Tuesday, May 31, 2011

On 'Retirements', Misplaced Priorities and Crazy Selectors

Cricket is never free of controversy. As Sri Lanka blunder their way to a ridiculous test defeat (more on that to come), and Team Dhoni, the only real team, defeat Chris Gayle to take away the IPL championship, there has been plenty of other fun things happening under the carpet.

Afridi Retires
Pakistan cricket needs to redefine this word. According to most of us and our dear friend Google, it is "(an athlete) Ceasing to play competitively"Ceasing, meaning that's it, no more, zip, get the retirement cake. However, retirements in Pakistan are more like a self imposed holiday, often based around a money political problem and a resulting desperate plea for help. A real employer would tell them to find another job.

If only.

Shahid Afridi is the latest to 'conditionally retire' (!) until a new cricket board is in place. In other words, blackmail. Notice the strategic placement, Pakistan after this current Ireland series do not have a single confirmed tour in the months to come. A great time to 'retire' and create a ruckus against the PCB about your lack of money humiliation.

Tendulkar Refuses the West Indies
This is a wildly divided opinion. Some say if there is anyone in world cricket who is allowed to be choosy about his international tours, it is Sachin Tendulkar. Given all those dark years in the nineties he braved through single handedly, the man is allowed a break and special favors given his invaluable service to Indian cricket.

And then there are the other guys who go on to say that Tendulkar should be a role model for the game and pick international commitments over the IPL clown fest. This is twice he has done it, he gave up the last World Twenty 20 tournament after an IPL season, and now he is doing the same to rob the West Indian locals of a last glimpse at the man's talents. How can a young Pollard learn to get his priorities right when the legends of the game are doing exactly the same thing? There can be no other motivation other than money, of which Tendulkar has plenty of surely.

This is the side of the fence that I also sit on. Where do you sit?

He sides with the Money Mumbai Indians © AFP

And Finally... The WCB Strike Again
And we thought the PCB had issues. Still no Chris Gayle or Shiv Chanderpaul, and only the ghost of Sarwan remains in the team. Despite the fact that their two best players are fit and able, as Gayle showed us in a brutal 'in your face' display at the IPL (the best thing by far the IPL had to offer), Gayle is still left out of the squad to face India. Now I am no cricket board, but surely I need a long hard look at myself if I am in complete refusal to pick the only two players who can win you matches.

Often left bemused and devoid of an answer, this time I do offer a solution.

Sack them all.

Make Gayle captain. Start again. ... And hire Micheal Holding as a technical advisor.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Shane Warne And The Indian Love Affairs

There is just something about Shane Warne and India. The man seems to cause more of a stir there than even his own turf and the latest of the famous blondie's debacle caps off a long series of unfortunate events. Lets take a trip down memory lane and rediscover some of the joys he has gone through.

The Baked Beans Affair of 1998
Warne may be an Indian household figure now, probably chugging down the butter naan and tikka masala with aplomb, but back track many years ago and he couldn't eat a thing over there. Obviously a big crisis, Warne had fast tracked spaghetti and baked beans to be shipped over there, his famous quote was "I am really craving for some canned spaghetti on toast". How dare those other wet blankets complain of petty issues like home sickness.

The Tendulkar Affair of 1998
This series was famous for Tendulkar and friends walloping the Australians around like it was all a big joke. Warne had developed a good reputation as a bowler by then, but India is the one place he never came close to conquering. The little master smacked him around in the brutal manner only seen by the little one back in those glory days. Warne in his career (as a bowler) was rarely made to look silly, here he was.

"You should have imported spinach instead" © AFP

The Bookies Affair of 1998
Well what a great year this was, three in a row! Warne this time got snapped with fellow pretty boy Mark Waugh for dealing illegally with bookies. He divulged weather and strategy information and was later fined. In terms of cricketing corruption this was probably his only black mark.

