Posts Tagged ‘World Cup 2011’


Venkat Vedam

1 March 2011

St. Louis

 

The Cup that Counts. Cricket World Cup 2011, being played in India. And yeah, Bangladesh plays some games in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka plays a few in Sri Lanka.

So, it’s more like a World Cup played in the Indian Subcontinent and the hosts each trying to make sure that they get their fair share of home-advantage – to see their team advance in the Cup and more so to suck-up all the advertising revenue that can be generated by invoking patriotic fervor in the fans of the game. Correction, fans of the cricketers belonging from their part of the world. Cricket is a lowly second priority.

Yes, Cricket is not important. Home team winning the games is important. And the organizers (ICC and the boards working for the corporations which paid millions of dollars) know that. Curators stick to the formula too. So, we have a bunch of grounds with dead-flat sponge mats disguised as cricket pitches. That’s nothing new to cricket, specially the shorter versions. But this is ridiculous. Hoping to win the ‘World’ cup through home advantage.

One of my favorite experiences watching an ODI is to see fast bowlers let it rip in the first few overs and the openers battling it out with sheer talent or just plain luck: scoring runs maniacally in boundaries like Jayasuirya, Sehwag, Matt Hayden or scoring runs cleverly by manipulating the field and taking advantage of fielding restrictions like Sachin Tendulkar, Hashim Amla or Inzamam ul Haq or consolidating if wickets were lost like The Wall Rahul Dravid, Younis Khan or Steve Waugh. And the batting teams which would come out of this phase unscathed or as victors would be best placed to dictate the remainder of the innings. And then enter spinners, to slow the things down and use their guile to tie the batsmen down – good batsmen milk the spinners, bad ones wilt and mediocre ones meander towards the slog overs.

And the rubbish pitches for the games played till now in the world cup, have prompted the teams to open bowling with their spinners. West Indies, once an evergreen factory of fast bowlers – opened bowling with their spinner Benn. So did South Africa, opening with Johan Botha when they had players like Steyn and Morkel, arguably the best pace-bowling pair in the world cricket now.

For the last decade, ever since India started taking over as the leading revenue-generator for the World Cricket and thus the financial power house of cricket, cricket has been gravitating towards being a game featuring batsmen-vs-bowling-machines. And the least useful of those bowling machines are the type called fast bowlers. The grounds have been made artificially smaller by bringing the ropes in, fielding restrictions have been extended, mandatory ball change has been introduced – to ensure teams have a newer cricket ball after 34 overs to prepare for the final assault on the already demoralized bowlers.

This fundamental shift towards a batting-only cricket is due to the way cricket is enjoyed in India. Everybody wants to bat. Bowling is not so important. Fielding is a waste of time. This mindset is alike in Gully cricket (alley cricket), school and college-level cricket, club cricket and Ranji Trophy – and carries over to the national team. And the same mindset is cultivated by the fans of the game. I mean fans of a few cricketers from their respective parts of the country. No wonder India has so many batting sensations/legends and just about a handful of world-class bowlers, much less legends.

India is a high-quality Test team – if the pitch offers some swing and bounce or if the pitch deteriorates so much by the end of the 3rd/4th day that the spinners run through the opposition. It has great batters who can handle spin of any kind and on most surfaces. Otherwise, they are only a decent bowling team. And in the shorter formats where the opposition attacks the bowlers, they degrade to a mediocre team. They’re a team of great batsmen and one good fast bowler, one spinner and a bunch of sloppy amateurs. And the one good fast bowler, is known to blow hot and cold. More cold than hot in crunch situations.

And so, the groundsmen will try their best to prepare ugly, flat, spongy surfaces to somehow make sure bowling is out of the equation altogether. Home teams trying to maximize on their advantage is nothing new. But a side so hopelessly short on bowling resources, a fan-base so carelessly ignorant about the one-sidedness of the team they support and administration trying to convert a world-stage to an exhibition of batting skills by the host team, is a shame.

Not that the Indian supporters care. I feel it’s a misconception that there is huge following for cricket in India. No, we’re not bothered about cricket. Cricket is one way of supplying ‘stars’. Like movies. Sachin is God. Ganguly “Dada” is the prince of Kolkata (and we boo other players from his team, if required). Harbhajan is a star not because he’s a good bowler, but because he’s aggressive and arrogant at times. Sreesanth is famous for being Appam Chutiya and the slap-gate and less for his rare bowling-exploits. Dhoni and Yuvraj are famous more for their fashions and the women they date than the cricketing value they contribute.

