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Sight Screen

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Hey, cool...

Been going through the comments attached to earlier posts -- thanks much for all the feedback, on here and in mail.
Will, in course of the week, retool this blog a bit, figure out how to respond to comments (below the respective posts themselves... or as a post of its own? What do you think?) etc...
Have to rush to catch up with some work... the damn memorial day weekend thingy has my schedule in a knot...
Will likely have minimal updates for the rest of the day... but be back here tomorrow...

Spoke too soon...

Just the other day, I was suggesting that the BCCI deserved applause for agreeing to merge the women's cricketing body with the men's.
The women were quick off the mark to point out they weren't looking for money; that the real key was the expertise the BCCI had acquired, which women's cricket in the country needed to tap into.
But now comes word that the Board is not ready to finalize the merger. 'Unlikely in the near future'; 'hold on a final decision'; 'will discuss the issue' -- these are the noises emanating from the Board ahead of its working committee meeting in Thiruvananthapuram beginning later this week.
Typical -- the administration will never do the right thing, without first 'discussing', 'putting it on hold', 'examining the issues', and in general, stalling endlessly, for no reason other than that they can.
Does the Board have any valid reason why such a merger should not take place? No. Does it have a good reason in favor of such a merger? Yes of course -- the ICC has proclaimed that no women's team that hasn't merged with the official men's body in its respective country will receive recognition.
In other words, the World Cup-runners up are in danger of not being recognized as an official cricket team, because the board 'has put the decision on hold'.
Oh, I forgot -- there is no real hurry; the ICC has extended the deadline till April 2006, so we can convene a few more meetings (which means more 'expense money' for the committee members) in the 10 months that remain before the deadline runs out.
In passing, Mithali Raj suggests that Twenty20 cricket might be a great platform to popularize women's cricket -- and she could be right. The format is spectator friendly; what it takes now is for some savvy sponsor to come forward and make this happen.
BTW, you can bet your bottom dollar that if such a sponsor does come forward, the BCCI will convene an emergency meeting and immediately ratify the merger -- as long as they think there is no money in such a move, they will 'put the decision on hold', but show Dalmiya and gang a hint of green, and see how fast they move.

Bajji update...

The offie has landed. In England, where he will turn out tomorrow for his first game of the season.
'I hope this (the chucking controversy' is sorted out for the rest of my life,' he tells BBC Sport, while the BCCI hails his being cleared as a cricket-friendly decision.
Not intending to be a wet-blanket, but my gut feel is, the last hasn't been heard on this matter. With the existing matrix, where the ICC's own umpires differ from the ICC-appointed experts, the likes of Bajji are doomed to spend their playing lives on this roller coaster -- cleared one moment, called the next.

Spring cleaning

The BCCI has a schedules committee that does not decide schedules; it has a pitches committee that has no voice in pitch preparation; it has a cricket academy committee and a committee for grounds and a committee for domestic cricket and a planning committee and...
You get the idea?
The basic idea is to create posts for all those votes that are important to keep the honchos in power -- you vote for me, I'll find you a nice sinecure, important title, a chance to mint money by claiming one-day-before-one-day-after remuneration for pointless meetings...
England, you notice, is revamping its cricket structure -- and one of the key elements is slimming down the number of committees, and streamlining the management structure. No point even wishing we would take the first baby steps towards a professional administration, though -- the trouble with talking sense in this context is that where the BCCI is concerned, the classic definition of 'corporation' is doubly true -- it is a body with no heart to appeal to, and no butt to kick.

Lanka talks the talk

The likes of Marvan Atapattu and Chaminda Vaas heard from, on the appointment of Tom Moody as national coach. Vaas, who has some experience of Moody from having been part of the Worcestershire side, believes the new coach can help Lanka achieve its immediate objective of moving one notch up the ODI ladder, in the process displacing Australia from the top slot.
Elsewhere, Bob Woolmer -- one among the array of new coaches whose performance will be watched almost as keenly as that of their respective sides -- doesn't sound too happy with the way Pakistan performed in the first Test against the Windies. We will do better, he says -- damned if I can see how Pakistan could do any worse, anyways.
Pak has one plus going for it -- Inzy is back, which puts some beef (literally and figuratively) in the middle order. And it has one big minus -- the inter-personal squabbles that are a bane of Pak sides down the ages is back, and seemingly worse than ever though Woolmer played down the Afridi-Inzy-Younis showdown as a minor misunderstanding.
The players concerned have, we are told, all apologised to one another, and Inzy is on record as saying he has no problems with Younis -- which is what he said after the fisticuffs between the two players during the World Cup campaign.

Hear it for Rayudu

Every day brings more nuggets from the Chappell presentation before the Board's selection committee -- thus today, Rajaraman in Outlook has more on the matter.
What Rajaraman says ties in with recent emails I've had from friends within the administration, who were made privy to the Chappell presentation. Each of those emails focussed on a different aspect, but they were all unanimous in saying that it was not only professional, but -- unlike the others -- showed clear signs that Chappell had done a lot of homework, not just on the current players but even on the talent hidden within the domestic structure.
Consider, for instance, this quote from the Outlook piece:
Chappell believes that Yuvraj Singh, Mahender Singh Dhoni, Gautam Gambhir and Ambati Rayudu will keep Indian batting world-class into the immediate future.

It is interesting that where most people who talk of Indian cricket hit the populist high-spots by naming 'the world's greatest batsman' and such, Chappell throws up, as an exemplar, the likes of Rayudu.
That lad is one of those examples of missed opportunities that Indian cricket abounds with. A couple of years back he was on fire; with talent and desire fusing perfectly. Since then, he has tended to fall away a bit -- and part at least of the blame goes to our cricketing structure.
A Michael Clarke, for instance, knew he was being considered for higher things, a good two years before he made the grade -- but in India, neither the selectors, nor the administrators, have a record of noticing talented young players and going out of their way to stoke their fires. No one talks to the young kids, no one tells them they are earmarked for greater things -- and thus, the lads go through the domestic motions without ever knowing if what they do is even being noticed.
Rayudu led India U-19 to an Asia Cup win; Irfan Pathan played under him. Irfan made the big league thanks largely to luck -- senior seamers became injured, we badly needed seam options. Rayudu though is primarily a batsman -- and we have enough of them, so the selectors aren't really keen on examining other options.
Give you an example of how we handle our talent: Many years ago, a youngster (on this one, I'd rather not go into names) who had a fair degree of ability and desire was picked out of the local first division leagues and asked to try out for the state team. He was then 18.
On the day, he went over to the ground. 10 nets had been set up; the state selectors -- all ensconced in chairs near net number one -- had lists of the players, divided into bowlers and batsmen.
The youngster's name was called. 'Go to net 10 and bat', he was told. He went, took guard, looked around, and realized that there was no way the selectors, at the other end of the ground, would even see what he was doing. He went through the motions, he was dismissed after five minutes, another name was called.
The demoralized lad went to a then national player who was his coach, and asked what the point was. Don't worry, he was told, it happens, you are still young, you have more chances ahead of you. Do well in the leagues, next year you can try out again.
He did. Next year was the same story. He gave up; he stopped playing the game with any seriousness and pretty soon, stopped playing even in the league. For why? Because, as he explained it when he was asked, 'When my father scolded me for spending so much time on cricket practise I would tell him I thought I had a future in the game; I'd fight with him to get him to let me practise when I should be studying. But now, I am not so sure -- it doesn't matter how good you are, the selectors have already made up their minds. So, when I am not convinced I have a future, how can I convince my father to let me play?'
Lord knows how many potentially good players we have lost to such apathy; if the new coach -- who, as he points out, was a key part of the Australian rebuilding process -- can introduce into Indian cricket a more player-friendly ethos, if he can build a system where young players are identified early and handled with sensitivity, he would have justified every penny we are paying him, and more.

Just chuck the bathwater...

...not the baby.
Geoffrey Boycott and Mark Nicholas joins the growing band of Bangla-bashers. And in the Guardian -- and before I get to the point, I promise this is the last time I bring up the subject -- David Hopps takes the contrary view on the Bangladesh question.
Hopps argues that other countries -- including England -- have been down and out, without setting off a Cassandra-chorus predicting doom for the game unless said team was immediately demoted. He has a point -- of sorts.
The real trouble here is that the entire debate has become about Bangladesh -- IMHO, Bangla is the symptom, not the disease.
Forget names for a bit, and think for a moment about the game in its entirety. What is the one most noticeable problem with it? Simple -- Test cricket is losing its mass appeal. At the fag end of 2004, when India toured Pakistan, you figured the series would draw packed houses -- after all, India was touring after over a decade. And yet, the three Tests -- which featured moments of gripping cricket -- played out in front of near-empty stands (whereas the one day series was sold out).
Aberration, one thought -- until Inzy led his team to India earlier this year. And what do you know, in the first Test the TV cameras and commentator, having in the run-up to the Tests talked up the enormous interest levels in India, were hard put to account for the fact that the crowds mostly stayed away.
Sure, it wasn't as bad as in Pakistan -- but we didn't see the sort of packed houses that were the norm even three, four years ago (whereas, again, the ODI series was sold out).
What does Bangladesh have to do with it? Nothing directly -- which is why I suggest that it is Test cricket, and not Bangla's presence, that is the problem. As of now, we've got a bunch of teams playing each other seemingly at random. An England, for instance, plays India every other blue moon (1996, then 2002... and we are still waiting for the next match up).
India, meanwhile, now that the GoI has given the Board free rein, seems intent on playing Pakistan every other weekend. So much so, even the Pak board has begun to suggest that maybe such frequent tours are not a good idea.
Where in all this is there anything for the fans to follow? We believe England is the number two Test nation, because that is what the ICC, with its complex table, tells us.
Check this out -- Pakistan, apparently, is now the number four Test team in the world. Okay, we can accept that. India is number three. Okay to that, too -- though that ranking makes little sense, since India has not played the number two side in three years.
But according to an ICC press note on its 'hotly contested' Test rankings, Pakistan will apparently slip all the way down to number seven if it loses the ongoing two-Test series to the Windies. Someone with a degree in higher math explain that one to me, please?
My point is, for Test cricket to mean anything, there should be a competition we can follow, and make sense of, without having to reach for our calculators. As of now, we cannot -- because the Test schedule as run under the ICC aegis makes little sense.
Some teams play each other over three Tests, others over four, still others over five -- and then there is the odd one- or two-Test series thrown in. There is no logical calendar -- all there is, is a table on the ICC site and a bunch of press releases that no one takes seriously -- hell, even the media doesn't bother reproducing them (Australia has been awarded a ton of bucks for topping the ICC table, did you know?)
This is the real problem, of which Bangladesh is merely one symptom -- too many teams, and no structure; whereas for people to get interested, it has to be the other way around.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Early Vaughan-ing...

