bat at the player and a heated exchange follows. No, I am not talking about the Ponting run-out incident on the 1st days play at Mohali – I am talking about Harbhajan Singh being stumped of Clarke’s bowling in the 2nd ODI in Cochi the last time Australia were here in India.

Do you see a pattern? Its the same thing being enacted again, only the actors are different this time around. Was Zaheer out of line? Without a doubt. Should Ponting have turned around to exchange words? I don’t think so…

These two teams have a history of having a go at each other – and although I am not a big fan of this, I am not completely surprised by this incident either. But I found it funny that the Herald Sun calls Zaheer a “serial sledger”. What a laugh! The last time the incident happened, Harbhajan was portrayed as the bad guy, as he turned around to point his bat at the opposition after he was given out (the fact that someone said something to trigger that was somehow left out). Harbhajan is no saint, and neither is Zaheer – the point is, the Aussies aren’t either. So, I don’t see what all the fuss is about Smile

Coming back to the actual game, Australia made a mess of a really good position. They were 153 for 1 in the 42nd over, with both Ponting and Watson playing quite well, and then boom – the run out happened. Suddenly, the whole match turned around. The Aussies went into a shell, the runs stopped coming and by the end of the day, they had just added another 70 runs! If that wasn’t bad enough, they also lost another 3 wickets in the process. The Indians would definitely be happy with the opposition’s score of 224/5 at the end of the days play. It is not a bad achievement considering the fact that India were one bowler short (Ishant got injured) and  Harbhajan wasn’t really that threatening with the ball. The Australian tail can wag though, and India should be careful not to let them off the hook – particularly as they will be batting last in this match.

-Mahesh-

The ICC launches into another controversy

As if it wasn’t enough for the ICC to get bogged down by a bankruptcy of ideas and control of the game, the organisation has now found a new way to embarrass itself. It has stumbled to a new low resting point through a shocking mis-management of the process for electing John Howard as President-Elect of the august body!

In his article on Cricinfo, Gideon Haigh states, “Say what you like about the members of the International Cricket Council, they are utterly consistent. No matter how far you lower your expectations, they always find a way to underperform.”

Hilarious opening to an interesting opinion piece. I do not agree with much of what Haigh says in this article, but it certainly paints a mobid picture of a moribund organisation! The problem with Haigh is that he has declared his cards as a person that views the BCCI, IPL, Modi and Indian cricket with suspicion if not disdain! In the past he has stopped short of stating that the only cricket that really matters is that which is regularly held between England and Australia for a little urn. So I certainly have that grain of salt handy when I read anything he writes!

But he does have a point. The ICC finds stunningly innovative ways of repeatedly embarrassing itself in public.

The ICC Presidency chair is a rotating beast. So it cannot and should not really get political. If it is a Boards’ turn to have a crack at the top job, it ought to have all linen washed internally (as New Zealand and Australia did in choosing John Howard) before offering up a candidate who ought to be elected unopposed. That is how a rotating chair ought to work. There is, however, a danger in such a method because, before you know it, when it is Zimbabwe’s turn we may be forced to stare at Robert Mugabe’s smirk on the ICC website for four long and painful years! Hence there has been a proxy election in place. It has never, however, been used up until now.

It has been used now! The result is that Australia feels insulted. New Zealand is probably saying “I told you he sucked as a candidate”. England is embarrassed through no fault of theirs — again! And the ICC is in some disarray as a result of (a) a terrible, terrible choice of candidate (in my view), (b) the organisations’ ineptness in making decisions other than those driven by consensus, and, most importantly (c) the organisation being unable to state to the losing candidate why (s)he lost!

Ever since the International Cricket Council was formed (after its predecessors, the Imperial Cricket Conference and the International Cricket Conference were canned) we have had this rotation system work near-perfectly: England had Lord Colin Cowderey as President of the ICC (from 1989-1993). West Indies had the great Sir Clyde Walcott from 1993-1997. India had that wily combatant, Jagmohan Dalmiya as ICC President from 1997–2000. Australia had Malcolm Gray from 2000–2003 followed by Pakistan’s Ehsaan Mani from 2003–2006. This was followed by Percy Sonn (2006-2007) and Ray Mali (2007–2008), a dual South African act on account of the fact that Sonn passed away while ‘in office’. This then saw an England-India double act in David Morgan (2008-2010) and Sharad Pawar (2010-2012).

The system has been working well in so far as providing a mechanism for tokens and lollipops to be routinely handed out to the member countries as appeasements.

