Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ashes series 2010/11- Brisbane cricket ground

                                      Brisbane cricket ground

With the Ashes series just under three months away, I would look at covering every minute detail of the upcoming Ashes series and maybe a bit about the great history too. Yes, just like other cricket fans, the ongoing spot-fixing allegations have dampened my enthusiasm for cricket yet, it is too difficult not to think of the Ashes series. 

Anyway, first up in the series of articles, let us look at the conditions in Australia

Every-time the upcoming Ashes series is mentioned, I do see someone mentioning that conditions in Australia won't be similar to what one sees in England and it is going to be an herculean task  for England to adjust to the different wickets that are found in Australia. So, let us see how difficult it can be for a visiting team to play in Australia.

Just like before, England would start their Ashes campaign with a test match at Brisbane with Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney hosting the subsequent tests.

Today, we would look at Brisbane cricket ground

The ground at  Gabba has seen drastic changes as nowadays those grassy banks are all gone and instead we would see concrete stands.  The pitch too has changed in its character as from a bowl first wicket, it has become a good track for batting with most teams looking to bat first.

A few facts about the Brisbane ground

Gordoninportsmouth who knows a thing or two about cricket on the,

"The groundsmen at  present is Kevin Mitchell ( his father Mitchell snr was the groundman up until 1990). Back in the 1980s, the Gabba always had loads of 1st day moisture left in it. It always started as a seamers paradise before flattening into the most perfect batting pitch from Day 3 and spinners didn't even got a look in. The Gabba then was always a cast iron bowl first pitch.

Here is the run of how the Brisbane tests in the 1980s panned out:

1980-81 - NZ. bat first, bowled out for 225, lose by 10 wickets
1981-82 - Pak. bat first, bowled out for 291, lose by 10 wickets
1982-83 - Eng. bat first, bowled out for 219, lose by 7 wickets
1983-84 - Pak. bat first, bowled out for 156, only near 2-days solid rain saves them from losing by millions
1984-85 - Aus. bat first, bowled out for 175, WI win by 8 wickets
1985-86 - Aus. bat first, bowled out for 179, NZ win by an innings and 41.
1986-85 - Eng. bat first, score 456 and win the match(worst bowling I have ever seen by an Australian  bowling attack in Australian  conditions)
1987-88 - NZ. bat first, bowled out for 186, lose by 9 wickets
1988-89 - Aus. bat first, bowled out for 167, WI win by 9 wickets
1989-90 - Aus. bat first, against an incredibly weak SL bowling line up and manage to get 367 yet the Lankans still go on to dominate the test and the match ends in a draw.
1990-91 - Eng. bat first, bowled out for 194, lost by 10 wickets
1991-92 - Ind. bat first, bowled out for 239, lost by 10 wickets

Between the 1974-75 Ashes test (when Jeff Thomson was first unleashed on England) and the Ashes test 20 years later (when Michael Slater creamed the England seamers from ball one) only two tests were won by the side batting first - the aforementioned Australian bowling debacle of 1986-87 and the 1977-78 test, when India just failed by 16 runs.

Since 1994-95,  the  Gabba has been a bat first pitch as only 3 times has the side batting second won the game and Warne has been the most successful bowler"

Occasionally, captains have looked to bowl first like Hussain in 2002/03 and Mahela in 07/08, but they were perhaps thinking of the past. The one encouraging factor for England's bowlers is, both in 08/09 and in 09/10, the groundsmen left a bit of grass on the wicket. The rumour has it, the Australian board have instructed the groundsmen to make it more bowler friendly. In 08/09, Southee and co. gave a golden chance for the Kiwis to upset the applecart against the marauding Aussies by getting them out cheaply, but only for the fragile Kiwi batting line-up to again fall like a pack of cards and hand over the victory to Australia.  Last year, Jerome Taylor started well for the Windies team by bowling a fuller length to get Watson's wicket, but for some reason, he and Rampaul suddenly started testing middle of the pitch and the Windies got hammered.

I still think if Strauss wins the toss, he should bat first, but if the groundsmen  leave a bit of grass on the wicket and if the conditions are overcast, then Strauss may bowl first.

Australia at Brisbane

The Brisbane cricket ground has been like a fortress for Australia as not since 1988/89, when they lost to the mighty West Indies side have they lost at Brisbane.  Since that loss against the Windies team, they have won sixteen matches and have drawn five game which is an unbelievably good record!  Actually, they have won all their last six tests which just shows that England have their task cut out at Brisbane. Shane Warne has been very successful for Australia at Brisbane as he used the bounce on offer to good effect.

England at Brisbane

As expected, just like other teams England have performed poorly at Brisbane  with four losses and just a draw in their last five games at the ground. It is clear that neither the bowlers were able to get their lengths right, or the batsmen were able to counter the bounce. In 94/95, both McCague and Defraites bowled rubbish, in 98/99, Gough and Cork tried too hard and as a result couldn't get it right, in 02/03, Hussain made the mistake of electing to bowl first and paid the price and in 06/07, Harmison's first ball wide would be enough to describe England's bowling effort. On the other hand, batsmen have struggled to counter the bounce with only Butcher as he can play horizontal bat shots and to a lesser extent, Colly and KP succeeding at the ground.

From the above points, it is crystal clear that bowlers have to get their lengths right with the new kookaburra ball. It is easier said than done as even the great Wasim Akram either bowled short or too full in 95/96. The basic length of course would be to target the good length spot with Anderson trying to bowl a fuller length with the new ball as he is a swing bowler. I just hope that taller bowlers in the side like Broad and Finn  won't get too excited by the bounce on offer and bowl short as the new ball is the key in Australia. The trump card of course would be Swann as he can use the bounce to good effect. Actually, after a longtime, England have a spinner, who can bowl over spin which would no doubt help England at Brisbane.

As far as the batsmen are concerned, it is clear that it is all about getting acclimatised to the bounce that one would see on Australian wickets. I just hope that they would play with a positive attitude as Australian wickets are good for batting, but batsmen should be ready to play horizontal bat shots.

I would just say that  England have a task on their hands, when they take on the Aussies at Gabba as beating Australia at Brisbane is one helleva task.

How good is Trott?

The cricketing headlines in the last few days has been dominated by the news of Pakistan's players being involved in spot-fixing. The just concluded test series itself is under a cloud thanks to fixing allegations! It has no doubt hurt the feelings of all those who watched, or followed the series keenly, but at the same-time, let us not forget that Trott and Broad came up with a great partnership in the last test. In the bowling department, Swann and Anderson bowled some fine spells in the series. Yes, the recent allegations would take some gloss away from all those individual feats by the  players, but the knock played  by Trott in difficult conditions was one of the better knocks I have seen in recent times and I do hope against hope that people would remember the great knock.

Yes, Pakistan's bowlers likely bowled those no balls deliberately, but Asif and Ameer bowled reasonably  well on the second day and more importantly, it wasn't easy to score runs on the second day  as it was seaming as well as swinging around. Trott though, played an exemplary knock to help England recover from doldrums. I really like the calmness that Trott exhibits in his batting. When in form, he seems to have the nerves of steel and can get big scores. Trott also showed very good technique as he played late and in the end, forced Asif to change his line as he tried to attack the stumps.

The major worry with Trott is, he can  lose his form very quickly by getting a string of low scores. When he isn't in form like we saw in South Africa, his back-foot shuffles across too much and he closes the option of scoring runs on the off-side.

I just hope that Trott would start the tour of Australia with a few runs under his belt in the warm up matches which would help his confidence going into the Ashes. In fact, I think Trott's form is crucial to England's chances in the Ashes as he occupies the crucial number three slot, unlike others, is in good form and once he gets in, he usually gets a big score.

The recent series against Pakistan has also made people sit up and take notice of the fact that England's batting seems to be the main problem especially, it is sad to see a player like KP struggling for form. One thing in KP's favour is, Australian pitches should suit his batting as he likes to play on the rise and that was the likely  reason behind his success  last time around against McGrath, Warne and co. in Australia.  Yes, Australia have couple of left armers and KP has struggled against left arm quicks, but neither of them swing it like Ameer and the conditions in Australia are different.

On the spot-fixing front, I see that there is a speculation about ICC having told PCB to drop the tainted players, though PCB have said, they are not going to drop the players as they are just allegations and it isn't proved. If the one-day series has to be played, I think those players have to be dropped as neither the England team, or the spectators would like to see a match in which players, who are facing fixing allegations playing in the X1. If they are  ever proved to be innocent, they can comeback, but in my opinion, at present they should be suspended pending an investigation.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fixing allegations and the spineless ICC

I see that our small but beautiful world of cricket's image  is again getting tarnished by fixing allegations. It makes you wonder why should one try to watch, or follow the game by bunking colleges, or by keeping the office work pending? So, why should one believe that it is a human error, when a fielder drops a dolly catch like Pakistan have done in this entire series? Even more worse is the fact that governing body of cricket, ICC seem to be spineless and try to sweep everything under the carpet.

