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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Play the game like West Indies


August 1st, 1924 - The great Sir Frank Worrell was born. The man, who made the dream of Caribbean unity a reality. Players coming from different Islands that were 1000's of miles apart from each other, played with brio, elan, joie de vivre and vitality. More importantly, under the leadership of Frank Worrell,  they made Caribbean unity a reality.   

In no time, West Indies became an all conquering force in world cricket. Just a mere stare from those mighty fast bowlers would have even made a commander of the army scared to death. Viv, Greenidge and co. seemed to be using a sword that Mel Gibson used in Braveheart to slaughter hapless bowlers. It made everyone to coin a new word for the all conquering West Indies team called "Blackwash." A cricket aficionado might have even thought of selling his house, car and everything he has got, just to catch a glimpse of this all conquering West Indies side.

To understand the way, the all conquering West Indies side played, let us assume for a few minutes that a mad scientist has built a time machine. We the cricket fans are travelling in that crazy sci-fi invention to go back in time to watch the WACA test, played between the Ozzies and West Indies in 92/93.

Backdrop

The series played between Australia and West Indies  in 92/93 was billed as the unofficial World Championship. In the first test at Gabba, the Windies escaped with a draw. The Aussies though, took the lead at Melbourne thanks to a Mark Waugh special  on a wicket that had variable bounce.The Wizard of OZ (Warne) took over from Junior, by fooling the Windies batsmen with his bagful of tricks.

The Windies came-back strongly at Sydney, where Lara made a magnificent double hundred and the match ended in a draw. Of course, no one will forget that epic test at Adelaide with the West Indies winning it by just one run. One run the difference between the winner and the loser? staggering isn't it? The battle royale between the two heavyweight nations resumed at WACA.

WACA has always been one of Australia's favourite hunting grounds, but the problem for them was, up against the Windies, they had lost all their previous three meetings. West Indies' record at WACA  shouldn't  surprise anyone, as on that trampoline track, all those mighty fast bowlers from the land of Brobdingnag took wickets for fun and frightened the Aussie batsmen to death with their stares and glares.

Squads

Australia made one change to their side that lost at Adelaide. The tragic hero Tim May, who almost took the Ozzies to an improbable win at Adelaide was dropped. The obvious reason for dropping the spinner Tim May was, the track at WACA offered pace and bounce for fast bowlers to thrive. In came, the young firebrand fast bowler Angel. The vice captain on paper, Taylor was again designated to carrying drinks.

The Windies were forced to make a few changes too. Hooper and Kenny Benjamin had to sit out of the crucial test match at WACA because of injuries. The mercurial left-handed batsman Arthruton and pacer Andy Cummins were selected.

The test match

 Australia won the toss and elected to bat first. At 85 for 2, it looked like a good decision to bat first. The WACA track in the 80's and 90's had a bad reputation of getting cracked up as the match progressed. Unfortunately for the Ozzies, it was a lull before the storm arrived, as the giant Amby woke up from his deep slumber and ripped through Australia's batting line-up. Seven wickets for one run of 32 balls??? Maybe an alien descended on earth that day and bowled a supernatural spell.

First up, Ambrose bowled a jaffa to remove Junior. Amby pitched it on a length, but he extracted awkward bounce and even got it to cut away from Mark Waugh to produce the edge. On expected lines, Mark Waugh was neither back nor forward. The batsman seemed to be unhappy with that decision, but it was perhaps a case of him wondering what  the f*** was that? Maybe a ballistic missile?

If the second best batsman of that series for Australia, Mark Waugh, had to face a jaffa, then what about the best batsman of that series for the Ozzies, Boon? The man who relied on chewing gum power to make big hundreds was looking in ominous form, as anything that was slightly short in length was dispatched to the  boundary. Unfortunately for him, the Calypso King Amby had just woken and when he woke up, no one could survive.