That is up until now, when the word “trust” has started to take on much more of a meaning in our collective dictionary than ever before. Moreover, through a combination of their collective increase in their self-confidence as well as an improved ability on the field and (especially for India) their money power, the word “trust” has also been bandied about more often than necessary. Muscles have been flexed!

John Howards’ rejection has to be seen in this light and should not be seen as a collective insult to the Australian people.

Malcolm Speed has reacted angrily to the insult in his emotional outburst. He even suggests that Australia and New Zealand should give up their automatic right to a lollipop hand-out and, instead, hand it over to the next set of boards in the lollipop queue: Bangladesh and Pakistan!

Gideon Haigh has reacted emotionally and bemoaned the insult to the man who was so loved by the Australian people that they elected him not once, not twice, not three times, but no less than four times! Gosh! Of course, that must mean so much to a rag picker in Southern Mumbai. Right?

Wrong!

John Howard was a brave man when he was in power as Australian Prime Minister. He had views on most things and did not take a backward step in going forward on things he believed in. He routinely commented on things cricket. He loved his cricket. He even bowled once when in Pakistan when on a tour there — never mind the fact that few of the balls even reached the hapless batsmen! He also came out in the open and called Muthiah Muralitharan a “chucker”!

Do you think the people of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan Board would trust a man at the top of the ICC tree after his utterances against their beloved son — utterances made by an incredibly honorable man while in a position of the power that was bestowed on him by the good people of Australia no less than four times?

The fact that the good people of Australia showered their love on John Howard — and I have no doubt he is an incredibly honorable man — four times should mean diddly squat to the people of Sri Lanka or officials on their cricket board! However, the fact that Howard ignored the opinions of bio-mechanics experts and chose to comment on Muralidharan’s chucking, would have made the Sri Lankan Board and her people sit up and view Howard with some suspicion. Let us not forget that one of the men close to the officials that run the cricket board in that country is Arjuna Ranatunga, the captain that labored through that awful awful time for Sri Lankan cricket; a time made worse by John Howards’ comments. Sri Lanka simply does not have trust in the ICC-man Australia has chosen. Simple. Ditto Zimbabwe, given Howard’s utterances against that country and its cricket.

Was Howard right with his views? That is not really the issue. The issue is one of trust deficit.

Ultimately, Howard just did not have friends in ICC member countries. This is not an insult to Australians or to Howard.

Gideon Haigh emits his true colors, though, when he yells, “Ultimately, however, responsibility lies with the chaotic, fratricidal, law-unto-itself Board of Control for Cricket in India, for had it chosen to back Howard, the decision would have gone through on the nod. The BCCI likes to think of itself as cricket’s leader – as, indeed, it is, by any economic measure. But where was it when actual leadership was required? Sunk in its own macchiavellian intrigues, busy trying to claw back a facilitation fee from World Sports Group, and poring over Lalit Modi’s hotel and limousine expenses. Suggestions in the Indian media are that the rejection stems from internal upheavals at the BCCI, where ICC president Sharad Pawar, who supported Howard’s nomination, is on the nose with his former colleagues for being too close to Modi. Who knows? And who, ultimately, cares?”

If Gideon Haigh did not care, why would he devote so much eyeball space to the BCCI and its “fratricidal” ways? I have a feeling that Gideon Haigh will soon drop the blame for world hunger and world peace at the door steps of the BCCI!

Yes, there was indeed a report in a few Indian media outlets that the BCCI’s decision not to support Howard stemmed from the current BCCI leaderships’ desire to stick it to Sharad Pawar! And Gideon Haigh, a reputed and thorough journalist, fell for that piece of unfounded and ill-informed junk? The initial story quoted no source nor attribution. Nor did it have a basis. It was a story that I read and discarded. Gideon Haigh must perhaps learn to develop a few filters, especially when reading Indian media — most of whom are story tellers who look at the phrase “breaking story” and pay more attention to the word “story” than the word “breaking”!

Leadership by the BCCI has minimal role to play here in this, in my view.

There was, in my view, a leadership vacuum in Australia and New Zealand when the choice of John Howard was made. I could have predicted this outcome the day John Howard was put up as a choice.

Indeed, let us have a look at what our own Soundar Iyer wrote on i3j3cricket after a conversation with Gideon Haigh. Soundar writes that in the view of Haigh, the decision to back John Howard “largely revolved around the relative merits of each candidate pertinent to their ability to handle the behemoth that was the BCCI. The view was that Howard, the wily politician that he was, was probably the best equipped. Time will tell.”

Time did tell.

