Saturday, June 23, 2012

The puzzling case of Owais Shah

Fourteen years. The number of years that have gone by, since a man all of 19 years gave England their first taste of a World cup victory in cricket.

People may think, I must have gone crazy to even imagine England winning a fifty over World Cup tournament. Maybe the victory came in some dreamland, where everything you touch turns into gold? Hmm! the answer is no as in 1998, England indeed did win a fifty over World Cup trophy albeit, it was at the under 19 level. The captain of the side who lifted that trophy Owais Shah, was a talented young batsman and he was tipped by many pundits for a bright future with the England senior team.

So fourteen years on, where is the young prodigy? Alas! our man Shah, in-spite of having the required skills to succeed, he couldn't make a name for himself in the international arena. Instead, these days, he showcases his talents around the world in those zillion t/20 leagues that have sprung up like mushrooms.

When I watch Owais Shah bat, I wonder how on earth does he not play for England in the shorter formats of the game especially, in t/20 cricket? Shah is a player, who always looks for an opportunity to score runs and undoubtedly England's best bet after the retirement of KP in t/20 cricket.

Yes, when Owais is batting at the crease, a cardiac patient my urgently need a defibrillator and a purist may feel like nauseating after watching all those eccentric movements at the crease yet, for me, he is a joy to watch. Eyes wide open, maniacally chewing the gum, upsetting a bowler's length with skilful use of the crease and the adroitness to manoeuvre the best of spinners on both sides of the wicket is something that I just don't want to miss out on. For fun, I sometimes feel that Owais is the Popeye of t/20 cricket. If Popeye's power came from spinach, our man's power comes from chewing gum.

Owais Shah's critics will invariably point to the fact that he played 71 onedayers and he just averaged 30.56. Of course, Owais is also not a good fielder and a few coaches have said that he has an attitude problem. If you scratch the surface though, underneath you will see that there is more to it than just judging Shah on the basis of 70 odd matches.

When Fletch was the coach of England, he never seemed to like Owais's technique as he doesn't play with a forward press. I have heard that Fletch told to Owais to employ the forward press to his technique, but Owais stubbornly refused to do it. Shah though, has said that it wasn't communicated to him regarding what Fletch wanted him to do with his technique. Now, whatever maybe the case, under Fletch, Owais never got a decent run in the side.

It was under Moores that Shah finally started to blossom as a batsman. When Moores was the coach, Owais made 994 runs at 38.23 and was one of England's better batsman at that time. Here, who can forget the likes of KP and Colly struggling on a sluggish wicket at Dambulla in 07/08 yet, Owais making it look easy by using the depth of the crease and his wrists beautifully? It was an innings that helped England to win a crucial match. Shah also played beautifully in India in 08/09.

Just when it looked like Owais was about to blossom in the shorter formats of the game, the infamous KP - Moores fiasco meant that Moores was out and in came Flower. Under the new coach, it again seemed like Owais Shah's attitude and his fitness was questioned. So, in less than 6 months of Flower's appointment as a coach, Owais was shown the exit door from the team.

It is sad but true that in one of his last innings with an England shirt on, he produced one of his best knocks. In the Champions trophy in 09, England were playing a crucial game against the Saffers. The Saffers were expected to win that match, but they were hit by the chewing gum power of Owais Shah.

During that innings, Owais showed zero respect for the Saffer bowlers. He even had the chutzpah to leave all his three stumps to Botha and smash him for a six over the mid-wicket. It felt like Shah was telepathically communicating with Botha and telling him, I don't think you are good enough to get me out even if I leave all my three stumps. With his eyes wide open and those killer shots, he might have frightened the Saffers into thinking that Shah is some psycho thriller's villain.

It doesn't make any sense that after the Champions trophy got over, our man was dropped, but the walking wicket Denly from Kent kept his place. Flower and co. may tell that he has an attitude problem, but isn't it right to say that a coach is there to get the best out of his players? Players aren't robots to behave in a set manner for sure.

In short, without two of England's best t/20 players in KP and Shah, I won't feel confident about the team defending the t/20 crown in the Emerald Isles.  On slow tracks of Sri Lanka, you need players, who are able to manoeuvre the spinners by skilfully using the crease and nimble wrists which in turn, helps the batsmen to place the ball into vacant gaps on the field. Owais is one batsman who can do that.

In-fact, England have an inexperienced batting line-up made up of Kieswetter, Hales, Bopara, Morgan, Bairstow, Butler. The likes of Kies and Bairstow seem to play on a swamp and have wrists made up of rubber while playing spin. As far as Bopara is concerned, he has this strange technique of coming forward to even deliveries that are short. It does show, Bopara isn't good at using the depth of the crease against the spinners. Even if you don't consider that factor, it is bizarre to see a player like Bopara playing for England, in-spite of him having a S/R of below 100! Bopara isn't a good fielder either.

