Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Why Does India try to Sledge?

A week ago my call was 0-4 for India, and at 0-2 the whitewash is on!

Credit where it is due, India have competed quite well at times and in fact inexplicably threw away the Adelaide test which they should have at least drawn. How was that for a brain explosion, it was almost West Indies like. Nonetheless I have been impressed by Murali Vijay and Kohli, and expected worse.

Along came Brisbane, a place where Australia never loses and once again they didn't disappoint. But some hilarity stuck out, in particular India and their new found love for sledging.

Sledging is a cricket exclusive term, or as Steve Waugh termed it... "Mental Disintegration". The Aussies of old used it beautifully to defeat the opposition with mind games and end contests before they even started. Just ask any England team pre-2005 or Daryll Cullinan.

But it is important to realize the most important ingredient the Aussies had, the batting and bowling riches to make it work. The wonderful oxymoron Glenn McGrath is the best example, hurling expletives in the opposition's faces and yet delivering the same dour ball at the same generous pace patiently waiting for the batsman to crack.

Which brings us to India who it seems have adopted the same tactic, hey it worked for them why won't it work for us? This problem is, they are hopeless at it.

So what happened in Brisbane?
  • Ishant Sharma, after being utterly thumped all day throws a few f-bombs when removing Steve Smith.  Note that Smith was yet to be dismissed in the series so far and was on 133. Note also that this is one of the most useless bowlers in the game today and it wasn't even a good delivery.
  • Rohit Sharma and Superstar Virat greet Mitchell Johnson to the batting crease with some foul mouthing off, followed by some "bouncers" and "fast bowling" of the Indian variety. He proceeds to belt them for 13 fours and a six and then shows them how it's done with the ball including both Kohli (1 run) and Rohit (0 runs).

"Economy rate less than 5, in your face!"

Ladies and gentlemen, this is *not* how it's done.

Add to that whinging more about umpiring (but DRS won't solve anything of course!), Kohli not having enough time to pad up, the practice wickets not being up to standard and apparently the food was no good either. Moan moan moan. 

The real mystery is why India decided to adopt the brilliant idea of annoying the Australians into hammering them. 

In the 90s - Indian teams would show up, get disintegrated, go home and await the return series for revenge. It was horrible, but at least we lost with dignity.

In the 00s - Sourav Ganguly taught the boys to stand up for themselves and push back when pushed. But these guys didn't go around picking fights, the likes of Dravid, Tendulkar, Kumble and Laxman continued to play with dignity and class. It wasn't sledging, it was simply refusing to be bullied and we saw some of the best and most competitive India-Australia cricket. 

In the 10s - We have Gambhir shoulder charging Shane Watson, whose shoulders are bigger than Gambhir himself. We have Raina and Dhawan flopping around on the field mocking an injured batsman. We have two-bit bowlers like Varun Aaron giving send offs to David Warner. Sir Jadeja, Kohli and the Sharmas are always willing to throw in their unwanted two cents, while Dhoni tells us it provides entertainment for the crowd. 

The Indian cricket team that I grew up with was all about humility and grace, they had adopted a more English approach of cricket being a gentleman's game. Now they have taken on the Australian model of turning cricket into psychological warfare, only without any actual weapons. It is all noise and hot air at the moment.

So this is the message to Team India... sledging while winning makes you Australia, sledging while losing makes you idiots.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Farewell Gambhir, Sehwag, Yuvraj & Friends

And so while India are being thumped by Australia (4-0 coming your way folks), they also announced their 30 man squad of World Cup 'probables'.

Hang on a minute, thirty probables!? There are eleven members in a cricket team plus a water carrier, add four or five reserves and we have a touring party. What is the point in naming a probables list double the size of the group that will actually show up?

Here's why, it's confirmation of who will not show up.

India's list of omissions is a strange one.  Sure I can understand the concept of 'out with the old and in with the new', but in Indian cricket? Not exactly spoiled with young riches are they?

