Saturday, December 17, 2011

Australian Cricket, The Romance Is Over

This is it.

The pits, the crypt, the absolute bottom of the barrel. Since their ridiculously efficient 2007 world cup victory, Australia cricket slipped slowly as their champion team started to age while all warning signs were ignored. The ultimatum is now with us.

Here in 2011 it surely cannot get any worse than this. This, a loss to the New Zealand test team, and in Australian territory. Look back in recent history and forget the Ashes collapse, the world cup loss, even the dreadful 47 all out... one certainty was that the Kiwis *always* lose to Australia in test cricket. 18 years since any loss to them, 25 years on Australian soil.

Ok boys, your best fake smile now.  © AFP

To lose to what is mostly a sorry New Zealand line-up means it is official, that the romance is over. Australian cricket is dead. You would even feel inclined to sympathise with them, if they hadn't piled on the misery for so many years. Its laughable now to hear these one-eyed commentators attempt to immortalize the likes of Phillip Hughes.

It was predictable in many ways, they had an embarrassment of riches and created an egotistic bubble and a winning culture that made them seemingly invincible. They were the team that everyone loved to hate, the only ones allowed to make stupid series predictions and single out batsmen as targets while the rest of us lived in the fear that they were probably right. The resulting aura meant that most opposition wilted at the very sight of their line-up.

They had the right to talk it up, and that right is gone. There is no aura left and they are being exposed brutally for what they are, eleven mere mortals. Lets take a moment to compare the old Australia to these ho-hums...

1) Matthew Hayden vs Phil Hughes - A batting butcher who would swing his meat cleaver and carve up any attack resembling weakness. Hughes is Chris Martin's bunny, enough said.
2) Justin Langer vs David Warner - The silent accumulator who never gave you an inch and played out his innings with nothing but patience. Warner is a Twenty 20 cricketer, and his daft handling of the tail help cost Australia the New Zealand match.
3) Ricky Ponting (young) vs Usman Khawaja - Would come in and happily smack around any loose bowling at a great strike rate. It was all so natural for Ponting, who has been replaced by a Chanderpaul like character. Khawaja has fight but will quickly disappear unless he starts producing.
4) Damien Martyn vs Ricky Ponting (geriatric) - Martyn was the definition of a touch player, a subtle batting technique built on precision timing and a hearty slice of Mark Waugh like cockiness. The current Ponting is built on reputation alone, and never ceases to look rusty.
5) Michael Clarke vs Captain Michael Clarke - A young buck who used to go out there and make batting look easy given he had the perfect batting order around him. He is currently their best batsman, but he is no captain. Australia badly need a skipper who gives slackers a smart kick up the rear.
6) Michael Hussey vs Michael Hussey - The law of averages is inevitable. Hussey was no Bradman but he was responsible for a lot of rescue acts. Too bad that he has smacked harsh realities given his real moment of need.
7) Adam Gilchrist vs Brad Haddin - Any advantage that a bowling team had got blown away by the man who redefined lower order counter attacks. As an able wicket-keeper he was essentially two players. Haddin's idiotic shot selection needs to stop being defended with the Sehwag inspired comment "that's how he plays". Sehwag makes runs, there is a difference.
8-11) Warne/Gillespie/Lee/McGrath vs ???- That bowling quartet ensured that there was constant pressure at every angle. You had the full works, pace, bounce, accuracy and quality spin. In the current crop, not a single player would have even made Australia A of the 00's. Peter Siddle shows that Australian spirit but nothing more, while Mitchell Johnson has invented himself as the bowling equivalent of Ashraful.

Australia clearly forgot about the next generation, and a team with enough depth to fill three squads suddenly can't even find eleven players worth mentioning. What happened?
  1. The IPL, and hence the ugly love child the KFC Big Bash. Its a strange mix of dodgy shots and Rugby League commentary.
  2. The overcooked swansong finishes. While the endless praise and tributes went on and on, did anyone stop to promote the next generation?
  3. The never ending finishes. Ricky, you are done... stop embarrassing yourself.
  4. The crazy axe. You got away with sending Bevan and Hodge on their way, but to drop Simon Katich was unforgivable.
Somebody fire my script writer.  © Getty Images

And so Australia now has a generation wide gap to fill, and the current source is the horrid T20 format. At this rate the Indians should arrive here and walk away laughing, especially if there is a fit Zaheer Khan available.

The recovery road for Australia cricket will not be easy. Heck it might even be West Indian.

Related Reading:
The South Africa Collapse
The Angry Ricky Ponting

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Vettori Tragedy

It was 1997 when a certain Daniel Vettori first turned up, a spectacled baby-faced cross between Harry Potter and Goldilocks known only for his ability as a left arm tweaker. He batted at number eleven on debut behind Geoff Allot, who is the owner of test crickets longest duck. Few would have expected great feats from the man.

