September 29, 2005

Nothing extra premium about the IOC Cup!
by Gaurav Sethi, Wednesday, August 03, 2005

It’s absolutely fabulous. Indian cricket’s summer holidays are over and school has started. Best of all, we the people, can be the examiners all over again. The marks so far - Indian cricket failed in the first game against Lanka, with a surprising A for effort. Against the West Indies they passed with distinction, though not without the West Indies earning an F for their catching. Now, playing a double header in such gruelling conditions isn’t easy. (sound like a patronising firang journo?) Don’t forget, Dambulla is in the muggy paradise of the world. Which explains the full-sleeved ‘keep you cool in summer ‘n warm in winter’ inners Jammie and ZK were wearing. Make that an A for observation. Another big talking point has been stunted light towers with….enough said, or it’s going to be an F for excitement.

Welcome to the IOC Cup. Warned you, there’s nothing premium about it. Even before a ball was bowled, the writing was on the wall. He was made captain, after all. Jokes apart, it was no secret that Sachin, Saurav, Lara, Gayle, Sarwan and the remaining West Indies top draw would be out of action. India was going to play two debutants, neither with the flair or haircuts to be signed by the Cola majors yet. West Indies had mainly new faces, apart from captain courageous and the rookie fast bowlers. Sri Lanka however, was playing to full strength, though apart from Jayasuriya, Vaas, Sangakara and Murali, the Island XI lacks the punch of a world-class team.Before the game, the wily Chaminda Vaas was ruled out because of injury. Then on Saturday morn’, Laxman had a back spasm. The game barely got underway and Jayasuriya (by far the biggest draw for the locals) dislocated his arm.

Meanwhile, Saurav got a reprieve and should be back for the next game. This, if nothing else, might determine the course of Indian sports’ journalism in the next week or so. If he fails, it’ll be is Saurav finished, all over again…if he scores, it’ll be is Saurav back and, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’…if for some reason, he doesn’t play, it’ll be can Saurav make a comeback from here? Now does that make the IOC Cup boring or what?What’s more, these three sensational teams decided against the new ICC rules for one-day games – not that it’s the end of the world, but I do feel, super-subs and power plays might have added much needed zing to this drab tournament. But that was not to be. So what does the IOC Cup have going for it? Most importantly, rain should not be a factor in these games. We’re playing in the driest (no pun intended) part of the Emerald Isle. But then, playing in a smaller stadium also rules out the frenzied crowds of Colombo. As for comments, a studious and almost grumpy Javagal Srinath can be seen in the Pepsi drinks break. So instead of the myriad commercials, we are now focused on an Oye Bubbly endorsement, with good ol’ Sri on the virtues of captaincy. Doesn’t quite make the grade, does it?

But fear not, when all else fails, there’s always technology to save the day…Enter Dart Fish. Which makes one wonder, is this cricket or a Matrix movie special? The technology itself is quite spectacular – picture six Kaifs running a batsman out – one frame after the other, from Kaif picking the ball to another taking aim and yet another hurling the ball. And best of all, you get to view all the six Kaifs simultaneously. It’s another thing, that Kaif hasn’t affected a run out in a bit, and Suresh Raina has had two in as many games. But, still no picture of Raina in the papers. Instead, you’ll see ZK in one of those wonder vests.Also, every now and then on your TVs, there’s a breathtaking view of the floodlit stadium or a panoramic shot of Dambulla. Eat your heart out, because the cricket is average…think Rameez Raja saying average in heavily accented Punjabi English, and it’ll bring a smile, because the cricket definitely will not.Not least of the culprits is the pitch. With abysmal scores in both games (205 and 178), the very raison d'être of one-day cricket is being questioned at Dambulla. This at a time, when the 20 twenty games in England are seeing similar scores of 200 and more in twenty overs. And no, it’s not all county grounds – think Lord's and The Oval. Nor is it all county players – there’s S.A. captain Graeme Smith, Andrew Symmonds, Stuart Law, James Anderson, Caddick, Cork, in addition to Harmison, Flintoff, and Trescothic when avaiable. It’s 6s galore – where anything goes. What’s brilliant is that 20 twenty epitomizes the uncertainty of the one day game. Something that is sadly missing at the IOC Cup. That is if you don’t count who’s the next player going down.
posted by Naked @ 5:15 AM 1 comments
Thursday, July 14, 2005

Cricket goes PP!
by Gaurav Sethi

It’s been two months and some since the Pak series in India. Thankfully, there’s been a break of sorts to Ganguly bashing. The action, if you can call it that, has moved to Chappell gazing. From playing in the backyard with highly competitive kid bro Greg by Ian Chappell, to the oft repeated infamous underarm ball, from getting Greg to agree that the Alphonso is far superior to its Aussie counterpart from Queensland by Sunny Gavaskar, to getting IT pros to bolster Sachin’s mind, from Chappell villa at the Taj Bangalore to the implementation of Edward de Bono’s six lateral thinking hats, it’s all been said, and more.