I just can hope against hope that finally some sense will prevail and if not KP, Shah can get a chance to play in alien conditions of Srilanka. It would give Owais a chance for one last hurrah at the international stage. Having said that, it is perhaps better for Shah to travel around the world to play in those zillion leagues and entertain the crowd with his eccentric yet enjoyable batsmanship, as England's management just don't seem to want him in the side.

I will end it by saying, Flower should watch a video of Owais with a slight extension of a defensive prod smashing Langveldt of Kent for a six in FL T/20. It may help Flower to realize the worth of having Shah in the t/20 WC squad. 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

South Africa's pace attack - Part 2

In the second part of the article, Analysis of South Africa's pace attack, I will look at rest of South Africa's pace battery.

Even if I go back in a time machine to a different era, I can see that South Africa's pace bowling factory hasn't just produced good new ball bowlers, but a battery of support bowlers too, who can also take over the mantle of being the strike bowlers. This team is no different as England's batsmen  just can't relax, as if Steyn, or Philander don't get you, Morkel and Kallis will!

Morne Morkel - This giant of a man looks more like someone who lost his way from the land of Brobdingnag. Morkel has the ability to make the batsmen feel like they are batting on a cauldron of lava with awkward bounce and pace, but under pressure can lose the plot easily.He can blow hot and blow cold.

Now, what are the possible threats that England's batsmen can be confronted with, when they face this giant from the land of Brobdingnag?

As I discussed in the part 1 of this article that Morkel has been a constant threat to both of England's openers Strauss and Cook. Everytime, Morkel goes around the wicket to Strauss, you can foreshadow him getting Strauss out.

 So, what is the reason behind  Strauss being a bunny of Morkel? First and foremost, the towering giant  can be a difficult proposition for any left-hander to face. Morkel's natural angle which is into the left-hander from around the wicket can cramp a batsman for room and with him getting awkward bounce, it becomes even more difficult to play him.

Strauss is also a batsman, who is shorter in stature and his favourite shot is the cut. Here, one can notice Strauss hanging slightly back and not covering his off-stump, as he is on a look out to make room and play the cut shot. In short, the cut shot is a bread and butter shot for England's captain, but against Morkel, it becomes his weakness.

When Morkel cramps Strauss for room, Strauss tends to play slightly away from the body, as he is so keen on playing the cut. As Strauss would be in no position to play the shot because of Morkel's lift and his natural angle, he loses his wicket by edging it to the keeper, or by bottom edging it onto the stumps. Two classic dismissals I can remember are, Morkel bowling a lifter  from around the wicket and getting Strauss out caught at Leeds and almost a replica of that dismissal at Centurion in 09/10.

 Interestingly, the Windies who have just played out a test series against England, planned to get Strauss out with Roach looking to go wide of the crease from over the wicket so as to open up Strauss slightly and produce the edge.

Yes, one can cognizance that Strauss can find himself in trouble against Morkel, but will his  partner Cook get some respite while facing Morkel?  Unfortunately, the answer is Cook just can't imagine of living in a wonderland while facing up-to Morkel.

The taller Cook will look to come forward, but  with Morkel again looking to cramp the left-hander for room, it won't be easy to play him. In simple words, oceans may dry up, or Mt Everest may melt, but Morkel's lifters to left-handers won't.

It isn't like this article is all about Morkel and England's openers, as England have a few more prolific batsmen in their ranks. One of them is Ian Bell. In recent times, Bell has been in sublime form especially, when he faces up-to fast bowlers from the opposition, but up against Morkel, he needs to be at his best.

 Bell can suffer from what I call as Mark Waugh syndrome. Very early in his innings, Ian Bell has the habit of just not moving his feet and as a result, he will neither go back, nor come forward. It does indicate that with Bell, there is always a chance of him nicking one of those back of a length deliveries to the keeper. It doesn't surprise me that after Ntini, it is Morkel who has dismissed Bell on most number of occasions.

 The classic Morkel v Bell duel at Capetown can be taken as a example. I don't know whether the picturesque Capetown ground at the foot of table mountain inspired both Morkel and Bell to go toe to toe at each other, but it was a battle royale for sure. On one hand, Morkel bowled with pace and hostility, but that day Bell played with the concentration prowess of a Buddhist monk and kept Morkel at bay. Eventually though, Bell inexplicably played at one of those back of a length deliveries that could have been left alone and lost his wicket. It does show that even when set, Bell has the habit of poking at one of those back of a length deliveries, which can be left alone outside the off-stump.

