Tag Archives: Pakistan

The i3j3Cricket Podcast Episode-1

Assembly of bowlers

There are two teams in world cricket whose bowling unit amuses me nowadays. Not because how they perform, that is a different story and I take different sides. The two sides I am talking about are Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Both Pakistan and Sri Lanka produce bowlers with interesting actions. And they are unique in that. Or, less imitable. There are many of them. Sri Lanka has Ajantha Mendis, Lasith Malinga, Dilhara Fernando, for sample. Pakistan had Shoaib Akhtar, has Wahab Riaz, Saeed Ajmal, Sohail Tanvir among many others.

Sri Lanka brought out Ajantha Mendis and nobody knew what he was doing. What seemed to be a simple action seemed to reap complex results. Kumar Sangakkara confessed that he could figure out what was coming only when he was standing behind the stumps, and not in front of it. Mendis would waltz through the sides playing against Sri Lanka for a brief period.

Mendis gave birth to the term “carrom ball”. Nobody knew what it was. Nobody knew how to bowl/mimic it for a while. I’ve seen people try to do that and direct the ball at the clueless forward short leg. Not many batsmen had a clue about how to play that ball either. I think it was Mahendra Singh Dhoni who started prodding his front foot miles outside to negate the turn, after reading the ball off the pitch seemed tougher than his team-mates had thought. That bought some time, and they were able to analyse the mystery.

Ajantha Mendis served in the army. He was spotted long before he was introduced in the international stage. He was told to continue what he was doing. He was bestowed with the confidence of the cricket community to perfect his art. He returned their confidence with wonderful rewards.

Dilhara Fernando jogs to the bowling crease like he is on a morning jog. But in the final stride he exerts so much energy that he bowls fast, hitting the 90 mph mark multiple times. He gets injured a lot. He comes back more. The best part about him is his slower ball. Almost un-readable. The “split-finger” slow ball must be tough. I couldn’t split that quickly. And I don’t see other bowlers trying that method, so it must be something that takes a lot of effort and control. It is a pity his health punctured his career a lot.

Unrelated, but interesting: Dilhara Fernando bowled a lot of no-balls. So many, that a bus stop near his home was re-named “The No Ball Stop”.

The most interesting bowling action today in the Sri Lankan outfit must be Lasith Malinga. I will call him the most accurate bowler just for what he does. Not only is he the most prolific member of the I Can Bowl Yorkers Association, the members of whom are fast depleting, but he can york a batsman very frequently. At a quick pace. With that action. When I try to mimic that (and you know that, since you have tried too), I either fall down, or bowl to square leg. If I am having a good day, to fine leg.

And a mandatory mention- his yorkers. He trains himself to become more accurate at bowling yorkers by placing a pair of shoes at the crease in the practice sessions (nets). He then runs in and bowls at the shoes. It is similar to the handkerchief bowling practice conceptually, but has a different purpose. And I am not sure anybody else tries it- because nobody else seems to be interested in bowling a yorker.

Sohail Tanvir’s bowling looked like a man speed-walking to the crease and bowling somewhere between two steps. It was as weird as watching an Olympic walking race. He didn’t (doesn’t?) have a notable jump/stride while nearing the crease. He does not bowl off his wrong foot, though. Some commentators have seen his footwork replayed multiple times and still can’t get over the fact that he doesn’t bowl off his wrong foot.

Saeed Ajmal came in, the charming, smiling bowling assassin. Just when we thought wrist spin in offies was dying (with Muttiah Muralitharan), Saeed Ajmal presented himself. Him and Muralitharan are probably the only two bowlers who I felt had justified bowling to right handers from around the wicket. They were the ones who spun the ball big enough to have the batsmen at their mercy from that angle. Most other bowlers do that because they tried everything else in vain, or are plain bored and want to improve their economy.

I find Wahab Riaz interesting because when he is bowling, he looks like a gardener chasing a rabbit- pouncing, leaping, and not exactly in a fluid motion. And despite that, he was able to give the Pakistani fans some wonderful memories. Especially “Wahabyou been?” days from that wretched tour of England.

