Tag Archives: India

As the world laughs, IPL Saints and IPL Warriors argue

World Champions in cricket to laughing stock of cricket.

That statement represents Indian cricket’s journey over the last 20 months; the Indian cricket team has slipped from being World Champions in the 50-over format of the game and in Test cricket, to being a laughing stock of world cricket. India has not been playing good cricket for well over eighteen months. That is known. At the Eden Gardens in Kolkata last week, the team played terrible cricket.

But there is more to being the laughing stock than just ugly cricket.

***

The power that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) wields in world cricket is delivered by its impressive fan base. The fans weather rotten conditions — and  abject treatment from stadium officials — to watch the game at ill-equipped grounds in India. The fans often endure a breathlessly unceasing series of advertisements (and sometimes the verbiage of boisterous and clamorous anchors) to watch the game on television sets across the globe. The fan supports the game and continues to provide power to the BCCI, which, in turn, continues to stretch the boundary conditions of the blind commercial greed envelope that it holds — mostly triumphantly.

It is not the BCCI’s fault that they have this power and this advantage at the global decision table. It is not to the organisation’s credit either that they continue to tear into the game at every level. And despite their best intentions, they do.

There is a growing view around the world of cricket that the BCCI is a self-serving organisation that does not have the best interests of either world cricket and/or (more sadly) Indian cricket. Gideon Haigh develops this thesis compellingly in his lovely book, “Sphere of Influence”. Others have been more vocal in expressing more or less this view of the BCCI and the way in which it runs (er, ruins) cricket in India; and the way in which it throws its weight around in world cricket. I do not subscribe to that view entirely, merely because the BCCI has been allowed to be a “bully”.

***

When the Indian team was performing exceedingly well, it is likely that this perceived bullying built up envy and resentment in cricket communities around the world. But, all of those negative views were ignored or brushed aside mainly because the team performed well and was well-served by strong and impressive individuals in it like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble and Saurav Ganguly; virtuous men of integrity, probity and repute.

Most of them have now exited, stage-left. And with them, the results went too. Today, the envy and resentment in several cricket communities around the world has given way to Indian cricket being a bit of a laughing stock.

India may still win the last Test against England in Nagpur to square the series. There is much pride at stake. India does not easily lose series at home; and that too by huge margins. But the scars inflicted by England at the Eden Gardens will, I believe, remain for a long time.

We accepted when the team lost badly in England and Australia. We accepted when the team scrapped to secure wins at home against New Zealand and West Indies. Today, the team does not appear to have the ticker to win even in home conditions.

The exit of Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid and Laxman exposed the strange functioning of a selection committee. It is not easy to replace experience overnight. The replacements weren’t ready. That is to be expected. Teams — even good teams — go through peaks and troughs. However, the better teams bounce out of the trough through review, introspection, reflection and honest self-examination.

Instead, what we have seen is consistent denial, a plethora of weak strategies, weak policies and an unsure domestic competition. The nature and the number of tweaks to the domestic structure over the last few years suggests a lack of clarity about the role that domestic cricket plays in India. The domestic competition has been tinkered with much more in the last few years than Shahid Afridi has retired.

***

After India had won the World Cup in April 2011, a handshake in Dominica started the slide. Cricket fans were polarized into two groups: the Keyboard Warriors who criticized the Dominica handshake and the Keyboard Saints who were calm and dispassionate in their understanding of the handshake. The saints nodded wisely and poured cold water over the warriors in a bid to calm them.

Since the Dominica handshake, a succession of humbling defeats against England and Australia were hard to fathom. The few hard-fought wins against West Indies and New Zealand at home provided a smokescreen that concealed a malaise that probably ran deeper. What hurt most was this recent capitulation against England — at home!

Today, many of the then saints have become warriors and the warriors have all but given up on the team.

At the start of this important journey, the team stood on the cusp greatness. A ‘clutch’ moment was discarded. The team now stands on a perilous and unhealthy ledge.

The saints and warriors, meanwhile, continue to fight: over the IPL and its impact on the team’s slide from greatness to near obscurity.

***

In my view, the IPL has had a major role to play in this decline. I am an IPL Warrior.

