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Thursday, December 27, 2012

(A guest blog by Mikesiva) Winning the World T20 champs - a springboard?


As a long-suffering West Indies fan, who fondly remembers watching cricket during the dominant days of Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, etc, it was with unbridled joy that I watched them win the world T20 champs recently, beating home team and favourites Sri Lanka in the final. West Indies fans all over the world have asked themselves, at one stage or another, "Could this success in the 2012 world T20 champs be a springboard for further success?"

That question is being asked because many of us remember the days of the Lloyd-Richards era, when brutally fast bowlers such as Marshall, Roberts, Garner, Ambrose, Walsh and the elegant Holding, swept aside opposing batting line-ups with ease. We also remember attacking and entertaining batsmen such as Lloyd, Richards, Richardson, Greenidge and Haynes, counter-balanced by the Rock of Gibraltar, Larry Gomes. The hope is that the success of Darren Sammy's team in winning the 20-overs tournament could lead to a semi-revival of this entertaining Windies team. But how realistic are these expectations?

Let's look at the Windies XI that played in that final....

1) Johnson Charles - an explosive but inconsistent T20 batsman, who is in and out of the ODI side, and nowhere near the Test team.
2) Chris Gayle - an outstanding T20 batsman, a good ODI batsman, but in Tests he averages 40, making him good, but not great.
3) Marlon Samuels - inconsistent in Tests, too slow in T20s and ODis before 2012, has transformed himself this year in all three formats.
4) Dwayne Bravo - a very good allrounder in the T20 format, inconsistent in ODIs, and a far way from a recall to the Test team.
5) Kieran Pollard - destructive on his day in T20s, disappointing in ODIs aside from the occasional innings, and nowhere near the Test side.
6) Andre Russell - going backwards in all three formats.
7) Darren Sammy - very much a bits-and-pieces player, who can put in occasional good performances in a match, but too inconsistent.
8) Denesh Ramdin - a very good keeper, but doesn't do enough with the bat in all formats.
9) Sunil Narine - outstanding T20 spinner, a good ODI bowler, but a below-average Test bowler.
10) Ravi Rampaul - a very effective bowler in all formats, though his Test average is still frustratingly high.
11) Samuel Badree - a T20 specialist, leggie who doesn't spin the ball much, bowls wicket-to-wicket, you-miss-I-hit, who struggles at any cricket longer than a day.

While the above side looks like quite an imposing side in T20 cricket, capable of beating any side on its day, and deserving of its number two world ranking, it's easy to say that if this same side was fielded in a Test match, the opposition would be licking their lips at the chance of playing against them. So, it's quite understandable that the Test team is very different. This is the team that played in the last Test against Bangladesh:

1) Chris Gayle - frustratingly inconsistent at the top of the order, but still has a better Test average than any other opener.
2) Kieran Powell - showed good form against lower-ranked teams, but exposed against good teams.
3) Darren Bravo - has the talent to emulate his famous cousin, but is still young, and still struggling for consistency.
4) Marlon Samuels - finally beginning to live up to his potential as an outstanding batsman at this level.
5) Shiv Chanderpaul - one of the greatest batsmen of the modern era, who has often had to rescue this brittle batting lineup.
6) Denesh Ramdin - a very good gloveman, but too inconsistent with the bat to occupy the number six spot against higher-ranked teams.
7) Darren Sammy - still has a better bowling average than most WIndies bowlers, and can occasionally make runs, but not really a match-winner with either.
8) Veerasammy Permaul - the latest spinner to get into the side, but could turn out to be a decent option.
9) Sunil Narine - very disappointing in Tests, and could lose his place to either Permaul or Shane Shillingford in 2013.
10) Fidel Edwards - earned a recall due to injuries with Rampaul and Roach, but at over 30, has lost pace, and can only bully lower-ranked sides now.
11) Tino Best - ditto.

You can see why this side is ranked seventh in the Test rankings, and not likely to move up from that position any time soon. There is a vast difference in quality between the teams in the two different formats, ignoring the ODI format for now, where the Windies arguably have the worst of their three sides. But just looking back at the T20 and Test sides, one factor is immediately apparent, and that could be the reason for the success in one format, and its lack of movement in the other...the selection of the side.

Trinidad have dominated the domestic T20 competition, and the selectors have finally paid attention to their dominance, and picked a side that reflects this domination - in the final, six of the 11 players were Trinidadian. It almost seemed as if the selectors didn't want to have too many Trinis in the side, and resisted picking Badree for as long as possibly, until the poor performance of his options meant that they could no longer ignore the clamour for Badree any longer.

However, even though Jamaica have dominated the domestic four-day tournament, they can only get two picks in the Test eleven - Gayle and Samuels. Quite a few players who have underperformed in the domestic competition still found themselves picked for the Test side, such as Kirk Edwards and Kraigg Brathwaite, and they unsurprisingly failed and are no longer in the reckoning. Jamaica won every single match they played in the four-day tournament, and Jamaican names dominate the leading runscoring and wicket-taking tables:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine ... tournament

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine ... tournament

Now, the selectors need to follow the principle that worked for the T20 side - give more opportunities to players from teams who have done well in the domestic four-day competition. But a lot of Jamaicans are still being overlooked for the Test team for the five-day game, and for the A team for the four-day game. I am not expecting these Jamaican players to walk into the Test team, but I believe that the following players should either be playing for the Test side or to be given an extended run in the A team:

1) Donovan Pagon - A team
2) Tamar Lambert - A team
3) Brendan Nash - Test team
4) Dave Bernard - allrounder in A team
5) Nikita Miller - A team
6) Odean Brown - A team
7) Andrew Richardson - A team

As things stand, the only one of the above players who's been called up to the A team has been Pagon. Instead, the selectors have inexplicably picked players who failed in the domestic competition, such as Raj Chandrika (Guyana), Kyle Corbin (CCC/Barbados), Nelon Pascal (Windwards) and Devon Thomas (Leewards), and they unsurprisingly failed to impress at home against a weak Bangladesh A team (with the possible exception of Pascal). But given that Andre Russell dominated with bat and ball in that series a year ago, it tells you a lot about the quality of the opposition:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine ... ype=series

Otis Gibson and the WI selectors need to stop fast-tracking players on the basis of potential (such as Devon Thomas), and start picking players for the A team only if they perform well in the domestic four-day competition. Until they do that, then they will not be picking the best team possible, and developing such players for the Test team of the future. If Jamaica win again this upcoming season, then I hope to see more Jamaicans in the A team. If another team wins the domestic four-day competition, then I expect to see more players from that team in the A team.

Until that happens, then I don't see the World T20 success acting as a springboard for the Test team....

Sunday, December 23, 2012

That day at Port of Spain, Trinidad.....


Everyone on this beautiful planet will remember things that made him/her feel awesome as a kid. For me, it is all about the nostalgic 90's. Scooby Doo? Famous Five and then Hardy Boys? Hoho, I do feel a bit nostalgic now.

These days, as a cricket fan, when I see Gayle wielding some implement and sending the ball into the orbit, I do feel a bit nostalgic about the 90's. The decade is long gone into the history books, but batsmen looking for placement and timing and using something that resembled a bat is what I yearn for.

Why am I talking so much about 90's and nostalgia? Well, it is just that 90's was also the decade, when I grew up watching couple of batting maestros of cricket; called Lara and Tendulkar. Both played with contrasting styles, but there was no doubting the fact that both would end up as legends of the game.

On the day when SRT retired from the one-day game, I thought of writing an article on him. Before cricket fans feel like having a sense of  nausea; let me assure you-all, this isn't some 111,243,678th tribute written on Tendulkar. Instead, it is about some of the best 44 runs; the author of this article has seen from the bat of Tendulkar. Oh! yes, just 44 runs out of 34,071 runs he has made in internationals.