I am sure that all cricket fans would have read that sensational news of  Pakistan's cricketers being involved in spot fixing on news of the world. It is shocking to see that even  their captain Butt and their brightest prospect in the bowling attack Ameer are said to be involved in spot fixing and when one looks at  those huge no balls it looks true.

We know that all sorts of allegations and rumours would fly around like Afridi visiting the team's hotel, more players including their fielding coach Ijaz Ahmed  being involved in it and even  the police having  arrested the players and their passports being confiscated . What cricket fans want to see now  is,  ICC for once showing that they care about the game and do a thorough investigation and if found guilty, severely punish the players. 

Actually, it isn't like fixing is new to cricket as even in the past, it has raised its ugly head.  For instance,  Asif Iqbal is said to have won the toss against India in 79, but said that India won the toss, the Saleem Malik bribery scandal, Cronjegate, allegations on Azharuddin, Samuels passing information to bookies, or even the involvement of Junior and Warne with a bookie, but the problem is, the ICC haven't shown the gumption to clean up the mess.

Finally,  isn't it sad to see people of  Pakistan, who have been ravaged by floods look at their cricketers as their heroes and they are said to be involved in fixing. God help Pakistan's cricket!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Dark horses of the US open

                               Can Pavlyuchenkova make her mark  

If we think of women's tennis, year 2010 hasn't exactly gone according to form back. Yes, the strongest player in women's tennis Serena Williams has gone onto win the 2010 Australian and the Wimbledon championships, but we  have also seen relatively unknown  players like  Kvitova and Pironkova reaching semifinals and players, who are consistent on the tennis circuit, but not considered as favourites  reaching the later stages of a grand slam. For instance, the veteran Italian Schiavone won the French, her good friend Stosur finally showed that she may fulfill her potential by reaching the final at French, though she was beaten by Schiavone and Zheng Jie of China too reached the semifinals at the Australian open.

So, if we think of the last grand slam of the year US open, who are the players that may surprise tennis fans by reaching the later stages of the tournament and are worth a punt?

Here are my picks

Pavlyuchenkova- First of all, I do hope I have got  her name right! The 19 year old Russian lass has been a steady player on the tour and is ranked number 22 in the world. She was ranked in top 50 during both 2008 and 2009 as well. Her recent form too has been rather good as she won at Istanbul and defeated Dementieva and Wickmayer, en-route to reaching the semifinals at Cincinnati.

The problem with her seems to be a case of not performing well at the majors as Pavlyuchenkova hasn't gone past the third round in any of the majors. Only a few may pick her to do well, but looking at her recent form and  the relatively easier draw that she is in, I feel that she can do well at the US open.

Kleybanova- Kleybanova is another steady player on the tour and is ranked number 30 in the world.  The 21 year old big built Russian can be a dangerous opponent, as she can crack the ball aggressively from the baseline. Her recent form has been decent as she defeated the struggling Jankovic at San Diego before going down to Hantuchova and saved as many as 13 break points,  though it wasn't enough as Pennetta defeated her at the Pilot Pen open. She is another player, who hasn't been good at the majors, but she still has plenty of time left on her hands to make a mark.

Pennetta- The veteran Italian has been in decent form as she reached the semifinals at San Diego and the quarterfinals at Pilot Pen open, though she withdrew from the tournament at the quarterfinal stage citing a foot  injury. Pannetta also reached last year's quarterfinals at the US open. I do expect another fine performance from the veteran Italian at the US open.

Kvitova- The Czech girl has notched up some impressive results in recent times like defeating Safina at last year's US open and reaching as far as the semifinals at this year's Wimbledon.  Since her great run at the Wimbledon championships, Kvitova has  seen a slump in her form as if I am right, Kvitova hasn't won a single match since reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon, but I like the attitude of the lefthander as she never gives up and I do expect her to make a mark at this year's US open as well.

Other players to look out for can be, Oudin, Navarro and the veteran Bartoli. After her impressive showing at last year's Wimbledon and the US open, Oudin hasn't been at the her best,  but playing at home can help the girl to raise her game. Navarro suffered a bad ankle injury in one of her matches earlier this year against Keothavong, but is making a comeback at the US open. She has seen her ranking slide to below 50 and  has Wozniacki  in her draw, but the diminutive Spaniard with a fine cross-court backhand can still cause a few ripples in the tournament. The 2007  finalist at Wimbledon Bartoli is still around, though her serve can always be suspect.

Yes with Serena's withdrawal, the US open would be more about how the game's other elite players like Clijsters, Wozniacki, Sharapova, Kuznetsova, Azarenka and co. would perform, but I would always like to keep an eye on players, who may not be well known, but can cause a few surprises.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

US open tennis preview

As the fourth and final grand slam of the year US open is now less than one week away from getting started, I thought of just writing a preview of the 2010 US open. We would look at the contenders as well as players, who  have the ability to cause some major upsets in the tournament.

Men's section

It is unfortunate that during this year's open, we won't see the gentle giant from Argentina Del Petro as he is still battling with a wrist injury. We do hope that he has a speedy recovery as tennis needs young stars like him. Other notable absentees include the 2008 Australian open finalist Tsonga, who has pulled out of the tournament citing a knee injury and the tall Croat Karlovic, who has been troubled by the achilles injury.

Anyway, now let us look at the contenders for this year's US open

Federer- Fed has been in news for knocking the bottle of a crew member's head in a commercial, though it is likely a camera trick. Anyway, coming back to his chances at the US open, it can be said that Fed  has lost his number one ranking, lost in the quarterfinals at French and Wimby, but by reaching the final at Rogers cup and his victory at Cincinnati shows that Fedex maybe back on track on his favourite surface, the hardcourts. I still think that he is the favourite to win the US open as he has won it six times and his victory at Cincinnati would have given him confidence.

One of the major problems for Fed in recent times has been his inability to consistently come up with winners on his forehand side. Once his main weapon, has become more erratic as nowadays, he makes more unforced errors on his forehand side. He is now working with his new coach Annacone, so let us wait and see whether it benefits Fed at the fag end of his career.

Murray- Every-time Murray plays, he is expected to break the jinx of no British player winning a slam for the last 74 years. The last player to do it, was the great Fred Perry way back in 1936. So, can Murray  win a slam?

I have said it before that I don't expect Muzza to win four, or five majors, but I certainly think that he can win one, or maybe two majors in his career. He is a fine baseline player, who can easily wrong foot his opposite number. Murray can also play some delightful drop shots. The worry with Murray is, in a best of five set match, he can get passive and try too many drop shots. His second serve can also be suspect. In the recent past, players  like Gonzo, Verdasco, Cilic, Tsonga and of course, top players like Nadal and Fed have taken advantage of him playing passive tennis in the middle of a match and have beaten him in a major.

Murray has been in good form on the hard-courts as he won the Rogers cup and en-route to that victory, he defeated the red hot Nalbandian, Nadal and Fed, but I see that he has lost in a gruelling three setter to the serve and volley specialist Fish at Cincinnati. So, can Murray  win this year's US open? I think he certainly has a good chance as his game is well suited to hard-courts, but if he doesn't win it this year, I have a gut feeling that he may never win a major!

Nadal- After a sluggish start to the season, Nadal has been in great form as he won the Wimbledon and the French on his favourite surface the clay, but in the past, he has struggled a bit on the hard-courts at the US open. Infact, the hard-courts at US open has no doubt been an achilles heel for him. Unlike others, I think he has the game to win at the US open, but as his game is built on great court coverage and as a result his knees take a pounding, when he plays on those hard-courts.

Nadal's recent results too haven't been encouraging as he lost rather tamely to Muzza at the Rogers cup and was shown the exit door by the Cypriot Baghdatis at Cincinnati. I could also notice that his first serve percentages were down and he was making lots of short returns which becomes an easy meat for big hitters going around in the tennis circuit. For Rafa to have any chance of winning this year, he needs to have a few easy matches in the first few rounds which would help him to stay fresh for the big battles in the second week.

Players, who can make the second week

Now, let us have a look at players, who may not have much of a chance to win the US open yet, not many would bet against them reaching the later stages of the tournament.

Djokovic- The 2008 Australian open champion is a fine player, who doesn't seem to have a huge weakness in his game. The problem though with him is, he doesn't have any real weapon that can hurt his opponents. He always seem to me as a jack of all trades but master of none!

His recent results too haven't been great as he lost in the semifinal at the Rogers cup and was routed by his bogeyman Roddick at Cincinnati. Most though, would tip the consistent Djokovic to make the second week of the tournament. Actually, since winning the Aussie open in 2008, he has reached quarterfinals or better in 8 of his last 10 slams.

Roddick- The veteran American hasn't been in good form this year and even saw his ranking drop out of top 10 for the first time since 2006. The American though, showed a bit of fight by  reaching the semifinals at Cincinnati by defeating both Soderling and Dojokovic.

Roddick depends on his serve which is a huge weapon for him. If not aces, he gets lots of free points with his unreturnable serves. It should serve him well at the hard-courts of US open.

Berdych- I surely think Berdych has the game to win the US open championships. He has a big serve, has a huge forehand and when in good form, can occasionally come to the net, but there have been question marks regarding his temperament.