An alternative view to that which Gideon Haigh formed above — when he laid the blame for the Howard-shafting on BCCI’s doorstep — could be that the BCCI perhaps showed immense leadership and foresight by saying:

  • We know Australia and New Zealand have selected a candidate that has been expressly chosen to shaft us,
  • We know that that choice is bad because South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka have enough gripes to reject the man without us getting involved in the scrum,
  • We will openly show our support for the choice,
  • We will then protect our relationship with Australia and New Zealand by watching as this terrible choice is torn down by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka!

Unfortunately, if the above hypothesis is correct, the BCCI did nothing more than protecting its self-interest! Protecting self-interest is not wrong in itself. After all, look at what England and Australia did in the formative years of cricket! Moreover, everyone looks after their self-interest.

What is wrong is putting self-interest so high that the game itself is compromised or ruined in the process.

The latter would happen if John Howard was the only human being left in Australia and New Zealand! The last time I looked though, despite negative growth rates, New Zealand and Australia do still have a few people left! I am sure one of them would be an acceptable candidate — and even a strong candidate — for the whole of the ICC. Indeed, before Australia pushed hard for John Howard, New Zealand wanted to pursue John Anderson — former chairman of the New Zealand board and a terrific cricket administrator. Surely, he would have been elected unanimously and we would not have had to assess whether the Australian people had been viscously insulted and victimized!

Therefore, in my view, the mistake lies not in the doorstep of the BCCI or Sri Lanka. The mistake was in the choice of John Howard who had perhaps made many an enemy in the cricketing world.

That said, the ICC, sunk to new lows because it showed again that it is political, moribund and powerless.

The saddest thing about this episode is that it is a clear signal that cricket is divided with England, Australia and New Zealand on one side and with India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh on the other and with South Africa and West Indies developing collective sore backsides from time to time! Despite strong and stellar attempts by Australia, and in particular, James Sutherland, in recent times, the trust deficit exists.

As Sambit Bal says,

But in recent years cricket seemed to have moved away from post-colonial angst into the lap of naked capitalism. Self-interest remained the guiding principle, but alliances based on commerce rather than race seemed far more palatable. The use of the term Asian Bloc – it had a pejorative ring to it – became rarer as India and Australia, the richest board and the strongest team, moved closer.

It’s premature to proclaim an official split or speculate what immediate impact it will have on global cricket, but on the Howard issue it was evident who stood where. Australia and New Zealand stood by their nominated candidate, and they had only England by their side.”

So why is Howard’s rejection at the ICC table wrong? And why do I think the ICC is moribund?

Any candidate is owed the duty of care and the dignity of feedback in any transparent election process. If they are not selected they need to understand why they were not chosen. The only feedback that John Howard will have received, as Sambit Bal has noted, is from the Sri Lankan Board that stated openly that they did not rate Howards’ sport administration skills!

On dear! Really! A man who led a country cannot run a cricket board? Clearly then, Sri Lanka rates Sharad Pawar’s sport administration skills highly. They probably took one good look at him asleep at the wheel while Lalit Modi diddled the IPL books and decided that Sharad Pawar ought to receive their backing! Right!

Clearly, the reason offered by Sri Lanka has much to do with wool and eyes. But at least Sri Lanka offered a reason; albeit one that cannot be countered or defended in such a process. The rest of the members in the cast played some back room games, cast their vote and moved on with the same disdain that England and Australia used to dish out when the only cricket that mattered was that which the two of them played!

Roles have reversed. The owners of the despicable attitudes have changed. Cricket stumbles through darkness yet again!

As Sambit Bal writes, these actions “threaten to drag cricket back to the age of acrimony and mistrust.”

— Mohan

A conversation with Peter Roebuck

Srinivasan of the ‘Indian Voice’ in Melbourne organises a dinner around the Boxing Day Test every year featuring Peter Roebuck.

The venue is always at Indian restaurants, with names featuring ‘Punjabi’ ‘Dhaba’ ‘Masala’ ‘Curry’ and ‘takeaway’ in the usual permutations. The chef cum proprietor is routinely guilty 0f the interior decor, with a propensity for sequinned works featuring bearded grandees a-loll against bolsters receiving intoxicants from surahi bearing maidens with impossibly imposing implants. What looks very like a lungi on the wall with Taj Mahals all over it may well be my philistine eye not recognising a wall hanging when I see one.

None of this should take away from the menu which rarely deviates from Naan, dal makhani, mixed veg curry, papad and rice. For those of a certain persuasion, there a couple of other curries featuring body parts of young quadrupeds and bipeds.

The Roebuck dinner is an event I rarely miss, affording as it does the opportunity to fill up to the back teeth at the buffet for 10 bucks,  listen to one of the most engaging writers and fluent talkers about the game.