In a time machine built by a crazy scientist, I for a few minutes go back to April 27th of 1997. The day, West Indies were playing India in a one-day match. It was also a day, when I witnessed a knock which made me realize why SRT is a true great of the game.

It can sometimes be hard to recollect about an innings that was played 15 years ago, but not this one. Envisage a dicey track, where a few deliveries are keeping very low. A few of them are jumping out of a good length too. You can call it as a treacherous track; with the batsman batting at the crease feeling like, why the hell did I  choose cricket as a profession. To make matters worse for the batsmen, they were up against men from the land of Brobdingnag called as Ambrose, Bishop and Walsh.

When every batsman was worrying just about survival; there was a gladiator no more than a school ruler, getting into perfect positions to play shots on a treacherous track. Yes, I am thinking about Tendulkar, who unleashed an array of strokes, which you don't expect to see on a dicey track.

During one of the overs bowled by Bish, it almost seemed like SRT was telepathically communicating with the bowler. He got into a good position to play the cut shot so quickly during that over, you just felt like he knew what was Bishop going to bowl. Poor Bish, as lightning seemed to have struck his head.

It wasn't like Bish was bowling utter garbage, as he was hitting decent lengths, but whatever he tried, he was pulled and cut to the boundary boards. SRT didn't even spare the giant with a stare that could make a commander of the army scared to death called Ambrose. The magical knock was finally cut short by an umpire, who must have been blind. When it hits a batsman's shoulder and keeper takes the catch, it can't be given out :)

This innings made me think of what SRT called as a dream like state, when he was batting. Even in my dreams, I can't envisage what that dream like state actually means, but what I can definitely say is; he was a very clever batsman. 

If you have noticed his batting closely, you could see that he was quick to judge the pitch and the bowlers, and modified his technique accordingly. In a way, you can say Tendulkar's batting was hypermodern - similar to the chess played by the great grandmasters post 1930. He has invented strokes of his own too. How many times have you seen a classical back-foot drive against finger spinners; er no quicks like Donald and company? SRT played that shot repeatedly at the peak of his prowess.

The knock he played at Trinidad in '97 showed that he judged the pitch better than others, and modified his technique accordingly. As Ambrose, Walsh and co. were banging the ball into the pitch at decent pace, he came up with the short arm pull. Mind you, on a track with variable bounce, it is a tough shot to play, but it was Tendulkar batting in his dream like state. As it was a one-day match, SRT  didn't look to roll his wrists to keep the cut shot down either. It simple words, it was a day, when a genius was at work. Hmm, the umpire didn't seem to think so! 

Alas! it is time for me to get onto my time machine that will take me back to the present world. A world where cheerleaders are employed to attract more fans to watch a game of cricket. Ah, am I sounding like a grumpy 28 year old, who thinks his childhood days were better? In my defence, just like anyone else, I am nostalgic about my childhood days :)

Hopefully, you have enjoyed this article about the little master at his very best. Next up, I will look at Prince of Trinidad.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Role of a cricket coach (Part -1)


"John Buchanan of Australia has won 75% of matches at all levels, far more than anyone in the history of the game," Hugh Morris told the Daily Mail.

This was a statement made by the managing director of ECB; when he was scouting for a coach after Moores - KP fiasco. Just having a glance at that statement on Daily mail made me go into discombobulated stupor for a while. For a cricket aficionado, who believes, those 11 players who play a game of cricket win you matches, that statement came as a rude shock. You just wondered after Buchanan is long gone; whether all those cricket administrators will join together to create an epitaph for him in Hell's door in Turkmenistan.

Before a few cricket fans pounce on me and make mincemeat of my assertion, I would clarify that I am not suggesting a coach's job is of a bus driver, who takes the players to the ground and back to the hotel. My belief is; a coach can play a supporting role, but it is the captain who drives the team forward. It is finally up-to those 11 players representing their team, to perform and help the team to win games. A coach isn't some God having a magic wand that will transform the team from one of those also rans to world beaters.

Once the game starts, a coach in international cricket can't even substitute a player, who looks out of sorts. Yes, if someone gets injured; another player can come in and field in his place, but can't bowl or bat. Just have a look at the game at Ahmedabad, as Flower knew he had made a mistake by going in for the out of form Bresnan ahead of Monty. Unfortunately, you can't substitute a player in cricket. It is another matter altogether that the super coach thought that Bres was good enough to play as the second seamer at Nagpur :)

So, how can a coach help a team in international cricket?

Bad habits - A young player, or even a senior player can get into bad habits (cricket related). There are occasions, when a batsman  is playing across the line very early in his innings and he isn't trusting his defence enough. You can also think of a bowler, who is bowling too short. A coach can just spot it and during a break tell him "Hi, why don't you try to play straight on a pitch that has turn and bounce."

A very good example of that is Kevin Pietersen himself. At Ahmedabad, KP didn't trust his defence as he was dancing down the wicket every second ball.  At Mumbai,  he was a different kettle of fish, as he was trusting his defence a lot more and looked to hit it straight down the ground as well as over extra cover.

The senior batsman KP himself seemed to have done a bit of soul searching about how to build an innings in the subcontinent. For a younger player, who is making his debut, a shrewd coach having the eyes of an hawk to pick up errors made by the cricketer can help.

Right advice at the right time - In the opposition ranks, there is a great batsman, who is going great guns in the series. The captain and his team members too are scratching their heads, as to how to find a way past the wall in the opposition ranks. Here again a coach can step in and give a few tips about how to find a way past him. You can say a coach can be the third eye, as what the captain, or his team members may not be able to see on a cricket field,  the coach may pick up a flaw. These days, with analysts around and so much information available on the internet, nothing remains a secret for long.

Man-management skills - Experts keep banging on how important it is for a coach to be good at man management. To some extent it is true as that is one area, where a coach can show his expertise and his true worth.

We can think of factors like good communication, relationship building skills and problem solving skills. Communication skills just doesn't mean that you have to talk in a manner, where the team  members understand what you're trying to say. It also means you need to captivate and motivate them with your talk. The coach has to gain the confidence of the team members by being respectful and considerate towards them. Even look to solve the problems that a player is facing. It can be anything ranging from cricket related, or even personal problems. If a coach feels something is wrong with how a certain player is playing, or behaving, he can have an one to one chat with him and look to work out a plausible solution.

In recent times, we have seen coaches, who are lauded for their man management skills; acting like they were in the job for the first time. If the Kiwi coach Mike Hesson was in the demanding and competitive corporate world, he would have been fired straightaway. In a meeting with the captain and your best batsman; how can you not communicate that you are recommending a change in captaincy only for the shorter formats of the game? We are talking about the same coach, who was appointed after some extensive interviews by Edward Do Bono of cricket er the man with 75% record as a coach :) The communication error has meant that the Kiwis have lost their best batsman Ross the Boss for the tour of Safferland.

During the recent KP text-gate, even the experienced coach renowned for his man management skills; Andy Flower didn't cover himself with glory. I have to say the inexperienced captain Cook and who I call as England cricket team's lieutenant, Prior showed more maturity. I am sure everyone agrees that KP made a mistake, but unless they found some solid proof that KP had given tactical advice, it looked weird when I saw comments like KP should never again play for England. You can't throw away a 90 test veteran just like that. Thankfully, the inexperienced captain Cook was mature enough and as a result, KP was re-integrated back into the set-up.

(In the second part of the article I will try to analyse  Duncan Fletcher as a coach).

