Saturday, August 21, 2010

10-man side

Having seen the performance of the side in the past year or two, I think I have come down to the best possible team for Pakistan in the current scenario.

Its a typical team - 7 batsman (keeper included) and 4 bowlers

The team is as follows -

1. Imran Farhat
2. Yasir Hameed
3. *
4. Md. Yousuf
5. Azhar Ali
6. Umar Akmal
7. Kamran Akmal
8. Md Aamer
9. Umar Gul
10. Saeed Ajmal
11. Md Asif

Bench (err) strength :-
at number 6- Umar Amin, Shoaib Malik

for 'keeper - Zulqurnain Haider

extra paceman - Wahab Riaz

extra spinner - Danish Kaneria

Special note on " * "
* refers to the Captain. Pakistan plays with 10 players, and a captain, who is usually cursed. So as of now, its Salman Butt, who has so intelligently sacrificed a lot for the team for several reasons...
1. he was/is the captain
2. he is hit by the captain's curse, and by default can't play well at the opener's slot.

So, he HAD to drop down in the line up, and allow Yasir Hameed to open. This man, who had no impact of the earlier losses in the series, as he wasn't part of it, played lavishly and gave Pakistan a good start. So, all praises to Butt.

Butt's captaincy has been good, and intelligent. He found exactly what was needed for Pakistan to win the match - allow Cook to score big. Cook and England had different fortunes all summer. And when Cook went about scoring, the whole English team was so stunned, that they failed to contribute. There were only two news in the English camp - Cook's sudden golden touch(wood) and Swann's inclusion to the list of nominees for the ICC player of the year award. Now they have the third - a loss! Great captaincy by Butt indeed. Whatever message he sent down to a combined 38 years of talent (Umar akmal - 20 yrs, Md Aamer 18 yrs), they understood it and scored the remaining 16 runs required for the victory. The two kids were out in the middle, like kids lost in a huge fair, not knowing what to do. Too many maidens came and went, and the pair failed to put on a score for more than 4 overs since the departure of Md Yousuf. So, it means, Butt does get good respect from his young team-mates too.

All the more, he seems to have liked the captaincy, and proved that he can play with it too, scoring 48 runs in this innings, more than all the runs he scored in the series put together.

So, my theory - put the person out of form as captain. that solves the issue.

10 men are all that are needed to win!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sometimes, cricket is not a gentleman's game

Sometime, want and greed takes over the sportsmanship in the game of cricket, which is widely knows as the gentleman's game. Players will do ANYTHING to win (or not let the opponent achieve something), letting their pride go for a walk and reputation in jeopardy. I will try to list three such incidences. One is very famous. One was missed by many. And the latest of them all has triggered a widespread controversy in the subcontinent.

Scene 1
February 1, 1981, MCG - Melbourne
Australia were playing New Zealand in the third ODI final of the World Series Cup. The series was level at 1-1. New Zealand needed 6 to tie this match. the bowler Trevor Chappel was to bowl to Kiwi number 10 batsman - Brian McKechnie, while the centurian of the day, Bruce Edgar was at the non-striker end, praying, I assume. Greg, came up to Trevor and gave him some instructions. The execution of the instructions would shock the cricketing world for ages. Its been almost 30 years now, but the incidence is still a thorn in Australian cricket.

It was an under-arm ball delivered by Trevor Chappel! Yes, the batsman was flabbergasted. All he could do was touch the rolling ball with his bat, throw his bat away in disgust. Well, the MCC rules had nothing against the under-arm ball, but this was beyond the limit of unsprotsmanship, and should I say, cowardice.