Geez, isn't that a pathetic pun?! My only excuse is, it is a holiday here, and nearing the time when I must run -- what the hell, half the day has gone at work but surely I can enjoy the other half, out in the sun? -- and am too preoccupied to think of a better header for this story out of the Aussie pre-Ashes training camp.
While the likes of McGrath, Warne, Gillespie and others have been talking tough about their respective targets, coach John Buchanan seems to be suggesting, here, that the key to another Ashes success is to aim to unsettle the top four, with Michael Vaughan being identified as the danger man ahead of even Andy Strauss.
Another aspect of Australia's preparations I like is the way they opted to drop Brett Lee, despite all the hype and the glamor. The Aussie selectors seem to have decided that performance is the only criterion they will consider, when they picked the hugely improved Kasprowicz over Lee in recent times.
The result? A strong Aussie bowling lineup -- and back home, a Brett Lee hell bent on doing whatever it takes to get back into the side.

Skipper Sehwag..?

Little nuggets coming out of the presentation Greg Chappell made before the BCCI during the coach-selection interview: A core group identified within the national side; India's seam attack picked as the area that needs the most immediate attention; Viru Sehwag marked out as a potential captain...
Sehwag in an unrelated context has said he is not looking at the captaincy just now; which is a bit like Bollywood couples caught smooching, coming up with the 'we are just friends' comment. Thing being, there is nothing wrong, really, in thinking about the top job, and even wanting it -- what the heck, since when was ambition a crime?
Interesting. Very. Especially the bit about captaincy. We have never really looked at identifying potential captains early (think back to when Azhar and Sachin were playing pass the pillow with the captain's armband -- at no point during that period of bitter politicking, was Saurav Ganguly in anyone's frame as a potential leader), and grooming them for the job.
The preferred method is to wait until the incumbent is way past his use-by date, then arbitrarily pick a successor, with all attendant heartburn.
Nice, therefore, to see Chappell identify, early, the guy who could be the next skipper, or the one after that, assuming Dravid outlives Ganguly in the side and gets his shot at the leadership position.

The rain it raineth...

On the just, and on the unjust fella
But mostly on the just, because
The unjust steal's the just's umbrella.
That little bit of nonsense verse came to mind while reading Srinivas Bhogle's (you know of course that he is cricket commentator Harsha's brother?) take on the Duckworth-Lewis system as opposed to one proposed by V Jayadevan.
Jayadevan had first contacted us in late 2000; I have, he told us, a system to recalculate targets in rain-affected matches that is way ahead of the Duckworth-Lewis system.
He sent us the documentation; then, at his own personal expense, once came down to Mumbai to explain it all. And frankly, I -- never a fan of the D/L system -- found Jayadevan's method so much simpler and easy to follow.
Srinivas underlined it, when he did a meticulous comparison of the two systems.
Jayadevan at the time was doing the rounds of the cricket establishment, trying to get folks to listen. We did our bit, forwarding his method to administrators both in India and elsewhere; to players and commentators, for their information.
Since then, he has been lobbying assiduously with one end in mind -- a patient, unbiased hearing by the ICC. Pity is, he is yet to get it.

County watch, the sequel

Wednesday's county scores will be worth keeping an eye on -- Saurav Ganguly debuts for Glamorgan on that day, and now Bajji, with his action cleared, turns out for Surrey against Warwickshire.
It's a good thing, actually, that a lot of Indians are turning out for county duty during the off season -- they get to keep their hand in; regular match play keeps them in peak form.
The one question mark right now is what plans Greg Chappell has -- surely the new coach, who we are told has asked the BCCI to furnish him all the confidential reports submitted on player fitness, by the Indian physios, and also the reports of Sandy Gordon on the team's mental well-being -- will want to organize an extended camp ahead of India's next international engagement, to get to know the players and to begin introducing his own thoughts?

Jupiter plays spoilsport

Now stand by, all, for a series of astrological predictions, from everyone worth the name, on the future of Sachin Tendulkar. After all, where one goes, the rest have to follow, non?
A Lahore-based astrologer -- whose earlier predictions reportedly include the Pope's death this year, and a 2-1 scoreline favoring India during its tour of Pak in 2004 -- has apparently said Tendulkar's career will end this year through injury.
I'm betting this is not the last we hear of it -- the Bejan Daruwallas and others of the star-gazing fraternity are hardly likely to let such a promising public relations/brand building opportunity slip through their fingers.


..continues, with Richie Benaud adding to the growing demand for the side to be expelled from the top tier of Test nations.
Scyld Berry, on the same theme, in The Telegraph -- and a comment by him is worth noting: The Asian Test powers, led by India, threatened a breakaway from the other Test-playing countries if Bangladesh were not promoted. Thus India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh formed a more powerful voting bloc than any the other six countries could muster."
Martin Johnson belabors the theme, with characteristic lashings of humor.
Shane Warne's also said pretty much the same thing; he makes a couple of good points when he argues that revising Bangla's Test status will free up the Test schedule, and ensure that teams didn't have to play meaningless matches.
It's a point well taken at a time when the players association is on the verge of lobbying the ICC for a more humane schedule, that builds in rest and recuperation time for the players.
Elsewhere, Warne's team-mate Jason Gillespie fires an indirect shot at the England team, suggesting they might not want to get too euphoric over the results against Bangla, which he says are good only for beefing up individual stats.
Makes you wonder how much longer this will go on, before the ICC decides to do something about it? As to the 'something' -- no clue yet what they will finally decide, but this could just be the perfect opportunity for the governing body to really revive interest in Test cricket by going two-tier, as suggested in an earlier post on this blog.
In passing, consider this -- there is no doubt that the decision to give Bangla Test status was ill-timed; equally, no doubt that Dalmiya was the one who pushed it through. Anyone asking why --because one thing is for sure, cricketing considerations had absolutely nothing to do with Dalmiya's decision, while he was ICC president, to use his considerable clout to push the decision through.

County watch...

Not a particularly good day for Dinesh Mongia -- Leicestershire in trouble against Derbyshire just now in a 45-over game, four down for 39 in just 11 overs and Mongia the fourth to go for just 6. Must keep an eye on this later in the day, and see if Mongia gets to bowl and if yes, how he goes.
For Middlesex, Irfan Pathan produced a very brief cameo, 15 off six deliveries with two fours and a six; bowling to defend a score of 224 in 44 overs, he's thus far gone 0/22 in 5.

Welcome to India, Greg...

Our new coach seems to be getting a rapidfire introduction to our ways. First up, a needless brouhaha over his perfectly valid comment that Sachin's game was changing with age and injury; now, another furore over his reported endorsement of PETA -- the subject of an earlier post on this blog. Apparently he has not, will not, endorse PETA and its vegan platform.
Get used to it, Greg -- coach of the Indian cricket team ranks somewhere above a Federal minister, and just below the national cricket captain, in our pantheon of icons; everyone's going to want a piece of you, any which way they can get it.

Here we go again...

What's with Pakistan anyway?
Just when you thought the side had put aside its penchant for imploding and was coming back together as a cohesive unit, comes word of a dressing room brawl involving Afridi, Younis Khan and Inzy.
You never know what really goes on behind the scenes, but judging by published reports, Younis appears to be on the right side of this argument -- as stand-in captain, he asked Afridi to open the innings. Determining the batting order is part of the captain's job, so no problem there.
If Afridi had any problems with the role assigned to him, he should by rights have discussed it with his captain, and resolved it to their mutual satisfaction. What he as a team member could not do is arbitrarily ask a colleague to open the batting -- and that seems to be exactly what he has done.
To make matters worse, Inzy appears to have backed Afridi over Younis -- which is bad news from a team discipline point of view. As captain, Inzy should be aware that what Afridi did was wrong -- you do not disregard your captain, no matter what.
So now all the team spirit built up during the India tour has been dissipated; Younis -- who, to my mind, did a good job of marshalling the team during the India tour, during those occasions when Inzy was off the field, will likely lose his vice-captaincy; and Pakistan are back to being a team of 11 players making up 12 factions. And judging by the way Afridi played in the first innings and the second, he was more intent on proving his point than in playing for the team cause.
Pity... the side was just beginning to shape up into a serious threat.


