Tuesday, July 31, 2007


It’s a pity really, that umpires at the Twenty20 World Cup will “officiate in their normal, stock-standard way,” according to tournament director Steve Elworthy. And here we were, expecting umpires to give seven-ball overs, penalize bowlers for bowling dot balls, send batsmen on their way for conceding maiden overs, disallow direct hit run-outs, award runs for sledging and slam fielding captains for restrictive field-settings, among others.

Twenty20, by virtue of being one-day cricket on steroids, is likely to produce high octane cricket by itself. So why is there so much focus on the trappings? The game can take care of itself, thank you. What next? Cross-dressing match referees? Purple-striped pitches? Psychedelic sightscreens? Variable boundary lengths for different batsmen?

Wake me up when the game begins please.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Getting it "over" with

In its characteristic spirit of introspection and self-flagellation, the British media has been identifying reasons for England’s inability to grab the one final wicket that would’ve given them victory in the Lord’s test against India. The Spin has an insightful collection of “miniscule” reasons in this week’s edition. Some of the reasons are plausible; but I’m not sure I agree with point 4.

England can hardly complain when they bowled only 55 overs between 11am and 3.35pm, which is when they left the field for the last time. Granted, that kind of rate is par for the course these days, but England in effect cheated themselves out of five or so overs, even with Panesar bowling 13 of them and Michael Vaughan four. With clouds gathering, urgency ought to have been paramount.

Quite a few others in the British media have picked this point up as well. But the truth of the matter is that England’s over-rate in the fourth innings was not any worse than that of either team in the match – India bowled 91.2 overs in 395 minutes in the first innings at a rate of 13.9 overs an hour and 78.3 overs in 360 minutes in the second at 13.1; England bowled 77.2 overs in 352 minutes in the first innings at 13.2 and 96 overs in 414 minutes in the second at 13.9. Sure, Monty Panesar bowled quite a bit for England, but so did Anil Kumble for India.

The numbers, nevertheless, tell only one side of the story. The other argument is whether rushing through your overs in a bid to bowl more is necessarily effective. Sure, if you bowl more, you stand a better chance of grabbing wickets. But that is only if you’re bowling with a purpose. Remember how Sir Richard Hadlee used the over as a unit to plot batsmen out? Remember the rhythm of Waqar Younis (or Shoaib Akhtar) as he pounded in with his mile-long run-up? Remember Shane Warne working out his opposition? And remember the golden era of the West Indian quicks? They never seem to have bowled more than 80 overs in a day, but they still managed to regularly grab the 20 wickets required for their team to win, more often than not with time to spare. Taking wickets in test matches is about scheming, about adjusting your field incessantly, about keeping things changing. About taking your time.

England is beginning to play inspirational, effective cricket. Give them the space and time to do so. And if the weather denies them the odd victory, so be it. The world knows they can handle disappointment. At least at Lord’s, it was in an almost-successful pursuit of victory.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pictures of cricket

The splayed legs of Gundappa Vishwanath as he executed yet another of his exquisite square cuts; an almost mystical Abdul Qadir in mid-stride, fingers reaching for his lips; the flying stumps behind the batsman with a menacing Michael Holding still in his follow-through; an agile Ian Botham celebrating yet another catch at second slip, the dramatic appealing of Dennis Lillee as he nailed yet another batsman… these were some of the images that initiated me into the game of cricket in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.

Images that came to us not through cricket web sites, not through dedicated cricket channels, not through 24-hour sports channels, not even through the inconsistent coverage of the national television channel, but through grainy black & white photographs in the daily newspapers and in exciting colour ones in the sports magazines of those days – The Sportstar (the only one still standing, albeit without the definite article), Sportsweek, and Sportsworld, and back copies of the defunct Sport & Pastime.

Of course, most of the dailies only carried postage-stamp-sized photographs of Sunil Gavaskar or Kapil Dev while reporting yet another of their centuries or five-wicket hauls, but considering the scarcity of imagery in those days, even these pictures were priceless and found their way into our scrapbooks – last year’s notebooks filled with all the pictures we could get hold of from the daily newspapers. (I remember having at least 10 identical pictures of Kapil Dev, beaming smile, drooping moustache and all, in one of my scrap books.) And every time a new picture was stuck (with glue or with particles of rice, never with adhesive tape), the entire scrap book was lovingly perused, the picture count made all over again, and the scrap book carefully put back in its place on the shelf.