In 2010, he has shown good form as he reached the the semifinal at the French and the final at Wimby, though his results  at Rogers cup and Cincinnati haven't been very encouraging.

Soderling- He is another one of those modern prototype tall powerful players, who consistently hit the ball from an aggressive position on the baseline. Soderling has a huge serve, a big winding forehand and has long limbs which helps him to reach out to shots that would be sure winners against others. When in form, his main strength is his serve, as he uses the court well by coming up with different types of serves.

The major worry is, when up against a player who can return well, he looks suspect as  against a good returner, he is cramped for room and can't crack those huge forehands. Just watch the match at Rogers cup, when Nalbandian systematically  dismantled Soderling's game with his returns. A few experts think that he can one-day win the US open, but I am not sure that Soderling has the ability to win seven matches in a row, though I do expect to see him during the later stages of the tournament.

Davydenko- I was a bit iffy about including Davydenko as he has struggled with injuries and form, but he has been consistently reaching the later stages of majors like the US open, Australian open and the French open, though tends to melt under pressure in the later stages of the tournament. Infact, he can be a boring player to watch as he just likes to play from the baseline and hits it powerfully, but I won't  bet against Davy reaching the later stages of yet another major.

Baghdatis- In recent times, the 2006 Australian open finalist was  struggling for form and fitness, but seems to have found his form back as he reached the semifinal of the Cincinnati masters by beating players like Berdych  and his bogeyman Nadal. I see that he is also doing well at the Pilot Pen open. Momentum is very crucial going into a major tournament like the US open and Baghdatis seems to have found some momentum.

Baghdatis may not be a purists delight, but he fights for every point as though his life is dependent on it. His serve too seems to have improved. So, there is a slight chance that he may reach the later stages of the US open championships.


Now, we would think about those players, who have the ability to cause major upsets during the course of the tournament.

Nalbandian- Nalbandian too has been struggling with his form and fitness, but he too seems to have found his form back as this month, he has notched up impressive victories over players like Baghdatis, Cilic, Ferrer and Soderling. He has a very good service return and when in form, it works well for him as Soderling found out at the Rogers cup. His tendency to melt under pressure and make lots of double faults may not help him though.

Gulbis- He is another of those modern prototype players as he tries to smash the cover off the ball. When in form, he can be a dangerous player as Murray found out at the Cincinnati tournament, but the question mark would be can he sustain his power hitting, when it comes to best of five set matches?

Benneteau-  I like the way the Frenchman Benneteau plays, as he is a good mover on the court and shows good anticipation at the net, but for him to cause any upsets in the tournament, he needs to get more first serves in.

Cilic-After he defeated Murray at last year's US open and reached the semifinal of the 2009 Aussie open a lot was expected from him, but in recent times his form seems to have deserted him. The big  serving Croat though, can still cause ripples in this year's tournament by causing an upset or two. The major worry with Cilic is, his forehand can be erratic.

Fish- I have always been a fan of Fish as he plays a serve and volley game. Sadly though, not many serve and volleyers are left in the game and it soon would become extinct from the game itself.

Fish found some form last week as he reached the final of the Cincinnati tournament, but it would be difficult for him to keep playing serve and volley against baseliners in best of five set matches.

Sam Querry and Isner- Both are well over six feet and can serve big. I don't think any player would take either of them lightly.

A few others worth watching out for would be, the talented Bellucci,  Istomin, (he was said to be lazy but thanks to his mother motivating him has done better this year) Daniel Brands, the hard working Ferrer,  the talented but the erratic Monfils (he hasn't been in good form yet can occasionally produce brilliant tennis and cause upsets).

A few may also think of  Verdasco, Hewitt, Youzhny, Robredo, Gonzalez, Ljubicic, Kohlschreiber, Stepanak and company,  but I just feel that most of them are past their best and with regards to Verdasco, he has played so much tennis this year that he seems to have got tired and has looked a spent force in recent times.

The 2010 US open would be a swan song tournament for Blake as he would likely retire after the US open. Haas too could have played his last US open, but I see that injury prone Haas hasn't yet recovered from his latest injury. I don't know for how long can Haas continue  to battle with injuries.

Anyway, I just hope that we would see yet another great tournament with lots of major upsets and edge of the seat nail biting matches.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The hype surrounding Bollinger and Australia's bowling attack

I see that on cricinfo, Manjrekar, Donald and Ian Chappell have said that Australia have the best attack and have praised Bollinger to the skies. Anyone surely must think that Bollinger is a world class swing bowler.  So, do Australia  have the best attack and how good is Doug the Rug?

Just let us have a look at Doug Bollinger

Actually, I do rate  Bollinger as he is a honest trier, but I must have seen someone else bowl as experts like Manjrekar, Ian Chappell and Donald on cricinfo are saying that he bowls a fuller length and as a result is effective. Hmm! I saw him bowl both in NZ and in England and every-time I saw him bowl, he tended to bowl short of a length with the odd delivery fuller to get the edge. In-fact, he was defensive, as he tended to bowl outside the off stump and the Kiwi batsmen obliged him by chasing it. Yes, he averages a shade under 25,  but  most of his wickets have come against Kiwis, Pakistan and WI at home. He looked out of his depth in England as he bowled short. So, how could the experts at cricinfo rate a bowler highly, though he hasn't yet played test cricket in tough conditions like India and struggled a bit in England?

The rest of the Australian attack is decent, but opposition batsmen won't lose sleep over it. Johnson is erratic and is effective mainly at home, Siddle is another honest trier, but tends to bowl a touch short, Hilfy has a very good outswinger, though I haven't seen him bowl the inswinger and the spinner Hauritz is steady. To say that they have the best attack just doesn't look right as Australia have struggled in places like India and England. Both  Pakistan and South Africa  have a better bowling attack.  I also feel that England are slightly better than Australia.

Actually, the Ashes series as well as the series in India would be interesting to watch. I do expect India to make lots of runs against Australia at home. In Australia, the Aussie bowlers would have the home advantage and  I have always maintained that  if England lose the Ashes, it would be because of the batsmen's inability to handle the bounce in Australia.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The selection of Bresnan

I see that Tim Bresnan has again been selected  in the England's squad for the final test against Pakistan. He must be a very  lucky cricketer as inspite averaging over 35 in test cricket, almost 40 in one-day cricket and 61.2  in T/20 cricket, he is assured of a place in t/20 cricket and one-day cricket  and is likely going to be picked for the Ashes tour. (let me make it clear that I am thinking about his bowling averages and not his batting) Even more interesting is the fact that  he averages over 30 in CC this year.

So, why do selectors continue to pick Tim Bresnan in all three formats of the game? Is it because he averages over 40 as a batsman in test cricket? His average of over 40 is primarily because he scored  91 in Bangladesh, but the half century came on a flat deck and a few umpiring decisions went  his way. I really doubt whether he has the ability to get runs against better teams.

In my humble opinion, Bresnan is yet another bits and pieces cricketer, who may get the occasional fifty with the bat albeit against weak teams and on the odd occasion, may get a three, or a four wicket haul. Most of the times, when he bowls, he tends to push it down the leg-side and doesn't give the control that is expected from a support seamer. Yes, occasionally he can bowl better like he did in Bangladesh, but that isn't good enough. Chris Woakes, or even cricketers like Murtagh maybe thinking, if Bresnan can get selected why not them.

I also looked at this year's top wicket-takers in division one and the number one seamer during the year has been the ever consistent Chapple with 48 wickets at shade under 19. The 36 year old  seems to be as fit as a fiddle as he has bowled over 300 overs this year. Actually, he is perhaps the fittest bowler in CC and he is 36. It makes me wonder, how could a bowler, who can consistently hit the good length spot, move the ball both ways and at good pace couldn't play for England in test cricket, but M.Smith, S.Brown, Bresnan and co. played for England. Of course, Chapple can chip in with useful runs lower down the order as well.

If not Chapple, as he is 36 now what about Tremlett? Question marks have been raised over his temperament, but seems to have comeback strongly this year for Surrey and more importantly, hasn't been injured this year, but just because Vaughan, or few others think that he is mentally frail, it looks like he may not get another chance.

I would just say that Bresnan is a lucky man to keep playing for England in all three formats of the game, though his record doesn't make for good reading.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Fantastic victory for Pakistan

Well done Pakistan for showing some fight and winning a rather closely contested match. The credit has to go to all Pakistan's bowlers as they bowled exceptionally well as a unit. Yes, their batting again faltered under pressure, but they just about held their nerve to cross the finishing line. England's problem was clearly the batting and I have stressed it before that more than the bowling, the batting is a worry.

Pakistan's bowling was superb on the third day as they came back from nowhere to take seven wickets for just 28 runs. It was a monumental collapse from England, but let me tell you, there is no shame in getting out to highly skilled bowling by the young kid Ameer and the off spinner Ajmal.