Just when you think there can’t be anything new on Greg Chappell, an adventurous misquote finds its way into the papers. Usually to do with Tendulkar’s batting. Then, there’s an odd comment by an Indian player of his expectations of the coach (sorry, no spice here) –“ to be fair to all”.Not surprisingly, the only Chappell related article with any merit I have read was by a Chappell himself. And that too, not by Greg, but by his elder bro, former Aussie pro and now cricket commentator, Ian Chappell. For once, the reader got a glimpse into Greg the guy, be it just a sneak. Ian Chappell yapped about their fierce backyard encounters, how Greg replaced him in the Aussie XI, and how, interestingly, Ian wouldn’t take on an Indian coaching assignment for anything in the world. That pretty much summed Greg, the man, his ambitions and the rough and tumble of Indian cricket.

Of course, Ian Chappell has always been the more outspoken of the two brothers. The mind boggles what the Indian press might have written had Ian Chappell been the Indian cricket coach.Coaching aside, the one-day game has gone bananas. Twenty-20 seems old hat. Enter subersubs, power play 1, 2 and 3. Ironically, all these changes (and not improvements, as Michael Holding points out) are taking place in England, the birthplace of cricket –almost like saying, we created cricket, so can do our best to destroy it. In the just concluded Natwest ODI series between England and Australia, the new ICC rules were implemented for the first time.

The likes of David Gower, Ian Botham and Michael Holding gave viewers the lowdown – what were these subersubs? Their implications? And just when you got a vague hang of supersubs, there was talk in nebulous terms like power play 1, power play 2, and hold your breath, power play 3. And I thought cricket was doing a great job reaching across Europe and the Americas. No offence, but catch one of those die hard Yankees’ fans giving this any heed.But then, cricket is the domain of the civilized world, and we’re part of it. So, I dutifully listened. It was actually quite simple –if not simple minded. It borrows from other popular sport (read as sport that gets more eyeballs than cricket) like soccer. And once you substitute a player, he’s out of the game.

Of course, you must announce your supersub (what a branding marvel this) before the game begins.The implications – In the first two games England’s supersub, Vikram Solanki, was not needed and therefore not used. In the third game when England was wobbling at 90 for 6, Solanki, a batsman, substituted Simon Jones, a bowler. Subsequently, when England bowled, they were a bowler short. Simon Jones lay flat, behind the boundary ropes, understandably, somewhat bemused. However, as Australia was batting second, they could, if need be, use their supersub - Simon Katich, a batsman, could conveniently replace Glenn McGrath, a bowler.

Clearly, the supersub rule favours the team batting second. First, you can get a full ten overs out of your specialist bowler, and once the run-chase is on, you simply swap that bowler for a specialist batsman. Which means, if the rule sticks, you won’t see the batting heroics of McGrath, Nehra and Nel. But then, as Holding says, the people aren’t coming to watch Glenn McGrath bat –if they want to see him bat, let them go see a test match.As for power play 1, 2 and 3, it’s like the first 15 overs fielding restrictions with a twist. Power play 1 is in fact just that, but works for the first 10 overs instead of the earlier 15. Power play 2 and 3 can be chosen at any point from over no. 10-50, in 5 over stretches, at the fielding captain’s discretion. PP2 implies two fielders remain in catching positions with two outside the circle; where as PP3 does away with the catching restrictions, but two fielders still remain outside the circle. Predictably, in the first two games, both teams used all their PPs (excuse the expression) in the first twenty overs. In the third, when Gilchrist slaughtered England, it didn’t really matter, and by then, PP was the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Thankfully, with the Ashes round the corner, and test cricket starting in Sri Lanka this week, we won’t have to contend with PP for a while. But then, India’s one-day series in Lanka isn’t that far either. And by then, PP will be to the Indian media, what Greg Chappell is to them today.
posted by Naked @ 12:22 PM 0 comments
Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The “A” player in a “B” team
by Gaurav Sethi

Not so long ago, you would be justified in surfing right past a Bangladesh cricket game, without giving it a second thought. Now, however, it makes good cricketing sense to keep that sports channel on, (by the way, this is not an ESPN Star Sports funded article) at least while the new kid on the block, Mohammed Ashraful’s at the crease.