I have talked about how Morkel will look to bowl at most of England's batsmen, but how can I leave the pure entertainer and the game changer KP?? KP too will have a tough task on his hands, while facing up-to Morkel. KP is a compulsive puller, but he rarely ever rocks back to pull. On occasions, he can get away with it as he is ridiculously talented. Here, who can forget KP having the chutzpah to pull a ballistic missile bowled by Akthar in Pakistan in 05/06 for a six on the front-foot? At the same-time, one can remember Mitch getting him out at Sydney and of course, Gul recently in UAE with bouncers. I am sure the giant Morkel will also bowl a few snorters at him around his throat.

Having said that the biggest threat for KP will always come from South Africa's top gunman Stengun. Steyn will look to pitch it up and bowl the outswinger right on off-stump with a hope of  tempting England's main man to play across the line and send his stumps for a walk in the park. It is a plan, first tried by McGrath at Oval in the 05 Ashes and perfected by the talented Windies fast bowler Taylor in the second innings at Jamaica in 2009.

A few may wonder is this Morkel all about hitting back of a length and intimidating the batsmen? In recent times though, he has shown that he can bowl the yorker too. Until the final innings of the final test in the Land of Long White Cloud, Morkel seemed to be very hesitant to bowl the yorker, but in that test, he blew away New Zealand's middle-order with yorkers. Even in the IPL, Morkel bowled yorkers with ease.

I don't know whether it is the present coach of Saffers Donald, who has said to him that for a tall bowler, the yorker can be a trump card. The simple fact is, when the batsmen are hanging back, thanks to the bounce that Morkel can get and with the ball coming from such a height, the yorker can trouble even the best in the business. It isn't just England's main batsmen who have to be aware about Morkel's new found weapon, but even the lower-order players should look out for that lethal yorker.

Just having a looking at some of the points that I have written about the man from land of Brobdingnag, it may seem like England will be confronted by a leviathan monster. The good news is, Morkel can blow hot and cold. I am sure Smith till now hasn't understood this labyrinthine world of Morkel.

Kallis - Kallis isn't just a colossus of South Africa's batting line-up, but also a fine support bowler. During the early part of his career, Kallis could get prodigious swing, but nowadays, relies more on using  his strong shoulders to hit the deck hard and to use the surprise bouncer.

These days, Kallis is a very reluctant bowler, but on his day can still surprise the best in the business with his surprise bouncer. Kallis's duel with the mercurial England bat KP will be interesting to watch. As KP doesn't hold back while facing up-to the short ball, Kallis will definitely look to outsmart him with a few bouncers. 

As I said before, early in his innings Bell tends to play with lazy footwork. So, I do expect Kallis to test Bell's footwork early in his innings with well pitched up deliveries so as to get him out LBW, or bowled. Here, one can remember Kallis cleaning up Bell at Leeds with a well pitched up delivery in 08.

South Africa also have Marchant de Lange and Tstsobe in their squad. Both of them may come into the equation, only if one of the main strike bowlers get injured. Marchant de Lange is a greenhorn, who can hit the deck and bowl quick. At present, he is very raw and shouldn't trouble top-class batsmen, but under the tutelage of Donald, one can expect him to ameliorate his standards as a bowler.

As far as Tstosobe is concerned, he seems to have gone backwards as a bowler. There was a time, when he was the first change bowler for South Africa, but from what I have seen of him, he perhaps doesn't have the penetration to succeed in test cricket. The left-armer can swing the new ball and with a old ball in hand, looks to vary his pace from around the wicket.

So, who will win this battle between made in South Africa's pace battery and England's formidable batting line-up?  Can Stengun annihilate England with his pace and swing? Can Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Morkel, finally show that he is consistent? Can Smith continue the improvement he has shown in  recent times as a captain? Can the new sensation from South Africa's secret fast bowling factory, Philander continue to take wickets for fun? All questions will be answered when this mouth watering test series starts on July 19th at Brit Oval

A few apocalyptic prophets have already predicted that South Africa with their battery of pace bowlers will end England's reign as the kings of test cricket by smashing them into smithereens. I though, will wait and watch, as it won't be easy to acclimatise to the English conditions for the Saffer quicks and England have a good side.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Analysis on South Africa's pace attack - Part 1

The fast bowling tribe from the Rainbow nation is coming again to the Old Blighty, beware! This fast bowling tribe consists of bloody minded cricketers, who are just after a batsman's head, or their stumps. They look to blast the batsmen out of the crease with pace and intimidation. In short, they are like trained commandos shooting down the bad guys of the world with AK-47.

