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Sight Screen

Sunday, July 31, 2005

India-West Indies thread

Good morning, guys... just forced myself awake, will make coffee and something to nibble on, and be back here before the game begins.
I notice, btw -- this is apart from Windies batting first -- that India is sticking with the same team... which suggests Laxman's recovery is less than perfect (also suggests that Saurav's selection, for the August 3 game, is a doddle), and that the management for now is resting its faith on Yuvraj, and the two tyros Raina and Rao.
Back soon

Saturday, July 30, 2005

India Sri Lanka thread

Good morning, folks... New season, and it starts with Rahul Dravid opting to bat first, which in sub continental day/night conditions is invariably the safer choice. No morning dew to worry about, given the afternoon start... and with pitches typically slowing down as the day/night goes on, chasing becomes more difficult in the second session.
Off to make coffee for myself... see you guys on here when the game begins...

Friday, July 29, 2005

Open Thread

Guys, shutting down here for the rest of the day... have work to do, and will be back online when the India-Sri Lanka game starts, at around 4.30 am my time. Till then, open season, for any and all thoughts you may have. Cheers

Options plus

Thanks, Abhinav, for this link to a story in the Hindu about MS Dhoni.
Dhoni wrests control of two of the variables of cricket: time and runs. He can warp cricketing time, opening up hitherto unsuspected pockets for Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman to compose their more conventional melodies. And he can maraud the quicker bowlers, hoarding runs as insurance against those pilfered by the Sri Lankan spinners.
The line that caught my eye though was this one
"I like playing spin by knocking it to long-off or long-on for singles," said Dhoni on his method of playing spin. "The pitches are slow and it's quite difficult to go for the big hit. I concentrate on working the ball around and getting the odd big one."
So the lad's thinking -- of more than which spectator to pick out as landing ground for his next heave. Neat.
Was thinking, in context of all this plus the story yesterday on Dhoni showing some good form with the ball -- imagine what a wild card he could be, used right? For instance, assume India bats first, and puts up a score that is a touch below par. Or assume that a bowler develops a niggle during his stint at the bat and is less than 100 per cent. Assume that for whatever reason, you want the comforting cushion of an extra irregular bowler.
No sweat -- give Rahul the gloves, and you've got Dhoni filling in as yet another bowler. Not, of course, suggesting that RD goes back to wicket keeping full time, merely that it's a neat little option to file away in the back of your head, for when you really need it.

Words, words...

...no matter from the heart -- wasn't that how Shakespeare once put it?
I'm not making this up. The protagonist of the story is a former Indian cricketing legend-turned-columnist/commentator. Who, during the days when I was covering cricket for Rediff, once wrote a precisely articulated column on the sheer unwisdom of dropping Abhey Kuruvilla from the national side.
It was quite a hot issue of the time -- so hot, that a bunch of former Indian cricketers based in Bombay decided to take out a protest march to the Cricket Club of India; and no, I am not making this up, either.
Cue the protagonist, whose column -- arguing the Kuruvilla-should-go case with rare conviction and signed, remember, by a man of considerable stature amongst the cricketing fraternity -- fanned the fires further.
Fast forward, to an evening a few days later -- at the CCI, a few former players, a couple of media types, two-three members of the Mumbai cricket administration and the ever-present Raj Singh Dungarpur were hanging out over a drink or three.
The conversation veered around to the Kuruvilla case, and one of those present complimented the columnist on how well he had made the case. But tell me, asked another, do you think Kuruvilla is such a good bowler?
The columnist said -- and I am still not making this up -- 'Kuruvilla? Oh, he is a wonderful bowler -- for opposing batsmen to get their eye in against.'
Hahahaha nudge nudge wink wink cheers.... The proverbial good time was had by all -- or almost all. Left a funny feeling in my gut, though.
Being able to write, they say, is a gift. Not -- that's something anyone can do. The real gift is being read. Being gifted the reader's time, his attention, his trust.
Is basic honesty not part of this covenant with the reader?
Every time I read a column authored by a cricketer, I flash back to this incident. The latest occasion being Srinath's latest column, on Rediff.
The practice of choosing a captain series by series only prevails in India. Rahul Dravid's unclear elevation to the captaincy every now and then must be playing on his mind. Rahul's role as a captain should not be taken for granted. The job description of a senior player in the long run is essential. Factoring in the role of an intermittent captain is not really ideal for Rahul's temperament. For such an intense player like Rahul, switching on and off from captaincy might not reflect well on his batting. Once the job description is clear a player can plan his cricket. It's time the Board decides the Indian captain till the World Cup.
Sri has been part of this Indian team till relatively recently; he knows Rahul well, they are friends, they talk. Much of what he has seen and heard obviously infuses his thoughts and prompts him to write this.
He is a painfully frank, honest sort of bloke -- till he picks up a pen and starts writing, which is when he gets torn between what he wants to, and what he dares to, say.
The result is a piece, like this, that sits squarely on the fence -- a very awkward place to sit, besides it being brutal on your butt.

I protest!

Just when I thought the last word had been said on the Saurav Ganguly ban and we could reclaim what sanity remained, comes news (thanks, M) that the West Indies is planning to protest the verdict.
Duh! For why? Or as the legal johnnies say, what is the West Indies' locus standi here?
They didn't play in the game that earned SG six -- now four -- raps on the knuckles. They are, of course, playing in the tournament that will see Ganguly come back from the ban -- could that be the problem? The Windies are in such a lather about the prospect of SG batting against them, they would rather go to the ICC and demand the ban be extended?
Can't see where they are coming from on this. Or if they are coming from anywhere on this, for that matter -- our best clue will come from the text of the protest the Windies management files, if in fact such a protest is filed.

Roebuck on England

Peter Roebuck, in his latest column, reduces the Ashes to a simple equation: one side is gaining in form and confidence; the other is leaking both.
PS: Unless I have missed something major, that seems to round off the day's more interesting posts on the net; time for me to get back to IA production. See you guys in here, anon... and of course, will be up, mug of coffee ready to hand, for the India Sri Lanka game tonight.

Tit for Tait

Sheesh, horrible header.
But seriously -- would you if you were Buchanan-Ponting, pick this guy over Gillespie?
It's Edbaston -- traditionally good for batting on. So would you go with someone bowling line and length without particular venom, or with a real ripper who can -- especially in tandem with Brett Lee -- shake batsmen up and rattle their cages a bit? BTW, never saw him bowl -- any of you guys from Down Under have? Any take on his action, his style, type of bowling and such?

*ROFLMAO*

Check out the latest edition of Lawrence Booth's Spin, in the Guardian.
For me, two laugh out loud moments in there. The first relates to earlier this year -- when India was making a meal of the series against Pakistan, I remember writing something about where the chinks were, and the urgent need for an overhaul. A friend then emailed me a reference to that story on The Spin, where Lawrence suggested that the media, in this instance me, was mercurial, and tending to do the doomdsday dance because the team had one bad day in office, or some such. (I emailed Lawrence and we kind of batted the topic back and forth for a bit -- no rancour, no ill feeling, please note..)
So you -- and LB -- will pardon me if I laugh at the woe is England tone underlying the first segment of this edition of the Spin.
But the real laugh out loud moment is towards the latter half of the piece -- the part about Boycott. Won't spoil it with excerpts -- enjoy!

Email, please?

Hey, S... ref this, could you email me so I have a way of contacting you to think this through further?