Their elder brother, Ian Chappel was going "No no... you can't do that!". If only they could listen from 90 m away!

here is the moment -

The video clip of the ball -

The video of the last over. Richie Benaud called it the worst moment in the history of the game -

Scene 2
August 16, 2009. Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
Almost exactly an year ago, Zimbabwe were hosting Bangladesh in an ODI series. The series was into the fourth match, with B'desh leading 2-1. Charles Coventry was in the form of his life. The lanky middle order batsman was scoring runs like it was his birth right to do so. He had surpassed the previous highest score by a Zimbabwean (172 by Wishart vs Namibia, 156 by Masakadza vs Kenya, importantly 145 by Andy Flower vs India ). And by the end of 46th over or so, he was going good enough for the 200. He was on 191 at the start of the last over. He takes a single, and has to wait for an opportunity to get the strike back once again. When Utseya tried to do so, in the third ball of the over, chipped a ball to long on, the fielder present there over-ran the ball to give him the four and disallow Coventry the strike. I do not know if he was upset with himself or put the team before individual achievements, but Coventry agreed for a 2 in the next ball, stayed at the non striker end. Got the strike for the last ball of the innings, on which he took a couple to put him at 194*, the highest individual score in an ODI, tied along with Saeed Anwar's knock against India more than a dozen years ago.

Here is the page covering the match. click here for the commentary section.

Scene 3
August 16, 2010 (good day for a controversy, is it? ). Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, Dambulla.

Sri Lanka play India, in the third match of the tri-series. SL and NZ have pocketed a match each, and now India were five runs away from getting their first to square things up on the points table. Sehwag was facing Suraj Randiv, the prospective off-spinner of Lanka. Plenty of overs to spare, even to get a bonus point for India. First ball goes for 4 byes through the sides of the keeper, bad/poor bounce for the let off. And then, Sehwag plays cautious for a couple of balls, trying to sneak a single. he perished on 99 in a test match against the same bowler trying to reach the mark in style, his style. So, he was trying to be cautious. One run to win, one run to his 13th Century in ODIs.

Randiv hops and comes and bowls a HUGE no-ball! A football can go in the gap between his heel and the crease! And Sehwag launches the ball beyond the ropes for a six and celebrates the Indian victory and what he thought, his 13th century. But India had won the match as soon as the no-ball was called and the match is hence, completed. Thus, Viru's 6 doesn't count, and he is left stranded at the crease at 99! What a cheap tactic! Whatever respect I had for the spinner was lost in that moment. One incidence is enough to bring your reputation to the floor! No matter what he has achieved, or will achieve, he will surely be remembered for this incidence. Especially when you do it against the team you play more often that you play your video game!

Watch it for yourself

Comments, views, and suggestions welcome

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Stars of Tomorrow

We are now living in an age of cricket when the quality of a batsman is also including the age as a factor for consideration. The players from yesteryears, though full of class and style, are overshadowed by the new generation players. Yes, the new guys also have talent, in their own ways. Some of them are very very talented. Let me try to list the ones who caught my eyes. Team by team.


Long term number one is tests and ODIs, now losing the mantle to others. Why? I don’t know. But I can say that they had an ageing team that kept them on the top, but a younger team isn’t able to keep up the good work. Still, there are some really promising youngsters in them.

Tim Paine
>He is, maybe, the best after Gilly retired from international services. Tim has the abilities of an athletic keeper and a dashing opener. He is far better than his competitor Manou, who was tried and disposed. Tim seems to have satisfied the selectors, after he showed some composure in the test format as well.

Steven Smith
After trying a few spinners, Australia may do well to settle with Steve Smith. He has the flight, and the turn that Warney had... a little less turn, but good enough nevertheless. Still very young, he can develop the varieties as the time goes by. He is more than handy with the bat too. A little unorthodox, but confident enough to middle every ball thrown at him. He may do what Warne never did – score a century..if at all he plays that many tests, I mean. Care should be taken that his batting skills do not divert him away from his bowling. We all know about Cameron White, a bowler who no longer bowls, even when he is captaining Victoria!


Well, more than 3/4th their team are less than 25 years of age. So, by their standards, the youngster to watch out is -

Tamim Iqbal
Very young, and pretty consistent too. He is the batsman an opponent really tries to get dealt with as quickly as possible. Once he is off, there isn’t much that can stop him. He has a variety of strokes through both sides of the fields, but is particularly strong through the covers and point region, and his icing-on-the-cake straight drive. A la Jayasurya, just that Tamim keeps the strokes to the floor more often than Sunny did.

Wanted to list out some others too, but their team is pretty young, that most of the rest would be of the same age.

