Tag Archives: cwc2011

An Architect, a Few Builders and a Decade…

On 22 March 2001, India made a compelling statement to the world of cricket. On that day, on a dusty track in Chennai’s M. A. Chidambaram Stadium, a week after that match in Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly’s men stopped Steve Waugh’s Australian juggernaut in its tracks in a Test match.

India had won against the Australians and other major teams before — mostly on Indian soil. So what was it about this victory in Chennai — almost exactly 10 years ago — that inserted a special marker on an important journey? The victory in Chennai in 2001 felt different. It tasted different. The victory somehow meant more than just a victory to me.

That victory came after Indian cricket had plunged to its worst lows — and that was off the field with the betting scandal. There was no place to hide for the proud and yet tragic Team India fan!

The first article I read this morning — the morning after the night before — was by @sidvee! In a piece titled, “The Baton Passes”, he writes about the 28-year wait for the baton to be passed to a new generation. This excellent writer, who is 29 years old, is a part of “young India” that has not suffered through being a Team India cricket fan as much as fans of my generation have. That does not give me bragging rights. It just provides a different perspective.

For many of us who are part of “older India”, the 1983 win was almost a one-off. We supported a team that often flattered to deceive. We supported a team that had few men who had the stomach for a fight. We supported a team that would crumble at the first sign of trouble. We supported a team that in-fought so much that it almost did not need to see an opposition to wave the white flag! We supported a team that was run by corrupt individuals (It still is, but that’s besides the point — a victory like last night’s victory serves as a good sandpaper!) We supported a team that had a Board that suddenly found money in the mid-90s through television money and a sudden realization that they had something that few other nations had — a billion adoring fans! We supported a team that was run by a Board that suddenly had power and did not not know how to use it!

So, we could only talk about the exquisite grace of a GR Vishwanath square cut, the steely resolve of a Mohinder Amarnath forward defense, the athleticism of Kapil Dev (“that catch“), the technique of a Sunil Gavaskar straight drive or the loop of a Bishen Bedi ball.

But all of that changed for me on 22 March 2001. I felt that, as a long-suffering cricket tragic, I could start thinking about that dream house I wanted to live in as a fan of Team India. I had seen my architect in that landmark 2001 series! On 22 March 2001, it was almost like I had reached a final agreement with the architect on the design of my dream home.

I could not wait for that home to be built.

It has taken a decade for that home to be built.

And finally, that home was built last night, when India won the Cricket World Cup, 2011.

If Sourav Ganguly was the architect with John Wright as his chief consultant, then MS Dhoni was the final builder with Gary Kirsten as his chief consultant. Along the way, we have had a senior engineers who have toiled assiduously and bravely. Considerate, careful and composed men like Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid — ‘The Wall’ which is quite appropriate in the context of this building analogy!

For a keen follower of Indian cricket, this has been an exciting decade when brick has been laid carefully upon another brick by the above players. All of them knew that India could build that home for an ardent fan. And build it, they did! And credit to last night’s World Cup win must go to each and every one of them. I wrote about these architects and initial builders a year ago.

It was Sourav Ganguly who changed the relationship between the BCCI and players. He fought for all that Sachin Tendulkar had pleaded for, before him, but could not get: a physio, a professional coaching set up, and more. But more importantly, he built a team in his image. A team that had a stomach for a fight; a team that wanted to win it; a team that was not scared of boarding a plane!

And the core elements of his team are still there — Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag and Zaheer Khan are his proteges and represent the start of that so very non-Indian generation of cricketers that loved a fight; a generation that did not back down; a generation that did not give up at the first sign of danger.

But that initial blueprint, which was first stabilized by Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble, is now Dhoni’s team!

Apart from the reassuring constancy of Sachin Tendulkar in Indian cricket, Dhoni’s team contains the key elements of the team that Sourav Ganguly architected so carefully. A team that took the fight to the opposition. A team that had a point to prove.

However, today, it is an India team that is built on Dhoni’s image. He is self-assured. He is completely centered and is not there to prove a point. He knows that the men who traveled the path before him have proved a point or two! He does not have a point to prove. He acknowledges that he stands on impressive shoulders. Witness the manner in which he invites Anil Kumble to the presentation ceremony to lift the Border-Gavaskar trophy in the 2008 series against Australia.