...to the weekend, and the big news is that Harbhajan Singh has been cleared to bowl, with an action identical to the one he used during biomechanical testing at the University of Western Australia.
We are told that Marc Potus, the expert who analyzed Bajji's action, found some differences between his action under test conditions, and the one used in the game against Pakistan; "however, Mr Portus was unable to reach a definitive conclusion on the action used against Pakistan because of the quality of the footage and the camera angles used."
So now, David Richardson of the ICC will travel down to India for discussions with Bajji and his coach, to identify potential problem areas.
All of which is good. What puzzles me is the 'what next' question. First, take a couple of things as given: Not just Bajji, name any bowler in the world; make him bowl in match play with pressure on him and his side to take wickets, videograph him while he is doing that. Then take him into controlled test conditions, wire him up, and have him bowl.
You can bet your life's savings there will be a difference in action between those two conditions -- because there is a difference in what the bowler is trying to do. In the first instance, he is doing his damndest to take wickets; in the second, his focus is solely on bowling within the parameters of the rule book.
So, bottomline, there will be a difference. No surprise there. The real question is, does the action used in match play fall within the parameters of a legal delivery -- because, face it, that is the real question, is the ball I bowl in match play legit, or no? Can't say, says Potus, video footage not clear.
So what now? Assume Bajji bowls in a game tomorrow. The umpires -- are they, by the way, given the videos of Bajji bowling under Potus' eye, and told what is permissible? -- will report him, as will the match referee. Potus will examine him, and say hey, he is fine, there is a difference between how he bowled while I was watching and how he bowled in the game, but I can't say if it was illegal, coz the video footage is not clear. (It never will be -- the video cameras are not placed to assist with such questions).
And so it will go on, like a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, until Bajji decides enough is enough, and gives up cricket and joins his dad in the family business.
The Mad Hatter's analogy is apt, in fact -- for no sooner has Bajji moved on, than up comes Shabbir Ahmed, who has now been reported and will go through the motions.
Do note -- Shabbir will be analyzed by an expert, who will be provided match tapes of his bowling in Barbados.
Apparently the whole process of review will take close to a month. Let's save time -- fast forward 30 days, and here is the press release: 'The expert found nothing wrong with Shabbir's action. There was some difference between his bowling in test conditions and his bowling in Barbados, but the footage was not sufficient to determine if the bowling was illegal.'

Friday, May 27, 2005


And with Windies poised, miracles excepted, to regiser a win at last, it is stumps. Long weekend coming up -- Memorial Day and such, so this blog will remain in suspended animation over Saturday and Sunday (though I hope to find some time Saturday morning to update comments on at least any major news stories there may be).
Meanwhile, a thought for your weekend -- if you had to pick one sports book above all others, to read and to recommend, which would it be?
My choice is easily made -- Soccer in Sun and Shadow, by Eduardo Galeano. Unparalleled mix of lyricism and insight... if you haven't read it, buy, don't rent, a copy, because believe me, you won't be satisfied with just one read.
So... your turn... which is your single most favored sports book of all time? Why?

And in other news...

For once, pure pleasure to point to a good deed by the BCCI -- which has announced that the women's cricket association will be merged with that of the men, come the working committee meeting on June 2-3.
You could argue that the Board had little choice, given that the ICC had already folded the International Women's Cricket Council within it last month -- but even after that, the BCCI was making antediluvian noises about there being no real need to merge the men's and women's outfits in India.
Better sense seems to have prevailed; and the Indian women, who have with a minimum of fuss been improving steadily, can only stand to benefit from the greater access to finances, among other things, that the BCCI commands.
Elsewhere, VVS Laxman -- who in recent times has sounded unwontedly bitter about missing out on the one day squad -- makes it to the MCC XI that will take on the International XI in the June 14 Tsunami benefit pajama party at Lord's, thanks to Sachin Tendulkar's pulling out as a result of his surgery. In passing, is it just me, or do you think the selection is weighted in favor of the Intl XI?

Easy pickings?

Hemant Nayak, a friend and die-hard cricket buff, sent a few of us a mail just now with an interesting premise.
He bases it on Lara's milking of the Pakistan attack (as I write this, he's gone -- stumped beautifully by Kamran Akmal, just short of a second 50 for the match).
His argument is this -- that the likes of Lara, Sachin, Ponting, Kallis etc are all raking in the runs, and moving up the ladder of all time greats, against less than great opposing attacks.
Not that he is knocking what Lara and the others have done, but Heman't point is, England's Graham Gooch and David Gower for instance had to play almost one third of their total number of Tests against the West Indian battery in its prime; they also played a lot against the Aussie attacks led by Thompson, Lillee et al -- not to forget that elsewhere, there were other world class performers like Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Sarfaraz Nawaz and Richard Hadlee lying in wait.
Point being, the likes of Gooch and Gower -- and by extension, the batsmen of that time -- had to score runs against the best pack of fast bowlers the world has seen; today's batsmen don't.
Thus, he points out, Ponting gets to play sub-standard seam attacks a good 80 per cent of the time (given that today, Australia is just about the only country with a fast bowling attack worth mentioning).
It's so easy today, Hemant argues, that even a half fit Sachin could average over 51 against the Pak attack at home recently.
What do you guys think -- are today's batsmen the ones who drew the winning tickets in the batting lottery? Would their achievements, and averages, be the same had they played in the era of the famed Windies quicks?
Comparing across eras is always difficult (I personally dislike such 'Bradman versus Sachin or even Sunny versus Sachin comparisons)... but it's still an interesting thought.

The quick and the dead

A day on which the Windies quicks, on a batting track, blew away Pakistan for 144 runs in under 44 overs, with Edwards returning Joel Garner-like figures of 14-1-38-5, may not be the most opportune for this effort from S Rajesh on Cricinfo -- but the larger point, of the decline of the famed Windies pace battery, is very well taken.
Though the main thrust is about the Windies quicks, found myself staring in some surprise at another statistic -- the one pertaining to India.
Check it out -- in the 1980s, India's quicks (apparently 25 of them did duty during that decade) accounted for 501 Test wickets at 34.49 (an average very close to that of England).
In the 1990s, 20 seam bowlers in 70 Tests claimed 493 wickets at 34.41, an infinitesimal improvement on the previous decade.
Into the 2000s, and 12 seam bowlers have, over 57 Tests, taken 377 wickets at an average of 39.81 -- an unwelcome upward tick of more than 5 points.
How come? Wouldn't you have thought that it is in this decade that, thanks to the likes of Zaheer, Nehra, Pathan, Balaji et al, our opening bowlers have finally come into their own and begun to do what they are supposed to -- take wickets early, and pressure the opposition?
So what accounts for the statistical quirk? Could it be that through the 2000s, India has consistently played with three seamers and just one spinner -- ergo, more overs bowled, more runs scored off them, hence a higher per-wicket average? Or is there some other, more significant reason? Your thoughts?
In passing, check the stats for Australia. South Africa is sub-30 too, in the average column, but its figures are actually deteriorating from the glory days of the 1990s, when Allan Donald, Fanie de Villiers, Brian McMillan and such were in their pomp.

Up the down escalator

What the hell, it's almost as if the two sides competing at Bridgetown are trying to see who can mess up better from a good position.
Pakistan, I thought, had done brilliantly to pull back after the Lara assault yesterday, and dismiss the Windies for 345 on a good batting track -- till, that is, disciplined Windies bowling coupled with bad batting by a greenhorn Pak batting lineup squandered the initiative.
So out come the Windies, having bundled Pak out for 144; Chris Gayle in particular plays a near perfect opening innings -- and what do you know, suddenly the wickets are tumbling, three of them in the space of six runs.
65/3, Gayle gone; Lara and Chanderpaul back together, a day after their 169-run stand in the first innings, again engaged in rebuilding.
So, to borrow from Ravi Shastri for a moment, it's all happening out there now -- Lara goes after Kaneria, then hammers two successive fours off Afridi, and now Afridi (whose bowling was the subject of an eminently readable piece by Kamran Abbasi on Cricinfo the other day) bounces Lara.
Windies 84/3, 287 ahead overall -- and this game finally reduced to its essence; a bowling side against a master-batsman on top of his game.
A must-watch, this... see you guys later...

Eat, drink, be merry

Now here's laughing matter -- you know how there is this body of opinion that says Indians don't do as well as Pakistanis when it comes to producing quality fast bowlers because we don't eat beef in particular, and not much red meat in general?
So now we've got a coach who -- if he translates his personal inclination into the professional sphere -- will want the team to go totally vegan. Greg Chappell, apparently, will now appear in a series of PETA ads, arguing against a non-veg diet.
Wonder if he will go up to Sehwag, say, and preach against milk? What fun!
In passing, had you guys heard that joke, about the famed Hollywood star who once endorsed Chesterfield cigarettes? A friend went up to him and went, what the hell, why are you endorsing Chesterfields when you don't smoke?
Says the star, 'Hey, did you see what the ad says? In it I say, Chesterfields never hurt my throat'. Too true they don't -- because I never smoke them!'
Not suggesting Chappell is being hypocritical -- it's just that whenever I come across some celeb endorsing something, this joke comes to mind.

Saurav's travails

Seems, now, that Saurav has -- thanks to this whole European Union business -- got to go to Brussels for a work permit, before he can play for Glamorgan.
Which would make things a tight squeeze -- his first game at Cardiff is slated for June 1, less than five days away.

Windies in full control

Great position to be in -- 13/0 in the second innings, a good 214 runs ahead, and the track still good to bat on.
I've noticed the odd ball keep low, though -- suspect, based on whatever I've seen, that the track could get harder for batsmen after another morning's baking tomorrow. Which puts Windies right in the driver's seat -- time is on their side, they have a huge platform to build on, they can take their time, pile up a lead of 450 (hell, why not 500?), then challenge a below-strength Pak side to try and save the game on a deteriorating pitch.
The fizz seems to have gone out of Pak in the field -- the usual ebullience is missing, and that could be the single biggest problem; if they give up the fight at this point, it's all over; the only real chance they have is to go hard at the Windies, try and bowl them out cheap.
On balance, though, this is now the Windies' game to lose.