I read that Pakistani board held trials for bowlers to try out at a large ground, and promising bowlers would be shortlisted. That is an open dance floor. It was a chance for anyone and everyone to show up. And from what I heard, the ground was flooded, more than what was expected. Believe me, “expectations” are already high, number wise, in a country like Pakistan where a talented fast bowler is born every day in every city. I was excited when I heard that. Young bowlers who had developed themselves, their own technique, their own style can now come and bowl in front of people who can change their lives for the better.

That was an amazing story. And that is against the normal flow of things in that world. A kid who wants to get into a cricket team in most part of the world has to get up at 5 am in the morning and go to practice sessions, follow coach’s advice from placing the landing foot to holding the seam in position. And then the kid returns home to get ready to attend his secondary school.

If the kid is in India, then you can just assume that the kid loses at least 4 hours a day to cricket. “Loses” may be replaced with the word “dedicated” in some cases.  I am not sure the kid knows what is happening. He wants to be a bowler that he dreamt of becoming? Or, is he just becoming a bowler because the coach said so? And thereby, doing what the coach said, and hence becoming the bowler the coach dreamt of becoming? The kids go into an assembly processor and come out as batch products, each resembling the last.

I forgot the source and the coach, but I read this on the internet when a coach of under-age cricket team said that when the kids are young, you mustn’t try to coach them. The kids should enjoy the game first, develop a liking to a skill, to a part of the game and try to do something on their own. Once the kid takes up a vocational path, and is ready to take the next step, he/she will come to you. That is when you teach them where to pitch, how to swing, how to keep your body from falling, etc.

I love West Indian cricket, and they have a wonderful bowling unit. But I am bored of watching Jerome Taylor, Dwayne Bravo, Kemar Roach and Andre Russell bowl with fairly similar actions. Praveen Kumar and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar have similar actions. One Indian bowler who has been unique (just because of his release) whenever he does get to bowl is S. Sreesanth. And that is just lovely to watch.

I don’t know much about the new set of Australian bowlers, but the last time I saw they just seemed the same assembly products with faster pace. That’s all. Don’t get me wrong. Many of them are great bowlers, making batsmen say their prayers before every delivery, and that must have been absorbed some wonderful coaching and tutoring into doing that. Just that I don’t see much variety nowadays.

And I don’t understand why there are 23962374 slow left arm spinners in International cricket all of a sudden. Special annual ICC Sweepstakes for them?

New Zealand’s Chris Martin and (now England’s?) Iain O’Brien had some uniqueness to their action. Mark Gillespie had a leap. Doug Bracewell looks a blast from the past. Maybe there is some charm left there in the Kiwi Isles? I would like to hope so.

My uncle told me once, “All the bowlers look like machines today, every coach wants to correct their action. When Kapil Dev bowled, his action made him look like he had paralysis. No coach would recommend that action to any of the present age bowlers. But, look at what Kapil was able to achieve with his freedom!”

Do let me know whose bowling action you enjoy the most. And, since I have been out of touch a bit, tell me which new kid has a unique action?

-Bagrat

Deserving the Asia Cup

It was a deserving day of cricket. But only Bangladesh deserved to win the finals. Even before players could wake up. Everybody in the world was sure that Bangladesh will win the Asia Cup, because, well, they deserved it, making the whole point of playing the game an utter waste of time. But ah well, some ICC Rule number 137897.124.124.124.623.5.32.5.2 section a. said that it deserves to be played.

So, if Holy Fans of The Holy Game were to have it, the Holy Finals would…errr…should have panned out, deserving-ly, like this –

Toss – The match referee flips the coin, Misbah calls “heads”, and the referee catches the coin, puts it in the pocket and shrugs to Misbah, “Hey, Bangladesh deserves to win the toss, mate.”

So, Bangladesh wins the toss and they opt to bowl. They deserve to.

Hafeez and Jamshed walk out to open, and Athar Ali Khan already has uttered “My Word” 47 times. That’s alright. He deserves to do that.

Mashrafe Mortaza will open the bowling for Bangladesh. Wonderful bowler. Destroys India, does nothing more than that. Has more injuries than wickets. And Bangladeshi crowd goes berserk when he gets dropped for non-performance or even injury. That candidate always deserves a spot in the team.