The IPL Saints will point out that the tournament was first played in 2008. India became the number 1 Test cricket side only in 2009. The IPL Saints will argue that the IPL may, therefore, have had a positive impact on the Test side. The other argument that the IPL Saints normally put forth is that other teams like South Africa, Australia and England have T20 tournaments too. Moreover, players from these countries play in the IPL too. Yet, these three teams have reached higher rankings in the last 18 months and play better Test cricket than India has. Hence, they will argue that there is no real correlation between the IPL (and other domestic T20 variants) and the national Test team performance. Finally the IPL Saints also argue that India has more domestic cricket players and can, hence, support an IPL competition without the concomitant burn-out risk to players in the national Test team.

Wrong.

The ‘strength in numbers’ argument is as lazy as the one that goes “India is a country of over 1 billion people, why can it not win even one Olympic Gold medal?”

In terms of physical stresses, we just cannot easily compare players from Australia and South Africa to Indian players. That argument does not carry easily. Firstly, people from different cultures have a different structure and make up; Indians work and train differently. Indian players approach the game differently. We aren’t renowned for the intensity of (and focus in) our training. We lack the excessive reliance on science in our training methods. That is very much an occidental approach. Teams from Australia, England and South Africa rely on focus, agility, physical strength, team discipline and ‘playing for each other’. It runs in their blood. Indians rely more on hand-eye coordination, hand speed, timing and silken skills. In that sense, we are more VVS Laxman than we are Rahul Dravid.

The IPL does therefore, in my view, stress out players from India differently. The length, the duration, the intensity and the incessant nature of the competition takes a great toll on the bodies and minds of players from India. The fatigue was apparent in Dominica. It was obvious in the 0-4 loss to England. Since then, I believe the team just lost it completely. I cannot explain the 0-4 loss to Australia in any other way. I am unable to come to terms with — leave alone explain — the loss at Eden.

The arguments will continue; and they must. The team must introspect and reflect. So must the board and we fans. For example, we still do not know if a report on (and review of) the 0-8 loss was even commenced.

The time for change is now. A loss at Nagpur ought to commence it. A win at Nagpur may only provide band-aid that will serve to delay change for a while longer…

— Mohan (@mohank)

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They had a field day.

Some of us have to give the argument about where India performed worse at Wankhede a rest. Everybody has had a wild swing at both the batsmen and the bowlers. Cool off a bit. You can all continue that debate next test, depending on whether or not the team changed (if at all) according to your views.

Join me. Focus all your outrageous energy on a common focal point- fielding.

Atleast 10 of the 12 sessions of play I attended of the first and second test matches had England batting. Which meant I had a lot of time looking at Indian fielders. The more I did, the less I wanted to.

There was exactly one fielder in either test who would field well. In the Ahmedabad test, it was Umesh Yadav. In the Mumbai test, it was Ajinkya Rahane. It was such a joy to watch those two field like they never wanted to let the ball go past them.

Umesh Yadav, at Ahmedabad, was rarely given the ball. Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni also had spinners bowling with the new ball. So, Yadav was mostly fielding at mid on/off or deep point (left hander) / fine leg (right hander) region. He would cover a lot of ground if the ball went his way. He would dive. His thrown came in like a bullet. Flat, right over the stumps, into Dhoni’s gloves, after which Dhoni would make a fancy movement with his arm, ball inside the glove(s), like all keepers do. It was fun watching him. When the wickets didn’t fall, Yadav’s energy spilled into the spectators. We stood up to clap for his efforts. Neither 3rd session I watched there had an English wicket fall. Yadav helped soften that pain a bit.

Yadav moved like a Komodo Dragon that has just spotted a prey. It wasn’t  a beautiful run, but it was assuring that he would reach the prey.

In the Mumbai test, Ajinkya Rahane came in as a substitute fielder. I don’t remember for whom. Cheteshwar Pujara? Nevertheless. Rahane was stationed at forward short leg. He was the most entertaining forward short leg fielder I’ve seen in a long time. It wasn’t the normal squat and wait. It seemed a bit different. Like how wrestlers squat, slightly flexing up and down at their knee so they can move once they know when to strike. Rahane was that tiny creature perched right under Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen (and others too, later) who wasn’t afraid of what the batsman hit at him.