For an outsider, it seems like they have a secret factory located somewhere in Johannesburg, or Capetown where, instead of producing ballistic missiles, they produce something called fast bowlers. Let it be Andy Bell, Quinn, Adcock, Heine, Peter Pollock, the giant Vince Van Der Biji, Garth Le Roux, Donald, the injury prone but deadly Schultz, Devilliers, Ntini, Steyn, Morkel, Philander and co. All-rounders like Shaun Pollock, Procter, Rice, Macmillan  and many more, South Africa never have had a shortage of fast bowling talent. The assembly line of fast bowlers just don't dry up in the secret factory of the Rainbow Nation.

If I think about even the current crop of fast bowlers consisting of Steyn, Morkel, Philander, Kallis and Lange, they can make the batsmen feel like they are batting on a cauldron of lava. At the same-time, South Africa's pace attack can crumble under pressure and sometimes, may lack the craftiness to defeat the batsmen.  

So in this article, I will look at the current crop of South Africa's pace bowlers who, will look to intimidate England's formidable batting line-up with sheer pace, hostility and their aggressive swagger.

Dale Steyn - The spearhead of the fast bowling tribe Dale Steyn, is a true phenomenon. In an era made up of flat tracks, the Saffer quickie has taken 272 wickets @23.18 and more importantly has a S/R of 40.18. He is no doubt the one and only true great fast bowler of this era.

Just like the battery of fast bowlers we have seen before from South Africa, Steyn too can bowl quick. The one difference is, unlike the battery of hit the deck bowlers, who terrorized the batsmen with pace and bounce, Steyn looks to pitch it up and on his day, he can get it to swing it late at pace. Now, that is a deadly combination to have. Steyn also has a wicked bouncer which tends to follow the right-handed batsman all the way through and invariably takes a piece of the batsman's helmet along with it. I have seen old-timers compare his bouncer to England's former fast bowler John Snow and that is a high praise indeed.This mettlesome cricketer also seems to be made up of Toledo steel, as for a fast bowler, he doesn't break down often.

So does that mean England's batsmen don't have a hope in hell of doing well against the spearhead of  South Africa's pace attack? Of course, England's formidable batting line-up can do well, but they have to be at their absolute best when facing up-to this mighty fine bowler from the Safferland.

First and foremost, Steyn's record against England isn't anything to write home about. Steyn has taken 31 wickets @34.29 against England which shows that the batsmen have generally played him well. Yes, when England played him in 04/05, Steyn was raw and in 09/10, he looked short of a gallop at Durban, as he was just coming back from an injury. The fact though is, he has struggled a bit against England.

One of main reasons for Steyn's struggles against England is, when Steyn came to England in 08, he wasn't able to acclimatise to the different conditions on view quickly. Steyn struggled with the slope at Lord's, tried to pitch it up further to look for swing, but it ended up as half volleys for the batsmen to feast on and maybe as in England the duke ball is used, he struggled a bit to get used to it. Just when Steyn was hitting top form in the second test at Leeds, he got injured and went back home. Steyn now is four years older, so you expect the experienced quickie to acclimatise to the English conditions quicker.

On occasions, Steyn also has struggled a bit against left-handers and England have two lefties at top of the order. Before 2010, Steyn's average against the left-handers was as high as 34.58. It has come down to 26.59 in the last 2 years yet, one can see that he prefers bowling to the right-handed batsmen. So, what maybe the reason behind Steyn's preference of bowling to the right-handers?

Steyn is mainly an outswing bowler and as a result, he will look to bowl the inswinger to the left-handers. The problem is, when compared to say England's spearhead Jimmy Anderson, he doesn't bowl the away swinger to a left-handed-batsman that well. You can see that even with the numbers, as in the last two years, (the series against West Indies hasn't been counted) Anderson has accounted for 39 left-handers and 32 of those wickets have come through being caught by the keeper, or in the slip cordon. It doesn't just show that how well Anderson has used the crease to create an angle across a left-hander so as to produce the edge, but also the importance of the away swinger.

 Steyn on the other hand, when he tries the away swinger, he tends to give room to a left-hander. Being a leftie myself, I can safely say that you don't need a second invitation to play a cut shot against a delivery that is short and wide. The best example I can think of is, Steyn struggling with both line and length on the first day at Lord's in 08 against Strauss and Cook. He would bowl short and wide to both Strauss and Cook and in the end, would overcompensate for it by bowling too full. 

