Thursday, June 26, 2008

My two bits

Let me just clarify my reaction to the business of the colliding bowler and batsman: Collingwood didn't violate the spirit-of-cricket (whatever that is). He simply violated the spirit of "there are some things which if done, increase the probability you will be viewed as an idiot by lots of reasonable people". The set of these things is not necessarily disjoint with "the set of things you might want to do in case you want to win a cricket match". Collingwood chose to; now, we're all free to judge him. Isn't life great?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What does it all mean?

I’m very confused by this Elliott run-out business today (and all for a bloody one-day international, can you imagine?). My moral/ethical compass is very confused these days. Can someone get back to me on whether this action was:

  1. A “cowardly and despicable” act indicative of the general Decline of Western Civilization, the Ascendancy of the Eastern Hordes, the Rise of the Global South, the decline of the Global North, the Supremacy of the Indian Premier League and the Medellin Cartel.
  2. A “hard-but-fair” cricketing practice and therefore to be used only by Australian, South African or English players c.f recent culture wars over sledging, umpire-hassling, inquiring into rival’s maternal provenance, sibling promiscuity, standing ground on nicking, appealing when not out, asking for bump ball catch, mimicking accents, requesting boxing duels etc
  3. An ordinarily despicable, but condoned for the time being act because it’s done by an England captain c.f Mike Atherton ball massage incident (also c.f cricket history in general, but in particular see four-fast-bowler theory and Bodyline).
  4. Not problematic because done to a member of a weak cricketing side c.f cricket history in general
  5. Horrendous because it provides clear evidence that the BCCI has taken over the game. [sorry, this is already taken care of by point 1 above]

Monday, June 23, 2008

And another one

Another post on Different Strokes is up. Check it out.

Also, and is it really true that no one could be bothered entering my "Guess My Perfect Nickname for Salim Malik" comp?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The wrath of Kali

Satyajit Ray once wrote about the art of making movies (something like the following anyway; even if he didn’t say these exact words, he said something like them, and that’s all that matters for now): “It is not so important to provide excessive detail in order to draw attention to something; one need only pay the right kind of attention, the right kind of contrast; the viewer’s eyes will then be focused on the right spot”. In that spirit, I would like to bring your attention to a little video clip from the Swinging Seventies. I’d meant to pay homage to the innings in question on the 33rd anniversary of its occurrence, but it slipped my mind. Anyway, here is the setting: Australia are playing the West Indies in the first World Cup, and have scored an inadequate 192. The West Indies reply is centered around an explosive 78 by Alvin Kalicharan who scores it off 83 deliveries including 14 fours and a six. It includes this little demolition of Dennis Lillee:
The action in question starts 47 seconds into the video. Kali cuts, drives and hooks Lillee for five fours and a six. The last shot is an amazing hook that sails into the stands. Two of the other shots are hooks as well, each, like the last hook, executed perfectly back over the shoulder, each a lighting quick ‘off-the-eyebrows’ deal. Kali wears a loosely fitting, full-sleeve shirt, top three buttons undone, sleeves rolled up, forearms visible, no helmet, no arm guards, no fancy bulbous pads, no sponsors’ labels on his clothing. His batting stance is upright, elegant and compact. A more dapper cricketing image cannot be conjured up. Lillee steams in at full blast, matching the openness of Kali’s shirt all the way, his long, pre-headband days hair, wavy mustache and powerful delivery leap completing the picture of the express pace bowler. All to no avail, as his fastest deliveries are spanked all over the Oval. That vanished lot, the happy and boisterous Caribbean fan in England, is seen making an appearance; shots tear away to the boundary; young men dance in the stands; all around is the air of something momentous. The pace bowler is the ultimate symbol of cricketing power; no cricketing spectacle provides more drama than its temporary taming. Kalicharan was one of the greatest exponents of the hook shot in the modern era. It was only fitting this particular lesson in playing pace bowling should have featured him, one of the greatest pace bowlers of all time, the hook shot, and no helmets. All on a summer’s day in England.

Australia would exact revenge later that year in the test series Down Under. In ample measure. But this summer day, in London, the Windies showed how fast bowling could be played. The cricket ball remains a very dangerous object in the fast bowler’s hand; it requires skill, of the kind on display in June 1975, to really neutralize that danger.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Linking for you

If its OK with folks here, I'd like to post links to my posts back on Different Strokes at Cricinfo, as and when they go up. So, without further ado, here is my first post on Different Strokes. More to follow. Obviously.

For you, dear reader

OK, so I'm bored and sat around, thinking up this cricketing riddle for all the Indian and Pakistani readers. I have a perfect nickname in mind for Salim Malik. What is it? Hint: anyone named Salim could use it. Think Bollywood.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Did not! Did too!