The Paper Rounds -- India

1. Saurav Ganguly tells PTI he is happy the ban's been reduced; he is happy to play under Dravid or anyone else at all; he is happy to bat anywhere in the order in the team's interests. Which makes him one happy chappie -- do you sometimes get the feeling the majority of sportsmen, Indian or otherwise, have a future in the diplomatic corps of their respective countries?
2. A Reuters story profiles Upul Tharanga, Sri Lanka's latest discovery in the opening slot -- within 24 hours, we should get a glimpse of just how hot he is since he is slated to walk out with Sanath Jayasuriya to start the Lankan innings.
3. Harsha Bhogle in his latest column looks to the English media's harsh treatment of its team, and draws lessons therefrom. I'd supplement this with one other lesson -- the Brit media actually erred twice; the second is the current slamming of its team and wide-eyed adulation of the opposition, but the first was the ecstatic, no questions asked triumphalism that characterised 'coverage' during the Ashes build up. You've seen it happen before, in India as well -- and it is easily understood. We journos take the brittle button of a win or three, and build around it an entire vest that says 'World Champions'. Then, when defeat comes along, all the hype we authored blows back in our faces, leaves us looking silly -- so what do we do? Instead of suggesting that we were the ones who went overboard in the first place, we turn, viciously, on who we perceive as the authors of our own stupidity. Maybe the real lesson for us media types is -- cover the action, forget the hype and hyperbole.
4. Trevor Chesterfield looks at Lasith Malinga, the 'slingshot' who has to take up the slack left by the absence of Zoysa and Vaas. It's a point of interest for me, this -- I've seen brief glimpses of him bowl, be fun to watch him in more detail and depth in this series.
5. Funny little story this -- Salim Malik forgets he is supposed to be banned, and ends up playing cricket for a side led by the very man who banned him in the first place.
6. India adds another member to its support staff -- Edward de Bono expert Shiva Subramaniam. Must remember to throw up Six Sigma, on this forum, some time soon. And by the way, Bajji Singh doesn't seem too convinced about all these hats de Bono talks about, does he?
7. Been reading a lot of stories suggesting that India has no answers yet to its opening question. And each time, I keep thinking -- is it that the team has no answers, or that it just hasn't chosen to share its thinking with the media? Because tell you what -- if a team that has spent what, three weeks?, together in a camp, preparing for its first tournament of the season under a new coach and new captain, does indeed have "no answer" 24 hours before its first game, it's the loudest alarm bell you ever heard that the team management's lost it. Sure the team has answers -- the real question is, are they the right ones? Laxman opening, IMHO, is *not*.
8. I'm planning on starting -- if you guys will chip in with prize money -- a new competition: The 'Create a Story out of Nothing' Stakes. I'd offer this 'Sanath licks his lips' effort as an early entry on the leaderboard.
9. This Indian Oil Cup seems to be about a whole heap of little battles within the war -- new Aussie coach versus new Aussie coach; Bajji's doosra versus Murali's doosra... What raises eyebrows is the dog that isn't barking -- did any of you guys spot anything in the Indian media about the West Indies, at all? Weird -- the third team in this triangular series appears to be a total blind spot, though Chappell seems free of such myopia.
10. Ajay Jadeja thinks Rahul Dravid should remain team captain; elsewhere, someone else wonders if 'the Wall will crumble under the pressures of captaincy'. At the very least, the competition I just thought of won't suffer for lack of highly qualified entries.

Odd man out?

A story in Outlook raises a question -- now that Ganguly can play, wwho will India drop, and why?
The article duly points out that 15 is not a cast in stone number; that the actual cap is set by the boards of the participating nations; and that the only downside to India playing 16 is that other nations will use it as precedent.
Not so. Not really -- it all boils down to the regulations governing each tournament. In the sense, if tomorrow India and England are playing and England expresses a desire to bring 16, it does not follow that it has to be automatically granted because India here used 16 players in its squad -- the conditions for each successive series are drawn up by the participating boards and, unlike in a court of law, a precedent does not automatically apply.

Vaughan under the microscope

From inspirational captain of an effervescent side to 'what's this guy doing here' in 14 days -- that's Michael Vaughan for you.
In his Ashes diary of Tuesday July 26, Gideon Haigh touched on Vaughan.
This is in keeping with what Vaughan says in his diary of last year: `If I have a bad day or hit a bad shot, I'll think about what has happened, analyse everything and then work on eradicating the flaw or problem. Once I wake up the following morning I am ready to move onto the next issue.' Easy really. Mind you, one wonders why he hasn't done this already when his form for the last six months has been so erratic.

Six months? More like 30 months, is Rajesh's take, on Cricinfo -- pieces like this inter alia make me wonder what software the guys there use, and how I can get hold of it.
Oh, and now Australia is making it official -- they are going after Giles at Edgbaston; regular readers of this forum will know why this small news item makes me smile.

All systems go

Finally... finally... a new season begins for India. Didn't come a moment too soon -- the prolonged off season appears to have stretched the ingenuity of the media to breaking point. After all, how many ways are there of saying the BCCI is fighting the Ganguly ban; that Dhoni hopes to make it to the Test side and Karthick to the one day side and Parthiv to any side at all as long as he gets to play again, and...
Anyways... end of off season, now we can all go back to suggesting wholesale sackings and recruitments after every match. Should be fun.
An exhaustive preview of the Indian Oil tournament by Charlie Austin; and by the same reporter, a preview of the opening game, later tonight (4.30 am my time -- geez!) between Sri Lanka and India.
Both teams seem to have injury worries -- surprisingly, India going in after an off season is talking of Laxman's back and Dhoni's side strain and Nehra's less than full fitness; Lanka meanwhile have both their spearheads, Zoysa and Vaas, out at least for Saturday's game.
Dambulla, Cricinfo says, is Murali's playground -- interesting, if largely irrelevant (The same piece also says that Sanath Jayasuriya tends to struggle on this ground -- surely that does not mean you can discount SJ as a factor to worry about and plan for?). These things are not indicative of much, really -- but for what it is worth, the scoreboard to the first -- and thus far, only -- game India played at this venue.

Open Thread

It's Friday -- for India Abroad, production day, with a paper to be got ready for press.
Will be away for the next couple of hours... in the meantime, guys, open forum, for your thoughts, impressions, interesting links...

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The last word on the Sourav ban

... I mean, it's Lokendra Pratap Sahi, so it has to be the last word, yes?
Was reading the comments from Rahul and Dravid -- and without suggesting the two are not genuine in feeling happy for Saurav that the issue is finally settled, some of the comments remind me of the bit I quoted from Jonathan Green, in today's edition of the Urn.

Here we go again

Check out this story in the Telegraph -- apparently practise facilities are a problem for the team.
Tour manager Sanjay Jagdale gives a metaphorical shrug.
“At some stage we had decided to go along with the situation and skip the practice altogether Friday,” said Sanjay Jagdale, manager of the Indian team. “But then it is the eve of our first match and the boys want to check themselves out.”
Initially, Indians’ practice schedules were arranged at Kurunagela Stadium, some 50km from their hotel in Dambulla, but a practice match Wednesday brought home the rude issues of travelling. “The boys were too tired just reaching and coming back from the venue. We spoke about it and realised it wasn’t feasible to come here everyday,” said Jagdale.
Excuse me, but when did you first learn you would be playing in Sri Lanka? Yesterday?
Did you -- *pointing finger at BCCI* -- when finalizing itineraries realize that a team needs practise, and practise means grounds and other facilities? Did you specify such things in the agreement? Send an advance party over to check it out, and demand change if needed?
Good teams do, you know -- Australia, England, South Africa, they all send advance parties months ahead of a tour, to nail down every single thing. Where the team will stay, where they will practise, the distance between the two points, the sort of transportation available -- and they raise holy hell if things are not to their satisfaction.
There's a word for it: 'Professionalism'. Its lack is nothing new -- in fact, this is a theme I got sick and tired of writing about on Rediff. I remember the first time I had reason to touch on this: India's first ever tour of South Africa.
The BCCI first up got creative with the scheduling -- India landed in SA in late December, had one warm up game (which the SA guys cannily organized on the slowest pitch you have ever seen), and a day later, faced Donald and company in Durban, on the fastest pitch you can imagine.
What really sucked, though, was the nets facilities -- actually, I wrote about it here. And even earlier, when the tour in question was on, but can't seem to find that link.
Think about it -- we are talking 13 years, between then and now; yet, when it comes to pre-tour prep, the BCCI like the Bourbons of France famously learn nothing, and forget nothing.
In passing, here's a fun bit from the same story:
One person to catch eye in the nets was Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The flamboyant wicketkeeper-batsman gave no hint of suffering from a leg sprain and indeed enjoyed himself with the ball. He worked up a tidy pace and indeed troubled Raina no ends up with his leg-cutters.
Coach Greg Chappell seemed to enjoy the sight of it and said “flexibility” with the players added depth in a team.

The Urn -- July 28

1. In the Guardian, Mike Selvey muses on the preparation involved in Tests, then and now.
2. David Hopps, in the same paper, looks at pre-Ashes wisdom that said England's greatest strength lay in five of their top seven batsmen having never played Australia in Ashes before (no wars, no scars, runs the theory -- the corollary, no nous, no experience, being conveniently ignored).
3. This third story, from the Guardian, illustrates more than any other the mental gulf between the two contenders. Check out media reports in the Brit papers on Team England -- they are all characterised by a wistful, 'if only' tone (a sea change from the outright triumphalism of those heady days following the Twenty20 win). And anything on Australia has this undercurrent of awe, a gee-whiz tone -- as in this piece on Buchanan.
It is little wonder, then, that the Australians are regarded as the best prepared team in international cricket, even though many other sides have duplicated their methods over the years. With Buchanan leading the way, and an entourage on this tour that includes Steve Bernard (team manager), Jamie Siddons (assistant coach/computer analyst), Errol Alcott (physiotherapist), Lucy Frost (massage), Jonathan Rose (media manager), Jock Campbell (strength and conditioning coach) and David Woodman (security), the Australians leaves precious little to chance.