For a while now, Ashraful has had top billing as a batsman (comparison’s to Sachin were common in Dacca circles, and went beyond their similar stature). But over the last year, this boy had done little to vindicate his teammates’ faith in him.Then, along came a spider (read Australia), all set to gobble the Bangladeshis. But the ants, turned out to be tiger ants, if any such species exists. And Ashraful, almost single handedly won the game, with a magical hundred. As I’m not a diehard Bangladeshi fan, I gave it a miss, and only read the mind-altering result in the papers, the following day. I suppose, very few cricket fanatics watched the game in India. And if there were any that wanted to, the Confederation Cup telecast from Germany, took care of them. Ever wonder, why your favourite sports’ network has two TV channels, but still fails to finish games they start? Back to the field, and the Bangladesh game versus England.

Luckily this time, there were no disturbances. England made an obscene 391, and Bangladesh were at a familiar 30 for 2 by the 10th over. However, by the 26th over, Bangladesh had crossed 150. Ashraful though, had just been dismissed – but not before he had belted Harmisson for 19 in his first over, including 2 6s (before this game, Harmisson had taken 5 wickets against the Aussies, in arguably his best ODI performance). Ashraful smashed just about every other English bowler that followed – Flintoff, Giles, the entire balmy army’s pride. This little guy, played every shot in the book, and quite a few out of it – sweeps, cuts, late cuts, drives, heaves, pulls, and freakishly innovative gulli-danda like shots over fine leg.But when Ashraful was bowled on 94 (much faster than run a ball), playing yet another gulli danda shot, I had to put the TV off. With a wry smile, I might add. That it was well past 1 am (IST) is another thing. My mind wandered back to a young Tendu going out blazing, and the others after him, going out lazing (excuse the rhyme, but it did seem apt). That Bangladesh might be on the verge of creating its first world-class player, one whom people would pay good money to watch, appeared a distinct possibility. More importantly, the marketing of this player was already underway (do we see the Cola companies queuing up?).

After beating Australia, Ashraful, not only won Bangladesh their very first game against that team, but a great, big headline for himself, across the cricketing world. One that could even read – The “A” player in a “B” team. Got it? Well, A’s for Asharful (and his caliber), and B’s for Bangladesh (and their…no need to overemphasise though).Now, one player does not a team make. And unless Bangladesh can nurture their youngsters (those that haven’t already been scarred by countless humiliating defeats), the frustrations of so near, yet so far will continue. The fact, that their famous win against Australia was to a great extent, a one-man show is obvious. Interestingly however, the genesis of Bangladesh into a team capable of beating far better sides has been underway, albeit too slowly. For starters, their coach, Dave Whatmore has a proven track record (what, he’s even got a world cup win) and they’ve stuck it out with him, rather than chop away like Indian hockey.

In its short international stint, Bangladesh has already beaten both Pakistan and India in ODIs, in addition to other non-test playing nations. In fact, Bangladesh were poised to even beat Pakistan in a test match–only the wily Inzi denied them with a miraculous last wicket partnership.The defeats and frustrations aside, any true cricket lover would want to see Bangladesh improve as a team – compete with better sides, and cause the odd upset. You can be sure, two older cousins (read India and Pakistan) will definitely oblige. Possibly yet another way to spread this new found feeling of bonhomie in the sub subcontinent.
posted by Naked @ 11:47 PM 0 comments
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Comeback kids of Oz
by Guarav Sethi

What do Damien Martyn, Justin Langer, Michael Kasprowich, Adam Gilchrist and Mathew Hayden have in common, apart from playing for Australia? Answer: Not playing for Australia.In 1994, after playing South Africa, Martyn was dropped after an Aussie debacle. He did plenty of time playing the domestic scene before his comeback in 2000. The last we saw of Kasprowich, for a long while, was in Sharjah, when Sachin decimated him, two games running. Last year, Kasprowich edged Brett Lee out of the test side on the basis of his performance in state cricket. Since then, he’s more than held his own among stalwarts like McGrath, Gillespie and Warne. Adam Gilchrist had to wait years for Ian Healey to retire before he could smash bowlers across the world. Both Hayden and Langer were dropped from the team before they made their magical comebacks. And to think, that each one of these players is now an integral part of the winning Aussie combo. In the last few years, each player has single handedly held an entire series together for Australia. Remember Damien Martyn in the 2004 India series and Hayden in the 2001-02 India series scoring big hundreds.