Lets examine the miss list:

Zaheer Khan - Is very unlucky. This is the best fast bowler India has had since Kapil Dev, with the exception of maybe Srinath. He was a huge reason as to why they won the last world cup (more than Dhoni) and the other options are average other than maybe Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.  What was Zaheer's mistake? Not playing for the Chennai Super Kings?
Selection Credibility - 9/10

No love guys?

Yuvraj Singh - Another unlucky original from the famous 2003 campaign (and the famous 2003 world cup final flop). He is still a class batsman and experience counts especially in alien conditions. They could have easily brought him back for one last hurrah a la Craig McMillan (who at one point had given up cricket to become a salesman), but alas this is probably the end.
Selection Credibility - 8/10

Gautam Gambhir - Lets recount an actual water cooler conversation where someone remarked "Oh my god.... Dhoni's innings in that world cup was amazing, nobody in the world could have played like that".

While the crickets chirped, I dared not to say a word (already am infamous for Dhoni bashing), but sanity prevailed with a wiser one nearby "..... actually Gambhir's innings is what really turned the match, it was him in fact that won it for India".  Bang on! Although a pathetic Sri Lankan fielding effort helped too (did someone say match fixing?).

Gambhir is interesting, he was very good for a while and had a real future, but instead became pretty much worthless especially outside of India.  A 50/50 selection at the moment, not much to gain, not much to lose.
Selection Credibility - 5/10

Dinesh Karthik - Possibly the most underrated keeper-batsman in the game. He's good enough to bust into the Indian team in any format, but Wriddhiman Saha has obviously been chosen as the next in line after Dhoni. Nothing against Saha, but DK deserves a better career than this.
Selection Credibility - 6/10

Virender Sehwag - Once one of the truly great players of the game.  Despite his reputation of being a stand and slog merchant, his strength was his simplicity and his no-footwork style knew how to get runs regardless of conditions. But time and pies took their toll in the 2010s, and unlike Tendulkar there was no plan B.  A great career, but let him go in peace.
Selection Credibility - 2/10

Harbhajan Singh - Conversely Bhajji was lucky he even had a career that long. A pity because his presence meant someone like Murali Karthik had none. Riding on the wild success of 2001, he shouldn't have even been in the 2011 world cup team let alone this one.
Selection Credibility - 1/10

Sreesanth - Buried underneath this cricketing oddity crying in public, the lifetime ban, out-dancing Shah Rukh Khan in a Shah Rukh Khan show, and bowling like a garden sprinkler gone nuts... there was in fact a high class pace bowler. We're never going to see that again.
Selection Credibility - 0

I'm calling it early, India will not win the world cup or even make the final. Would the likes of Zaheer and Yuvraj pushed them there? Their bag of tricks would have come in mighty handy in a team not built to play out of India.

Farewell to an older generation, and thanks for the memories of better days in Indian cricket.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Blame the Bouncer?

Every now and then, an event occurs within the confines of sport that transcends far beyond the normal boundaries.

Sport exists to entertain, it has no other purpose.  And yet here we are faced with the tragedy of losing Phillip Hughes, a young man primed to become one of the senior Australian batsmen in the years to come.

Sadly we will never know what heights he might have scaled, it was surreal and hard-hitting to see the 'died' section on his Cricinfo page.

Understandably there has been a lot of talk and debate surrounding this tragedy.

It is natural to seek an avenue of blame such as:
  • Should the bouncer be illegal?
  • Is the batsman protected enough?
  • Is the bowler at fault, or perhaps fast bowling in general?

The truth is that none of this is even relevant because we are not dealing with a fault of any kind. Nothing was defective, nobody was negligent, all the appropriate measures were in place.  This is nothing more than exceptionally bad luck and the only option is to accept this harsh truth and move on.

It is certainly no fault whatsoever on poor Sean Abbott and it is very refreshing to see the amount of support he is getting.

Does The Bouncer Belong in Cricket?

Cricket has evolved into a batting oriented game, a bowler has little weapons left to bowl a side out.  These days ODI scores of 400 with double hundreds are achievable, Chris Gayle almost got a double in an IPL match.  Games sometimes hinge so heavily on winning the toss and batting that you can almost write off victory over a coin.  Batsmen have bigger bats, smaller grounds and friendly dead tracks. What does a bowler have?