Ameer is an exceptional talent as he can swing it both ways with the new ball and with the older ball, he can go around the wicket and get reverse swing. It is always difficult to play a left armer because the ball comes from a different angle and when a team has a bowler like Ameer, who can swing it both ways at good pace, it is even more difficult. Ajmal too was a difficult proposition to face for the batsmen,  as he can bowl the doosra and the pitch at Oval was helping the spinners. I have my doubts over his doosra, but that is another matter altogether.

England's batting is no doubt a concern, though Cook did get a timely hundred. Focus would be again on KP, though he looked better at the crease in the second innings. Yes, it can also be said that he did get a fine delivery from Ajmal, but the problem with him seems to be a case of over complicating things with his technique. He just needs to play a few shots and the runs would flow from his bat.

Among England's bowlers, Broad was again disappointing. I don't know why he continues to bowl half way down the pitch. He isn't the next Jeff Thomson, or Holding to do that. I surely think that England should look at opening the bowling with Finn as he bowls better lengths. As far as Anderson was concerned, I liked the way he bowled after lunch. Yes, he did bowl it a touch wide of off stump, but the yorker he bowled to Yousuf was a gem, as it swung late and it reminded me of the yorker he bowled to Yousuf  in the world cup. I have been saying it for a while that Anderson should try yorkers with the old ball and he finally tried it and got the desired  result. Anderson now has taken over 100 wickets in the last couple of years and has shown that he can get reverse swing with the old ball too, though it won't stop people from having a go at him.  Of course, I don't think I have to talk too much about Swann as nowadays, one expects consistency from England's number one bowler.

I would like to touch a bit on Pakistan's batting as well. I liked the positive approach they came out with in the second innings, though for some reason, they again started to lose wickets in the end. When Pakistan are playing, one always expects hara-kiri from them and  that is what exactly happened. The misunderstanding between Yousuf and Azhar was just crazy and it cost them a wicket. If Yousuf is playing, it always looks like a run out is on the cards. Akmal and the impressive Ameer though, held their nerve to help Pakistan to a fine victory.

Going into the last test, England have a lot of soul searching to do as the batting  isn't firing, Broad continues to test the middle of the pitch and finally, Strauss's captaincy has been so defensive that now I feel even Sanga was better at SSC!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Strauss's captaincy and England's bowling effort

First of all, congrats to Azhar Ali for playing a gutsy knock of 92. He has shown to his teammates how to bat and his knock has no doubt helped Pakistan to get themselves  into a strong position. In my humble opinion, Yesterday's play could also be remembered for  Strauss's captaincy. He set defensive fields and his captaincy seemed to be devoid of any imagination. Yes, Azhar Ali and co. played better than they have done before, but my feeling is, if Strauss had been more aggressive as a captain, Pakistan would have got out for a lesser score.

The key point to discuss was the field Strauss set when Azhar Ali was batting with the last man Asif. Now, Ali was batting well, but I would never fathom Strauss having just one slip and spreading the field to Ali. However well Azhar Ali may have played, a captain should always believe that he can get him out. As expected, Azhar Ali edged one delivery through the second slip and it went scurrying to the boundary. Secondly, Azhar has a front-on stance and struggles to play through the covers, but from whatever I saw, I struggle to remember Strauss leaving the cover field open and tempting Azhar to drive.

Yesterday, we also saw the great Yousuf making his comeback and play in his typical languid style and score yet another elegant half century. He is a pleasure to watch as he is such a good timer of the ball, but I was disappointed by the way England bowled at him. Yousuf has a enviable record against England, but has struggled a bit against Australia and South Africa. One of the key reasons for that is, both Saffers and Aussies have pounded him with short pitched stuff with the occasional full delivery. Yousuf has a high back-lift and struggles to pull. As he has a high back-lift, the age old bouncer and the full delivery combination works well against him. So, a quick bowler can look at bowling bouncers to push him back and follow it up with the full delivery. England's bowlers bowled a touch fuller to him, but I didn't see enough of bouncers being bowled at him. Yes, the pitches in England aren't quick yet, I would like to see more bouncers being bowled at him with the odd full delivery to catch him in the crease.

If I have to discuss about England's bowling effort yesterday, I thought they bowled well as a unit, but I would like to have a look at few key points.  First of all, Jimmy Anderson was trying to bowl from closer to the stumps and looking for the lbw against the lefthanders by bowling the inswinger. Anderson likes to slant it across the lefthander which isn't a bad delivery first up against the lefties as they tend to follow the ball. He also has shown that he can go around the wicket which would stop the batsmen from playing inside the line of the ball. So, why  are England's coaches telling him to get lbw's by bowling the inswinger, when Anderson has been more successful by slanting it across the lefthander and it isn't like Anderson gets lots of lbw's either.  I also noticed that Broad was again bowling short. I do hope someone tells to him to consistently hit the good length spot.

Anyway, it has been a great test match with Pakistan at the end of second day's play having their noses in front. It would be interesting to see how England respond to being put under pressure for the first time during the season.

Tikolo's comeback

In recent times, a lot has been talked about Mohammad Yousuf's comeback to test cricket, but have fans noticed that another legend in his own right Steve Tikolo has announced that he is coming back from retirement and would play in the 2011 world cup?

Kenyan cricket has been ravaged by corruption charges, players strikes and even the performances of the team hasn't been up-to the mark. Kenya lost every match in the ICC division one league, the A team got crushed by Uganda and the nadir was getting thrashed by local sides in India. Steve Tikolo had earlier said that he would  comeback only if certain conditions were agreed upon by the board, but recent results seem to have forced the Kenyan board to agree to his demands.

Anyway, let us leave aside the current problems in Kenyan cricket and concentrate on the batting prowess of the king from Kenya. I first saw Tikolo in the 96 world cup in the subcontinent. I thought here is another associate batsman, who would be devoured by the likes of Kumble, Warne and Murali, but every-time I caught a glimpse of his batting, the more impressive his batting looked. One of his best knocks in that world cup was his 96 against Srilanka. Lankan batsmen  massacred the Kenyan bowlers and got almost  400 runs on the board, but Tikolo didn't lose heart and took the Lankan bowlers to the cleaners and got a fine 96. Just like any other good batsman, he has a good defence, but what makes his batting a pleasure to watch is his eye-catching strokeplay.  Tikolo can just walk across the stumps and smash a bowler like his hero Sir Viv and can even  play shots with finesse like the late cut. When he is in the mood, it seems like someone is swatting bowlers like flies. In short, Tikolo is a complete batsman, who can get a place in the middle-order of few test sides.

At the age of 40, he may not be the same force that he once was, but his experience of playing spinners in the subcontinent and his more than useful off-spin bowling would come in handy on subcontinental pitches. Long live the King from Kenya!!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Well done Riaz!

Yesterday, it was a great day for Riaz as he took five wickets on his debut.  He must be on cloud nine as not many can get five wickets on their test debut! I even understand that most of Pakistan's fans and former players were backing the other seamer in the squad Tanveer Ahmed to make his debut as he has been more successful at the domestic level, but Riaz has proved his mettle by taking a five wicket haul on his debut.

Riaz is just 25, though it can be said that most of Pakistan's cricketers make their debut at about 18 or 20! He is a well built guy, who has a quick arm action and hits the bat hard. A few have compared his action to Johnson, but it also reminds me of former WA and Australian quick Julian, though Riaz bowls with a higher arm and is quicker than Julian.Yesterday, it was clear that he troubled all the batsmen with his quick arm action and his ability to hit the bat hard. Yes with his action, there would be times when his bowling can be wayward, but he seems to be a wicket-taker which is always an asset to any side.

I do hope that he doesn't listen to people, who would say to him to work on getting the ball to swing. He should just continue to bowl with good pace and hit the pitch hard. In that regard, it is good to see that coach of Pakistan is none other than the great man himself Waqar Younis.

Finally, Umar Gul's injury maybe a blessing in disguise for Pakistan, as they seem to have unearthed a quick bowler, who has the attributes to succeed even on bouncy tracks of Australia and South Africa.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Corky the legend

In our small but beautiful world of cricket, many cricketers have been loved and feted for their ability to enchant the fans with their cricketing abilities. We can think of cricketers, who have been admired for their sheer grace and elegance, but there are also cricketers,  who may not have truckloads of talent, but for their sheer competitive spirit and never say die attitude, have gained the respect of their teammates, opposition and of course, the fans.

If I think of Cork, it is clear that he falls in the second category of cricketers. He may not be as talented as some of the other cricketers going around, but more than makes it up with his sheer competitive spirit. He has always come across as a in your face character, who won't give an inch to the opposition batsmen. If a team is in crisis, Cork is your man as he has a great attitude.

Cork's early career

If I have to track Cork's career, I have to go as far back as 1993. It was a bad time for English cricket as Australia were crushing England in the Ashes, but it was also the time, when a young cricketer called Cork was starting to make his mark as a cricketer. Cork had already shown plenty of promise as a under 19 cricketer and bowled a few good spells in one-day matches against Pakistan in 92, but that game against Lancs made everyone sit up and take up notice of him. Lancs had a star studded line-up and were expected to romp home against the un-fancied Derbyshire side, but the man from Staffordshire had other ideas. He came into bat at 66 for 4 and scored 92 not out to take Derbyshire to 252. People who have seen that match still talk about the leg side flick he played against the all time great bowler Akram. Cork wasn't finished yet, as he came back to take crucial wickets in the end overs to help Derby win by a narrow margin of six runs. His great all round performance came at Lord's, which is a key point to note as over the years, he would come up with outstanding performances with both bat and ball at the hallowed turf.