Aah... England! Yooongsturs from around thee wooorld, now for Eeengland

Eoin Morgan
This young Irishman has his own textbook of strokes. His reverse sweeps remind me of the Zimbabwean star, Andy Flower (who is the English coach, incidentally). He has the ability to steady an innings, play an innings the team needs, take the team to victory, accelerate, take control and others thinkable, all at the age of 24. What do you call a man who can reverse sweep Morne Morkel yorker for 4 through 3rd man?

Steven Finn
Very young, very fast for a high arm action, and very very accurate. He was very accurate in falling off his bowling too. So much, that I thought it was a part of his bowling action. After his first test, against Bangladesh, he rectified that issue and is better off now. Against Pakistan, though he came as a first change bowler, he still got the ball to swing and seam around. 4 wickets in just as many overs are enough to trigger a collapse in any side, especially Pakistan. What I like about him is his consistency – speed, length, and movement on and off the deck. His seam position is pretty good. Though the Duke or the Kookaburra aren’t going to have that pronounced a seam when he gets the ball after Jimmy or Broad is tired, he still manages to extract some movement off the deck. 6’7” tall, bounce is always there, without I mentioning it. If he can just prevent himself from falling down that much for that extra bit of an effort, I think he will be an asset to the English side, especially during the Ashes down under.

Your turn to scrutinize me as much as you can. But these are my views, and here is my list of young guns :-

First and foremost –

Cheteshwar Pujara
Why this multiple triple-centurian, double-centurian, the highest u-19 run getter, highest WC avg, best in-form Indian is STILL out of the Indian squad baffles me... wherever he goes, he makes sure he scores big, shuts the opposition’s bowling down, atleast at one end. And the best part of his batting is his technique. He defines his offensive strokes as “an extension of my defensive shots”. What a player. If only lord BCCI could us him for Team India instead of India-A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O,P,Q,R,S,T,U,V,W,X,Y,Z,A1,B1...,India emerging, Board President XI etc etc!!! As cool as one can be, this young lad has been impressing everyone but the national selector, with his array of strokes and scores at every level, in every tour, year after year, since the age of 14. If Sachin was discovered at that age, why not Pujara?

Pragyan Ojha
To be a spinner, you need to have a big heart. Ojha does have a big heart. He can bowl hours and hours together, waiting for his reward. He has the tweak, the turn and the loop. He is improving on the loop now, which is the most important. When he tries to vary his loop, he has the tendency to stray down the leg side, once that is rectified, I am sure we can see the Bedi of 21st Century.

Ravichandran Ashwin
Tall, hefty lad from Madras, but like is the trend now a days, is a spinner. (O boy, how would it have been to see him be a paceman?) High arm action, and a good turner of the ball, which surprises the batsman. Yes, since he has that height, he does get the bounce too. He has been very consistent amongst the wickets. Now, he has an able partner in an even younger spinner, Aushik Srinivas. This very young teenage (16 yrs) sensation, groomed and protected by the watchful eyes of TN coach W.V. Raman is such a miser when it comes to bowling. He would go through spells of 30 overs with an economy rate of less than 2 runs an over. Back to Ashwin now... Ashwin, is also good with the bat and has good captaincy qualities too, having led Tamil Nadu to victories in various forms of the game

New Zealand

the only name that comes to my mind is

Tim Southee
I was fortunate enough to be watching u-19 WC , or unfortunate enough to have fallen sick to be lying at home, but watching the action nevertheless. Tim was that one man who could’ve led his team to victory over India in the semi-final. He bowled his heart out in the tournament. He could hit 140 kph against India, whose fastest bowler would go only as far as 130 kph. And Tim, the boy, was able to move the ball, the overcast conditions helped him. But NZ lost the match after the target was reset due to spells of rain. Soon after, Tim, the man, was there in the Kiwi line up. NZ has been one of the most unsettled team since the departure of many biggies – Stephen, Nash, Harris, Cairns amongst others. Tim was in the team for a while as a permanent fellow, but is now a part of the mix, tried once in a while. He has lost his pace a bit. I am sure he can regain it back, as I saw earlier this year, against Pakistan in the Kiwi Isles. He is a good long-term find NZ should rather try to develop, than look beyond.