Sure, there is always a patriotic feeling attached to wanting your country to win. But more so, the idea is to see these ‘batting legends’ and ‘stars’ win. We can care less about the cricket.

We don’t have quality fast bowlers!?

OK – lets have a few spinners in the team and a LOT of Star batsmen and let us prepare flat wickets.

Hmmm – but our players are slow and can’t field well.

OK – don’t worry. Our star batsmen will score a few more runs and the stars can win.

Well, other teams have good bowlers and great fielders.

OK – don’t worry. We’ll bring the ropes in and our star batsmen will hit out of the ground, so that they cant field.

But, the other teams have good batters too and what if they take advantage of the flat pitches and small grounds?

….. SH*T

Cricket world cup should be about cricket. Leave patriotism to espionage and wars.

Cricket world cup should be about batting, bowling and fielding.

Cricket world cup should be about good all-rounded teams and not about stars, even if they’re gods or fading legends.

Two last pieces of evidence before I end this:

1. During the game between England and India, Sachin hit a SIX against Swan and even before the ball landed beyond the boundary, the camera landed on Deepika Padukone, a Bollywood actor. And later at different points during the game, the camera focused on Business Tycoons, random movie actors, Politicians and a lot of Unknown Importants.

2. After the game was over, one great Indian Cricket Fan commented on his twitter feed:

‘Between Rahul Bose and Siddharth Malya, someone shoud F*ck Deepika tonight. India deserves this’

It’s not about cricket. It’s about stars. Some Sachin, some Dhoni, some Deepika and some Kingfisher.

This India doesn’t bother cricket. If the team doesn’t win, they’ll pelt stones at the cricketers houses and sling the proverbial mud and then get back to following their ‘stars’. After all, IPL starts within a week after the World Cup.

But, it might at least enlighten a smaller percentage of the followers of the game in the country, if the team doesn’t win the World Cup. In fact, the team doesnt deserve to reach semi-finals – surely, they aren’t among the top 4 sides in the world cricket. At least the team they selected for this event. They don’t deserve to win.


John van der Westhuizen

Johannesburg

22 February 2011

The South African squad selection for the CWC 2011 was not without controversy. Albie Morkel, Mark Boucher and David Miller were just 3 of the notable omissions. That all 3 of them are considered valuable lower-order hitters has raised special concern though, with Johan Botha now poised to bat a position higher than I think any Proteas fan would like him to. AB de Villiers taking the gloves is in theory meant to free up a batting space, Albie Morkel as an all-rounder has leaked way too many runs off his bowling in the last 18 months, and David Miller did not do enough in the India series to warrant leaving any of the selected players out. It is what it is, as they say – and barring any injuries, SA will have to do without them.

To focus on the players that were indeed selected, is to notice almost immediately the number of tweakers in the line-up. With Johan Botha, Robin Peterson and Imran Tahir as frontline spinners, and the part-time yet useful skills of Duminy and Faf du Plessis, it is clear that the selectors have already stepped out of their comfort zone. In the past SA has been reluctant to veer too far away from almost total reliance on their seam attack. Since 1992, this has resulted in ZERO World Cup trophies. It was Albert Einstein who said “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results each time round is the very definition of insanity”. This fresh approach to the make-up of the SA attack can, to the optimistic Proteas fan, make it seem like we are in for a fresh, as yet unachieved result. First Round? Done that (2003). Quarters? Done that (1996). Semis? Done that (1992, 1999, and 2007). I am of the opinion that if SA make the final and lose, the squad would have done the nation proud. They would have conquered a new frontier, taken us further than ever before. If SA lost in the final it would obviously take 12 months to get over the heartache before coming to so rational a conclusion out loud, but I am preparing the emotional hedge, getting my mental affairs in order, just in case I have to deal with so tragic a scenario.