Sadly this time around the numbers were’nt there at all. Maybe something to do with the fact that it was Pakistan and not India playing Oz? Sanjay Manjrekar is perhaps right after all. Maybe most Indians are just interested in Indian cricket.

Nevertheless it made for a relatively committed gathering that welcomed Peter at about half past seven. The usual format was for everyone to hoe into the buffet, at the conclusion of which Srini would introduce Peter, who would then hold forth for a bit, followed by questions from the floor. Srini would then wind up with a present of a kurta (Peter’s favourite garment whilst in India) and invitations to contribute to Peter’s favourite charity.

Peter is one, one suspects, who will talk cricket through the night if given the chance. Here then, are a few excerpts.

On his castigation of Chris Gayle before the Windies toured and subsequent approbation.

Most readers will recall that Peter had blasted Gayle for his stance apropos Test Cricket prior to landing on these shores.

Peter said he consistently states his mind with the facts at hand. If that meant that he changed his views and opinions from time to time, so be it. So long as the process was consistent, the end results could well change. Certainly, once Gayle demonstrated some responsible leadership in Oz, Peter did not see his commitment to Tests as an issue any more.

On Umar Akmal blasting Peter Siddle for 19 in one over.

High praise from Peter who was reminded of a young Sachin who hit perfectly good deliveries breathtakingly well. The crucial thing that separated the ‘Nadamaadum Deivam’ (my phrase, not Peter’s) from Umar was the latter’s ‘youthful impetuosity’ that caused him to throw away his wicket after he reached 51. What struck him about Sachin back then, reminisced Peter was that, even at 19, he had a ‘calm centre’ within him that ensured that he was hitting the ball amazingly well on its merits, not just with youthful abandon.

On the ever so slight improvement in the provincial nature of cricket writing in the Australian press.

This was a topic that delved into areas outside of cricket such as an evolving national image, an improved understanding of the wider world and apropos cricket, soul searching post Kumble 2007. That said, what I understood him to mean was that the hacks are, person for person, more deserving of credit than is given them. For the most part, they tend to be aligned to either the Fairfax or the News Ltd stables, each of which caters to a certain demographic. Articles are then written to suit.

This reminded me of Suketu Mehta’s take on Bollywood film directors. ‘None of them are remotely the idiots that their movies would lead you to believe’. Or words to that effect.

On India being on top of the Test Totem pole.

Contrary to the jingoism and triumphalism that might be expected, we the discerning audience took the view that India’s reign would be short lived. Largely because the fab four were on the way out, our bowling still does not inspire, the much beloved BCCI still operates as a fiefdom dispensing benevolence and largesse etc etc. Without disagreeing, he also pointed out that India could not have reached the top without Australia, SAF and to an extent England stumbling periodically. In defence of the BCCI he pointed out the fact that state level cricketers could now make a decent living from the game. ‘Fathers who, fifteen years ago were doing all they could to dissuade their boys are now pushing them with the same force into the game!’

One eyed Indians.

He didn’t hold back in chiding Indians for seeing conspiracies and bloc politics whenever anything went against India or Bucknor did us in again. A pretty thin skinned and one eyed mob we were, said he. Hard to disagree, especially if you share my opinion that we conveniently lose sight of when we benefit , as we did with SK Bansal in that 2001 epic in Kolkata.

As an aside, has anyone heard of Bansal after that game?

And so it went, till Srini had to reluctantly call stumps. As we trooped out into the warm night though, we were all in agreement that we had NOT got our hard earned’s worth.

For, there was no ‘gulab jamun’ to finish off.

Soundar

Australia to join Ranji Plate League

Australia will join Afghanistan and Uganda in the Ranji Plate League with immediate effect. In a dramatic turnaround of events after the pathetic loss (on all counts) to New Zealand, Australia in an effort to salvage any remaining pride will try and regain some form by playing against the minnows of the Indian league. Cricket Australia officials stated that they reached an understanding with the BCCI in this regard. CA expects Ponting to regain some behavioral form and the new players get accquainted to competition of an international sort. CA is also expecting that Brad Haddin start keeping behind the wickets as opposed to being in front of them. This agreement comes as a big relief to the Aussies as they try and maintain their official status as “champions once upon a time”. This also gives them an opportunity to witness in person the humanitarian efforts by multilateral agencies to increase public awareness of cricket in Afghanistan, Uganda, Vidharba, Assam, Himachal Pradesh and Services. Our best wishes to the Australian team and their newfound desire to qualify for the Ranji Super League.

– Srikanth

Please note that the above article is pure work of fiction and does not in any way reflect any form of reality…..I think……