Naturally, all our attention was on the cricketers and the action (such as there was), but even then we did not miss the fact that most of the pictures that came in from games outside of India were from one of three sources – All Sport, Adrian Murrell and Patrick Eager. The last named, Patrick Eager just covered his 300th test when he took his regular position behind the lens in the just concluded test at Lord’s, where the weather ended up denying England the one wicket they needed to beat India to go one-up in the series.

Thanks, Patrick, for bringing the game alive in our minds.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Australia’s Twenty20 vision

I wrote about England’s selection for the Twenty20 World Cup in a post last week, about how they seemed to have dusted the who’s who editions of the past and pulled out people from the middle of their benefit games. Now Australia have announced their Twenty20 squad. And guess what they have done?

They’ve stuck to the tried and tested – taken the victorious World Cup squad, replaced the retired Glenn McGrath with the fit-again Brett Lee, and left the rest of the team intact.

Does this say anything about the difference between Australia and England (or any other cricketing side, for that matter), in terms of how they approach the game? It does, to me. Not just how Australia approach the Twenty20 version, but their attitude to cricket itself. The goal is to win – the best team will be chosen, the proven will be preferred.

It’s almost like a corporate organization – every project is equally important, every client is pursued zealously, every product has to hit home.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Comparison or . . .

As the India-England series gets underway, the media is awash with the expected admixture of nostalgia, all-time team lists, predictions and hopes, speculations on individual head-to-heads, wishes, superlatives and hype. And that one activity that cricket writers can never tire of – comparisons. Among the recent is the one comparing Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid on Times Online.

Much has been said against comparisons. They are odious, they are speculative, they are unfair, they are biased, they do not consider context appropriately, numbers aren’t everything… the rants go on. Of course most of this is true. But does that mean we stop doing comparisons?

Cricket, or for that matter any other sport (or entertainment even), loses a lot of its charm if you don’t compare players – within teams, across teams, across generations, across different forms of the game (I don’t remember reading a piece on whether Tendulkar in whites is better than Tendulkar in coloured clothing, but I’m sure there is one, or may be more than one)… the comparison parameters can be endless. And so can the debates.

Can you even talk cricket for any meaningful length of time without making comparisons?

For the rabid Tendulkar fan, Sachin is the No. 1 player, only because there are others who takes up slots No. 2 downwards. Which is comparison in itself, isn’t it?

For the Statsguru seeking number cruncher, Mutthiah Muralitharan is the best spin bowler in the world because his average is better than any one else’s. In his mind, there is no, er, comparison.

For the cricket-crazy connoisseur, David Gower is a better batsman than, well, any one else you care to name, for reasons only another cricket-crazy connoisseur can understand. What a waste that connoisseurship if he can’t make statements like that?

Of course, a comparison piece in the media is bound to evoke counter-arguments and denials, heat and fury. One reason for that is perhaps that a comparison is a personal opinion, so people react strongly when a journalist (who, for the most part, is expected to be fair and neutral) indulges in a comparison piece.

But may be there is more to it. Any comparison is not likely to find more than fifty per cent of readers supporting it; the other half are likely to go the other way. And what good is a comparison if it does not invoke that polarisation? And what good is a comparison if you do not get an opportunity to counter it?

Compared to a comparison, what would you rather have?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Cowdrey Lecture 2007

It gave me great pleasure to note that a cricket commentator was invited to deliver the Cowdrey lecture by the MCC this year. Chris Martin Jenkins takes pride of place as the first non-cricketer to deliver the lecture in its seven year lifetime so far. In retrospect, it is quite surprising that this is a first. But that is not the focus of this piece.

The full script of the lecture is available on the Lord’s website, but let me pick up a few excerpts to comment on.

When a batsman is bowled; he walks; when a batsman hits the ball in the air to mid-off and is caught; he walks. When a batsman snicks Monty Panesar to slip via the wicket-keeper’s glove and is caught by slip; he walks. But when a batsman snicks it into the keeper’s gloves only – and not into a fielder’s hands – he doesn’t walk – in the hope that the umpire might not be certain. Again, when he snicks it off the inside edge via his pad to short leg and is caught, generally speaking these days, he doesn’t walk either, for the same reason. Where is the logic, or the honour in that?

The argument is a bit like Swiss cheese, I’m afraid.

A batsman walks when he is bowled because he knows the ball has hit the stumps and the bails have been dislodged, and the spectacle is visible to every one. A batsman walks when he hits the ball in the air to mid-off because he knows he has hit the ball in the air, and the evidence is there for all to see. A batsman walks when he snicks Monty Panesar to slip because he knows he has snicked it, and the world knows it too. (Though I’m not sure every one will walk if the snick went off the wicket-keeper’s gloves, but that’s not quite the point.)