His next great test was a tour to India with the A team. Now, the pitches in India can cause heartbreaks to fast bowlers as usually one won't even find a blade of grass in India. So, it was a litmus test for England's young quicks, but both Cork and his teammate Chapple passed it with flying colours. Actually, when England's squad was again ravaged by injuries  in Australia in 94/95, there were rumours that either Chapple, or Cork would be on the next plane to Australia, but it didn't happen as neither of them were called up to join the squad.

Cork makes a spectacular test debut

Cork finally made his test debut in 95 against Windies at guess what, his favourite ground Lord's. He had a ordinary start to his test career by just taking one wicket in the first innings, but in the second innings, he came alive as Cork scythed through the formidable Windies batting line-up consisting of Lara, Adams, Hooper and Richardson by getting late swing  to help England win the match.  He ended with superb figures of 7-43. I maybe wrong on this, but I vaguely remember Cork saying that he was worried about his baby as his mother in law had said that every-time he would take a wicket, she would throw his baby in the air and catch him. Hmm! so she must have thrown that baby in the air eight times as he took eight wickets in the match! He followed it up with a superb performance at Old Trafford as he took a hat-trick. So, from nowhere Cork became a star  and  he was suddenly expected to lead the attack on England's next tour to  South Africa.

Cork leading the attack

Now South Africa in the 90's were a tough unit, especially at home and only Australia were able to defeat them. So, chances of England winning the series looked slim yet, after a few encouraging results against the Windies, England were expected to put up a bit of resistance. In fact, England gave the Saffers a run for their money what with Atherton playing a great knock at Wanderers to help England escape from what seemed like a certain defeat. After playing out four consecutive draws, a lot was expected from both teams in the last test at Capetown as that was the last chance for both teams to get a result.  I can never remember England having a good result against South Africa at Capetown, but thanks to our man Cork, England were in the hunt  as he took a five wicket haul in the first innings, but the inability to crack the code of how to get the rabbit Paul Adams out and the inability of the batsmen to handle the pressure for the umpteenth time meant that series was gifted to South Africa. Cork had a good series with the ball, though at the end of the tour, he looked jaded.

Cork being dropped and his comeback

As the home season came around, Cork was expected to thrive in conditions that helps swing bowlers, but leaving a few decent performances like at Edgbaston against India and against Pakistan at Headingley, Cork looked well short of his best. He missed the subsequent tour of Zimbabwe, but returned back for the tour of Kiwiland. Again a lot was expected from Cork as the conditions in New Zealand are good for swing bowlers, but things didn't go according to plan as Cork struggled.  Caddick and Gough clearly overshadowed Cork and Geoffrey Boycott unfairly described Cork as a show pony. Cork though can't be criticized for lack of effort, as in the  final test, he played a crucial innings  and helped Atherton to thwart the threat of a young and bespectacled spinner making his debut called Vettori. Cork showed to everyone including Boycott that if not with the ball, he can still come up with crucial knocks as a batsman.

The next series England played was the most crucial series for every English cricketer and that was of course the Ashes. Cork though, was beset by injuries and personal problems and faded away from the scene. England gave a bit of fight, but in the end, it was yet another Ashes series in which England came second best. Cork though isn't someone, who would give it up so easily. So, it wasn't a huge surprise that he forced his way back into the side against the marauding Saffers in 98. It was clearly evident that he no more could get it to swing late yet, was able to get crucial wickets. For me, his greatest contribution of that series wasn't  his six wicket haul at  Lord's,  but the 24 runs he scored in the final test at Headingley. Yes, I am talking about mere 24 runs, but as it is said that sometimes cricket is more than just numbers and that is what can be said about those 24 runs. After a good start, England were as expected falling like a pack of cards, but in came Cork and defended as though his life depended on it and helped England to a score of around 250. Guess what, South Africa lost the match by 23 runs!

Cork fades away from the scene 

Cork was disappointing during the subsequent tour of Australia as he tried to bowl like Holding and ended up bowling all over the place. It just shows that too much aggression won't work. Anyway, coming back to our  man Cork, he faded away from the scene, though I still believe that Cork, Caddick and White should have played in the 99 world cup as the conditions in May and June would always help swing bowlers, but those were the dark days of English cricket and the management used to make a mess of what seemed like even  simple decisions. In the world cup, England were shown the exit door by India in the first round itself and even lost a series against a very average side like the Kiwis, which even made the media to come up with a headline called death of English cricket.

Renaissance of English cricket and Cork answers his critics  

At the dawn of the new century, there seemed to be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel as the hard-nosed coach Fletcher teamed up with Hussain. It wasn't a huge surprise that they soon recalled our legend Cork as they wanted players, who have a never say die attitude. Former players like Botham and Wills started shouting on roof-tops about Corky being a spent force and all that, but Fletcher had made up his mind that Cork would play the second test against West Indies at Lord's. Going into the match, England were in a bit of strife as the Windies had won the first test comfortably and the doomsayers were again predicting a 5-0 whitewash for England. Cork changed it all, as first with the ball in hand, he got quick wickets at a time, when Windies seemed to be running away with the contest. It was a sight to see Corky bowling bouncers at that giant Ambrose and giving him a mouthful!

Cork's biggest contribution of the match though, came with the bat in the second innings. England were set a target of less than 200 runs, but after a good start given by Atherton and Vaughan, England seemed to be hurtling towards another defeat as both Curtly and Courtney again started to rip though England's line-up. When England lost eight wickets the situation looked grim, but with Cork around, there was still some hope as he was playing on his favourite ground, the Lord's.  At the other end, stood good old Goughie and everyone knew that Goughie was always prone to trying a slog and gifting his wicket away, but every-time, he would try a fancy shot, Cork would give him a stare which could even make the The Undertaker tremble! It seemed like a partnership between a strict headmaster and a naughty student, who was forced to obey the orders of the headmaster at the other end.  Once Cork got himself in, he started to play a few shots and took a heavy toll on the inexperienced seamer Rose by lofting him for a four and a six. Slowly but surely, England edged closer to the target and finally won the match with both Gough and Cork remaining not out. Corky and Goughie were jumping in joy and it even looked like Corky pointed his bat towards the commentary box to show that he has let the bat to do the talking, though afterwards, Corky said that he was pointing the bat towards his girlfriend, but I won't believe it lol.

The final chapter of Cork's international career 

After Cork performed a stellar role with both the bat and ball to help England regain the Wisden trophy after about 30 years a lot was expected from him, when they toured Pakistan in 2000/01, but disaster struck for Corky as he was troubled by a back injury and had to return back home. He came back to play against the mighty Aussies in 01, but now Cork looked a pale shadow of his former self.  Yes, Cork wasn't short of competitive spirit as he would keep bowling bouncers, however harmless it may seem, but his career as a international cricketer was no doubt coming to an end. Cork played his last international match in the Champions trophy in Lanka in 02. As usual, he tried his best, but when you are up against a batsman called Viru and that too with him smashing everyone to all corners of the ground, it would be better to wear a helmet and escape from the ground. As the match ended, one could see that Cork was dejected.  With England looking at younger bowlers like Hoggy, Jones, Harmison and company,  his chances of touring Australia, or playing again for England was over.

Cork playing for Lancashire and Hampshire 

Yes, his career as a international player had ended, but unlike many other international cricketers, Cork decided to continue playing first class cricket. He signed for a big club like Lancashire in 2004 and big things were expected from a talisman like Cork. He was a touch inconsistent as a player, though it was Cork, who helped Lancashire to comeback to first division in 06. One can't forget his nerveless performance as a batsman at his favourite ground, Lord's in the C and G final against Sussex, when he almost took Lancs to a victory, or even in 07, when the heroics of Very Very Special Laxman and Cork himself helped Lancs to get close to a mammoth target set by Surrey, but just like before, it was yet again a case of being so close yet so far for Lancs. The loss meant that for the umpteenth time, Lancs couldn't win CC!

At the end of 2008 season, Lancashire decided to not renew Cork's contract  and as expected, Lancashire's players like Freddie and Law were angry with that decision. Lancashire's loss meant Hampshire's gain as they signed him for the 2009 season. Cricketers like Cork can't just be judged by averages, but with their great attitude, they lift the spirits of the entire team. Hampshire desperately wanted a charismatic player as Warne had announced that he won't return back to Hampshire and in Cork, they found one. Cork did what was expected from him as with his inspirational bowling performance helped Hampshire to win the FP 50 over trophy by taking four wickets. This year he has again been phenomenal for Hampshire. In the absence of key players including their regular captain Mascarenhas, he has led the side rather well and just a couple of days ago, Cork helped Hampshire to win the FP 20/20 trophy. It turned out to be a nail biting, edge of the seat contest with both Somerset and Hampshire scoring the same number of runs, but the title went to Hampshire as they lost fewer wickets.  Cork  did his bit by taking two wickets and at the age of 39, he showed that he is no slouch   by sending the dangerous Pollard to the hospital with a bouncer. He captained the young charges superbly too as Hampshire deservedly  lifted the trophy.

