Friday, March 30, 2012

The Truth About South Africa and New Zealand

When an insect beats up a smaller insect, it doesn't stop it from being an insect. This is the unfortunate reality of New Zealand cricket, who were as bouncy and boisterous as ever after a historic victory over Australia and a mauling of the out-of-depth Zimbabweans.

And then came the big boys. These South Africans are not just one level higher but somewhere like two or three. How many teams are there that can leave out players like Graeme Smith and the great Jacques Kallis and not even feel the pinch? How many teams can unearth a guy who produced a record T20 innings, and then send him back on the next flight home? How many teams can boast a more complete pace battery than Philander, Steyn and Morkel?

The answer is certainly not New Zealand, who have been outclassed in a manner that is bordering on depressing. A cleverly formatted 3-3-3 series reads 2-3-1 in favour of South Africa, with New Zealand managing a single T20 victory and rain accounting for both test match draws. The lack of intent in the third test epitomized the tour, it was left up to a 21 year old kid to rescue them and a draw was celebrated like a victory. With less than a day to survive the so called big guns played it out like fish in a barrel not even bothering to flop.


The reversal was almost cruel, after bashing about the Zimbabweans, New Zealand became South Africa's Zimbabwe. The bowling attack consists entirely of journeymen itching to have a real strike bowler in their midst. McCullum and Taylor are ODI players in disguise while Martin Guptill is a poor man's Ian Bell, feasting himself on anything mediocre but grinding to a dead halt against true quality.

But how do you console a team who cannot even blame under-performance? Because the truth is that this is the best they have got. New Zealand more or less played to their peaks and finished up so far short that the visitors treated the tour like net practice after a Sunday roast.

Not so funny when its your turn is it? © AFP

South Africa will leave our shores after giving us Kiwis a firm examination of where and who we are, while they get ready for real opponents in England. We on the other hand can only weep quietly, rejoice over a false dawn with the last drawn match, or dig up old tapes of Richard Hadlee highlights to remember better times.

Related Reading:
The tragic story of Vettori
A history of New Zealand's woes against Australia

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Best XI From Asia

Among the plethora of ODI cricket tournaments that are scheduled, the Asia Cup is usually one of the more anonymous ones. The bi-annual Champions Trophy and Australian tri-series tournaments are often the most interesting while others take a quick fade into oblivion.

But this particular Asia Cup should be remembered, and that too fondly and for one reason alone, Bangladesh.

After enduring the usual politics, selection disputes and a hangover from the disgraceful World Cup last year, there was every reason why they should have ended up rock bottom in this tournament. They had a Pakistan team who are looking to turn the corner, a Sri Lankan team who impressed in Australia and a cocky Indian team who have returned to friendly flat decks hungry for redemption.

And yet, Bangladesh fell two runs short of trumping them all. An outstanding achievement.

If only Kamran Akmal played... © AFP

But their heroics aside it was yet another engaging and impressive ODI tournament, with all four teams having golden moments and playing hard, there was no 'easy-beat'. If one was to compile the eleven best cricketers out of Asia, who would be chosen?

The Cricket Musings Asia XI
1) Tamim Iqbal
2) Mohammad Hafeez
3) Mahela Jayawardene (c)
4) Kumar Sangakkara (w)
5) Virat Kohli
6) Shakib Al-Hasan
7) Shahid Afridi
8) Umar Gul
9) Saeed Ajmal
10) Mashrafe Mortaza
11) Lasith Malinga

These are the best eleven limited overs cricketers in Asia.

Points to ponder:
- Tamim Iqbal was originally dropped from the squad by some moronic selectors.
- Virat Kohli is the only Indian worthy of this line-up.
- The highly ranked Dhoni was replaced by the superior batting of Sanga and the superior captaincy of Mahela.
- With Malinga and Mortaza to open, you have Gul first change and a spin quartet of Afridi, Hafeez, Shakib and Ajmal. Good luck facing that attack.

There used to be an Afro-Asia cup going where a squad like this would face South Africa + a token Zimbabwean + a token Kenyan. Here is my proposition, lets put this squad against the rest of the world in a one-off annual exhibition match.

Now wouldn't that be something.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Rahul Dravid Tribute

Rahul Dravid, a player Indian cricket has so much to thank for. Equipped with a textbook technique and defence-first strategy, he truly was a rare breed coming from India, a nation that prides on trigger happy flamboyance. They called him The Wall, but I preferred to remember him as The Backbone.

His Test Match Legacy
India's overseas record in the nineties was a joke. Out of 39 test matches outside of Indian borders in the 1990s India won one test match, one single match in a full decade and that too in the sub-continent facing Sri Lanka. They were nothing short of flat track bullies who were ritually reduced to rubble when away from their comfortable dead wickets.

The resurgence of the 2000's largely came through a quintet of batsmen, however those other four would not have been enough alone. India needed Rahul Dravid.

Deliverance. © Getty 

His polished technique, unflappable temperament and unbreakable determination is what first got India on the cricketing map as a real threat, particularly overseas. Whether it was against McGrath or Murali, whether in Peshawar or Perth, he proved himself as the most important piece of the puzzle that pushed them to an eventual number one ranking.

The Cruel Limited Overs Fate
As an ODI player he was sorely misunderstood. Idiotic selections and favouritism ensured he missed a good fifty games for his country and didn't even play a single match in 2008 and in 2010. 'Too slow' they would say, and they would banish him in favour of hot shots who couldn't hold a candle on a bowling wicket. He was cautious at worst and he never cost India a match because of a poor strike rate, this was nothing but a myth.