Mac the Mouth

If it's like this now, what do you suppose is going to happen closer to Ashes time? Glenn McGrath heard from, on the subject of Andrew Strauss -- who, just the other day, was being heard from on the subject of McGrath and his mates.
I find myself in equal parts amused, and perplexed, by the stream of comments the Aussies in particular launch just ahead of any major series.
(Amusement predominates when some of those comments come back to bite the person in the butt -- like Matty Hayden's remark ahead of India's last tour of Australia, that VVS Laxman would be a non-starter on the pacier, bouncier wickets of Australia; boy, Hayden at slip was in the best position to see how wrong he was, as Lax racked them up).
But what invariably stirs amusement is McGrath's patented ploy of picking out targets ahead of a series -- almost invariably, the opposition openers. I thought I was the only one who found it funny, till a player (who I'll keep nameless) once laughingly asked, "Arre, yaar, what's with this guy? He says he is going to target the openers -- hell, he is the opening bowler, of course he has to target the openers, who else is he going after, the tail? Iske liye ek press conference bulane ki kya zaroori thi?"
I mean, doh! As your side's premier strike bowler, stands to reason your primary target has to be the opposition openers -- do we really need a press statement to realize McGrath will be going after Andy Strauss?

Back to Saurav...

and my take would be, what spoils his image is the Praetorian Guard of so-called well-wishers who surround him.
It's a motley mix -- some mediapersons, some administrators, some hangers on; the sort of crowd a celebrity accumulates the way dogs accumulate ticks.
For the members of the guard, Saurav is their passport to 15 minutes of fame; proximity to power is almost as seductive as being powerful yourself.
The only way you hang on to secondhand power is to create paranoia in the powerful; to give them the impression the world is out to get them and it is only the selfless efforts of the Praetorians that stands between them, and doom.
(Sounds melodramatic? Think of the various coteries we have seen in action -- the ones surrounding politicians from Indira and Rajiv on down to the Jayalalithas of this world; the one that surrounded Azhar in his prime; the one that damn near sounded the knell for Sachin...)
And so they, this motley crowd, screen Saurav from the outside world; they filter the inputs he gets through their own self-serving prism; they pour poison in his ears... (Watch out for Anil/Dravid, he is trying to take your job... Sachin was badmouthing your form the other day to X newspaper... that other newspaper, the one that wrote a column about you, you know that journalist is in X player's pay?...)
Should Saurav not be able to see through this? Yes, of course -- but the trouble is, Saurav is a trusting soul, and over time he has come to believe that these guys are genuinely his well-wishers, the only ones who he can trust, and who will stand by him.
With friends like these, why would Saurav need enemies?

Upside down and inside out

Very, very disciplined bowling effort this by the Windies -- aided by some nervy batting by Pakistan's lineup of inexperienced top order batsmen.
Asim Kamal -- who was close to nerveless on the India tour -- the latest to succumb to the general panic; regulation delivery, the batsman poking a foot forward and pushing without getting really in line -- and those two wickets either side of lunch has put the Windies right on top.
Razzaq now with Younis, and this partnership really has to be the last hope for Pak -- the irony is, despite the odd ball staying a touch lower than you'd expect, this is still a good pitch to bat on.

In support of Saurav

Noticed some discussion, on here, about Ganguly's ego/arrogance. Time maybe to present the flip side of the argument.
Without claiming any particular intimacy with the guy, I've met him a few times over the last 8, 9 years. The first time was shortly after he returned from his successful debut in England -- on that occasion, a colleague and I spent a good four hours in his home in Kolkatta.
Maybe a brief recall of that meeting will help put him in perspective. At the time, Rediff was a fledgling site; remember too that in 1996, there were maybe 5000 net connections in all of India, and no one really knew what the Net was all about. The traffic we were getting was almost entirely from the US.
We had just started the live online celebrity chats as one of our regular features -- then chief election commissioner TN Sheshan flagged it off; the very next day, LK Advani came on our chat. Number three in the sequence was Saurav Ganguly.
We called, and asked if he would do this; without any questions asked (what is the net, why should I do this, what is there in it for me?) he promptly agreed, and invited us home.
When we -- Shailesh Soni, who heads our tech, and I -- got to his home, we found an enormous crowd of family and friends. There was, that day, a wedding in the family -- Saurav was expected at the venue by 8 pm.
The chat was to begin at 7. We got there an hour earlier, tried to connect, and though we had a dedicated number, ran up against the vagaries of Kolkatta's telephone system. Put briefly, the damn thing just wouldn't connect.
By 6.45, the Mumbai office was in a state of panic -- 100s of fans had logged on, questions were flooding in, and we remained unconnected.
Saurav, meanwhile, was attending to guests in the other room. Close to deadline, he strolled up, saw our worried faces, and asked what was wrong. We told him.
He thought a bit, then asked, is it only logging from here that is a problem? How do you know fans are waiting?
We told him Bombay was online, and the staff there could see the questions and comments streaming in.
So why don't I do this, he suggested -- connect me to someone in your Bombay office on the phone. Let him read out the questions, I will dictate my answers and he can type it in for me. Will that work?
Would it, ever! We got the telephone link going (using his phone, mind); he sat down and patiently listened, and responded. An hour passed... his brother Snehashish, father Chandidas and others kept coming in, signalling to him that it was getting late and he needed to go. He brushed them aside, and kept responding... for two solid hours, without complaint, he talked on that line... and then, very apologetically, he asked, 'Is it okay if I cut this short in about five minutes? Unfortunately, there is this wedding I must go for...'
Oh, and? With Saurav doing all the work, there was nothing for Shail and me to do. Saurav at one point waved Snehashish over, and whispered to him. Minutes later, Snehashish materialized, a couple of servants in tow -- and lined up on a table more Bengali sweets, of more types, than I've seen in most sweet shops.
Shail tucked in. I don't much care for sweet stuff, so I passed. At which Saurav waved me over, and went, 'You better eat -- these sweets, my mother makes for us; you won't find better anywhere in the world'.
So I ended up eating more sweets in that day, than I normally eat in a year (and yes, it was outstanding).
Throughout the evening, his manners was impeccable -- the sort of cultured behavior you find also in the Dravids and Kumbles. We were initially embarassed at our inability to log on, at the fact that Saurav was having to do the heavy lifting, we kept apologising and he kept brushing us aside, going yaar, what is the problem, fans are asking questions, they are getting answers, don't worry about it...
I've met him subsequently -- and on each meeting, his manners, his behavior, has been impeccable. Oh yes, he has called me over for an 8 pm chat, and casually strolled in an hour and a half later.
Was that arrogance? Not really -- the thing with Saurav is, he does not do what he does out of malice, or ego. It is just the way he is -- he will stroll in without a word of apology; but by the same token, if you are an hour late for your meeting with him, he will wait for you patiently, and welcome you without a murmur.
This is my take, based on my experience. So where does this perceived arrogance come from? Good question -- have to clear some work, be back here in a bit with what I think...

Question time

See, guys, the thing is, I was going through comments posted below some of these entries -- strikes me, cricket is most fun when it is a conversation, not monologue.
Question is, short of cut-pasting each individual comment as a separate blog post, how do I create an area for debate and discussion?
Ideally, some field, or segregated area, where comments that I, or others, would like to respond to could be flagged, thrown up, and created into a little discussion thread of its own...
Any ideas how I can do that on here?
Off for a while -- back in oh, I would think an hour, hour and a half tops...

Surrey penalized for ball-tampering

Remember the headlines when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis first unleashed reverse swing on England? One mainline paper put it very simple: 'CHEATS', the headline read.
A couple of years back, when Michigan Cricket Association held its annual prize-giving bash, I bumped into Wasim who was one of the guests of honor, and we were chatting of this and that when the subject of reverse swing came up. I brought up that episode, and Akram laughed. 'Arre yaar,' he said then, 'when their bowlers couldn't do it, they called it cheating. Now when Darren Gough does it, they talk endlessly about how well he bowls reverse swing.'
It's been that way almost all the time. When match-fixing first hit the headlines, the tendency was to treat it as a sub-continental problem -- until the Aussie 'weathermen', and the late lamented Hansie Cronje, hit the spotlight. Ball tampering, ditto.
In both cases, the problem is the same -- until you admit the problem is not of color or race or geography, until you acknowledge that it is widespread, and spreading, you will never begin to find solutions.
Imran once famously set the cat among the pigeons when he said ball tampering was widely prevalent in county cricket; the news stories of Surrey being penalized merely seem to confirm that it happens more often than the authorities think.

Oh goody gumdrops

The BCCI has, praise be, cleared Saurav Ganguly's stint with Glamorgan. For a moment there, I was on tenterhooks, honest -- I mean, what if permission had been denied, huh?
I wonder if Mahindra has heard the phrase fait accompli...

Sticking point...

Right, so Yasir Hameed's gone, Pak 55/2 -- and stand in captain Younis Khan to the middle, knowing that Inzy and Youhana are not available and it is now all up to him to guide the side through.
Funny thing about Younis -- when I saw him in the first Test of the India series, I was apalled; seemed a classic example of the can't bat, can't field, can't bowl, can politic sort of cricketer.
Hoo boy, was I wrong -- over the next couple of Tests, he was easily the standout in the side; not just for the runs he scored, but for the fizz he brought to the game, in the field or with the bat.
What I liked most about him, though? His weapon-in-chief is clearly the short single; he uses it to disrupt the opposition bowling, to keep the board ticking and his own juices flowing. And this is the bit I liked -- each time he completed a short single, his bat would go up, he would slap his palm against it in very clear, noticeable applause for his partner.
And on one occasion, I remember, he made a mess of a sweep, the ball went down the leg side, Kartick was scrambling to collect, Youhana was looking for a run, but Younis was looking back, trying to see where the ball had gone.
When he looked up and realized his partner was trying to catch his attention, he walked down the pitch, repeatedly saying 'I'm sorry... sorry yaar... sorry...'
Small thing -- but I liked that attitude, more than the runs he scored.

And by the way...