4. John Woodcock, in the Times, riffs on McGrath, Warne, the hapless Ian Bell and such -- and I'm not quite sure what the central point he is driving at is.
5. In the Telegraph, this story of an experiment in pitch preparation -- apparently you spread glue on the deck so it doesn't break. Maybe not, but I wonder what will happen if it is a hot, humid day and the pitch sweats a touch under the covers -- or it rains, and dampens the deck? Batsman walks out, takes guard, bowler bowls, batsman elegantly moves his front foot forward -- he thinks; only, the damn thing is stuck in situ, and he overbalances and falls right in the glue. Ah, who knows... mebbe the thing will actually work, though I thought part of the fun of Test cricket is the wear and tear of the pitch over five days, the consequent shifts in play, and the strategies and players required to cope?
6. Essex and the PCB, meanwhile, in a bit of a flap -- the PCB believes Essex is overbowling Danish Kaneria (nice ploy, come to think of it -- wear the fellow down before England tours Pakistan), the latter says not.
7. Having told us, in quick succession, why England will do brilliantly this Ashes, and why it will fold miserably, Derek Pringle shifts his gaze afar -- to examine England's security worries. Nope, not the London bombings -- this is about the 58-day cricket tour of Pakistan.
8. Terry Jenner thinks Shane Warne can top the 700 wicket mark. Don't laugh -- many did, when they first suggested he could take 500.
9. Jonathan Green -- presumably bored already by a seeming no-contest -- tees off on Michael Vaughan's vague-sounding excuses/explanations apres Lord's; that done, and finding some venom to spare, he does a number on the whole business of press conferences.
News conference double talk is just one of the dutifully observed rituals of sport, no more a left-field novelty than the sounding of a siren to end a quarter of football. It forms one arc of a routinely reported cycle in which:
¡öAn event takes place;
¡öThe media seeks commentary from participants;
¡öThe participants offer self-serving cant that in no way addresses the true issues that everyone knows apply;
¡öThe media reports said cant with unflinching gravity.
We do, after all, have columns to fill and face what appears to be an unquenchable public desire to read any insincere dross in the reader's team colours.

Then again, this might just be dyspepsia. Take two Gelusil and call me in the morning.
10. And, finally, there's Gideon Haigh's Ashes diary. Updated daily. Like this blog.

Waste not want not

While picking up gifts for my neices shortly before my India trip this Feb, I remember coming across an 'activity book', that showed kids how to have fun with everyday items that are seen as junk. Like, for instance, they had this whole segment on how to make interesting sculptures with old tubes of toothpaste.
Am tempted to buy a few copies of that, and pass it around -- to the cricket media, which appears to have less patience than my sister shows during the school holidays. Was browsing Rediff just now, and came on this piece -- Ashish Shukla, for PTI -- that prima facie seems to argue that it is time to jettison the four seamers we have, and bring in fresh blood.
Nothing wrong with bringing in talented, fresh youngsters; nothing wrong with the names mentioned here as possibles -- RP Singh and Munaf have been knocking at the door long enough to get callouses, Ranadeb is being talked of as an up and comer; nothing wrong, even, in dropping players who are not able to deliver.
But surely there is one in-between step? To wit, analyzing why a bowler who looked capable (Zaheer, whenever he has been fit; Balaji, as lately as Australia and Pakistan; Pathan, again Australia and Pakistan; Ashish, again whenever fitness permitted) has not been delivering?
It's a funny world -- we argue with heat over why Saurav should play despite having had an off season, and argue with equal heat why Pathan, Balaji, Kaif, Yuvraj et al must be dropped because they had an off season.
There are interesting elements in this article; equally, there are some daft bits. For instance, what's with this?
Bowlers have been told the different lengths which are required to bowl on the off, middle or leg-stump.
On the off-stump, for example, it needs to be pitched up at 65:35 ratio. Middle stump line is to be desisted if a particular batsman is inclined to make room towards leg-stump. A leg-stump line is considered bad line as batsmen are least uncomfortable in this region.

Duh! You don't tell bowlers to pitch a line per a pre-programmed ratio -- that, to my mind, is the reporter's masala. Wicket conditions, and batsmen, dictate lines and lengths -- by way of for instance, I would think any halfway decent coach would tell his bowlers, when bowling to Jayasuriya, to go a touch wide on the stumps, keep the length as full as possible, and angle in from wide of the stumps into the off stump -- the best line for SJ, given it cuts out his pick up shots off the pads, his cuts through and over slips and point, and his slashing drives in front of point.
Or if it is a right armer staying over the wicket, to pitch the three quarter length around or just outside off, and as far as possible, straighten it or bring it back in -- again, because it is hard to control the hit onto the onside if you bowl that line; it cramps you on the cut/slash, and you can't drive with any authority. And no 65:35 about it either.
Another point I found going ummmm over is this:
Steve Harmison and Glenn McGrath have been cited as two prime examples of what tall bowlers with extra zip and bounce can do to a batting line-up. None of the present Indian fast bowlers could be said to possess such ability.
Indian fast bowlers have traditionally been skiddy, swinging and seaming type of trundlers. Express pace is not their forte, nor the ability to bounce batsmen their strong point.

Harmison, not so long ago, was being derided as having a suspect temperament -- go after him, the theory went, and he will fold. Now, on the basis of *one* good outing on a helpful pitch, he is the natural lead in follow-the-leader? Whereas an Irfan Pathan, who time and again beguiled Aussie and Pak batsmen with his movement both ways off the seam and -- ah, the shortness of memory -- his very clever use of the short ball, is already a has been?
Mercifully, professional coaches and support staff appear to have their heads screwed on straight.
Chappell in order to gain support in his mission, asked Dennis Lillee to come over to the camp and has brought over his old associate Ian Frazer to Sri Lanka to help out the fast bowlers.
Frazer has gone about giving individual attention to bowlers. Pathan was discovered to be not taking his front foot across at the point of delivery which affected his ability to bowl inswinging deliveries.
After working with Frazer for 45 minutes, he was seen bowling from a shorter run-up and trying to bring his front foot as much across as possible at the point of delivery.

Which is the point I was making -- when a player (batsman, bowler, whatever) with proven ability falls away, there's something going wrong. The first step is not to look for the spare tyre, but to figure out what the 'wrong' is -- and find remedial measures. Perfect case in point? Remember the stories linked to yesterday, about Terry Jenner's interaction with Shane Warne? One bloke who knew what leg spin is about, spending two hours with a bowler who presumably knows a fair bit himself but couldn't spot the little problem he had picked up, and magic results. (And then of course there are the bowlers who will never, despite the best of coaching, be anything more than honest trundlers -- but it's a touch too soon to stick that label on this quartet, surely?)
Oh, and talking of magic... lovely piece by Rohit Brijnath on Shane Warne (thanks, guys, for pointing to the link).
PS: Off to work

A reprieve, of sorts

Ooooof, finally! The verdict is in, the ban has been reduced from six to four games, leaving Saurav just two more (in other words, this weekend) to sit out. (We might get an 'inside' story on this from Lokendra Sahi, but mercifully, the news marks an end to the seemingly endless BCCI said... ICC said... Sachs said... Saurav did not say... junk that has passed for news of late).
Creates an interesting situation -- Saurav is eligible to play from the August 3 ODI against Sri Lanka. For Team India, this means it can tinker with the batting order for a couple of games, get what data points it needs to fine tune its thinking, and bring Saurav in either to open (if Dhoni is seen as more worthwhile in the middle) or in the middle order -- which would be my personal preference, frankly.
Ganguly, if he is in any sort of touch at all (and if he is not in touch after all the hard yards in county, then hey, he has to take his chances on selection with the rest) would be perfect in Lankan conditions coming in against a slightly older ball -- and versus Muthiah Muralitharan.
You know what I suspect? That Ganguly, with the captain's armband off, with his pride wounded and with plenty to prove, will come good this series. If -- and this is an 'if' in the hands of the selectors (who by now must be getting calls from on high, telling them what to do), the coach, and the captain -- they decide to pick him as soon as he is eligible.
PS: Off to get work done... back in a couple of hours or so

When in doubt...

