Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Brownshirts are back

Woo-hoo. The Brownshirts are back. Goose-stepping, jackboots and all. Here is Mr. Niranjan Shah of the Brownshirted Cricket Corporation of India complaining about the PCB allowing Mushtaq Ahmed and Rana Naved Ul Hasan to play in English county cricket:
we have an understanding with the other countries' boards that they can't allow players who are associated with the ICL to be allowed to play at any level, regardless of the reason the player has a contract with his board or not. [emphasis added]
Imagine this situation. Two Pakistani players want to play in English county cricket. They have also played in the ICL. But the BCCI will not let them. Not let them play in English county cricket, can you dig it? They are not Indian players. They are not playing for Pakistan. They are playing in another country. But the BCCI will not let them. Not allow a professional to make his living by plying his trades in any way. Pardon my language, but I want to see these bastards sued out of existence. For now, I'm going to download Shah's photograph, paint a stubby moustache on it, and use it as a dartboard.

Apparently no backup

And Sehwag is gone. I'm a huge fan of Dravid, but I think his batting this morning didn't help matters. 3 runs off 25 balls. No strike rotation, no nothing. I'm a pessimist when it comes to India in tests, so I think I'll just go ahead and call it. I don't think we're going to see a big concerted push for a lead today. I'm sensing a big fizzle coming up. First the run-rate goes down, then the clouds gather. And Dravid meanwhile will continue with his innings scored at a strike rate of 30. Is rotating the strike so hard for a batsman that has scored almost 10,000 runs in test cricket? And is it so hard for such an experienced batsman to figure out what the match situation is, and what he needs to do? Apparently it is. And now SRT is gone. I suppose it had to happen. Ah, well. Thanks Viru, it was great while you were there. You never should have been dropped, and hopefully, you won't ever be again.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Tales of triples

Brian Lara is a better batsman than Virender Sehwag. But when it comes to triple tons, Sehwag has done a better job. Both of Lara's triple tons came in the tests when the rubbers were already decided (and both came at home). Sehwag's first triple ton came in the first test of a series, and not just any series and any test at that. It was India's first test series against Pakistan after umpteen years, the test was being played in Pakistan. And with all the drama that is associated with India-Pakistan cricket. And on the very first day itself, Sehwag scored 228. The next day he went on to 309 and set up a win. And now, in this test, once again, it's the first test of a series (at home, yes) against a high-quality test attack, and India were batting facing a total of 540. Its a dodo of a track, but facing 540 is never easy, especially when you know that in a three-test series, losing the first test can be a knockout punch.

This match might still be drawn (and indeed, I think its the most likely result, as I don't think the South African batsmen will be pushovers, and the rain might still show up) but if India don't put any pressure on the South African batsmen, they will have wasted a precious opportunity to score vital cricketing and mental points off them. The fact that we are even talking about this should tell you how much of an influence this innings has had.

Some backup please

Viru gets his 300. All I can say is: please Team India, don't waste this knock. You've done it before to Viru's big tons. Make an effort to win this match from here, please. Don't be a bunch of pusillanimous wankers on the fourth and fifth days.

Turn it over

I'm not going to write anything (yet) about Sehwag's blinder at Chennai. For the moment, I'd like to point out that it doesn't seem to me like Dravid has done such a good job of getting the strike to Sehwag. To his credit, Viru hasn't lost his head, and has continued to remain fluent. A lesser man would have been thrown off. (Indeed, Dravid seems to have, in the last few overs, taken an inordinate number of singles of the last ball of the over!)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sequences in cricket scores

A few days ago, I wrote to David Barry of Pappus' Plane with a nerdy question:
Are there any recorded sequences of scores by batsmen that form mathematically interesting sequences? Like for example a Fibonacci sequence (a batsman recording 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 in a test series?) Of course, this would be pure coincidence, but still, it would be very satisfying.
David wrote back:
The sequences you're talking about are very rare. The longest Fibonacci type sequence (ignoring zeros) has length 4, and has been achieved by 23 players (possibly more if there were any in the latest Eng-NZ Test). The earliest of these was Billy Midwinter, who went 4, 4, 8, 12 in the middle of the 1881/2 series. I'm not sure if there are any 1,1,2,3's.

Arithmetic progressions: Cameron Cuffy went 0*, 1, 2, 3*, 4 early in his career, spread over a few series.

Geometric progressions: Nine players have had a GP of length four, the first being by Jack Worrall with 1, 2, 4, 8 across a couple of series in 1888.

There are almost certainly longer sequences in first-class cricket, but I don't have all first-class scorecards in my database yet (I've got about 14000 still to go I think).

That the longest such sequences should be so short is not too surprising, given how many possible scores a batsman can make in an innings. Across all batsmen, a score of zero has probability about 0.12, and a one has probability around 0.05. And 0.05^4 is 1/160000.
So I wrote back:
Thanks very much! So pretty much as I expected. I'd have been very surprised if something really extended or interesting had shown up (it'd be cool to get a sequence of prime numbers for instance). I'm guessing extended sequences of odd numbers and even numbers must be much more frequent.
And David responded:
I have a correction to my last email: only six players have had a geometric progression of length 4. Some others:

Mark Taylor ended his career with a sequence of eight prime numbers (61, 3, 59, 29, 7, 19, 2, 2), a record since equalled by Mathew Sinclair.