Nobody eats my porridge  © Action Photographics

Fast forward fourteen years and the mighty achievement list stands as follows:
  • Most wickets
  • Most experienced
  • The only bowler the Australians choose not to attack
  • Successor to Stephen Fleming as captain
  • Three time world cup semi-finalist (out of four)
  • Champions trophy finalist
  • Stand-in coach
  • National co-selector
  • Best batsman

Thats right, best batsman. Epitomized brilliantly by his recently dogged, lone ranger innings of 96, which would have given him the most centuries for any current New Zealand batsman. Unlike the Taylor's and Ryder's who may have better batting averages, they did not face the supreme pressure that Vettori faced at usually 6 wickets down for not many. They did not have to bowl all day. And most importantly, they have far more natural batting ability.

Vettori does not possess a crunchy Tendulkar cover drive, or the easy swivel and pull of Ponting. What Vettori brings to the table is more common sense than the rest of his team combined, a knack for finding gaps and scoring quickly, and absolute discipline and control of his shot selection. Anything that is not in his zone is dead batted or ignored, there is almost so such thing as a loose shot. If you are going to remove him, you need to damn well bowl a ripper.

Its not even worth counting the instances when Vettori was left standing amongst a collapsed heap of junk. The tragedies that he had to endure over the years is almost Shakespearean.

Why do I bother getting up  © Getty Images

Perhaps the most telling story of all, he was near hopeless at the batting crease for the first six years of his career. You always hear of batsman tailing away and losing that natural timing and hand-eye, how often do you hear of a batsman continuously improving?

The numbers simply do not lie:

Span Mat Inns Runs HS Ave SR 100 50 0 4s 6s
97-02 44 64 878 90 16.25 44.59 0 4 11 102 2
03-11 63 100 3446 140 40.06 62.98 6 19 7 422 15

Somewhere in 2003 Vettori must have got struck by lightning, with a bolt of inspiration everything improved. All of his centuries came after 2003 along with 19 of his 23 fifties, his strike rate shot up to a healthy 62 and his average, the supposed benchmark statistic, more than doubled. Anything near 40 marks a genuine batsman. 

So hats off to The Daniel, long may you continue to forge runs in a team hardly deserving of your skill, wit and determination. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

India vs West Indies 3rd Test - The Script

On the eve of Day 5 in the Mumbai test match, it seems the match is going nowhere but a draw. Luckily for us, the West Indian think tank had other ideas...

Ottis Gibson: Okay boys time to execute Plan C, we engineer a Callypso Collapso on purpose and bowl out the shocked Indians.
Darren Sammy: Wait a minute... we had a plan to begin with?
Shiv Chanderpaul: Coach, not such a hot idea with all the spot fixing allegations going on.
Ottis Gibson: We are the West Indies cricket team, minus you.
Shiv Chanderpaul: ... point taken.
Graeme Smith: Worked for us!
Michael Clarke: Yeah yeah...

And so play began...

Dhoni: Sakshi? Ya its me, get the pakoras ready I'm coming home early.

But the West Indies innings swiftly ended...

Darren Sammy: I think that was too obvious, even for us.
Cricinfo: Memories of Dominica! And we won't stop reminding you.
Virender Sehwag: Relax guys I got this.
Cricinfo: <Sehwag cliché load complete> Sehwag leads India to frenetic start!
Virender Sehwag: Fifty already? I'm bored.
Cricinfo: V Sehwag c Sammy b Bishoo 60 (87m 65b 8x4 0x6) SR: 92.30
Sachin: Target not big enough for a century.
Cricinfo: SR Tendulkar c KA Edwards b Samuels 3 (6m 7b 0x4 0x6) SR: 42.85
Dhoni: Rahul, we better force a result this time so don't pull any of your stunts.
Cricinfo: R Dravid c sub (D Ramdin) b Samuels 33 (82m 49b 1x4 0x6) SR: 67.34
Dhoni: You too VVS, we don't want the media to think we depend on you. Lets leave it to The-Future-Of-Indian-Cricket.
Cricinfo: VVS Laxman c Barath b Rampaul 31 (67m 53b 1x4 0x6) SR: 58.49
VVS Laxman: I should have stuck to being a doctor.

The Indian batting order fell away...

