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?