...do something. Anything. Because activity is calming, you get the feeling you are doing *something* to remedy the problem.
That seems to be the underlying principle behind this move, by England, to bat Kevin Pietersen up the order (thanks, Manish).
Bell didn't score runs, Pietersen did, so they swap places for the second Test. And if Vaughan, say, has another "off day" at Edgbaston, Pietersen moves up to three?
There is a big danger in putting all your batting eggs in one basket against Australia, as England here is in danger of doing -- Team Australia promptly zeroes in on the guy; taking him out tops their collective agenda, and when they succeed (which they do, more often than not), the rest of the side folds. (Prime example? Remember India in Australia, under SRT? The thinking was, SRT would keep McGrath and Warne at bay, the rest of the guys would bat around him. Didn't work -- but the next time they toured, under SG, the onus was on all the batsmen, with no one man singled out for the role of Horatio, and it worked.)
For all you know, KP might get runs at four; I suspect, though, that this not only adds to the pressure KP is under to play St George to the Australian dragons, it also gets the team into this defeatist mindset of figuring that Pietersen is the only guy who can do it for them; that all their eggs are in this one new basket.
*Plus*, if Pietersen falls early (Buchanan has prolly been spending the time between Tests cueing up every moment of KP's two innings, looking for lines and lengths to bowl to him and fields to set), the pressure on Bell is doubled.
Is the batting order the root of England's problems -- or is it the absence of a gameplan?
The single most noticeable aspect of England's play in the first Test is not the seven catches they muffed, but the fact that 20 batsmen managed to played a sum total of only 108 overs.
Of this, the top five -- Trescothick, Strauss, Vaughan, Bell and Flintoff -- managed 55 spread over two innings. Could failure to occupy the crease have been the real key to defeat?
All the talk coming out of the England camp is on the lines of how they are going to attack McGrath and Warne -- which plays right into the Aussie hands; they *want* batsmen to come after McGrath, and commit unforced errors in the process.
Edgbaston should not be as helpful as Lord's was -- shouldn't the preferred strategy be crease occupation? Wear McGrath down (sure, work him around, hit the bad balls -- but primarily, don't go fishing and give him wickets to deliveries best left to Gilchrist to deal with), and you then expose an out of form Gillespie -- a more logical time to attack.
Flintoff, elsewhere, makes all the right positive noises. Andrew Miller, on Cricinfo, suggests Flintoff could well be part of the problem. And Alec Stewart (whose wicket Warne has claimed more often than any other England batsman's) has a neat suggestion (pity he didn't think of it when he was playing) on how to cope with the leg spinner: Pretend he ain't Warne; just think of him as some innocuous blond... um, say, like Britney Spears or some such.
More amusingly, Ashley Giles has a neat explanation for why questions are being raised about his utility to the side: It's because the critics don't want England to win, he says. Much heat here -- poor guy (one of Wisden's famous five this year, no less) is obviously feeling the pressure more than somewhat.

Ref Rediff

Ruchir Joshi asks if I have stopped writing for Rediff entirely.
Um, no. In the sense of, it is not like one day I formally put my pen down, and said right, that's it, last word written. It's just that I haven't written for Rediff after the Indo-Pak series, which I covered live.
I'm beginning to like blogs, more than the full-length columns I used to do earlier. Thing is, blogs give you tremendous flexibility -- there are times when an issue needs comment, but the comment itself needs to span only 100-200 words, tops. Trouble with column writing though is the form itself dictates a certain length -- and that means you end up stretching a good 200 word comment into an involved 1000 word column.
This form here gives me the best of both worlds -- I can throw up a link, when the story is worth reading but doesn't necessarily call for comment; I can link and comment in a couple of lines if that is all it takes; or I can if I want to examine an issue in greater depth. Perfect. :-)

Behind the Times -- July 28

As always, Times (London) content a day later, because I *still* can't get the darn site to open while at work (wonder what weird form of censorship this is):
1. Mathew Hoggard in his column, 'clarifies' an earlier statement that boomeranged on his team:
The Lord's experience was more disappointing from my point of view because of some comments I made before the game that I felt were subsequently blown out of all proportion. I was accused of describing Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne of being over the hill and, of course, it was their performances at Lord's that proved to be the major differences between the sides.
What I actually said was that it would be interesting to see whether they would remain as influential over the course of a tough, condensed five-match series, which includes back-to-back Tests. I was posing a question rather than making a statement.
And it still seems a reasonable question to ask. The next two Tests, if they go the distance, will involve ten days' cricket in 12. If you find yourself bowling in the fourth innings of one game, then in the first innings of the next, I know from experience that it can be bloody hard work (and I'm only 28).

2. An absolute must-read (thanks, Aditya) on the need to celebrate sporting excellence, wherever you may find it. Tempted, very tempted, to quote chunks -- but this piece deserves a reading in its entirety.

Highway robbery?

Whenever I see words and phrases like 'patriotism', 'national interest' et cetera, I cringe.
Not because I don't believe in these concepts, but because inevitably, when some public body or person uses them, it signals that what follows is anything but.
Case in point, Prasar Bharti filing a PIL suggesting that Ten Sports should share with it, free of cost, the feed for the India-Sri Lanka-West Indies tri-series.
Excuse me, but why? If Prasar Bharti wanted the rights, it should have bid for it -- instead of waiting till someone else did, and then trying to hijack the feed, at no cost to itself.
Robbery cannot be condoned simply because it is government sanctioned. Oh, and by the way -- do you see any mention of PB's willingness to share, with TenSports, the revenues it will generate from advertisements? No? Thought so.
BTW, this is the same PB that, during the India-Pakistan series, sent notice of intent to sue ESPN/Star and others, because it was using highlights clips on its cricket programs. For instance, Star/ESPN would have one of those programs where, at the end of the day's play, a panel would discuss the events of the day. At appropriate points, little clips of the action would be shown, to highlight the points being made.
PB cried foul, suggesting that the use of such clips in commercial programming (where there was advertising revenue to be made, as opposed to news capsules) cut into its own interests, and asked the broadcasters (ESPN/Star was not the only one; pretty much every channel worth its airtime had similar programs, mostly of dubious quality but hey) to cease.
PB obviously believes that it *is* possible to have your cake, eat it, *and* take sizeable chunks out of the other bloke's cake too.
Filing PILs of this kind at the last minute is robbery -- right, that word again, since no other will suffice -- at gunpoint; it certainly is not 'public interest' litigation because, as far as I am aware, the public back home hasn't exactly been spending sleepless nights worrying that PB might not get the rights.
But what is worse is PB's attempt to introduce legislation (relevant stories here) mandating that private sports broadcasters share coverage of exclusive sporting events with Doordarshan. Such legislation is downright unfair (will PB reciprocally share rights to telecast international matches played in India, with private broadcasters?), and blatant misuse of the government's powers.
Hey, India is opening up to private enterprise; the government is looking to disinvest, as much as possible (or as the Left will allow) from public sector undertakings -- in other words, it's a competitive world out there and if DD can't cut it in that environment, tough.
PS: Work calls; see you guys in a couple of hours.

Audio, et cetera

Guys, ref the audio posts of yesterday (was reading your comments):
1. I didn't intend that these voice clips substitute the written updates. It's just that invariably, on my bedside table, there is one or the other cricket book that I read in between the rest.
As invariably, I find little nuggets worth sharing -- but it's too tedious to jump out of bed, go to the other room, fire up the comp, and key the stuff in. So, here on, will occasionally use this option.
2. Not using any particular software, Vikram -- I merely signed up for Blogger's own voice-blog option. Quite painless -- I call a number, follow the cues, record when it tells me to, and that is it.
3. Abir, could you elaborate (in email -- prem@us.rediff.com) what exactly you had in mind? An example, say? Will try and see if I can't make it happen.
4. Dhruv, not sure this audio post feature allows me to put in commentary clips. I mean, I presume I can call the same number and record pretty much anything I want to -- but to dial, go through the process (even if it is simple), record and wait for the upload seems to defeat the 'live' option. And since this is a private blog, can't have all kinds of audio equipment and stuff installed to go live, unless you know of some painless way of doing this.
One other problem is with the best will in the world, can't watch all the games in the tri-series. Will watch the opening game versus Sri Lanka (btw, what time, New York time that is, does it start, anyone know?), but will have to skip the India-West Indies game the next day. Catch is, since these games take place through the US night, I can sit up at the expense of sleep only if I am not working, or otherwise swamped, the next morning -- and Sunday morning, I have stuff that needs doing urgent. :-(

The Paper Rounds -- India

1. A story in the Telegraph details the security surrounding the Indian team in Sri Lanka.
2. The Deccan Chronicle, here, is not the only one to play up the upcoming triseries as at least in part a contest between three Aussie coaches -- Chappell, Bennett King and Tom Moody (another story, this time from HT, on the same lines).
Not sure it's fair to look on this tour as a test of anything, actually -- neither Moody, nor Chappell, nor even King have had enough time to actually make an impact, to change things around. I'd think the upcoming series is actually an opportunity for the coaches -- especially Moody and Chappell -- to get their first real feel of their teams in actual match situations; input that will *then* determine much of their future strategy.
3. The Hindu showcases a PTI story that continues the Rahul Dravid-Saurav Ganguly debate (the fun bit about this is that no one till date has come right out and voiced a preference one way or the other -- an indication not of how close the choice is, but how reluctant newspapers and their reporters are to go out on a limb, and risk offending one or the other of the senior players, which could lead to loss of access, quotes, 'exclusives' and all else).
4. By way of aside, this story on a former Andhra player turned actor -- in a cast headlined by Priyanka Chopra no less.
5. Sanjay Rajan, in the Hindu, spotlights VVS Laxman's chances in the absence of Sachin and Saurav. The take-notice line is this one:
Laxman's record as an opener is unimpressive — 54 runs from five matches. However, he is open to the idea. "A batsman needs to be flexible in one-day cricket. I don't mind batting in any position. If given an option though, I'll bat at No. 3," he said.