Wes on her blog about Cork,

"Cork, who I usually just call "Corker", is a phenomenon. You could put a concrete block in front of his nose and he would get his teeth right in (Kieron Pollard will confirm)"

The simple fact is, you love him or hate him, one thing is for sure that even if he is injured, Cork would be  ready to play the game and give everything he has. I have seen speculation about his future, but Cork seems to be in no mood to hang up his boots and would likely play the next season. I do hope he continues to play for the next few years as County Cricket needs characters like Corky. In fact,  I just can't imagine County Cricket  being played without our good old Corky!
Caution- It is a blog written by Corky's number one fan lol

Monday, August 16, 2010

Good start by Nepal

After watching their first match against USA being rained off, Nepal have done well by beating Italy in division four of world cricket. Italy is said to be one of the weaker sides  in Europe and their side is mainly made up of players from Australia, South Africa and Lanka. If I am right, they have only one player of Italian origin.

Veteran seamer Binod again bowled a good first spell and backed up by other seamers including the young Amrit and their captain Paras meant that Italy were bowled out for a paltry score of 71 runs. It is interesting to see that Nepal's captain used so many seamers. Usually, they do have a spin dominated attack, but I guess, the astro-turf made them go for a seam oriented attack.

Nepal's  batsmen struggled a bit and lost early wickets, but in the end, were able to chase down the score of 71. I don't know much about Nepal's cricket, but their batting seems to be a problem. Yes, they are perhaps  relatively inexperienced when it comes to playing on astro-turf, as they don't play much on astro-turf back home yet, their batting needs to improve.

Tougher challenges may lie ahead, but a very good start for Nepal in division four of world cricket. Keep it up Nepal!!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vintage Trescothick at his best

Yesterday on the finals day,  I was lucky to catch one of my all time favourite cricketers on telly, someone,  who can smash the bowling to smithereens with his power hitting and at the same time, can take the mickey out of the bowlers by playing a deft shot. Yes, I am thinking about former England's and Somerset's trailblazer Marcus Trescothick.

I am not a fan of power hitters, but unlike many other power hitters, Tres makes power hitting watchable as he usually plays cricketing shots and his game is also a mixture of power hitting and shots that requires deft touches. Yesterday, he took a Notts attack that consisted of bowlers like Nannes, Broad, Swann, Patel and co. to the cleaners. Tres looked in supreme touch as he  nonchalantly lofted, flicked and pulled Barbie out of the attack, put the tearaway Nannes to the sword by playing upper cuts, treated Sidebum like a club bowler, or the best of them all, slog sweeping Swann and making him look rather ordinary. Actually, I think the young Kieswetter can learn from Tres as when Tres makes room, he just back away one step unlike Kies, who makes too much room and in the end, isn't able to reach the ball.

The greatest strength of Tres as a t/20 player is, he stands still in the crease which allows him to play lofted shots, or makes a little bit of room to play savage cuts through square of the wicket on the off side. He can also irritate the best of quick bowlers by playing late cuts and leg glances.  Tres is no doubt a very good player of spin as well, as he uses the crease beautifully to hit the spinners out of their length. In fact, his duel with Swann was fascinating to watch. Swann has already showed that he loves bowling to left-handers, but Tres used his reach to good effect and played some breathtaking slog sweeps. Of course, Swann is a quality bowler  as he exacted revenge by getting Tres stumped.

A lot has been made about Tres's lack of footwork but I like what Gower said about Tres,

"His technique bears some similarity to mine in terms of economy of movement. It relies on balance. People like to dream that batsmen move a long way forward and long way back but that is not reality.He does not need to move a long way but needs to move enough. Against quicker bowling you cannot move too early or you get in the wrong position. When he is playing well, he gets his weight going in the right direction without having to move his feet very far; he is very good at transferring weight. When he is not playing well, his feet get stuck"

Yesterday's knock bought me back all those great memories of him making the formidable Saffer attack at Wanderers look toothless, his savage attack on Australian bowlers at Edgbaston, the controlled aggression he displayed at Multan against Pakistan, his knock with England in trouble at Oval against South Africa and many more. I am sure if Strauss was watching yesterday's match, he would be wishing that one-day he can again open with Tres lol!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The future of one-day cricket?

In recent times, one of the most hotly debated topics in cricketing circles is about the future of one-day cricket. Every tom, dick and harry, who has played international cricket is voicing his opinion as they don't want to be left behind when it comes to grabbing the headlines. The general consensus seems to be one-day cricket has become saturated and we should only concentrate on t/20 and test cricket. The latest former player to join the bandwagon is New Zealand's former captain and perhaps their best batsman ever Martin Crowe. The alternative view is to reduce the number of overs to 40  and split it into innings of 20 overs each. The Australian board is already going to try that format during this season, though their domestic players don't seem to be exactly happy with the idea. One of the biggest supporters of the idea seems to be the current record holder for the highest runs in both test and one-day cricket Tendulkar himself!

My two cents on future of one-day cricket

 I don't think we can hide behind the fact that one-day cricket is losing its popularity ,but it isn't right to say that one-day cricket should be scrapped altogether as it has given us so much joy in the past.  So, below are my views about how to inject life into one-day  cricket.

Prepare sporting pitches - Unlike test cricket, the shorter formats of the game should slightly  favour the batsmen as the crowds come to see big hits, but the feeling I get is, it has become too easy to get scores of over 300 in one-day cricket. I would like to see pitches that has something in it for the bowlers, but good batsmen can still get runs and a total of around 250 can be posted. It gets bad when in most of the matches, one team scores around 300, or over 300 and the other team can match it.  I have always believed that cricket can succeed in long term, only when the game isn't fully loaded in favour of either batsmen, or the bowler. At present, in most cases, one-day cricket is heavily loaded in favour of the batsmen.

One of the greatest criticism of one-day cricket has been, after the bowling team takes the first two power plays, the game becomes monotonous. Once the fielding captain takes the first two power plays, he would spread his field and as a result, batsmen just pace themselves by taking singles and  look for the odd boundary, until the slog overs come around.  Sporting wickets would encourage the fielding captains to attack and look for wickets even in the middle overs. Gone are the days, when a Mark Taylor would introduce Warne in the first 10 overs itself on a track that is turning a bit, Dipak Patel opening the bowling, or Anil Kumble bowling during the first 10 overs in the subcontinent.

I would also like to see no boundary ropes on grounds. If that isn't possible, at least don't make a big ground like MCG feel like a small rugby ground in New Zealand.  The beauty of cricket lies in singles being converted into twos and twos being converted into threes with fielders showing their agility to run the batsman out.  Gone are the days, when we frequently used to see Dean Jones, or Beven running like hares and converting twos into threes with Bill Lawry shouting in the commentary box, it is all happening out there! Collingwood, Hussey, or De Villiers are very athletic and steal twos or threes, but with boundary ropes around, most of the times, we see big hits.

Limit the number of one-day matches- Just like t/20 cricket, one-day cricket was used as a cash cow in the past and now fans are fed up with too much one-day cricket being played. It seems like India and Srilanka play every month a one-day series, or a tri-series. Last year, England and Australia played a seven match one-day series and in the end, it was a real drag. Concentrate mainly on the World cup and Champions trophy with teams playing the occasional three match one-day series.

No more gimmicks- We have already seen the super sub fail spectacularly and now there is a push for  converting the fifty over format into a forty over format and splitting it into two innings. I think it is complete madness as in the end, they would also lose out on the few loyal supporters, who still like one-day cricket and T/20 fans would stick with the fast paced t/20 format.

I like the batting power play as it brings life into the middle overs, but teams should look at taking it when they have wickets in hand and a batsman is set as it would make the middle overs more interesting. Teams would also benefit from it, as they would have wickets in hand and can go after the bowling. I just don't understand the use of batting power play with tailenders like Onions and Anderson at the crease. It happened in the champions trophy when England delayed the power play, though both Bresnan and Wright were going great guns and in the end, they were forced to use  it with Anderson and Onions at the crease. 

You may call me  old fashioned for suggesting sporting wickets and  not having boundary ropes and I have no data to show that it would work, but having visited many cricket forums and  blogs, the general feeling I got was, as the fans of one-day cricket grew up watching it in the 80's and 90's, they like it as compared to test cricket, one could see few more shots, but at the same time, bowlers could get some assistance and as a result, it makes for good viewing. So, my feeling is, if ICC goes back to the fundamentals of one-day cricket which made it popular in first place, one-day cricket can  retain its existing fan base and may even bring back a few fans, who have left following one-day cricket. Of course, there should be a reduction in number of one-day matches played and ICC should look to mainly market the World cup and Champions trophy.  I though must be day dreaming to expect the brainless and pusillanimous ICC to take such steps.

