Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Stokes-Starc Drama

We have just witnessed one of the real oddities of the game of cricket. 

In case you missed it:
  • Kiwi-Englishman Ben Stokes hit the ball straight back to the bowler, the reputably aggressive Mitchell Starc
  • Starc hurled it back at breakneck speed attempting to smash the wickets and remove Stokes baseball style
  • Stokes stuck his hand out to block the throw and was subsequently dismissed for 'obstructing the field'
© foxsports.com.au

And now the cricketing world has blown up, a plethora of debate erupted from one ball of madness.

Question: Is it moral?
This topic is entirely subjective and farms out cricketing hypocrites like anything. The subject of 'gentlemen's game' and 'doing the right thing' is a red herring, even the cleanest outfit in the world has dirty laundry. The team in question is of course our humble Black Caps, remember the incident where McCullum ran out Muralitharan even though the universe knew he wasn't after a single? Now here he is on his high horse crying foul.

The Irish-Englishman captain in question has also taken the tall and mighty ground claiming he would have "withdrawn the appeal". Rubbish. I don't agree with Australians often, but George Bailey was bang on in calling this "a big thing to say". The poms are some of the worst when it comes to sporting behavior and moral standards on the field, the likes of Swann and Anderson are disgraceful.

They, and just about every other cricketing nation, has absolutely no grounds to call the card of "Blasphemy!  We would never do that!".

Question: Who do we blame?
There wouldn't be a debate if there wasn't somebody to point fingers at.

Suspect #1: Mitchell Starc. A bowler trying to destroy the stumps while fielding a return ball is commonplace. It could be a genuine attempt to run out the player, a cheap tactic to intimidate the batsman, or a dirty attempt to actually hit the batsmen. Usually only the Australians venture into the bottom end of the scale, as seen even by Starc himself taking aim at Kieron Pollard. *However* in this case I believe Starc was taking a legitimate shot at the stumps when the batsman was outside his crease. He was not trying to hit Stokes, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. 
Verdict: Not Guilty. 

Suspect #2: Ben Stokes. It is illegal to obstruct the ball from a fielders attempt at the stumps, he knew it and anyone with a reasonable eye on the game also knows it. However a look at the replays very clearly shows that this was all about self-preservation. He was genuinely concerned he was about to wear a leather red cricket ball coming at 200kph on his face, and stuck his hand out based on pure instinct and reflex. He was *not* trying to cheat and prevent his own run out. 
Verdict: Not Guilty. 

Suspect #3: The Rules. 
There is surprisingly a piece in the laws of cricket that captures the crux of this problem, self-preservation. 

Law 37 describes the following three circumstances where this applies, but the law is not limited to these circumstances. If, after completing the act of playing the ball, the batsmen willfully strikes the ball with a hand not holding the bat, unless this is in order to avoid injury, or any other part of his person or with his bat

This is a clear cut case of Stokes valuing his head (literally).
Verdict: Not Guilty.

This leaves one remaining culprit...

Suspect #4: 
The Umpires.
It went upstairs to be looked at, so the on-field umpires did the right thing here and called on the appropriate authority. They took the heat off themselves and avoided a rash and hurried decision. The third umpire then had the benefit of slow motion replays, interpreted the laws in a subjective and opinionated manner, and then sent Stokes on his way. In his eyes there would have been reasonable doubt either way, and in my opinion neither Starc nor Stokes were guilty... hence how can I fault the third umpire for taking a stance he had to make?
Verdict: Not Guilty. 

... Then who is guilty?

The answer is, nobody. And that is what makes any sport interesting.

The uncertainties and the debate are the life of the game. There isn't any right or wrong answer and it can be argued to death in every way. If it was possible to apply a mechanical decision on everything how boring would that be?

Truth is, the best we can all do is take a stance, have an enjoyably loud argument about it, and then get on with the rest of this fascinating series. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Ishant Sharma Conundrum

Oddly enough Ishant Sharma has been making headlines since 2007 (eight years ago!), most famously for getting in the faces of opposition.

What justifies running your mouth in the gentlemen's game?
The answer is actually brutally simple, the Australian's do it. If there ever was a template to winning a game of cricket, "do what the Aussies do" sits right up there and it seems like the new age India has taken this on board perhaps a little too seriously. We have Kohli throwing f-bombs, Gambhir shoulder charging men twice his size, Dhawan doing mock limps in the outfield to belittle an injured batsman.

And we have Ishant. 


Let's get one thing straight... this guy is a *terrible* bowler. 

Unlike the other aforementioned examples of cocky young Indians, this is one of the worst players operating in the game today. A reliable gauge for a good bowler is the bowling average, anywhere around 30 can be considered good while below 25 is top drawer. Ishant averages 36.5, poor by anyone's standard.

For some odd reason however, he truly believes he is in the Brett Lee and Dale Steyn school of fast bowling, and so he finds himself constantly getting fined for launching into verbal tirades which are usually completely uncalled for.  The critical difference is that yelling at a batsman when you're bowling figures are 1-100 is far less effective compared to say 1-23 (if Steyn's average is an example to go by).

So why does India persist with him?

Politics? But let's ignore favoritism for a moment because that's nothing but hearsay.

An answer is potential.  In a desperate search for quality Indian fast bowlers this young lad sprung out of nowhere and flung down deliveries both accurate and quick, using his tall frame to generate hostile bounce which had even Ricky Ponting hopping around.  It was almost old school West Indian like, it was raw and it was exciting. All the tools were there to become the next spearhead.

Unfortunately he faded away faster than a black pillow-case left in the sun, all that bustle and noise devolving into harmless 
Agarkar level fodder.  There are odd glimpses, such as the current hostile spells which helped India win this series in Sri Lanka (who are about to have a rough few years), but the glimpses are fleeting as illustrated by his stats.

An equivalent of the long lost Mohammad Sami.

India hasn't had an answer since Kapil Dev, with only Javagal Srinath and the underrated Zaheer Khan offering years of good service but never quite scaling the heights they were capable of.  Ishant is *capable* of plenty, but how much longer can you pick someone based on occasional rose tinted memories?

I'd sympathize more, if he'd just shut up and bowl.

The tough guy act fools nobody, sorry you're not intimidating until you have earned your stripes. 

Your spells were impressive this time, good. How about half a dozen more?