Uncle Duncan Fletcher (Part -2)


As I said in Part 1 of the article that I would also have a look at Uncle Duncan Fletcher. The Indian cricket team under him have bombed on away tours and recently even at home, the so called revenge series turned bitter as India were defeated by England 2-1.

Uncle Duncan did some good work as the coach of England's cricket team from 99/00 - 06/07. When he took over as the coach of the team, England was languishing at the bottom of test rankings. Under his guidance, England built a team around youngsters like Trezza, Vaughan, Freddie, SIJO, Harmison and co. Yes, the in your face passionate captain Hussain and other experienced campaigners like Stewart, Gough and Atherton helped England in their journey to become a successful test side. It has to be said though, by bringing in newer players, Fletch gave the team a fresh look to it.

Now, who can forget Fletch telling Craig White that he is one of the best all-rounders going around. It seemed to have motivated White, as even an average cricketer like White performed well on away tours of SL and Pakistan. Mathew Maynard told that it was the first time, he felt like players weren't just playing for their places, but they were happy when others performed well too.

Fletch was rated highly for his tactical nous too. Before the '03 WC match against Pakistan, Nass and co. were said to be scratching their heads, as to how to get the run machine from Pakistan Mohammad Yousuf out. Within no time Fletch is said to have seen a video of Yosuf's style of batting and is believed to have said; yorker that shapes away slightly from him. Mind you, it takes high level of skill to bowl that delivery, but the young man with those weird  hairstyles called Anderson executed the plan perfectly in that match.

In 04/05, the Saffers picked a young player with a long beard called Amla to play against England. The tactician Fletch is believed to have said; follow him and rough him up with short stuff. Harmison did just that and soon Amla found himself in the wilderness. After many years, Arthur and his Ozzy boys tried to disintegrate Amla by bombing him with short stuff. Unfortunately, the plan fizzled out, as in 2012, Amla seems to be using a magic wand that produces runs.

In-fact, Fletch was so passionate about his job as a coach of England that during the series against Springboks in 04/05 itself, he asked for videos of Pakistan's opening duo Farhat and Hameed. England were due to play Pakistan at the end of 2005 and Fletch was very eager to analyse the batting techniques of Farhat and Hameed. It shows the commitment he had towards the job as the coach. What more, many of those strategies that England successfully executed against Haydos, Martyn and co. in the Ashes 05 were meticulously planned by Fletch himself.

No wonder, under his guidance, England from the also rans went onto become a successful test side. England won the Ashes for the first time in 05, beat Saffers, Pakistan and Sri Lanka away from home as well. I am not suggesting for even one minute that he was the sole architect  of England's success during that time, but he played the role of supporting the captain very well.

Fletch had his flaws too. During the Ashes 06/07 debacle, he was very stubborn as in-spite of Giles being troubled by injuries and lack of form, he continued to pick him ahead of Monty. Fletch had a fascination for pace and as a result, in came I bowl short and wide and you hit me Saj Mahmood. Fletch and Cooley tried to remodel Anderson's action and that was a disaster.

Owais and Prior were said to be thrown out of the squad, as they refused to incorporate the "forward press" into their techniques. For all his flaws, he would still be remembered as a successful coach of England's cricket team.

After the Ashes debacle in 06/07, Fletcher resigned as the coach of England. With time, he seemed to have easily slipped into his new role of mentoring younger coaches like Kirsten and Arthur. From nowhere, thanks to the recommendation of his predecessor as the coach of India, Kirsten; he landed the job of coaching the Indian side.

As the coach of the Indian team, he seems to have lost his touch. You wonder though, whether it is because he is asked to work with a team with his hands tied at the back? A coach plays more of a supporting role, but he at least should have a say in various matters related to cricket.

What interested me more was an article in times of India, where some players speaking on the condition of anonymity said, he is of little use to the team. It was said that he only told basic things, confused a young player so much that it resulted in him going through a lean patch and didn't help Dravid and SRT to iron out flaws.

I can certainly take on the last bit, where it is said that he didn't help Dravid and SRT to iron out flaws. Having scored well over 10,000 test runs; neither SRT nor Dravid would completely lose it. Even at the fag end of his illustrious career, you can see SRT playing the odd straight drive, or the cover drive, but with age, everyone will slow down. In short, one can't expect Fletch to fight with the nature's rule.

In England in 2011 though, one could see a few inputs from Fletch which might have helped Dravid. In that series, Dravid played slightly inside the line, which to an extent helped him against bowlers, who mainly shape it away from a RHB; Anderson and Broad. In the series in OZ though, Siddle, Hilfy and co. mainly looked to shape it into Dravid and as a result, his stumps were uprooted on numerous occasions. The first and foremost sign that indicates a batsman is coming to the end of his career is; when he starts getting bowled, or lbw frequently. In a way, you can say the Ozzies planned and executed their plans better than England against Dravid.

The other point was about Fletch telling only basic things. Well, cricket isn't some rocket science. For instance, in the test series against England, the only problem that Kohli had was; nibbling at deliveries outside the off-stump. To overcome that problem all it takes is; showing a bit more discipline by leaving deliveries outside the off-stump.  If indeed Fletch has confused some youngster, then there are problems aplenty. Good coaches look to keep it simple.

Kohli himself praised Fletcher and Kirsten before the series against India. Ironically, this interview was published by the same newspaper in which it was said that Duncan was of little help.

Kohli on Kirsten and Fletch,

"Both are very different persons. Gary was more of a guy who would have regular conversations with every cricketer. He kept talking to us all the time and he could make the players talk too. On the other hand, Duncan is someone who will come to you if he thinks you're making a mistake. Duncan has great knowledge and he can talk about the game at a totally different level. Some of the things he told me have helped a lot and I'd say, the improvement has shown. I have great relationship with both of them."
Well, how can a coach, who supposedly has immense knowledge about the game become poor overnight? Of course, there have been occasions in the past one year, when a cricket fan like me sitting in front of the TV set has wondered why India aren't doing this, or doing that? It is easier to analyse, when you are watching a game of cricket though a TV,  but India's think-tank have been reactive with their plans.

At Nagpur, India's pacer Sharma seemed to have woken up from his deep slumber, as he tested Compton with a few short deliveries and even took his wicket. Compton invariably thrusts his front-foot well forward. A clear indicator for the opposition to try out a few short deliveries. You could see the difference it made, as in the second innings, Compton was a bit apprehensive of using that big stride forward against Sharma. For India's think-tank, it took seven innings to try out that plan. In his defence though, Fletch and company didn't always have bowlers to carry out that plan..

If someone takes up the name of Captain Cook, even in his sleep Dhoni may get scared and fall down from his bed. He has been a thorn in India's flesh in the last few months. It also has to be said that India were yet again reactive, when they were up against Captain Cook.

People will tell you the Saffers this year tried to bombard Cook with Morkel going around the wicket. The truth is; in England you can always get a little bit of movement. As a result, the Saffers also looked to bowl from over the wicket and tempt Cook to play at a few deliveries just outside the off-stump and they succeeded too.

In India it is different, as you don't get to see quicks getting much help from the surface. In that case, what could have India done differently against Cook? If you look at Cook's trigger movements, one can notice that even when he looks to come well forward, his back-foot still will be more, or less inside the crease. His front-foot will be in the air for a moment or two and tends to move towards the off-side. Now that is where a seamer can zoom in and look to target his front pad; by getting a little bit of shape into him. Bowling from around the wicket is always an option too against any left-hander.

Only in the final test did Sharma look to bring it back into Cook. He did get him out lbw at Nagpur, though it was crystal clear that Cook wasn't out on that occasion. Sharma rarely tried to go around the wicket to Cook as well. 