Dhoni:  Mmm pakoras.
Cricinfo: MS Dhoni c KA Edwards b Rampaul 13 (45m 37b 1x4 0x6) SR: 35.13
Darren Sammy: I can't believe this is working.
The-Future-Of-Indian-Cricket: Time to show off my patience and maturity, despite my youth.
Cricinfo: Oh he's so patient and mature, despite his youth!
Dhoni: Do you mind moving things along.
The-Future-Of-Indian-Cricket: It's all about the drama boss, haven't you seen Lagaan?
Cricinfo: V Kohli c Sammy b Bishoo 63 (136m 114b 3x4 1x6) SR: 55.26
The-Future-Of-Indian-Cricket: Damn.
Bad Light: I'm staying out of this.

The climax was upon us...

Ashwin: My selection is secure, you can have this one Darren.
Darren Sammy: But your first innings century was full of shots more delicious than pakora! Take it.
Ashwin: Not if we keep blocking!
Darren Sammy: Not if we keep bowling Marlon Samuels!
Aswhin: Not if Ishant and I run ourselves out!
Darren Sammy: Not if we fumble!

Before either side could make up their minds...

Cricinfo: Oh for goodness sake.
Minimum Overs: That's it I've had enough of this.

And so a scores-levelled draw occurred, only the second in history...

The People: Test cricket is alive and well! All they have to do is keep batting like morons.
Sachin: Well at least I'll have the West Indies ODIs to sort out my century of centuries.
Indian Selectors: Ahem.
Cricinfo: Dhoni, Tendulkar rested ahead of Australia tour
Sachin: (sigh)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

South Africa vs Australia Series Review - We Have Been Robbed

World cricket is at war.

In one corner, we have the front bench crowd with small attention spans and an insatiable lust for sixes and cheap thrills. They are backed up with cash hungry administrators and sponsors looking to turn the game into  a business. And on the other there is the rest of us, those who crave for one simple thing, real cricket.

And by george we got some real cricket.

This series was ample proof of what the beautiful game has to offer in its purest form. It does not require gimmicks, cheerleaders and atrocious piggy backs such as the 'Free Hit'. The true recipe is two quality sides, zero corruption and a neutral pitch. We live in the insulting batting age where the flat decks of Mohali are termed as 'good pitches'. This series showed us exactly what a cricket pitch needs to be, reward for skill.

For what it was, the stalemate was the most interesting cricket we have seen in recent times. Neither team, already bitter rivals with a short but incredible history, managed to take the ascendancy. Both teams continued to be the victims of their own insecurities, unwilling to put the opposition to bed once and for all. And we the spectators benefited the most, watching two teams crash back and forth is a mighty load of fun.

Crashing taken literally sometimes © AFP

If you scroll back over the last six months or so, there has been plenty of forgettable cricket. It is no coincidence either that most of this was the limited overs format, does anyone even bother to care who wins these Twenty20 matches? The biggest shambles of them all was the Champions Trophy T20 tournament, which serves more like the idiot cousin of the football equivalent. An ego trip, at best. If we ripped that poor show out of the cricketing calendar, we could have had a third test match.

A third deciding test match, just imagine the tantalizing possibilities.

The solutions unfortunately rely on the likes of the ICC and the BCCI to wake up to these facts. It will rely on a complete implosion of the IPL as well as a large enough outcry from the fans and players alike to rally against poor cricket and support the cream of it. Martin Guptill recently gave up his IPL contract to take on commitments in the longer formats in first class English cricket. There is a shining example.

Much like like a movie trailer, we saw a quick preview of an enthralling spectacle. We have all been left with empty feelings while the players are left scratching the heads, caught in an unsatisfied limbo. There will be no full length motion picture to follow, it shall remain 1:1 and cricketers and spectators alike shall forever remain robbed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Australian Collapse: Has It Been Worse?

It was the early hours of the morning when I was tuned into the forever reliable text commentary for the South Africa vs Australia test match. Fresh off (what I thought then) a career defining 151 from Michael Clarke, I witnessed the (what I thought then) underrated Shane Watson produce a record breaking five wicket haul and a typical South African choke. At 96 all out at nearly 2am in the morning, sleep took quick preference over this supposedly dead test match.

But alas!
In the car on the way to work, and the good folk on talk-back radio were going bananas the next morning. I remember distinctly thinking that 96 all out is a bad effort, but nothing to be flipping upside-down about, what's all this excited chatter? Then I realized they weren't even talking about them, the king of chokers were out choked themselves. Repeat after me, 47 all out, Australia. Forty Seven. All Out.

No? Try this one for size, 9 for 21. Nine Australian wickets, 21 runs. Hasn't quite sunk in yet? Me neither. The most ridiculous result since these two teams produced the 438 run chase. 