The Internet often serves as the battle ground for many a clash between cricket fans of different nationalities. The flame wars of the newsgroups hierarchies and the IRC channels are the stuff of legend (I did my fair share of flamethrowing back in the day before tiring of the sport and withdrawing completely). But almost any space that lets rival groups speak in the same space invites similar pyrotechnics, especially when nationalist sentiment is close to the surface. Comments threads on blogs are the most common spot now for cricket fans to lock horns. Witness the activity on major newspaper sites after the events of the new year Down Under. But another sphere of fan interaction which is considerably less policed, and hence sees way more uninhibited writing, is the YouTube comment space for cricket videos. The language on some of these threads is amazing, and leads me to wonder how quickly restraints can be loosened when anonymity seems guaranteed. It also provokes thought on the nature of the video (as opposed to text) as stimulus for the comments to be found there. Very few YouTube cricket video comment threads remain non-abusive; someone invariably feels the need to insert anatomical references; someone feels the need to reply, and we're off and running. Needless to say, India-Pakistan clashes provoke the most colorful language and the most vivid imagery. The videos themselves, of course, can often be the very contribution that a fan wants to make to a dispute. Thus we have the 'highlights' video, dedicated to incompetence in, or the particularly singular failure of, an opponent (and which needless to say either invites video responses dedicated to making a counter statement or a slew of more vituperative comment).

In any case, I plan to start writing some comments on YouTube segments that are worth a closer look, and hope I'll get some comments on them - just not the kind that I find over at YouTube itself!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Small tinkerings

This is a late reaction to IS Bindra's comments on the need to tinker with test cricket to make it more popular (prompted by this piece suggesting the use of floodlights in tests). I think Bindra's worry about scoring rates is misplaced. Scoring rates have improved a great deal in cricket. Scoring above three runs an over is almost the standard in tests now and many sides even manage 3.5 runs an over over a day - or 315 runs in a day's play. There are other things to worry about. Bindra should be worried about fall of wickets-rates (though the use of television for line decisions has certainly helped). Concern about pitches would be spot on target. Local administrators want surfaces that last all five days; hence the erring on the side of docility. Pitch improvement would go a long way toward ensuring a decrease in the number of turgid runfests. Then there are problems with water management that cause playing time to be lost; some grounds have excellent drainage and drying facilities and equipment, some have very rudimentary setups. The problem of how to ensure adequate light for the players still remains unsolved with no unanimity yet on how floodnights should be used (if at all). And lastly, grounds differ in their spectator comfort levels. If folks have to be spend a day somewhere, the least that could be done is to make their home for the day a little comfortable: covered stands, drinking water fountains, reasonably priced food and drink, accessible and usable public facilities and so on. As for a championship that is able to draw and hold fans' interest, that remains a tougher problem than any of these.

Also blogging at Cricinfo

Greetings all. Just a quick note to let you all know that besides writing here, I'll be blogging on a resurrected group blog over at Cricinfo: Different Strokes. Do check it out; theres some interesting folks doing duty. My first post isn't up yet (perhaps later today or tomorrow). Looking forward to your comments.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The missed chance

When I first read Xavier Marshall's comments suggesting the West Indies would win the third test, my first reaction was surprise, yes. But not because it seemed like an audacious statement given the match situation (the West Indies did still need more than 250 runs to win, and they were effectively six down). Instead, my reaction was surprise that the player making the statement was one whose role in what might transpire on the fifth day was going to be minimal. You see, Marshall had already fallen for 85 on the fourth day, after appearing to have the pushed the Australian bowling attack ever so slightly on the backfoot. Under the circumstances, Marshall, by letting himself be dismissed toward the end of the fourth day's play, had actually made an unlikely West Indies win a bit more unlikely. His prediction of a West Indian win took on a slightly peculiar tone, that of the player hoping his having let down the side wouldn't come back to haunt him. Imagine someone on the fielding side, guilty of having dropped a potentially crucial late catch. Imagine him talking up his side's chances as they press on to take the remaining wickets. You catch my drift? (As Gayle was to remind Marshall the next day, "We needed a big ton"). Marshall was excessively optimistic as it turned out. No one got a big ton indeed. Chanders couldn't produce another miracle as his average crashed to a mere 150-odd. And the Australians, despite being pressured at several stress points, shrugged it all off. Despite fielders with potholes for hands, despite a brand-new spinner. The folks that plan to beat them still need to take all the opportunities that come their way, not just some.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thus spake KP