Having said that England's captain Strauss hasn't been able to take advantage of Steyn's occasional struggles against the left-handers. Strauss averaged just 25.71 in 08 and 24.78 in 09/10 against the Saffers. Strauss had great success in 04/05 against the Saffers, but I am not considering it, as Steyn was a greenhorn at that time. Steyn though, has dismissed Strauss just once which gives even more weightage to the theory that Steyn can struggle a bit against a left-handed-batsman. The good news for Strauss is, his tormentor in the last few series Ntini has retired. Ntini dismissed Strauss as many as seven times in his career. The bad news is, the bowler who has dismissed him six times Morne Morkel, still plays for South Africa.

 Strauss's opening partner Cook has done far better against South Africa. Cook averaged 47 in 08 and 41 in 09/10. In-fact, it is staggering to see that even though Steyn is an opening bowler, he has never dismissed Cook! It isn't surprising though that yet again Morkel and Ntini have tormented Cook the most. This time around, Morkel leads the pack as he has dismissed Cook 6 times to Ntini's 3.

Yes, the tall Morkel and the newbie Philander can trouble Strauss and Cook yet, it is a big plus that the main man in the opposition pace attack has a tendency to struggle against the left-handers. I wonder, whether the Saffers will open the bowling with Philander and Morkel against England?

Philander - Most people would expect Morkel to be Steyn's partner in crime with a new ball in hand. Philander though, has been so good since his debut that nowadays, he has taken over the new ball duties from Morkel. In-fact, you can call Philander a sensation. Philander is now the second fastest to reach the landmark of taking 50 wickets. The fastest to reach that landmark did it in the year 1888. It seems like he achieved that feat in stone age as 1888 is a longtime ago. It does show how great Philander has been in his short career.

One may wonder are England's batsmen shuddering with fear at the mere thought of facing this new phenomenon from the Safferland? The fact is, Philander has ripped through batting line-ups like SL, Kiwis and the inconsistent Australian batting line-up. Philander though, hasn't bowled on flat tracks, or he hasn't come up against a formidable batting line-up. It doesn't mean that I don't rate Philander, but he still has to be tested against good batting line-ups and on flat tracks. Here, bowling against England's formidable line-up will be a bigger test for him.

So what are Philander's strengths and how can England's batsmen look to tackle him? Philander bowls with superb control and gets just enough nip of the surface to create problems for the batsmen. From what I have seen of  Vernon, he came across as a specialist in bowling on a fourth stump channel all day. Philander isn't quick, but has a decent effort ball which is about 5 miles per hour quicker than his stock delivery.

The clue to playing him can be seen by how the Kiwi, Kane Williamson played him on the last day of the final test in the Kiwiland. Philander struck to his tried and tested method of bowling on a fourth stump channel and the odd wide delivery to tempt the batsman to drive. On the other hand, Williamson kept leaving most of those deliveries and Philander wasn't able to make inroads into New Zealand's batting line-up.  Philander just gave away 29 runs in 18 overs, but he had no wickets to show for his efforts on that day. Am I clutching to straws here? maybe, but till now Williamson has been the only batsman, who has tried to play the patience game against Philander and it worked.

Philander doesn't get bounce like McGrath. Here, anyone can remember Pigeon even making the little master Tendulkar look human in 1999 WC with a perfect delivery at Edgbaston. It was a short of a length ball that bounced awkwardly on and around off-stump and with the nip he got from the surface, thanks to the last second downward flick of Glenn's wrist meant that little master had no other option, but to edge it. Philander though, doesn't get the same amount of bounce. Now, why can't a few batsmen especially KP, just look to bat slightly out of the crease and see whether Philander has got a plan B? People tell me, he has a decent bouncer, but I haven't seen much evidence of it.

Philander also came across as a good bowler against the lefthanders. He has played only seven tests and it is hard to judge his effectiveness against the left-handers, but from South Africa's point of view, it is worth considering an opening burst from Vernon and Morkel.

I won't bore you more with my analysis on South Africa's pace attack. Instead, I will have a look at rest of South Africa's pace attack in the second part of the article.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Andre Adams - New Zealand's lost treasure

For an outsider, the Land of Long White Cloud known as New Zealand may seem like a strange land. A statistical count can tell you, there are 11 sheep for  every person in New Zealand, which is something on the lines of 44 million sheep to 4.1 million people. In-spite of having less people than sheep and with almost all those 4 million people hooked to a sport called Rugby, the strange Island still manages to stay competitive in the cricket world by producing quality and tough cricketers. 