There was this one effort from Rahane when he was standing up to Alastair Cook. I don’t remember the bowler. Cook went forward to kneel and positioned his bat to swivel and sweep the ball. Rahane sat up a bit in a quick jerk, and moved his left leg behind and more to his left, and as soon as the ball made contact with the bat, Rahane dived left and was able to reach the ball with a full length effort. That was anticipation at its best. I was left gaping. People I was talking to me were clapping, shouting praises. Some (at North Stands) had stood up. Dhoni and Virender Sehwag were patting Rahane’s back. It was beautiful.

It wasn’t the only occasion. Rahane went on to prevent more runs in that region. His bravery there eventually ended up in a bruise. But, all the while he as there, he looked as threatening as a Frilled Lizard.Small, but dangerous. Guarded the territory well. You don’t want to go near an angry Frilled Lizard which is on the attack.

That’s the only joy I got while watching the Indians on the field. Kohli’s presence  at slips or other stationary positions, and his athleticism couldn’t be utilized much. Most of the rest were plain eye sore.

When Sehwag goes chasing after a ball, I thought he must’ve decided at breakfast itself to let the ball win the race. When Sachin Tendulkar goes to field a ball, it is like he is dancing a weird version of a slow Western dance. He would jog to the ball, lazily bend and scoop the ball, turn around and lob is back to the keeper/bowler. Yuvraj Singh was so not the Yuvraj Singh I like to remember. He was parked at the boundary for the whole time, much like how Samit Patel was for the English side. When Zaheer Khan moved, jokes moved faster. The best one was – “Zaheer is waiting for an autorickshaw to give him a lift to where the ball is headed.” Ojha is not a great fielder by any means. It was a very awkward dive that caused him an injury in the Ahmedabad test. (I’m happy it wasn’t a severe injury) Ashwin, well, I’ve seen Shaquille O’Neal run better, and more enthusiastically.

I don’t know how, but Indian fielders have perfected the art of diving after the ball goes past them. And the ball would’ve gone from under the belly. Every run saved counts, even in test cricket. Fielders in the circle, if sharp, can keep the batsman stagnated, can induce foolish strokes out of them. If they hit a ball for four, so be it. I’d prefer them to hit a 4 rather than give them fours singles. Right now, a dab 5 yards away from the fielders gives enough room for the batsmen to cross over. It reminds me of the old tactic some would apply while playing Australia – Hayden was slow (is he flat footed? I remember reading so somewhere.), and people would dab the ball just away from him at gully and steal a single. The Indian team has more than a handful of those slow-pokes.

The fielding has to get its act together, so any pressure from the bowlers does not go waste and there is no extra burden on the batsmen to mop up when they bat.

Bagrat

Cricket at Motera and Wankhede

Living in Baroda paid off a little more when I recently got the opportunity to travel to Ahmedabad and Mumbai for weekends’ play of test matches against England. It was my first trip to the cricket grounds in either cities. In this post, I’ll share my experience of watching cricket at these arenas.

 

India vs England, 1st Test Match, Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera/Ahmedabad.

It was a 3 hour trip by bus, or a two hour trip by car to the stadium. There were no online ticket sales. So, I had to get those tickets at the stadium ticket counters. There was car parking inside the stadium premises, but the day I went there in my colleague’s car, the police said we couldn’t take the car on the street leading to the stadium unless we had a ticket. Funny, because we can buy the ticket only when we reach the stadium. We had to hence park the car elsewhere and pay people living nearby to guard the car.

Anyway, we could get tickets for some good seats at the Adani Pavilion, for seats right over the dressing room and just behind the cameramen. The Gujarat Cricket Association has a rooster as its logo. You will laugh at that till you reach the security checks. There were 4 layers of security checks, and you will feel violated every time. And you will have to chuck away all the coins you carried on you before entering.

Motera. Adani Pavilion (Upper)

(this view costs Rs 250 per day)

The seats didn’t seem new, and they surely weren’t cleaned every evening. The crowd built itself up and before the first session ended, the Pavilion stands would be more than 80% full. The ones on square were less than 50% full. That seemed odd, because I could see a huge queue of people waiting for those tickets. The stands above the commentary box were less than 30% full because the sun shone on them almost all day.