Even some of the field placements, especially when Cook wasn't intent on scoring a run in the second innings at Nagpur were strange. The experts, or former Indian players have also accused the present lot of taking it too easy.
 
Even Down Under, when Indian seamers struggled to dislodge Punter, they seemed to have no plans for him. To be frank, I didn't watch much of that series,  but certainly followed the first test at MCG. My recollection of that test was of Indian seamers being erratic in the 1st session, but the rain break helped. Once the game resumed, the seamers tended to bowl back of a length and finally succeeded in tempting Punter to edge one behind to the slips. It perhaps tells you, the Indian seamers were just not good enough.

In the last few years before Punter's retirement, early in his his innings, he looked very vulnerable when a bowler bowled full and looked to get him out lbw. Once he got set, back of a length bowling on an off-stump channel troubled him (I have explained about it in detail before). 

Let me clarify that I am in no way trying to defend uncle Fletch in this article. When ardent cricket fans talk so much about an international cricket coach though; you wonder whether just waving a magic wand and telling abracabradabra can help a team to win games :)

For India to do well in test cricket, they should look at domestic cricket. India should prepare sporting tracks at least in Ranji trophy, as it will test a  batsman's skills and also give a bit of encouragement for the soon to be extinct tribe in India, fast bowlers. It will help youngsters like Jadeja to ameliorate their standards and as a result, when he plays test cricket, he may not look clueless against the likes of Anderson and Swann.

Anyway, Fletch no doubt should be held accountable for all those disasters that India have suffered. It is just that even those non performing players and maybe even the captain should be held accountable for the defeats as well.

The captain with supposedly a Midas Touch Dhoni; after the series defeat against England,

"It has been tough," Dhoni said after the draw in Nagpur that gave the series to England, "But there are not many things that will come close to when we lost the 2007 50-over World Cup. This is not even close to that."

After going through that statement by MSD, I am just speechless :)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We have to talk about Pat Cummins


With legs and heart pumping, arms moving at the speed of knots; a firebrand fast bowler bowls a super suburn Onyx missile to send the stumps of the batsman cartwheeling. The next man about to take guard, shudders with fear by imagining a fast bowler steaming in like the bullet train CRH380A and smashing his head with a 90mph thunderbolt.

Why am I talking so much about what seems like a crazy machine; hell bent on making the batsman shudder with fear? Am I going to write a 200 page essay on fast bowling? Hmm, no, I am thinking about the young brave fast bowler from Down Under, Pat Cummins. The man, who is trying his best to carry the torch of fast bowling.

Our man, Pat Cummins isn't your archetypical fast bowler, as he doesn't have a run-up starting from the boundary line like one Rawalpindi Express. Unlike many great WI fast bowlers of the past, he doesn't seem to have a wild stare which in turn, can even make an army general frightened to death. He doesn't belong to the mob of Australian fast bowlers who snarled, growled, hissed, sledged the batsmen all the time.  He is more of a smiling assassin. 

Smiling assassin?? Yes, for a fast bowler it is a bit weird, but no one can question his attitude. The way he took up the mantle of being the strike bowler in his first test itself against the Rainbow Nation says it all. Just at the age of 18, he was bowling at 90mph, was getting it to cut, swing and seam and bowled some fine bouncers too. What more, he got the wicket of a batsman with concentration prowess of a buddhist monk called Amla.

Alas! the wonder boy Cummins; seems to spend more time at a surgeon's table than at the bowling crease. If it was a foot injury that ruled him out of an entire home season last year then, a stress fracture on his back is haunting him this season. When bowlers at the age of 19 are heading to the knackers yard, it is certainly a cause for concern.

So, is Cummins too fragile? Was it a mistake to make him play test cricket at the age of just 18? What about the Australian board? Have they mismanaged him? Will Cummins have a successful career as a professional cricketer? I'm no Nostradamus to publish cricketing prophecies, but just thought of looking at the reasons behind Cummins suffering so many injuries and can he make a successful comeback.

Did CA make a mistake by introducing Cummins to test cricket at the age of 18?

I have always believed that if a cricketer is good enough to play test cricket, it shouldn't matter whether he is 18 or 28. The board and the captain though, have to manage the young bowler's workload. In a fc game in 2010/11, Cummins bowled 40 odd overs and that is ridiculous. Well, they stretched every sinew in his body and made him bowl thousands of overs in that match. As he is just 19, Cummins should be used as a strike bowler bowling in short bursts.

Why Cummins shouldn't have played the Champions League.

I don't know how bowling just one over, or two over spells will help a fast bowler to develop his game. Instead of playing in the CL, Cummins should have been given a bit of rest. Slowly but steadily, the board could have played him in the odd fc game. It is all about gradually increasing the workload on young fast bowlers.

As one Waqar Younis said; bowling and running were key aspects of his training. Brett Lee was another of those sprinting freaks. Younis also made an interesting point that being in the gym is all about looking good.

Cummins and his bowling action.

I have already seen that Cooley and co. are thinking of changing Cummins's bowling action. I can only say that for the love of God, do not let Cooley and his ilk anywhere near the lad. Everytime, Cooley and company have looked to overhaul a bowler's action, we have seen that bowler losing the plot. It has definitely ended Plunkett's career and it seems like Mitch is following in his footsteps. Who knows, if given a chance, Plunkett may take a knobkeirre and hammer those biomechanists for changing his action. Thankfully, Anderson has made a succesful comeback, but everyone won't have the guts and gumption that JA showed when he was down and out. 

To be frank, Anderson himself is a very good example for Cummins to follow.

After JA suffered a back injury thanks to the remodeled action in '06, he went back to his original action. Yes, he has made a few tweaks to it, but these days, he bowls with an action; that is based on his original action. With time, by bowling more overs, he got stronger, developed a repeatable action, got his late swing back and even now bowls a yard quicker when needed.

When you think of Cummins, on occasions, his action looks similar to Harmison and that isn't good news. He can perhaps straighten his run-up. It has to be said though, as a bowler bowls more overs, he himself will understand what works for him and what doesn't.

Let me clarify that I'm not an expert and I don't want to pick up an argument with those biomechanists, but changing a bowler's natural action looks all wrong. Once a bowler gets used to a particular action, it must be hard for him to adjust to the remodeled one. If not anything else, just read what the great Younis had to tell about it on cricinfo. 

Cummins's future?

As a cricket fan, I can only hope that when Cummins comes back from injury, they look at gradually increasing the workload on the young quickie. Let him play a few fc games, before he plays test cricket again.

One-day cricket and t/20s? Well, I just hope that he doesn't play too many of them. Do CA want Cummins to be injury prone all the time? Are they trying to convert a genuine quick bowler into one of those defensive bowlers bowling restrictive lengths? 

Just look at Steyn, as he too made his test debut at a young age. The key aspect to look at is; even after playing eight years of international cricket, Steyn has played just 80 odd one-day games. Ah, that is what is called good management of fast bowlers. Of course, please don't change Cummins's action and in an attempt to prolong his career, don't ask him to cut down on pace.

For a cricket team, a fast bowler is like a sparkplug, who excites the fielders to do something special, as he makes things happen. For a cricket aficionado like me, there isn't anything better than a raw riotous fast bowler giving a batsman a taste of the perfume ball. We all can only hope that injuries won't end Cummins's career, as cricket needs him and needs him very badly.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Play the game like West Indies


August 1st, 1924 - The great Sir Frank Worrell was born. The man, who made the dream of Caribbean unity a reality. Players coming from different Islands that were 1000's of miles apart from each other, played with brio, elan, joie de vivre and vitality. More importantly, under the leadership of Frank Worrell,  they made Caribbean unity a reality.   

