Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why is Tremlett special?

About 18 years ago, a tall, dark and handsome fast bowler with a stare that would make the best of batsmen feel that he is going to murder them the next ball blitzed Australia's top-order by taking 7 for 25 on a  trampoline wicket at WACA. It seemed like the Australian batsmen consisting of players like Waugh twins, Boon, Taylor, Border and co. were lilliputs facing up-to a giant, who was hurling hand grenades at them. Fast forward to present time, another very tall fast bowler built like a bulldozer was killing Lankan batsmen of the calibre of Jayawerdena and co. like flies in the first innings at Rose Bowl. He also made fans like me   a bit nostalgic and think about those great spells by the tall, dark and handsome man from the Caribbean.

You all must have guessed it by now that I was thinking about the great Antiguan fast bowler Ambrose and the other bowler is of course, the quiet and shy man from Southampton, Tremlett. The Lankan  batsmen though won't agree as when Tremlett is playing cricket, he is perhaps the meanest and the most intimidating fast bowler going around at present.  Now, for not even one minute I am comparing Tremlett to Amby, as Amby was in a class of his own, but it was a pleasure to watch a fast bowler intimidate the batsmen in an era made up of big bats and flat pitches.

Looking at the way Tremlett has been bowling since his return to test cricket in the Ashes, a casual cricket fan may think Oh! what is the big deal as he is built like a giant and has the natural attributes to bowl fast and frighten the batsmen. The fact though is, it isn't all about having the talent, as to succeed in any field, mental toughness and a bit of luck is a must. In his younger days, Tremlett seemed to be a cricketer, who didn't believe that he had the talent to bowl fast and suffered from ill-fated injuries. Michael Vaughan's comments about him not being mentally tough didn't help either, but thankfully, he has comeback stronger and a better bowler.

Turnaround in Tremlett's career

So, how could a bowler who was down in dumps transform himself from an injury prone, shy fast bowler to a fitter, stronger and a bowler, who frightens the batsmen to death with awkward bounce and a big stare?  Around the same-time last year, Tremlett was released by Hampshire County and there were even whispers in County circles that his days as a cricketer in County cricket was numbered as no one would like to gamble on a player, who seemed to be made of glass. Surrey though, took the gamble and picked him in their squad for the 2010 season. The move by Tremlett to Surrey can be said as the turning point in his career, as it has helped him to become a better fast bowler.  By bowling lots of overs on flat wickets at Oval, Tremlett has definitely got stronger and has learnt the art of bowling on flat wickets. In-fact, when he bowls, it looks like a bulldozer has been ordered to crush the opposition team's batsmen. Surrey's coach Chris Adams may have failed as a batsman  in test cricket, but he is always renowned as a tough guy and the association with him at Surrey surely has helped Tremlett to become better.

Tremlett with experience has learnt that bowling in test cricket isn't just about bowling short and intimidating the batsmen. It looks great when a tall fast bowler bowls a bouncer and the batsman tries to duck under it, or sway away from the line, but to get wickets, the key is to use the short ball as a surprise weapon. It was evident when Tremlett first made his  debut against India in 2007 that he got carried away with bowling short. Yes, Tremlett did get few wickets in that series by bowling short, but at Oval the experienced Indian batsmen decided that instead of playing at those short deliveries, it is better to leave it and as a result, Tremlett came a cropper in that test. Even during his comeback trail in the practice games before the Ashes, I again thought that Tremlett bowled a touch short.  For instance, in the first innings at Hobart against Australia A, he bowled a touch short, but it was in the second innings, he finally showed  his class on a wicket that had become considerably flatter by constantly hitting the good length spot, making the batsmen play and using the bouncer only as a surprise weapon. Since that game, he has hardly put a foot wrong. In-fact he has got better as one could see in the first innings at Rose Bowl, as after somewhat of an indifferent start, he pinged the batsmen in the crease with awkward bounce and forced the batsmen to edge it behind to the keeper. He also used the bouncer and the full delivery as a surprise weapon to keep the batsmen on tenterhooks.