If Laxman (not, do note, that he is the only one who frames his words diplomatically) were speaking what he really felt, this is what he would have said: 'I am not cut out to open; I hate doing that job; what I hate more though is not getting a chance to be in the team -- so if it comes to that, I will even bat at number 11. But I honestly believe the best place for me, where I can be really useful, is number 3.'
I don't know how you guys look at it, but for me, pitchforking someone into a particular slot he is clearly uncomfortable with never works -- it can, in fact, be counter productive and you know the examples as well as I do.
Which is why I am hoping the team management has a long hard think about who walks out with Sehwag. Dhoni -- by virtue of form, ability, and aptitude to strike through the line of the hard new ball with the field in -- is the logical choice.
Assume for some reason Dhoni has to be batted lower down the order (off hand, given the current team, I can't think what that reason could be, but still..), Laxman may not necessarily be the answer. Yuvraj, I understand, is another idea they are toying with -- but again, I doubt that is going to work; he plays a touch too much away from his body, and that against a seaming, swinging new ball is not a particularly hot idea.
Does that mean Dhoni, by default? Perhaps -- but how about an off beat idea (again, this is *only* on the assumption that Dhoni cannot be batted at number two) -- to wit, Rahul Dravid at number two? (Also keep in mind, this would be for this series, and only if Dhoni goes down the order).
He has evolved into a quality one day batsman; he has the nous to face the new ball (at number three, he is quite apt to come in and face it anyway, when an early wicket falls); his new found skills of strike rotation perfectly complement Sehwag's ability to blaze away...
Well, why not?

The great dope trick

Adam Gilchrist tells Chloe Sattlau that playing quality bowlers like McGrath and Shane Warne can have a mesmeric effect on the opposition.
We've all been to the subcontinent and been mesmerised by Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] and Harbhajan [Singh] at various times, and until you break out of that it is a mesmerising feeling when you walk out there and you're almost guessing a little bit what to do, what to play at," Gilchrist said. "I guess you're just hoping you can survive that initial period and then get familiar with the surroundings. Bell wasn't able to do that. I don't know whether he's feeling that at the moment, but you'd have to think there has been some sort of mental stranglehold thrown on there initially."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Fly in his eye

this is an audio post - click to play

Mr Popularity

this is an audio post - click to play

Bob Simpson's crystal ball

this is an audio post - click to play

Not cricket?

Interesting little dust-up, this, over Terry Jenner coaching Shane Warne ahead of the first Ashes Test.
Former Australian Test bowler Terry Jenner has been employed as a consultant by the England and Wales Cricket Board since 2002 to head a program designed to develop young wrist spinners and unearth one of international calibre by 2007.
But even though Jenner remains a free agent to ply his trade as a specialist coach with any eager pupil, including Warne (with whom Jenner has worked for a decade), the ECB received concerned calls when the pair publicly joined forces again last week.

Elsewhere in The Australian, this news: The NSW Blues, defending Pura Cup champs, will tour India next month. Brilliant opportunity, this, for the national selectors to test some of India's up and comers against tough opposition.

Humpy left in the lurch

Very unfortunate, this: Apparently, Koneru Humpy has lost her sponsorship, because Bank of Baroda has switched to Rahul Dravid.
A little over a year ago, I remember Sasikaran's father, during a trip States-side, talking to a colleague on the India Abroad staff and mentioning, among other things, how difficult it was to find the sort of sponsorship that could keep his son actively participating in the global chess circuit.
Doubly unfortunate is the timing -- Humpy has won the world title in every age group she has taken part in; to have the plug pulled just when she is aiming for the big one is adding gratuitous insult to injury.
Actually, this is one area the BCCI could look at -- and earn a lot of kudos from. It earns phenomenal wealth out of the game -- surely it could set up a trust, a corpus of some sort, and use the earnings derived therefrom to help deserving players in other sports?

Googly

Today is a big day for no-comment postings: here's one more, a Pradeep Vijaykar riff on the Murali magic.

A+ for D

So Jaggu Dalmiya has won again -- his 12th successive year as CAB president.
Abhinav, in response to your question, will try for the abridged version here.
I thought the wake up and smell the coffee moment for Indian cricket administration was when NKP Salve was famously denied passes to the Lord's enclosure for the 1983 World Cup final, despite India being in the climactic game.
That slight spurred India into flexing its muscle and getting the rights to host the next WC, which in turn brought Reliance (a symbol of big money) into the picture.
What should rank, IMHO, on top of Dalmiya's list of accomplishments is that he (and Bindra, the then president) were the first to realize that money equals muscle; they pulled out all stops to ensure that Indian cricket became lucrative.
So if today, the BCCI is sitting on the sort of money most corporates would envy (money, incidentally, that ensures the administration can spend as much as it wants to keep the game healthy -- you only need to look at the West Indies, for instance, to see what lack of real money can do to the game), Dalmiya deserves enormous credit for it.
The single biggest con? Ever since he fell out with Bindra over the issue of the ICC president's post (a schism very cleverly engineered by the ICC honchos themselves, in pursuit of a divide and rule policy), Dalmiya's single point agenda has been control -- iron control, no matter how it is achieved.
In the process, cronyism (the Rungtas are one example, hardly the only one), politicking (every BCCI election of late is an example), politicians getting into cricket administration, corruption (vote for my faction and you get big games; vote against me, I'll stick you with duds that will cause you losses) and mismanagement (if you are a control freak, you don't want professionals in the system, because such people tend to do what is right, not what you want) became rampant.
Does that serve, for an answer? (Like I said, this is the short version -- there are smaller JD achievements, and minuses, but these two would be the top of the pops).

Putting a Kap on it

Kapil Dev invites other players to follow Ganguly's example -- into the county circuit, or out of the team? What you have to keep in mind at all times is this bit
"When I make a statement like this I think of the country first. I don't have a local agenda like some people."

Ummmmmmmm. In any case, if past is precedent, you should expect a clarification on the lines of "I was misquoted", within the next 48 hours.
Appropos, someone once said, when a politician issues a clarification for a statement, it generally means the readers understood the original statement only too well.

A question of answers

From JayMo, this: Speakin of Dhoni, I ve never seen him play... Prem, whats his technique like? good defence? your thoughts?
Jay, any such analysis has to come with a codicil -- I only saw Dhoni during the one series against Pak earlier this year. Same set of conditions, hence not enough data points to really judge.
Based on what I saw, though? Plus point one: He seems, like Sehwag, the sort of guy who focusses entirely on the ball being bowled to him. Not on the bowler, not on the scoreboard, not on the magnitude of the chase, or any such. His confidence at the crease is very palpable.
Batting-wise, he has a strong bottom-handed grip, with a bit of a gap between top hand and bottom. Couple that with a tendency to come forward to almost any length but the really short, and it makes for plenty of play in front of the stumps -- mostly forcing shots through the point-extra cover arc, and when the ball is on the stumps, through the midwicket region. Reasonably good off his pads behind square, but not as strong in the arc behind point. Fairly good feel for the quick single. Defence is utilitarian -- not copybook, but effective enough in getting the job done. Very rare actually to see him play a full-fledged defensive shot -- tends to address each ball with a high backlift and attacking intent, shifts down at the last moment if he thinks he could get in trouble.
I'd think bowling full to him is pretty pointless -- sort of like with Pietersen, that length will go more often than not. Short of length, lifting around that off stump, seemed from what I saw the best bet -- doesn't let him drive or force on the up, and he is not a good enough cutter to counter that line.
Actually, when I watched him play, my thought was some savvy coach needs to get him into the nets and have him practise back foot play; if he can add that to his arsenal, he's apt to cause a lot of bowlers a lot of headaches.

Countering McGrath

Mike Selvey, in the Guardian, starts off marvelling at the man
In this technological age it should be possible for a computer programmer to sit at a screen and digitally devise the ultimate bowler for the ultimate end at the ultimate Test ground.
The specifications might be thus: tall, with long arms to obtain bounce and exacerbate variations in such; a straight run to counter the gravitational pull of the slope from left to right; delivery from close to the stumps so that movement off the slope does not angle down the leg side and a straight ball offers a challenge; pace but not so much that a batsman cannot spot a modicum of movement and be drawn into following it; Job's patience; Nelson's strategical acumen; the ruthlessness of Vlad the Impaler. Press "enter". Bugger, it's Glenn McGrath.

That said, he moves on to wondering how England can counter him -- and interestingly, comes up with stuff that Tendulkar advocates: Move the guard more to middle stump (which means, among other things, being even more alert to the LBW or, as happened to Sachin on one famous occasion, shoulder before wicket); turn the bowler's test of patience against him by studiously ignoring anything six inches or more outside off, and firmly playing anything less than six inches off line; attack the length, which being mostly just back of good length, opens up options for driving in the V, or shutting the bat face and playing into the midwicket-mid on arc. Sachin, in fact, said it best when he said the main trick to countering McGrath was not to allow him to sit on your head.