So, here he comes, bustling like a train, and it’s a wide to start the innings. Wide down the leg side, and Mushfiq had to jump like a toad to pouch that one. But don’t worry, the umpire doesn’t signal a wide. Mashrafe has been through a lot. He deserves a good first ball.

A few overs go by, in which the other fast bowler, whose name I don’t remember now, and as I deserve for that, I get flak for forgetting, gets two wickets. One because the umpire gave an lbw when the ball seemed away and comfortably went  to the keeper’s hands. But, well, that ball deserved an LBW to its credit. And the other wicket was because Hafeez thought the bowler should deserve another wicket for being a fast bowler on the Bangladeshi cricket team. So, he shoulders arms and lets the ball come and hit his stumps. Bangladeshi Polka Dots dressed fans are ecstatic. Hafeez tells them that they deserve to be happy, just like Sacramento Kings’ fans must be.

Also, Mr My Word and Mr Safety are replaced by Mr Running The First One Hard (imagine saying hard in #huan tone) and Mr Just 65 Runs To Go For The Century.

Pakistan are 143/3 after 32 overs. They now decide that the Bangladeshi bowlers deserve to have done better. so, Pakistan’s score is revised to 123/4. Shakib is a wonderful bowler. My word. Also, Mahudullah, Suhrawadi Shuvo, Abdur Razzak and the other 17 spinners in the side. So, they all deserve to see a better score on that big screen.

Pakistan will not get their batting powerplay. Come on… Why should they? They don’t deserve to hit more runs.

And Afridi deserves to be out. So, the bowler bowls the ball, keeper collects it, returns it to the bowler and the bowler dismantles the bails. And appeals. All batsmen are inside their respective creases. But, Bangladesh deserve to get rid of Afridi early. So, Afridi is out. Striker standing inside the batting crease is run out at the non-striker end. Bangladesh deserve to make history.

Shakib al Hasan finishes with figures of 10-1-42-2. Wonderful bowling. He deserves some more overs. So, he gets to bowl 4 more overs. Gets 2 more wickets at the expense of just 8 runs. My Word.

Pakistan end their innings at 254/8, after some rocking and rolling smashing hits from Misbah and Umar Gul. Fans did not expect this, so they weren’t sure if they deserved it or not. So, they were granted the permission to score freely.

Oxford dictionary meanwhile announce that they decided to award the word “Myword” to Athar Ali Khan. Their press release said “He deserves to have a word of his own, so he doesn’t abuse other words.”

Tournament organizers decide that Bangladesh deserve another win in the tournament. So, they toggle the result of the tournament opener and award Bangladesh with the win over Pakistan in the opener. The organizer said “Nasir Jamshed did not deserve to play that kind of innings.” So, Bangladesh have topped the league table.

There is no rain, but the D/L method score will be applied on the Pakistani Score. D/L – Deserve to Lose. So, the target for Bangladesh is not a paltry 132 runs in the whole 50 overs.

Umar Gul will open the attack. And sends in a toe crushing yorker at Tamim Iqbal, who totally misses the ball trying to play it across the line, and the middle and leg stump for the same angle that Afridi forms with his arms while celebrating a wicket. The umpire then goes to Gul and says, “Hey, Tamim deserves a second change.” And, Tamim can stay.

But Gul manages to remove Tamim Iqbal three more times in the same over, and Tamim had to leave. Even some Bangladeshi fans were irritated and said that Tamim doesn’t deserve another chance. Pakistan have made a breakthrough. They had to go back and close the flood gates thrice in the same over, but they can finally leave it open.

Afridi comes in to bowl along with Ajmal. Afridi has been removed off the attack because of moral policing. People complained that he is only 18 years of age and has been faking an increase in age for the last 13 years. So, he doesn’t deserve to bowl. And yes, as is the general opinion amongst everybody, Ajmal doesn’t deserve to bowl at all.

So, Pakistan are reduced to bowling out the overs with Gul, Hafeez, Cheema, Younis Khan and Hammad Azam. In spite of Bangladesh losing wickets now and then, they get some runs on the board through Shakib al Hasan’s bat. He deserves to be the number one all-rounder in the whole universe. Martians deserve to immortalize Shakib by planting a statue of his when they visit Saturn next.