Now, Boon was a batsman, who loved to play on the back-foot. Our king of destruction perhaps saw that and he bowled it slightly fuller. For the zillionth time, Amby got awkward bounce from a length and just enough movement to produce the edge. Poor Boon, as he even tried to take his bottom hand off the bat, but he could only spoon a nice and easy catch to the gully fielder. I'm sure, Boon and Mark Waugh must have felt like they had been given a 440 volt electric shock by the Calypso King Ambrose.

With Boon gone, West Indies suddenly were up against a familiar foe by the name of Border. Even up against the fearsome foursome of Marshall, Roberts, Holding and Garner, the great man had done well. So a lot was expected of him, when he strode out to the middle to face chin music from Amby, Bish, and Walsh.

Border who seemed to be made up of Toledo Steel though, wasn't spared by our Calypso King as he produced the best delivery of the series to dismiss him. Amby pitched it somewhere outside the line of Border's leg-stump. The left-handed Border seemed to have got into a decent position to play a defensive shot on the back-foot. To everyone's amazement, Amby didn't just get awkward bounce, but go it to cut away so sharply from Border that within a fraction of a second, it had taken the edge of Border's bat and the keeper Murray took the catch.  Consolation for Border? He was good enough to edge the best delivery of the series!

The lower order batsmen seemed like a few soldiers, who were running for cover after the king and his trusted commander were slain by the king of destruction Ambrose. Amby was clever too, as he bowled it a touch fuller to the tailenders and as a result, reaped the rewards. To take seven wickets for one run in a spell of just over five overs tells you something about arguably the greatest spell bowled by a fast bowler.

Fans say, the Calypso King woke up from his deep slumber, only because the Australian batsman, Jones complained in a one-day game to the umpire that Amby should remove the white wrist sweatband he had worn in every match. He certainly woke up the moody, but perhaps the most destructive fast bowler of all time and the rest was history.

 Ambrose took a 5for in the aforementioned one-day match, ripped through Australia's top-order at Adelaide, was at his incredible best at WACA and helped them to win the World Series Cup. If I was the coach, I would have told my batsmen to take a knobkerie and whack Dean Jones' head.

With just 118 runs on the board, Australia needed quick wickets, but the brave captain Richardson and Phil Simmons took apart the Aussie attack. If you want to see a batsman playing the hook shot, then watch a video of Richardson going after McDermott and the firebrand young quick Angel. Both were no slouches with a ball in hand and especially, McDermott bowled some fine short deliveries, but Richie hooked everything for a six. Finally, McDermott got Richie with yet another short delivery, but the damage was already done.

The counter-attack by Richie and Phil seemed to have taken the wind out of Australia's sails. To their credit, the Aussies came-back hard at West Indies on the second day. Led by a cricketer, who seemed more like a bull from the China shop rather than a fast bowler Merv Hughes, teamed up with the strike bowler Billy the Kid to take the last 9 wickets for 180 runs. Mark Waugh with his brand of bumpers and full swinging deliveries chipped in with two wickets.

West Indies though, already had a lead of over 200 runs. With the fearsome threesome of Ambrose, Bishop and Walsh in their ranks, it looked like a daunting task for the Aussie batsmen. The daunting task became a reality, when Bishop with a classical side-on action and bowling at the speed of the hurricane Flora that hit Trinidad all those years ago, removed Steve Waugh. The brute of a delivery that followed Steve all the way was too hot to handle. To be frank, Steve was struggling with short stuff in that series, as he kept jumping in the air, when confronted with a short delivery. To send him at no.3 on a trampoline WACA track showed, the Ozzies were in a confused state of mind.


The wicket of Steve Waugh seemed to have lifted Bishop, as he bowled a good 5mph quicker to Boon and Mark Waugh.It was fast bowling at its best, as Ambrose and Bishop followed up by Walsh pitched every delivery on and around the good length area at pace. There were no freebies on offer, as none of them either give room, or bowled at the pads of the batsmen.

In-fact, every alternate delivery Boon and Mark Waugh seemed to get beaten. Finally, after 90 minutes of struggle, the gambler Mark Waugh tried one of his favourite shots, the ramp shot, but this time around, Bishop was too quick for him. Junior could only guide it to the slip fielder. We are thinking of two inform batsmen begging for a run and that tells you something about the hostility of West Indies' bowling on a hot day at WACA.