Hard times for the Jones boy

Defeat -- especially sustained by a team that thought it was a chance -- cues in a scapegoat hunt.
Trescothick and Strauss, the two openers who couldn't quite cut it, and ended up transferring pressure on the middle order in much the same fashion the Indian openers did Down Under on the Tendulkar-led team? Nahhhh -- they played well in the second innings, is the concensus.
Vaughan, whose woeful batting form has visibly impacted on his captaincy, causing him to break out in defensive spots at the oddest moments? Naahhh... maybe it is time for him to revert to opening, they say.
Freddy Flintoff? No way -- he and Steve Harmison are the best England bets with the ball, and it is, as I recall reading somewhere yesterday, 'very hard for an all rounder to put both sides of his game together at the same time' (?!).
Ashley Giles? His name doesn't come up, if only because England for now reckons its problems lie with the bat, not ball. Ian Bell? His name doesn't come up, because he is seen as a soon-to-be-cashed IOU.
A Sherlock Holmes-ian process of elimination thus throws up the natural candidate -- Geraint Jones. He flubbed two catches, see (ignore for the moment that he was the first batsman, in the first innings, to show signs of calculated resistance, and that he more even than Pietersen played the innings that helped England scramble out of a chasm), and we can't afford that (England can't afford for Pietersen to flub catches either, or Flintoff, or anyone -- but scapegoat-hunts are not necessarily concerned with the finer points).
So Jones it is -- with, surprisingly, no less than Allan Border suggesting his place is on the line. Read, also, this accompanying piece chronicling the up and down career of the keeper -- flavor of the month during the Natwest Series, now having his neck measured for the noose after one Test.
Given that its problems obviously lie in numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4, would it be out of place to suggest that axing Jones is not going to make any noticeable difference to Team England?
Duncan Fletcher, incidentally, believes the axe is no solution -- though he doesn't seem to know what is, given he puts the defeat down to a collective 'off day. Interesting -- after pumping themselves up for the last so many months, Team England decided to go AWOL just when the rubber hit the road?

The Warne mystique

Simon Hughes, in the Telegraph, devotes his latest column to the leg spinner's continued stranglehold on England batsmen.
That said, Warne is by no means unplayable. Pietersen illustrated that, scoring 47 runs off the 63 balls he faced from his Hampshire colleague at Lord's. He obviously benefited from time in the nets against him, picked his variations, and his shot selection was appropriate. He forced Warne to alter his approach. What the other England batsmen need to do is stay in against him for a while, to get used to his rhythms and wiles and evaluate their options. Sure, this is not as simple as it sounds and it's not suddenly going to nullify his effect. But it might at least wipe that satisfied smile off his face.

And earlier in the same piece, this:
The slider is not a new delivery. Benaud himself bowled it in the 50s - he called it the "skidder" - and says he was taught it by an Australian leg-spinning predecessor, Doug Ring (wrist spinners communicate like members of the magic circle). Warne used it on the last tour here. Now he is fiendishly accurate with it. So, one ball that spins, and one ball that goes straight. That's it. A two-card trick.
It is knowing when to produce each card that defines his art, as his second-innings wickets at Lord's proved.

Reminded me of something we had done on Rediff, way back in 1998. I remember copping a fair bit of flak for this piece at the time (Mostly on the lines of who the **** are you and what makes you think you know more than all those batsmen who got out to him?)... but all these years later, I am still to find adequate reason to revise the opinion that is the leitmotif of this piece.

Picks and pans

It's one of those days you reckon there is no point in updating blogs -- a quick scan of the major Indian sites reveals a glut of stories reminding us that Justice Sachs' decision on Saurav is just 24 hours away.
Far less ink is being spent on the team that has actually been picked, and is preparing for its first outing of the season, this weekend -- the only story of any substance I could find on that being Trevor Chesterfield's take on the ground, the conditions, and the need (possibility?) for India to play two spin, two pace.

F Y I

In other words, again sans comment -- unless a weary 'haven't we run out of ways to milk this story yet' sigh qualifies as comment -- this story on Saurav Ganguly, his state of mind, his possible accomodation and such from, who else, LP Sahi.

Sans comment...

Found this PTI story on SIFY.
Presumably, women and children also read this blog -- so will avoid comment.

The Dhoni dilemma

The second warm-up game appears to have followed the pattern of the first -- in that Dhoni with the bat, and Pathan with the ball, remain the early in-form players.
It's now thrown up a nice little dilemma for the coach and captain -- where to slot MSD in the order, given that he has over two games proved equally effective in the lower middle order, and at the top?
Horses for courses could, I suspect, be the answer. The Lankan pitches tend to be on the slow side, getting slower as the game progresses; they've played Tests on these grounds recently (sure, alternate pitches are prepared for the ODIs -- but these are subject to the same baking the Test pitches receive)... cumulatively, all of this means the ball won't 'come on' quite as much.
Given that Dhoni is a front foot player who likes to hit through the line and straight, it might for this series be an idea to play him at the top, where he can take maximum advantage of the hardness of the ball plus field restrictions. That would bring Laxman in at 3, Dravid 4, Kaif 5, Yuvraj 6, Raina/Yadav 7, Pathan, Bajji, Zaheer, Nehra/Kumble.
Fairly decent, I would think, giving India options in both pace and spin... the only downside is batting someone like Yuvi as low as 6 -- but that becomes inevitable if you have Laxman in the side, since you cannot bat the guy anywhere below 3 -- 4, tops -- without it being counterproductive.
Can't wait for Saturday, to see how GC and RD figure this one out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Buchanan's picks

The Aussie coach picks what, to his way of thinking, were the key moments of the first Ashes test -- one of them, a point I've been driving at through the build up to this series:
The way we handled the spin of Ashley Giles was crucial. Giles is essentially a run stopper more than a wicket taker and usually lets his fast bowlers have a breather. But we took him apart at five an over forcing Michael Vaughan to revert to his fast bowler Steve Harmison who bowled 27 in one innings. That is a lot of bowling for your main bowler and will only tire him further as we go along in the series.

The full list is worth a read, in context of the Tests still to come.

News clips

1. An update on the Afro-Asian series set to be played out in August. With the ICC having given such fixtures the seal of its approval (and given, too, the guy who is heading the Afro-Asian cricket association, a certain Jaggu Dalmiya), expect to see the international calendar crammed even more with such nonsensical games.
2. Irfan Pathan's father is reportedly embroiled in a dustup with Juma Masjid authorities, who have removed him from his job as muezzin.
3. On Rediff, Harish Kotian chats up Anil Kumble on his form, his game, the new rules and the 39 wickets he needs to join the 500 Club.

Why only seven?

From G, this link to a Cricinfo story on England's 2006 tour of India.
India's -- okay, the BCCI's -- reaction to Twenty20 proposals is akin to its reaction to one day cricket when it was first introduced -- a disease the team had to be innoculated against, and quarantined from. Not for long, though -- once the BCCI sees the money there is to be made, it will reduce the number of Tests to one per series if that means it can squeeze a lot of Twenty20s into the schedule, never fear.
Then there is this line, which caught 'G's' attention:
David Morgan, the ECB chairman, told IANS that he was discussing the 2006 tour's itinerary with Dalmiya despite him not being a BCCI office-bearer.

And that surprises you why? It is actually a time-saving device, and to be applauded -- otherwise, Morgan would have to speak to Mahindra, who would speak to Dalmiya, then relay it back to Morgan, and so on. The ECB chairman, in the interests of efficiency, merely cut out the ventriloquist's dummy and went straight to the man himself, is all.
What really irks me is this bit:
He also added, according to a report in the Khaleej Times, that all seven one-day internationals would played against India only - and not form part of a triangular series. "We hope to play seven straight ODIs against India," said Carr

Seven one dayers? I would have thought India would be keen to play a full Test series against England which, after all, claims to be the number two team in the world. But no -- we'd much rather play seven ODIs.
We have to, see? Indian cricket has so many interest groups (also called votes); to keep them on your side you have to provide money-spinning international fixtures -- given that, what surprises me is why we are playing a best of seven series. Wouldn't a best of nine settle the issue of which is the better team, once for all? Or a best of eleven erase all possible doubt?
But... bite my tongue... I am guilty, as so often, of wronging the BCCI. They do this with the best of motives -- there is a World Cup coming around in 2007, and all these ODIs are to help the team prepare for it.

Few for the Urn

Lots of Ashes-related stuff in the British press that, you get the feeling, should more appropriately have been framed with sorrowful black borders -- I mean, even Duncan Fletcher's defence of his lads is half-hearted.
Angus Fraser's "lessons for losers" boils down to bat better, bowl better and for heaven's sake, catch better -- only, he uses more words than Mohammad Azharuddin used to, to get the message across.
Mark Nicholas has one simple message for the team: chill. Neat -- trouble is, the media spent months talking up the team, telling them and all who would listen that Vaughan and his men are good enough to tame the Aussies one-handed. Got to where -- if you judge by the sort of comments Strauss, Trescothick, Vaughan, Flintoff and others made ahead of the Ashes -- the players themselves got to believing their own hype, and reckoned they only needed to turn up at Lord's for the opposition to roll over and play dead.
Now they can't quite figure how they got their noses bloodied -- and the best advice we can give them is chill?
Justin Langer gets in his licks -- very diplomatically, at that -- in conversation with Chloe Sattlau in the SMH site.

