Thursday, April 28, 2011

To Gayle Or Not To Gayle

What to do with this man.

Clearly the best West Indian batsman, we find him plundering IPL bowlers around instead of coming to the aid of his miserable national side, currently being bossed around by Pakistan at home. Pakistani youngsters bullying the West Indies in their back yard? A truly sad state, rock bottom has been their only dwelling for ten years, and they don't look like moving house.

This latest soap opera epitomizes the state of West Indies cricket in the past decade. Confusions, accusations, dodgy selections, sour sponsorship deals, IPL lust, Allan Stanford. What a mess. As long as these moments of lunacy continue to hover, this is a team that will never get out of its slumber.

In the middle of it all is this is Chris Gayle. The talismanic figure always stands out and becomes the forefront of compliments or criticism, perhaps unfairly too. Unlike the obviously selfish Pollard, Gayle claims to had written off the IPL for international commitments, saying he should be playing for the West Indies. The board claims they tried to 'reach out' to him, blaming Gayle. Just what the heck is going on?

Does he even merit selection? Lets have a look at his ODI stats in the past two years against the other top eight teams:

Career averages (ODI)
MatRunsHSBat Av100WktsBBIBowl Av5CtSt

Yuck. Maybe the selectors had a point. Maybe he too is selfish? Only seeming to find form in the money hungry format of the game. But then again, lets look at the so called 'purest' form of the game:

Career averages (Test)
MatRunsHSBat Av100WktsBBIBowl Av5CtSt

So the man has been firing in T20 cricket and Test cricket, but has been a complete failure in the 50 over format of the game. I give up.

Some things just cannot be explained. © AFP

The man is an enigma. He is a symbol, a reflection of the chaotic nature of West Indian cricket. A last minute SOS call for Gayle might result in a momentum seizing century or a golden duck.

He is just that kind of player.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Meet The New West Indies

Otis Gibson wasn't kidding around when he said it was time to clean out the attic.

The latest news is that the three big names of West Indies cricket have got the chop in the upcoming series against Pakistan. Thats right, no Gayle, no Sarwan, no Chanderpaul. Interesting move, bold move. Ripping out the West Indian spine will do one of two things, either form a new backbone, or collapse into a mush.  Is it fair to blame these three for the woes of the 00's and the sorry world cup run?

No Gayle
Easily the most influential and dynamic player of the team for such a long time. He is the big name, the draw card, the one who captains talk up the toss. He had a poor world cup, but find me a West Indian batsman who didn't. Of the three, I find this the most bitter pill to swallow, the man looks lazy, but he most certainly isn't. It was him to told Suliemann Benn to get lost when he refused to listen to him remember?

No Sarwan
This I agree with. The man looked as scratchy as ever and is completely stuck in the mud. A real shame given that he was promised to succeed Lara as the next big thing, he might well have too if he steered clear of injuries and politics. But for now, he is a dead anchor in the team and there may be a chance we'll never see him again.

No Chanderpaul
This is sad but probably correct move. He has been a barnacle in the side, clutching on and fighting manfully against the waves of mediocrity around him. I for one was a big fan of the Gayle-Chanderpaul opening combination, but nobody else was it seems. Now it has become a bit of an identity crisis, is he a Gilchrist? a Mark Richardson? a Michael Bevan? He had shades of all, but at the moment he is neither, and with another world cup looking pretty unlikely, the walls are closing in on one of the real street fighters of the game.

The end of the road? © Associated Press

Adding to this....

No Pollard
The man has Mumbai Indians commitments folks. Get this quote: "It was mutually determined that Pollard would be best served by being allowed to hone his T20 skills in the Indian Premier League, which will bring future benefit to West Indies cricket..." . What a load of trash. Michael Holding once said he doesn't regard Pollard as a cricketer. I will correct him, he is not a West Indian cricketer. Sadly it won't be long before others follow his lead and play his selfish card, to send the West Indies into further decline.

The only thing being "honed" here is the Pollard bank balance.

Marlon Samuels!
On the positive side, after copping a ban for involvement with bookmakers, the man who once bashed Warne around and earned Steve Waugh's respect is back in the fame. If their upcoming opponents had to deal with corruption bans, it would be an empty plane flying into the Carribean.