Of the 3 specialist spinners in the squad, I would expect to see at least 2 of them employed in every game, along with the 2 part-timers. On wickets that have shown a tendency towards taking more turn than usual though, it would not surprise me to see 3 specialist spinners picked, with Steyn, Morkel and Kallis bowling seam-up for the variety. Imagine a South African seam bowler picked for the purposes of providing variety? What has this world come to? Peterson has shown good form getting 6 wickets in the 2 warm up games against India and Australia. Tahir too has been among the wickets. Botha has proven himself to be SA’s premier spinner in this format. While Tahir is more of a strike bowler, the other 2 are more than capable of doing a holding job. Of the part timers, Duminy would most likely try to keep an end tidy while du Plessis would be more attacking. The balance on paper is frighteningly good. Throw into the mix Tsotsobe (leading wicket taker in the SA/IND series, ranked 10 in the world), Morne Morkel (ranked No. 2 ODI bowler) and Steyn (ranked No.1 Test bowler, ranked No. 8 ODI bowler) and it becomes clear that this attack is not the worst ever to wear SA colours in a World Cup.

As far as the batters go, on current form Smith is the weak link in the top order. Amla and de Villiers are ranked 1 and 2 in the world. Their prolific form in the last 18 months has been well documented elsewhere and long may it continue. Duminy has averaged 61 in ODI’s in since Jan 2010. And then we have Kallis. Someone who should know a bit about cricket, a certain Kevin Pietersen, recently described Kallis as “the greatest player ever”. For the purposes of this insert, I’ll take that as a valid remark. I will mention though, that in his last 20 ODIs, JK averages 52.5 – so he does have a vague idea how to hold a bat.

Now for the ‘weak link’: Apart from Faf du Plessis, SA appears to have no recognised finishers or big hitters for the latter stages of the innings. If the opposition get 5 wickets, the SA batting line-up appears to offer very little in the way of players capable of scoring 10-12 runs an over in the last 5-10 overs. The SA tail is exposed a little earlier than would normally have been the case in past world cups, with players like Klusener and Pollock coming in at 8 and 9 and making the closing overs count. I would be happy to be proven wrong, but as good as the trundlers mentioned earlier are at their chosen craft, they have yet to scare international teams with bat in hand.

The approach will most likely be one of seeing off the new ball, while making at least 50 in the first 10 overs, and then setting the stall for the accumulators to do their thing. Duminy and du Plessis should be able to add good runs more often than not at the end, but wickets will need to be preserved. I would imagine that at any given stage, 1 of the 2 batsmen at the crease will be tasked with batting through.

That’s the theory, all wrapped up. The skills are there, the support is there. What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s just get the squad to stick to a liquid diet in the play-offs, avoid solids completely – and please, pretty please: I hope they’ve all had training in basic first aid. Knowing the Heimlich Manoeuvre could come in handy.


Goutham Chakravarthi

13 February 2011

Bangalore

It is almost incredible that the world of cricket media fails to see beyond what’s with the experts. Numerous debates on the future of television coverage have raged the TV and internet space newly only to see predictable conclusions in the form of pay-per-view and HD television as its future. But I cannot fathom why there isn’t enough importance given to a whole lot of discussion, analyses and literature the non-experts’ section of the cricket world has to offer.

Largely it is a pile of waste that comes out post-game on TV or in the press. Cricinfo is among the most sought after sources of information for fans who want more than what they get on TV: pods, humour, debates being most prominent among them. But even then, Cricinfo still throws a large amount of the same rubbish all other forms of media do – pre-match predictions (templated and boringly predicatble), sound bites, injury rumours and of course a whole host of ex-cricketers not worth an ounce as experts.

It is beyond doubt that some of the best cricket analyses come from bloggers. Perhaps because these are people who enjoy watching the game and in no hurry to meet a deadline. Often these articles and opinions are far more interesting as they tend to have different flavours of perspective. Largely intelligent and even successful people on various counts of life are able to relate to various events on the game that sometimes escape even seasoned experts and journalists.

It is hardly surprising that pods like Test Match Sofa or Test Match Special are a lot more enjoyable today than a group of great ex-cricketers who give you the score every second ball or call an ingenious Laxman flick with a sponsor prefix to it. May be a day is not far off when technological advancements make inroads into television coverage where a bunch of people from across the globe connect to call the action and those who prefer their version over the official version can choose to listen to it. I would any day take Andy Zaltzman cussing over a piece of action than an ex-cricket go “he’s only gonna get better with age” everytime he sees a promising youngster.

Recently, there have been stories of journalists not being too happy with cricketers’ tweeting. Some seem to think cricketers have now taken over their jobs. Some recently have found cricketers taking a dig at their writing offensive. Ryder and Swan are a lot more fun with their tweets than many of the journalists taking offense to their comments. May be, for lesser spontaneous cricketers, they can try becoming their ghost tweeters. Much of today’s cricket journalism is bland.