The fans would cheer loud the wickets that Indians picked and applaud English boundaries. But the stupid thing was the way it “booed” almost everything not worth cheering. It was like showing a neutral reaction would be illegal. And that was not one portion of the ground. That was the whole stadium. At first I thought they went “ooooh (that was close)!” But that didn’t make sense. I don’t think they would go “oooooh” every time an English batsman got out. And they booed every English supporter who would get up to cheer an English spark. So, the crowd there was meh

In my stands, we had to climb down to a walkway for food and drinks. Can’t have a great meal out of samosas, popcorns, sandwiches, burgers, puffs, bhel puri, icecream, soft-drink and water, though. But it was fine. Jamtha/Nagpur served biryani and stuffs, which was more filling. I didn’t find that here, so was a bit disappointed. You will land in a bit of trouble if you had too much to drink. The toilets were poorly maintained there.

The stadium had only one exit. So, at the end of a day’s play, you would have to walk atleast 1 km along dusty pathways to exit the stadium from a single 5 m wide gate. And then, the hundred autowalas will refuse to go to the exact one place you want to go. (the foreigners would pay him much more, why would he take you on board?) So, I had to walk another km before getting hold of a tuk tuk.

It was nice to be able to easily get entry (tickets and all) to the stadium, but it wasn’t quite great an experience inside it.

 

India vs England, 2nd test, Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai.

I had made a weekend trip to Mumbai for the 2nd test at Wankhede. It was an overnight train journey away from Baroda. You could get the tickets to the game online or at the MCA windows near the stadium (which had long queues). Even if you bought it online, you had to come to the stadium to collect the tickets though, and I heard from my friend that even that was a long queue, which was later sorted out to make it shorter.

I reached the gates an hour before play with my friend. We had two layers of man handling security checks, and we were in. We were in level-2 of the North Stands (opposite end of the ground to where the dressing room was), and would later move to level-3 when the sun shone down upon us.

Wankhede, North Stand (Level-3)

(This view costs Rs 500 on a season pass)

Level-2 was near the press box, and Level-3 was right above the press box. Some of the liveliest people were crowded in the North Stands. Almost every cheer that ringed through the stadium emerged from the North Stands. The most noticeable one was the “PU-JA-RA” chant that echoed across the stadium. I was at Garware Pavilion (which was near the dressing room) for one session, and from there you could hear the “PU-JA-RA” chants from that North Stands section welcoming Pujara to the middle. That was one of the most amazing moments I’ve been a part of. The other stands had drums shooting out bhangra that had people around it dance.

The Barmy Army was larger in number at the Mumbai test than they were at the Motera test. So, the English team got some good support from them. Indian fans were quite respectful with them too. Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen got standing ovations from the entire ground after their tons. And a lot of those fans mingled along with people freely. I didn’t feel like talking to a single stranger at Motera (or Nagpur, for that matter). But, here I could talk to some.

The crowd also let the Indian bowlers know of their horrendous bowling when they had to. Harbhajan Singh got irritated once and complained against some fans, who (I heard) were evicted from the stadium. This, after Harbhajan was totally okay with fooling around with the Motera crowd which got him to happily wave at them, crack jokes with his teammates, kick stuffs like a pro footballer, etc, while he was a water-boy. The crowd there loved the performer that he was. Mumbai crowd did not like his performance at Wankhede, and he did not like that attitude.

Food was served at your seat. Samosas, rolls, cold-drinks, ice-creams, pizzas! Water was available in the walk-way. And what’s more – you can go out of the stadium and get back in any time. So, people could go out to a foodie street near Wankhede and have their fill. A couple of stationery shop owners on that street had the “Why did I not open a snack bar instead?” look on their faces during the lunch hour. And drink all you want, the toilets are fine at Wankhede. The foodie streets had some wonderful juice and soda shops!

There were multiple exits which would drop you are various points around the Churchgate station and Marine Drive. So, the crowd was able to disperse in multiple directions and spread away. Many went to Marine Drive, some went to food joints around the place. Others boarded trains at Churchgate or taxis and buses outside. There wasn’t the flood of exiting human beings that was seen at Motera.

I was exhausted after the two days at Wankhede, both of which were full of fun. It was a wonderful experience there. Even if India had a bad day, being with that crowd would help keep your spirits up.

Looking ahead to watching more games, at new places. Would love to be at Wankhede for many more test matches.