The first thoughts for everyone were how can a team as good as Australia be quite so abysmal.
  • Was it the pitch? Nope, as Amla and Smith showed us with glee. 
  • Was it the pressure? Not with a huge first innings lead. 
  • Was it amazing bowling? It was solid at best, but no demolition job.

why why WHY © Getty

Excuses nil, it was just bad batting. Exceptionally and inexplicably bad batting. The question I put to you dear reader is, has it ever been this bad? Has a test team of this quality ever been ripped away in such a manner? The Cricket Musings aims to find out (at least for the last decade or so), along with a grading of possible excuses.

Case 1: India Fail. New Zealand Epic Fail
India were the laughing stock of the world after Shane Bond finished them off the in first test of this series. A series famous for is green tops that made Daryll Tuffey and Andre Adams menacing (!), things were no better as India slumped to a pathetic 99 all out after another inept display. But the real laugh arrived when New Zealand themselves were blown away for 94 all out, three innings in one day. Too bad that India couldn't capitalize and gave New Zealand a poor 160 as the successfully chased down fourth innings target, but it was nonetheless a harsh lesson for a team only slightly worse than the tourists.
Pitch Quality: D
Bowling Quality: B
Stupidity: B

Case 2: Australia Squander 107
Having already crashed India's party at home by bowling them out for 104 with a 2:0 lead in the series, Australia were left to chase 107 after a manic Indian third innings saw Laxman and Tendulkar manage important 50s and Michael Clarke take bowling figures of 6 for 9. Michael Clarke successes are a bad omen it seems, as Australia were bundled out for 93 on what was a dodgy Mumbai minefield. When was the last time Bhajji ran through a line-up? This was probably it.
Pitch Quality: D
Bowling Quality: B
Stupidity: B

Case 3: West Indies Destroy England
It was a rare and beautiful thing to see the Ambrose and Walsh machine fire on both cylinders, and when it does happen only devastation is left in its wake. England were the unfortunate victims this time, forget the entirely achievable target of 194 because when you get the greatest fast bowling partnership of our generation, almost nothing is achievable. Given the bowling quality, it seems a miracle they even got to 46.
Pitch Quality: B
Bowling Quality: A+

Stupidity: not applicable

Don't even bother turning around son. © PA Photos

Case 4: West Indies Destroy England - Deja Vu
Fast forward fifteen years later and we have a strong English unit and a generally woeful West Indies. The poms were looking to wipe away the first innings lead the West Indies had, a measly 73 runs. Too bad then that they didn't even get that far, as Jerome Taylor in a career one-off performance, smashed England to bits as they succumbed to 51 all out. Those old skeletons of 1994 were back in their glory. England recovered and this wasn't the defining turning point for West Indies cricket, but what a great piece of nostalgia it was.
Pitch Quality: B
Bowling Quality: A

Stupiditynot applicable

Case 5: The Adelaide Ashes Choke
Not so long ago England were fodder, and this match was ample proof of it. Having met Australia eye to eye in this important 2nd test, England were faced with one day to play out the draw. They met an inspired Shane Warne instead who helped demolish them for 129 all out in 73 overs of truly aimless batting giving the Australians a target of 168, accepted with glee at more than 5 runs an over. It set the tone for a famous 5-0 whitewash, the most damaging thing being that one of the Glenn McGrath predictions actually came true.
Pitch Quality: A
Bowling Quality: A

Stupidity: A

Case 6: The Fawad Alam Debut From Hell
Poor Fawad Alam. Ignored by the selectors now, he produced a classy 168 on debut and that too in Colombo. With no Murali around Pakistan were cruising along at 285-2 with a nice healthy lead and their sights on a fourth innings target touching the 300 mark. Wrong, chaos ensued.

2-285 (Younis Khan, 78.1 ov)3-294 (Mohammad Yousuf, 81.2 ov),4-303 (Misbah-ul-Haq, 86.5 ov),
5-303 (Fawad Alam, 87.2 ov)6-306 (Kamran Akmal, 88.3 ov)7-312 (Shoaib Malik, 89.2 ov),
8-316 (Abdur Rauf, 90.2 ov),9-319 (Umar Gul, 95.4 ov)10-320 (Saeed Ajmal, 96.4 ov)

It all started with Younis Khan attempting and failing a dumb reverse sweep. Sri Lanka knocked off the eventual target of 171, losing nine wickets for 35 in a true definition of losing the plot.
Pitch Quality: B
Bowling Quality: C

Stupidity: A

How about that sprinting career then? © AFP

Case 7: Pakistan's 50s... In The Same Match
Arguably the worst performance by a batting team in test match history. Pakistan needn't have bothered turning up as they registered their lowest score in test history, folding for 59 all out. Not content with that, they lowered their own mark in the same match with a second innings response of 53 all out. The match was over in two days, and in the wise words of Steve Waugh "You expect to have to fight a bit harder than that to win a Test match". 
Pitch Quality: B
Bowling Quality: A

Stupidity: A+

The bottom line: Australia, you were not alone. Rest a little easier.