The Eden Gardens Affair of 2001
No controversies here, but a serious plundering. There is no need to recap the famous miracle victory over the Australians which included the Laxman 281. But lets pay attention to Warne's nightmarish experiences. 34 overs, 1 wicket for a monstrous 152 runs at 4.47 runs an over. Embarrassingly bad, the highlights reel show Laxman and Dravid toying as if it was not the Golden Boy, but Goldilocks bowling.

The Ganguly Affair of 2008
Ah, one always savors a clash between two cocky and colorful characters of the game. The IPL was a successful time for Warne then, but not so during this incident. Unhappy with Ganguly not walking after a claimed catch, he went on to say "... Sourav asked the Indian umpire to go to the TV replay. That's not in the spirit of the game so I was very, very disappointed with Sourav." I find this pretty hilarious coming from Warne, who over the years loves to milk umpires and has had his fair share of stealing dodgy LBW and caught decisions.

The Beer Affair of 2009
A light incident, completely avoidable if not for Warne's impressive ability to attract bad situations. Rather than turn away a spectators beer on the boundary rope, Warne decided to take a sip, in a world where nothing escapes the merciless eye of the camera. No excuses here, we all know the IPL was a big party, but the man could have at least played along with the gag and pretended to take it seriously, like the rest of the paycheck collectors.

The Hurley Affair of 2011
Look Shane, this is India. This is a land where strutting and dancing with the cheerleaders while attempting to look/dress like one is perfectly acceptable. We can thank 'modern' Bollywood for this, "Hey the NRI guys and Saif do it, so it must be totally cooool doood ya"? Thou shalt club, thou shalt drink, thou shalt strip down. But kissing your girlfriend in public! Utter disgrace! Learn the rules Mr Warne.

The Pitch Affair of 2011
And finally we have the inspiration of this article. To be honest this time I back Warne, apparently he wanted a spin friendly pitch (like blood from a stone), and he got duly laughed off by the dictator curator. A furious Warne vented, and copped a $50,000 USD fine for it. A completely ridiculous punishment of course, but surely by now Mr. Warne has learned to avoid being a show pony. Whats next, a Bollywood contract?

The Bollywood Affair of ???
Oh for goodness sake.

The love triangle cast is already secure. © AFP

Friday, May 20, 2011

On The Martin Crowe Comeback (Seriously)

Cricket is like a Saharan trek without a water bottle these days. Its hard to find a thirst quencher, given that most of the cricketing news is drowned by the hot air of the IPL. It seems that television viewers and internet junkies alike are nearing the end of their patience for it, even I forgot to check out Cricinfo for half a day (horrors!). But, then something caught my eye, this headline:

"Crowe Announces Comeback at 48".

Come again? Russell Crowe making a comeback to Neighbors is more believable. Admittedly he is starting at club cricket level, with aspirations to make it to first class cricket. Seems he is 392 runs short of 20,000 first class runs. Well if he somehow manages to knock off those runs against guys half his age, then good on him, miracles do happen. But even all this is not what inspired me to write this article, here is the real kicker. Says Mr Crowe: 

"Hey! If Ganguly can do it, anyone can do it!" 

The cricketing equivalent to The Fonz. © Cricinfo.com

Ah, the Crowe vs Ganguly debate once again. For those of you who aren't clued in, Ganguly led the team to a horrible defeat at the hands of New Zealand (well, mainly dodgy pitches) in 2002/2003. They lost the seven match ODI series 5-2, and the test series 2-0. During that time, the merry band of NZ commentators, led by Crowe, were ripping into Ganguly, singling him out as brash, arrogant and a liability for the team. 

Maybe he was cocky, fair game, but Crowe fails to realize that Ganguly's worst patch as a batsman was those years as captain. But despite that it was his alliance with John Wright that really turned Indian cricket around. It was Ganguly who backed the Harbhajan's and the Yuvraj's and got them through their golden 2003 world cup run, among famous overseas test victories. 