-Bagrat

MS Dhoni seeks bounce and spin

So, cricket returned to Indian TV screens. And how! Some of us will say that cricket never left our homes. However, the preceding three months had seen a ODI series against Sri Lanka — Yes! We needed those like Cherrpunjee needs rain, thanks — and a lengthy series of T20 games. To me, these were months of intense dullness, induced by games that lacked substance or context. Indolent indifference and unbearable ennui resulted. 

It was therefore refreshing to see a cricket match unfold like cricket should; the match told a story of aggression, calm maturity, deceit, courage, disintegration, foolishness, bravado, determination and perseverance.

It was also a story of one captain’s despair even in victory.

This was a story of Sehwag’s aggressive return to ‘form’, although in his case I am not sure what the word ‘form’ even means. His art defies form and sometimes, a consistent narrative. We can’t be certain that a lack of runs worries the man, just as it is hard to ascertain whether the accumulation of a substantial number of runs makes him any more content or confident than he already appears to be. He smiles benignly through pleasure and pain. We too must, perhaps.

This was a story of a young man’s calm maturity. Like Rahul Dravid before him, Cheteshwar Pujara appears to be the sort of guy every girl would want to take home to meet her parents. One girl already has, and the parents have apparently approved. It is inevitable that Pujara, Che as he is referred to by his growing legion of fans, will be compared to Rahul Dravid. Pujara presents a compelling case against genetic cloning; it would seem that this is just not necessary! The score was 1-134 when Pujara started his innings, which meant that he was able to play freely and without much pressure; at least initially. His calm maturity was evident however, after four wickets had fallen for 283 runs. He held the innings together after that point and slowly accumulated his runs with Yuvraj and Ashwin. In the end, it was hard to believe that he had made as many runs as he had; he was surreptitiously effective.

The post match analysis seems to have omitted one significant point in the game when Jonathan Trott seemed to claim a catch after he had virtually slept on the ball. It is hard to believe that this professional cricketer didn’t know he had grassed the catch. It was as funny as it was, in my view, an atrocious piece of gamesmanship. I can’t imagine Harbhajan Singh, for example, getting away with a professional foul of that sort. The match referee, however, turned a blind eye to it.

This was also a story of Altastair Cook’s courage, Kevin Pietersen’s disintegration and Ian Bell’s foolishness. Cook showed tremendous application in both innings. The England captain would have watched in agony as Pietersen and Bell, his illustrious teammates, lost the plot through a combination of foolhardiness and needless bravado. In the absence of effective technique to combat the turning ball, instead of application and patience, we saw brain fuses from Bell and Pietersen. But in both innings, Cook played with enormous pride and resolve and this will have given the England camp some comfort. There is nothing worse than a disintegrating captain of a team that loses badly. He might be boring to watch, but Cook is certainly emerging as an extremely determined and effective a player.

This Test match wasn’t as bad for England as the scorecard will have us believe. With a better team balance and greater application, England can bounce back in this important series. And I feel they will.

And talking of bounce, much of the post-match commentary was around MS Dhoni’s call for different pitches. Dhoni has been on the case of Indian curators for well over a year now. He was disgusted by the pitch that was provided to the visiting New Zealand team in Hyderabad and Bangalore in July this year. Yesterday, of the Motera pitch, Dhoni said, “I don’t even want to see this wicket.”

He then went on to say, “There wasn’t enough turn and bounce for the spinners. Hopefully in the coming matches we’ll see the wicket turn, right from start, or as soon as possible so that the toss doesn’t become vital. What we want to see is two good sides competing against each other with the toss taken out of the equation.”

After the match, Dhoni was criticised for his statements against pitches. The Times of India, in its opinion section adjoining the piece on the pitch, inferred that Dhoni “seems to be letting the thirst for revenge get the better of his cricketing sense”. Right. ‘This criticism of pitches is becoming a pattern with Dhoni’, some people yelled on late-night TV chat shows. ‘We must prepare sporting tracks’ yelled someone else. On another TV show Maninder Singh just yelled.

What Dhoni has asked for seems perfectly reasonable to me. What we want to see is turn and bounce on a wicket. Further, his point is that it should be fine for a wicket to turn right from the toss so that the toss does not become as vital as it currently is. If the match then ends in three days as a result of this turn and bounce, it must be down to the incompetence of the players and nothing else.