It all comes down to the last over. Cheema has to bowl to Shakib and Shahadat Hossain. Bangladesh need 9 off the last over, only 2 wickets remain. How it came this close is anybody’s guess. You deserve to make a guess, you have a beautiful mind. It’s alright if you didn’t make it to IIT and then into IIM and earned $$$$$$$$$$$ in business. But you deserve to make a guess.

Cheema runs in, the 33-year-old coach bustling in with enthusiasm….and suddenly, the umpire stops Cheema on his tracks, asks for the ball, pockets the ball, tips the bail off the stump and declares “Bangladesh, we all know you deserve to win this. you win.”

And Yes. Bangladesh have won the Asia Cup. Congratulations, Bangladesh. Shakib deserved and got the Man Of The Final Over, Man Of  The Match, (and while Shakib goes to collect his man Of The Series Award, LSK exclaims “He is running the first one haaaard”), Man Of The Series, and also in advance, the man Of The World Cup and The Best All Rounder Award for the years 2012 to 2018.

Also, congratulations Sri Lanka on winning last year’s World Cup. You deserved it. We were just trolling you by winning it for ourselves. We are selfish like that – winning World Cups and all.

– Bagrat

Clutch Redux

A few months ago, Siddhartha Vaidyanathan (@sidvee) wrote an excellent article titled “Tendulkar and the ‘clutch’ question”. This was an exquisite essay, which recognized Tendulkar’s many virtues: his incredible longevity, passion for the game, hunger for the fight, impact beyond cricket, and his poise even when burdening a billion expectations. However, @sidvee’s article also states that Tendulkar’s performance in the “clutch debate remains partially unresolved”. Apart from this expression of thrust/hypothesis, one very minor gripe that I had with the article was that it was a somewhat convenient fence-sit, for most part.

A “clutch moment” is defined as one where an athlete senses the moment, pounces on it and imposes his greatness on the occasion. The end result is normally a victory.

This article was @sidvee at his very best. The arguments were excellently and passionately constructed. It even had a typo (“goosbumps” instead of “goosebumps”) to show us all that @sidvee was human after all. There were many comments from readers of this article. If the quality of an article is measured by the debate it generates, then this one certainly belonged in the top-drawer. There were also a few ripostes to @sidvee’s article; the best of these was one by Mahesh (@cornerd).

At first I thought I would not buy into the debate, for a variety of reasons. For a long time now, I have employed a wicket-keeper for any arguments on Sachin Tendulkar’s greatness. Occasionally, I would find myself in the thick of a virulent debate on Tendulkar’s greatness. The main reason for staying away from the “clutch” debate, however, was that the Sachin-clutch argument was old-hat to me. It had done many a spin around my block!

But then, I am not a great fan of a fence-sit either: a fence-sit gives the fence sitter nothing more than a sore bottom! So, I have decided that, after nearly three months, I will weigh in to the debate after all.

In a subsequent piece, @sidvee quoted from Stephen J Gould’s brilliant piece on Joe DiMaggio’s phenomenal 56-game hitting streak, in which the author comments on the nature of legend.

“A man may labor for a professional lifetime, especially in sport or in battle, but posterity needs a single transcendent event to fix him in permanent memory. Every hero must be a Wellington on the right side of his personal Waterloo; generality of excellence is too diffuse. The unambiguous factuality of a single achievement is adamantine. Detractors can argue forever about the general tenor of your life and works, but they can never erase a great event.”

The argument is that Tendulkar’s peers — Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Steve Waugh, Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Aravinda De Silva, et al — have faced and seized clutch moments. These moments have been recorded and recognized in their respective CVs. Meanwhile, the argument is that Tendulkar let his clutch-moments slip through his fingers.

Indian cricket fans will point to the fact that if India had won the Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999, we may not have felt the need to have this argument. Tendulkar would have had his clutch moment on his CV. That moment would have been further augmented, ornamented and romanticized by virtue of the fact that Tendulkar battled through an injury to get India to within spitting distance of victory in that Test. We like blood. We like our sporting heroes to be gladiators that vanquish evil. The clutch is a much better clutch if the sportsman has morphine in his body or his jaw strapped by a bandage.

