Category Archives: Media and Commentary

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast — Episode-3 

The i3j3 Cricket Podcast (Episode 3), where Mahesh Krishnan Paddy Padmanabhan, Vish Krishnan and Mohan Krishnamoorthy ramble on about the India V Bangladesh Test match, Ashwin’s 250 wickets, BCCI v Supreme Court and other cricket stuff.

The third episode of our once a fortnight cricket ramble is here. Have a listen…

I3j3 Cricket Podcast Episode 3

Logo Credit: Sooraj Ramachandran

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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…

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Cheekakai- A revolutionary new product.

For those who don’t dare…to MAKE them dare.

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.

In memoriam – Roebuck.

Perched directly behind the bowler’s arm, Ajit Agarkar’s to be precise, in the Sir Donald Bradman stand at the Adelaide oval, the heat was flat, dry and in the mid-thirties. Capped with the strong Australian light, without a trace of humidity, it made one ask why Australian teams complained when they toured the sub-continent.

The air-conditioning notwithstanding, it made me perspire just to think of buttoning a collar, let alone yoking oneself to a tie. The Bhogles, Shastris and Gavaskars strolling around on breaks from TV commentary duties, contractually obligated to suffer under the noose, looked like they might have been far more comfortable in the South Indian veshti-banian (white wrap-singlet), or perhaps a loose cotton kurta.

Which was exactly what Peter Roebuck had on as he came around the corner, his straw hat crowning patrician features, telling a companion Indian journalist in that clipped and firm voice “I don’t know why you wouldn’t wear a kurta in such weather”.

The occasion was of course the watershed match when India trumped Australia in Australia for the first time in 23 years. It was notable for Ponting and Dravid’s double centuries, Ajit ‘Bombay Duck’ Agarkar’s 6-for, and it must be said, the teenage Parthiv Patel’s woeful ‘keeping.

For me, it was the first sighting of the man, long listened to, who it was said was getting to be a more widely read English writer in India than P.G.Wodehouse. For long had I admired his neatly struck coinages ‘leather-flingers’ and the one that combined English wit with a dig at the upstart colonials;

“Yousuf Youhana was only the fifth Christian to play for Pakistan, a number higher, one supposes, than have played for Australia”.

As the series made its way to Melbourne, Srini Vasan of Melbourne’s ‘Indian Voice’ organised a buffet with the cricketing faithful during the course of the Boxing day test. To bear out Kerry O’Keefe’s introduction in ‘Sometimes I forgot to laugh’, it was in a ‘one-star’ Indian restaurant out in the suburbs. The audience was largely of Indian origin and still delirious after the Adelaide win and Sehwag’s 195 on the first day at the MCG. We quietened down and listened in rapt silence to Peter’s views on the day’s play. The event concluded with what soon became an annual ritual; Srini presenting Peter with a kurta.

But that was not all. The restaurateur emerged with a bottle of wine. Peter graciously accepted the bottle but it was followed up with a marker pen and a semaphored request for a signature. Peter signed with a rueful smile and handed the bottle back to the clueless restaurateur amid much raucous laughter.

The Boxing Day Test buffet soon became a much looked-forward-to annual event thanks to Srini Vasan and Peter Roebuck. Given this was not a publicised event, a flurry of calls elicited the venue of each year’s event and Peter soon grew to recognise us regulars.

Mario Puzo wrote “The migrant retains with him a fossilized image of the country he left behind”. As these dinners progressed over the years, Peter, who travelled to India more often and widely than we could or did, became quite the voice of India. Peter began painting for us first hand the image of an India that was changing and growing beyond the realms of our ‘fossilized image’. Our discussions spanned Indian fast food to changing mores and moralities. One either imagined or sensed his wistful nostalgia for the fast disappearing days of genteel cricketers as epitomised by Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and the alarming rise of Cricket moms.

Far from the popular view the cricketing world has of him being an apologist for Indian cricket, I consider him to be more of a realist, closer to the action.
On one occasion, we were as usual playing armchair generals and castigating the BCCI. He took a contrary view and without disagreeing, made constructive observations that could only come from one who had begun to understand how such an essentially Indian organisation as the BCCI worked.

That was as telling a metaphor to underline that we had drifted away from comprehension while he had begun to arrive closer to the centre.

RIP Peter. The world of cricket will be a lesser place without you.
Soundar

P.S. Here’s a link to the last such event.

A healthy ball.

Dramatis Personae. 

Michael Atherton. (Captain)
Marcus Trescothick
Rahul Dravid.
Sachin Tendulkar
Andrew Symonds.
Shahid Afridi
Hansie Cronje
MS Dhoni (wicket keeper)
Imran Khan
Waqar Younis.
John Lever.
Stuart Broad (12th man)
********** 

This composite team lines up against a World XI 

Act 1. Scene 1. 

Dressing Room. 

Athers: All right listen up everyone. We’re bowling. On the field in fifteen. 

Imran, tossing the ball back and forth with Waqar; “Keep the shine on the Kookaburra, boys.”

**************
Act 2. Scene 1.

Since this is a combined media production, there is a close-up of a four piece ball as a backdrop. The ball is beautifully, immaculately shined on one side, the figure of the Kookaburra still in mint condition. The other side though, looks like the proverbial dog’s breakfast-scratch and scuff marks, rhythmic serrations, lifted seam. The demarcating seam though is immaculately clean. 

As Athers leads the troop back into the dressing room, shoulders a-slump, Afridi’s still running fingers through his hair making sure it looks picture perfect for that elusive L’Oreal contract. 

Athers: Goodness Gracious me, 371 in fifty overs, and I thought between the lot of us, we’d have been able to make that ball sing Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor.

Imran: Well, I surreptitiously scratched up the ball with my bottle top as I ran in…
Waqar:…and I gave it a nice long lick to load up the rough side. Must admit, the Chennai earth tastes just as dodgy as the water.
Hansie:…as well as digging my studs in as we waited on the boundary decision.
Athers:…besides adding the best of British dirt into the scratches.
Lever:…Don’t forget the invisible Vaseline on the shiny side.
Symonds:…and my sweat, topped off by some zinc cream
Tresco:…and a varnish of my mint-spit.
Dravid:..I don’t admit to producing any spit from my lollies
Sachin:..nor do I admit to cleaning the seam of any dirt or spit with my fingernails.
Dhoni:…The boys bowled in the right areas..sorry, the extra long flaps on my gloves weren’t really needed, as the ball didn’t swing as we thought it would.
Afridi: None of your tricks did the job, so, as I normally do, I thought I’d bite it with my specially sharpened incisors, canines and molars, paid for by the PCB,….but that %$#@! Viru just kept hitting us for six!

Act 2. Scene 2. 

Tresco: Say, is it just me, or does anyone else feel queasy?
Waqar: No, same here. I vote we elect to go home ill.

**

Disclaimer: Chill guys, an impromptu, spur-of-the-moment confection. No malice intended.

Soundar

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