Waugh plans

For months, you couldn't visit a British website without reading all about 'rampant England' finally ready, able and willing to reclaim the Ashes from the old enemy.
One Test match later, it's amazing how far the mood has swung in the opposite direction -- best exemplified by this piece in the Independent that suggests a possible remedy for England's problems: employ Steve Waugh as coach.

The Jenner effect

Shivlal Yadav was just about making his mark; the hypemeisters were already speaking of him as the next Prasanna (why, at the first sign of emerging talent, do we dub said talent the 'next John Doe', anyway?).
After a bit, though, his bowling began to fall off, and a well-wisher suggested he speak to Prasanna, get some tips. 'Who is Prasanna?', Yadav famously answered. Oh, and in passing, he only played another two, three Tests for India.
Maninder Singh was showing signs of real talent, when the inevitable comparisons to Bishen Bedi started up -- and got under the young spinner's skin. Maninder, the legend goes, changed his action in a bid to 'look different' from Bedi -- and in the process, took the edge off his skill, and was never the same bowler again.
Several of our cricketers have tended to believe that to ask for advice, to tap into the accumulated wisdom and experience of the past, is infra dig. And they've paid a heavy price for it.
Mercifully, the younger ones coming through today are radically different -- they go out of their way to seek know-how (Irfan Pathan's constant calls to Wasim Akram being the obvious, but not only, example).
Was reminded of all this on reading a story in the Guardian, that talks of the Terry Jenner-Shane Warne interaction just ahead of the first Test. Warne is the finished product -- you would think there is nothing anyone can teach him about the art of leg spin bowling.
And yet, he regularly seeks out Jenner; just as regularly, Jenner fine tunes his performances just that hairline fraction, and the results show.
Concerned that he was becoming more dot ball than ball of the century, the once-feared leg-spinner Warne approached Jenner for an inspection, a tune-up and, if need be, a major overhaul. Immediately it was apparent why.
"He was closing off," Jenner said. "He was basically bowling around himself and negating the spin. Justin spanked him a couple of times before we started working on his alignment."
The change, according to Jenner, was startling. Within minutes, Warne was forcing Australia's veteran left-handed opener into false strokes, rediscovering the flight and spin that have kept English sports psychologists booked solid for a generation.
His confidence lifting by the second, Warne promptly called in Adam Gilchrist and the Australian coach John Buchanan for a centre-wicket practice session, where balls continued to dip, fizz, leap and skid. Tune-up complete.

*LOL*

Thanks, Ravi, for this one from Rohit Brijnath on the Ashes hype. One of those pieces you read with a smile on your face, and punctuate with the occasional chuckle as Rohit slips a skilful barb in:
Beseiged by the media, Warne, so we are told, will let his fingers do the talking, though it might be said that was exactly what got him into trouble in the first place with his texting.

Actually, that bit about McGrath naming his targets has provided fodder for amusement for a long time -- one particular Indian player, seeing his name on McGrath's wanted list, once said the same thing -- hell, I am one of the top batsmen in the side, of course he has to target me, why does he need a press conference to announce that?
By way of tangential aside, was reminded of a story Harbhajan Singh told us, shortly after having torpedoed Steve Waugh's assault on the Final Frontier. Sledging, he told us during a visit to the Rediff office, was something that worked very well for him.
As he put it, the Aussies would jabber at him, but it didn't really matter because 'they were speaking English fast, and half the time I didn't even know what they were saying'.
And then, when it came India's turn to bowl, he would, Bajji said, pick out his targets; he would then go across to Rahul or Saurav, tell them what he wanted to say, have them translate his words into English, and then practise the line to himself for a bit before springing it on whoever his prey was (you have to keep in mind that this was when Bajji was raw, and new, and not as comfortable with English as he is today).
For example, he said, when Shane Warne came out to bat, Bajji was at the bowling end -- and took great delight in foxing him three balls out of three. At the end of the over, Bajji strolled casually over to Warne and went, 'Hey, my girlfriend (okay, he used a more explicit word) bats better than you!'.
'What?!!', a shocked Warne, who hadn't expected to be needled from this particular player, turned around and asked.
To which, Bajji said, he merely smiled, shrugged, and slipped in -- with the ease of considerable practise -- the clincher: 'And my mother bowls *much* better than you.'

Murali versus India?

A story I found in the Indian Express suggests that the upcoming triseries will pretty much play out along those lines: The offie, versus the Indian batsmen.
Not to take away from Murali -- who, without at this point going into the question of his action, is one of the most dangerous bowlers in international cricket today. But surely it is counter-productive for Team India to set him up as some sort of bogeyman for themselves -- in the process committing the kind of error England regularly does against Shane Warne?
Play the ball not the bowler remains good advice; in this context, am reminded of something Martin Crowe once said, in a piece on Rediff, about how New Zealand prepared for the 1992 World Cup.
One key element of the Kiwi preparation, Crowe said, was to demystify the opposition -- thus, in team meetings, the Kiwis spoke of the opening bowler of the yellow team, but never, say, of Australia's Glenn McGrath. A mistake most teams make, Crowe suggested, was to see key members of the opposition in larger than life terms; a state of mind that put them on the back foot right at the start.
The Kiwis, he said, avoided that by not eulogising past performances of opposition bowlers/batsmen, not building individual players up as threats -- instead, the talk was all about lines and lengths to bowl, and to counter.
Hopefully, this whole Murali versus India line is just a media creation, and not indicative of the thinking within the team. Preparing to play him is one thing -- elevating him to King Kong proportions is something else again.
In passing, it's amusing what a reporter can do with statistics, to support his basic premise -- in this instance, that India start as no-hopers against Murali. Says here, none of the Indian batsmen have a particularly good record against the Sri Lankans, especially in this decade. Says so in facts and figures. For instance:
Rahul Dravid has hit only two half centuries in 15 one-day internationals, totaling 502 runs, against Sri Lanka.
VVS Laxman has featured in no more than five one-dayers with 133 runs and one half century to show while Virender Sehwag hardly appears the batsman that he is in figures: 321 runs from 13 ODIs at 29.18 against the Lankans.
Young guns Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif do not offer any light either.
Yuvraj has managed 319 runs from 16 one-dayers at 26.50 while Kaif has not hit a single half century in nine matches, only 133 runs at 26.60.

And in contrast, the writer says, Murali has been devastating:
Murali, on the other hand, has grown to eye-straining height in this period.
With 'doosra' and all that, he has taken 286 wickets in his last 41 tests; and 182 scalps in 134 one-day games in the last five years.
Against India, Murali has 23 wickets from three tests and 23 scalps again from 11 one-dayers since 2000. Indian fans painfully remember his 7 for 30 in a one-dayer and 8 for 87 in a test.

Um... just curious, is 23 wickets in 11 games a frightening statistic -- especially if 7 of them came in one game? It's all in your point of view, really -- Murali, for the Indians, can be as deadly -- or playable -- as you imagine him to be.

Behind the Times

Did I mention, yesterday, that the Times website doesn't load for me here? Was browsing the site last night from home, and chanced upon these:
1. An Eknath Solkar obit -- unsigned, but authored by the WSJ's Tunku Varadarajan.
All the top catchers in Test history bar Solkar have fielded in the slips, where catches are frequently of the regulation variety, made as much by the fast bowlers as by a fieldsman himself. Solkar, by contrast, made the catches himself at forward short leg — lunging, hurling his body about, grabbing at balls that fizzed off half-cock blades. He fielded close-in to spinners — bowlers who were unafraid to flight the ball, which meant that they were often hit very hard by batsmen.

2. A Christopher Martin-Jenkins story, on a rather inexplicable decision by England coach Duncan Fletcher to have his lead batsmen play one day cricket on the county circuit ahead of the second Test at Edgbaston.
DUNCAN FLETCHER made himself a hostage to fortune yesterday by ordering no first-class cricket for any of his players before a second Test at Edgbaston next week that England will have to win to keep in the series against Australia and preserve any realistic chance of regaining the Ashes. Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff, in particular, have looked in need of more batting time in the middle throughout the international season, but both will play one-day cricket only, Vaughan in a totesport League match for Yorkshire on Sunday alongside Matthew Hoggard, Flintoff in the Twenty20 finals on Saturday.

3. A Geoffrey Dean story that will make some of you -- the ones who have been following my occasional asides on Ashley Giles -- smile.
However, Houghton points to what he considers to be England's weakest link. "No disrespect to Ashley Giles, but what use is he in the side?" he said. "He's not going to get wickets against the Aussie batsmen and he's not going to make any runs against their bowlers. With him, England are effectively playing ten against 11. They should either include another specialist batsman and use the off spin of Vaughan and Pietersen or pick a spinner who can bat, like Gareth Batty, and or one who'll get wickets — Gary Keedy is the guy."