In no time, West Indies became an all conquering force in world cricket. Just a mere stare from those mighty fast bowlers would have even made a commander of the army scared to death. Viv, Greenidge and co. seemed to be using a sword that Mel Gibson used in Braveheart to slaughter hapless bowlers. It made everyone to coin a new word for the all conquering West Indies team called "Blackwash." A cricket aficionado might have even thought of selling his house, car and everything he has got, just to catch a glimpse of this all conquering West Indies side.

To understand the way, the all conquering West Indies side played, let us assume for a few minutes that a mad scientist has built a time machine. We the cricket fans are travelling in that crazy sci-fi invention to go back in time to watch the WACA test, played between the Ozzies and West Indies in 92/93.

Backdrop

The series played between Australia and West Indies  in 92/93 was billed as the unofficial World Championship. In the first test at Gabba, the Windies escaped with a draw. The Aussies though, took the lead at Melbourne thanks to a Mark Waugh special  on a wicket that had variable bounce.The Wizard of OZ (Warne) took over from Junior, by fooling the Windies batsmen with his bagful of tricks.

The Windies came-back strongly at Sydney, where Lara made a magnificent double hundred and the match ended in a draw. Of course, no one will forget that epic test at Adelaide with the West Indies winning it by just one run. One run the difference between the winner and the loser? staggering isn't it? The battle royale between the two heavyweight nations resumed at WACA.

WACA has always been one of Australia's favourite hunting grounds, but the problem for them was, up against the Windies, they had lost all their previous three meetings. West Indies' record at WACA  shouldn't  surprise anyone, as on that trampoline track, all those mighty fast bowlers from the land of Brobdingnag took wickets for fun and frightened the Aussie batsmen to death with their stares and glares.

Squads

Australia made one change to their side that lost at Adelaide. The tragic hero Tim May, who almost took the Ozzies to an improbable win at Adelaide was dropped. The obvious reason for dropping the spinner Tim May was, the track at WACA offered pace and bounce for fast bowlers to thrive. In came, the young firebrand fast bowler Angel. The vice captain on paper, Taylor was again designated to carrying drinks.

The Windies were forced to make a few changes too. Hooper and Kenny Benjamin had to sit out of the crucial test match at WACA because of injuries. The mercurial left-handed batsman Arthruton and pacer Andy Cummins were selected.

The test match

 Australia won the toss and elected to bat first. At 85 for 2, it looked like a good decision to bat first. The WACA track in the 80's and 90's had a bad reputation of getting cracked up as the match progressed. Unfortunately for the Ozzies, it was a lull before the storm arrived, as the giant Amby woke up from his deep slumber and ripped through Australia's batting line-up. Seven wickets for one run of 32 balls??? Maybe an alien descended on earth that day and bowled a supernatural spell.

First up, Ambrose bowled a jaffa to remove Junior. Amby pitched it on a length, but he extracted awkward bounce and even got it to cut away from Mark Waugh to produce the edge. On expected lines, Mark Waugh was neither back nor forward. The batsman seemed to be unhappy with that decision, but it was perhaps a case of him wondering what  the f*** was that? Maybe a ballistic missile?

If the second best batsman of that series for Australia, Mark Waugh, had to face a jaffa, then what about the best batsman of that series for the Ozzies, Boon? The man who relied on chewing gum power to make big hundreds was looking in ominous form, as anything that was slightly short in length was dispatched to the  boundary. Unfortunately for him, the Calypso King Amby had just woken and when he woke up, no one could survive.

Now, Boon was a batsman, who loved to play on the back-foot. Our king of destruction perhaps saw that and he bowled it slightly fuller. For the zillionth time, Amby got awkward bounce from a length and just enough movement to produce the edge. Poor Boon, as he even tried to take his bottom hand off the bat, but he could only spoon a nice and easy catch to the gully fielder. I'm sure, Boon and Mark Waugh must have felt like they had been given a 440 volt electric shock by the Calypso King Ambrose.

With Boon gone, West Indies suddenly were up against a familiar foe by the name of Border. Even up against the fearsome foursome of Marshall, Roberts, Holding and Garner, the great man had done well. So a lot was expected of him, when he strode out to the middle to face chin music from Amby, Bish, and Walsh.

Border who seemed to be made up of Toledo Steel though, wasn't spared by our Calypso King as he produced the best delivery of the series to dismiss him. Amby pitched it somewhere outside the line of Border's leg-stump. The left-handed Border seemed to have got into a decent position to play a defensive shot on the back-foot. To everyone's amazement, Amby didn't just get awkward bounce, but go it to cut away so sharply from Border that within a fraction of a second, it had taken the edge of Border's bat and the keeper Murray took the catch.  Consolation for Border? He was good enough to edge the best delivery of the series!

The lower order batsmen seemed like a few soldiers, who were running for cover after the king and his trusted commander were slain by the king of destruction Ambrose. Amby was clever too, as he bowled it a touch fuller to the tailenders and as a result, reaped the rewards. To take seven wickets for one run in a spell of just over five overs tells you something about arguably the greatest spell bowled by a fast bowler.

Fans say, the Calypso King woke up from his deep slumber, only because the Australian batsman, Jones complained in a one-day game to the umpire that Amby should remove the white wrist sweatband he had worn in every match. He certainly woke up the moody, but perhaps the most destructive fast bowler of all time and the rest was history.

 Ambrose took a 5for in the aforementioned one-day match, ripped through Australia's top-order at Adelaide, was at his incredible best at WACA and helped them to win the World Series Cup. If I was the coach, I would have told my batsmen to take a knobkerie and whack Dean Jones' head.

With just 118 runs on the board, Australia needed quick wickets, but the brave captain Richardson and Phil Simmons took apart the Aussie attack. If you want to see a batsman playing the hook shot, then watch a video of Richardson going after McDermott and the firebrand young quick Angel. Both were no slouches with a ball in hand and especially, McDermott bowled some fine short deliveries, but Richie hooked everything for a six. Finally, McDermott got Richie with yet another short delivery, but the damage was already done.

The counter-attack by Richie and Phil seemed to have taken the wind out of Australia's sails. To their credit, the Aussies came-back hard at West Indies on the second day. Led by a cricketer, who seemed more like a bull from the China shop rather than a fast bowler Merv Hughes, teamed up with the strike bowler Billy the Kid to take the last 9 wickets for 180 runs. Mark Waugh with his brand of bumpers and full swinging deliveries chipped in with two wickets.

West Indies though, already had a lead of over 200 runs. With the fearsome threesome of Ambrose, Bishop and Walsh in their ranks, it looked like a daunting task for the Aussie batsmen. The daunting task became a reality, when Bishop with a classical side-on action and bowling at the speed of the hurricane Flora that hit Trinidad all those years ago, removed Steve Waugh. The brute of a delivery that followed Steve all the way was too hot to handle. To be frank, Steve was struggling with short stuff in that series, as he kept jumping in the air, when confronted with a short delivery. To send him at no.3 on a trampoline WACA track showed, the Ozzies were in a confused state of mind.


The wicket of Steve Waugh seemed to have lifted Bishop, as he bowled a good 5mph quicker to Boon and Mark Waugh.It was fast bowling at its best, as Ambrose and Bishop followed up by Walsh pitched every delivery on and around the good length area at pace. There were no freebies on offer, as none of them either give room, or bowled at the pads of the batsmen.

In-fact, every alternate delivery Boon and Mark Waugh seemed to get beaten. Finally, after 90 minutes of struggle, the gambler Mark Waugh tried one of his favourite shots, the ramp shot, but this time around, Bishop was too quick for him. Junior could only guide it to the slip fielder. We are thinking of two inform batsmen begging for a run and that tells you something about the hostility of West Indies' bowling on a hot day at WACA.