Today, Dhoni stands on broad shoulders and admits it. But it is his firm hand on the wheel of the bus that takes Team India forward. It is his team. He takes decisions. We may not like some of them. But he does what he thinks is best for the team and cops it on the chin when it goes wrong. He is about building a strong team that will keep winning comfortably, compellingly and conveniently. He is about consolidation of a considerable strength. His is a team with young individuals who are cut from his cloth. It has individuals like Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina who will take the baton forward (as @sidvee says so eloquently and compellingly).

In yesterday’s game, Dhoni promoted himself in the batting order. It was a strong statement. If Ganguly had a point to prove in Brisbane on 7 December 2003, Dhoni read a book — not just a statement — last night by coming ahead of Yuvraj Singh in last night’s game. It may have been to keep the left-right combination going. However, I think Dhoni wanted it. I believe he wanted to make that statement. He also knew that the spinners were on at that time. With Yuvraj Singh’s initial shakiness against spin, it needed someone who could nullify the spinners. He walked in purposefully.

Here was a proud leader of a proud team. He did not have a point to prove. He wanted to make a statement. Team India had changed right before our eyes in the last decade from proving a point to making a statement.

It was therefore fitting that Dhoni hit the winning runs yesterday. The steely eyes that stay transfixed on the trajectory of the ball as it crosses the boundary line for the winning runs communicates to all of us the sharpness and ferocity of his intent. Please watch this (thanks again to @sidvee). It tells a story on its own and does not need a commentary. As the ball reached the fence, the bat twirl at the end of it communicated that he was satisfied that the job had been done. He was there at the end as the leader. He had completed the job that had been started by the fabulous architects and the fastidious builders before him. He was leader of a team filled with potential leaders who not only just prove a point — that chapter has been written — but, who will go forth and make a statement.

And how fitting was it that, at the end, when asked what it felt like to hold Sachin Tendulkar aloft on his slender shoulders, Virat Kohli — a future Team India captain perhaps — said, “Sachin carried the burden of the entire nation for 21 years and now it is our turn to carry him on our shoulders.

Sachin carried by Team India

It has taken a decade for me, the average Indian fan to see this house being built brick-by-agonizing-brick. At times, it looked as though the house might get blown away — for most Team India fans, for example, the year 2007 did not happen! There were times when we were ragged. There were times when we were completely pear shaped.

But the last decade has been a thrilling decade of dreams which have now become a compelling reality.

It is now time to enter that dream home. Do enter this beautiful house with me…

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Can we complete a 14-team World Cup in 4 weeks?

The current Cricket World Cup 2011 goes on for 42 days. The previous edition of the World Cup (in 2007) went on for 42 days. It was so long that I asked my friends in 2008 if the cricket World Cup 2007 had concluded! The CEO of the ICC at that time was Malcolm Speed. I can say that certainty that I would not associate his name (Speed) with the time it took for the World Cup he organised under his watch to conclude! The World Cup takes way too much time in its current format.

In direct contrast, the Soccer/Football World Cup lasted exactly 25 match-days! And the Soccer World Cup features 32 teams, as against 14 teams in the Cricket World Cup! Notwithstanding the fact that ODIs take longer to complete than soccer games, in my view, the cricket World Cup just goes on and on needlessly!

The ICC’s reaction to criticism of the duration has been to suggest a trimming of the competition down to 10 teams. I am not sure that that is the way to go. We then get a situation where we deprive growth in the game.

We also get deprived of romantic situations like last night when the Irish underdog beat the mighty English! Agreed, such thrashings do not come often and that more often than not, we see the “minnows” (Oh boy, I hate that word so much!) get thrashed by the big teams. However, there is a certain romance surrounding Burton Albion drawing with Manchester United in the FA Cup in 2005-06! The FA Cup provides opportunities for the underdog to have its day in the lights.

Similarly, the World Cup should also provide space for the smaller teams to try and flex their muscles against the bigger teams.

During the rest of the intervening period between World Cups, my proposal (one that was initiated by Dileep Premachandran, I believe) is that smaller team are featured in domestic competitions. For example, there is no reason why Afghanistan (a fast improving team) and UAE should not play in the Ranji Trophy. Similarly, Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands should be allowed to field teams in the England County Championships. The USA team should play in the Carrib Beer Cup in West Indies.

The question then is whether the World Cup duration can be shortened while not sacrificing participation. At 42 days, as I said in my opener, the Cricket World Cup is way too long.