Dinesh Mongia is not doing too badly either, out there -- turning out for Leicestershire, he has clubbed a brisk 51 off 75 to help the side take the lead over Derbyshire.
Purely extrapolating from the scoreboard (need to go back and find the reports, later in the day), Leics was in some trouble when it lost two quick wickets, to go from none for 84 to 2/96, before Mongia stepped up and played his part in a rapidfire partnership.
The guy's been in good touch of late, his game is coming on -- I'd think, for the national selectors, he is a player you want to keep an eye on, especially at the start of the season when both Sachin and Saurav are likely out of the ranks. (Another reason being his bowling -- he keeps it tight, steady in the middle, much like Sewhag).

Pathan's progress

A key 41 off 62 when his side batted, then a great opening spell that reduced the opposition to 1-12, 2-19, and final figures of 25-5-81-4 that helped his side Middlesex take the lead over Sussex -- Irfan Pathan has had a great start to his county season.
Been very interested in seeing how the lad goes -- if you had to pinpoint one single reason above all else why India looked lack-lustre against Pak at home, it would be that Pathan was not firing on even half his cylinders.
He's a quality opening bowler (and, by way of bonus, potentially a quality bat); if he can find his form of late 2004, and discover some key weapons he appears to have misplaced, it should do the team a world of good heading into the next season.
Which explains why, after checking the Pak versus Windies scoreboard, the first thing I did was to swing by to the Sussex-Middlesex game.
PS: Thanks, 'Soultan of Swing', for pointing out stupid errors in this post.

Business as usual

G'morning, all -- late in to work, and I notice first up that Afridi's gone -- so for Pakistan, it is back to playing Test cricket the conventional way. Pity -- a half hour of Afridi could have cracked the game open for Pak; now, the batting side has to go into more attritive mode, and work on accumulation. Good bit is, the pitch should still be batting friendly -- so if the Pak batsmen can keep their heads, 345 is no kind of threat. More updates -- on this, and other matters cricketing, after I settle down and get my work going

Thursday, May 26, 2005

You wait, Greg, we'll watch

Ah ha -- Greg Chappell is finding out, and that right quick, how cricket is played, and watched, in this country.
The thing is, see, you have to see it from the media's point of view -- when India is not playing cricket, what the heck is there to write about?
Not international cricket, because what do we care if Pakistan beats Windies or vice versa? Not affairs relating to the administration, because god forbid, we might end up offending the powers that be -- besides, writing of such issues requires thought, and that is too much like hard work. So just the one option remains -- controversy, and if one doesn't exist, create it.
Consider the sequence. First, Sunny Gavaskar, for reasons he alone knows, dashes off a column about how senior players abused John Wright when he was coach (Sunny has surely spent enough time around the Indian dressing room to know how Wright talks to his players).
That this 'abuse' was reportedly the main reason Wright decided not to renew his contract -- which is daft, right there.
Then we dig out an instance -- well over two years old, incidentally -- of how Wright once collared Sewhag and shook him silly.
In passing -- by what mysterious process of alchemy does Wright grabbing Sehwag by the collar translate into abuseof Wright, huh?
The impression sought to be conveyed, in various media reports, is of assiduous detective work having unearthed this incident. To not be particularly polite, nuts -- the incident is, and has been for a long time, common knowledge. Oh, and incidentally -- when Cricinfo did that feature, where they asked the players for their memories of Wright, Rahul Dravid openly talked of this incident; that alone should tell you the team, and Sehwag himself, was perfectly okay with what happened.
Anyways, so there we are, trying to make a story out of thin air. We can't ask Wright for comment because the moment he laid down the job, the New Zealander went off to Christchurch, and is now ensconced with his family on an extended holiday.
So we ask Sehwag, and he goes, oh, no problem, he did it because I played a stupid shot; we are okay with each other.
Then we ask Chappell what he would do if he were abused... Geez, what next? Ask a psychologist what he thinks of coach-player relations?
For the record, Wright collaring Sehwag was not the only time the outwardly phlegmatic Kiwi vented his temper when his wards didn't listen to him -- anyone with a nodding acquaitance of the Indian dressing room can list dozens.
Thus, once, when VVS Laxman got himself stupidly run out, Wright singled him out after the game and had him, in full battle gear, run around the ground time after time, till he was ready to drop.
Once, when Wright spent oodles of time talking Zaheer through the pitch and plotting right lines and lengths, and then Zaheer lost it completely and bowled crap, Wright pitched into the bowler with abuse that would burn your ears. Zaheer got pissed off and said something, Wright cuffed him, the other Indian players watched the fun and figured they were lucky someone else was getting it that day... and the two later that evening went out for a beer and forgot all about it.
Once, when Harbhajan Singh played a daft shot in a Test match, he was met at the pavilion steps by a furious John Wright, who told Bajji: 'You bloody well stop right there you #@^%$%&; stand right there and think about the shot you played, and don't move till I tell you to come in.'
You want more?
Early on in his tenure, Wright arrived in Chennai for a coaching camp. Murali, the TNCA functionary (you can see him any time India is playing at the MAC -- his huge black beard make him an easy pick in the dressing room) who normally serves as liaison during such events, came to him that evening and mentioned casually that Sachin Tendulkar had faxed, saying he could not make it for the start of camp next morning, but would be a day late.
'Fax him,' Wright said, 'in my name; tell him he either gets here in time for the camp tomorrow morning, or he doesn't have to come at all.' (Postscript: Sachin came, in time).
The fact is Wright cared, passionately, for the team, its members, and the results it achieved; when things didn't go the way he wanted them to, when players did daft things, he lost his cool. Bottomline, though, was the players all knew where he was coming from; in fact, they bought into his passion and each time the BCCI made noises about not renewing his contract, fought to keep him back.
So enough already, darn it -- let the new bloke do his job, without having to answer questions like what would you do if Sehwag said boo to you?!

Without comment

A story datelined London says Saurav Ganguly has told Glamorgan he is not required to attend any possible coaching camp the Indian team may hold in July.
I did say, right in the headline, I wasn't going to comment on this -- so I'll refrain from remarking that this is a touch strange. India has a new coach; the national team has an ODI tournament to play in July; said new coach will -- if he is halfway serious about his job -- want to spend time, in a coaching camp situation, with the team ahead of its first international engagement of the season; said coach would also, presumably, want inputs about the players from the team's captain -- who, apparently, has meanwhile decided he is not needed.
But hush -- no comments.

Waugh on Thorpe

Steve Waugh weighs in -- with encomiums, mostly -- on England star Graham Thorpe's projected shift to New South Wales.
Earlier, Angus Fraser in the Independent had not only waxed eloquent on the move and the shock it probably gave the England selectors, but even mapped out Thorpe's future with the Blues.
Against these two stories, there's one on NineMSN, quoting NSW coach Trevor Bayliss as saying sure, Thorpe's coming, but there's no guarantee he will play.
Waugh's article contains the probable explanation of the conundrum -- for the Blues, he says, Thorpe coming over will be insurance for when Australia's national side takes on South Africa, and NSW loses the likes of Clarke and Katich.

Yeh kya chukkar hai?

A report, on Fox Sports, on today's play at the Kensington Oval, between West Indies and Pakistan, contained this interesting line:
He completely dominated his stand with fellow left-hander Chanderpaul, after Shabbir, whose bowling action raised more than a few eyebrows, threatened to completely ruin the day for West Indies.

Unfortunately, didn't see much of Shabbir's bowling -- by the time I subscribed to Willow's feed, the spinners were on, it was late into the afternoon session, and from then till close of play, Shabbir bowled just about three, four overs. In those three overs, there was nothing to raise eyebrows about -- when time permits, tomorrow, must go back to the interactive scoreboard, watch his full stint, and see what this is all about.

Bajji for Surrey?

The English county, per this report, is hoping bio-mechanical expert Mark Potus will give his verdict on Bajji soon -- hopefully within the next ten days, at which point it appears to be considering making the offie an offer.
The really hilarious part of the story, though, is the Board's reaction. Apparently the Board believes Bajji won't go to Surrey, or anyplace else. Why?
The quote, from BCCI joint secretary Gautam Dasgupta, is a classic: "It has nothing to do with the ICC decision. I don't think he is ready for he is not even bowling right now."
Doh! What does that mean, precisely? You mean once the Pak series was over, Bajji wasn't bowling much, and thus may not be ready for the rigors of county cricket? Cool -- would love to see Dasgupta apply the same logic to skipper Saurav Ganguly, who even without the board's say so is now in Cardiff, awaiting his June 1 debut for Glamorgan.

The Windies Cup

FYI: Sort of like the build up to the Athens Olympics, we're already beginning to see stories about how the West Indies is way not ready for the 2007 Cup.

Dine and length

Disclaimer: I robbed that headline from the Times.
What's with Indian criketers and restaurants anyways? First Sachin, then Saurav, now it's Zaheer who's getting ready to open his own restaurant.
Donno how this one will turn out, but I've eaten at Sachin's -- did a review of it, first, for India Abroad; then John Wright, Andrew Leipus, Faisal Shariff and I spent an endless night of beer and conversation there. Great place -- pity the food is ordinary, and noways in line with the price tag.
The evening was, come to think of it, the heck of a lot of good fun -- we met around seven, and John, who had come in ahead of us, was already a couple of beers into the game. We then sat around the bar drinking, till at some point I figured we needed to get some food in as well (Andrew, by then, was giving me speaking looks -- he and Faisal weren't drinking, and there is just so much time you can spend nursing a cola).
So we moved to the dining area, and John kept bending his elbow. Dinner done, a couple more beers done, I figured the only way the evening was going to stop was to call for the bill. Guy comes up with the bill, and John goes, 'Hey, before you close the account, add a couple of beers to it, for the road?'
So those two beers had to be downed -- and then John goes, 'Lemme just get another one, positively the last, promise'.
So he got two more. And walked out, at the end of it, rock steady -- while I drove home with fingers and toes crossed. I mean, I could vaguely make out there was a road ahead of me -- if some cop happened to stop me for some transgression, my breath would have sent him up in flames right there.