Adam Gilchrist has the record for the longest streak of even scores at 19: 42, 2, 2, 6, 44, 2, 0, 86, 12, 2, 24, 12, 0, 144, 12, 0, 64, 0, 102*.

Waqar Hasan has the record for the longest streak of odd scores at 14: 5, 23, 81, 65, 49, 29, 97, 9, 53, 7, 7, 11, 7, 9.

As you'd expect, the record even streak is longer than the record odd streak, because ducks are so common. [note from SC: You all know zero is an even number, right?]
Fascinating stuff, don'tcha think?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

He didn't think so

In an article on the supposed resurgence of pace bowling worldwide, Lawrence Booth writes (of TA Sekhar of the MRF Foundation):
Sekhar is particularly proud of the improvement made by Mohammad Asif, who reportedly amazed onlookers when he returned from a stint in Chennai with a regular outswinger and an extra yard of pace. No matter that Asif represents the arch enemy.
What a heartwarming story of India-Pakistan co-operation for the greater good of the game. Of course, its not clear that Mohammed Asif thinks his stint at the MRF did any good. For as reported in this piece:
He was sent as one of a clutch of Pakistani fast bowlers to the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai last year although he isn't sure how much that has contributed to his improvement. "I was only there for ten days so I am not sure how much of a difference it has really made."
Honestly, the day I see a Pakistani cricketer acknowledge a positive contribution by anything remotely related to India to his cricket will be the day, that I, er, well, er, I'm not sure what.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Aha, there you are!

India versus South Africa in tests is pretty compelling stuff. Its a shame that very little attention is paid to the tests that start tomorrow, what with all the hubbub about senior-junior divides, IPL scheduling blues and the usual South African selection fiascoes. Because, when these two sides get into the middle, the cricket is hard and competitive, with India not quite being able to put one over South Africa as they do over most touring teams (Cronje's team in 2000 even managed to win the test series, no mean feat). And Indian batsmen rarely manage to rack up the scores against touring South African sides the way they sometimes do against other bowling attacks (indeed South African spinners like Pat Symcox, Paul Adams, Nicky Boje and Paul Harris have never been disgraced in these encounters). Part of the reason is that South African fielding, infected by the need to keep up with Jonty Rhodes' standards has rarely fallen to any level below 'excellent'. On the batting front, South African batsmen, often castigated for stodginess (a not entirely undeserved reputation) have at least managed to show the appropriate patience in dealing with slow Indian pitches and persistent spinners. All in all, while India might be favored at home over the South Africans, they'd be silly to think they are clear favorites. I don't dislike the South Africans as much as some of my Antipodean friends do(I suppose some of this comes from having visited South Africa and enjoyed that country's wonderful hospitality) and am glad to see them show up for what should be a good, tough contest. Its a pity Andre Nel is not here, for his Spinal-Tap theatrics make for good television. But there'll be plenty of edginess out on the field, and hopefully, the pitches will co-operate by not being complete dodos. As usual, the hours are terrible for us folks on the East Coast but watching the post-tea session with an early morning espresso doesn't sound so bad.

Phew, test cricket, I'm glad to see you again.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The slow slide downwards

And now, there is yet another potential scheduling clash with the IPL that could affect player availability for a test series. This gigantic snafu that is developing in the world of international cricket promises to be the Mother of all Car Wrecks. Perhaps it was inevitable that things would come to this situation, for cricket has been drifting, rudderless, for a long time: one-day internationals proliferated without bound, cheapening themselves in the process, and making their offerings seem mundane and hackneyed; meanwhile, as test cricket's result rates improved thanks to improved fielding and outcricket, aggressive (and looser) batting, and the use of television for line decisions, the ICC sat on its backside and failed to devise a World Cup centered on it; and finally, as Twenty20 went on gaining in popularity, and taking over a vital audience, the ICC failed again to think about how to best figure out the contours of an international calendar that would accomodate all three forms while still paying due deference to the highest form of the game. And this situation continues to be underwritten by rampant distrust amongst the members of the ICC, a weakened set of full members in cricketing terms (including the slow death of one of its premier sides, the West Indies), and a continuing failure of the game to make significant gains worldwide in either popularity or competence. Cricket isn't doing particularly well, in case you hadn't noticed. The tests that India will start playing on Wednesday will assuage my mood somewhat but from now on, I'm not taking anything for granted, and will watch each test with the tender interest of someone looking at an endangered species.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Man in White