I would just say that over the years, one-day cricket has given lots of entertainment to cricket fans with edge of the seat nail biting finishes. We have also seen so many great individual feats by cricketers. So, I don't think we can just say that let us scrap the one-day format.

Finally, for suggesting old fashioned idea, I am ready for the backlash lol.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cricket and attacking captaincy

When I think back of the time, I got hooked to cricket  and began to understand the finer points of the game, I came to know that unlike other sports, cricket is a game in which,  the role of a captain is pivotal. I learnt that in cricket, it wasn't just about motivating the players, but even a bit of imaginative captaincy in the field can go a long way in altering the state of the game.  I can remember captains like Taylor, Imran( 1992 world cup), Akram(96/97 Carlton united series) and a few more, who showed the value of attacking captaincy, but as the years went by, it became difficult to even name a  few captains, who showed a positive approach to the game. Nowadays, we are left with captains like Dhoni, Sanga, Strauss, Punter, Gayle and co. whose first objective seems to be to restrict the opposition from getting the runs by spreading the field. In fact, yesterday I even felt a novice like Ross Taylor was a better captain than all the above mentioned names as he looked for wickets.

To illustrate the point, let us just look at a few instances of captains being defensive

Strauss at Antigua- If a team is 1-0 down, has scored over 500 runs in the next test, it is natural to expect a captain to attack, but Strauss didn't. West Indies lost an early wicket in their innings as well and out came the nightwatchman Daren Powell.  Strauss though, only had a couple of slips and a deep point for the swing bowler Anderson. As expected, couple of edges went past the vacant third slip to the boundary as he didn't even have a third man. Is  having a deep point better, or a third man? shouldn't a captain attack if his team scores over 500 runs and the opposition loses an early wicket? Actually, in that match Strauss even delayed the declaration and as a result, the Windies narrowly escaped from losing the match.

Even recently against Pakistan, Strauss set some strange fields. In the first test at Trent Bridge, Pakistan had lost six wickets for next to nothing,  but Strauss only had a couple of slips in helpful conditions for Anderson. At Edgbaston again he had only couple of slips, though Pakistan were well behind in the second innings. As expected,  couple of edges went past the vacant third slip position and finally, Strauss followed the ball and kept three slips. The reason why sometimes Anderson is afraid to bowl a fuller length is because even in helpful conditions, the pusillanimous Strauss is afraid to give him  three slips and continues to have a deep point.

Sanga and Dhoni at P'sara - The match at P'sara was a very unusual match as on one hand, Sanga seemed to be trying his best to be a gracious host, but Dhoni didn't take advantage of it. India had Lanka reeling at 125 for 8, but Dhoni spread the field and saw Lanka get to a score of over 250. Now, Sanga didn't want to be left behind as he wanted to show himself as a gracious host. On the last day, he inexplicably opened the bowling with the innocuous Walegedra. So, what was Sanga thinking? To tempt Tendulkar, or Laxman to chase all those wide deliveries that Wale bowls? Sanga also spread the field  and India coasted to victory. Players like Laxman and Tendulkar are too experienced to  gift their wickets away.

Vettori at Napier- I know that New Zealand don't have a great bowling attack, but if the opposition is Pakistan and in the first innings bowlers have bowled out Pakistan for a score of just over 200, I would expect any captain to attack, especially if the team is leading by 248 runs. Vettori though panicked as soon as Pakistan batsmen passed 50 runs in their second innings. Most of the fielders went scurrying to the boundary and whatever edges that Tuffey, or O'Brien produced, it went past the vacant slip cordon as most of the time Vettori had one slip, or occasionally no slips at all. In the end, a match that New Zealand should have won, ended in a draw.

One can also talk about Punter, Gayle and co. being defensive. It can also be said that Gayle doesn't look like a captain in any sense. The only captain, who I have liked in the last few  years is Jayawerdena, but unfortunately, he resigned as the captain and the dumb Sanga took over the mantle of captaining the Lankan side.

Let me make it crystal clear that I am not expecting a captain to attack all the time, but isn't it fair to expect attacking fields if a team gets a score of over 500, or has a lead of over 200 runs? In fact, I think one-day cricket has become dull because every captain seems to spread the field after the completion of first two power plays. As a result, batsmen would easily rotate the strike and the game becomes stagnant. So, why can't a captain occasionally have a slip, or bring the long on, or long off fielder  inside the ring and tempt the batsman to hit over the top against the spinner? The simple fact is, the best way to restrict the opposition from scoring is by getting wickets.

Let us also look at a few instances of imaginative captaincy 

Mark Taylor at Madras in 98- Australia had gone into series with  one of their weakest attacks ever as they had Wilson, Robertson, Dale  and Miller in the side. Yes, Warne was around, though he was troubled by a shoulder injury and the hard-working Kasper was playing, though he too was inexperienced.  The first test began under hot and humid conditions and it got worse for Australia as the sixer Sidhu was in a murderous mood and went after their trump card Warne. Australia did get Sidhu out and soon came out the little master Tendulkar. The crowd was behind their man and soon a big roar was heard as Tendulkar creamed Warne through the covers for four, but Mark Taylor didn't panic and calmly went up-to Warne to discuss about changing the field. Taylor soon left the cover field open and he himself stood at first slip. Now, even at that time Tendulkar was experienced enough to see through what both Taylor and Warne were thinking, but even the best of players can fall into the trap. The next ball Warne bowled, Tendulkar came down the wicket in an attempt to smash Warne through the cover region, but only could edge it to Taylor and get out!

Yes, Tendulkar came back with a vengeance as he tore the weak Australian attack to shreds in the rest of the series and India won the series 2-1, but that wicket of Tendulkar in the first innings at Madras can be credited to the imaginative captaincy by Taylor.

Taylor at Wanderers in 96/97 - At that time, South Africa were a formidable force and looked set to topple Australia as the number one side. Australia were going through a transitional period as Boon  and McDermott had retired from the side. Yes, Warne was at the peak of hiss prowess, but McGrath  was still learning the tricks of the trade and Dizzy was a greenhorn, as he had played just one test, but Australia shocked South Africa by winning the series in their own backyard.

Actually, everyone was surprised by Taylor and co. going for Beven as the fourth bowler on a bouncy track at Wanderers. Taylor had clearly taken a gamble as the general feeling is, Saffers are vulnerable against wrist spin, but can it work on a track like Wanderers? Yes, it did for Taylor, as Beven along with Warne ripped through South Africa's batting line up to help Australia take the series lead. Cricket fans may say that Beven was used as a defensive option as they wanted an extra batsman, but if that was the case, Taylor wouldn't have given him the chance to bowl so many overs.  At that time, Taylor was going through a bad patch as a batsman, but his invaluable captaincy helped Australia to defeat Saffers in their own backyard.

Akram in the Carlton United tri-series in 96/97- In 96 in Australia, Pakistan had a very youthful look to their side as they had players like Afridi, Saqlain,  Mohammad Zahid, Jamshed, Wasim and company, but they were led by a tactically good captain like Akram. I just can't remember a single match in which Pakistan gave away more than 250 runs. Akram marshalled his bowling resources beautifully and set attacking fields.  I can remember him placing a slip fielder for his spinners even when the opposition were on top and it worked for him as they went onto win the tri-series.

Both Akram and Taylor were willing to look for wickets and it worked for them. I know that a captain can't have three slips and a gully when the team has scored over 300 runs in a day, the bowling attack is ordinary and the wicket is flat, but he can still play mind games which more often than not works. Ok let us think of an imaginary scenario in which, a team has got over 300 runs, the wicket is flat and it is the final over of the day. So, what can a captain do? maybe he can make the batsman wait for a few minutes, bring in a slip and leave the cover field open. Now, the batsman may just safely play out the last over, but I have seen many batsmen getting frustrated by the time wasting and seeing the cover field open, going for the drive and edging it behind the stumps. The captain may even go for a double bluff  and  instruct the bowler to bowl a bouncer.

It is really sad to see defensive tactics employed by most of the captains as it makes the game stagnant and boring to watch.  I do agree that bats the batsmen use have become better,  nowadays the ground staff bring the boundary ropes in, the wickets have become flat yet, there is a place for attacking captaincy. .

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Taylor and Tuffey show

First of all, I am just glad that one of my favourite teams Black Caps are again playing cricket. After a hectic season, Kiwi players got a break, but they are back in action and what a great day they had at  Dambulla as they crushed India by a record margin of 200 runs.

When the match started, it didn't look so rosy for the Kiwis though, as they lost quick wickets on a pitch that assisted both swing and seam bowlers. Poor Williamson got a fine delivery on his debut and got out for zero. He would surely see better days in the future as he is a promising batsman. At 28 for 3, it looked like we would see yet another batting collapse by New Zealand, but the young captain Taylor showed courage and with support coming from Styris, Black Caps were able to get to 288.

I have never been a fan of Styris the pig, but nowadyas, I am beginning to like his batting. Yes, he rode his luck as yet again India were abysmal in the field what with Dhoni missing a regulation stumping of pig and Raina dropping a catch of Taylor, but Styris showed that he has a cool head on his shoulders. He didn't try anything fancy, but kept rotating the strike and when they took the batting power play, he came up with some lusty blows.