One such cricketer, who is of Caribbean descent, born in Auckland, but now plying his trade for Nottinghamshire reached a milestone in his career yesterday. A few maybe bewildered as to what is all this man about? Even though, he has now connections with different countries of the World, he certainly can't be secretly working for the secretary general of UNO Ban Ki Moon as a peace keeping agent, as he plays a game called cricket. So, who is this mystery man? What was the milestone he achieved yesterday which is making a few people sit up and take notice of his talent?

If you haven't guessed it yet, I am thinking about the talented, but sometimes hot-headed bowling all-rounder Andre Adams, who nowadays plays for the English County side Notts. Of course, our man Andre Adams can't be a secret peace keeping agent, as he is rebellious and hot-headed, but with a cricket ball,  or sometimes with a bat in hand, he has the uncanny knack of making you feel that he has a license to thrill the cricket audience. Yesterday, Andre Adams at the ripe age of 36 even took his 600th fc wicket which in turn made me wonder how on earth could have a talented cricketer like Andre Adams just played one test for New Zealand?

In simple words, when Adams played for the Kiwis, he was a compelling cricketer to watch, a man of boundless energy, who never gave an inch to the opposition. I still remember watching him for the first time against Australia at Melbourne in 01/02 and being impressed by the pace and a bit of awkward bounce he got. Adams would just amble up-to the crease before using his shoulder and a quick arm action to surprise the batsman for a bit of pace. In-fact, it made the former Aussie captain and  the renowned commentator Richie Benaud say on air, where did he come from?

In that match against the marauding Ozzies, I felt like he was playing a game of feint. The first few deliveries, he would amble up-to the crease and bowl at about 80mph to mislead the Aussies into thinking that he is yet another of those dibbly dobbly medium pacers from the Kiwiland. Finally, the effort ball bowled at least 5mph quicker and as a result, the batsman surprised for a bit of pace. Adams wasn't even afraid of testing the famed OZ batting line-up with a few bouncers!

In the only test Adams played against England, he was again impressive. With the Kiwis one down in the series and most of the key bowlers already out with injuries, the Kiwis were in dire straits. Adams in his debut test though, came up with the goods by bowling aggressively and taking six wickets.  He even bowled a snorter to England's newbie keeper Foster and as a result of that delivery, poor Fozzie's helmet went for a nice walk.

On occasions, Adams bowled spells, which could be described as idiosyncratic spells yet, he took wickets. Here, who can forget his spell against the struggling Indian team in a one-day match in New Zealand in 02/03. Andre Adams bowled everything, which included jaffas and hit me short and wide deliveries. Now, nothing can beat the double bouncer he bowled to Kumble. The ball just bounced in front of Adams, looped up into the orbit and it bounced in front of Kumble for the second time before hitting the stumps. The batsman Kumble just didn't have a clue about where the ball had gone! To me, the ball so bowled by Adams seemed like a rain drop dripping down ever so slowly from the roof of a house on the batsman.

Adams could be frustrating to watch for a viewer and the captain. In the 2003 WC, New Zealand's spearhead Shane Bond ripped through the heart of Australia's batting line-up with pace and swing at PE,  but only to see Adams and co. gifting away runs in the end. The captain fantastic Fleming must have been a frustrated man, as he watched Adams gift away runs on a platter to the Ozzies during the slog overs. He even tried that double bouncer, but this time around, the batsman Bichel was aware of it and smashed it for a six.

Since his move to Nottinghamshire though, Adams has been very consistent as a bowler. Just look at his performance for the Notts during the last few years. In 2010, he topped the bowling charts for the County with 68 wickets. In 2011, he had yet another productive season with 67 wickets and also chipped in with useful runs as a batsman. Just like Chapple of Lancashire, Adams seems to be getting better with age. Even when he has played as an overseas professional for Auckland Aces, he has done well in the HRV cup as well as in the odd game that he has played in the Plunket Shield.

For a Kiwi fan, the talk of him being an overseas professional playing for Auckland must be hard to digest. So, who is to be blamed for this mess? Adams has been known for having attitude problems. During the 2006/07 season, when he was having a great time with Auckland, he was suspended for grabbing the bat and shaking the helmet of Central Districts batsman Beven Griggs.

For an outsider like me, it is difficult to understand what exactly happened, but the NZ board could have at least tried to persuade him to stay on in New Zealand. Instead, lack of opportunities with the national team meant that Adams went in search of greener pastures. He joined the Notts County and at that time, he also played in the now defunct ICL. Just like most players from New Zealand, he didn't have a good working relationship with the then coach Bracewell and that doesn't help.