Sehwag collars critics

Viru Sehwag heard from -- on why Saurav Ganguly will bounce back; on the Wright-grabbed-collar incident (which, frankly, is old news -- damned if I can figure out why it was raked up now, when the incident happened a good two years ago); and on his intention to bounce back to one day form.

The big stick

Dav Whatmore, at the end of day one of the Lord's Test between Bangladesh and England, figures it's "time to get the big stick out".
He has a point when he compares Bangla's plight to that of a Western cricketing nation that comes to the sub-continent and comes unstuck in unfamiliar conditions -- the more you play the better you get, Whatmore argues.
Catch though is, while we are waiting for Bangla to get better, there are batsmen inflating their averages, bowlers piling up the five-fors, teams adding wins to their resume that impacts on the ICC Test table... oh bloody hell, this is already trodden territory, time to get out.


Beaten... beaten... beaten... thump... thump... the second of the thumps depositing a perfectly decent ball around off line outside the stands, somewhere behind the midwicket region...
If the guy can go an hour tomorrow morning, he'll take the game away from the Windies -- it is the obvious, attacking strategy to go for, especially when you have a slightly undercooked batting lineup minus two of its top run-getters, and you don't want to expose it to too much pressure too early.


What do you know -- Shahid Afridi walking out, just now, with Salman Butt!!! Hoo boy... someone was listening!
Or more accurately, thinking -- 345 is not a winning score on this track; the attacking option is to go after the bowling right at the outset, bludgeon it into submission, then let the rest of the batting work at piling up a huge score, batting the Windies out of the game.
But first, Afridi has to survive the evening, which has four overs in it.

Windies down... and out, too?

One guy makes 130 off 120; another makes 92/193 -- and yet the Windies go from 4/214, when Lara is out, to 345 all out, on what remains a lovely pitch to bat on.
Now to see what a Pak side missing two of its three best batsmen -- Inzy, and Yousuf Youhana -- can do; much of the hard yards will have to be done by stand in skipper Younis Khan, who has the game, and the temperament, to anchor the innings and push his mates towards a big score.
I was calling the shots, I'd be tempted to try and blindside the Windies -- send Afridi out to open and tell him to do me a Sehwag. Tone it down a bit from his usual ODI mode, but attack, put the bowlers under pressure from the get go...

Dalmiya, the sequel

Reacting to the earlier post about Saurav, in which I tangentially mentioned my gut feel that Dalmiya was on his way out, Sriraj asks if I can justify that; what, he wants to know, do I base it on.
Couple of points: (1) I am not giving any iron-clad guarantee here, do note. My feel, based on what I hear and know, is that the ruling faction will find itself in big trouble come September. (2) I wouldn't, at this point, want to write about the hows and whys... sometimes, you are told/learn things in confidence; such confidences are extended because the other party knows you won't misuse it; to then go blabbing is a surefire way of losing credibility.
That said, there are clues, if you care to look for them -- the most obvious being the results of the Rajasthan Cricket Association elections earlier this year. The Rungtas, who are as entrenched in the RCA as Dalmiya is in the CAB (this, incidentally, is a story we had done on them way back in 2000; this a link to a tangential conversation Harsha and I once had on the subject), were finally broken this year, and that was perhaps the first indication that the opposing factor is finally getting its act together.
In the coming months, keep an eye on the doings of IS Bindra and Lalit Modi; keep an eye, too, on the machinations of the likes of Sharad Pawar; it's there you will see the best clues to how the coming BCCI election will go.
Might as well build an exit clause here -- Dalmiya is as aware of the danger as anyone else; the man knows where every cricketing body is buried, so this coming fight is going to be incredibly bitter. And who knows, Jaggu just might pull off a miracle -- but my best guess is, if he wins, it will be nothing short of miraculous.

Windies on the rocks

Phew!! Suddenly the ball is turning, bouncing, doing all but talk. Same pitch, mind, on which the Windies were cruising earlier -- the difference is merely one of approach. You had the likes of Wavell Hinds, then Courtney Browne, scratch around, push, prod, and generally allow the bowlers to settle into optimum line and length.
Ergo, a team that seemed to have seized the game by the scruff is now in trouble -- 296/6, with an hour's play left, and likely to fall well short of the 400-450 runs they need to make a good fist of this Test.

The coaching conundrum

Neat piece by Peter English on Aussie coaching -- the thing that really jumps out at you is the longevity of Aussie coaches. In 19 years since Bobby Simpson (who, with Allan Border as captain, to my mind created the modern coach-captain symbiosis), Australia have had just three coaches -- including the incumbent.
That kind of continuity is awesome -- and should to a great extent explain how Australia's growth curve has been so steady. Also a corollary of a professional administration, which is content to appoint a coach, and take its hands off, and let him achieve results.
This, as opposed to the BCCI version of management -- when you have part-timers, time-servers, and honorary (which does not always equate with honorable, please note) officials, then it is all about power, and muscle-flexing.
Which is why we went through this farce of renewing the coach's tenure year by year; which is why we failed to pay the likes of Wright and Leipus their due wages for months at a time... It's what happens, when you give little people big shoes.

Saurav the senior pro

Ravi Shastri, the only other Indian to have turned out for Glamorgan, on what Saurav needs to do when he makes his debut for the county side June 1.
The Telegraph -- always a good source for Saurav-related information, since he speaks more to the likes of Lokendra Pratap Sahi than to any other media outlet -- gives us the scoop, meanwhile, on the mini-controversy that was almost ignited, when BCCI president RS Mahindra said he was not aware Ganguly had signed on with Glamorgan.
Apparently when he got the call from Glamorgan, he immediately telephoned Jagmohan Dalmiya for advice; and was told to address a formal letter to the Board. 'There appears to have been a communication gap somewhere,' says Sahi.
Cool. Oh, by the way -- what is the phrase they use to describe the situation where Manmohan Singh is prime minister, and Sonia Gandhi is the power center? 'Extra-constitutional authority', is that the one?
Within the team -- and among sections of the media -- they have a snide way of referring to this connection. They call it the '033 factor' -- 033 being, as you recall, the STD code for Calcutta.
Tell you what -- for Ganguly's own sake, I hope he cuts this particular umbilical cord, and soon. My best guess is, when the BCCI elections roll around again in September, you will finally see the Dalmiya faction defeated, and Jaggu's clout within the board begin to ebb as a result. At which point, this '033 link' could well be a hindrance, not a help, for the Indian skipper.


Could be early days, but the one noticeable difference I find between the Pak side that played in India and the one now playing day one of the first Test against the West Indies is the fielding -- in just under half an hour of watching, I've counted at least six fumbles, resulting in at least 15, probably 20, runs. And, as I notice on the replays, they even managed to drop Lara off Afridi.
Not gotten their Carribbean legs yet, you think?
While on that, Majid Khan's son Bazid -- again, maybe too early to comment -- is not a patch on his dad in the slips; poor anticipation, too much of a tendency to grab at the ball.
Tea -- and Wavell Hinds lucky to survive, I thought in that last over before the break, he was a dead duck for Rana Naved's LBW shout -- ball hit leg and middle, held the line, hit the pad well below the roll, what more did it have to do, jump through hoops?
246/4 at tea -- and judging by the way the ball is not really getting up, this pitch could be a bitch to bat on over days three, four and five. Which in turn means the Windies need to capitalize on the Lara blast, and put up a good 450 on the board at least, to put itself into position to force a win.

Whatever happened to singles?

Why, when a team is not at its best, does it tend to play the all or nothing game?
At the end of 49 overs, Windies 223/4. That score contains 21 fours and four sixes -- which makes you go, like, wow! But it also contains 227 dot balls, against just 38 singles.
It's probably the most noticeable differentiator between good teams and bad -- the good ones, even when the boundaries are flowing, rotate strike rapidly, use the single to disrupt bowlers' rhythms and add painless runs to the board; the bad ones either hit expansively, or defend.
There's two spinners out there in tandem -- seems to me, the best ploy for the Windies at this stage of the innings is to go for those singles, get the fielding side a bit confused about whether to stay back or come up, and take advantage of the inevitable mistakes to find the boundaries.

And out!

Another instant -- and the wicket. Lovely ball that, Kaneria angling it across Lara, on very full length, hitting a line just outside off; Lara into an expansive off drive, beaten by the angle and the fuller length, playing around it for the ball to spin back in and hit off.
Classic leg spinner's dismissal of a left-hander, and good to see Kaneria flighting it so much despite the mauling he's been subjected to by Lara.
On the minus side, just moments after spending all that money, Lara goes back -- damn. Interesting, meanwhile, this move to shove Wavell Hinds down the order to stabilise the middle. He's got a platform now, thanks to Lara -- be good to see what the Windies manage from here on.

Got it!

Found the feed for the live cricket, guys -- www.willow.tv
What I like most about this thing is at the end of the day, it provides an interactive scoreboard -- so you can go replay the action, see the bits you want (Lara's sixes and fours, or the whole of Kaneria's spell, or the way the wickets went down...)
For people in the US, this is such a boon -- so, guess what, we get to see all international cricket on this thing, except when India plays in India. For why? Because the board is so damn greedy, it puts such a high price on the rights, that no one in his right mind would buy it.
You would think the board is getting so much money from so many different avenues, it would sell the US rights for whatever the market can afford -- but no.
What to do, they are like this only.
Ah, there you go -- moments after I logged on to the feed... a Lara six, his fourth.


So much for the 'nervous nineties'. Brian Lara, 90, facing Kaneria. Down the wicket to ball three, over mid off, six. Ball four -- encore. Two shots, job done, 29th Test ton under his belt (off an amazing 90 deliveries, while at the other end Chanderpaul has taken 72 to get 21) -- tell you what, when he is batting at his best, there is no batsman in world cricket I'd rather watch. Tell you what, too -- the way he has been racking up centuries since 2003, it could well be him, not Sachin, who ends up with the world record for most Test tons.
Of course, he is also apt to figure in the record books as the player who has been part of the most number of defeats -- but that is another story.