We willed Tendulkar to win that match for us. But he let us down! Tendulkar got out within sight of victory. India lost. The Indian cricket fan has not forgotten!

When we turn our focus on that heroic-tragic Chennai Test against Pakistan that India lost, few fans seem to remember that it was a low scoring match; that no team had crossed 300 in that match; that apart from Afridi, who had scored a second-innings century as opener, no other player stamped his authority on the game; that Saqlain Mushtaq bowled as brilliantly as anyone has seen him bowl; that the pitch was crumbling; that at 82 for 5 chasing 271, India was cooked already! It was against this backdrop that we must see Tendulkar’s epic effort. I do not wish to be a Tendulkar apologist. That is not his point. His record speaks much more than I can.

However, the point I wish to make is that the scorecard does not record the above details. The scorecard does not record the fact that Tendulkar first shielded and then battled Nayan Mongia through an epic contribution; often chiding him for taking undue risks; always encouraging him. Worse! The scorecard does not record the fact that, with 53 runs to get, Mongia departed to an ugly pull off Wasim Akram! By getting out, Mongia had said (like almost all Team India players of Tendulkar’s era had), “You do it on your own from here. I am out of here!” The scorecard does not record the fact that Tendulkar was in severe pain at that point in time. His back had given way by then. The scorecard does not record that, despite that pain, he chose to change gears and belted a few boundaries once Mongia got out (needlessly). The scorecard also does not record the fact that all it took was one single fatal miscalculation; one small error of judgment is all it took for Indian fans to label him permanently as a clutch failure! The scorecard does not record the fact that, when Tendulkar departed at 254, with 17 runs still to get, the Karnataka quartet of SB Joshi, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad could only get 4 between themselves! The fact that the Karnataka quartet disgraced themselves is forgotten. The fact that they collectively devalued Tandulkar’s efforts to get India to that point is also forgotten.

The point is that “clutch” is a difficult concept in cricket. It ignores the team. It ignores Nayan Mongia and the Karnataka quartet. It is agnostic to contributions (or lack thereof) from a team. It is a uni-dimensional and harsh measure. As @sidvee himself points out, it is impossible to compare greatness across different sport or indeed, different players in the same sport who play for different teams and in different eras. It is precisely because of this that I value Tendulkar’s centuries more than I value Ponting’s centuries; Ponting did not have to face McGrath, Warne and Gillespie! Clutch applies perfectly only to tennis players and golfers! They chart their destiny themselves.

Almost exactly a decade later — one month shy of a decade later — Tendulkar chose the same venue (Chepauk, Chennai) to “atone” for his earlier inability to close out a win. He stayed not out till the end, scored an unbeaten century and ensured that India won against England. This was an important win for the country’s pride, leave alone the team! This win emerged from the shadows of the 26/11 tragedy that had shocked a nation. I am told that there was not a dry eye in Chepauk. This could have counted as a clutch. But even this was contribution was not enough.

I suspect that most Indian fans are still not able to forgive Tendulkar for that 1999 game. As one reader said on @sidvee’s blog, Tendulkar constantly gets the short-shrift. We are quick to make Gods out of mere mortals, but we have a constant need for our legends to be nothing short of Gods — all the time.

I am not a big fan of “clutch” in team sport. It is all too individualistic. Even Roberto Baggio does not qualify as a clutch failure in my books. Yes, he fluffed that penalty shoot in 1994. But that ignores his teammates’ many misses during the game. I am not in favor of tagging transient acts of excellence as “clutch” in a team sport. If we did, we run the risk of calling Ajit Agarkar or David Warner as cricket geniuses (the logic here is that clutch suggests genius)! By the same argument, I am not in favor of tagging transient acts of lack-of-excellence as “clutch failure” in a team sport.

As Mahesh (@cornerd) says in his riposte, Tendulkar’s preparation for the 1998 series against Australia constitutes “clutch” to me. To me, clutch in a team-sport is not a specific instance in time. It must be demonstrated through sustained acts of (heroic) excellence for it to be a clutch.

And Tendulkar certainly has these sustained acts of excellence in his CV.