However, when a batsman snicks to the keeper or inside edges to short leg, he does not walk. The reasons are one of two – he does not know whether he has actually snicked it, or he is not sure whether the rest of the world, especially the umpire, has caught him snicking it. The first is a question of logic, and the second, that of honour, if you will. We can appeal to the honour of the batsman perhaps, but if, “at the professional level players’ livelihoods are at stake”, honour is more often than not likely to come a poor second. It’s perhaps the harsh reality of professional sport, but reality it is.

Now let me turn the argument around. How many times do fielding teams appeal for leg before decisions on inside edges and on obvious down-the-leg deliveries, and on bat-pad decisions where the bat and the pad were a cricket ground apart? How do we appeal to their collective honour? If the umpires need help from the players, they do so from both sides, don’t they?

And even if we want to implement Jenkins’ suggestion, how do we do it? Fines for dishonour? Penalty runs or wickets? Warnings and bans?

On to a different point. To begin with, Jenkins argues that the overrate in test cricket has to be improved: “90 in a six-hour day HAS to become a minimum for a game.” Stepping up the pace, he advocates that we should stretch it to 100 overs a day and make test matches four day affairs.

The beauty of test match cricket is its slowness, in a relative sense. You have one-day cricket if you are in a hurry; and Twenty20 if you're just passing by. Speeding up a test match means you lose on the nuances. The spinner adjusting his field minutely; the batsman doing a bit of gardening to let his mind forget the dropped chance off the previous ball; the fast bowler walking ponderously back to the top of his mark – these are the non-active images that fuel the test match.

There are more such interesting and provocative suggestions and arguments in the lecture, none more than the reference to a bidding system suggested by David Harris, a coach from Herefordshire, to replace the toss. I’ll let you access the original lecture to read it.

And Jenkins ends with the ominous prediction that every one has been cavilling about:

“They are as sick that surfeit with too much, as they that starve with nothing” (The Merchant of Venice)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Cricket Wall

No, this is not a post about Rahul “The Wall” Dravid. Nor does it have anything do with stonewalling, that extinct (well, almost) strategy in test cricket.

The reference here is to Star Cricket, the new exclusive cricket channel from the espnstar stable. Ever since this channel has been launched, it has ended up serving as the wallpaper of my television when there is no other programming that any one else in the house wants to watch. So what if it is one of the meaningless Pro40 matches between Glamorgan and Derbyshire, filled with players you don’t recognize and scores that are dull and ordinary? So what if they keep showing the India tour of South Africa day in and day out? It’s cricket, after all.

If you not cricket-crazy, you may argue that this glut might make you lose interest in cricket, but then you are not cricket-crazy, are you?

For me, this is working out well. If there is nothing else to watch when I’m having dinner (or when I am confined to the house nursing a fever, like I was yesterday), pass me the Pro40. Did Glamorgan win? Or was it Derbyshire? Or may be the game was between Surrey and Essex? Does it matter?

Friday, July 13, 2007

The West Indies Cricket Board on Song

Discovered, via Lawrence Booth's The Spin in the Guardian Unlimited, a calypso on the West Indies Cricket Board, Take a Rest. At 4:14, it’s not too long, so is worth a listen. And if you can find the lyrics somewhere, please be a dear and pass it on to me.

Inasmuch as the Victory Calypso was a happy song, lauding the efforts of “those little pals of mine Ramadhin and Valentine”, Take a Rest bemoans the fate of West Indies cricket, thanks to the ineffectual functioning of the board.

To listen to some more cricket calypsos, visit The Calypso Tent.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


When pulling out from the Indian team for the Twenty20 World Cup, Rahul Dravid (presumably on behalf of himself, Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly) said something to the effect of the shortest form of the game (so far) being a game for youngsters.

Either the English selectors don’t believe Dravid or they don’t read the newspapers. Not only have they recalled a staggering eleven players, eight out of the eleven players are on the wrong side of 30, while a ninth, Chris Schofield, is 29. The average age of the recalled players is 31, while that of the existing lot is just 26.

While I don’t necessarily believe that only youngsters can be successful in Twenty20, it does seem incredible that England have pulled so many players from the tried-and-discarded lot from the past, some of whom should definitely be eying their benefits in the not-too-distant future.

Well, England invented Twenty20; they should know how it works.