It was Pakistan who embarrassed the West Indies in a ridiculous defeat in the quarter final. Who will prevail in what can be termed a revenge match? Depends if Pakistan turn up, and thats a whole different story altogether.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Shane Watson Goes Berserk

While the cricketing abomination namely the IPL is churning along in the background, an assassination took place in Mirpur yesterday night. The beefy Shane Watson, one of the rare good players left in Australia, gave the hapless Bangladesh a bashing they will never forget.

The Fun Part
If ever there was a one man assault, this was it. Set a barely defendable 230 to win, Watson crashed all but 80% of that on his way to 184 off 96 balls, including the world record for most number of boundaries in an innings, and most number of sixes (15 of them!). It was all over in 26 overs, and the most humorous thing is comparing this to the poor Bangladeshi's, who had only managed 83 in their first 26 overs. Compare this also to Watson's opening counterpart Imrul Kayes, who managed 5 runs from 41 balls, perhaps in an attempt to outdo Gavaskar as the snail innings of all time. Ouch.

Kayes vs Watson. What was in the lunch menu? ©

The Scary Part
Now Watson was on 184* in the 26th over... given a bigger target that double century would have come with more than 20 overs to spare. Forget Sachin, if this went on the way it was, 250 and beyond was not a write off. Get this quote from the big man himself: "The reason I kept going after [reaching] 100 is because I was tired, and I didn't really want to run too much; I was either going to try to hit as many sixes as I could or get out because I was pretty tired". Thats right, he was tired. Have mercy on the poor souls who have to endure an awake Shane Watson in this mood.

Diverging rivers. ©

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On Pride, Gluttony and Sloth

And so the cricketing roller-coaster ride came to a fitting end, with little to complain about. It was unpredictable and enthralling, we were treated to a tremendous show of skill and talent, with the rightful team as the victor.

Nevertheless, rather than allowing the craze to die down and let us sit back and savor the moments, the usual suspects have reared their ugly heads again.

Pride - The ICC
If there was one thing that really captured the imagination of the cricketing world, it was the Irish green machine. What a thrill was to watch their passion and their color, as they punched proudly above their weight and showed us all that there is life after the top eight nations. It was done and dusted I thought, on crickets big stage, they had given the ICC the message by letting their brawn do the talking. The only way to go was up.

And the ICC struck back in typical ICC fashion, Ireland will not be in the next world cup. One can quite easily reel off words to describe them, arrogant, egotistic, punitive, delusional, that only scratches the surface politely. The most unfathomable aspect about the madness is the lack of reasoning. In quest of a shorter world cup? Rubbish. Irish cricket had reached out to them, arms outstretched, fighting and pleading for the support to develop and grow as a cricketing nation. Instead, all they got is the cold shoulder.

Just about everybody has rightfully slammed a governing cricket board buried in its own pride and pomp. They obviously do not hold the interests of cricket to heart, their priority solely their own benefits. Most will be forced to play ball, with only the BCCI with any sort of power to intervene. They are a little preoccupied however...

Gluttony - Indian Cricket
Here we go again. We thought the madness of the Twenty 20 world cup victory was bad, this recent triumph is already scaling ugly new levels of self indulgence. The latest reports say that on top of a ten million rupee bonus for each player, the following gifts are also on the way:

  • Extra bonuses for each player, in the scale of millions of rupees, in the case of Dhoni, an extra 20 million.
  • Predicted endorsement rates at above Bollywood stars, in the hundreds of millions of rupees.
  • Free cars from Hyundai for each player, with a custom Audi to be made for Yuvraj Singh.
  • Free first class train travel for each player and a partner, for life.
  • Free plots of land to everyone in the team.
  • Free villa's to be gifted, worth a combined 90 million rupees.
  • And to take the cake... medals and honorary doctorates.

Honorary doctorates! Lets gloss on that for a moment, according to wikipedia this is defined as: "When a university wishes to formally recognize an individual's contributions to a particular field or philanthropic efforts...". So cricket is philanthropic now. While the rest of us slave away in tertiary study or the work force to earn our keep. Its almost enough to make me boycott watching cricket out of principle, probably just a matter of time before I will be at my wits end.

