Archive for the ‘cricket’ Category

There are no easy answers. Its like asking how to remove corruption from Indian society. It is so deeply entrenched that one does not know where to even start, to think in terms of a solution. The Indian cricket scene is somewhat similar.

So on the one hand, there are the seriously macro level steps, which need a lot of will and vision to be taken up, and I wonder if they will ever be taken up, in spite of the fact that cricket generates so much money:

1. Get a board of cricket control that understands cricket, and is not full of administrators and politicians. That will be a good start.

2. Get more pacy and more international pitches across the country, instead of the featherbeds that we currently have. Domestic cricket will then show who can really stand up, in the outside world, and not keep generating batting records alone.

3. Get a selection committee of 3 persons, and who are not recommended by their zones, who have no connections nor commitments to their zones, but who understand the game well. Who also can appear to be completely above board with regards to favouritism of any kind. Names like Venkatraghvan, Ashok Mankad, Anil Kumble (should he retire now) and such come to mind.

4. Invite foreign teams to play with our domestic teams, perhaps domestic teams of other countries like Australia, South Africa, etc. That will give our domestic players a better feel of international competition, give them some reality checks too.

These are larger macro issues, as I said.

In terms of the more immediate factors, what can be done or should be done.

Ordinarily, I am not one for en-mass changes in a team, just because they have lost a series. Demands of big changes go up, amongst the fans and the media, every time an Indian team loses. But that is usually not good nor justified.

However for once I am tempted to go with that thought. Not just because of the shameful World Cup exit, but also taking into account all recent performances, including the last couple of years, before the World Cup. We have shown inconsistency, an inability to push for wins, mental weakness, lack of team spirit, lack of focus on the individual’s role in the team, etc. Many of these factors are related to the player/s concerned, be it on account of their continuing lack of form, lack of commitment, lack of fitness, or a generally couldn’t-care attitude. Continuing with such negative forces in the team, spells disaster!

With that in mind, I would go for major cutting and chopping in the team, and essentially axe players like Sachin, Saurav, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Agarkar from the ODI team. Off these, Sachin, Saurav and Agarkar may be treated as a final adieu for ODIs. Quite like how Steve Waugh was shown the door, at one point, although he continued to play test matches for Australia. Sehwag and Harbhajan may have a chance to return, but not in a hurry.

There are a lot of voices out there, seeking Dravid’s and Chappell’s heads. And much as I feel differently, reality could show these guys becoming the first ‘fall guys’ of the World Cup loss. Which will be a shame, of course.

Yes, I did feel that Dravid did not show a very good strategy across the world cup games, and he could certainly have done with better decisions on the field. And perhaps the experimentation that Chappell-Dravid combine kept trying for so many months, should have stopped at some point, to enable the team to have a clear single strategy getting into the world cup. Unfortunately, we were still not sure what our best combination was, what will be the batting order, etc. Did that confusion stay with Dravid on the field as well? Did that confusion leave him without the ‘perfect single strategy’ for each game? Could be. Chappell’s dissatisfaction with the team has been revealed now. That he preferred young guns like Raina, but did not get them, is out in the open. If Dravid panicked at the last minute and opted for experience over youth in the selection meetings, that showed his lack of conviction in the team. Bringing in older hands, and leaving the young guys who were being groomed for last 1-2 years, smacked of insecurity.

Maybe at the end of it, all of these issues happened because the weight of the big event got on to Dravid. Bringing about a sort of anxiety that leads to taking not the best of decisions, many a times!

Given all that, and considering his individual talents, that he can still deliver for a few years, his own commitment to work and to cricket and at least my perception of him being ‘clean’, makes me believe that he should continue to be captain. Also I do not see an easy alternative. I do not believe it makes sense to make any of the older guys as captain (Sachin / Saurav). There is nothing that we need to be concerned about in the short term. Whatever steps are taken, have to be with a ‘rebuilding of the team’ in mind. Which means, we have to invest for the future. That rules out the older chaps. One would like to think akin to South Africa, when they went and got a young captain in Graeme Smith, few years back. That was a fantastic decision. But they must have seen clearly, that Smith was mature beyond his years, he had the ability to be consistent in his own performance, to have a level head to remain captain and lead the team from the front, for a few years, etc. That kind of confidence made them go and plug for him as captain.

In India, I do not see a name of that kind, on the horizon. No, Yuvraj does not work, as far as I am concerned. He has too much of an attitude problem. As Chappell put in his private (now public) SMSes, that Yuvraj behaves like a superstar which he is still not! That kind of an attitude does not make for an investment into the future, as far as captaincy goes.