There is a nuance to this argument too and that is that no one questions a pitch if it starts bouncing and seaming from the first ball. So why question a pitch just because it is bouncing and spinning from the first ball? I think this is a fair point that deserves a patient hearing. Further, what he seeks is consistent and true bounce. Dhoni says, “What you don’t want is ridges in the wicket and then one ball hits your head and next, your toe.”

Teams from England and Australia have come to expect car loans for single mothers and pitches that turn in India. My sense is that the words ‘dust bowl’ and ‘rank turners’ have become disparaging in our vocabulary because of the disdain imputed through their repeated usage. However, that is the nature of wickets in India. The soil conditions dictate that wickets will turn. To ask for anything else (or to artificially provide anything else to visiting teams) is akin to hating Paris because it does not have the Sydney Opera house.

–Mohan (@mohank)

A (suggested) New Schedule for Ranji 2012-13?

In an earlier article on this blog, we suggested an altered group structure for the Ranji Trophy. The suggested new structure involved 4 Divisions A, B, C and D with 6, 6, 7 and 8 teams respectively.

In this piece we attempt a schedule for this new Ranji structure with a view to (a) ensuring feasibility of the schedule, (b) comparing it with Ranji-2011, so as to enable for effective comparison with the existing system.

Group-A: 6 Teams. Each team plays the other 5 twice (once at home and the other away). Thus, a total of 30 games in 10 “rounds”/weeks.

Group-A’s schedule :-

Group-A Schedule

Group-A, match start dates: 1-Nov, 8, Nov, 16-Nov, 23-Nov, 30-Nov, 7-Dec, 15-Dec, 26-Dec, 3-Jan, 10-Jan

Group B: 6 Teams. Each team plays the other 5 twice (once at home and the other away). Thus, a total of 30 games in 10 “rounds”/weeks.

 Group-B’s Schedule :-

Group-B Schedule

Group-B match start dates: 1-Nov, 8, Nov, 16-Nov, 23-Nov, 30-Nov, 7-Dec, 15-Dec, 26-Dec, 3-Jan, 10-Jan

Group-C: 7 Teams. Each team plays the other 6 once (either at home and the other away). Each team plays 4 of the other teams a second time (home or away). Thus, a total of 35 games in 12 “rounds”/weeks.

Group-C’s Schedule :-

Group-C Schedule

The team listed in the 1st column plays the teams in the 2nd column only once.

Group-C match start dates: 19-Oct, 25-Oct, 1-Nov, 8, Nov, 16-Nov, 23-Nov, 30-Nov, 7-Dec, 15-Dec, 26-Dec, 3-Jan, 10-Jan.

Note that because of an odd number of teams in Group-C, one team has a ‘bye’ each round. Thus, games in this group start 2 weeks prior to the season for the other groups.

Group-D: 8 Teams. Each team plays the other 7 once (either at home and the other away). Each team plays 3 of the other teams a second time (home or away). Thus, a total of 40 games in 10 “rounds”/weeks.

Group-D’s Schedule :-

Group-D Schedule

The team listed in the 1st column plays the teams in the 2nd column only once.

Group-D match start dates: 1-Nov, 8, Nov, 16-Nov, 23-Nov, 30-Nov, 7-Dec, 15-Dec, 26-Dec, 3-Jan, 10-Jan

Ranji Trophy “A” playoffs

The top four teams from Group-A compete for the Ranji Trophy “A” (or premier league).

[ W(Gx) is to be read as Winner of Game x, and L(Gx) is to be read as Loser of Game x]

Ranji Trophy “A” Playoffs

It starts on 8th, after other knock-out phases (scroll down) are done. Sole match to end the season.

 Ranji Trophy “B” playoffs

The bottom two teams of Group-A and the top two teams of Group-B compete in a playoffs series.

AR1 and AR2 are the teams that are facing relegation to Group-B for the next season while BP1 and BP2 qualify to play for promotion to Group-A in the next season. Note that BP1 and BP2 may have been in Group-A in the previous season too. This will be an eliminator style Qualifiers. The two eliminated teams will play in Group-B next season, while the two finalists will play in Group-A next season.

Ranji Trophy “B” Playoffs

Ranji Trophy “C” playoffs

The bottom two teams of Group-B and the top two teams of Group-C compete in a playoffs series.