One of the most unlucky sides in the world for many many reasons. Some come from inside, some from outside. But that doesn’t deter them from bringing up new talents, new young talents!

Umar Akmal
Brother of Kamran Akmal, this kid, is not living under his shadows. Umar is a dasher when you need him, and a steady watcher, when you gravely need someone to keep one end steady. A pocket size dynamo, he made his debut in such a wonderful style. In one test, he showed both the sides of the coin. First innings was a breezy, fast century(129), sharing a huge partnership with his brother. Not caring for who was bowling at him, not caring to respect Dan Vettori, he would deposit anyone over the fence as and when he liked, flawlessly. In the second innings, when Pakistan in deep trouble, wanting someone to stay put at one end, there he was, Umar Akmal, to hold fort for a watchful 75. But his wicket triggered a collapse and Pakistan were to lose a well contested match, by very few runs. He is the future of Pakistani top order or middle order, as you like it. But, must improve on patience, must the young lad.

Md Aamer
No praise is enough to sing for this young fast bowler! Emerged as an unheard bloke out of nowhere to the ones watching the T20 WC, Aamer took the opportunity with both hands. He had the pace. Then he developed the swing, into the left hander. Then, he developed the one that swings away from the left hander, at the same pace (this is what Mitchell Johnson tried and failed). Now he is a threat to any top order. Especially, in the tests. The tests in swinging and bouncing tracks are his favourites. By the time you try to read the swing off his hands, the ball may have gone past you, or if it’s his slower ball, you’re reading it too fast. He can be a handy lower order batsman too. He has the range of shots, a little more beautiful than a pro-lower order (Murali?). and he can hang in there as well, if required, like always.

South Africa

South Africa, even after exporting so many players to England, do have their own pool of great players.

Wayne Parnell
Express. But, as is obvious needs some fine tuning. He does go wayward. On his own, he can be very destructive, especially to left handers, with that ripping pace and bounce that he can extract. His demolition of Australia in just his 2nd ODI showed what he is capable of. He hasn’t repeated the feat many times after that, though. If he can keep his pace going, and someone tunes his radar properly, then he will be a handy bowler for SA

Morne Morkel
Young, but not too young, Morne has been a regular in the SA test side. He has the huge, tall frame that gives his the extra yard of pace and the bounce. There are some similarities between him and Andre Nel, especially the bowling action. Morkel can do all that Nel did without that much of an effort, because of the height. In tests, he has the heart to run in over after over, just to plug one end economically and draw the batsman into playing a stroke at the short-of-length balls. His line is always probing one, to a right hander.

Sri Lanka

Lanka has always been a country knows to throw the cricketing world a heap full of surprises. Mendis, Malinga, Murali – all are unorthodox and too good for themselves! Not youngsters though. So, here he is :-

Angelo Mathews
Just 23 years of age, he is now a permanent feature of any Lankan side. His all-round qualities come to the fore every now and then. He has performed in at least one department in every match. An under-rated bowler, maybe because of the other power houses in the bowling line up, he bowls his heart out and reaps success for his hard work. A dashing batsman too. Very hard to dislodge. His strength is a bonus, when it comes to disposing the ball. A simple flick is all he needs to easily clear the field. A very well developed product, he can only get better

West Indies

Another team that is not always at the best end of the result most of the time. Look at it, look at their fire power – Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Shiv, Sarwan, Nash, Pollard, Sammy, Taylor, Benn... but still, it’s not a bowler’s day when the batsmen shine and vice-versa! Young talents?

Darren Bravo
Looks and bats like Brian Lara. Enough said!

Kemar Roach
Tiny though he may be, he is super fast! Ask Ricky Ponting! Raw pace, can extract bounce on many pitches, though handicapped by the height. His in-swingers come too fast to be handled with ease. He took the opportunity that was presented to him when WI cricketers went on strike, and is one of the fortunate few to have cemented their place in the side even after the end of the strike. There have been the likes of Fidel Edwards (who took a wicket in his first ever ball in an ODI) who have been express and erratic. Kemar Roach, if kept under good watchful eyes, I bet there are 1000+ good eyes of fast bowlers in the Caribbean Isles, he can become more accurate. He is one of those unique ones who can generate 93+ mph easily with high arm action, without the jerky motion (Steyn, Lee, Bond).