Today’s writing largely remains ancient as it was decades ago when newspapers recounted the day’s events when live action didn’t reach the majority and as a result the writer unfolding the sequence of events allowed the writer to paint the game to the readers. It is a largely different world today where instant tweets even as the events unfold have become the norm (not to mention cricket coverage on phones and over broadband).

May be, that is why slightly unorthodox but mighty fine observers like Andy Zaltzman are entertaining and sought after. Great captains of yore who read the game well and inform of the likelihood of events to unfold still hold fort. Still, Opinion columns are predictable and so are post-game analyses. May be, they are going the way of player interviews that are repeats of the same thing time and again. Our experts ask the same questions, the players give the same answers and the writers write the same things. No reason why the consumer to this feels cheated.

Not sure if am being callous here. But I do believe that the best coverage out there is by the fans – amateurs who do it for fun and hobby but with as much dedication and application as the pros. Talented bloggers like Arnab Ray (Great Bong), Adam Wakefield (Bleacher Report and often in the Inbox section of Cricinfo), Subash Jayaraman (Cricket Couch), John vd Westhuizen (Cricket Guru), Brendon Layton (The Straight Bat) will provide interesting views to rival the best that goes around everywhere else. Of course, cricketwithballs, boredcricketcrazyindians, thealternativecricketalmanack keep us all entertained with their brand of cricket literature. And I hope that the best our of tweeter cricketers continue to keep us all entertained with that information their boards and press don’t want them to give us.

As much as a world cup it is going to be of Bhogle, Chappell, Boycott, Roebuck, Baum, Booth and Houwing, I will keep my eyes open for the best blogs, pods and tweets.

And may be, some of you will check out this space for more.


Chandrasekhar Jayarama Krishnan

Head of Cricket, CouchExpert

4 February 2011

Indian cricket has hardly been without unpleasant instances of brusque departures of captains: not least when Mohammad Azharuddin was forced to walk out after a tryst with match-fixing, a series of incidents that left the global cricketing community embittered. Zonalism, politics and self-worth are not easily untangled, precisely explaining why mistrust had often been an element within the Indian cricketing scenario.

Captains have also often been known to under utilize players in the squad who they didn’t favor. A captain even as late as Saurav Ganguly was known for his suspected treatment of Sunil Joshi, where in the Karnataka spinner was just given two overs in a game, and also sent up the order against an attack where his batting wouldn’t speak for itself. Naturally, he failed to impress and slowly faded in to the wilderness.

Yet, the current Indian captain is one who trespassed the urge to establish the primacy of Indian cricket over the Imperialists. The T20 world cup victory in South Africa has taken Indian cricket a lot further than anyone could have ever imagined with the IPL being the greatest consequence. A bunch of raw, talented youngsters, under his leadership, proved their worth to bring home the trophy. It is very easy to forget how it all started.

MS Dhoni is a captain of great deeds, but confirmed greatness yet awaits him. He has undoubtedly been one of the better captains around since Stephen Fleming, who, in Shane Warne’s words could have made it to the World XI squad in lieu of his captaincy alone. Yet, Dhoni realizes that all this isn’t enough – not when half the nation looks to bite him over his suspected incorrect moves during various periods over the recently concluded series in South Africa. As the saying goes, when the game bites, it takes a huge chunk.

But that the meager voices in corners of India calling for a change in captaincy – on the old principle that people who live in glasshouses shouldn’t throw stones – is easy to gainsay. He’s never tried to reach beyond himself. For one, his penchant for moves from out of the blue – opening with off spinner R Ashwin, throwing the ball to Suresh Raina during a crucial period of play, restricting the Aussies to within 200 in a day on a Nagpur wicket to slow the rate down – are not remotely as ransom as they may seem.

He has always followed his instincts, and more often than not, has backed them up with phenomenal results. Yet, achieving what by far is one of the prouder results from outside the subcontinent, in a land where we have never fared well, goes for a toss. Cynics can be forgiven for disclosing the idle state of their common sense during that period, for I can only see the funny side of it.

In some ways, it is fair to say that Dhoni would have aptly fitted in as a captain during the earlier decades when the team didn’t boast of too many superstars. He’s definitely one of those guys who can portray a team which is significantly greater than the sum of its parts. It takes a shrewd mind to do that, and he is one of the best in the business.