It can be trimmed. With 14 teams split in two “divisions”, it is possible to complete the World Cup in precisely 28 days! I have named the teams a1-a7 and b1-b7. According to the schedule below, the entire competition can be concluded from day-1 (d1) to day-28 (d28) with four rest days (d20, d23, d24 and d26).

a1 a2 a3 a4 a5 a6 a7     b1 b2 b3 b4 b5 b6 b7
a1 d1 d7 d14 d17 d12 d4   b1   d1 d8 d14 d17 d12 d4
a2 d1 d5 d8 d15 d19 d13   b2 d1   d5 d8 d15 d19 d13
a3 d7 d5 d2 d11 d14 d18   b3 d8 d5   d2 d11 d15 d18
a4 d14 d8 d2 d6 d10 d16   b4 d14 d8 d2   d6 d10 d16
a5 d17 d15 d11 d6 d3 d9   b5 d17 d15 d11 d6   d3 d9
a6 d12 d19 d14 d10 d3 d7   b6 d12 d19 d15 d10 d3   d7
a7 d4 d13 d18 d16 d9 d7   b7 d4 d13 d18 d16 d9 d7  
QF1 d21   SF1 d25   L1VsL2 d27   FIN d28
QF2 d21   SF2 d25            
QF3 d22                  
QF4 d22                  

In other words, the entire competition can start on a Sunday and will be completed precisely 4 weeks later on a Saturday! I have assumed that each weekday will feature 2 games and weekends will feature 3 games. This is very possible! Each team will have (on average) 2 days between successive games in the league stage.

Mind you, the above tables represent merely one permutation of many plausible solutions. I worked it out merely to illustrate the point rather than providing a direct implementable solution.

Now why is it not possible for the ICC to adopt such a schema or template for the World Cup. If I can come with a schedule like this in half an hour of mucking around, surely the boffins that get paid loads of dosh to run cricket can do better than that!

-Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Who will win CWC2011?

I am possibly going to get flamed for this by my fellow fans of Team India, but I feel that unless a few things change dramatically in the next few weeks, we will be seeing a South Africa Vs Pakistan (or England) Cricket World Cup 2011 Final, with South Africa winning by a small margin.

In that sense I am agreeing with Peter Roebuck: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/503695.html

The pre-tournament favourites were: India, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and Pakistan (perhaps in that order).

I have not bothered with West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. The less said about the rest of the sides, the better, in my view!

So why am I then picking RSA and Pakistan as the two to watch out for?

Australia without Michael Hussey will — I strongly believe – not be able to do get there. Despite Mitchel Johnson’s good form (a rarity these days), Brett Lee’s pace and the unleashing of Saun Tait, I still feel that this Australia does not have it in them. The middle order is wobbly and untested. Once Shane Watson and Ricky Ponting depart, the batting just lacks teeth.

India do the big things well – big hitting, big names, big sixes and big fours! However, often times, it is the collection of small things that separates from the good from the excellent. With India’s team composition being what it is and with her inadequate running and fielding, I think the small things will add up to a lost tournament.

Sri Lanka has a balanced attack. The bowling is outstanding, with Malinga and Muralitharan ably supported by Kulasekara, Ajantha Mendis and Angelo Matthews. However, my problem with this team is that it depends too much on Sangakkara and Jayawardene for its runs.

In my books, unless Collingwood fires, England’s middle order looks far too shaky to make an impact. With a post-Ashes Jimmy Andreson being what he is, the bowling lacks teeth too.

So, that leaves South Africa and Pakistan.

South Africa has embraced spin, and how! From being dependent on defensive bowlers like Paul Harris, South Africa has unleashed Johan Botha, Imra Tahir and Peterson and has told them to attack. We then throw in to this mix, a fiery Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel and a steady Jacques Kallis. What we then have is a potent attack! The batting looks rock solid too, with Smith, Amla, Kalllis, AB de Villiers, Duminy and Faf du Plessis. This is a team to beat, in my view. It has everything going for it including athletic fielding, attacking batting and solid bowling.

Pakistan is a funny side. It always is! However, what is different in this episode of the World Cup is the stability that Younis Khan and Misbah Ul Haq give the batting. Moreover, the strong bowling of Shahid Afridi and the steady bowling of Abdul Razzaq give the team an air of strength. The fact that Hafeez opens the batting and bowls a few overs of tight off-spin adds to the mix. In my view, this Pakistan team looks more determined than previous ones. The fielding – as observed in the previous match against Sri Lanka – might well make one yearn for the Indian fielding! However, there is something that says to me that this Pakistan team might travel far in this tournament.

So there you have it. My prediction: A RSA vs Pakistan final with RSA winning it handsomely.

This is what I feel.

However, if India alters her team composition/balance, watch out for a re-post and an altered prediction!

-Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)