Think of any more? The comments section below awaits!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Thank You Zimbabwe, For Helping Save Test Cricket

Everybody likes an underdog. The David vs Goliath battle inherits a unique charm about it, and with all the long years of turmoil and suffering that Zimbabwean cricket has been going through, it seems the corner has been finally turned. New heroes are emerging, and none more so than Brendan Taylor, who at still only 25 years of age has a long and prosperous haul ahead of him. Sample this for a Bradman-esque series:

  • Two T20s - 50* & 1 (the only failure)
  • Three ODIs - 128*, 107* & 75
  • Only Test Match - 50 & 117

Yes it was against New Zealand, a truly toothless bowling unit. However he is fast becoming a talisman for Zimbabwe, the next generation Heath Streak, and good luck to him as well.

However the key point of this post is not a tribute to Taylor, it is a tribute to the Zimbabwean attitude on the fifth day. On day five the target was 366 runs, sitting at 61/2 overnight. The conservative or dare I say sensible approach would have been to enter Dravid mode and bat out the day seeking an honorable draw. We saw some insipid behavior from the (at the time) world champions India in the West Indies this year, when they refused to pursue a simple run chase in the name of 'safety'. That match flopped and died.

But on this day, there was none of that fluff, the heart of Test cricket was re-invigorated, injected with an air of enthusiasm and unabashed optimism. Zimbabwe went for it, and in fact wrestled the upper hand at one stage. New Zealand were nervous as Taylor went about carving the attack, letting everyone know that they will not lie down, and that the only possible results were a famous victory or a heroic loss. With the able help of Tatenda Taibu, they were within 100 runs of touching distance.

Looks like we'll have to skip that early shower. © AFP

New Zealand had to squeeze every ounce of bowling ability they had to stop them. The result was a loss by a nerve racking 34 runs on paper, and a series lost 1:0. But the true result was much more than that. It was a sign that some teams are willing to play for the win and give us spectators what we deserve. It was a revival of the cricket format that faces intense scrutiny for being the dullest form of all. 

It was proof that the number ten cricketing nation is finally making a comeback.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Around The World in 80 Seconds

We are experiencing one of those rare situations where all ten of the top-tier cricketing nations are doing battle. A welcome and refreshing change, as all the cricket over the past few months have been seemingly India or England related. Lets take a tour around the globe and sum up what their respective situations are, in order of strength.

1. India
The so-called leaders of world cricket had to do something about the severe mauling at the hands of the English. India were crying, their beloved batting averages were falling, England were gloating, and even Ravi Shastri suddenly had nothing to say. The answer? If you can doctor your pitches, we can too. India reminded everyone that they are the kings of flat decks, and duly hammered the 'rising English' 5-0.

On an interesting note, gate sales were at its lowest and even my interest in the series was fleeting at best. There is such thing as overkill, and the revenge series should have come at least a year later. Special mention also to Yuvraj Singh, who warned the English that this is what happens when they talk too much, despite hilariously taking no part at all.
Verdict: Stable (after the fall)

2. Australia
Australia are re-building their lost aura quietly in the background. After laying waste to Sri Lanka (in Sri Lanka), they are looking to do the same against South Africa (in South Africa), having already secured the ODI series. What people don't quite realise is that the likes of David Warner and Shaun Marsh are no longer new boys on the block, ready to play to potential. They have managed to work out a stable XI with a good blend of experience and fresh meat, and are just a matter of time before they start getting properly noticed again, probably when (not if) they beat India.
Verdict: Rising (quietly)

3. England
And then there's these guys, oh how they love to talk themselves up. One series victory and suddenly their absolutely average ODI record is forgotten, and England call themselves the next Australia. In a way the 'revenge series' was necessary, to keep these guys and their egos in check. Australia would have gone to India and won 5-0, because a true champion team can play anywhere. You won't get friendly seaming decks everywhere boys.
Verdict: Stable

4. Pakistan
If you look away from the typically dramatic and counter-productive off field drama's and un-retirements, they actually look in pretty good shape. They impressively blew away Sri Lanka and have a strong and varied line-up in all departments. The question always is, will the off field events continue to mar this always promising team?
Verdict: Rising

5. South Africa
Last seen still smarting from their latest episode of World Cup Chokes. After a big lay off they are finally back in action, and surrendering to the Australians at home. Bad signs from a team fast becoming famous for  its unfulfilled promise.
Verdict: Falling

Some memories just won't die. © AFP

6. New Zealand
Another long break for the boys in black, and whatever their shortcomings its not often they get troubled by minnows. This trend continues in Zimbabwe with a comfortable but not entirely convincing series victory in the ODI's. Just where is this team at? Its hard to gauge until they face more able opponents.
Verdict: Stable