BR1 and BR2 are the teams that are facing relegation to Group-C for the next season while CP1 and CP2 qualify to play for promotion to Group-B in the next season. Note that CP1 and CP2 may have been in Group-B in the previous season too. This will be an eliminator style Qualifiers. The two eliminated teams will play in Group-C next season, while the two finalists will play in Group-B next season.

Ranji Trophy “C” Playoffs

Ranji Trophy “D” playoffs

The bottom two teams of Group-C and the top two teams of Group-D compete in a playoffs series.

CR1 and CR2 are the teams that are facing relegation to Group-D for the next season while DP1 and DP2 qualify to play for promotion to Group-C in the next season. Note that DP1 and DP2 may have been in Group-C in the previous season too. This will be an eliminator style Qualifiers. The two eliminated teams will play in Group-D next season, while the two finalists will play in Group-C next season.

Ranji Trophy “D” Playoffs

Comparison with Ranji-2011/12

The Ranji Season 2011/12 featured a total of 86 games that spread over a total of 12 weeks. In contrast the suggestion above includes a total of 151 games, spread over 17 weeks.

Our suggestion above makes for a tighter season that is quite feasible (in terms of season scheduling). It allows for stiffer competition, particularly in Groups-A and B.

In addition, given the relegation/promotion battles, there is an element of interest for at least 16 of the 27 teams in the competition. The schedule suggested above indicates and proves feasibility. It is up to the BCCI to adopt it immediately.

-Mohan (@mohank) and P. Bharathram (@bagrat15)

Changes to the Ranji Trophy… Not enough

The BCCI’s technical committee, which included former players, Saurav Ganguly and Roger Binny — along with ‘special invitee’, Anil Kumble — recently recommended an overhaul of the Ranji Trophy, India’s premier first-class tournament.

The Ranji Trophy currently has 27 teams divided into 2 Divisions; one called Elite with 15 teams and the other, the Plate, with 12 teams. The Elite league is split into two groups, one with 8 teams and the other with 7. The Plate league is split into two groups with 6 teams in each. A collection of teams from these groups then fight it out at the knock-out stage of the Ranji Trophy competition. The people who decided on this current structure either had a lot of fun, smoked a rare kind of weed or had a gun stuck to their heads (or all of the above)!

Thankfully, the BCCI’s Technical Committee suggested an overhaul of the Ranji structure. They have recommended the scrapping of the Elite and Plate divisions and have suggested a rearrangement of the 27 teams into three groups of nine each. I am sure the BCCI will come up with imaginative names for these three groups although PlateCup and Saucer are my initial offerings.  This is certainly not a bad suggestion by the Technical Committee. Indeed, I campaigned for a somewhat similar restructure nearly 5 years ago.

In my view, this current overhaul is a step in the right direction; but it not quite enough. There are several reasons why this is just not enough, in my view:

  • The Premier Division should contain fewer teams that play each other more often.
  • There is no reason for constructing the knock out competition in the manner suggested unless one is worried about elitism and a complaint from Ram Guha about the lack of adequate representation for the down-trodden.
  • The Ranji Trophy, the primer inter-State tournament in India and the tournament from which India gets to harvest the next generation of talent, lasts a bit over 2 months! The Sheffield Shield involves fewer teams and lasts close to 4 months.
  • There are way too many domestic tournaments that need to be squeezed into the calendar: Challengers, Corporate Cup, Irani Trophy, Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy, and the IPL.
  • The pitches should be result-oriented and the points should reward risks and outright wins far more than it currently does.

We have to assume that a league with less than 27 teams is just not feasible. Ideally, the league should have no more than 14 teams in two Divisions of 7 teams each. However, let us accept that, for a variety of political reasons, a league with a fewer number of teams is just not possible.

The best players in the competition ought to play more games against the best opposition. The reason why Australia produces a string of excellent quality players — especially bowlers — who appear to be International match-ready is, in my view, because of the intensity of the battle at the highest level. Australia’s Sheffield Shield has just six teams that play each other home and away.

In addition, the Ranji League ought to see many more result oriented pitches. Home and away games must be the norm. A 9-team league does not provide the luxury of structuring a home-away type competition.