From the Department of the Tautologous yet Incomplete (the folks that brought you Peano Arithmetic for instance), comes the following gem courtesy Kevin Peitersen, everyone's favorite skunk-headed mercenary:
I think it [Twenty20] will be the new form of one-day cricket for sure...I reckon in the next couple of years 50 overs is probably going to be something of the past.
We are able to bring you the complete quote thanks to our connections at AFP and Reuters, which in point of fact reads as follows:
I think it [Twenty20] will be the new form of one-day cricket for sure...I reckon in the next couple of years 50 overs is probably going to be something of the past. And trust me, if we don't want to play 50 overs, we're not going to want to play bloody five days for 1/20th the money. We might look stupid. But we aren't. I mean, what do I care whether its England or the Dubai Dhamakas? I'll play for anyone that pays. Mmm, that rhymes. You keep paying, I'll keep playing.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Kensington cracker

There are thirty five overs to go at Bridgetown in the first day's play, and I dare say the customers have already gotten their money's worth. The Aussies have scored at four runs an over (approximately), seven wickets have fallen (Symonds getting his now customary caught-behind reprieve from umpires determined to boost his batting average), and theres been hooked sixes, bouncers, and dropped catches. Ricky Ponting wanted fast wickets; he got one. Chris Gayle is back as captain, and he's started by inserting the opposition. Test cricket, show us watcha got.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Its just around the corner

Ananth Narayanan digs into an obscure stat: "unfulfilled innings" in ODIs. Innings in which sides seem clearly to have lost the plot to put it mildly: low scores despite not losing too many wickets, failing to chase down a target despite not losing too many wickets and so on. I can add one more match to that list, a one-day international from way back in the late 80s when Australia, despite getting a double century opening stand, still managed to lose by seven wickets to India. Now, I don't remember too many one-day internationals but this one sticks out for a couple of reasons. ODIs were still a novelty back then, and furthermore, that matches result served to reinforce a particular anxiety of mine: that no matter how far India got ahead in a match, they could still lose. But wait a minute, you might say, this was a match that India won? Surely, if nothing else, this should have convinced you that no matter how far India was behind, they could still win? Ah, but that would not truly understand the psychology of the despairing Indian fan. For the syllogism that I followed went something like this: if Australia was capable of some weakness, then so was India. So if Australia displayed the ability to lose a match in this fashion, then so could India. For years afterwards (indeed, to this day), big opening stands in one-day internationals don't reassure me (indeed, India getting ahead in a match never reassures me). I'm always on the lookout for the collapse, the spectacular falling off of the wheels, the silly runout that sparks a panic. Especially by India. Perhaps my reaction is made more interesting by the fact that the match took place in 1986, only a year and half after India had comprehensively won a mini World Cup in Australia, thumping the Aussies, no less, on their way to the final. But then India had spoiled it all by doing poorly in the WSC series a year later. Just goes to show, old habits die hard.

On ya, Pothas

Nic Pothas is not a happy man, and he is gearing up for a battle. Good for him. The legal showdown between the ECB, the counties with ICL players, and the Modi/BCCI combine is a necessary one so that we get some clarity on what player rights are vis-a-vis boards of cricket control, and their employers. It will also clarify what the structure of the cricketing world will look like (partially at least) if it turns out that the ECB cannot issue a directive preventing counties with ICL players from taking part in the Champions League. (Note: Stuart Law also sounds pretty damn cranky with regards to this possible restriction of trade).

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A silver lining

There is an upside to the Champions League. It will force a legal resolution of the issue of whether ICL players can turn out for their teams in the tourney or not. Lalit Modi says they can't. The counties will face lawsuits if they try and prevent their players. Then what? Will Modi prevent the counties from playing? Will the ECB let Modi pick and choose which sides can play? (Yes, I'm presuming the player's case against the counties will prevail; given that the counties weren't able to restrict them in other ways that Modi would have liked, I don't see why this should work). If the ECB says "fine, have it your way, counties with ICL players won't be permitted", then I suggest the ECB could be facing more legal trouble of its own. Not a bad time to be a sports lawyer.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Two of a kind

So New Zealand's sad test series against England comes to an end. At one stage during the second test, they looked like they were going to whip England. Then came that collapse, and from there on, everything went wrong. They lacked punch and penetration in just about all departments, They don't have a strike bowler other than Vettori (who disappointed when the moment came for him in the second test), and more worryingly, since their board has decided to shoot itself in the foot by banning Shane Bond, there is no indication that improvement is around the corner. They don't have a single batsman capable of consistently racking up the big scores test cricket (how about scoring a 158 in a test, Brendon?), and its not clear what their talent pool holds in store. All in all, this series was not good news for those of us that admire the Kiwis. As for England, I'm not sure what this series taught them. Perhaps they learned that their batting line up is shaky. Perhaps. Perhaps they think their "fast" bowlers are the best in the world (as we will soon see English journalists proclaim; one gentleman already thinks Sidebottom should be compared to Akram; soon Anderson will be compared to Marshall)). More likely, when the South Africans land on their shores, they will find out that serious shakeups lie ahead for them as well.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ve haf much in common

Today's action at Trent Bridge confirmed the conclusion that most people would reach about this Kiwi team: they lack firepower, the knockout punch, whatever you want to call it. They took five wickets with less than a 100 runs on the board and then watched the English team reach 273-7 by day's end. Don't worry, Kiwi fans, I know how you feel. I've watched this happen all too many times in the years I've watched the Indian team. Its not a nice feeling, and all you can hope for is that the failure to run through the remaining five wickets doesn't come back to haunt you.