Well, mostly golden. © Neil Lane

Ganguly as a batsman achieved far more than almost all New Zealand batsman. His ODI stats in particular show off a whopping 22 centuries. 

Batting and fielding averages (Ganguly)

Crowe, who is widely regarded as one of NZ's best in history, has this record:

Batting and fielding averages (Crowe)

Roughly equal, Crowe a better test batsman, Ganguly a better ODI one. Belittling Ganguly is completely uncalled for, it was then and it still is now. I can even recall several occasions of him smashing the New Zealand bowlers around like it was a joke. 

Then again Crowe goes on to call Geoff Howarth's coaching 'a joke' and he apparently had issues with Lee Germon and John Wright over the years. In the New Zealand scale he can talk with a bit of authority. On the world scale he hardly measures up. A decent cricketer with a bucket load of excuses, the only legitimate one being a bad knee.

A comeback at 48. Who's arrogant now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

West Indies vs Pakistan - The Series That Wasn't

It was almost as if it never happened. The Pakistani's quietly took away a 3-2 victory over the West Indies, and with a minimum of fuss and exposure, we will move on to the test series soon. Blink and you'd have missed it, particularly since cricket headlines have been surrounded with "Gayle Smashes Unbelievable Ton!" and the like.

But lets wonder for a minute, what if both the West Indies and Pakistan had picked the absolute best teams available to them? What if the cricket world was free of injuries, the IPL, spot fixing, and dodgy selections?

And the odd spontaneous trip to London. © Associated Press

The Real Pakistan

1. Salman Butt (c)
2. Mohammad Hafeez
3. Ahmed Shahzad
4. Mohammad Yousuf
5. Misbah Ul-Haq
6. Shahid Afridi
7. Abdul Razzaq
8. Zulqarnain Haider (w)
9. Mohammad Aamir
10. Umar Gul
11. Mohammad Asif

Unlucky: Saeed Ajmal, very good backup at least.
Unwanted: The trigger happy Akmals and Younis Khan, who looks more and more weary all the time.

Look at that bowling line-up, easily the best in the world in fact if they fielded that squad. Afridi is a little over animated (if there is such a thing) as captain, and would prefer Butt to take the reins.

The Real West Indies

1. Chris Gayle (c)
2. Adrian Barath
3. Darren Bravo
4. Ramnaresh Sarwan
5. Shiv Chanderpaul
6. Kieron Pollard
7. Dwayne Bravo
8. Devon Thomas (w)
9. Kemar Roach
10. Jerome Taylor
11. Devendra Bishoo

Unlucky: Darren Sammy. I like the guy, but he just doesn't quite contribute enough, more like a poor man's Vettori at this stage. Fidel Edwards, Ravi Rampaul and Andre Russell wait in the wings as adequate backup. I like Dwayne Smith, he could slot in as a backup Pollard, who I don't like but admit has talent.

Unwanted: Suliemann Benn, full marks for attitude, but not much for impact. 

No extra points for tossing players around either. © Getty

Who would win that series? It doesn't matter! Look at those line-ups, and even if Pakistan came away 3-2 just like it transpired, the matches would have been infinitely more interesting than what looked like a Pakistan A tour of West Indies A. We would have the dream bowling attack versus the most colorful and explosive batting line-up.

Of the teams listed, only four from either side were in the current teams. In a perfect world the players would be free of politics, greed and corruption, and we would be treated to cricket at its highest quality.

Too bad then that we don't live in a perfect world.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The IPL Horrors Lumber On

And so the craze, the indulgence, the ego trip drones on yet again. The IPL is a sharp plummet in cricket quality from the world cup event we just witnessed and enjoyed, this is more like a drunken after party before the real cricket begins again.

Lets set one thing straight. I like Twenty20 cricket. I believe it does have a place in the cricketing calendar, it is short, entertaining, and its all over quickly, sort of like a fun-size mars bar. It serves as a great live spectator sport, and for a while there everybody understood this, teams played along for a quick bit of fun before the real tour began.