For a period he was also unfairly given the wicket-keeping duties when they never belonged to him, and fought through a turbulent cyclone as captain fuelled by the egos of Ganguly and Greg Chappell. If that was not enough, he was cruelly denied the chance to be part of the 2011 World Cup victory, despite 12 centuries, over 10,000 runs and more rescue acts than Michael Bevan. A crying shame for he deserved far better, and yet he still managed to carry himself through it all with grace.

The 5 Best Test Performances:

  1. Scored the most runs in England 2002 when India first started competing overseas.
  2. He was there with Laxman during the Eden Gardens miracle with an equally important 180. No Dravid, no partnership, and the series would have been lost.
  3. His 233 and 72 double in Adelaide 2003 gave India their first real success in Australia, and an honourable drawn series.
  4. His 207 in Pakistan 2004 sealed a first ever series victory there.
  5. Was the only Indian batsman to make runs in the embarrassing 2011 England tour.

The 5 Most Memorable ODI Performances:

  1. Amongst the Sehwag carnage played a classy 99 only to be denied a century by Shoaib Akhtar.
  2. Smashed 50 off 22 balls against New Zealand to prove that he too can play the slog game.
  3. Top scored when eliminated by Sri Lanka in a horrendous 2007 World Cup.
  4. hard fought 76 was the only fight India had when eliminated by Pakistan in the Champions Trophy in 2009. He fell tragically to cramps and a run out. 
  5. Bowed out with style in 2011, with a typically solid innings of 69 against England.

That was just a sampler of the number of times Dravid was left last man standing among a crumpling heap of Indian batsman. He earns many compliments from critics and opponents alike, however he will never experience the blind worship and respect Tendulkar and Dhoni get back in his home country.

Perhaps for the better? India needed a better class of hero, and Dravid answered the call and delivered for more than fifteen years. A career and an individual that every Indian should be proud of.

Goodbye Rahul Dravid, and thanks.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The CB Series Review - ODI Cricket Lives On

And so a mighty ODI tournament comes to an end, with an overexcited Sri Lanka gifting away their wickets and the Australians displaying some of that typical grit to claim the series.

What have we learnt?
  • ODI cricket is NOT dead
  • Sri Lankan cricket is back
  • India are not world champions
  • The Aussies never give up (still)

It was an incredibly fascinating series with most games playing out like hungry dogs fighting for a juicy bone. Funnily enough the last three world cup finals comprised of India, Australia and Sri Lanka, so its fair to say that these three are the best ODI teams in the world (sorry South Africa). The winner of this tournament would gain not only a token trophy and prize money, but also a large dish of bragging rights.

That oh so familiar sight. © Getty

It was refreshing however to see an Australian side that isn't dominating these home tournaments, there was a time where two other sorry teams would turn up and return home thumped by both Australia and sometimes Australia A. Apart from being an ego-trip for the local commentators, it was dull and embarrassing.

This time, we instead saw an Aussie team that had to scrap and claw away at their opponents and earn their victories. Among them we saw an inspired turnaround from a Sri Lankan team that was on the verge of complete breakdown just a few months ago, and an Indian team desperate to look past a woeful test series and prove that the World Cup victory was not a fluke. They failed.

The Cricket Musings Awards present...

The Man of the Tournament - Mahela Jayawardene. He was the catalyst of the resurgence in his team and its about time they had a real leader who had the gumption to send himself up to open, to innovate with his fields and bowling changes, and to throw political correctness out the window and give the umpires a right blast when they needed it (take note Dhoni). Sri Lanka missed its charismatic leader which Dilshan never was.

The Who? Award - Clint McKay. Appearing like a nothing medium pacer, but armed with simple control and an effective slower ball he ripped out several illustrious batsmen. He was the Aussies best despite the Hilfenhaus and Pattinson drool-fest and second only to Malinga in wickets taken.

'That' Delivery - That man Lasith Malinga cleaning up Shane Watson with a perfect middle-stump destroying yorker. It swung the match back in Sri Lanka's favor and saved them from going home early, we just don't see enough devastating deliveries these days.

'That' Innings - Virat Kohli for that 133. India having needed an impossible 320 in under 40 overs did exactly that, guided by a manic yet controlled destruction at the hands of Kohli. The incredible thing is that most of those boundaries were proper cricketing shots and often along the ground, a real advertisement against the IPL art of 'close your eyes and slog'.

The Sloth & Greed Award - Captain Dhoni of course, for grinding comfortable chases to a dead halt, for no purpose other than milking a fifty for himself. A big reason why India went home early, but nobody will bother to realize it.

The Pest Award - Brett Lee making a right nuisance of himself just like the old days of the 2003 World Cup. He may be the nicest guy off the field but we saw his full bag of tricks in the middle, the red face of rage, the glares, the foul mouth, the wicket taking chainsaw. Nostalgia at its worst.

"Look mom I can fly" © AFP

This tournament is exactly what we all needed to remind ourselves that ODI cricket still has and always will deserve a place in our cricketing hearts. With some proper administration and forward thinking, we can ensure we continue to have memorable tournaments like this one. Lets hope the upcoming Asia cup can follow suit.

Related reading:
How to save ODI cricket