Run-rate got you down? Dr. Dhoni is on the case. © AFP

Sloth - Retirements
Not everyone mind you, some have obviously come to the end of their careers (Muralitharan), while others are rightfully giving up captaincy due to pressure, age, or both (Ponting). However I cannot understand why a fit and able Grame Smith, Vettori and Sangakkara would step down now, even more baffling given that neither of those teams has a clear leader earmarked. 

What has happened to the Stephen Fleming or the Mike Atherton of  the game, who took on the role long term and were instantly recognized as the leader of the pack? The most laughable case was in a recent India test match against England, where Dhoni led a team with Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble, all former captains. 

The molly coddling doesn't stop there either, with Shaun Tait calling it quits (again) to concentrate on his (get this) Twenty20 career. That is a career? Take a leaf out of the Shane Bond book, who didn't stop trying for years despite his body breaking down more often than Windows ME. Or the Kapil Dev and Courtney Walsh of the yesteryear, demanding and successful fast bowling careers that spanned donkeys years.

Even the humble sport of cricket is not free from the cardinal sins.

Time to call the big guns.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Cricket World Cup 2011 Oscars

Its awards time at The Cricket Musings! This is an opportunity to commemorate the stand out performances of the 2011 world cup, be it good, bad or quirky. The judge and jury will be yours truly, however no physical awards will be handed out, as we believe cricketers are paid quite enough. Lets begin.

The Most Annoying Celebration Award
Winner - Harbhajan Singh
Removed Afridi in the semi-final with an off-stump full toss that deserved to be smashed over extra cover for six. We saw instead the token Afridi miscue, and Bhajji going off in a bizarre screaming, head twirling, seizure style celebration. Most of his wickets in the tournament came off average to rubbish deliveries.

Honorable Mention
The famous Afridi "bow before me" pose.

The Dodgy Hairstyle Award
Winner - Sreesanth
An horrid cross between Don King and Edward Scissorhands. After playing two games and getting tonked everywhere, this is the only accolades he will get.

Boo. © AFP

The Two-Face Award
Winner - Ross Taylor
The man who turned it all around for New Zealand. Should have been out twice, and looked woeful for most of his innings, before unleashing a hulk style assault on the hapless Pakistanis. Never before had I seen such a dramatic turn around in one mans innings.

Honorable Mentions
Umar Gul - From demon to deck scrubber in no time at all. Picked the worst game to do it as well.
Kamran Akmal - Also made the quick switch from iron gloves to good keeper, no surprises to see two Pakistani's nominated for this one.

The Houdini Award
Winner - Ireland
Ireland were fighting hard chasing a huge total, but never looked like winning at the halfway stage, with the odds 400-1 for an Irish win. Enter big burly Kevin O'Brien, who unleashed an onslaught so unbelievable it became the grandstand for the biggest upset of the world cup.

Honorable Mention
New Zealand - Didn't deserve to even get close against a South Africa side that appeared to be cruising along. Enter some brilliant catching, fielding and sledging, and the gritty Kiwi's sent the highly fancied team packing.

The Anticlimax Award
Winner - Pakistan
For their failure to turn up in what should have been the match of the tournament. Thank you for ruining the match with atrocious fielding and shot selection, and also for robbing Shoaib Akhtar of a final hurrah. I have massive doubts over the legitimacy of all this, but that can of worms can be opened another day. Special mention also to Razzaq, who disappointingly didn't produce any batting miracle we know he can give us.

The Irony Award
Winner - Saeed Ajmal and Harbhajan Singh
For delivering a perfect doosra to the very man who endorsed it. Poetic really.

The Umpire Howler Award
Winner - Amiesh Saheba
For denying Nathan McCullum what was a clean catch, and costing New Zealand crucial momentum in that match. Disgraceful.

Honorable Mention - Bruce Oxenford
The Gary Wilson situation, where the batsman was deemed to have not been playing a shot and given LBW, though he clearly was. Don't blame the technology, blame the moron behind it. Secondly, why not just do away with this stupid rule, if the ball will hit the stumps, it will hit the stumps. Period.