The star of their batting effort though was Taylor. Taylor may not be a purists delight as he plays lots of shots across the line however, he is a very effective batsman. I especially liked that inside out shot he played  during the batting power play. It shows that Taylor is working hard to improve his game through the off side which is a good sign. Yes, India came back strongly by getting quick wickets, but the admirable Tuffey used the long handle well to help Black Caps reach 288 .

At Dambulla, chasing any total has never been easy, though in recent times, couple of teams including India themselves have won batting second. The pitch does assist the seamers and the lights at Dambulla are never great, but the Indian batting effort was awful to say the least. It seemed like the seamers have to just bowl back of a length and the Indian batsmen would oblige them by giving catching practice to the slip fielders. The credit also has to go to the Kiwi seamers for hitting the right length.

The most impressive among all the seamers was of course, the tower Tuffey. People talk about Kiwis  having missed Bond due to him playing in the ICL, but in recent times  they also missed Tuffey as he too went to play in the ICL. When the consistent Tuffey and the fiery Bond bowled together, albeit for a brief period, the Black Caps looked  a lot better yet Tuffey never gets any recognition. Anyway, coming back to today's match, it was the good old Tuffey at his best, as he consistently hit the good length spot and  troubled all the Indian batsmen with bounce and movement.

I also have to say some good words about Taylor's captaincy. I liked the fact that he took the batting power play when they had wickets in hand and both batsmen were set. In the field,  when Sehwag scored a few boundaries early in the innings, I thought just like most modern day captains, he would panic and set defensive fields, but he continued to have couple of slips for S'wag.  I am sure captains like Dhoni, Sanga, Punter, or Strauss would have set defensive fields for S'wag. I have made it clear in few of my previous blogs that I am not a big fan of Vettori's captaincy, so maybe Taylor can take over as the captain in the near future which  would also mean lesser burden on Vettori's shoulders.

I know that there would a few excuses for India's loss like the lights being not up-to scratch, the pitch was assisting the seamers during the second session, there was turn for the spinners and maybe more. In my humble opinion, even when India bowled the ball did move around and  the pitch was assisting the spinners as well, but abysmal fielding didn't help. The Indian batsmen too were awful as one could have at least got 200 on that pitch. It would be better for the Indian team, if they don't blame factors like toss and think about how to improve for the next game.

Finally, it is just great to see the gritty Black Caps again playing cricket and the icing on the cake is, they have started the season with a bang!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Swann and the revival of off spin bowling

Since the time I have started watching cricket, I have frequently heard most experts saying that finger spin is dead and only those spinners, who can bowl the doosra can succeed in modern times against batsman, who have better bats and are more aggressive when it comes to batting. So, it has been a pleasant surprise to see the development of Swann as a spinner. He doesn't have a doosra, but subtle variations in pace and spin makes him a very good bowler. His bowling is also a treat to watch as he always looks for wickets.

To be frank, I still can't believe that Swann is playing test cricket as he was in the wilderness for more than eight years. I do remember watching a young Swann on the tour of South Africa showing some promise, but Fletcher didn't seem to like his attitude and dropped him from the side. Oh! didn't Fletch like Giles as he kept playing for a long time, but thankfully, Swann didn't give up and developed his game in county cricket   and now, he is no doubt England's strike bowler.

As far as his bowing is concerned, just like any other good spinner, Swann flights the ball and it dips on the batsmen, but what makes him a good spinner is, he keeps the batsmen guessing. He can give it a bit of flight and impart more turn to tempt the batsmen to drive and occasionally, he would bowl the one that goes straight on. Yesterday, Swann  even tried what seemed like a leg break! The ball he bowled to Farhat was a jaffa as it turned from leg to off stump and sent his stumps for a walk. Azhar Ali has shown that he struggles to drive and as expected, Swann tempted him to drive and found the gap between bat and pad to get his wicket. Swann is no doubt more of a threat against left-handers as out of the 97 wickets he has got, 53 have been lefthanders.  Nowadays, umpires are also willing to give a left-hander out lbw to a off spinner bowling from around the wicket which helps.
The only worry for me is, when he doesn't get wickets, he tends to bowl quicker through the air  and as a result the batsmen tend to play him easily, but that is the aggressive nature of the man. Actually, sometimes I feel that he is a quick bowler and not a spinner as he is always looking for wickets. In simple words, England are lucky to have a spinner like Swann as without him, Pakistan could have been in a very strong position at Edgbaston. 

I would also take this opportunity to congratulate the Pakistan's lower order for showing more gumption to fight than their so called batsmen. In future, they perhaps can look at a batting line-up made up of Haider, Gul, Ajmal, Ameer and even Asif!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Having a look at Sharma

First of all, congrats to the Indian team for coming back from behind to square the test series against Lanka 1-1. It takes a lot of character to come back from behind and draw a test series away from home. However, in the euphoria of drawing a series away from home, the Indian team's coaches shouldn't forget that there is a young bowler called Sharma, who has enormous potential, but seems to have lost confidence in his ability and isn't bowling with good rhythm.

At present, what Sharma needs is proper guidance, though would a trundler like Eric Simmons help him? If Gary Kirsten wanted another South African, he could have easily gone for the canny Fanie De Villiers and I have no doubt that he would prove to be useful.

Anyway, I thought of look in brief about Sharma's bowling

Repeatable action - To attain consistency in bowling line and length, any bowler should have a repeatable action. It comes from bowling lots and lots of overs. I would have liked to seen Sharma playing more fc matches, but unfortunately, he made his test debut at a tender age. So, at present I would like to see him bowl only in fc games and in test cricket, as if he plays in shorter formats of the game, he would try to experiment too many things and would struggle to have a repeatable action but is that ever possible???

Wrist position - If I have talk about the basics and finer points of wrist position, I may take another blog and bore everyone, but in simple words, I would try to explain. Sharma is a seam bowler and he would try to hit the pitch hard. The idea is to release it  with the bowler's wrist behind the ball and  the seam being  vertical. The ball would rest on the third finger and thumb. The middle and index fingers would be on the either side of the seam. The  straighter a bowler lands it on the pitch, better it is, as the bowler can bowl with an upright seam.  Sharma can work on it to get it  straighter which would help him to get movement off the pitch and bounce.

Stick to your strengths- Sharma with an open chested action, mainly brings it back into the batsmen.He tends to tilt his wrist to push the ball inwards and when he is in good rhythm, can be an awkward customer to face. He tends  to bowl from the mid-crease and occasionally from wide of the crease which helps him to get sharp inward movement and bounce to trouble the best of batsman. In recent times, I see that he has been trying to come closer to the stumps and his left shoulder seems to be dropping  a bit. As a result, he is losing in pace and direction.

So, why is he trying to come closer to the stumps as I have occasionally  seen him  straightening  it in Australia by bowling from the mid-crease itself. Is he trying to get lbw's, or to bowl the magical leg cutter? By bowling closer to the stumps, he is losing pace, not creating the angle which troubles most of the batsmen and as a result,  he is losing his rhythm. So, it would be better if he sticks to his strengths of getting the sharp movement back into the batsmen and just look to straighten the odd delivery. Just take the example of Jimmy Anderson himself, as he tried to bowl from very close to the stumps at Wanderers in South Africa and got zero wickets!

Be relaxed and  try to plot the batsman's downfall- Just like any other young bowler, it seems like Sharma thinks bowling is all about running as fast as you can and bowl it at good pace, but that isn't enough to take wickets. If a bowler is as quick as Thomson, Akthar, or Patterson it may not matter as they can get wickets with just sheer pace, but for others it becomes a key factor. For instance, against Lanka, I didn't see either Sharma, or Mithun trying to bowl at the stumps to the tailenders.  One could also notice that both seamers  didn't bowl a fuller length to the Lankan batsmen. Most of the Lankan batsmen aren't tall and they are hesitant to come forward, so the bowlers have to bowl a fuller length, but from whatever I saw of both seamers, they tended to bowl  short.

Finally, myself being a left-handed batsman, I can say that ball leaving the left-hander can be the achilles heel for us as the batsmen tends to follow the ball, but most of the left-handed batsmen try their best to play inside the line of the ball and can escape from edging it. If we look at both the Indian seamers, they  shape it away from the left-hander. In  Lanka though, Sharma could get the opener Paranavitana out for a cheap score only once and I can't remember Mithun getting any left-hander out. In fact, when Mithun tried to come around the wicket, he did produce the edge of Sanga only for Raina to drop it.  So, if the plan A of bowling from over the wicket doesn't work,  I would definitely like both the seamers  to try bowling from around the wicket in their first spell itself, as it forces the batsman to play at it. Recently, Jimmy Anderson has got more success against the left-handers by going around the wicket.

I am not any expert on fitness issues, but I feel that just like Munaf Patel and Sreesanth, Sharma too should work on getting his legs stronger.

Anyway, I would just say that Sharma is a precious talent as he has enormous potential, but how he develops depends on the guidance given by coaches and of course, is he willing to work hard on his bowling?