So what do I think about Adams's move to Notts? On one hand, it feels good to see County cricket being stronger as a result of having good cricketers like Adams around. At the same-time though, it is sad to see him doing so well in CC and yet not being able to play for his national team. My heart says, there is still perhaps light at the end of the tunnel and he may turn out one-day for the Kiwis,  but my brain says it won't happen and he will retire with just one test to his name!  With a lawn bowls administrator and a man, who believes in weird theories like hats theory at the helm of affairs, not much can be expected.

As a cricket aficionado, I will leave you with a photo which may make a cricket fan reading this article wonder what might have been. This picture dates back to the series in New Zealand in 02/03, when Adams played his only test and bowled a brute of a bouncer to England's keeper James Foster.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Having a look at King Kallis

A typical conversation on the greatest cricketers of all time by a panel of eminent journalists and a few former cricketers on a cricket talk show,

There is a heated discussion about who are the greatest batsmen to have graced the beautiful game of cricket. After discussing about Sobers, Don, Viv and Barry Richards, Lara, SRT and many more, the discussion veers towards Kallis. Suddenly, you see a room filled with a few chuckles, shaking of heads and raised eyebrows. There is a general disbelief that someone could take the name of Kallis amongst all those great players.

Now, it isn't just journalists, or former players who debate all the time on King Kallis, but even us, the cricket fans get into a verbal fight, or a scrap while having a debate on Kallis. Kallis bats with a calmness only seen with a Buddhist monk in deep meditation, but for us cricket fans, it has always been a hot topic which can lead to vituperation with verbal abuses being thrown around by fans.

In this article, I would try my level best to look at Kallis without bias from both sides of the coin. Also with South Africa's upcoming tour of England coming up, I just thought of looking at why Kallis hasn't been a run machine, when he has played in England.

What makes Kallis an all time great cricketer?

Our man King Kallis isn't Chris Gayle to send the pulse racing with his violent and brutal batting which in turn, may force the doctors to use the defibrillator for a cardiac patient. Instead, he is a zen master, who has the meditation prowess to counter anything that is bowled at him on a cricket pitch. Let it be SS-N 26 Onyx missile bowled by Akthars and Lees of the world, McGrath's awkward bounce, big spinning leg-breaks, or doosras, you expect a rock solid defence from Kallis. It doesn't worry him whether he is playing with heat wave around, conditions which makes one think it is bone-deep-cold, or desert storm. Even if someone comes near him and whispers in his ear that the world is going to end, Kallis won't worry about it and instead will get ready to face the next ball.

In short, Kallis is a run machine. Each time he goes onto bat, I expect him to score a century as nothing seems to worry the big man. In that regard, he is a great man to have in a team, as he brings solidarity to any team that he would play for.

One can just have a look at his career record too.  12379 runs, batting average of 56.78, 42 hundreds and in addition to all those great stats as a batsman, he has taken 276 wickets! Now those stats in itself would make anyone think that Kallis has to be one of the greatest players of all time. If I look at those figures, it would feel like King Kallis has already scaled the highest peak, the Mt. Everest and there is nothing more to prove.

So, why do a few fans, experts and journalists don't rate him as highly as others do? Is there any valid reason for that, or is it just pure bias?

So let us look at Kallis's career from another perspective. The critics, on occasions including myself don't think he is as flexible as he should be with a bat in hand. There have been occasions, when one felt that Kallis could have changed gears and tried to be aggressive as a batsman, but  he seems to be struck with just one gear. While driving a car with a gear system, the driver won't be struck with say second gear forever, but that is what Kallis sometimes does as a batsman.

Every-time I switch on the TV with the Saffers playing, Kallis would be on 90 and about to reach the three figure mark, but after a few days, I tend to forget his knock. It is perhaps due to the way he plays, or is there more to it? The fact is,there have been some instances, where I felt that Kallis could have been a lot more flexible as a batsman. The best example I can remember is Kallis's hundred at Centurion in 04/05.

Going into the last match at Centurion, England were ahead in the series as they had won two matches to South Africa's one. Unfortunately for the Saffers, most of that match was ruined by bad weather.  With just over a day left and England being already 100 runs ahead, I for one, definitely expected South Africa to go hammer and tongs at England's bowling. Instead, I saw some bizarre tactics.

South Africa's batting led by Kallis just played at one pace. Yes Kallis got a hundred, but it was an innings that won't help a team much. Even after he made that hundred, Kallis took singles and played at a similar strike rate to how he played before he got the century. Eventually, he made 136, but it left South Africa with just 40 odd overs to knock off England. One wasn't surprised that Saffers couldn't win that crucial match. It isn't about whether South Africa could have bowled out England with more overs to bowl at, but it was a bit baffling to see a senior player like Kallis play such a knock. Even in One-day cricket and if you want to include the IPL, I sometimes have wondered whether Kallis could have been a bit more flexible as a batsman.