Best Quote
Winner - Waqar Younis
When asked the difference between Kamran Akmal and Michael Jackson, i.e. they both wear gloves for no reason, the reply was "The difference is one is dead". Brilliant, albeit not very politically correct.

Honorable Mention - Darren Sammy
Putting Graeme Swann's typical English whining in it's place, "... if there is dew, just get a towel and wipe the ball, simple".

The Sammy Swagger never made it on the field though. © Getty Images

Best Piece Of Fielding
Winner - Chris Mpofu
For a stunning throw from the boundary that crashed into the stumps and sent a comfortable Ponting on his way. Inadvertently led to a poor LCD TV feeling Punters wrath.

Honorable Mentions
Nathan McCullum - For that aforementioned catch that was wrongly denied.
Jesse Ryder - For a stunning diving catch that sent the dangerous Upul Tharanga on his way. Big man or not, he can move all right.
Jacob Oram - The catch that turned the match. Removing Kallis in the quarter final was one of the huge blows for South Africa. Notice how there are three kiwi's on this list?

Best Bowling Performance
Winner - Dale Steyn 5 wickets for 50 runs vs India
Blew away the hapless Indian lower order to bring back South Africa from what should have been a slaughtering. He is a brilliant fast bowler wasted on dead tracks.

Honorable Mentions
Tim Bresnan 5 for 48 vs India  - Similar situation to Steyn, crucially held it together to ensure that the Indian onslaught did not end up at 400.
Ravi Rampaul 5 for 51 vs India - Awesome performance for a man who was initially left out, it should have been a match winning one too.
Shahid Afridi 4 for 34 vs Sri Lanka - This performance in Sri Lanka's back yard was a towering pillar on the night, amazing how it all just disappears when it counts the most.

Best Individual Innings
Winner - Kevin O'Brien 113 vs England
Incredible stuff from the big man against the old enemy. World records aside, what made this knock special was the underdog context behind it.

Honorable Mentions
Mahela Jayawardene 103 vs India - Beautifully crafted this innings with only silken, delightful stroke-play and deserved to be a winning masterpiece.
Ross Taylor 134 vs Pakistan - As mentioned earlier, this incredible innings seemed to restore the hunger and self belief that drove New Zealand to the semi finals.
Virender Sehwag 175 Bangladesh - The warning to the world. Sehwag got the revenge he desired by bullying a capable Bangladeshi attack on their home turf.
Andrew Strauss 158 vs India - A classy, correct innings that got the world to notice England, too bad he got reduced to a bumbling mess in their quarter final exit.

Best Utility
Winner - Yuvraj Singh 
Put away all the flashy stuff and eased himself to controlled, match winning half centuries. Also had the golden arm in the tournament, putting Bhajji to shame by bowling tight, getting turn and picking up timely wickets. Even his fielding was back to his younger days (almost).

Honorable Mentions
The New Zealand Team - They are the definition of utility players. A failure with the bat or ball doesn't mean the end of their day, and when the whole machine fits together, they are only a Crowe or a Hadlee short of a champion team.
Trent Johnson - Was his usual old self, tonking useful runs, taking sharp catches and snapping up crucial wickets. Records will never show how valuable this guy is.

Best Fielding Unit
Winner - New Zealand
By a country mile. Their catching and ground fielding was absolutely peerless, and South Africa more than anyone know the reward what brilliant fielding can bring. The difference between being a crashed out quarter finalist, and a respected semi-finalist.

Best Match
Winner - England vs Ireland
*That* match again, enough has been said about it already.

Honorable Mentions
India vs England - But for the underdog status of the Irish, this would have been the match of the tournament. 
India vs South Africa - Another frantic match that ebbed and flowed more than the stock markets. A real lesson on how to stop a batting juggernaut.
South Africa vs England - The choke that got them worried.
South Africa vs New Zealand - The choke that sent them home.

Best Overall Bowler
Winner - Zaheer Khan
By a country mile. He is no more the fiery quick of 2003 or the one who got manhandled by Tamim Iqbal in 2007. He has developed a Vaas-like guile and control to his bowling, and without him, India would not have won the world cup. Make no mistake about that.

Dishonorable Mention
Afridi may have equalled the wicket tally with Zaheer, but ripping through Canada and Kenya doesn't count, thank you very much.

