Thursday, December 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 23, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Role of a cricket coach (Part -1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncle Duncan Fletcher (Part -2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kohli on Kirsten and Fletch,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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