 Having said that, it isn't like Kallis is like a robot who churns out centuries everyday, as he too has played some masterful knocks. Kallis's first hundred on a slightly up and down wicket at Melbourne in 97/98 was constructed with filigree precision. Until then, Kallis came across as a batsman who had the talent, but perhaps mentally not strong enough to succeed at the highest level, as he kept getting out to soft dismissals.

At Melbourne in the first innings, he was out to a soft dismissal as well. So, when he came onto bat in the second innings with South Africa finding themselves in a spot of bother, the young Kallis had an uphill task on his hands. He didn't just have to counter the metronomic McGrath and Warne's bagful of tricks, but also inner devils in his own mind. Kallis though, played like a 50 test veteran and helped the Saffers to reach the shores of safety with a match saving hundred.

At Durban in 04/05, Kallis notched up yet another superb hundred. England's bowlers led by Harmison and Freddie were hell bent on bouncing out the Saffer batsmen with pace and bounce. Kallis though, shepherd the tail beautifully and took South Africa to a strong position. In 2010/11, when India visited the Rainbow Nation, Kallis made a fine hundred at Capetown which made sure that South Africa won't lose the match. It does show that, it isn't like Kallis hasn't played knocks that have helped South Africa to comeback from the dead, or helped them to get into a strong position.

Here a question may arise as to where do I stand with regards to Kallis as a player? I will give my opinion after having a look at how Kallis may fare in the upcoming series in England.

Kallis in England

For a man of Kallis's calibre and predigree, a batting average of under 30 in England is very hard to fathom. Everyone would expect Kallis with a rock solid defence and a great temperament to do well in England, but surprisingly, it hasn't been the case. So what has gone wrong for Kallis in England?

Here, I would take into consideration the last series Kallis played in England which was in 08. Kallis came to England with a huge reputation, but could only amass 104 runs @14.85! It is a seriously low average for a batsman of his class.

So what was the tactic that England's bowlers employed so successfully against him? Led by the man, who swings the ball around trees Jimmy Anderson, the bowlers looked to bowl as full as they could and get him out LBW, or bowled with swing. Having been bought up on  bouncier tracks, the technically well equipped Kallis has always been reluctant to come forward in England and that doesn't help.If I think about the best batsman I have seen in English conditions Dravid, I think of a player who played late and at every given opportunity looked to come forward.

In that series in England, Kallis was bowled three times, LBW twice and caught twice. Yes at Edgbaston, he was out in in somewhat unfortunate circumstances as he couldn't sight the ball, but I vividly remember Anderson getting him out with late swing LBW at Oval and cleaning him up at Leeds again by bowling very full.

From what I remember, during that time Kallis also employed the forward press technique. It is something that Kallis's mentor Fletcher just loves it. I don't know whether Fletch advised Kallis to employ that forward press, but Kallis did try it in that series. I have always rated Fletch as someone, who knows the game well, but he also seems to be rigid with some of his ideas and one of them is that forward press.

The forward press may work for average players, but why would a class player like Kallis depend on guesswork? I am not an expert, or I haven't played at higher levels of cricket, but if a batsman is thinking on the lines of where a certain bowler may bowl won't it be guesswork? Thankfully from South Africa's point of view, Kallis soon abandoned that forward press theory and again started to score tons of runs.

So can Kallis succeed this time around in England? Kallis is a proud man, of course has a rock solid defence, gargantuan stamina and concentration prowess of a Buddhist monk. Kallis may just need to make slight adjustments in his technique to succeed in England. Interestingly, Kallis was at his best in England in 98 as he averaged 42. During that time, he was still establishing himself as a batsman in the middle-order of South Africa, yet he did well! I can't recollect much about how England bowled to him, or how Kallis played in that series, but maybe he can watch a few videos from that series played out in England during the summer of 98.

Finally, as I promised, I would also give my opinion on Kallis. Is he an all time great time player? yes he is. If a batsman makes more than 12000 runs and 40 hundred @56.78 and in addition, is a good change bowler with 276 wickets to his name, then he has to be known as a great player. Now, in a hypothetical world, if I am picking the 10 greatest cricketers of all time would I pick him? I doubt so. In-spite of those outstanding figures, he still makes me wonder whether a player of Kallis's pedigree could have been more flexible as batsman. Mind you it is just a minor criticism of King Kallis!

Anyone is free to disagree with my opinion, but hey different people have different opinions otherwise, the World would be a boring place to live in!!