So? Your picks on talents to be groomed, or going to impress the world?

Comments and suggestions welcome!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Save Test Cricket... But how?

I know, it is obvious that test cricket is going through the worst time in its history. More than 120 years old, test cricket has been the yardstick of the performance of a team, of a player. And barely a decade into the 21st century, it is facing extinction. Not that it is not being played, but that it has lost a large chunk of audience.

Test cricket was once upon a time played over a week, including a day of rest. Then, shortened to five days of play. The format was standardised, so, there were no more “Australian overs”. But all in all, over more than 100 years, the enthusiasm involved in tests never changed, never dropped. Right from the inception of the game (and the format) by England to the era Don’s Invincibles to the Caribbean golden era over years, test cricket has been (should I say, “was”?)of prime importance to any cricketing nation. Test rivalries were born. From WI-Eng/Aus to Ashes to Indo-Pak nail biters, there always was anticipation to a series. A new team, which couldn’t even lift its head aloft too high in the competition long ago, developed into a world leader very soon, establishing itself as an ODI champion, as well as a competitive test nation. I am talking about Sri Lanka. This team blossomed in the right age. Another team, which came in much later than Lanka, isn’t able to repeat the same. This team, is Bangladesh. Apart from one “success” an year over another test playing nation, B’desh has a pretty poor record in cricket. In tests, it has no success. No, I cannot count the victories they had over WI or Zim as quality victories. Nevertheless 2 or 3 victories aren’t that great either.

England, Australia, South Africa have been keeping the standards of test cricket in good spirits, while the subcontinent is more inclined on having pitches suitable to the home team which may be as boring as the word boring can get. New Zealand have a completely opposite problem. They have good pitches, but not a good test team. I don’t remember NZ playing 5 tests on a trot with the same opening pair, since the retirement of Stephen Fleming. Caribbean cricket has been less than good since the departure of Walsh-Ambrose, their shadows, and the legendary Lara. The pitches don’t have the pace they had, primely because their opponents are better at it nowadays. WI clearly hasn’t found a “strength” in this decade, on which it can ride over their opponents.

All this, and the advent of the faster, richer (read as $) format, Twenty-Twenty has almost guided the test cricket into oblivion. Youngsters want to play for franchises, and not for their nation. Audience is more hooked to the shortest format than the other two. Argument – “we don’t have time to watch the ‘boring’ longer formats”. Well, ten years ago, people were able to watch it all, they had all the time in the world, they enjoyed it a lot, they were “crazy” for it.

The question is open for all. I have always vouched for test cricket. I still prefer to watch tests, the pace-men hit the deck in the opening session, batsmen consolidate, batsmen “build” an innings, spinners tweak the opponents into trouble, every day writing a new script for the next day et al. Compared to this, there are some worthless days of limited over cricket, like the one I saw a couple of days ago, where the pitch is such that the winner can be declared after the toss.

Martin Crowe, one of cricket’s biggest thinkers had come up with the suggestion of annual Test Championship. Here is how it goes -

The top 8 test nations play a knock out tournament. The top 4 teams play home. So, its 4 vs 4, then 2 vs 2, then the final. At each point, the better seeded/ranked team plays host. The tests will be 6 days each, so, that the results are assured. The normal bilateral test series will go as usual, independent of this test championship. These tests will determine the ranking of the teams.

He has set the platform for the world to see, and add its inputs and revive the beauty of test cricket. He has noticed, like you would’ve, that the lower 4 teams are at prime disadvantage. And, is looking for ideas for a more uniform competition.

Here are my ideas -
Clearly, one cannot eliminate the bilateral series. Cricket world without The Ashes is like the world submerged in water. So, like Crowe said, it has to be an independent series, and it cannot be long, as it may lose out on the market and viewers’ interest.