Yup, thats about right

I like this article by Anand Vasu on the Asif affair. The fact that recreational drugs like marijuana are illegal is idiotic (alcohol, which kills thousands courtesy drunk driving is legal!). But even more idiotic is the decision to try and mess around with a legal regime that is insanely harsh when it comes to enforcing drug laws. I hope Asif doesn't have to spend time in a UAE jail for this (I wouldn't wish that on anyone). But I hope he gets a brain transplant soon.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Please sir, I didn't do it

Mohammed Asif is going to soon need plastic surgery for that proboscis of his, which grows with alarming leaps and bounds with every chemical-related endeavor of his. You may recall that during the doping scam in which the PCB and he participated, his excuse was that he had no idea that he had been taking nandrolone (he had been cheated, misled!). Now, after detention at Dubai Airport on charges of possessing contraband, Asif's excuse is that
he did not know what the substance was and had been carrying it in his wallet for several months.
Excuse moi, my boy, but if you've been carrying around a little wad of sticky black stuff in your wallet, and you knew about it for several months, weren't you ever tempted to like, clean it out? Or be curious as to why this fungal growth had just taken place in your wallet? Sigh. The boy went to Dubai, scored some good hash, had a good time, and then was silly enough to either a) forget he had it in his wallet before the ride home or b) think he could take it back and share it with his buddies, saying "look at this really good stuff they smoke in Dubai". Either way, he's dumb. Save the smokes for the parties, not the plane rides.

Update from Nadeem Akram, "senior PCB official":
I have been told that what was found was some medicine given to him by a local Pakistani Hakeem.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Watch your noggin'

Getting beat up on the cricket ground seems to have become more fashionable recently. Chanderpaul went down for the count when Lee conked him on his helmet at Kingston and then Flynn, the young Kiwi went down at Trent Bridge, spewing teeth and blood when an attempted hook against Anderson ended with the ball knocking out his teeth. In both cases, the batsmen got things wrong. Chanders turned away from the ball, and got hit on the side of the head. Flynn, quite simply, missed the ball. In Flynn's case, the helmet didn't do him much good as the ball went through the grill. Chander's injury looked worse than it turned out to be; while Flynn's turned out to be worse than it looked (though missing teeth and blood is always a bad sign, the nausea and vomiting he suffered later suggested some neurological damage). I'm not sure if injuries have become more common but batsmen regularly get knocked on the helmet now; the mind boggles to think of the carnage that would have resulted in the non-helmet days had this been the injury rate. Of course, as many have pointed out before me, injuries are quite possibly, more likely now because batsmen (with better protection) have lost some of the fear that would induce better evasive actions against the quicks of old and hence take greater risks and concomitantly have let their defensive techniques suffer. And I'm not the first one to suggest either that plenty of batsmen with 40 plus averages in test cricket today simply would not have survived in the old, non-helmet days. Neither would have some one-day specialists.

The most frightening cricketing injury I've seen (on film that is) is Jackie Hendricks getting knocked on the head by Garth McKenzie at Bridgetown during the 1965 series. Hendricks went down in a heap, and lay there for a while with his entire body twitching uncontrollably; poor McKenzie looked distraught. I shudder to think of how hard he had been hit and what the possible side-effects of that blow were. More than anything else, that incident convinces me that helmets are necessary much as I bemoan their sheer ugliness and the damage they have done to cricket photographs. The last cricketing great to do without a helmet for his entire career was Viv Richards (Richie Richardson wore one toward the end of his career while Sunny Gavaskar wore a small skull-cap in his last couple of test series). Now, I wonder if anyone would ever play in international cricket without a helmet. I suspect that even if a young lad wanted to, he'd be 'persuaded' by his coaches and team-mates to wear one by the time he was a regular at state-level.

Chanders in vain

The West Indies are close to conceding a 125 runs lead to the Aussies in the Antigua test. If rain doesn't interfere, the Aussies will have perhaps some 55 overs of batting today (barring a miraculous last-wicket stand that goes on and on). What interests me most at this moment is to see how hard the Aussies will drive their batting today. The Windies batting will not worry them unduly I think (with regards to making a run chase for a 350 plus target tomorrow), and so, optimistically, if they try hard enough, they could even put the Windies back in later today. Lee has completely blown away the lower-order, and that will not be reassuring the Windies at all. A bit of a struggle lies ahead for Sarwan's lads (and another shot at glory for Chanderpaul, who has once again, outdone himself with a battling innings).