The tragedy for the Ozzies continued, as the great warrior Border bagged a pair. What more? Border going into the fourth test at Adelaide, needed just about 70 runs to surpass Sunny Gavaskar's world record of 10,122 runs. At the end of WACA test though, he still needed another 50 runs to become the new record holder. Boon tried his best to hold the innings together, but unfortunately cricket is a team game. It has to be said, for his twin fifties, Boon should have got an award for his bravery (I haven't seen such hostile fast bowling again in my life).

Up against the fiery Bishop, the lower order batsmen fell like a pack of cards, as Australia hurtled towards an innings defeat inside three days. The final wicket was taken by the gentle giant Walsh to complete a historic series win. Just remember that Windies came-back from 1-0 down to win the series 2-1 and that too they achieved it Down Under. For the Ozzies? After the match got over, the gang of Border and co. perhaps tried to hunt down Dean Jones hiding in some jungle :)

So my friends, that is how West Indies played their cricket. When they were up against the mighty Aussies, we saw a masterclass of fast bowling and defiant yet venturesome batsmanship. You can use as many words as you possibly can like brio, elan, joie de vivre, vitality yet, it is not enough to describe the kind of cricket, the Windies played at their very best.

Alas! all good things have to come to an end, as our time machine has been transposed back to present. Before fans pounce on me to tell that Windies have just won the world t/20, let me explain my views. I'm not in deep hibernation and this isn't a case of time dilation with me crash landing after a 10 year voyage in space. Yes, I followed the just concluded World t/20, where under the able leadership of Sammy, the Windies showed glimpses of the golden era of West Indies' cricket.  In reality though, they have just taken their first step towards the ultimate goal of again becoming a super power in world cricket.

As a cricket aficionado, I can only hope that West Indies can regain their lost glory. If not for anyone else, they should do it for the man whose name is imperishable in the history of West Indies' cricket - Sir Frank Worrell.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Performance of defending champs??


ICC please don't host another tournament in the subcontinent. Before any cricket fan from the subcontinent pounces on me like a tiger, let me clarify, I'm just imagining the plight of England's cricketers after all those catastrophic, or ruinous defeats in the subcontinent.

If cricketers from other teams have enthralled the paying public with a brand of cricket that can be described as venturesome, ballsy, defiant, and fearless, England have played like rabbit in front of headlights. The  backroom staff, who are paid handsomely for their services seem to treat something called money-ball as the holy bible. For a start, a bit of common sense and flexibility would help.

Actually, I don't know from where to start, as England's World t/20 campaign has been a disaster, but just thought of pointing out some mistakes which could have been avoided.

Muddled thinking.

From the start of the tournament, England didn't seem to know what was their best team. I can tell you that chopping and changing never works in any sport. Just pick a team and back them to the hilt.

The major decision was regarding out of form Kieswetter. I don't have a problem with either Kieswetter, or even Lumb opening the batting. I would like to remind critics that in 2010,  England won the world t/20 with Kiesy and Lumb at top of the order. Both at their best are naturally aggressive batsmen and can add value to a t/20 side.

The problem with that is, a batsman should look like scoring a few runs, but Kieswetter was out of form. The one option the management had was to push Kieswetter down the order and open the batting with Luke Wright and Hales for most of the games.

The management though seemed to have lost their marbles, as for the crucial game against Sri Lanka, Bopara was selected in place of Kiesy. Here was a batsman, who has looked mentally shot for the last few months. To play him in such a crucial game at the number four slot was suicidal. Bairstow was the wicketkeeper for the last game, but it is never a good idea to go in with a makeshift keeper in a do or die game.

With KP not available for selection, I might have looked at Trott. Fans have kept saying that Bell should have played, but I can safely say on Sri Lankan tracks, Bell would have struggled. Trott looked good in the World cup played in the subcontinent in 2011.

