The Urn -- August 31
I guess, though, unlike with the Indian team you need to make allowances for Sania -- she is young, and yet to gain the experience that will help her play percentage tennis. Tell you what, though, it's great for India to have a sporting icon outside of cricket (we would have more, but then Vishy Anand's is a 'vegetarian' sport, as a friend once called it).
Back to checking out what the media is up to, and the Guardian produced the piece I was wondering how come no one had done before -- a story on Gary Pratt, the chappie who finds himself the unwitting center of the substitution storm. What you read here kind of reinforces the argument against such substitutions though -- Pratt is not even part of the Durham XI; in other words, his sole gift seems to be an ability to race around the ground and hit stumps from angles where most fielders can't even see the darn stumps.
2. More on England's pace quartet, this time from Duncan Fletcher's point of view -- given they were easily the key to the Ashes series thus far, and given there is a few days to go yet for the Ashes finale, expect more on the theme in the coming days.
3. Richard Williams, in the Guardian, examines the sudden surge of interest in cricket among the ladies, in the wake of England's Ashes heroics. Not to sound a false note here, but the England team is winning; while following the Indian team around, I've seen nymphet types blushing and giggling and attaching themselves limpet like to peripheral members of the Indian squad; you know, the one-tour wonders picked because there was some quota to fill, and as unceremoniously dropped? Makes you think, sometimes, that if the players had to fight for attention (in England they have to compete with Beckham, for starters; Australia has its swim stars; the Kiwis have their rugby team...), they wouldn't be quite so casual about letting their fans down.
4. Have you guys been following the Times online debate? The current one is on whether the Edgbaston Test was the greatest Ashes encounter of them all (in passing, why when confronted with excellence are we immediately tempted to rank it on some 'Greatest' list?). I donno about greatest of all time -- haven't lived that long, for starters. Tell you what, though, of all the Test series I have seen in say the last 30 years, this one has to rank in the top two or three for providing constant plot twists, heroes, villains, stirring solos... the works. What say you?
5. Steve Waugh says Stuart McGill must play the final Test. Can't really quarrel with that -- except that it will reduce Australia to a two-pace attack, with McGrath and Lee having to do a tremendous amount of hard work on the fast bowling front. Won't it be a game to watch, though -- two big-turning, attacking leg spinners against an England batting line up that has played Warne with a tad more authority than in the past? Australia just might find the choice made for it -- it says here, Shaun Tait has some shoulder niggle requiring attention.
6. Here's a point I've spent what seems a lifetime trying to make -- Shane Warne argues that technology should be used to adjudicate close LBW appeals.
I've been rooting for that to happen -- there is nothing more ridiculous than the sort of analysis that goes into each decision. 'Oh, that may have struck outside off, or the batsman may have had his foot a bit too far forward, or maybe he was thinking about playing a shot, maybe sometime this millenium...'
Sheesh! There is a rule. And then there are as many interpretations as there are umpires. And then there is the video replay, which within seconds of the decison being made conclusively proves it was wrong. So why not, in god's name, use it to get the decision right, in the first place?
Oh, yeah, there is that old chestnut -- it will slow the game down. Really? Any more than the game is slowed down by the 12 replays it takes these days to determine whether the fielder, in whole or in part, was touching the ropes at the point he fielded the ball? What beats me is this -- the authorities are willing to use video replays to adjudicate on a run, more or less -- but not when it comes to extending a batsman's tenure at the crease, or ending if where deserved? That one run can alter the course of the game, sure, but surely a wrongful dismissal -- or even a dismissal not given -- can alter the course of the game far more?
Here's what video technology can do for you: As with run outs today, it gives the umpires a fallback, for when they are not sure. That is for starters. Secondly, while it will not eliminate error entirely, it certainly reduces it more than the current panel of ICC umpires is able to, and that is another plus. Finally, if the worry is excessive appealing, consequent time lost, the video replays can in fact be used to determine -- and punish -- frivolous appeals, like when the ball is clearly going down the leg side and the keeper goes up frantically, hoping to con the umpire into not calling the wide.
What's the downside here?
7. Benaud -- Richie -- had with rare foresight warned that Australia is heading for trouble when the likes of McGrath and Warne reach their use-by date. Now another Benaud -- John -- elaborates on the theme, likening the current Australian situation to that of the Windies in the late 80s and early 90s.
8. And finally, there is this piece on the problems Ricky Ponting is facing -- decline in captaincy skills being the chief among them.
And in there, there is food for debate, and discussion, on here. Here's the thing -- someone recently said why Ponting, even his grandmother could lead this Australian side. At the time, the comment was laughed off, but think about it for a moment: Did the West Indies sides led by Lloyd and Richards, or the one Ponting inherited from Steve Waugh (or for that matter, even the one Waugh inherited from Mark Taylor) really require a mastermind to lead it?
Each of those teams had an array of talented performers; each of those teams boasted at least six match winners, each of them capable of turning a game single-handedly. An intelligent captaincy move at the right time could enhance the team's performance, but an average captain couldn't have produced lousy results, not with those teams.
When captaincy of the highest caliber is called for is when you have a less than brilliant side, and need to produce results (think Martin Crowe, say, in the 1992 World Cup; or Mike Brearley, for that matter). And this is the first time Ponting finds himself in that position - of having to lift a team that is not performing.
Clearly, he hasn't been up to it; and outside of that brilliant 196, his personal form has also slipped below par. (Another conundrum: Is his form slipping because of the pressure of leading a side that is not producing results -- or is his personal form slump triggering a lack of confidence that in turn is producing duh captaincy moments?)
Think of all of this -- then transplant that to the Indian context. It is not really about whether Ganguly is the greatest captain in the world or no. It is not about whether Rahul Dravid could be the next Ganguly or no. It is not even about whether Sehwag could be the next Dravid, come to think of it.
It is quite simply about whether we have the best 11 players for the job or no; about whether that chosen 11 contain enough players with the nous to play to, and beyond, their abilities; to be match winners. Interestingly, though, that is the one aspect of the Indian cricket situation that rarely if ever gets discussed, while the nation polarises itself on pro- and anti-Ganguly lines.
In passing, there is still another style of captaincy -- leading by personal ability/example. The most amusing story about this came from Clive Lloyd - who I once asked what it was like playing under Gary Sobers.
Oh Gary?, goes Clive. Thing is, the guy could turn a match just by being on the field. He could bowl pace, he could swing, he could seam, he could bowl chinamen, and if he wasn't doing all this, he would be standing in the slips, his mind on which horse he wanted to back for the next race, and he would pick a blinder out of the blue that would change the game. Or he would, failing all that, go out and win it off his own bat.
So, said Clive, during the Sobers era, team meetings, strategy sessions and such were unheard of. Clive told the story of how one time, Sobers reached the dressing room a couple of moments before the toss, said oh, good, you guys are all here, shucked his blazer, went out, tossed, came back in, said we are fielding, and led his team out. As they were walking to the middle, he tossed the ball to Wes Hall and went, 'You bowl... the rest of you guys scatter!'
That, apparently, was the art of captaincy, according to Sir Gary.