For all these reasons, I will stay with Dravid.

Given a choice, I would also stay with Chappell as coach. I still believe that he had the right methodology. He just did not get the right team, nor the support from the players. Interestingly, none other than Narayan Murthy of Infosys, has written about this. And as he essentially says that don’t throw the baby with the bath water! What went wrong was not the process, but the implementation. Don’t blame the process for it. Indeed, don’t dump Chappell, but in fact, give him more control in terms of selection issues, length of time, and clear targets. I am sure he can deliver!

But how does the actual delivery happen, assuming that we have Dravid and Chappell in place, as captain and coach. What next. These could be the steps that could be undertaken.

1. The Board should give large advertisements in the media, conveying like a ‘white paper’ view, for the benefit of fans. Fundamentally to state that the Indian team is going to be rebuilt, and we are allowing a time frame of 2-3 years to achieve that, and during which time, there will be young guys being groomed and trained. And because this exercise takes time, fans are requested to not expect miracles, but wait for the 2-3 year period to go, before a great new Indian team emerges! Getting the fans pressure off the back, for this time, will be a great relief. Such ads can be repeated from time to time, during the period, to reinforce the thoughts.

2. A core team of 30 players, with perhaps another 20 in the periphery, may be chosen. Young chaps, ready to be groomed for the Indian team of the future. Chaps who are willing to work really hard. Who will take the coach’s words as gospel, and put the efforts. Quite like a Chinese team training for the Olympics.

3. Work hard with these chaps, and for each outing that comes up, give opportunities to few new names, from this lot. Give all of them a lot of exposure, in any case. Be it by sending them on unofficial tours or whatever. Let them learn all the basics, including running between the wickets, fielding, catching, playing fast bowling, playing spin, bowling to contain, bowling to attack, taking 1s and 2s, playing specific roles for the team, etc. The grooming should be complete. Mental strength also needs to be built up.

4. Also emphasize to all of the youngsters that the way to riches is via performance and there is no short cut. If this thought can be instilled into the group, it will not create an anxiety amongst them to try and make quick money, either by over-endorsing or by ‘other’ means. If the players know that serious long term gains of monetary kind as well as fame, can only happen on the strength of their performance, and which makes them focus on getting that right, always, that will pave the way for a great Indian team. Many players who make it to this stage of being considered for the Indian team, have often come from the lower echelons of society. Seeing their first big opportunity to make some money, there is an anxiety to do it soon. If a player succumbs to such temptations, he needs to be out of the loop. And which also tells the others to focus on performance, and nothing else!

I think all of these can then convert into a good Indian team happening!

Following the losses of India and Pakistan in Saturday’s games at the World Cup, a whole host of reactions have been seen.

1. Inzamam has announced his retirement from ODIs.

2. Fans have burnt effigies of Dhoni and have also damaged an under-construction house of his.

3. Fans have come on TV to demand that the plot alloted to Dhoni be taken back by the government.

4. Fans have also suggested that if India does not go further in the World Cup, the team should not be allowed to stay in India (??!).

and of course, the worst reaction of them all:
5. Bob Woolmer, the coach of the Pakistan team, dies.

I have to clarify that the last mentioned bit of news, may have NOTHING directly connected to the Pakistan loss. Having said that, considering that it happened so close to Pak’s crashing out of the world cup against all expectations, and recognising that Woolmer was quite healthy otherwise, it makes one wonder if the stress of the loss contributed in some or the other way, to his death.

There have been other strong issues that have seemingly got disproportionate attention, only thanks to the fans’ involvement:
1. Saurav Ganguly’s dropping from the team, accompanied by anger against Greg Chappell, effigy burning, matter reaching West Bengal and Indian mainstream political levels, etc.

2. Demand to drop Sehwag, defense against which was offered by none other than Sharad Pawar, President of BCCI. Completely unwarranted, uncalled for, but juicy mainstream media bytes, that the fans would lap up!

What is it about the Indo-Pak cricket scenario that spurns such strong reactions? There are no easy answers, but some thoughts on the subject are as under:

1. We do not have any other ‘release’ for our strong pent up emotions. We may feel equally strongly about our political issues, but normally, the frustrations with the political system are not felt in one go, but over the years. So there is no one strong moment when everyone unites to release their frustrations against the political system. Bollywood rejections are done, simply by empty theatres. No other sport in the country has anywhere close to the following, that cricket does. Then, cricket it is, that serves to be a release of sorts, of our pent up emotions, and all of our frustrations. For the common citizen, cricket is his own proxy of battle and victory and world leadership. When the team does not get there, it seems that he has not got the victory. It is taken that personally. And hence the vent.