7. West Indies
Still no Chris Gayle, but maybe they're finally getting used to the idea. They have always had quality players, but seemed to lack the mental fortitude. A series victory over Bangladesh is desperately needed to conjure up that long missing West Indies spirit, maybe this will be the true awakening of Darren Bravo.
Verdict: Stable 

Is that you Brian? © Assc Press

8. Bangladesh
After a shockingly pathetic World Cup display, they are showing signs of improvement and quality against the admittedly low West Indies. But one must start somewhere, and with a number of strong performances coming from guys in their early 20s, they will be a real force in the coming years. They just need the right leadership and coaching.
Verdict: Stable

9. Sri Lanka
Ah life is tough when Murali isn't around to bail you out is it! Being absolutely bossed by Pakistan after a poor showing against Australia doesn't bode well. Dilshan was never a captain and their bowling line-up is comparable to Kenya. They should be thankful they have Sangakkara around to save face.
Verdict: Falling (and smartly)

10. Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe will be looking to build on an impressive record ODI chase and the consistent Brendan Taylor, who is fast becoming the Tendulkar of the team. If they just get their bowling in order, they can look to become a sleeping threat once again.
Verdict: Rising

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shoaib Akhtar Speaks (The Truth?)

Autobiographies really are something. It is a time when self important sporting celebrities get to wave their creative pencil and indulge themselves in a self-made ego trip. Most of them are ignored as they lack the creativity, or the writing skill, or are just plain boring outside of the game. Then you get the select few personalities who carry off interesting laughs and anecdotes and make the experience a pleasure to read.

And then there is Shoaib Akthar.

Anything less than borderline insanity from this man would have been a let down, and lo and behold he has delivered. When it comes to stirring up a storm in a tea cup, he is a natural. Unlike Afridi though, Shoaib is articulate, and his points dive into grey and debatable areas instead of being dismissed as tripe.

What did he have to say in the aptly titled "Controversially Yours"? Does he make a point or is he simply a bag of wind?

1. Sachin and Dravid Are Not Match Winners

In Dravid's case, total nonsense. He single handedly won games for India in both forms of the game and was often the last man standing amongst dominoes. To suggest that Dravid "didn't know the art of finishing the game" is nothing more than a cheap shot at the great man. Credibility 0/10.

Above the belt pelase. © Getty Images

In Sachin's case though, maybe he has a point. Sachin through the nineties was a frustrated lone figure who got nil support from his inept team mates. You can't fault him for being unable to do it all alone, everybody else were looking after their own pockets. The Sachin of the 00's was a different figure though, he finally had adequate batting backup and was allowed to pile up the runs carefully. Guilty of being a run glut, yes. Guilty of not winning matches, it can also be argued. He has far less Dravid's and Laxman's in his innings vault. Credibility 5/10.

2. Sachin Was Scared Of Him.
Rubbish. This is the guy who manfully fought Wasim & Waqar, Lee & McGrath, Ambrose & Walsh, Steve Bucknor... the list goes on. While not always coming off the winner of the battles, never ever backed down, be it 16 or 36 years old. Why should he be scared of Shoaib? Has he forgotten the 03 World Cup? Credibility 0/10.

3. The IPL Cheated Him
Believable, and he won't be the last. The IPL is built on a foundation of masses, greed and corruption. He joined a team run by an arrogant Bollywood star in a tournament run by an arrogant nobody Lalit Modi. With a set-up like that, it was inevitable. A paint job will only cover the cracks in a dam, soon this whole circus will be flooded by a crashing wave. Shoaib should have known better than to take part. Credibility 8/10.

4. Everyone Ball Tampers
Correction, Pakistan ball tampers. And no it shouldn't be legal, where do you draw the line, a maximum fingernail length in the ICC code of conduct? My only hope is that the pioneers of swing such as Imran aren't exposed to have resorted to dirty methods in the past, although I get the feeling it just may happen. Credibility 8/10.

Michael Jackson impersonations are perfectly legal though. © AFP

5. Shoaib Malik Shouldn't Have Been Captain
A stab at his own team mate? Only he would dare, but again he actually has a point here. Malik was an above average ODI batsman at best, with a shaky test career and a dodgy bowling action, with an eye for female tennis players. Why was he made captain? On paper it looks like a nothing decision, possibly influenced by those that favoured Malik. But in reality one must also consider that Pakistani teams were often unstable and a logical choice for captain was not always clear. Again debatable. Credibility 7/10.

