Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The men are back

As the soap opera called the IPL meanders towards a conclusion not too many people care for, a couple of interesting test series seem to be unfolding. Well, interesting because there is at least some test cricket happening. And interesting because of the way the tests seem to be panning out. Two contrasting match-ups, one evenly matched no-contest and the other turning out to be a surprisingly matched slug fest.

I suppose it takes an IPL to make an England-New Zealand series seem exciting. A journey man team against a workmanlike team (take your pick on which team is which). A contest (such as it is) between two teams more likely to hope against defeat than bet on winning. And if the weather came to the rescue of both the teams at Lord’s, there was no such respite at Old Trafford, as the match ended in England’s favour on the last day. But thanks to the general ineptness of both teams as collective entities, it turned out to be a fairly even battle. The match card suggests England won, so it must be so. Does that mean they have turned the corner? Are they ready for the next season’s Ashes? Well, Andrew McGlashan hits the nail in the head when he suggests that England mustn’t hide behind victory.

A similar sentiment is not unlikely to prevail in Australia. They embarked on the Caribbean tour thinking all they need to do was to land up at the appointed time to wrap up the series in a clean sweep. Well, how else would you explain the selection of Simon Katich and Stuart McGill? Any way, an overnight Aussie card of 18 for 4 was as chilling as it was delicious to savour. Unfortunately, Andrew Symonds bludgeoned his way to a bit, and with a fairly healthy first innings lead to build on, the Aussies have almost (as I write this) got to the finish line first. Are the cracks beginning to show? Is the opening pair (even after Mathew Hayden’s return) suspect? Notwithstanding the presence of such he-men as Ricky Ponting, Michael Hussey and Symonds, is their middle order just a touch soft? Do opposition teams just need to see off Brett Lee and Stuart Clark and feast on the rest of the Aussie bowling? Or is this just a glitch in the Aussie juggernaut? Will they wipe England out again next year?

Ah, test cricket. Where were you all these days?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Wood is in again

John Stephenson, the head of the MCC Laws Committee, is due to present a recommendation prohibiting the use of composite material in cricket bats, says a report on Cricinfo. If the recommendation goes through, bats will be made of willow and bat handles with cane, rubber and glue. Did I hear a bowler sigh in expectant relief?

Many an opinion can be expressed on many an aspect of it. Do we have enough scientific evidence to prove that material like graphite and titanium have made an impact on the game? Are we impeding progress? Can we not look at making changes to the ball to help bowlers rather than denying batsmen? Is it the material that is the problem or is it the rules?)

One statement from Stephenson is curious in its intent.

The MCC and bat manufacturers have agreed to an amicable phasing out of bats. There are different time-frames fixed for phasing out, so that manufacturers do not lose financially. From a certain period, the bats cannot be used, from a certain period of time, the bats cannot be sold. Amateur cricketers can use the bats till the natural life period. However, after September, it cannot be used in international cricket.

I don’t understand this phasing out strategy. If a titanium-enhanced bat is not within the laws, it needs to go out with immediate effect, and in all forms of the game. Why does the financial aspect have to come into it? It’s like banning drugs and then giving junkies a month to smoke up their stock. Or two months, in the villages.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Silver jubilee

As the 25th game of the IPL gets over, have I formed a slightly clearer picture of the tournament than on the inaugural day? A few vignettes to reflect on.

A female friend of mine whose interest in cricket was as high as Boycott’s was in hitting sixes trooped all the way to the D Y Patil stadium to watch a Mumbai Indians (candidate for the worst name award?) game. No, I am not being sexist, but what’s a fashionista and a Bollywood fan doing in the cricket ground? Would she have gone to the Eden Gardens to watch a classic test match between India and Australia?