Best Overall Batsman
Winner - Sachin Tendulkar
This choice was surprisingly easy. Dilshan may have more runs, but look at the context of the performances. Given the collapses that followed, the centuries against England and South Africa were invaluable. His half century against Australia was of the highest order, and as ugly as his Pakistan knock was, it was the difference between 260 and 160. Much like Zaheer, his presence was a big reason why India came out victorious.

The image that will be etched in the memories of 2011. © AFP

This tournament truly was a festival of cricket, providing the full array of skills and plenty of thrilling moments. Well done to the participants, for providing a fantastic and memorable world cup, be it through mighty ability, or moments of ineptitude. Farewell also to Muralitharan, who was one match shy of the grand exit he richly deserved.

Monday, April 4, 2011

World Cup 2011 - The Blue Era Begins

And so after three consecutive world cups, and over ten years of uncontested dominance, we have a new team crowned winners. I have made it no secret that I am no fan of this Indian team, but its time for a quiet admission on my part through clenched teeth. India deserve to be crowned champions. 

It also invited bad puns. © Associated Press

India had their usual misfields, but Sri Lanka had more. India had poor backup bowlers, but Sri Lanka's were worse. The first innings was a scramble around the brilliant Jayawardene. The run chase, barring the first few overs, was precise, restrained and quality batting. One can harp on about dropped catches, injuries and leaving Mendis out (some even dare to say that Sangakkara cheated at the toss), but it came down to a very simple fact, the better team won.

Are They The Best In The World?
Yes, despite their flaws. While they were sloppy throughout, you cannot argue with results, their only loss was narrowly to South Africa. The ease in which they got over the final, with who was without doubt the number two team really highlights this. As much as I hunted for excuses for the Sri Lankan's losing, there were none.

It of course helped that this all took place on dead home pitches, and they probably will struggle more outside of the subcontinent. But that is no reason to begrudge them, every series or world cup is held at some venue, and a home side will have an advantage. Its part of the game.

Are They Better Than The Australian Empire?
Absolutely not. Not even close actually. The Australians were magnificent, they would field eleven top class players with no apparent weakness in any department. Think six Tendulkars, three Zaheers, a Sangakkara and a Murali, who all field like Raina and Dilshan. Scary wasn't it. They could have fielded a second eleven and beat most world teams, such was their depth.

India and Sri Lanka emerged on top because the Aussie fortress collapsed (well, retired), not the other way around. I honestly believe that the Indian team of 2003 is equal, if not stronger than this one, and we all saw what happened to them.

Ouch. © Neil Lane

There is a long way to go before any team is as good as these guys were.

Why We Thank India's Victory
They bring in the numbers, of that there is no doubt. They were excellent hosts of this tournament, and the event was a big success. With the Indians backing it up, at least we can be rest assured that the fifty over game is in safe hands. They didn't "IPL" the game thankfully and left it in its own, mostly original and glorious form.

India is also one to embrace other teams I feel. Out of sheer numbers, smaller teams such as Ireland will get their supporters, particularly with a few of them featuring in the IPL already, along their first Dutch player to join them this year. All cricket lovers cannot deny that a strong Indian fan base and their passion is great for the sport.

Why We Regret India's Victory
The overindulgence has already begun. The amount of money that gets poured into the game is truly astounding, with each player receiving a 1 crore bonus ($200,000 USD roughly). It doesn't sound like much, but 1 crore in India is more than what the average man will ever see in his lifetime. Worse still given that half the team were average, if not poor throughout the tournament. They simply do not know when to stop, especially with money. The BCCI are already powerful, with having more control over cricket than the ICC itself, this victory means more power.

Too much power is never good.

The hero worship is almost laughingly bad, with patriotic film songs booming throughout the game as if India was welcoming a victorious army on independence day. All that was left really was Aamir Khan to jump out onto the pitch and win the match Lagaan style with "Mere Desh Ki Dharti" running in the background (to the non-Indian readers, something like Queen's "We Are The Champions").

And you need to be in, or have been to India to see just how far the endorsements go, with cricket players all over clothing labels, Pepsi ads, hair gel, even this monstrosity from Nike:

Get used to it folks, cricket will indeed bleed blue for the coming years.