4. Simon Barnes analyses the first Test, and tells a story of England's abject capitulation.
Not that Australia weren't good. Glenn McGrath was again a thing of perfection. On the first day, he gave us a spell of five wickets for two runs in 31 balls; yesterday evening it was four for three in 23. He and Shane Warne put on a display of total psychological dominance. They expected capitulation, they demanded capitulation, and England found that they could not do anything but what was demanded.
England were overwhelmed by the outpouring of these two colossal personalities, these two natures which both demand submission. Pietersen's cheerful six-hitting at the end was like the V-sign you give the headmaster ten minutes after you've left school. It makes you feel a bit better, but it doesn't affect the balance of power.

5. Shane Warne's post-Test column, including an interesting aside on his interaction with Terry Jenner.
On the Monday before the game I bumped into Terry Jenner at a function for former players. T. J. has been a great help down the years and must be the best spin-bowling coach in the world. He is in England to help with an ECB spin- bowling programme at Loughborough, but he was around to work with me for a couple of days.
He felt that the ball was coming out of my hand beautifully, but the alignment of the action was not quite right. If I could get that sorted out, he thought I would be able to spin the ball more than ever. I was going slightly to fine leg in my delivery, which meant I was bowling around my body. I needed to get higher and straighter.
After a couple of good, long sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, I felt more confident and the results are there to see. Whatever you have achieved, there is always room to improve. You have to love the game, put in the hours and respect your team-mates. I still love being part of the camaraderie.

6. Finally, an absolute must read -- this interview/profile of the 'bus driver in an Aussie team of stars', Justin Langer -- for his easy, affable manners and his approachability, Rediff's favorite Aussie cricketer. The whole piece is worth reading (and saving), this excerpt is merely a sampling that tells you why:
Two years ago, when he informed Sue that he intended to build a place to train, she expected the usual accoutrements — some weights, a mirror, a stretching mat and a treadmill or rowing machine. He never mentioned that a former SAS soldier, covered in tattoos, would call every morning to supervise his work-outs.
He never mentioned the combat videos, the punchbag, the sparring sessions or the custom-built boxing ring. And he most certainly didn't mention his shocking plans to decorate; the walls were covered in scribbles from a black felt marker. And not just any scribbles ...
"When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the Creator." — Gandhi "You ask what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival." — Winston Churchill
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." — Mark Twain.
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster/ And treat those two impostors just the same." — Rudyard Kipling
Being an elite performer on the playing field of life is not about being perfect. Rather it is about cultivating a mental focus towards mastery in every area of your life. It is about committing yourself, from the core of your heart, to manifest and polish your highest talents and become the person you are destined to be." — Robin S Sharma
It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." — Sir Edmund Hillary
Sue was horrified. After 10 years wearing a baggy green cap, her husband's obsession with playing for Australia had transformed him into a cross between Deepak Chopra and Rambo.

E=MCsquared

With no real intent to diss my peers, there's some pretty wierd stuff floating around out there -- the Greg Chappell 'formula', as reported here, being a case in point.
Former coach John Wright had employed the 'seven-four' strategy which seemed to have had lost impact in recent times — India could win only 8 of the last 22 ODIs.

*Sigh!* So now we know why India slipped from second place to eighth, in the rankings -- because of the 7-4 formula. And um, we got to second place because? Or Australia tops the rankings because?
What I suspect happened here is the cricket reporter's version of the old party game Chinese whispers. Someone said something to someone else that a third person heard and misinterpreted and passed on to a fourth who added his own take to it and made a story out of the whole thing...
GC is not naive enough to imagine that reversing India's fortunes in ODIs is as simple as changing the batsmen-to-bowlers formula; heck, if it was that simple, the selectors could have done it themselves.
What I *suspect* happened here is that GC, while discussing the new supersub rule and its implications, made the point that it makes sense to pick five bowlers, five batsmen and a 'keeper in the playing eleven -- with a batsman, or batting all-rounder, as your supersub.
That way, if you win the toss and opt to chase, you have the services of five regular bowlers, *plus* the irregulars (and no, I don't believe GC would have said Yuvraj and Viru should not bowl -- come *on*, Chappell comes from the Aussie school of cricket, which is all about using every available resource). You then drop a bowler and bring in the extra batsman for the chase.
And if you happen to lose the toss and are inserted, you go with the flow -- if your five batsmen, plus keeper (remember, your keeper is Dhoni, a guy capable of getting you plenty of runs at a cracking pace) are doing the job, you leave well enough alone and still have the advantage of an extra bowler when going out to defend your total; if your batsmen are having problems, you bring in the sub to add beef to the lineup, and when defending, rely on the supersub's bowling skills, plus those of the irregulars, to fill in the fifth bowler's quota.
Not rocket science -- this formula has in fact been discussed on many fora, including here.

Site unseen

A cricket website that supposedly helps you monitor your individual, and collective, progress and offers guidance -- sounds like a decent idea on the face of it.
Need to take time out and go browsing in its innards -- maybe an in-depth examination will give me reason to revise my initial gut take that this is just another gimmick that, in the long run, will lead nowhere.
Rahul Dravid, a member of the site's advisory board, appears to feel the same way if you read between the lines of his official quote:
It's an unique project. I am very keen to see the outcome," Dravid said about the project, according to the release.

Need to set aside some time later today to go delving inside this site -- meanwhile, anyone out there want to tell us what you make of it?

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Warne special

Day one of the first Ashes Test was about Glenn McGrath. The last day could as easily have been about the same bloke, given his four wickets that closed out the game (what a stat -- his two breakthrough spells combined, as the Guardian points out here, involve nine wickets for five runs in the space of 54 balls; breathtaking is just about the only mot that is juste).
But if Glenn-mania opened the Test, Warne wah-wahs closed it down; every paper on both sides has a piece, sometimes two, devoted to the man who, having made headlines for off-field follies in the run-up to the Ashes, hit headlines again for his own special brand of on-field magic once the teams got down to business.
1. Gideon Haigh in the Guardian looks at Warne's main weapon in the Lord's Test -- the one going straight through.
2. Elsewhere in the same paper is Simon Hattenstone's lengthy -- and occasionally interesting -- Target=Top>interview-profile of the leggie.
2. Nick Townsend, in the Independent, focusses on Warne's appeals -- the ones Aleem Dar (not surprising -- he is by performance and reputation a 'not out' umpire when it comes to LBWs) turned down, and the one he gave. Elsewhere in the paper is this unsigned, and nicely written, profile of the master spinner. And, also in the Independent (that is almost as many pieces on him as wickets he took in the Test), this eulogy
Watching Warne, even at this late stage of his career, is to be overwhelmed by the sense of a sporting giant, a champion who, for all indiscretions off the field, has never mistaken mere celebrity for any adequate substitute for the awesome levels of performance that have always been attached to his name.

3. In the Telegraph, the tone is more dirge than eulogy, but the subtext remains the same: McGrath and Warne, Warne and McGrath. Two names England suggested were history, before this series began; two names that, they are finding out with four Tests still to play, are still alive, and kicking butt.
4. Simon Hughes, in his analysis in the Telegraph, suggests that the result owed -- more than any other factor -- to England's largesse in the field and with the ball, and even with the scheduling. Why, he asks, does England tend to spill easy chances when it comes to Ashes Tests?
It's a combination of factors. Tension must be one. Every time England sacrifice the little urn, there's more pressure on them to wrest the initiative next time. At crucial moments you sense their bodies tense up. Tight fingers make for terrible spillages.

Martin Johnson weighs in with his own analysis -- with humor predominating, and the game itself being the canvas on which he daubs his jibes.
Warne, to the relief not only of neutral cricket watchers but a fair few English ones too, may not be quite the bowler he was, but he is still bewitchingly good. If reports of all his extra-curricular activities are to be believed, he should scarcely have the strength to run up to the wicket, but only Pietersen appears able to remove himself from the hypnotist's chair when the ball is on the way down. And so, with the series only one match old, it already looks like another Australian Ashes, but at times like this it is good to know that there is one area in which they come a hopeless second.

5. Across the aisle, Peter Roebuck in the Sydney Morning Herald produces his own take on the Warne magic:
As usual, Warne's first delivery landed on exactly the intended spot. Without his extraordinary control, he would be just another leggie. Arthur Mailey admitted he may have bowled a few maiden overs, but none intentionally. Warne prefers to keep batsmen pinned down in a corner to work them over. His flippers, zooters, bosies, and sliders are effective because he has close fieldsmen to catch the edges, and umpires expecting a wicket at any moment. He cooks his victims slowly.

Roebuck, in the same paper, also looks at Brett Lee, the one man who has perhaps not had his fair share of ink, given the outsize aura of Warne and McGrath.
6. In The Age, Martin Blake looks at Warne's bowling from another angle
The great irony in Shane Warne's bowling is that he spins the ball so far and gets so many rotations on it, yet so many of his wickets come with balls that do precisely nothing.
The great American basketballer Bill Russell once said that even if he only blocked, say 5 per cent of his opponents' shots, "they don't know which 5 per cent", and so it is with Warne, the best leg spinner of all times. The fundamental problem for batsmen is that they don't know what is coming next.

And that about rounds off the more readable of the reams of Ashes content (The Times, London, for some reason doesn't seem to load..)
More, tomorrow. Till then, adios.