2. The sudden increase in emoluments to the cricketers has not helped. The fact is that the huge growth of media and television reach, the accompanying increase in advertising moolah coming into the sport, has meant a consequential benefit to the cricketers providing the entertainment. It had to happen, and is completely justified as well. Just the fact that the movement to an increasing pay packet for the cricketers has been sharp and sudden, and has given a lot of media attention. Those who don’t get the fact that the cricketers are getting just rewards, perceive this jump as unjustified, and that ‘if they are paid so much, they must perform each time they go out on the field’. It almost feels as if the cricketers are getting paid from taxpayers’ money, which of course, is completely baseless.

3. The extremes that fans go to, like the way they damaged Dhoni’s house and which was visible all over television, or the way they have done similar damage to Kaif’s house in the past, the police can certainly stop the damages. If they want to. But do they want to? I don’t know what can be the political factor in this, but is appears that the local leadership almost lets the fans do their part. Let them go and vent out their anger at Dhoni. First of all, I completely and totally sympathise with Dhoni (and Kaif, in the past). They have not even been the ‘enemy number 1’, if you will. There were worse offenders to India’s loss/es. That apart, how can the scenes be visible on TV, and the local police does not even come and try to stop the mayhem? Does the local political leadership believe that ‘let the citizens take up small issues like these, and allow us to do our own money making undisturbed’? Or are these incidents inspired and motivated by small time local leadership itself, enjoying political protection, and thereby getting their own two minutes of fame, to assert their local leadership, via prime time television? I wonder..

4. Betting. Yes, I suspect that India and Pakistan contribute to the largest betting in cricket. Officially it is banned, at least in India. Yet, its clear that its happening, undoubtedly. And big time too. Betting on each ball (‘will it be a dot ball’ and such), on each over, on each player’s score, on the winning margins, on just about all aspects of the game. Its a major gambling pot, and from the ancient times, our culture has had gambling as an intricate part (think Yuddhisthir gambling away Draupadi, amongst other things!). With the high stakes involved, lot of money exchanging hands, on an apparently un-influencable set of events, there is a tendency to see if money CAN influence the events. Which is why most betting scandals connected to cricket have their roots in India or Dubai (Indo-Pak melting pot). Do these betting centres influence fan ire? Do they vent out the anger of their personal monetary losses on the cricketers? Could well be so.

Such strong reactions are not seen in more mature markets like England, Australia, South Africa. They are also not seen in Sri Lanka, which would be expected to have a similar culture as Indo-Pak. That Sri Lanka did not come from the original undivided India, does it make a difference to its attitude and culture in such respects? Again, I am not so sure. I do not also see such reactions in West Indies. There, I suppose, there are other sports like basketball and perhaps, soccer as well, that give the fans enough to follow, and partisan forces find their own balance, as a result.

I am quite aghast when things reach the level that they reach in our countries – damage to Dhoni’s house, or Woolmer’s death or Inzamam’s retirement, being what come to my mind. When will the fans in India and Pakistan look to this as a game, and nothing more? Fine, you can make coffee table discussion on the subject, perhaps even animated ones. Maybe fans can have strong arguments about their respective favorites. But hey, know where to stop. Don’t take your anger to the streets, man.

The biggest reaction that fans can give to the sport, if they feel like rejecting it, is to stop watching the games. The TRPs will fall, and the endorsements will go down, and the players will know that only performance will give them their rich dividends. However that being a long term strategy, meanwhile, fans find it easier to burn effigies.

So the first night of full match watching that I could afford, as it was the weekend, turned out to be a nightmare, to say the least 😦

Here are my stray thoughts on the day of debacle, for India and Pakistan:

1. What can I say about India’s loss against Bangladesh?

Yes, ‘nothing’. I am dumb founded.

2. Pakistan is out of the world cup. So much for the convenient 2 big, 2 minnow groups, to supposedly serve as more practise games for the big guys. The quickest big team exit. Quite unbelievable.

3. Refer my earlier posts about the bigger teams who should be asserting themselves stronger against the smaller ones. Now after the Saturday night, I wonder if there is really that much of a difference between the so called minnows and the big guys. Its like the tennis tournaments now. Yes, the top seeds are potentially far better, but if they take anything casually, they could well be upset. Happens all the time in tennis and now we see the same in cricket too.