Final Words

Here is a bowler, belonging to the bygone era of tall fast bowlers, who kept coming hard at the batsmen and made cricket a joy to watch as back then it was an equal contest between bat and ball. So, in a nutshell Tremlett belongs to the rare species of tall fast bowlers whose very existence is cricket is threatened due to big bats, too much cricket and flat wickets. In near future, we may not find a single fast bowler, who would make the batsmen think twice about coming onto the front-foot, but at least at present, let us all enjoy the the  tall fast bowler from Southampton built like a Coast Redwood tree of California frighten the batsmen to death with his bounce and a big stare. I just wish that Tremlett can play for a few more years without too many injury problems and continue to bowl like he has done at Perth, Cardiff and Rose Bowl.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Katich's axing and and the backing of Phil Hughes

Few months back, a cricketer by the name Simon Katich or more popularly known as Krab was winning the best Australian test player award, but fast forward to the present world, he now isn't even worthy of being one of the 25 centrally contracted players. Here was a cricketer, who had comeback into the side  after he was dropped from the test team in 05 by working hard on his game with the help of Bob Simpson and did well over the last few years. Suddenly though, from nowhere the Australian selectors have decided that he isn't good enough by not giving him a contract. It seems like age factor and injuries were considered as the reasons for the dropping of Katich, yet poor Katich must be feeling that the Australian selectors have stabbed him on the back.

Let me make it crystal clear that I am all for youth policy, but at present, Australian selectors in a bid to select young players are picking cricketers, who don't seem to be good enough to play test cricket.

Yes, I realise that selecting an national side is a thankless job as whatever list a selection panel comes up with, some sections in the media or the fans won't be happy with it. The fact though is, Australian selectors seem to be confused and are gambling by picking players, who just aren't  ready to play test cricket. There was no way a player like the X man or whatever he was, would have been selected before. The same can be said about Smith as at present, he isn't good enough to bat at 6 or bowl about 15-20 overs of leg spin. I also see that they have not dropped the blind man against spin David Hussey as well as someone, who never seems to use his brains Hilfenhaus from the contract list but Katich gets dropped!

 Katich was never going to be a batsman fans would pay to watch as with his exaggerated shuffle across the stumps and him being a batsman, who  seemed to belong more to the bygone Tavare, Boycott era, he would likely drive away fans from the ground, but there is no doubt that with his hard-work, he has earned the respect of other cricketers as well as fans. Anyway, Katich may feel happy now that he doesn't have to keep playing for a side that seems to be in a decline, but rather spend some time with his children on some beach in Gold Coast of Australia.

It was also interesting to note that Australian selectors have backed Hughes to the hilt and it looks likely he is going to be given a good run in the side. Actually, it is good to see that Aussie selectors have decided to give Hughes a run in the side, but there are serious question marks regarding whether Hugues's technique to succeed in test cricket is good enough. To succeed in the highest form of the game, which is test cricket, a batsman needs to have a decent defence, but unfortunately Hughes doesn't have a decent defence. Just like what I said when I saw him for the first time in South Africa in 08/09, I would continue to say that he has loads of talent but lacks a defence.

The general consensus is, Hughes is troubled by the bouncer, but in my opinion, more than a bouncer, it is back of a length bowling which troubles Hughes. Hughes's inability to cover the line of the ball and as he gets squared up means that if a bowler consistently bowls back of a length and shapes it slightly away from Hughes, he would likely nick it to the slip cordon. A bowler can also look at bowling from around the wicket and tuck him up for room and get his wicket. Even a decent spinner would fancy his chances of getting him out as he goes very hard at the ball, but unfortunately the spinners tribe haven't been able to get much of a chance to bowl at him as in test cricket, he has consistently got out cheaply to seamers! At present, he is an one dimensional player, as he looks good only when a bowler bowls short and wide. Hughes needs to look at scoring more runs through the on-side otherwise his scoring options would be limited. Having said that Hughes to his credit did well in the Sheffield Shield final and is still young, so he can improve.