The tragedy for the Ozzies continued, as the great warrior Border bagged a pair. What more? Border going into the fourth test at Adelaide, needed just about 70 runs to surpass Sunny Gavaskar's world record of 10,122 runs. At the end of WACA test though, he still needed another 50 runs to become the new record holder. Boon tried his best to hold the innings together, but unfortunately cricket is a team game. It has to be said, for his twin fifties, Boon should have got an award for his bravery (I haven't seen such hostile fast bowling again in my life).

Up against the fiery Bishop, the lower order batsmen fell like a pack of cards, as Australia hurtled towards an innings defeat inside three days. The final wicket was taken by the gentle giant Walsh to complete a historic series win. Just remember that Windies came-back from 1-0 down to win the series 2-1 and that too they achieved it Down Under. For the Ozzies? After the match got over, the gang of Border and co. perhaps tried to hunt down Dean Jones hiding in some jungle :)

So my friends, that is how West Indies played their cricket. When they were up against the mighty Aussies, we saw a masterclass of fast bowling and defiant yet venturesome batsmanship. You can use as many words as you possibly can like brio, elan, joie de vivre, vitality yet, it is not enough to describe the kind of cricket, the Windies played at their very best.

Alas! all good things have to come to an end, as our time machine has been transposed back to present. Before fans pounce on me to tell that Windies have just won the world t/20, let me explain my views. I'm not in deep hibernation and this isn't a case of time dilation with me crash landing after a 10 year voyage in space. Yes, I followed the just concluded World t/20, where under the able leadership of Sammy, the Windies showed glimpses of the golden era of West Indies' cricket.  In reality though, they have just taken their first step towards the ultimate goal of again becoming a super power in world cricket.

As a cricket aficionado, I can only hope that West Indies can regain their lost glory. If not for anyone else, they should do it for the man whose name is imperishable in the history of West Indies' cricket - Sir Frank Worrell.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Performance of defending champs??


ICC please don't host another tournament in the subcontinent. Before any cricket fan from the subcontinent pounces on me like a tiger, let me clarify, I'm just imagining the plight of England's cricketers after all those catastrophic, or ruinous defeats in the subcontinent.

If cricketers from other teams have enthralled the paying public with a brand of cricket that can be described as venturesome, ballsy, defiant, and fearless, England have played like rabbit in front of headlights. The  backroom staff, who are paid handsomely for their services seem to treat something called money-ball as the holy bible. For a start, a bit of common sense and flexibility would help.

Actually, I don't know from where to start, as England's World t/20 campaign has been a disaster, but just thought of pointing out some mistakes which could have been avoided.

Muddled thinking.

From the start of the tournament, England didn't seem to know what was their best team. I can tell you that chopping and changing never works in any sport. Just pick a team and back them to the hilt.

The major decision was regarding out of form Kieswetter. I don't have a problem with either Kieswetter, or even Lumb opening the batting. I would like to remind critics that in 2010,  England won the world t/20 with Kiesy and Lumb at top of the order. Both at their best are naturally aggressive batsmen and can add value to a t/20 side.

The problem with that is, a batsman should look like scoring a few runs, but Kieswetter was out of form. The one option the management had was to push Kieswetter down the order and open the batting with Luke Wright and Hales for most of the games.

The management though seemed to have lost their marbles, as for the crucial game against Sri Lanka, Bopara was selected in place of Kiesy. Here was a batsman, who has looked mentally shot for the last few months. To play him in such a crucial game at the number four slot was suicidal. Bairstow was the wicketkeeper for the last game, but it is never a good idea to go in with a makeshift keeper in a do or die game.

With KP not available for selection, I might have looked at Trott. Fans have kept saying that Bell should have played, but I can safely say on Sri Lankan tracks, Bell would have struggled. Trott looked good in the World cup played in the subcontinent in 2011.

Yes, it was a 50 over tournament, but Trott with a technique of playing with his front-foot out of the line of the ball and hitting it through the covers showed that he has the game to play in the subcontinent.  It doesn't take rocket science to know that Trott would have been a better choice than Bopara.

Of course, I have always maintained that Owais Shah should have been selected for this World t/20. Anyone who has seen him having the chutzpah to smash those darts from Harby in the IPL, or play against the likes of Narine, Ashwin, Vettori, Murali and co. reasonably well would say the same. A cardiac patient watching him bat may need a defibrillator, but he is very effective against spin bowling. The problem is, England's management believe too much in the concept of 'team unity'.

The third seamer's issue.

In 2010, Bresnan did a wonderful job, but this year, he has looked innocuous. The other option England had was Dernbach. If  Dernbach is selected, he should have the full backing of the coach and the captain. Jade has got those variations to trouble batsmen and take wickets, but he will also go for runs.

After a few ordinary games though, Dernbach was dropped and that wouldn't have helped his confidence one bit. With Dernbach, either tell him, you will play all the matches and we have full confidence in your ability to bowl those variations, or drop him altogether.

In the last tournament, England also had a left arm medium pacer in Sidebottom and Yardy did his job as a left arm spinner. These days, with umpires ready to give the batsmen out lbw even on the front-foot, a SLA is like a gold dust.

 With Sidebottom also in the side, England had a bit of variety in the pace attack. If a left-armer gets it right, he can cut down the room for a batsman to play his shots. It will  take a bit of time for a batsman to adjust to the left-armer's angle.

People may point out that Samit Patel is a SLA and he bowled a few overs in the World t/20. The problem is, just being a SLA on a team-sheet doesn't produce you wickets. The other SLA, Danny Briggs showed promise, but he is still a greenhorn.

So were there any positives to take out of this  tournament?

I thought Finn was excellent in this World t/20. Yes, Finn is tall and can get bounce, but he is also a clever bowler. He mixed his lengths beautifully in the world t/20 and as a result, the batsmen weren't able to line him up and smash him all over the park. If I'm not mistaken, no one smashed him for a six in the entire tournament and that is a tremendous achievement.

To a lesser extent, Samit showed some promise in the crucial encounter against the Lankans.  It was refreshing to see a batsman playing shots against spinners through the covers and the extra cover region. Samit is a batting all-rounder and if he plays, should bat higher up the order. In the match against Sri Lanka, he finally got a chance to express himself as he came into bat at number four.

Views on Broad's captaincy.

Any tom, dick, or harry can see that Broad lacks tactical nous. Why would a captain constantly use a SLA against the left-hander? Winning the toss and batting second in a crucial game and that too with an inexperienced batting line-up on paper looked like an iffy decision.

In Broad's defence though, the decision to bat second may have been taken by Flower and to be fair to him, other than Mahela, all captains have been disappointing in the world t/20. All of them seem to be too scared to try something new.

To be very blunt, this is the worst I have seen England play in a World t/20 tournament. Statisticians may point out that in 2007, England only beat Zimbabwe, but I at least remember the team giving South Africa and the Kiwis a run for their money (The Kiwis had a good t/20 team in 2007). 

In-fact, the only time I felt good during this tournament was when through crictime link, I watched Mr Snarky (Mark Waugh) and Mr Ego (KP) in a studio analysing a cricket match. I have never laughed over a match analysis as much as I did that day!

Ah, ok, I haven't talked much about my favourite subject in recent times, Mr Kevin Pietersen. Today,  KP publicly apologised to all parties concerned  and after a reintegration process, may get another lifeline to play for England.

This second apology though, made me imagine a scenario where Morris and Flower are directing a film with KP as the main protagonist. The film's name is titled as how to apologise to your captain. During the 222nd take, KP says '' I apologise for sending those provocative texts''. Flower immediately says ''cut it'', as the apology wasn't sincere enough.

