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Monday, September 24, 2012

England can't play spin


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pietersen, Cricket Pundit, Ramp Shot and all that


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My views.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict.

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

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

KP as an analyst.

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

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

Thanks crictime!


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Watch out for Dawlat Zadran


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Talking about Kevin Pietersen


Discussing about Kevin Pietersen is one difficult task. Even a debate on a cricket forum can turn into something that resembles a fight taking place in a pub. People have been accused of being prejudicial hypocrites, even if someone makes a valid point, it is known as ridiculous, nonsense, stupid or, as one poster in a forum told me, I worship this villain no.1 er Pietersen as a deity!

On a cricket field, KP is a joy to watch. At Headingley last month, it was five hours and twenty minutes of pure magic. For a cricket fan, it felt like a heavyweight boxing contest as the fastest of bowlers, Morkel and Steyn were gunning for the head of mercurial KP. Pietersen though swatted them like flies. He whipped, pulled, drove and made batting against Mokrel and Steyn look like a walk in the park.

Trouble though was brewing underneath. In  a press conference after the match, he was rather stupid to talk about differences in the dressing room in the open, but that press conference was just a tip of the iceberg. Soon the news came out that he had back stabbed his captain Strauss by reportedly sending some texts to Saffer players in which he made derogatory remarks about his captain. Since then, wild rumours have floated around about the contents of the texts, experts saying how disruptive, narcissistic and egotistic KP is. Now, I am not interested in dwelling on all those wild rumours. For me, it is all about  do England need KP at this point of time? If yes, can he get back into a fractious dressing room in which some players resent him?

Team unity

For the last one month, I have heard this term more than I have done in my entire life. In-fact, I must have heard this term team unity about trillion times.

If I ask those who argue that KP should never comeback into the set-up,  they will be ready to even wake me up from my deep sleep and tell that no player is bigger than the team. The critics will even say, the dressing room should be a happy place and KP's antics just won't be acceptable.

From the little bit of experience I have as a cricketer albeit, at the lower levels, I would tell you cricket is a one on one game. As a batsman, my focus would always be on facing the next ball. If I start to think about whether someone back in the dressing room is hating me then, I can assure you, the bowler will knock over my middle-stump and force it to do break dance in mid air every-time. It is the same for a bowler too. If a bowler instead of concentrating on hitting the top of off-stump every ball, starts to worry why the fielder fielding at say third-man hates him and as a result, may drop the catch, will never be able to bowl in his life.

Of course, after KP sent those texts to Saffer players, the trust especially, between the then captain Strauss and KP would have broken down.  I for one though, feel team unity at least in cricket is one over-hyped term.In-fact, it has been used so many times in the last month that it has become a cliche now.

Here, we can think of two legends of Pakistan's cricket Younis and Akram. In the 90's, Akram and Younis weren't on talking terms. It got so worse that it seemed  like we were about to witness world war 3 in the Pakistan dressing room. Younis even said, if Akram remains the captain, he won't play. Last I heard, both took about million wickets.

Nowadays, cricket fans look back at Pakistan's tour of England in '92 for how wonderfully the W's combined as a bowling pair which in turn helped Pakistan to beat England. I haven't heard too many talk about the war between Akram and Younis in the dressing room during that series.

If players like Wasim and Waqar who both hated each other could co-exist in a dressing room, why can't KP and other senior players do the same? Even Freddie a few days back said, he played in a few fractious dressing rooms, but in the end, the players were able to co-exist. Is KP impossible to handle? Last I saw, he wasn't convicted for a murder in a court of law :)

Rebuilding Phase

I have heard from the experts that as cricket is never about one man, we should forget KP and look to rebuild.The problem is, rebuilding is never about picking 3, or 4 rookies  for a tough tour to India and hoping in the dark that a few will succeed. It is a gradual process and as Strauss has already retired, it doesn't make any sense to drop a player who has played 88 tests.

If ECB continues to ignore a player with the experience of 88 tests, it will  look more like someone lifting a big stone, smashing his own feet and  being on a hospital bed for 6 months with a compound fracture. With a tough tour to India coming up and back to Ashes looming on the horizon, England need experience in the batting unit.

To be honest, I am no more interested in whether ECB was at wrong with those leaks? Should Swann have been punished for his criticism of Samit? Why was KP fined for his comments over a commentator? Could have Flower done something about that parody twitter account before it became ugly? I though, want England to win games and for that to happen, the best team on park is necessary.

So, am I in some dreamland, or can it happen with the egotistic KP coming back into the set up? If all parties involving ECB, KP, the senior players who resent him being in the line-up, Strauss, the current captain Cook have a face to discussion and look to move forward, it can happen. Yes, the initiative should come from KP as he should come clean on the contents of the texts, apologize for his behaviour and commit to play for England.

Experts may say even if he apologizes, Swann, Anderson, Broad and co. won't agree to have him back. My argument is, it is about playing for a common goal which is to win cricket matches on a cricket field and not about whether Swann hates KP or, KP hates Broad in the dressing room. If all of them behave like adults it can happen otherwise, it will be a huge loss for English cricket. Players who can open up games like KP does and averages 50 with the bat aren't found on trees.

It also has to be remembered  that even KP needs test cricket. He may play 1,000 games in the IPL and the BBL, but after a few days, no one will remember those games. A player is measured by how he does in test cricket. KP has already made about 7,000 runs in tests, but still has some unfinished business as you expect a player of his calibre to get 10,000 runs.

Last couple of years have been annus mirabilis for English cricket, as for the first time, an ICC trophy was won, Ashes was defended and that too by beating Australia in their own backyard. Of course, England became the number one ranked team in tests too.

The problem is, instead of building on the success already achieved,  this year we have seen the cricket team go on a downhill path.One of the main reasons for that is England have played in alien conditions like in UAE and the Emerald Isles. It can also be said, the team has destroyed itself from within and that is bad news. So, after all that we can now talk about rebuilding for the Ashes with the team unity tag. Ah, I don't know what to say.

Yes, it isn't all doom and gloom, as there are promising youngsters coming through the ranks, but  I still feel it  is foolish to throw all those rookies into the deep end and hope that someone will succeed. England need the experience of KP er the villain as per some experts. Am I hopeful of KP coming back into the side? I very much doubt so and that is a tragedy for English cricket.