Preity Zinta in the stands in a Kings XI Punjab (another name fit to be consigned to the dustbins of anonymity) game presents a dismal sight, at least as far as the cricket enthusiast is concerned. Any KXI wicket falls and her face clouds like a big tragedy has enveloped her brethren. Sure, any wicket could be trouble, but her expression of “something’s gone wrong, I don’t know what, I know I can’t do anything, but it’s my duty to worry” is just too priceless to belong anywhere but on the silver screen. She looks like an over-indulged kid whose favourite doll might just topple over from the balcony.

Cut to the same Preity Zinta in the studios. And what does our irrepressible Ajay Jadeja ask her? “Preity, I’m going to mention some names, and you have to tell me whether they’re cool or drool.” No, this was not on a fashion channel or a film awards nite, this on the match preview. A forum that has been graced by people like Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig and the like.

A visit to the official web site of the Rajasthan Royals is revealing. Their vice-chairman Ravi Krishnan is responsible for “structuring the business for commercial, operational and on-field success.” Till not too long ago, the three most important aspects of the game were batting, bowling and fielding.

As with most things in life, there have been some positives as well. Shane Warne’s coaching, mentoring, captaincy and bowling (and batting, in that famous assault on Andrew Symonds) makes you wonder: Is he the best captain Australia never had? Glenn McGrath’s first spell in the tournament is perfection itself. Brett Lee steaming in to bowl, and pumping his fists at the fall of a wicket suggests that the players at least are serious about the game. The clashes between Warne and Saurav Ganguly suggest that the intensity is undimmed; the slow over-rates are encouraging.

A friend of mine (and a serious cricket enthusiast) calls the IPL an abomination that should be stopped at the earliest. I am veering towards that view as well: I am tiring of watching one slam-bang game every day. But what if there is one Sohail Tanvir spell every other day? Ah, come on in, mate, let’s have a chat and a beer. And a game.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The future cricket 4 (Half-and-half)

With the advent of Twenty20, what seems to be under the most threat is the full-day 50-over variety. Test matches continue to have their charm, albeit to a specialized and increasingly diminishing audience, but one-dayers seem to be in freefall. So this piece, and the one to follow in this series, focuses on messing up with the one-day version.

How do we get rid of the anti-insomnia pill that is the middle overs of a one-day international? The Twenty20 was one option the administrators came up with, but did we really need to truncate the game so badly? How can we play the whole day and still not have the middle overs?

Surely test cricket and some of its rules have something right about them? And Twenty 20, notwithstanding the criticism on the IPL and ICL, isn’t a n absolute evil either? So what happens when we mix test cricket with Twenty20? Well, to begin with, you get this post.

This suggestion is not dissimilar to the earlier one on limited overs tests. And it is something that one has heard whispers of in the past as well. Presenting, the two innings one-day international.

The simplest format for this would be to treat it exactly like a limited overs test, with twenty- overs per innings. But then that would become little more than playing two back-to-back twenty-five over shoot-outs, wouldn’t that? And attract weird names like (Twenty-five25)2 or 25x4 or just plain and useless Test 25. So let’s queer the pitch up a bit more.

To begin with, a team will have only ten wickets to play with between the two innings. So while they can treat their first innings like a Twenty20 game, they wouldn’t have much of a second innings. On the other hand, they can save wickets for a second innings bash, but could then run out of overs.

Secondly, bowlers will have a limit on the number of overs they can bowl in the match, but this can be distributed freely between the two innings. This means I can save an entire ten overs of my lead bowler for the second innings. Or bowl out my potential weak link in the first. So when will you bowl Muthiah Muralitharan? And Ajit Agarkar?

A third, more complex rule could be that the two innings need not be equally spaced. The toss-winning captain could, as with the limited overs tests idea, choose the length of each innings for both the teams, in five-over slots with a minimum of 10 overs per innings. So we could have one innings of 10 overs and one of 40. I can already see Shaun Pollock declining the captaincy.

Think I should stop this insane series? I have at least three more ideas to throw.

Earlier posts in this series


More new balls

Limited over tests