Now, making a comeback, or being awarded a contract doesn’t guarantee both a test and ODI berth down under. Katich has played some vital test innings in his short career, quite a few against India alone, but he’s still not a regular. Andrew Symonds has won ODIs alone (remember v/s Pak in the World Cup) but he’s not a part of the test team. Where as Justin Langer, the regular test opener, has been outscoring Hayden lately, but still can’t make the ODI side. Brett Lee, possibly the most flamboyant Aussie cricketer, might be a brand ambassador in India, but he can’t make the Test side.Off late though, thanks to the Aussie rotation policy, Lee got back into the ODI team. And how! Lee is now faster, fiercer and a sure shot in the ODI team.

Going by past experience, the Aussie team management and selection may only unleash Brett Lee in tests when they’re convinced he’s ready, and not vice versa. And when that happens, which might be sooner rather than later, he could possibly be Australia’s next great comeback kid.Now, you can’t manufacture a player’s comeback. But you can deny easy comebacks. By raising the bar, you can actually assist a player’s transformation from an able player into a run making or wicket-taking machine. Look at McGrath the marvellous. Look at Hayden the horrible. Look at Martyn the merciless. Look at Ponting the prolific. These guys just don’t stop till you drop.

Team India however, has a strange policy with comebacks. Zaheer Khan has broken down series after series, yet he’s somehow always back for the next one. Be it versus Australia, Pakistan or Pakistan again, he has not played an entire series off late. Over the last year and a half, India’s ODI performance has been abysmal. Yet, the axe fell only on Laxman, the player who scored the most ODI hundreds in India’s lean ODI phase.Comebacks don’t figure in the Indian scene, because in spite of not playing an innings of substance, players’ stay put in the team. It can be debated that Hemant Badani, Dinesh Mongia, Rohan Gavaskar, Sriram, Bangar etc were given ample chances to prove their mettle. But compare that with the opportunities that the cola buddies in the Indian team get, and there’s little fizz in the argument.

The Aussie cap is almost like the Holy Grail - if you don’t have the mercenary like hunger to grab it, it will continue to prove illusive. Where as the Indian cap appears to fall right into your lap, and stays there like a stubborn child refusing to let go.
posted by Naked @ 12:52 AM 0 comments
Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Why did Greg Chappell refuse the West Indies?
by Gaurav Sethi

Nowadays, it doesn’t take a bookie to predict the result of an ODI, especially one that involves the West Indies. But then, they’ve lost 9 on the trot, and a Bangladesh series isn’t in the offing for a while.Beyond the outcome, some cricket fanatics are taking a shot at the leading wicket taker. During the second ODI v/s Pak, when the West Indies were blazing away, 60 for 1, an sms was doing the rounds: “WI will lose, Afridi 5 wickets”. At this point, Afridi had still not come on to bowl. He later went on to take four wickets in the game.

Of course, there are loads of crazy cricket sms-es floating around. This however, underlined a simple truth –the West Indians are hopeless against leg break bowlers. Not surprising then, Anil Kumble too, has had significant success against the Windies. After all, he and Afridi share the uncanny ability to skid a straight one at 70 mph plus, in addition to drastic variations in pace.

Now, this leg spin virus is no new affliction for the Windies. Flash back to Anil Kumble’s heroics in the Hero Cup (6 for 12 was it?), and the test series when Hirwani had them like halwa. These games were played more than ten years’ back, but the islanders are still all at sea against leg spin. A few years back, the Aussies did the unthinkable by including two leg spinners, Shane Warne and Stewart McGill in the playing XI against the Windies. It’s another story, that the West Indies found the apprentice more a hand full that the master. Greg Chappell has gone on record saying that he refused to coach the West Indies because they had short-term objectives with the 2007 World Cup in mind. However, it cannot be ruled out, that one such objective might have been working out how to play leg spinners better.