England squad (in alphabetical order, ages in brackets)

Existing lot: James Anderson (25), Ian Bell (25), Ravi Bopara (22), Stuart Broad (21), Paul Collingwood (captain) (31), Alastair Cook (23), Andrew Flintoff (30), Monty Panesar (25), Kevin Pietersen (27), Liam Plunkett (22), Matt Prior (25), Owais Shah (29), Ryan Sidebottom (29), Vikram Solanki (31), Jonathan Trott (26), Michael Yardy (27)

New picks: Dimitri Mascarenhas (30), Mark Pettini (24), Luke Wright (22)

Recalls: Tim Bresnan (22), Glen Chapple (33), James Kirtley (32), Jon Lewis (32), Mal Loye (35), Darren Maddy (33), Paul Nixon (37), Chris Schofield (29), Jeremy Snape (34), Chris Tremlett (26), Marcus Trescothick (32)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How to resurrect English cricket, vol. ∞

An evidence based approach to the identification and development of England Test cricketers in the County Championship. (including the full stop at the end) is the simple, unprepossessing title of a paper written by Neil Davidson, Chairman, Leicestershire County Cricket Club and released by the club recently. The 69-page paper is available on the county’s web site – click here to access it. (Caution: opens a pdf file.)

Based on an analysis of England test cricketers from June 1996 to December 2006 and of the 2006 County championship season, the author comes out with a “unique development system which will deliver a high quality Test team over a sustained period.”

The development system set out in the paper comprises seven recommendations.

  1. The creation of branded ‘Academy Showcase’ cricket to funnel under 17 talented young England qualified cricketers into the First Class system.
  2. ‘Senior Academy Showcase’ cricket to bridge the gap into First Class cricket, replacing the current 2nd XI Championship.
  3. A combination of regulation and incentive to ensure that young England qualified cricketers get proper opportunity, across 18 counties, consistent with Phases 1-3 identified previously.
  4. A mature and informed debate about the role of unqualified players as part of such a unique development system to create the best standard of First Class cricket in the world.
  5. A salary cap to deliver a level financial playing field.
  6. Clear communication to all stakeholders by the ECB PR machine.
  7. A phased approach.

A couple of reviews have started coming in and more are likely to follow. Better worthies than this blogger will no doubt pore over the report, identify the good points (there ought to be some), slam the bad ones (there might a contest on who finds the most here) and pass overall judgement on the paper. The inevitable comparisons with the Schofield report (and innumerable others of its ilk) are bound to crop up too.

But there is one sentence hidden rather unobtrusively in the report that made one wonder.

Premiership football is now ‘big business’, thankfully cricket has not reached that stage and hopefully it never will.

Cricket is not big business? Ask any Asian cricket administrator. Even in England, isn’t Twenty20 an effort to make cricket big business? Even assuming cricket is not big business yet, why be hopeful that it never will? Is being big business necessarily bad? After all, cricket moved from being amateur to professional long long ago. Therefore, a professional cricketer is as much a businessman as a financial consultant or any other professional. And which businessman would not want to become a big businessman?

Associated with this is the fifth recommendation above: A salary cap to deliver a level financial playing field. What were you thinking, Mr. Davidson? That cricket become a government department, with fixed salaries and pensions?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

An alternative cricket league

Pondering over his future, Ashley Giles spent some time at a camp for youngsters. While there, he said, “When you play at the highest level a lot, that love of the game is perhaps taken away from you because of the pressure on you and everything that goes with it…”

Is this Giles statement a throwback to the old era, when amateurs played cricket purely for pleasure? Have the times changed?

How many Australians and South Africans talk of enjoying playing the game? They seem to be more into enjoying the winning feeling, enjoying performing well, enjoying getting under the skin of the opposition, even enjoying the pressure of a tight finish… all performance oriented responses.

May be England can start a breakaway cricket league where the focus is on enjoyment, pleasure and entertainment? Where the results are not declared? Where people are paid for just landing up and feted for the attractiveness of their game independent of the outcome? Ah, Marcus Trescothick can play without pressure, Steve Harmison can grin widely. And yes, Giles can fancy a comeback.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Am back (with tail between legs)

OK, I can never make it as a soothsayer. Almost all my predictions for the previous fortnight have come to naught.

I opined that South Africa would beat India 3 – 0 in the one-day international series in Ireland. But thanks to Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, India came up on the right side of a 2 – 1 result. I doff my hat to the Indians; they insist on defying the odds. If only they can retain this form against the Englishmen. The bowling does look a bit threadbare for the test matches particularly, but considering my score in the prediction game, I shall not say any more.

More surprisingly, West Indies managed to best England in their one-day international series. After the Twenty20 series was predictably shared, England did get off on the right note, winning the first game. Then they suddenly remembered that they don’t know the one-day game well, and proceeded to lose the next two matches. They must be happy that Shivnarine Chanderpaul is not part of the Indian team. What a series he has had!

I believe Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are playing a three-test series. Did I say anything about that?