I just end this rant of mine by saying that this is the time when we would come to know about whether the depth in Australian cricket is as great as what is made out to be or is just a myth. When you see youngsters like Hughes, Smith, Warner and to a lesser extant even Khawaja not knowing where their off-stump is, it doesn't seem so.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

French open final preview

Two weeks ago when the second Grand Slam of the year French Open started, the only word on everyone's lips was can Djokovic again beat Nadal on his favourite surface clay and that too at  Roland Garros, but after two weeks of matches worth of thrills and spills, the two men standing at the end are familiar faces  about whom we have admired over the years. Yes, I am thinking about Rafa and Roger, who are yet again going to meet in a Grand Slam final.

The big question before any match between Roger and Rafa is of course, who will win the contest. If I see the stats, it is crystal clear that there can be only one winner and that is Rafa as he has won 16 out of 24 encounters against Roger which includes 11 victories on clay. Rafa has also defeated Roger on all 4 occasions they have met at Roland Garros and has an 5-2 advantage in Grand Slam finals. The records are very much staked against Fed, but it doesn't count for anything when both great champions meet in the final as who will win the match isn't decided by past records, but on the basis of who plays better on the day.

If I think about the upcoming match between the two greats, I am sure already about a billion previews have been written by experts as well as fans.  Added to those billion previews here is one more  preview by me lol.

One one side, Federer must be feeling very confident as he played great tennis especially in the first two sets to send the pre-tournament favourite Djokovic packing out of the tournament. When Federer starts to hit winners from his slightly weaker backhand wing and serves at over 200 Kph you know that he is in great form. Here is a player, who is definitely a different man to the one who lost at both Miami and Madrid to Rafa. Fed though, himself knows he may have to play a different game against Rafa. Unlike Djokovic, Rafa isn't the one who would look to play with all out aggression, but more often than not he has succeeded in hurting Fed's  backhand with heavy top-spin from his forehand. So, Rafa will definitely look to grind down Fed on clay with his top-spin before he goes for his big forehand winner. It is very important for Fed to get his serve right today, especially on the deuce court as Rafa stands way back on the baseline.  If Fed gets his serve right, he can keep the points short and not allow Rafa to dictate points from the baseline with his heavy top-spin.

Secondly, Fed would also look to come to net which in turn will force Rafa to hit more passing shots, but it is easier said than done, as Rafa has definitely improved his backhand and can hit winners with his cross-court back-hand.

On the other side, Rafa would look to do what he has done before on clay against Fed and that is to hurt Fed's backhand with his heavy top-spin. Rafa hasn't served anywhere near as well as he did at the US open yet, he has mixed up his serve well with clever changes of pace in the tournament. It definitely helped him against Murray to save few break points. One of the major worries for Rafa though in this tournament is, a few big hitters have been able to find a bit of weakness when they have got Rafa on the run as unlike before, Rafa hasn't been able to hit those unbelievable winners  from his forehand wing when he is on the run, instead the opposite player is making use of the short ball from Rafa's forehand wing to hit the winner. Rafa has shown signs of improvement in his game against Soderling and Murray, but he still isn't playing at his best on clay. When he plays at his best, he is just invincible on clay.


It is very tough to predict a winner in this match as both are great champions and this time around, Fed looks a lot more confident than he did say three years ago when Rafa completely walloped him at the famous court Philippe Chatrier. I would still give a slight edge to Rafa as I expect him to again make holes in Fed's backhand with his heavy top-spin and likely win the French open.

Whatever maybe the result, it is always great to watch these two champions battle it out in Grand Slam finals as on one side, there is the king of orthodoxy Fed, who plays with finesse and is a connoisseur's delight. On the other side there is Rafa, who is the king of unorthodoxy, but in his own way he too is a delight to watch as he covers the court beautifully, gets so much top-spin on his shots and when in form, can hit breathtaking winners on the run. Yes, there are so called purists who hate Rafa's play, but I don't have anytime for people with blinkers on.

Finally, I would again hope that my favourite player Rafa wins yet another French open, but just like most Rafa fans, I won't mind the great champion Fed winning another Grand Slam either!