Rarely these days do you get seaming and swinging conditions and only the very best are capable of using express pace.  But even speed is not enough as inaccurate speed easily becomes fodder, how often does an attempted yorker turn into a full toss or half volley? The margin for error is tiny.

This introduces the bouncer, a rare tool bowlers can use to keep a batsman honest providing it is used correctly.  This doesn't mean a bowler attempts to deliberately injure a batsman, nor does it mean six unplayable deliveries at the head. It should mean a dot ball which can be easily averted but difficult to play.

Nobody condones situations like Bodyline where there is clear malice in the bowling, and that's where the umpires step in.  Within the laws and within fair play the bouncer is fair enough, take away the bouncer and we reduce cricket further to mindless swing and smash.

Is the Equipment Good Enough?

We cannot blame the batting helmet either, and enhancing it's design to protect the neck would simply be a knee jerk reaction.  We currently have helmets, pads, gloves, arm pads, thigh guards and boxes. It is acceptable to state that all the key areas of the body are protected, from here an injury becomes a question of probability and risk. You will never get 100% success here.

The awful accident with Hughes was one of those low percentage occurrences that could happen to anyone without the slightest warning.  Everything we do carries some degree of risk, be it playing cricket or even as simple as crossing the road. Who is to say one of us won't get hit by a bus tomorrow?

What Happens Now?

It was a tragic and truly unpreventable incident that happened and it has left a feeling of dread over the game.  But the game must carry on as before.  It is great that cricket worldwide halted briefly and everyone joined in union to honor Hughes.  After this grace period and moments to reflect, everything should proceed as normal and I am looking forward to an emotional and inspirational series with Australia against India.

What happened to Phillip Hughes isn't fair, but then again what is?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Rohit Sharma has Destroyed Cricket

Cricket has gone mad.

What kind of a world do we live in when a batsman can score 264 runs in an ODI innings, to break his own record of 209 no less?  A world where 264 surpasses the entire second innings score. A mismatch of such epic proportions should only be experienced if India played Fiji.

There is a difference between Jayasuriya sticking it to opposition 1996 world cup in an audacious counter attack, and this snooze-fest of boundaries against club level bowling.

And we aren't talking Tendulkar, Gilchrist or Gayle type pyrotechnics,  Rohit Sharma is a pretty average player.  To regard him has potentially one of the all time greats based on a silly innings like this is nonsense.

How Did This Happen?

It was inevitable that the IPL effect would eventually seep into ODI cricket. That brand of cricket promotes small boundaries, dead batting tracks and atrocious bowling and fielding (thank you Sri Lanka for playing your part).  This isn't ODI cricket, it is Fifty50 cricket.

It is important to note the distinction:
  • ODI cricket is a cricket match designed to be a contest between bat and ball
  • Fifty50 is a baseball slogathon exclusive to Indian wickets
One could argue that Sri Lanka had the same opportunity on the same pitch to make those kind of runs. But whose home turf is this? Who gets the maximum exposure to these grounds? IPL matches, the Champions League T20, the Ranji Trophy, Irani Cup, Duleep Trophy... this is India's back yard and they know how to use it.

Is Home Advantage Wrong?

Of course not, in fact I am all for home advantage *providing* it continues to be a fair cricketing contest.  There is nothing fair about it when the bowler is taken out of the equation, it becomes Shane Warne Cricket on Playstation.  Batting pitches this bad (or 'good' batting tracks) is equivalent to cheat codes.

I remember when Ganguly's tour party came down to New Zealand in 2002/03, and the reverse happened with wickets tumbling everywhere and Andre Adams was as lethal as Brett Lee. There was such a storm kicked up that the following tour was tailor made for batting again, and the batsman had a field day with India cleaning up the series.

How is a wicket taking paradise any less biased than 400+ conditions?

Some home advantage makes sense, lunacy does not.