Dhoni’s strokes of genius have often come during periods where India have looked pedestrian, during the course of a test match, after weathering long stretches of ineffectiveness. From out of the blue, a plot is devised, a trap is laid and a pretty scorecard turns its tables. Restricted menace in India’s bowling attacks have often meant that they are likely to be dominated eventually, but clever moves at the apt time have helped India stay way ahead of their game.

These days, the role of a captain is often underplayed. Back then, teams did not have a bunch of analysts with their laptops, cunningly devising a strategy to attack a player’s weakness. The simple and pure art of observation is a lost one, but a rare few have retained it – the subject of the topic being one of them.

Much can be extracted from the current make-up of the Indian squad, but one thought that reassures us every now and then, even if the cynics hate to admit it, is to have the rope tethered around Dhoni. Sure, his batting form hasn’t been the best of late but I’m one of those guys who’d love to believe that he’ll bring the best out of him, and the team, in front of the home crowds during cricket’s biggest event. He did it in South Africa during the inaugural World Cup pertaining to the shortest form of the game – it isn’t hard to imagine him repeating that feat in the upcoming tournament.

Its a shame that great performances alone go noticed in big tournaments, and captaincy is barely a fact that is stressed on. It’d be interesting to see how captains rally their teams this World Cup, for after a very long time, we see no clear favorites in the tournament. If there did exist a Captain of the Tournament award, I’d definitely put my money on MSD.

The thought of looking for an alternative captain, then, is an admission of having a potent weapon on the playing side and a tactically shrewd thinker on the mental side. The question is: is there an alternative? Quite vividly, I see no one. At least, not yet.


Prasad Moyarath

Bangalore

18 January 2011

“Horses for Courses” is an oft-repeated excuse offered by the Indian cricket selectors to pacify the soaring public demand for the non-inclusion of a particular player. By announcing a 15 member squad for the 2011 World Cup with no major surprises, the selectors have divided the public opinion there by alleviating the need for this excuse. But not all are convinced that this is the best possible squad to reclaim the World Cup. Though this squad looks perfect on paper, the ground reality is that the few debated positions can turn disastrous for the team.

In Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Kohli, Dhoni, Raina and Yusuf Pathan, the selectors have picked the best 8 one day batsmen available. Harbhajan, Zaheer and Praveen Kumar are automatic choices as the best 3 one day bowlers. Ifs and Buts come up for the next four places. The ICC World Cup rules, the playing venues and the match timings become vital for considering players to fill these slots.

Though the World Cup is going to be held in India, Bangladesh and Srilanka, the ICC rules don’t permit the participating nations to replace players without ICC’s permission. Also if a player is replaced, he will be out for the entire tournament. This makes it mandatory for each team to have a replacement player for each position to meet a crisis. This exposes a vital flaw in the Indian team selection. Though there are enough days between matches, if Dhoni is to get injured and doesn’t recover in time for the next match, the current Indian team doesn’t have a specialist reserve wicket-keeper. If Dhoni can recover from that injury in a few days’ time, asking ICC for his replacement then will make India lose Dhoni for the rest of the tournament. In form Parthiv Patel would not only serve as a reserve wicket-keeper to meet such contingency but also as a reserve batsman. Indian selection panel’s conclusion that a reserve wicket-keeper is not needed for a World Cup in India lacks vision.

All the Indian matches are Day/Nighters. This World Cup is being held in February and early March and in the Day/Night matches, dew is going to play a major role in the second innings. Spinners won’t be able to grip the ball properly in dew conditions and this makes the selection of more spinners useless. Sehwag, Tendulkar, Yuvraj, Raina and Pathan can bowl part time spin and India doesn’t need an additional off spinner. This questions the inclusion of R.Ashwin. Though Ojha is a good left arm spinner, the fact that India doesn’t have a wrist spinner compels the inclusion of Piyush Chawla. Also Chawla is a better batsman compared to Ojha.

Now we need to look at the selection of 2 pacers from Munaf, Sreesanth and Nehra. Munaf’s recent performance in South Africa and his ability to bowl tight overs in the middle makes him an automatic choice. Nehra has lost his pace and swing and is not the bowler he used to be ever since his comeback. Sreesanth is in outstanding form and his pace and swing will turn out to be an asset for the team under lights. By selecting the out of form Nehra ahead of the in form Sreesanth, the Indian selectors have committed another blunder.

No reserve wicket-keeper, an additional spinner who may never play and an out-of-form pacer who can turn out to be a burden for the team, the Indian cricket team for the 2011 World Cup is definitely not the best available as claimed by K.Srikkanth.