Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Normalizing India

Well, the series is done. India finished at 1-2, which is what I predicted before the series to some of my friends in the office. In fact, I am happy they finished so well, because throughout the first 4 days, I thought India was the one under threat at Adelaide. But Sehwag did some good magic to finish things off well for India.

I know I might get some flak for putting these thoughts in the open, but I think I am being true to the facts, so I am going to go out and let it out. Though some people do think that if the Sydney match had any other result, the effective score for the series would have been different. I beg to disagree. In fact, Indians have a habit of normalizing their game over a period of time. If India had in fact won the Sydney test, the motivation to win it at Perth would not have been there. Indian cricket team does have an emotional side to their game and they drawn upon it at difficult circumstance while drain themselves in comfortable situations.

Had India not seen the ignomity of early failures in the 2003 World Cup and the subsequent defacing by holligans back home, I suspect if they could have risen to such high standards in that World Cup. I suspect if India had not been thrown out of the 2007 ODI World Cup, they would not have got themselves together for the T20 Championships.

On the other hand, when Indians are in the lead, they don't seem to consolidate so well. We saw it in South Africa and England and at home against Pakistan last year where India saw initial success but did not translate it to further success later on in the series, even losing out the series in SA.

So, the moot point is Indias normalize their game and even if they had won it at Sydney, they would have lost it in Perth. so, the score of 1-2 in the end seems a reasonably good end to a tough series.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ganguly dropped, but will it solve India's Future problems?

Unfortunate, isn't it? Its been a little over 12 months since he returned to ODI cricket on the backing of a sound performance in the SA test series. Having done that his batting performance in the that period has been really good and is better (by a good 10%) than his career averages. Though popular perception is that his strike rate has been low, he maintained it at 73+ which is close to his career strike rate.

Mat Inns NO Runs HS Ave SR 100 50
Overall Career 311 300 23 11363 183 41.02 73.7 22 72
Since Comeback in 2007 32 30 2 1240 98 44.28 73.02 0 12
Before Comeback 279 270 21 10123 183 40.65 73.79 22 60

But numbers don't say the real thing, do they? It neither explains the fact that he is a poor fielder and may not the best runner between the wickets. It may also not outline, as some conspiracy theorists have pointed out, a fissure between the ODI captain MS Dhoni and the seniors.

I don't know if the fissure is for real or not and I am hoping it is not. However, I do feel that Indian Cricket has to start preparing for the loss of its 5 main stalwarts - Sachin, Dravid, Ganguly, Kumble and VVS Laxman. They have all had pivotal positions in the last few years and each have contributed in an amazingly consistent manner. While Kumble is already announced his retirement from ODI and never played T20, and the possibility of players like Harbhajan and Piyush Chawla stepping in his spin-bowler-shoes, the others don't have viable replacements.

The problem with Batting in Test Matches is going to get acute. Even when they dropped Ganguly in 2006, they couldn't find viable alternatives in the batting line up. I am hoping that some of the youngsters will stand up the void and start performing at International standards. Our recent experiences with batsmen other than the big-4 has been rather bad. We have not yet found a good set of consistent openers and almost nobody to challenge any of the big-4 slots with Yuvraj being the last to be unsuccesful to cement a place. That said, the time to get the void replaced is not much. In all probability, all five will make their exits, either graciously or ungraciously over the next 12-24 months and the replacements should be in by then.

For now, I am hoping that dropping Ganguly will indeed create a better replacement and not just a bunch of failed experiments leading to Ganguly reclaiming his spot.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I am a "Hypeist", so what?

Well, India did defeat Australia to create History. First victory of a subcontinent team at Perth, first Indian win at Perth, Breaking the 16 match streak twice in a row by Indians, Defeating Australia in Australia in 4+ years, first defeat for Ponting as captain at home and so on. The list of ways to ascribe this win is endless. I salute the Indian team efforts.

I was extremely fortunate to be watching the match on TV when India defeated Australia at Adelaide in 2003 and am thankful that I witnessed Shaun Tait being bowled to give India this victory. I almost remember all the commentary/follow-through after that match and saw Dravid with tears of joy welling up. It was amazing.

It is amazing yet again to see Kumble talk about having two options - "To Go Home or Win and prove ourselves". Yes, I recall telling my friends that those are the exact two options he had after the Sydney fiasco. He chose the best option available, just defeat the Aussies and prove yourself. Amazing.

Interestingly, Sunny Gavaskar was talking about "Hypeists" - those who wrote off India at Perth and also went to say, they would be trounced within 3 days. Those around me will be first to pop up say - Shreeni is a hypeist. Indeed I am. I said the exact same things. And I am very happy I have been proven wrong. Very Very Happy.