Yes, it was a 50 over tournament, but Trott with a technique of playing with his front-foot out of the line of the ball and hitting it through the covers showed that he has the game to play in the subcontinent.  It doesn't take rocket science to know that Trott would have been a better choice than Bopara.

Of course, I have always maintained that Owais Shah should have been selected for this World t/20. Anyone who has seen him having the chutzpah to smash those darts from Harby in the IPL, or play against the likes of Narine, Ashwin, Vettori, Murali and co. reasonably well would say the same. A cardiac patient watching him bat may need a defibrillator, but he is very effective against spin bowling. The problem is, England's management believe too much in the concept of 'team unity'.

The third seamer's issue.

In 2010, Bresnan did a wonderful job, but this year, he has looked innocuous. The other option England had was Dernbach. If  Dernbach is selected, he should have the full backing of the coach and the captain. Jade has got those variations to trouble batsmen and take wickets, but he will also go for runs.

After a few ordinary games though, Dernbach was dropped and that wouldn't have helped his confidence one bit. With Dernbach, either tell him, you will play all the matches and we have full confidence in your ability to bowl those variations, or drop him altogether.

In the last tournament, England also had a left arm medium pacer in Sidebottom and Yardy did his job as a left arm spinner. These days, with umpires ready to give the batsmen out lbw even on the front-foot, a SLA is like a gold dust.

 With Sidebottom also in the side, England had a bit of variety in the pace attack. If a left-armer gets it right, he can cut down the room for a batsman to play his shots. It will  take a bit of time for a batsman to adjust to the left-armer's angle.

People may point out that Samit Patel is a SLA and he bowled a few overs in the World t/20. The problem is, just being a SLA on a team-sheet doesn't produce you wickets. The other SLA, Danny Briggs showed promise, but he is still a greenhorn.

So were there any positives to take out of this  tournament?

I thought Finn was excellent in this World t/20. Yes, Finn is tall and can get bounce, but he is also a clever bowler. He mixed his lengths beautifully in the world t/20 and as a result, the batsmen weren't able to line him up and smash him all over the park. If I'm not mistaken, no one smashed him for a six in the entire tournament and that is a tremendous achievement.

To a lesser extent, Samit showed some promise in the crucial encounter against the Lankans.  It was refreshing to see a batsman playing shots against spinners through the covers and the extra cover region. Samit is a batting all-rounder and if he plays, should bat higher up the order. In the match against Sri Lanka, he finally got a chance to express himself as he came into bat at number four.

Views on Broad's captaincy.

Any tom, dick, or harry can see that Broad lacks tactical nous. Why would a captain constantly use a SLA against the left-hander? Winning the toss and batting second in a crucial game and that too with an inexperienced batting line-up on paper looked like an iffy decision.

In Broad's defence though, the decision to bat second may have been taken by Flower and to be fair to him, other than Mahela, all captains have been disappointing in the world t/20. All of them seem to be too scared to try something new.

To be very blunt, this is the worst I have seen England play in a World t/20 tournament. Statisticians may point out that in 2007, England only beat Zimbabwe, but I at least remember the team giving South Africa and the Kiwis a run for their money (The Kiwis had a good t/20 team in 2007). 

In-fact, the only time I felt good during this tournament was when through crictime link, I watched Mr Snarky (Mark Waugh) and Mr Ego (KP) in a studio analysing a cricket match. I have never laughed over a match analysis as much as I did that day!

Ah, ok, I haven't talked much about my favourite subject in recent times, Mr Kevin Pietersen. Today,  KP publicly apologised to all parties concerned  and after a reintegration process, may get another lifeline to play for England.

This second apology though, made me imagine a scenario where Morris and Flower are directing a film with KP as the main protagonist. The film's name is titled as how to apologise to your captain. During the 222nd take, KP says '' I apologise for sending those provocative texts''. Flower immediately says ''cut it'', as the apology wasn't sincere enough.

Finally, a lie detector would be used to see whether KP's apology was sincere or not. After all of them come to the conclusion that KP's apology was sincere enough, the reintegration process starts. Now, I have opened my old mathematics book to understand what is reintegration process. I just hope that I can find the answer. #justjoking