• Well, as far as the ranking is concerned, as mentioned above, the usual bilateral series will determine the ranking.
• But, I think there must be more than one tests played between the two sides at every knock out stage. So, both teams will play a “home” and “away” test for uniformity. The team with more victories in the two games, move to the next stage. In case it is a 1-1 or a 0-0 series, then the team with higher net first innings lead over the other will get to go to the next stage.
• The tests can remain 5 day tests, if the above idea is to be adopted, as the result need not be the only way out. It will be an insult to the memory of test cricket to eliminate “draw” from the results column. The world has seen so many exciting draws, and also tied tests.
• ICC will have to do either of the two – remove Champions trophy cricket, or, make T20 World Cup and quadrennial (once in 4 years) event. It will reduce the international pressure on the cricketers by a wee bit at least.
• ICC should control the number of foreign club-contracts a player has. I would suggest that a player must not have more than 2 active club-contracts in other nations. And, any sign-in must be made before the season starts, and must hold good for the entire season. I have seen players playing for as many as four (home + 3) franchises in the same season. This rule will “protect” the player from burnout, and make him play more formats of the game, than just the T20, in which the introduction of foreign players is more common than it was with county cricket.
• ICC and the local cricketing body should strengthen the domestic first class format structure, and improve it.
• More care should be taken to prepare the pitches. The pitches used for the international games should be reviewed by the ICC pitch committee a week before the match. And all the pitches used for the test championship, are to be reviewed by the ICC pitch committee and also a team from the visiting nation. Home advantage should be there, but not lopsided.
• The finals should be a “best of three” test series. Two at the higher ranked team’s home, and one at the other country’s home.

I feel that this will take an year or maybe one and a half years to be completed, as it has to fit into the other bilateral series, and other tournaments in other formats too. In any case, each stage may take around 4 to 6 months for completion, owing to geographical reasons. Weather conditions may play spoil sport in some cases, for which I have not yet thought of a solution. Maybe, in such cases, an additional day can be used (déjà vu?). In any case, the youngsters must be taught more about the classic format, and the skills needed to excel in this – the basics. Without basics, even the shorter forms will look ugly.

Lets see what happens. I would love to hear from you all too. Comments, corrections, suggestions are welcome!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sometimes, cricket is a game of numbers

Some interesting figures from the second test played between England and Pakistan, played at Edgbaston (Birmingham).

Md Aamer defied England for 117 balls during his 2 hour long vigil at the middle along with Haider. He scored only 16 runs and the pair added 52 runs in 36.2 overs, to add to England’s frustration of their inability to repeat the skittle.

The record 8th wicket partnership on English soil for Pakistan between Ajmal and Haider.

Nelson’s Eye was all that was needed for the English team to win after Cook’s dismissal, and that is what England precisely did. Strauss and Trott scored the 111 runs to bring up the unassailable 2-0 series lead, and the winning run came courtesy bye off an Ajmal doosra that jumped quite a bit

The total, 72, was Pakistan’s lowest against England. It was a touch worse than the previous lowest total of 80 at Trent Bridge around a week ago.

This is the 20th time Graemme Swann took a wicket in the first over of an innings, when he bowled Imran Farhat, as Pakistan slipped to 44/2 in the second innings.

Pakistan dropped 9 catches in the two innings combined. And, England won the match by 9 wickets. So, if Pakistan had taken all the catches, Pakistan would’ve won the match. The last catch dropped was when Strauss was on 28 in the second innings, when Haider dropped him off Ajmal, and England’s score was hovering around 60...meaning, Pakistan may have won by 60 odd runs... "if only..."

Graemme Swann was awarded the man of the Match for his 6 wicket haul in the second innings, which included, what I feel, the ball of the century to bowl Imran Farhat with a ball pitching outside the leg stump, but turning enough to beat Farhat’s defence and knock the top of the off stump.

England now have won 5 consecutive tests on a trot, and will be looking to add two more to them in the series. After that, they will love to carry the momentum for the Ashes down under.
Also, Saeed Ajmal, Pakistani off spinner picked up 5 wickets in the first innings,

English batting star, Kevin Pietersen, had 3 reprieves in his innings of 80, which suggested that he is yet to hit top form. Had it been some other fielding team, KP innings might’ve been ordinary.

