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