Having said that, whats wrong with being a hypeist. Having followed Indian Cricket for more than a decade and a half, its amazing how India manage to crop up the biggest surprises and shocks. Its unbelievable (often inconcievable) that they could lose a match and they would and on some other day, they will come right back and do the unthinkable to defeating the great opposition in harsh conditions. Giving this topsy turvy ride, there are two options, play it safe and diplomatic and always put out a balanced option. Sunny has to do it, he is a commentator after all and good for him.

But I do let my emotions flow and say what I really feel. Also, as you learn about Indian Cricket, you often feel disappointed after being let down by some bad Cricket. My mom used to tell me that disappointment comes with expectation. Isn't it then best that you set your expectations low, specially in a situation when the stacks are heavily loaded against the Men in Blue so as to avoid deep disappointment?

That said, I am in no way indicating that I did not support the Indian team. In fact I was wishing them the best all the time and cheered with every good session in this Test match. But I kept my expectation. Remember that at Sydney, defeat came to us because of one bad over, three wickets after having worked hard for 14+ good sessions?

So, I am a hypeist and don't mind being one.

ps: I am yet to get the word hypeist in an online dictionary. I am also assuming that I heard the word right and this is what it was intended to be. If I am wrong, excuse me.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

My musings on Sydney

India's tour to Australia for Cricket is turning out to be a battle on more than one front. At this point, it doesn't seem muck cricket like, but more like an enduring lesson in diplomacy, sports-psychology and sportsmanship.

India have lost the second test match and Sydney and Australia have achieved a record of 16 consecutive test match wins. A lot will be said and written about this test match. So, I decided to jump in the fray and instead of concentrating on records, decided to write a few thoughts. Anyway, this test match should not be remembered for the records, but for the game itself.


Firstly, the umpiring errors. Its very easy to take the view that Bucknor and Benson were biased against India. But if we think a little more objectively, what else could be the case? Bucknor and Benson were having a truly bad test match and that it could happen to anybody. If that is the case, Bucknor and Benson should be forthcoming in their apology to Indian cricket on their follies and promise to do better in future.

Second possibility is that they are truly incompetent. This is something that the umpires themselves will not accept. So, ICC should step in and annul the test match result and take action against the umpires.

Either of the two scenarios still do not explain why such mistakes (9 of them) are clearly against India (8 of them benefited Australia). Human errors apart, the third umpire making a mistake puts it, in my mind at least, that this match is a proof where umpiring consciously favored Australia.

More of the umpiring biases towards Australia in recent years on this blog. I quote from there:

"whenever Australia face a crisis situation they have more often that not been aided by the on field umpires whether home or neutral. Such attitudes raise questions on the ethical integrity apart from the bias quotient of the officiating umpires. It is for this reason, and for this reason alone that Australian players and media are highly reluctant to make use of technology. Rather, they would prefer to bear [read enjoy] human errors; for they know that at the end of the day technology will not conform to their needs at crisis situations and bail them out. As long as human errors are aiding their cause of establishing world record winning streaks by rescuing them from hopeless positions they would leave the tough part of biting the bullet to the opposition."

Australia's dominance

So, why should the umpires be biased. I don't know. The simplest reason is that Australia wishes to keep the winning thing going at any cost. And it seems the cost to pay is fairness. Australia has been challenged time and again in the recent past and history tells us that no team can keep on winning as well as Australia have done in the past decade. To prolong the streak, they need something more than just good cricket. In the past, they have resorted to sledging. Apparently, that is not good enough, particularly against teams like India which are willing to fight fire with fire.

Once sledging was proved to be ineffective, they have started being unethical on the field, complaining about Harbhajan and getting him a ban when there seems to be no evidence against him. Then, they decide to wrongly appeal on more than one occasion in this match when clearly they clearly knew that, based on cricket alone they could not win the match. Harbhajan's ban serves the important puspose of allowing their captain to score some runs in this series.

Ricky Ponting, who had disciplinary issues as a young cricketer has moved to be a great player. That said, he also wishes, as anybody else would, to stamp himself as one of the greatest captains of the game. His two World records, enviable test and One day record indicate that he is in line for the same. But sometimes all this can get to you. Now, Ponting wants to usurp Steve Waugh's record at any cost, even at the cost of cheating. if they continue to keep cheating, they might not just complete this tour of India at 18 consecutive wins, but also probably end next year at 25, the following year at 35 and so on. Nothing can stop you if you wish to play the unfair game.