The Stats Speak

There are now 4 double centuries in ODI cricket, all of them by Indians, all of them in India.

Rohit Sharma has an ODI batting average of 38.  Decent yes, but nowhere near deserving of the two biggest individual scores in the game.

The real telling numbers come in the home-away-neutral averages treble of 68-27-35, plus lots of games in Australia with an average of 26.

The latest India-Australia series smashed all sorts of batting records.  This included James Faulkner, hardly a batsman, taking away Australia's fastest century record from the incomparable Matthew Hayden.

Something is wrong with this picture.

What is the Damage?

The batting records will rumble, the top ODI innings list has become a bit farcical and so too will the top ODI batting totals as well.  Any bowling attack that concedes 400+ in 50 overs should be shot at dawn.

Don't get me wrong, stating that Rohit Sharma has Destroyed Cricket is *not* an attack on Rohit, he has been simply played with the cards dealt to him.  Who wouldn't love to score double hundreds?

The point is that he is currently a symbol of everything that is going wrong with the ODI game, no player should be getting doubles let alone him.  Glenn Maxwell another prime example, a slog merchant swinging as if blindfolded.

What Happens Now...

Hopefully the game will still live on in sanity with plenty of matches outside of India, and that includes the upcoming World Cup.

If Rohit Sharma hits anything close to a double century during that tournament, I will eat my cricket bat for breakfast.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

England Deserve to Lose It All

There was a time where it was fun to root for England, namely when they went about toppling the unbeatable Australians in 2005. The underdogs beating the Aussies at their own game playing with aggressive swagger and style.  It was great.

But that was nearly a decade ago. The so called English dominance of test cricket, brief as it was, is going through a painfully slow death where they can no longer play Ishant Sharma.

And they absolutely deserve it.

There is a difference between the once great Australia and the once "great" England.  Australia were ridiculously good and they knew it, they could field three cricket teams who could blow apart anybody that dared to turn up. One would scream out for those precious moments when another team actually got the better of them (the aforementioned Ashes 2005, a prime example).

The Australians were deliciously, unapologetically arrogant.
But they were *not* obnoxious, and here lies the crux of the problem.

Despite the likes of McGrath, Lee, Warne, Hayden hissing and spitting at you on the field while butchering your so-called cricket team, off the field these guys were actually some of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. They were the ultimate oxymoron. (Well, other than Warne who continues to be a muppet).

But England were different. It was the English who threw jelly beans on the pitch during a test match against India, who had players turning up to training too drunk to throw a ball, who got drunk during a world cup and capsized a boat. One Australian was similar and he got banned for it, Symonds never got the leniency Flintoff or KP got.

But England were winning, and Swann was the new Warne, Prior the new Gilchrist, and some had the audacity to believe that Cook would one day beat Tendulkar's test match centuries record. Oh the cheek of it.

When the going got tough... the Australians reflected humbly and admitted hitting the bottom.  They kept quiet, licked their wounds and bided their time. (Yes yes... other than Warne).

England's responses to the pressure in comparison has ranged from the cowardly to the ludicrous.
Lets look at the highlights:

The Top 5 English Prats:

KP the South African
Number five on the English hall of fame is none other than the polarising pillock himself. Playing only for himself, wrecking the dressing room and back stabbing his captain are among his favourite hobbies. Poor Andrew Strauss (idiotically, but truthfully) told the whole world what he thinks of KP, at least he gave us the refreshing reality. England might not be much good these days, but they're certainly better off without this guy.

Broad the Ghostbuster
The excuse for reaching all new levels of fail was a result of a haunted hotel room and being tormented by ghosts borrowing their bathroom sinks. No really.

Swann the Sprinkler
This goof was once (and probably still is) England's leading spinner. Wisely or not he decided to jump the sinking ship before his precious test averages took a real beating, like a true champion.

Also proud winner of the "Most Punchable Face" award

Anderson the Wet Blanket
Unlike your classic fast bowling spearhead, the once big talking and sledge flinging James Anderson was reduced to tears during a last minute loss to the Sri Lankans. This guy couldn't even get a word out during the post-match interview as he was struggling through his own sobbing. Sobbing!