Finally, a lie detector would be used to see whether KP's apology was sincere or not. After all of them come to the conclusion that KP's apology was sincere enough, the reintegration process starts. Now, I have opened my old mathematics book to understand what is reintegration process. I just hope that I can find the answer. #justjoking

Monday, September 24, 2012

England can't play spin


Outclassed, clueless, rabbit in the headlights, out-thought. Hi, don't worry, I'm not trying to  write a blog made up of different words, but these are some of the words that can be used to describe the way England's batsmen have played against spin in the last 10 months.

Every spinner worth his salt, or even a bowler who, seems to be good enough to compete with the dart champion Phil Taylor rather than bowl off-spin, have made merry against England. It feels like some of the batsmen are trying to answer a Maths question paper written  in Chinese language.

We all know that just like in any other field, even a cricketer would do mistakes, but to repeat those mistakes again and again is unfathomable. In-fact, if they continue to repeat the same mistakes, England's coaches should look at some monetary fine :)

 I don't know where should I start because yesterday on a track that helped the spinners just a bit, the batsmen seemed to look for cobras in the pitch. When England's batsmen played, it seemed like a friendly slog-fest played in a park. To be frank, you don't need an apocalyptic prophet to predict that up against even a decent spinner, England's batsmen are clueless

Let us look at some of basic mistakes that England's batsmen have kept repeating for a while. 

Plonking the front-foot right into the line of the ball - Even without DRS in place for this t/20 tournament, umpires these days are more inclined to give a batsman out lbw. All batsmen have been guilty of repeating this mistake of just plonking the front-foot right into the line of the ball and getting out lbw. For instance, recently Bell did it in a one-day match in England and got out to Robin Peterson. Kies too did it in a t/20 match against the Rainbow nation.

Just look at some of the Asian batsmen as they get their front-foot out of the line of the ball and look to play through the covers. Yes, batsmen have to play against the spin, but especially these days, it is a safer option than just plonking the front-foot right into the line of the ball. This technique of trying to play down the line can also lead to a player playing around the pad and down the wrong line. Reaching too far in front of the pad is another possibility.

The South African born batsman KP :) was guilty of repeating this mistake again and again in the test series in UAE. KP though, was clever enough to identify that, as in the onedayers and in the t/20's against Pakistan, he started to play more through the covers by playing beside the line of the ball and succeeded. Pietersen himself has a modest record in the subcontinent, but he showed that with hardwork, you can score runs in Asia. 

Blind sweeps, cross batted hacks, wafts - When a  batsman plays so many cross batted shots you know he doesn't have a plan in his mind and has pressed the panic button. The blind sweep that Bairstow tried yesterday to a wrong un from Chawla can't be described in mere words. It seemed like before Chawla even bowled  that wrong un , JB's brain had been programmed to play a cross batted slog sweep. Next time he tries that shot, he should be sent back to school. Kies wasn't much better as he tried a waft, slog, or whatever you want to call that shot as. 

Playing back to Harbajan - Yesterday, Harby's plan was simple and straightforward. He would look to fire it in at over 60mph and the odd delivery would be tossed up. When a bowler fires it in, he would dream of a batsman playing back and looking to cut.


Interestingly, England's batsmen decided to play the cut shot against Harby. The so called good player of spin Morgan, was guilty of trying this cut shot. Buttler left all his three stumps and asked Harby to fire it in on the stumps and Harby duly obliged.

Here, let us have a look at how the man who relies on chewing gum power Owais Shah, treated the darts from Harby at Mumbai in the IPL. He fearlessly used his feet and smashed the predictable Harby all over the park. He was also able to manoeuvre his bowling into the gaps and that is on expected lines, as he has got those Asian wrists. I understand, if a batsman is unsure about using his feet to say Ajmal, but not when a batsman is up against a bowler who is predictable.

Escape shot - The batsmen can learn a lot from Shane Watson. He isn't that good against spin either, but he has a method while playing spin. His escape shot has always been down the ground for a single. These days, modern day captains don't bring the long-on, or long-off up. As a result, Twatto has worked out that he just needs to rotate the strike by placing it down the ground. People think, Watson's game is all about power, but he is better than that.

Shane Watson can also manoeuvre the spinners into gaps on the on-side a lot better than some of the batsmen we saw yesterday. Even in UAE in the onedayers, Cook and KP were able to place it into the gaps and rotate the strike well. KP did that in the t/20s too.

The problem for England's batsmen playing in the World t/20 is, unlike KP, or Twatto, none of them are quick on their feet. All the batsmen either just plonk their front-foot forward, or stay back. The escape shot has always been trying slog sweeps and cross batted hacks. For each and every delivery that a batsman faces from a spinner, he needs to be quick on his feet so that he can either go back, or forward depending on the length.

Fans talk about why Gooch and Flower haven't helped the batsmen to improve. Last time I saw, the coach can't score runs, take wickets, or catches. He can only guide a player. Let us say, a teacher can ask a kid to repeat the word 'A' but if the kid tells 'B' everytime, the teacher can't help.

The tone of this article may have been a little bit harsh, but I can't help, as England's batsmen have kept playing those blind sweeps, cross batted wafts, slogs, hacks, shots played half cock and off balance for long now.

Anyway, yesterday team unity didn't score runs, take wickets, or take catches. Me thinks, it is better to coin some new word to keep that South African born English cricketer out of the team.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pietersen, Cricket Pundit, Ramp Shot and all that


 September 20th of 2012, another boring match at ICC World t/20 comes to its foregone conclusion. The game seemed more like a holocaust of  team Zimbabwe in front of empty stands. In-fact, even one South African born English cricketer may have texted to a few Saffer players,  f*** this dull.  Interestingly, once the match got over that so far unnamed South African born batsman, was a joy to watch as an analyst.

I'm sure most of you would have guessed it by now, the name of that unnamed Saffer born English cricketer. If you haven't, yes I am thinking about Kevin Pietersen. After listening to all those cricket commentary cliches from 'experts' around the cricketing world, I had decided to ban those previews and reviews of a match. Thanks to the crictime link posted by Kevin Pietersen himself on his twitter account, I was treated to some fascinating analysis by Pietersen.

Yesterday, KP, Ganguly and Reeve had a very interesting argument about whether guiding a short ball over the keeper is a shot that batsmen from the lesser teams, or tailenders can try.  

Let us have a look at how this argument shaped up.

Reeve was of the opinion that as tailenders, or batsmen from lesser ranked teams don't get into the line of the ball, this shot which he called as a ramp shot can be tried against the short ball. Now, casual cricket fans don't mistake this ramp as some beautiful and charming Shamone Jardim, or Heidi Klum doing cat walk on a ramp in a fashion show :)

To back up this theory about the usefulness of the shot, Reeve used the example of Ireland's Trent Johnston playing it against the tearaway quick Cummins in the match against Australia.

KP on the other hand, stuck to his guns that it requires huge amount of skill, hardwork and it isn't a safe shot to play. For instance, if a bowler follows the batsman all the way through, he will be in no position to play this ramp shot. Right till the end, our man KP never agreed that it is a shot that can help the lower order batsmen.

KP made a valid point about how once England's management tried to make Monty play this shot. Unfortunately though, Monty is a true number 11 and as a result that plan flopped.

Ganguly seemed more of a fence sitter on this subject, but he made a valid point too. Gangs said, it depends on the mindset of a batsman. For instance, Punter, or even KP (on the front-foot) would always get into a position to pull the ball. On the other hand, SRT, S'wag and maybe Gangs himself would be prepared to use this ramp shot.

Ganguly also said, once you get into a position where you look to pull, it is almost impossible to change the shot at the nth moment by opening the face of the bat and guide it over the keeper, or the slip fielder. 