India's Gumption

If Australia seems like an unfair winner to this test match, I feel India is a fair loser of this test match. True that they played the game to spirit and that they had a lot of things going against them. All that still doesn't explain Wasim Jaffer and Yuvraj Singh repeatedly failing at crucial points to hand over the onus to the Aussies. It also doesn't explain the poor batting display during Michael Clarke's penultimate over of the match. Well knowing that 12 more balls can get them to safety, unable to play a part-time slow bowler with three wickets in hand is not acceptable. It needs gumption to turn history on its head and India lacked it at key times in this match.

Having said that, I have to hand it to the Indians for playing so well and putting up such a fantastic performance and getting so close. They have two more matches and to prove that the Umpiring decisions alone won Aussies the match, they should defeat Aussies in both test matches and prove that they were in fact the best team in this competition. And lets all hope that God (and more importantly the umpires) are with them for the upcoming two matches.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Boxing Day tests roundup

So, India did lose the first test at MCG, as I feared in my previous post, this defeat did make it to the Highest margins of defeat by runs record. Shameful. This is India's third worst defeat, behind 342 run loss against Australia at Nagpur 2004 and 341 run loss against Pakistan in Karachi 2006.

If Australia do win this series, which I am feeling might probably happen, it will be their 8th consecutive series victory, which will be their best ever consecutive performance and they will come in line to eclipse England's record of 9 successive test series win between 1884-1891.

If Australia win at SCG, they will equal their own record of 16 consecutive test match wins. That previous sequence was broken by India in the famous Kolkatta test where VVS Laxman hit that beautiful 281. Lets see if India can stop them from progressing once again.

West Indies defeated South Africa yesterday to go 1Up in the series. Its a significnt achievement for West Indies. Not only have they secured a victory against South Africa, no less, they have done it in the first test. West Indies, like India are known to be slow starters in any series. They previous win in the first test came against Pakistan in 2005. And prior to that in 2002 against Bangladesh. So, you can judge how rare, but deserving victory this is. Its only the start, and they must secure the series win, unlike India, which squandered a 1-0 lead against SA to lose 2-1 last year.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Indias Target in perspective

India's target of 499 seems huge. Of course, India's own poor batting performance lead to them having such a huge target to chase. But lets actually see what's happened in the past in the fourth innings.

At least on one occasion, England has scored 654/5 in the fourth innings of the test match against South Africa. They were chasing 696 in the 1938-39 series and ended just 42 short. Two centuries and one double century was hit in that epic innings of 218.2 8 ball overs.

Apart from that great effort, there have been 13 other occasions where a team has scored 400 or more runs in the fourth innings, with 3 leading to victories.

Only in this decade did Sarwan and Chanderpaul hit centuries to score 418/7 against - guess who - Australia to win the match. The bowling comprised of McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and McGill. Just a month back, Sri Lanka, lead by a wonderful knock by Sangakkara, scored 410 against Australia and got into 96 runs of victory. Don't forget that India's chase of 406 against the West Indies in Port of Spain is legendary.

Thats not a lot, but enough precedent to go after this target whole heartedly and see if they can get across. Its time to make fresh history....

ps: If they don't make, hope they don't make it to the list of highest margin of victories.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

MCG disaster

Well, at the end of the second day of the first test between India and Australia, you have already seen so much. Firstly, we saw a fantastic performance from Aussie openers, which Hayden followed up to a century, then the fantastic bowling performance from Kumble. And then, you see a forgettable performance from Indian batsmen.

This test is not going to go from a draw either due to dour batting or due to rain. It certainly seems set up for a result and at this moment, if I could bet, I would bet all the damn money in my life of Aussies.

This match will also go down, I am guessing, as probably the tale of the biggest lost opportunity in Indian Cricket for some time to come. Australia are world champions and it takes a lot to defeat them and that too at home. But here you are, in the first test, your bowlers unexpectedly did such a good job and set up the match for India to take control.

All this famed Indian batting line up came off with nothing, zilch and it will be yet another humiliating victory and with that Australia might take the momentum all the way to a sizable win in this series. What a shame....

Who can we put our fingers on? My take is Dravid. If he is so unhappy playing at the opening position, he should have put it out on the table and declined to take field. Thats the gracious thing to do. You come out, do what you did today and hand over the momentum to the opposition and set up non-existent demons and the others just follow suit. I did watch him innings, almost entirely. This was neither such a bad pitch or such a brilliant bowling performance that you need to stifle yourself so much. But, anyway, all this is in retrospect.

India had a golden opportunity to play well, set up the game for a good finish, hopefully finished the winner and if not, given the Aussies the shivers.