Out of the mouths of babes...

Appropos my earlier comment about TV commentators -- and, more to the point, TV babes -- I was reminded of one of those classic moments.
There was this tournament happening in Sri Lanka, and Sony Max -- the earliest, and worst, offender when it came to hiring clueless babes and sending them out with microphones to interview cricketers -- had lined up this roster of PYTs.
Among them, Sandhya Mridul -- who, on one occasion, minced up to Arjuna Ranatunga and asked him, first crack out of the box, Arjuna, why are you so fat? Aren't cricketers supposed to be fitter?
Arjuna, in his imperious fashion, looked Mridul up and down and deadpan, responded: 'My team doesn't have a problem with my weight. My wife doesn't have a problem. So what's your problem?'

What's with betting?

Shobhan Mehta has been remanded to judicial custody -- to what end, is the question.
Guys bet on cricket -- always have, always will. Way back in 1994 -- a little over two years before the famous Outlook cover story -- Krishna Prasad (who with Aniruddha Bahal co-authored that cover) and I had done a story on betting for The Sunday Observer.
Among others, we met this top flight bookie, who regaled us with tales of celebrities and cricketers and betting. Without naming names -- there was the story of this famous opener, whose uncle regularly placed bets on whether, for example, he would or would not complete his 50 before lunch.
'It was absurd,' the bookie told us. 'This guy would cruise into the 40s, and suddenly shut shop. And in the commentary box, the experts would talk about how he was playing responsibly, how he was shutting down for lunch so he could resume and play a big innings -- when we knew the truth was different.'
Apparently, bookies finally figured out what was happening, and declared the uncle persona non grata and stopped accepting such bets.
We were also told of a visiting superstar, who was approached by this music composer duo and told, if you can hit a century in each innings of a particular Test, we will give you ten lakh. The star whacked a stirring century in the first innings; then fell four short in the second when he tried to hoist a six and was caught on the line. Apparently the composer duo paid him the money anyways, for trying.
Point of all this being -- betting has been a perennial feature of cricket. So why not, as Viks and Sriraj commented below my post on 'Two-tier Tests', just make it legal, open authorised betting windows, and let the government cash in?
Some things -- alchohol, prostitution, betting -- just cannot, will not, go away simply because you make a law against it; it's human to drink, to bet, to find a way of getting your rocks off. Legalize it and you control crime (look for instance at how the market for smuggled gold crashed, once you were legally allowed to bring in a certain quantum of the stuff); legislate it and you drive it underground and create a whole crime ring.

Lara on song

Can't take my eyes off this scoreboard -- Lara's going nuts after lunch. 63 off 58 would be brilliant stuff, especially on the back of three quick wickets, in an ODI. In Tests, what can you say?
Shiv Chanderpaul has lucked into the best seat in the house -- now all he has to do is enjoy the view.... of, as I write this, the master bat dancing down to Kaneria to cover drive the boundary.
The real problem for Pak is this -- once Lara gets set and gets runs under his belt, you need a stick of TNT to dislodge him. The only option seems to be to shut him down -- and attack at the other end. Which admittedly is easier said than done.
Be interesting to see how Younis Khan responds to this challenge, actually. Which reminds me, Viks, thanks for that tip about Dishnet -- will go check it out.

Go, Irfan

Good to see Irfan Pathan putting his leisure to some good use -- his debut outing appears to be going well, with a useful 41 off 68 balls that added heft to the Middlesex lower half; and then two quick strikes when Sussex batted (Scoreboard).
His bowling was way off during the Indo-Pak series -- and IMHO, much of it has to do with the lad's gym regimen. Compare the photographs of Pathan in Pakistan, and Pathan six months later -- the guy's bulked up so much, so fast, you almost think steroids (no, not suggesting he is on that stuff).
Not that bulking up is per se bad; the catch though is that -- judging by the way he bowled -- his emphasis on building muscle has impacted noticeably on his flexibility. His best ball to my mind is the one that slants across the right hander, lands around off, and then either straightens or comes in marginally.
Since the left-arm seamers stock ball is the one that slants across, hits, and either goes through on the angle or seams away, Pathan's ability to bring one back from that identical slot was the main reason for his success -- batsmen were constantly tentative, unable to pick the one going through, the one straightening, or the one coming back in.
It is this ball he lost, almost entirely, during the home series against Pak -- and after watching him bowl through the Tests, my best guess is, his new-found muscles are still so stiff, he hasn't been able to bring his arm as close to his ear, at delivery, as he needs to for that particular ball -- in other words, he's been tending to bowl a touch round-arm.
Constant cricket in the county circuit is the best cure, really; he'll develop the flexibility he lost, and hopefully should come back to his best.

No comment

Any of you guys watch Indian television, especially cricket programming, regularly? Wonder what you make of it all.
Thing is, every channel wants to cash in on the cricket -- and to this end, have been coming up with ever more bizarre programming. Like this thing I found -- Aaj Ka Mujrim, or some such name -- which had a panel including Bish Bedi and Syed Kirmani, the mandatory TV babe as anchor, a graphical meter that went up and down depending on how people supposedly voted, and a question on the lines of 'So is Saurav aaj ka mujrim?' Another show, anchored by Navjot Singh Sidhu, is a huge hit -- despite it having less to do with cricket and more to do with the collected proverbs of NSS.
Another unfortunate fallout of the whole confusion over TV rights is in the nature of the commentary we get. Most of the topline guys are contracted to one or other channel -- for instance, Harsha Bhogle is tied in to ESPN-Star, so if that channel doesn't get the cricket rights, Harsha is out of the box.
Upshot -- we don't necessarily get the best possible commentators; instead, we get the 'available for hire' guys (which reminds me, if there is anything more obnoxious than Krish Srikkanth in an expert's chair, I'm yet to see it).
Was thinking of all this when I spotted this news item that Sanjay Manjrekar has become the public face of Ten Sports.
Let's get a poll going here -- tell me who in your book are our best, and worst, commentators, and why?

Hariharan debuts

A little noticed aspect of the Bangla-England Test at Lord's is the debut of Hariharan as a member of the ICC elite panel.
He seems to have started off with a wrong call that cut short Khaled Masud's innings -- but tell you what, having seen him officiate I'd back him, once his debut nerves steady, to become one of the better members of the panel.

Lara's theme

Alrightttttttttt -- fasten your seatbelts, folks, here we go: West Indies in Barbados, calling the toss right, opting to bat, and 1-12, 2-25, 3-45; Gayle, Smith and Sarwan back in the hut, and Brian Lara seemingly intent on bashing Pakistan into submission, 25 off 24 at the time of writing this.
Damn, this is one series I badly wanted to watch -- anyone know how I can?

How light is light?

John Gloster the Indian physio, speaking at some length to Rediff's Harish Kotian, suggests that much of Sachin's problems will be solved if he begins to use a lighter bat -- which is in line with what biomechanics expert Bruce Elliott had said earlier.
This is not the first time the weight of Sachin's bat has come up for debate -- earlier, when his back packed up and it was feared, for a brief while, that the injury was career-threatening, cricketers, biomechanics experts and physios had similarly suggested he use a less demanding weapon.
I once asked Sachin about it -- about why, flying in the face of all the advice, he insisted on using a heavy bat. His response was interesting: He did not, he argued, use one weight all the time -- for instance, on pitches where the ball wasn't really coming on, he tended to use a lighter bat because he had to force the ball more; where the ball was coming on more, he tended to favor the heavy bat because with it, a quick punch -- as against a more elaborate backlift and follow through -- would get him the results he wanted.
The bottomline, he said, was he was using the sort of bat that suited his cricket -- what if he changed that, his game changed as a result? 'Phir tum log likoge ki I have changed my style and I am not Sachin any more...'
I'd reckon, advice or no advice, Sachin will stick with the sort of bats he is comfortable with -- very difficult to see him, at this point in his career, go in for such a radical change.

Moody tunes

Tom Moody is quick off the mark to define his priorities as Sri Lanka's coach: (1) Lift Lanka to number three on the ICC Test table from its present position of number five and (2) Work towards a successful 2007 World Cup campaign -- in other words, improve on the last four position the team reached, under Dav Whatmore, in 2003.
Meanwhile, an interesting tangential point -- Australia, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies (that is, five out of ten Test nations) now have Aussie coaches.

Throw out the bathwater...

Angus Fraser now joins the debate on whether, or no, Bangladesh should retain its Test status. Noticeably, everyone who weighs in on the topic follows a pattern: First, a compelling case why Test cricket should not be devalued by such meaningless 'contests'; then, the supporting argument in terms of stats; and then, just when you think the column is gearing up to turn its thumbs down, comes the but...
But Bangladesh has a huge cricket-mad population.... But Bangladeshis put butts in the seats (read, bring money into the coffers).....
Conclusion? None. We all agree Bangladesh should not be playing with the big boys, just yet -- but we won't do anything about it, except recycle the same arguments the day before the side's next Test series.
Come on, guys -- what's wrong with admitting that the current lineup of Test nations contains too many also rans?
What's wrong with listening to the players themselves, and splitting Test cricket into two tiers, with promotions and relegations giving an added edge to the game?
How much longer before the ICC accepts, and implements, the obvious, the logical, solution?

Champions' Trophy

So the Champions' Trophy is coming to India, thanks to the government's decision to grant tax exempt status per the ICC fiat, and the Board's request.
Puts a crimp in Pakistan's money-making ambitions, for starters -- the Pak board had volunteered to host the event, when it seemed unclear whether the GoI would permit tax-exempt status.
For the BCCI, it is a huge money-minting opportunity -- now stand by for (a) botched up scheduling; (b) wierd travel schedules that send the participating teams on a chaotic journey across the length, breadth and height of the country; (c) more confusion regarding television rights, with attendant court cases, and threats by the ICC to pull the event if things are not resolved -- and some fairly decent cricket at the end of it all.