My views.

I don't claim to be an expert, but just thought of throwing my hat into the ring as well and share my views on this ramp shot.

 I tend to agree with KP that to play this shot, it requires skill, hard-work and I would say a player also needs to be a gambler, as it is a high risk and low percentage shot.

Here, the batsman, who has almost perfected this shot is the perfectionist himself Tendulkar. In his younger days, SRT was more of a puller. Who can forget him bringing that shot into play on a dicey track at Trinidad against Amby,Walsh, and Bishop in 97. With time though, he has tended to play this ramp shot more than the pull against the short ball.

I do remember SRT using this shot to good effect against Lee at WACA in the 2007/08 test series Down Under. Yes, occasionally it hasn't helped him as he has got out by playing that shot as well.  At Gabba this year, he couldn't place the ball as well as he usually does and got out. To be honest, Lee followed him very well with a short ball and as a result, he hit it straight to the third man fielder.

The shots SRT played to counter those SS-N onyx 26 missiles from Akthar in the 2003 WC would be etched in the minds of a cricket fan forever. The shot that he played that day though, was a forceful upper cut. It has to be said, SRT is very good at playing that shot as well.

All the above mentioned shots that SRT played, requires a batsman to keep his head very still and watch the ball with eyes of a hawk.  Hmm! not easy for a tailender I say.

SRT's opening partner S'wag, too has played some forceful upper cuts and occasionally has guided it over the slip cordon for a boundary. He used the upper-cut to devastating effect against England at Madras in 08/09. England's bowlers decided that on a slow track all of them would test middle of the pitch and got slaughtered by Sehwag. S'wag's technique  is suited to playing this shot, as he tends to stand legside of the ball which in turn, helps him to get into a decent position to play those shots.

In-fact, the high risk shot can also be a weakness for S'wag. Many captains have used the third man more as an attacking option against him. The first one to try the tactic was the wily old fox from New Zealand, Fleming. Here, I also remember S'wag playing the upper cut to the first ball he played at Centurion and getting caught at third man. Ok, S'wag is all about see the ball and hit the ball :)

Long-time back in a series in West Indies in 94/95, Steve Waugh's twin brother, Mark Waugh tried this ramp shot and succeeded too. What more, he tried this shot against men, who seemed to have come from the land of Brobdingnag called Ambrose and Walsh. Mark Waugh was sometimes a frustrating batsman to watch, as he would gift his wicket away, but at the same-time, was a gifted batsman, who could play some jaw-dropping shots.

In this innings, Junior showed that he was a true gambler as in-spite of being a good puller, especially during the early part of his career, he decided to play the ramp shot. First up, he tried it against that giant Amby and he was able to guide it over the slip cordon for a boundary. Amby wasn't amused for sure.

The shots that made my jaws drop though, were played against Walsh. If the first one was an instinctive shot against Amby, the second shot against Walsh involved more premeditation. He deliberately backed away from stumps, Walsh was caught unawares and he was able to play the ramp shot again.

 The third shot though, took the mickey out of the gentle giant Walsh. He again backed away, but this time around,  Walsh followed him and it seemed like Junior would make a fool of himself. What more, Waugh didn't even seem to be looking at the ball. At the nth moment though, he backed away a bit more from the stumps, to give himself a little bit of space to open the face and managed to pull it off. People may say, a lucky shot, but I would tell, a skilful high risk shot played by a true gambler.

All the above mentioned players were skilful with a bat in hand and as a result, were able to pull off this jaw-dropping shot. SRT has also worked very hard to perfect this ramp shot. S'wag and to a lesser extent Junior are/were true gamblers, who are/were ready to take the risk by playing a low percentage shot to hit a boundary. 

Verdict.

I have to agree with KP on this subject, as it requires skill, gambling instincts and hard-work. To execute this shot, a batsman has to keep a very still head and has to watch the ball like a hawk. It won't be  easy for a tailender, or a batsman from an associate nation to do that.

Yes, Reeve in one of the videos did show, Johnston hanging on the back-foot, staying legside of the ball and executing what can be called as a premeditated ramp shot well. Having said that, I would tell a tailender to try this shot only if say 10 runs are required of three balls, or a boundary is required of the last ball :) 

KP as an analyst.

As I said at the start of this article, KP's analysis was like a breath of fresh air. He comes across as someone, who always wants to express himself and has zillion ideas of batting and cricket in general.

As an analyst, he also broke down technical aspects of the game into something simpler, which  can be understood by fans with  little knowledge about the game like myself. In simple words, England's cricket team may feel, a game changer like KP is not needed, but as an analyst, or as a commentator, this South African born batsman has a bright future :)

Thanks crictime!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Watch out for Dawlat Zadran


Thirty minutes, the time I watched one upcoming seamer from an associate country play a game called cricket. Thirty minutes it took, to envisage the upcoming seamer sending the stumps of premier batsmen in the upcoming  ICC World t/20 tournament for a nice walk in the night.

So who is this young prodigy? Where does he come from? Mars? Hmm! no. He comes from a country that has been torn by constant wars for the past three decades called Afghanistan and his name is Dawlat Zadran.

A few may think, I must be in some wonderland and I should pinch myself to come out of this strange dream. Fortunately, there is no need for that, but a question will arise in a reader's mind as to what made me think so highly about this bowler from the war torn country.

First ball I saw Dawlat bowl is what made me sit up and take notice of this Afghan cricketer. With a repeatable and a slingy action, (must have modelled his action on Waqar Younis)  the seamer bowled his first ball at decent pace. He was bang on the money too by hitting the top of off-stump. The entire over was about Dawlat repeating the same action of looking to hit the stumps. In the end overs, he bowled full and straight which was even more impressive. In-fact, Dawlat's simple but effective method of hitting the top of off-stump every ball seemed like a military general making a laconic statement before the war.

If I compare the way Zadran bowled to most of the modern day seamers going around,  I would say they are over-coached.  The coaches seem to squeeze so many theories inside a bowler's head that in the end, his brain will be completely muddled with bizarre theories. On the other hand, Dawlat was like a breath of fresh -  bowler who comes across as a self taught cricketer and looks to keep it simple.

Here, if I ask an old timer, who knows a thing or two about cricket, he would think of Alec Bedser, Fazal Mahmood, Shackleton and co. We are thinking of some high quality bowlers, who looked to keep it simple by hitting top of off-stump almost every ball.

Modern day coaches though, stress more on bowling well wide of off-stump to test a batsman's patience. A tactic that should be used only when the opposition's batsmen have raked up 500 runs for the loss of two wickets :) In t/20 cricket, we also see a plethora of slower deliveries. It isn't a bad variation to have, but nowadays, bowlers use it too often.

Anyway, coming back to our man Dawlat, I am certainly looking forward to watching him bowl against bigwigs like India and England in the ICC World t/20. I would certainly like to see how Lumb, Wright, Buttler and especially, Kieswetter cope against him. All of them like to hit through the line and on the up, but they will be up against a bowler looking to hit the stumps. Dawlat has a sharp inswinger which can cause problems for  Kieswetter. So, Kieswetter and co. just be a bit careful, when up against Dawlat :) Of course, it is a big event and with big boys playing in it, the young Afghan cricketer may just freeze and bowl a wide first up. Hopefully though, he will have a good tournament.

To be honest, I knew about Afghanistan as some war torn country. Yes, I also knew that Steve Waugh's twin brother, Mark Waugh was given the nickname Afghan, but other than that, not much of a clue about Afghanistan. Now, cricket fans like me also know that Afghanistan have a fine cricket team made up of some promising players like Shahzad, Nabi, Hassan and of course our man Dawlat Zadran.