Haider was two hits away from being the 4th man in the history of test cricket to score both a duck and a century on debut. He had scored 88 before looping a ball to a floating mid off.

Ajmal scored his maiden test fifty in the second innings of the test match. His aggressive celebrations couldn’t last long, as he was out immediately on 50, as his counterpart, Swann, finally sneaked off his bat through to the waiting hands of Collingwood at slips.

1 cm
Zulqarnain haider, the debutant ‘keeper for Pakistan would’ve been out for a King’s Pair, had it not been for the UDRS. He was adjudged lbw to a low-kept big turning Swann delivery, but the decision was overturned after the technology revealed that the ball had missed the leg stump by just about a cm. No Pakistan has ever been out on a King’s Pair in test cricket.

Stuart Broad has been fined half his match fee for slinging a dead ball at the Pakistani debutant, Zulqurnain Haider. It is a level two offence to throw a dead ball in an offensive manner at a player, umpire or referee. Broad's mannerism was below par, even by his own standards. He looked very theatrical during one caught behind appeal. The distance between the bat and the ball was atleast 6 inches, and Broad was celebrating without appealing. Sir Ian Botham voiced his stern views on Broad’s behaviour on Day-3.

The English spinner Graemme Swann bowled no more than 0 overs in the first innings. Not like he was ignored, but the pacemen were causing enough trouble to the Pak batsmen, who were bowled out for just 72 in a shade less than 40 overs.

Interesting, right? Mathematics! The game was much more than that, though!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

India tour of The Emerald isles

Probably the most boring tour for any subcontinent cricket fan, having seen the two sides play each other almost once every 5 months in one form or the other, this 3 match test series was all set to be yet another one of that. Or was it?

Just to spice things up, there were these factors to make the tour more interesting than “Oh My God! Not this again :-( “. Here they are –

1. If SL beat IND 2-0, India will lose the number one position that it held for about an year as of now.

2. Ace off spinner Muthiah Muralitharan announced that he will retire after the first test at Galle, a pitch he loved very very much. The Wiz was 8 short of 800 wickets.

3. Lankan captain, Kumar Sangakkara, had his own problems regarding the ICC test ranking system, pointing out that a team which has never won a series in many foreign tours for decades is still sitting pretty at the top of the table.

Enough to start a good series?

Well, the first test at Galle was the perfect send off Murali needed – a victory, a 5 wicket haul and the 8 wickets for the 800 mark. What a warrior. He said that he will just “enjoy” the game as it unfolds, and so he did...making it more enjoyable for himself with every scalp. As dramatic as it can be, he was the one who picked the last wicket, to wrap up the match, the 800, the career. The best spinner to have ever set foot on the earth, I doubt if there can be anyone better, anyone even close.

It was the trio of Warne, Murali and Kumble who saved the art of spin from, what the whole cricketing world thought, extinction. Now, the world is in search of the next bunch of spinning talent. Countries like India, Australia, West Indies, South Africa are still looking for a genuine talent in the spin department. India, have Harbhajan Singh, but he hasn’t been anywhere close to the levels of the trio. New Zealand will not have Vettori for long. Sulieman Benn, the best of WI spinners now, is still nowhere close to what Lance Gibbs was. Pakistan has Ajmal and Kaneria, one is old, the other is inconsistent on foreign tracks, but the two are pretty good to be called their team’s imposing spin duo. England has, probably, the best spinner now available in Graeme Swann. Even without the help of weapons like doosra, Swann has the ability to deceive the batsmen with subtle variations in degree of spin and pace on the ball. The number of rotations on the ball, is an important factor for a spinner, to control the spin. And Swann has been controlling it well. Let us hope there are a few more good spinners coming up soon.