Testing times

G'morning all. The expected annihilation of Bangladesh well under way; but the one I'm looking forward to today is the Pak-Windies match up.
Way too much riding on that one, for both sides. For Pakistan -- and coach Bob Woolmer -- it is crucial to maintain the momentum of the recent past; for stand-in captain Younis Khan -- who, IMHO, was way more inspirational than the laid back Inzy during the recent series against India, a chance to spread his wings in the Test arena, and underscore the point that he deserves the captain's mantle at some point; for Woolmer and the bowlers, a chance to prove the point that a team effort by a bunch of less talented, but more committed, bowlers is way better than solo stars singing their own tune.
And for West Indies? Simple -- survival. Each successive defeat is an added nail in the coffin of Carribbean cricket -- the team simply can not afford to lose this one.
With all this and more at stake, should be a cracker -- can't wait. Meanwhile, just got in, have to do the morning-work thing -- but will be back on here in, oh, I'd think an hour and a half, with more items of interest.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Two-tier Tests?

Sriraj, responding to the post about Bangla's Test status: 'I thought of what you had to say -- my emphasis would be on quality and not quantity. I'd hate my heroes to score centuries against, say, Nigeria and Fiji tomorrow and artificially pump up their respective individual scores.
What the ICC could do is to have a two-tier system, just like the English County system and I believe, the Ranji system too (I'm sorry man, I've not been in India for a while -- so I do not exactly know what's going on there. Rediff is my main connection to India, I might add). Back to my main point -- the first tier has the top five or six nations only. Only the matches played b/w any of these nations will be accorded Test status. Once you drop to the second tier, any matches played witll be accorded first class status.
So, at the end of the year, the bottom two nations of the first tier get relegated to the second tier and the top two nations of the second tier get pushed up to the first tier. This will really make Test cricket exciting. I know this sounds radical but only by thinking out of the box, can one arrive at better solutions.
It also means that centuries scored against second tier nations (assuming there's a series b/w a first tier and second tier nation) will not be entered in to the record books under official Tests. They will, though, be given first class status.
The system is fair and square -- you perform, you survive; you poop, you're scooped.'
This is the sort of thing international players -- most notably Ricky Ponting, though he is not the lone voice -- have been suggesting.
A two-tier system makes an awful lot of sense, actually -- assume we have five teams in each tier, imagine how much more competitive an international calendar would be; the top five teams would play each other more often, without the distraction of having to find time for the teams in the second tier -- with a structure like that, a real, quantifiable world championship of Test cricket would be truly on.
But here's where it begins to get fun: Who should form the top tier? If you go by the ICC Test rankings table (and since ICC runs the game, I guess their table would be the yardstick, right?), then it would be Australia, England, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, with South Africa tied for that fifth slot (Check the current standings, here).
Rediff's rankings, which I frankly prefer, is less ambigous -- Australia, England, South Africa, India and Pakistan, in that order.
Either way, imagine a two-year calendar where each of these teams plays the other home and away -- that sort of match-up would put spectators back in their seats, for sure.
In passing, an ICC update indicates what Pakistan has to do, in the coming series against the West Indies, to hold on to its fourth position in the Test table. And here's a pretty comprehensive preview of the series, which kicks off Thursday with the first Test.
Another defeat for the West Indies will mean, among other things, that Brian Lara will earn a dubious distinction -- of all who have played 100 Tests or more, Lara joins Alec Stewart with the most defeats (54 apiece).

Kenyan cricket gets new boss

Kenyan cricket, for long in turmoil, now has a new boss -- a solictor of Indian origin, Samir Inamdar, who has been elected head of the KCA.
And his very first statement is of determination to restore Kenya's ODI status, which was suspended following the recent troubles.

Bullseyes at Lord's

Um... As if England's cricket team taking potshots at the visiting Bangladeshis in the first Test at Lord's Thursday weren't enough, they've got some actual arrows flying around the 'Mecca of cricket', too. Here's the story.

Majid Mark II

Bazid Khan, this story points out, is poised to become only the second instance of a third generation player from the same family to play for his national team.
Haven't seen Bazid play -- anyone out there know what he is like? I used to enjoy the play of his father Majid -- floppy hat, full sleeves buttoned at the wrist, easy footwork and a very casual, lazy grace both with the bat, and at slip; if Bazid is half as good, he should be a great addition to the Pakistan side.

Changing times

In the Rediff office in Mumbai, there are television sets scattered all over editorial -- and when India is playing, every one of them is tuned to the cricket, with volume at the highest level, matched only by the decibel levels of the various arguments that erupt around the newsroom on, say, whether Saurav should or should not be part of the side.
It can be maddening at times -- when play enters a cricketing phase, everyone clusters around the sets, and at times I found that particularly distracting, when I was doing commentary and needed to focus.
Or at least, that is how it used to be. This time round, I was doing commentary on a Saturday -- outside of a few people in editorial, the office was empty, and some of the sets were switched off. Then suddenly, a colleague from across the partition, part of the design team, came racing over, fired up a set, and frantically flipped channels till he found what he was looking for -- live coverage of the Formula I race that was on at the time.
That was my first indication of changing mindsets; the three months I spent there brought many others. In the clothes outlets in Bandra and elsewhere, you were more apt to find sweatshirts with the names and faces of football greats or racing champs, than of Tendulkar and Dravid and others.
In sports bars, youngsters -- wearing everything from the green and gold of Brazil to a Schumi sweatshirt -- could be found clustered around the TV, arguing heatedly over the latest football game, or Formula race.
Colleagues insist that the young are being weaned away from cricket; that their interest is increasingly turning to racing, to soccer, even basketball. I am not so sure, despite the evidence of my own eyes -- Shivaji Park seemed to be more crammed with cricketers than before; the game was alive and well in the gullies; in the hotel where I stayed, I was constantly finding myself in arguments with sundry guests over the latest developments in the Indo-Pak series.
What do you think -- is cricket losing its grip?
The thought, and question, were prompted by this story I found -- Aston Villa, apparently, is making a big push to garner Indian fans.

The flag, as a stick

Irfan Pathan, who has made no secret of how much he idolizes Wasim Akram, has reportedly called to ask the legendary left-armer for advice, ahead of his county debut for Middlesex.
Akram is reportedly much impressed -- Pak seamers, he says, don't call him for advice, whereas Pathan regularly does.
Ironically, another story on the same day says Akram has made it clear he will coach Pakistan, but not India -- notch up another triumph for jingoism, right there.
Not Akram's, no -- remember the fuss there was when Akram offered tips to the Indian bowlers, while the team was touring Pakistan? He got called a traitor, and worse -- and that, I suspect, lies behind this 'clarification'.
Pity -- the players themselves freely share information; when Pak was in India, Danish Kaneria was thick as thieves with Bajji and Kumble; earlier, Mushtaq and Kumble used to discuss their skill sets whenever the two found themselves vis a vis, as did Saqlain and Bajji.
Such exchange of ideas can only be to the good; doubly a pity, thus, that 'nationalist' sentiments prevent the likes of Akram from doing what he instinctively would have done otherwise -- to wit, mentoring a young quick who idolizes him and has modelled his bowling style on his.

Saqlain's arm ball at the ICC

Remember when the rules of hockey were changed, to put the sub-continental masters of stickwork at a disadvantage and shift the emphasis to speed as against skill?
Saqlain Mushtaq seems to be suggesting that something of the kind is happening with cricket, if you go by his comments on the problems Bajji and Murali are having with their 'doosras'.
Bajji is back getting all wired up and tested -- and he will come back with the predictable clean chit. Which he will wear on his sleeve till the next time he bowls, at which point he will get called again. And get tested again...
Isn't it time this madness ended? The only resolution is to face facts -- chucking cannot be decided under test conditions; it can only be called on the field of play.
This business of umpires reporting suspect actions; some biometrics expert hooking the bowlers onto some machine and prosing on about angles of bend will merely create a vicious circle -- and end up defanging bowlers.
Maybe it is time to face a few basic facts -- just as batsmen innovate, invent new shots to better their scoring prospects, bowlers are going to be tweaking existing skill sets and trying to come up with new ways of getting batsmen out. That is a given.
In the process of experimentation, there is going to be some occasions when existing rules are transgressed upon -- or more accurately, seem to be.
The solution then would be to factor this in. To come up with a definition, relevant to today, on what constitutes chucking. And then to ensure that all umpires standing in international contests are conversant with that definition; that they enforce it without scope for idiosyncratic, individual interpretation; and finally, that they call a chuck a no ball on the field of play.
What the hell -- the rules say if your foot crosses the front line of the bowling crease, that is an illegal delivery.
So what do you do? Do you debate whether one bowler's legs, by virtue of being longer than those of others, needs special consideration? No, you call the illegal delivery, award an extra to the batting side, and get the bowler to deliver that one again. There is no stigma attaching to a bowler who extends his leg by a foot -- why should stigma then attach to a bowler who straightens his arm a degree or two more?
Isn't it time to treat a chuck like what it is -- an illegal delivery that can be called immediately, no stigma attached?
Call the bowler, award the extra run, get the ball rebowled, and move on -- wouldn't that be so much simpler?
There is another reason this business of reporting and testing doesn't work. If a bowler gets a wicket off a no ball, that is unfair, right? So what happens if, say, a Bajji -- merely for argument's sake -- chucks a doosra and gets a wicket?
You don't call the ball then; you merely report the bowler later. Meanwhile, the wicket -- or wickets -- stand; ergo, illegal deliveries have theoretically been rewarded.
How fair is that?