6. He Was Humiliated

Shoaib didn't spare anyone, even lashing out at Wasim Akram and partially blaming him for not fulfilling his career to its potential. I'm not sure how big a part politics played, but they were certainly present as he was inexplicably robbed of a swansong finish against India in the World Cup semi final. It must be said though that despite whatever corruption and vendettas he may have had to face, he was an unlikeable and destructive person to begin with. Most of what we had to put up with was a result of his own actions and he has nobody to blame. Credibility 5/10.

Surprisingly all in all, the points Shoaib Akhtar made in his autobiography were not entirely a load of pies. While dealing out low blows to Indian batsman, he dealt to his former team mates and management with equal measure and venom. Will it have an impact? Probably not, Shoaib Akhtar lashing out is really about as credible as...

This. © Getty Images

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where Art Thy Bowler?

India and Sri Lanka. Two very similar sub-continental teams, both going through the same problems. If you look carefully, both these teams in the test arena especially were built around these key ingredients:

1. One quality spin doctor.

© Getty Images, AFP

2. One quality left arm quick.

© Getty Images, AFP

3. One seriously flat deck.

© Getty Images, AFP

The bowling recipe quite literally went as far as this save for a few dopey missed selections (Mendis, Zoysa, M.Kartik) and some early unwanted retirements (Malinga). Hampering the situation are those who didn't retire when they should (Harbhajan), flash-in-the-pan players (Sreesanth,  Fernando) and an assortment of other rubbish (Agarkar). Inevitably, the whole job was left to the number one spin man and his able deputy. And so the game plan became quite literally:
  • Post 500+
  • Take the game to the fifth day.
  • Toss the ball to the spinner.
  • Bring out the champagne.
Of course this didn't work very well overseas, but lately they at least manage to secure drawn results and push their way up the rankings. 

But times have changed! Injuries to Zaheer, the retirements of Kumble and Murali, and the ignorance of Vaas have turned the tables. England and Australia have begun to expose this, showing us all that once the ageing batting machines misfire, there is almost nothing left to save the day. As I write, Sri Lanka are on the verge of a series loss to Australia at home, and India are going through a series in England without a single victory.

Why? Because these teams owed so much to the lion-hearted efforts of these four. Manfully they would toil away on dead pitches single handedly, without regret and often with less credit than they deserve. Especially Kumble, he was just as important as any Tendulkar or Dravid. And now that they are gone, the blind optimism that the backup bowlers could take over the mantle is being shown for the ridiculous notion it is. They have neither the mettle nor the skill.

To what do we owe this? The batting tracks don't help for once, neither does the rise of Twenty 20 cricket and the IPL. Nobody seems to want to grow up and be a quality bowler from these two nations, and the results are beginning to show. Cricket is a simple game, there is a team consisting of batsmen, bowlers, and a wicket-keeper. If you go in with no bowlers, expect to lose.

This is a salute to the heroes who didn't get their due credit. At The Cricket Musings, you are gone but not forgotten, remember the only guarantees in life are death, taxes and a Chris Martin duck. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Dhoni Rollercoaster

Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The biggest name in Indian cricket bar Sachin Tendulkar. His rise to the top is nothing short of extraordinary, scaling heights in a manner that would make any rock climber blush. Literally he went from zero to the top in five years, and on the way acquiring magic powers that no other cricketer can boast:
  • Choosing when to play (in order of revenue).
  • Choosing where to bat (#3 if the score is 200-1, #7 otherwise for a guaranteed not-out).
  • Halting a review system that the entire cricketing world embraced.
  • Turning a god awful slap into a famous "helicopter shot".
  • Starting a hairstyle trend.
  • Being immune to criticism and the axe.
  • Being the only captain allowed to keep the same IPL team (hence winning).
  • Getting umpires fired at will.
There is no denying one thing, Dhoni is a very shrewd character. With well thought out batting promotions, deadpan media interviews and a controversy free life outside cricket, he managed to climb his way to the very top of everybody's praise list. Proudly he stands at the top of Everest while other more worthy cricketers tried and failed at hill tops.

Lets take a ride of the Dhoni Rollercoaster and experience the meteoric rise (and fall).

Dhoni announces himself as a young buck with a mullet and a ferocious bat swing, clubbing a fun filled 148 off 123 deliveries, and that too against Pakistan. The very definition of raw batting, and being a wicket-keeper, that's Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik in the dustbin. 
The realist says: Hah check this guy out! If he really can keep wickets, then he'll have a bright career as our own Mark Boucher. Good signs.

That same year Dhoni makes mince of Vaas, Murali and friends with a bulldozing 183 off 145 deliveries, including an astonishing ten sixes. Tendulkar made 3 that day, his presence barely registering as Dhoni  scooped up the man of the series award and a contract with the BCCI. He's here to stay.
The realist says: Hmm that was a double century beckoning, thwarted only by lack of runs for the chase. Maybe we have a serious limited overs weapon here, albeit an India-only one.