Mukul Kesavan bids us farewell as he shuts down his cricket blog over at Cricinfo. I hope he resurrects the blog (or perhaps the Telegraph will be smart enough to keep on giving him column space). Kesavan managed to evoke ire like no other blogger at CI, and while his detractors frequently accused him of over-intellectualism and an anti-WhiteFolks streak (i.e., too much of an uppity Brown Man), it was my considered opinion that no one wrote more honestly or more thoughtfully at CI (which, frankly, is a bit too English-cricket-centric for my liking; I'm sorry, you've heard me say that before). I've been meaning, for ages, to write up a review of his book, Men in White, and perhaps this closing down of the blog will deliver that final kick up my backside and force me to write it up and send it out.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Trying to set new lows

I found England's batting performance in the first test against New Zealand to be nothing short of bizarre. Batting at the rate that England managed in the first innings is only pardonable if your opposition has gone for a low score, and done so very quickly. So, say, had New Zealand been dismissed for 100-odd on the first day, England might have been justified in taking as long as they did to score 348; they'd have ended up with a lead of over 200, and they'd have bored their opponents to tears. But England were facing 470. So what were they thinking? Did they even discount the possibility that they could get to within striking distance of New Zealand and then put them under a little pressure in the second innings? (Imagine how New Zealand would have felt at the end of the fourth day if their first innings lead had been 22, rather than 122). But England managed to get all of it spectacularly wrong, and are down 0-1 now. As far as batting performances go, this was a disastrously bad one: the wrong pace, the wrong attitude, and then to top it all off, (as if to make sure nothing else could compete), England threw a last-day collapse into the mix. I'm going to have to cast about a bit to find one by the Indian team thats as bad (but its out there, don't worry).

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Er, just a game

JRod posts on the gigantic outburst of whingeing that was a feature of the just concluded of summer of cricket Down Under. I agree, something about the conversation surrounding this series struck me as odd. The full-blooded orgy of victim commentary from boards, team captains, irate Internet fans, the lot. I think part of it has to do with the media, and it really hit me when I attended the test matches in person. That’s when you become aware that the television version of the game is a full-blown dramatic production, which uses, as its raw material, the game out in the middle. Certain roles are made up, and players are slotted into them. There is the Villain, there is the Ageing Hero, there is the Young Brash Upstart. The music is cued, there are slow-motion replays (and now, we have super-slow-mo with orchestral and rock music – in fact, thanks to Channel 9, I discovered both The Bravery and The Killers this cricket season, thanks!). Small incidents happen out in the field, very small ones, a word or two, a look or two, the sort of thing which all of us go through all the time, deal with, and carry on (do you have any idea how many times I curse audibly as I negotiate motorists who don’t let me cross the street in peace?). But, but. There are cameras, there are commentators, there are writers, there are late-night shows, there are retired cricketers/pontificators. And they kick in, and a mood is generated. Nothing is more indicative of the ludicrous hype than the way in which sledges are caught and shown again and again: “Oh, wait, look, I think there were some words between those two. Wait a second, lets take a closer look. Aha, there it is, look, its quite clear he’s just called his mother an overweight Chinese panda. And wait, look, theres more, he doesn’t look too happy”. And it continues and goes on and on. The production of the game takes on a life of its own, and no matter how hard one tries to get the genie back in the bottle, its out and is being fed, clothed, made to walk, and taught five different languages. No one really has the time to think straight about all of this, and certainly not express ourselves coherently online or on the air, and so we get ludicrous analysis tinged with xenophobia, racism, chauvinism and plain ignorance on all fronts. Comes with the territory when you are talking about international sports I guess, but this summer really showed up just what a crock it all was. Once in a while, when I was at the MCG and the SCG and I’d cast a look out over at the game being played in the middle, it’d hit me, despite all the hype, the history, the literature, the television rights, it’s a game being played by a bunch of guys younger than me. And they’re all pretty damn good at it, which is why they’re in the middle, and I’m 80 yards away, guzzling beer and slopping sunscreen.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Give it a rest

I've never managed to understand the utter fascination that dibbly-dobbly nudging, noodling and nurdling has for Sachin Tendulkar. This innings he's putting together at the Gabba (and he's on 76 now) is showcasing a man who, despite being one of the world's best strokemakers, simply cannot resist the temptation to play little dabs instead. Strange, very strange. India are looking set for a decent score, but with this pitch looking as good as it is, they're going to need a very good score in order to be sure of defending it.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Return of the Feudal Lord

I've noticed that at various points in my life, one person who I dislike a great deal in the cricketing world suddenly outstrips the distance between him and his rivals, and rises to the top of the pack. So, for instance, I remember once disliking Christopher Martin-Jenkins a great deal, and then whoosh, just like that, he became Number One on the Disliked-by-Samir-Chopra list (I'm not sure I remember what he did, probably wrote another article complaining about West Indian pace bowlers). Now, Lalit Modi has done the same. I've always detested this loathsome, greasy-mannered corporate type, but with the latest set of pronouncements on how counties shouldn't sign ICL players, he's outdone himself, and put a few standard deviations between himself and the average person on my sh*tlist. Because Modi sounds and acts like a real old-fashioned zamindar, and that type of creature needs a good old booting around the park from all and sundry.