Knock knock! Back to the present please. (I’m so good on diverting from the subject, that I can go on for hours on such diverted topics :-P )

Ah well, the second test at Colombo’s SSC was so bad, sooo bad, SOOOO bad, that it might be termed as the worst test in the past 2 years, probably even worse than the one Lanka and Pakistan, in the black-marked, marred tour of Pakistan last year. From Sri Lanka’s point of view – they had won test-1, and needed one more test to win. They were pretty sure they will win the test at P Sara, their fortress. So, a draw will do good in the 2nd test. And a draw it was, at the expense of patience of atleast half a million viewers and onlookers. My take on this – dismiss the curator. If the curator at Kotla got dismissed for a shocker for genuine reasons, so must this *&^&%*&( who brought this one up. In an age when test cricket is needing the care and interest, this pitch will do no good to its sustenance.

I was so happy the third test (P Sara Oval)dawned. Finally I can watch a test with all comforts in my home  . Plus, this match promises to be more interesting than the other two, a result was surely on the cards. Once again, Lanka opted to bat first and put on a massive score, which India matched. Then, the third innings showed the typical P Sara pitch character. Spin took main stage and the Indian spinners wrecked havoc before Samaraweera helped Lanka to set India a big target, of 257. Never ever easy on this track, given that the Lankan duo, of mystery Mendis and the more dangerous, and bounce-equipped Randiv, were waiting in the ranks. And by the end of day-4, India were still needing almost 200 runs, but lost their three top order wickets, to Randiv. Day 5 was a crunch day! Lanka had all the weapons they wanted, and India had all the artilleries to save the series. Thought the Lankan captain had attacking fields for most of the day, no bowler seemed to be vicious for a duration long enough to pose a problem to the Indian middle order. Randiv, huffed and puffed, blew a few blocks down, but thats all Randiv , and Lanka in totality, could do. And soon enough, India, riding on the stylish century from the bat of the back-spasm hit Laxman, won the match with 5 wickets intact! India levelled the series 1-1, and prevented itself from sinking down any ranking in the ICC test ranking table.
Sticking to the test, I will like to point out some things that were so inexplicable. One from each side. Only one from each side, I don’t want to talk about all. As it is I receive complaints that my blog posts are too long :-P .

1. Sri Lanka are 7 down for 86 in the second innings and Samaraweera is joined by matter who it might be in the center, i would’ve certainly wanted the captain to attack the batsmen in the middle and try to wipe out the tail. But MSD had a very defensive field, allowing Samaraweera to take easy singles, (most of which he converted into twos) and allow the tail enough time and space to settle. As a captain I would’ve had atleast 4 close in fielders around the batting geniuses of the likes of Mendis and Malinga! Nearly 180 runs to 8th and 9th wicket partnerships says how bad India was in wiping off the tail. Jumbo, wherever you are, India misses you a lot.

2. Kumar Sangakkara is one of the most sound batsmen in the world. He is an icon for many young cricketers, and the face of the stability of the Lankan middle order, along with Mahela Jayawardene. Sangakkara is synonymous with calmness, as cool as you like. But watching this test match, if at all anyone wondered “If only Lanka scored X more runs, batted for Y more hours, Lanka could’ve saved or even won the match”, then blame it on Sangakkara. He threw his wicket as a birthday gift in both innings of the test. In the first innings, he charged at Ojha and holed out to the man positioned at long on. In the second innings it was even worse, with the team on top of a snow laden mountain waiting for the avalanche, he gave the all so necessary push, with a wild pull at a slow short ball and hitting it straight to square leg fielder. What a bad ball that was, what a worse shot that was. Just imagine how this test might’ve been had he stayed there for longer than what he did

So, thats about it. 1-1 it stands. India retain the bi-national series.

Elsewhere, Pakistan made a dramatic equaliser in the two test series, but have been less than good i the series against England, down 0-1 in a four test series. And as far as the second test is concerned, after day-1, the signs of parity is nowhere in the vicinity.

In the near future, in cricket, there will be more of India vs Sri Lanka (as if Asia cup and Zim tri series wasn’t enough), this time along with NZ ( déjà vu ?). Pakistan and England have three more tests to finish in the four test series (I bet more interesting than the tri series in Sri Lanka). September will bring on the T20 fever once again with the “Champions Trophy”.

Enjuoy thee creeekit. Eye weel bee baak soon aufter.
Comments and suggestions welcome :-)