4. India has it all uphill from now. They need to win both the games, against Bermude and Sri Lanka. And YET, they may not be sure to make it to the next round. Bangladesh will have their second win against Bermuda, and Sri Lanka should manage to beat Bangladesh, to add to their Bermuda victory. If India wins both, that will still leave 3 teams with 2 wins each, and a tie breaker of sorts will decide the top two teams, to go to the next round. Never easy for anyone to predict the final two from the group.

Of course, winning against Sri Lanka itself will be a huge effort, coming as it will against the backdrop of this loss against Bangladesh, with the huge expectations of the billion people from India, and the psychological impact of all these put together. I wouldn’t want to be in Dravid’s shoes at this time.

5. So lets imagine the scenario should India also get hustled out in the first round itself.
How will the sponsors survive? They who depend solely on the Indian viewership, will have a huge loss on their hands.
I am sure the viewership in India will drop by at least 50%.
The big bucks that Hutch and Hero Honda and Pepsi, not to speak of Sony Entertainment, have put behind the event – how will they get their ROI??
Will some of them renege their contracts and pay the penalty, but get out quickly, cutting their losses? 🙂
I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of these sponsors as well.

6. Will there be some or the ‘other’ kind of lobbying going on, at this time, from the sponsors end, to see how they can ‘ensure’ that India makes it to the next round?

Ohh.. the scenario is tough to imagine. All the hype surrounding the event, all the media packages waiting to be unleashed as the rounds progress (I believe that the media and advertising hype has been a little subdued so far, just to ensure against consumer fatigue, since its a long tournament; now will it be long at all, for Indian fans??), will they remain in the cans and not see the light of the day?

Tough calls. We will see the picture emerge in the next few days now..!

When I wrote few days back that I thought Australia and Sri Lanka appeared a little cautious while playing minnows, what I was trying to say is that they should have been playing far more aggressively and crushing the opposition.

Like how South Africa did with the Netherlands…

In 40 overs, they topped 350+ for the loss of only 3 wickets, Gibbs smashed six 6s in an over (the first EVER in one day internationals), Boucher scored the fastest half century in World Cup cricket, Kallis scored a predictable hundred, and Smith scored a half century too.

THAT is an assertion that we are a mainstream team, with a chance to life the World Cup, and the team opposite us is a poor second cousin.

We don’t need to practise our batting like we are at the nets before a test match, we don’t need to give the other team a respect that the other team does NOT deserve, we don’t have to be insecure about getting upset.

We are good, we are FAR better than the opponents, and we will show them in no uncertain way. And in the process, we will also give a message to the rest of the teams that we are good, we are in form, and we are keen to win the world cup.

Australia should and could have done the same, Sri Lanka too. But they did not.

For this reason alone, I give the first early lead to South Africa, in terms of being a potential ultimate winner. More than the win or the extent of it, its the attitude that I am sensing.

And now lets see how assertive India is against Bangladesh!

Cautious against the minnows?

Posted: March 15, 2007 in cricket, world cup

The World Cup in under way.
The first game was the only one so far, between two majors, viz. West Indies and Pakistan.

But its the other couple of games that intrigued me.
First was the Australia vs Scotland one.

For most of the time that Australia batted, they seemed to give a lot of respect to the Scotland bowlers. Almost like they were playing England or New Zealand! I would have thought that the aggressive Australians would have gone hammer and tongs against the Scots, and posted a really massive total. To totally assert themselves and also give a warning to the rest of the teams. But they appeared to be over cautious. Only Ponting asserted himself. But then he is special. The rest of the chaps, be it Gilchrist, Hayden, or the young stars, Clarke, Hussey, Hodge – they all looked like they were up against Shane Bond or Muralitharan! If not for the cameo by Hogg, the total might well have fallen short of 300.

Now as I am seeing Sri Lanka bat against another minor team, Bermuda, I am seeing almost similar cautious stuff. Sure, they have also topped 300, but they lost a few wickets, and some guys missed out on making a large score for themselves, and also for the team.

WHY is this happening?
Are the senior teams having first game blues? Want to just put a win behind them, than take any chances?

Are they concerned about a possible upset by the junior team?

Is it the world cup factor? Is there too much tension?!

It sure feels that way!

Let the games begin

Posted: March 13, 2007 in cricket, world cup

Enough talk, enough speculation.. now, what matters is performance on the field.

The World Cup of cricket kicks off today, in the West Indies.
The warm up matches did not throw up any serious surprises. Even if some teams won and others lost, it was clearly not as serious as an official game. Even those who lost (like New Zealand and West Indies) are not reading a lot in their losses. Which is how it should be. On the other hand, teams that played well and won, rather than feeling good about the victories, should be happier about the form that some of their players are getting into.