Did you see Brett Lee and Kasprowicz bawling like babies when they famously lost the Edgbaston test with mere minutes to spare? Dejected yes, but they were not calling for the Wah-mbulance.

And our number one prize goes to...

Trott the Con
Faced against a reborn Mitchell Johnson, England's biggest loser trotted off home citing "stress related reasons". Which might have been acceptable if a) he didn't carry on like an unlikeable upstart previously and b) he had a real mental illness! He more or less admitted to faking it to get out, even his own Englishmen condemned this coward.

So In Conclusion....
I don't say this often but, go you mighty Indians go! Give the English a series defeat at home. Maybe they will go back to the dark day of the nineties, but at least they were gentlemen back then.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Kiwi Corruption Files

Corruption. IPL.

Ironic that these two are simultaneously headlining the world of cricket today. Oddly enough it's not India nor Pakistan who are at the forefront of the latest scandals to emerge, instead the beacon is shining on the calm and friendly backwaters of New Zealand cricket.  Who would have thought?

How Bad is it?
Whether corruption exists or not is not even a question. It's there, it's been there for a couple of decades at least. It's been there in plain sight in front of administrators, players and audiences alike. Until recently all have chosen to sweep it under the carpet and pretend it's not real. We all stand with our eyes closed and fingers crossed with an elephant in the room, chanting "if I can't see you, you can't see me".

The real question is not if the elephant is there, but instead just how gigantic it is. I'm not even sure I want to know. If it's so bad that the ICC pretend it doesn't happen, the full truth will get ugly.

An example of the ignorance: the famous India-Pakistan World Cup Semi Final. The ICC watched on all smiles as arguably the two most corrupt teams in the sport engaged in a scripted farce.

The Butt-Asif-Amir affair had undeniable evidence, only then was something done about it. What about those hundreds of cases of obvious under-performing and rigging that didn't have concrete evidence?

But How Did New Zealand Get Involved?
Before the IPL kicked off there was this awful thing called the ICL. This 'rebel' league was basically a hunting ground for disgruntled ex-players to make easy undeserved money through staged exhibition games which nobody cared about. Heck even the ICC wanted nothing to do with it, and that says something.

And as far as disgruntled ex-players goes, New Zealand had plenty to offer. We fielded enough players to almost form a special New Zealand ICL Team:

- Astle
- Cairns
- Hamish Marshall (remember him?)
- McMillan
- Harris
- Parore
- Bond
- Andre Adams
- Tuffey

... and in plain sight we have a potential list of corrupt kiwi players. And in fact a pretty solid team, that lot would probably have beaten the real black caps. Notice how almost all of them disappeared completely from the cricket world other than to take on match fixing allegations. The exceptions being Bond and McMillan.

Of that list, three guys have been named as possible riggers of the game. Lets spotlight these:

Lou Vincent

He kicked off his career in fine style by smashing a McGrath-Gillespie-Lee-Warne attack around (in Perth no less). Destined for big things, it instead was a career of licorice all-sorts consisting of handing out towellings as an opener, some wicketkeeping, a patient double hundred against Sri Lanka (he was dropped from tests for good not long later) and finally re-emerging from the IPL as a T20 gun for hire wielding a ridiculous mongoose bat.

Thank god it never took off

Why do we care?
Vincent started this whole mess by doing the unthinkable... actually fessing up. He openly admits to match fixing, very rarely ever done given how much of it really goes on.  This might trigger a chain of events that will blow the lid off the whole thing as apparently he has a 'treasure trove' of information. To be honest I think whatever he has is probably still not the whole truth.

Daryl Tuffey

Once had Ganguly terrified of him, he was never a particularly bad bowler and probably would have made a decent career next to a spearhead. That spearhead was the always-injured Bond, which exposed Tuffey directly to some Jayasuriya assaults which would keep him out of the game. Also famous for partaking in dodgy videos.

Why do we care?
The over from hell.