Thankfully, the East Indians (the men we boo) have handled leggies rather well.Sidhu, hurtling down, ferociously, led the attack on Shane Warne. That was in another century, but the dividends were accruing till only recently. After Sidhu’s masterstroke, what followed was an individual strategy, wherein Tendulkar targeted Warne. Remember that new stance, those manic cross-batted heaves over midwicket. That was Sachin in another era, before the back backed out. The last to tame Warne was VVS Laxman, strolling down to play the most glorious on-drives ever. That was before the knee operation. In the last series, VVS was stuck to the crease against Warne. Sadly, almost like a West Indian.

It’s quite simple really. If you don’t attack the leg spinner, he will attack you. Remember Kumble, head all bandaged up, bowling like a man possessed. However, you might argue, that was against the West Indies, and a leg spinner will bowl to those guys even if he’s flat-out on a stretcher.
posted by Naked @ 1:07 AM 0 comments
Thursday, May 26, 2005

India should play at Antigua
by Gaurav Sethi (Early May 05)

Antigua! Brian Lara’s world beating test scores. Antigua! Viv Richards’ fastest test hundred. Antigua! Eight hundreds in a match. Antigua! The highest score to win a test match.In spite of Antigua’s world records, watching West Indies cricket is much like following our own floundering fellahs. There’s personal brilliance, and the rare win like the Champions Trophy v/s England in ‘04 (think Natwest final v/s Eng) but little else. If we’ve got Sachin breaking records, they’ve got Lara smashing them.Recently, the Windies lost 2-0 to SA. Before which, they were rammed by Australia and England. But hang on, there’s always the dead rubber test at Antigua – where Lara gets 400 versus the Pommies (game drawn, surprise, surprise!), where over 400 is made to beat Oz (blame the Aussies for always losing the last test, a la Mumbai v/s India), where four Windies’ batsmen score hundreds v/s the Proteas, including Bravo’s first and Gayle’s 317. The same Gayle who didn’t make it to double figures in the entire series.

Check out what Michael Holding’s friend from Michigan says: most of the batsmen in the West Indies have played 30 tests, but in fact, they’re playing the same test 30 times. At the benign, batsmen-friendly Antigua wicket Tino Best gives us a demo. Sure, he’s a tail ender, and might not have played 30 tests but he has all the trappings of a West Indian Kamikaze batsman. His team is 700 plus for 8, the game’s a dead draw but Bravo’s on the verge of his first test hundred. What does Tino Best do? He tries to smash a wide one for 6, and skies a sitter to Gibbs. Holding repeats the Michigan mantra.

Before Antigua, you had the centurion Bravo repeatedly edging widish deliveries to the slips, vice captain Sarwan giving catching practise, Gayle mistiming pulls that didn’t go beyond mid off, just like Tino Best.Of course, the batsmen can’t achieve such great failures alone. Ever since Ambrose hung his size 14 boots along with Walsh (size unknown), the bowling has been running on empty. Off late, part time off spinner Gayle is the most successful bowler. There are 5 ft. something quickies like Fidel Edwards and Tino Best who somehow touch a cracking 90 mph. and then breakdown with a consistency that rivals Zaheer Khan. Enter medium pacers like Collymore and Bradshaw who can bowl line and length, but lack bite, so they end up playing only ODIs. Enter a new breed of fast bowlers, one every game (all fresh, young and ready to see their enthusiasm crushed). Imagine a kid like South Africa’s Zondeki (with great pace but little experience) bowling without the cover of Ntini, Nel and Pollock. You want to go to Miami and play basketball or what?

However, it’s not as bad as it sounds. It’s worse. Lara is 36, and though he’s on top of his game, how long can he go on? (think Sachin all these years) The opening slot is far from resolved – in spite of Hinds’ recent double and Gayle’s triple, these guys have done little else lately (think Indian openers pre-Sehwag and post-Sunny). Sarwan comes to the party when it’s already a party (think Yuvraj). And Chanderpaul, in spite of being the most dogged of the lot (think Dravid), lacks the imagination and inspiration of a captain (Think Inzi pre-India). There’s also wicketkeeper Browne who seldom dives for catches (think most of our keepers post-Kirmani) and scores only when the games lost so he can swing his bat like a true No. 10. (think Agarkar’s 100, and Zaheer’s 6s).

The catch for West Indian cricket is that the present eleven appears to be their best. New talent has backfired, possibly because they never got to enhance their averages at Antigua. A lot like the jam team India’s in, when even the best isn’t good enough. Of course, the ODIs versus South Africa and Pakistan are round the corner. And who knows what Antigua might have done for the West Indian morale. Certainly, Ganguly & Co can do with a shot of that Caribbean tonic.

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