Dhoni #1 in ODIs! 
After bashing around the Pakistani's yet again, this time in lower order match winners, Dhoni marched onto the #1 ranking in one-day internationals. There is no looking back now for the wonder boy from Jharkhand.
The realist says: What the heck, how did that happen? Boy do these ICC rankings change quickly, suddenly he is a better batsman than Ponting! Lets just mention that out of his first 43 games, a convenient 5 were outside of the sub-continent batting friendly pitches. A few more overseas tours and things will level out.

Captain Dhoni to the Rescue!
The young guns of India rally and defeat the very best of the twenty 20 world and take away their first world cup since the famous 1983 victory. Dhoni was the man in charge, and with the help of Yuvraj Singh's bat, RP Singh's swing and a ridiculously dumb Misbah-ul-Haq shot, a young India won in grand style. Dhoni was hailed a hero, and finally we have a captain!
The realist says: Whoa now hang on a minute, Dhoni contributed little to nothing with the bat, and took HUGE gambles which through sheer luck paid off (Joginder Sharma is rubbish). By a combination of injuries and selection woes, in other words, purely by process of elimination, he got the job. You can't be serious about him taking over as captain? This is T20 cricket!

Dhoni Defeats The Mighty Aussies!
For the first time, ever, India take home the CB series in Australia led by the inspirational Dhoni. He promoted himself on various occasions and chipped in with sensible singles, putting to bed the Dhoni of old who would try and blast the bowling into oblivion. Great maturity and class to help bring down the mighty cricketing empire, in their own back yard.
The realist says: Granted that Dhoni helped out here and there, it was Gambhir and Sachin who really played the crucial hands. This was an impressive landmark victory, but it had a lot to do with the ageing Australia contributing to their own downfall with a tired performance. Dhoni's timing to become captain was truly immaculate, luck!

Dhoni ICC ODI Player of the Year - For Two Years!
There is no better limited overs cricketer than Dhoni in 2008 and 2009, mastering the art of switching between dynamic aggression and controlled finishing, he has become the new Michael Bevan of cricket. Add to that a great test record including four centuries, truly our best wicket-keeper batsman in history!
The realist says: Here's a fun fact, only around 30% of his ODI's are played outside of the subcontinent, and less than half the test matches. Here's another one, Dhoni has never scored a century outside Asia, in any format, ever. Definitely a decent player but bit of a stretch to call him number one in the world.

Dhoni leads India to #1 Test Ranking!
For the first time ever India has a formidable test team. Actually managing to win a few overseas tests, they secured some important results in England, New Zealand and South Africa, and of course beating the Australians *once again* at home. Dhoni is the perfect captain with an unbeaten test record, and life is good.
The realist says: Lets not forget that the Australians are falling apart like a house made of hay. Admittedly the Indians are playing good test cricket and deserve their ranking, but the real heroes are the Laxman's and Dravid's who time and again have saved them from the dead. At one time there were four ex-captains in the team with Dhoni, who really is just a happy passenger.

Dhoni wins the World Cup!
Finally, undisputed champions of the ODI world! Dhoni's place in the hall of fame is all but guaranteed as he lifted the World Cup for the second time in India's history. The road to the final included beating defending champions Australia and the red hot Pakistani and Sri Lankan teams. There is no question that in the reins of Dhoni, life is a million bucks (literally). Bring on England!
The realist says: Apart from the final where he stole Yuvraj Singh's job (another shrewd self promotion folks), his other major contributions to the cup was complaining about the DRS system and being the first guy to the podium. For goodness sake can we stop attributing *everything* to him!

Dhoni leads an unfit and unprepared bunch to the English shores, chock full of opposition players brimming with skill and confidence, and a hunger to be number one. What followed as a 4-0 drubbing so ridiculous, so embarrassing that not one excuse washed with anybody, even the Indian media. There is a gentle hush around Indian cricket, suddenly Ravi Shastri has nothing to say and everyone sits back in suspended disbelief. All that build up for this massive anticlimax?
The realist says: Feeling the pinch of gravity are we?

What lies ahead?
After that fierce ride up, Indian cricket is zooming back down at breakneck speeds, Dhoni in the front seat. Will it rush back up and meeting more twists and corkscrews? Or will the rollercoaster continue to run its course and come to a crashing halt?

Dhoni is by no means a poor cricketer, he is at best a decent keeper with good temperament and the ability to play a useful innings in helpful batting conditions. Yet instead, he has propelled himself to all sorts of heights and achievements.

Luck my friends, and a lot of it. The true test of his rollercoaster ride is about to begin.

All stats courtesy of
All images courtesy of Getty Images and AFP