Seriously? 4 no balls and 3 wides? There were no alarm bells ringing after that?
Fleming had none of it and took him off for the rest of the game, and Tuffey barely played again at the top level. Interestingly Cairns at mid-off gives him a re-assuring pat on the back during the over. Hmmm...

Christopher X Cairns

The kiwi all-rounder legend that almost was. At times he was as good as any and could take teams apart with both bat and ball. Sadly this hardly ever happened, and you can only single out a handful of truly great performances (but they were bloody great).  In the context of the Black Caps he was looked upon fondly and much beloved, and he has a better record than the vastly overrated Flintoff.

Cairns had a strangely sudden retirement and I had the honour of being there live for his tragic farewell innings of 2.

Why do we care?
He was apparently pulling all the kiwi strings in the ICL with the dodgy briefcases and Dubai trips. Vincent named him. Squeaky Clean McCullum named him. He retired completely out of the blue, slammed ODI games as being boring and was the captain of the ICL team.  Lalit Modi, the king of cricket corruption had the audacity to sue Cairns for corruption.

The buck stops at Mr. X.

Maybe I am just being harsh, Cairns and Tuffey are pleading innocent... what if they really are?

And maybe the ICL was just a collection of annoyed players who weren't getting picked, I mean its not like anyone actually came out years of retirement just to play in the ICL right?


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When Kiwi's Soared Above India

My initial prediction of 4-1 to New Zealand was met mostly with polite ridicule. Against the world number one ranked team? The World Cup and Champions Trophy holders no less? Blasphemous.

Courtesy of Sir Jadeja I narrowly missed out, 4-0 however at least landed in the right ball park!

But why would anybody have backed New Zealand?

The Hesson-McCullum partnership is really onto something, despite it starting off with the Taylorgate scandal. Since then Taylor is back and poking his tongue out more than ever and that's not all, New Zealand have constructed a team based on consistent selections, depth in all positions, and a splash of genuine pace along with the usual outstanding fielding and sportsmanship.

© Getty

In the bad old days they only had fielding and sportsmanship, but now this team is a threat in all three formats. With the World Cup around the corner and that too at home, everybody should be on their guard against this dark horse of cricket that might just steal the show.

So what's wrong with the Indians?

India was not terrible unlike the 2002 tour. They were not terrible at all, rather they were the textbook definition of average.

Two guys showed up:

  • Superstar Virat continuing his seemingly never-ending purple patch, arrogantly dismissing cricket balls from his presence while independent of his world GPS co-ordinates.
  • Captain Cool ensured his average was as cool as ever despite required run rates blowing up faster than the population of Bangalore.

The rest mostly indulged in a performance of collective nothingness:

  • Rohit Sharma! Fresh from an ODI double century! Dealing in binary scoring shots with the occasional slog for 6.  Average 29.00, strike rate 71.78
  • Shikadhawan! Man of the Champions Trophy! Seems to have left his mojo somewhere in England. Average 20.25, strike rate 66.94
  • Project Raina! Ready to cement the #4 position! Oh wait they gave up on that bright idea last tour... Average 28.00
  • Ajinkya Rahane! .... who? Average 10.20, strike rate 58.62

Add to the recipe some expensive, listless bowling and you have one very bland cake topped with some amazing Kohli flavoured icing. It says a lot when one Kiwi on debut took more wickets in one match than every Indian bowler (bar one) in the entire series.

Where are Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan? India would not have won the World Cup without them. Dinesh Karthik? Cheteshwar Pujara? Superior players forced to make way for Delhi and Chennai Super Kings buddies.

This is not the best Indian team. This is a collection of flat deck supermen. They can hammer down 400 at will provided everything is tailor made for them, but can be pretty clueless otherwise.  

What Will Happen Now?

When the dust settles, this series will be talked about as little as possible in India and a nice friendly home series will be set up to make up for lost batting averages.

There are two test matches coming up, and New Zealand are proving they are no slouches there either in recent times. India are still stronger on paper.

Will India redeem themselves or go home without a single victory?