— Mohan

One match to go…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

More positives from India’s loss to RSA…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three reasons really:

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

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

Final Group Standings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Balance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Batting approach:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion:

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

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)

Cricket is in a “fix” and a “spot” of bother

There are many things wrong with Pakistan at the moment including the cricket “spot fixing” scandal. However, in comparison to (a) the impact of the floods that have ravaged the country, (b) a 10%-regime, (c) random and uncontrolled terrorist attacks and (d) geo-political instability, the spot-fixing scandal — and a potential link to a larger and more exhaustive and consuming match-fixing scandal — perhaps registers a mere blip on the trouble-scale. The many other dangers and calamities might make this latest scandal insignificant in terms of its impact on the larger issues of public governance, social security, peace, self-confidence and plight of her people.

However, every scandal, whatever its magnitude, is a reflection of a nations’ pride, a mirror to a nations’ moral fabric and a pointer to a nations’ collective conscience. A few crooks, thugs and hoons do not a nation make. I agree. However, a repeat offence by the same offender who had been “let off” earlier seems to suggest a governance body that is tolerant of cheats, or a problem that is endemic and systemic, or a vacuum in societal leadership, or a punctured national integrity or an intelligentsia that has a permanent sore throat and brain freeze! Or, more frighteningly, ALL of the above!

Where are the voices of reason emanating out of that land? Who are they? Who are the role models for young lads with sometimes-errant-behaviour to follow?

As the Pakistani daily, The NEWS, writes yesterday, “The evidence appears conclusive and we are exposed to the world as cheats and frauds once again.” The key phrase in that sentence is “once again”. The missing phrase in that sentence is “and by the same sports people who ought to have faced stiff punishment earlier”.

The problem, however, is that for every voice like the above, we have The Daily Express that screams, “The match-fixing scandal is an Indian conspiracy against the Pakistan team.”

Aaah! The “foreign hand” conspiracy theory that doubles as a convenient denial-blanket! I can only sigh in utter despair!

We can’t be smug in India. There is endemic corruption in all walks of life here. But there is an intelligentsia that will ensure that checks-and-balances exist. These voices may sometimes be ineffective and public accountability often suffers. Witness the (Un)Common Wealth Games (Shames) and the many other political scandals, for example. But there is a societal voice. There is societal leadership. And if all else fails, there are sane voices of people like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble!

For many years now, I have watched Pakistan cricket implode at key moments. Cricket fans have often put it down to the mercurial nature of her players and their unpredictability. Often this unpredictability was the charm that Pakistan cricket brought to the table. I loved seeing Shahid Afridi score 100 of 50 balls one day and 5 the very next day, out to a wild swing off a full-toss. I salivated over the prospect of watching Mohammed Aamer grow into a Wasim Akram and looked forward to the youngsters’ skill and prowess being admired for long, just as I had admired Imran Khan, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis before him. I was amazed that this land threw up another sensation in Wahab Riaz just a few matches later!

But no more.

I have had enough.

Yes, the allegations are yet unproven and they are mere allegations at this stage. However, I have seen enough evidence to assure me that I was a fool to be as excited as I was to see Michael Hussey and Peter Siddle claw their way to a strong position in the Sydney Test. They were in a cruel play that was being enacted which involved a few honest sportsmen, a few crooks and millions of innocent fans. As a Team India fan and an ardent fan of Pakistan crickets’ flamboyance and Australian crickets’ grit, I was glued to that Test Match as it unfolded. The drama was compelling. But I was wrong. I was cheated by the thugs that took a few thousand dollars to drop catches and miss run-outs deliberately!

The thugs had manipulated us.

I am switching off all things Pakistan UNLESS I am convinced that her people are shamed by this; unless concrete action is taken.

In the future, I believe that the ICC should have licensed agents and only they can have access to players, sign contracts and make endorsement deals. Player contracts should specify that players” incomes should be declared and be open to scrutiny. There are other mechanisms and instruments that cricket should borrow from soccer.

This is a rude wake-up call and a clarion call for the cleansing of cricket and its inappropriate under-belly.

Cricket is in a “fix” and a “spot” of bother!

— Mohan