The Technical Committee also made recommendations aimed at providing greater incentives for outright wins in the league matches. The current suggestion is that outright wins will be worth six points (as opposed to the current five) and the bonus point system (for ten-wicket wins or innings victories) will remain. This is not enough in my view. I agree with Aakash Chopra on this suggested change. A team that wins ought to get a purse of Rs 15 Lakh (a lakh per player) and teams that draw ought to receive just Rs 1.5 Lakh, say (ten thousand per player). We might then see teams behaving differently. The reward that is on offer might see teams take on different kinds of risks. I also think that the points system ought to be tweaked much more in favour of a win. I would have made a win worth 10 points.

The current model that has been suggested by the Working Committee is that

  • Nine teams from the three Divisions play each other once only.
  • The 3 top teams from Division-A the 3 top teams from Division-B and the 2 top teams from Division-C play in the knockout phase; a phase during which players from the remaining 19 teams twiddle their thumbs and prepare for the IPL!

There is no real justification for having a knockout stage constructed in this strange manner unless we want to (a) satisfy the romance of another Rajasthan happening, (b) give Aakash Chopra an opportunity to write another book and/or (c) keep Ramachandra Guha from picking up his pen once again in a show of anger at the lack of democratic representation!

The real problem I have with the suggestion that is on the table is that it does not promote a drive to excellence as much and as hard. It just does not go far enough in my view.

A different model:

I would like to see the BCCI Technical Committee consider a totally different model though:

  • Split the current 27 teams into 4 Divisions: Div-A (6 teams), Div-B (6 teams), Div-C (7 teams) and Div-D (8 teams).
  • Each team in Division-A and B play each other at Home and Away (a total of 30 games in A and B played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks).
  • Teams in Division-C play each other once and 4 of the teams again (schedule constructed in much the same way as the IPL-4 schedule was constructed) thereby resulting in a total of 39 games in C played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks.
  • Teams in Division-D play each other once and 3 of the teams again (schedule constructed in much the same way as the IPL-4 schedule was constructed) thereby resulting in a total of 46 games in D played over 10 ’rounds’ or a max of 10 weeks.
  • The top 4 teams from Division-A (A1, A2, A3, A4) play for the Ranji Division-A Finals in an AFL-style (IPL-style) finals series where the winner of the league stage gets two bites of the cherry to appear in the Ranji-A finals.
  • A5, A6, B1 and B2 play an elimination-style B-Finals series to decide: (a) The Ranji Division-B Winner and Ranji Division-B runner-up. These two teams will be A5 and A6 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-B for the next season.
  • B5, B6, C1 and C2 play an elimination-style C-Finals series to decide (a) The Ranji Division-C Winner and Ranji Division-C runner up. These two teams will be B5 and B6 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-C for the next season.
  • C6, C7, D1 and D2 play an elimination-style D-Finals series to decide (a) The Ranji Division-D Winner and Ranji Division-D runner up. These two teams will be C6 and C7 in the next year’s Ranji Trophy. The losers play in Division-D for the next season.

In the above format, each team plays the same number of games in the league stage. The league games happen over 10 rounds and the finals series for all four Divisions would involve 3 games (or 3 rounds). So, the overall competition would take 13 rounds or just under 3 months. In the model that I have suggested above, as many as 16 of the 27 teams are involved in the knockout phase of the competition. This retains interest in the competition. This continues the engagement and interest in the results. And the relegation/promotion battles ensure that there are result-oriented matches.

Yes, this makes the Ranji Trophy last a bit longer. But, in my view, this would add to the flavour of competition – particularly in the A and B Divisions.

The best players need to bubble through the system from the best teams. A (limited and controlled) free auto loan calculator movement of players between teams will ensure that we see the best players play for the best teams. The Ranji Trophy should be about the best players being identified, nurtured and prepared. The suggestion made above has a greater chance of identifying such talent than the proposal that is currently on the table.

I would like to see the Irani Trophy, Deodhar Trophy and the Corporate Cup scrapped. These serve no real purpose in my view. In its place, if the format suggested above is adopted, at the end of the season, each Division selects its best players. Players from Division-A, Division-B, Division-C and Division-D teams (respectively) could play a revamped Duleep Trophy; one without ‘zones’. The same 4 teams could play a revamped Challenger Trophy too with teams named Division-A, Division-B, Division-C and Division-D (instead of red, blue, green and yellow).

And that would be it. Oh yes! And I would scrap the IPL too…

— Mohan (@mohank)

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.