Do we have any indicators about relative form, who’s in with a chance, who’s not??

Not really.
Except that there are many teams which look hungry and want to win, for different reasons.

Australia wants to reassert their supremacy, after the recent hiccups against England and New Zealand. They want everyone to know that they are the best, second to none.

South Africa has always been in the reckoning, have performed well, have a good team, but have not won the big one. They would believe that they have a good chance this time too, and with a young and aggressive captain, they will like to take it, this time. Also one of their biggest heroes, Shaun Pollock, could well be on his way out, and this will be a fitting gift for him.

Sri Lanka and Pakistan are both big time fighters. They want to win each time, and they have tenacious players like Sangakara, Vaas, Murali, Jayasuriya for SL, and Inzy, Yousuf, Younis, Razak for Pakistan, who do not give up, till the last ball. They will surely give it their best.

New Zealand have looked good often, from the times of Glenn Turner and Martin Crowe and Richard Hadlee and Chris Cairns. But they have almost never looked good enough to take it all. But with a tighter ship now, with Fleming at the helm (one of the best ODI captains in the world), and guys like McMillan (what amazing innings against Australia recently), Oram (the man in form, one with a huge heart), Vettori (smart young man, tipped to be their next captain) and Bond (perhaps the best fast bowler on view in the World Cup), they may fancy their chances this time around. Any team taking New Zealand for granted will do so at their own peril.

England – they are a mystery. They have reached such lows recently, but then they came back and won in Australia. So on their day, they do deliver. I am just not sure about Vaughan’s injury, and his infrequent presence in the team in recent days, and then being captain here. I am not sure if he can lead well, under the circumstances. I would have preferred to go with Flintoff as captain. Anyway, if Bell, Flintoff, Collingwood and Peitersen fire, they do have potential. Except I do not somehow see them doing well, consistently, for the whole month, and which is where they seem least likely, to be able to take it all (amongst the major countries, I mean).

West Indies, the hosts, have a chance. In Lara, they have an aggressive captain, who has seen things from the very top. That is such an important factor – to have the ‘head space’ to be at the top (for example, Fleming has never been there, individually or as a captain, and which itself could be Fleming’s biggest challenge to surmount). And with extremely motivated players like Chanderpaul, Gayle, Sarawan and Bravo, the host team will give it their best. And they could well be the dark horses for the tournament, as far as I can see.

Which leaves India. The country that drives the cricket money. The team with the largest number of fans and sponsors. The team, that for once, seem to have a decent combination which has run into some kind of form, and which hence, promises a lot. With guys like Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly and Kumble, perhaps playing their last World Cups, there is a lot of pride that is at stake. Motivation will not be low, for these guys want the one world cup in their trophy cases, before they hang up their pads. Sure, there is the Sehwag bother, but if they can put it out of their heads, and focus on the rest of the team, India can clinch the title. They have it in their means.

So let the games begin. And we prepare for some long nights (watching the games in India)…

After losing the previous game against New Zealand, losing the number one ODI team ranking to South Africa, and getting loads of criticism in the media and blogosphere (refer my earlier post), Australia apparently came back all charged up and roaring, for the final one day game against New Zealand, in the Chappell Hadlee Trophy.

Led by a stupendous batting effort from Hayden (an unbeaten 181, the highest ever ODI score by an Australian, carrying his bat through), Australia topped their previous game score and posted 346 runs in the 50 overs. NZ had rested their main strike bowlers, Shane Bond and Vettori. For Australia, McGrath was not playing.

When NZ started their reply, they lost 4 quick wickets for around 40 something, and then the 5th for a little over 100. It appeared to be an all too familiar setting, with Australia coming back big time, to assert themselves with a thumping victory, following some losses.

But things took a different course. Led by a phenomenal belligerent innings by McMillan, and supported very well, by McCullum, NZ turned in a fantastic batting performance, to pip Australia at the post, AGAIN! Thats the fourth big score of Australia that has been chased down, by an opponent, this year.

To add to the worries for Australia, they now have Hayden on the injury list too. How bad is his injury will be known soon. But that is one more concern for Australia anyway.

As for the Australian bowling, it keeps looking worse. At the end, with Franklin at the crease, at 8 wickets down, and still a lot of runs needed to be got, it was the Australian bowlers who let it go, it would appear!

And poor Hussey.. his surprise captaincy elevation, has certainly not got off to a good start, losing all three games that he lead in..!

Hopes for the other teams sore high, in the midst of this continuing Australian debacle.. !