Yep, not taking it seriously. © Getty

And then India won the Twenty20 World Cup. You see, India weren't even on board to start with. It took off in England and Pakistan, along with a handful of internationals. But after India took the honours in that admittedly fun little event, things went overboard. The love child that spawned became a cricketing monster, driven by the idea of milking the concept completely dry. The abomination known as the IPL was born, and here its legacy:

1. Overpaid Players
We all know that professional sports players are paid obscenely. Try Fernando Torres being bought for €58.5m, or (I love this one) Latrell Sprewell rejecting a $21m (USD) contract because he had "a family to feed". I guess he fathers a small island.

Cricket was once exempt from this madness, but the IPL changed all that. Gone are the day where you earn an honest pay packet and put pride above all else. Now we are talking $2.4m (US) for a couple of months of trigger happy madness. It seems like small change compared to other sporting codes, but look at our international cricketers flock to the gold. It will come to a stage were players will give up international commitments to turn out for the Nagpur Nobodys (the West Indies leading by example already).

2. Bollywood Meets Cricket
If I wanted to see Shah Rukh Khan and friends dancing, hamming, and drowning in their petty games, I know where to go, the nearest cinema. We let you have your bollywood movies, it's ok to be a fan, but please leave cricket alone.

Ugh. © AFP

3. Force Fed Advertising
Money money money, again. We have advertising thrown at us with such ferocity, between overs, between balls (!) and even during the live game by cutting the screen into an L-shape advertisement. The sponsorship banners and logos are sprawled everywhere on the ground, the boundries, and on the players kits. Everyone is out to make a quick buck, and it hurts my eyes.

4. Unfair Cricket
Ponder this. You are a young indian fast bowler looking to press for national selection, your strengths are good line and length with a hint of swing. Your assignment is Adam Gilchrist with a license to kill. Your constraints are shortened boundary ropes, a sea of spectators screaming for sixes and a pitch resembling dead wood. They might as well decapitate you too.

How are the domestic level Indian cricketers supposed to develop their trade? Bowlers get smashed everywhere, and only exceptions like Malinga have the tools to cope. Batting skills such as working the gaps, finding the singles, running between the wickets... all gone. Despite the world cup victory, Indian cricket is going through a massive shortage of good bowlers and test match level batsmen, and this is the very reason.

5. Dumb Commentary
These are real excerpts of cricinfo commentary:
  • Rayuduuuuuu! Whaddaplayaaaaa!
  • Clatterrrrrrrr! Don't mess with Malinga! 
  • ... he walks down and tries to work it to leg but ends up with a thick outside-edge that flies over and over third man! Wow!
  • ...oh he has literally smoked the pants off that one!
  • snuff is snuff, says McCullum
There is a fine line between flair and idiocy. And this is just text commentary, the audio commentators take it to another level, wailing in their chorus of never ending praise of "outstanding batting" and "incredible shot". 

6. The 'Team' Culture

There was a bit of team culture being developed over the seasons with familiar faces partnering each other, however this was all down the toilet with the ridiculous idea of putting all the players back in the lolly scramble. Name three players in the Bangalore Royal Challengers? 

"Of course, thats Dravid's team, along with Kallis, Uthappa... "
"Uh actually, Dravid is in the Royals, Kallis in Kolkata, Uthappa Pune."
"Pune? A new team?"
"Two new teams, them and the Kochi Tuskers."
"Tuskers!? From a land with a bad reputation of elephant poaching! But hey at least we see Kallis and Gayle together, exciting!"
"Actually... Gayle is in Bangalore now".

The Final Word
Given a bit of restraint (something not possible with Indian cricket), the IPL could have worked as a two week glamor event. Some of the games in this latest edition were actually a bit of fun, but two months of this? Those naysayers who complain about the world cup length are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites. The only cricket serving we have is this biffathon and the West Indies A vs Pakistan series (yawn). 

Somebody save us.