Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cricket, up close and personal

Sunday, March 21, 2010

See Tamim play; see Tamim entertain

If you haven't already, make sure you see the Tamim Iqbal innings that got the Dhaka test off to a flying start. It features some fantastic shots, all played panache and flair. You can find highlights here.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

I luvz my VB, I really do

Dougie Bollinger grabs his five-fer, and then acknowledges that which really made it possible: Victoria Bitter, as he kisses the VB logo on his shirt. Oh noes. I meant to kiss the Aussie coat of arms. (To be honest, I can't quite make out what it is on the shirt - is it just the Cricket Australia logo?) Ian Smith is right, somewhere out there a VB marketing executive is thinking of a nice marketing clip using that kiss.

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Go ahead, call 'em back in

For the second time this season, Ricky Ponting has gone ahead and done a sub-500 declaration. In both cases, the first time against the West Indies at Brisbane last year and now at Wellington against New Zealand, he has done so half-way during the second day's play. In both cases, the received wisdom would have had him carrying on to a 550-plus score.

Yesterday, the Australians called it a day after 131 overs in the first innings; they had scored at 3.5 runs an over, a scoring rate which is neither tortoise nor hare (perhaps a sluggish hare). Interestingly enough, Australia declared at an eerily similar situation in the Brisbane test: 480/8 on the second day, after consuming 135 overs at a rate of 3.55 an over. The West Indies lost that test by an innings (wonders of wonders, Ponting actually enforced the follow-on).

It is perhaps too early to say if New Zealand will lose this by an innings (for the record, they've started in only marginally better fashion than the Windies and a great deal of that has to do with the presence of the bespectacled superman, Daniel Vettori). Still, a safe bet at this point would be to put a fiver (or more if you like) on Australia winning this game.

So, what are we to make of these declarations? Are they strokes of genius, reckless gestures that got lucky, or perfectly safe, pragmatically judged cricketing decisions? (Sometimes these three can be one and the same thing when everything works out).

My take on it is that these declarations were eminently sensible moves given the opposition and the pitches concerned (and given that Australia were batting first). Neither the Windies or New Zealand have particularly strong batting line-ups; one would back the Australian bowlers against them on most days. Both the Brisbane and the Wellington pitches were reckoned batter-friendly (Ponting explicitly noted the friendliness of the Gabba and, I think, implicitly, the inexperience of his bowling attack in making his declaration last year). If you'd back yourself to bowl out the opposition for even 300, you'd put yourself in a position to come back out and set a difficult chase quickly, and get on with the business of applying the classic fourth-innings stranglehold.

Carrying on for a 600 or a 550 runs the small risk of using valuable time that could be better used for taking wickets. On a batter-friendly pitch, better to use time for bowling; the cushion of the extra runs isn't as useful as the extra time you could spend bowling (Does 550 really exert that much more mental pressure than a 450?). More to the point, if there is going to be any resolution in the game, you want to get to the fourth innings as soon as possible. What better way to do that than to stop batting and start bowling?

This sort of strategy won't work against stronger batting sides obviously. They might run up a score at par; they might go past you, and then, you'd be the one worrying in the third innings. But against opposition like the Windies and New Zealand, it's a sensible strategy, especially if you are playing on a docile pitch. Ponting deservedly cops a lot of flak for his captaincy; on this count, I think he's got it right both times.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Here is how you bowl a bouncer

A little high-quality cricket moment in an IPL game. The two bouncers that Jacques Kallis bowled at Damien Martyn off the last two balls of the sixth over of the Rajasthan Royals' innings today were lessons in how to bowl a good bouncer: they were quick deliveries, pitched on an awkward length just short of a good one, and they headed straight for Martyn's head. The length, the pace, the direction (often ignored but still very important) were all bang on. Not too short, not at a friendly pace.

Kallis must be the most under-rated Genuinely Great Cricketer[tm] of all time. It kills me to think that a #3 batsman with a bowling and fielding record like his is still routinely dissed. (And aspiring quicks take note: he ambles up and lets rip 140K deliveries!).

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jaya and SRT - old farts rule

So whatever one's feelings about the IPL, there is something quite amazing about the idea of Jayasuriya and Tendulkar opening together in a T20 game (in any game, really). When I think of these two, I always think of the 1996 World Cup. Fourteen years on, and they're opening in a "young man's game." Respeck maan.

On another note, this is the confusion-inducing side of the IPL. It's hard to cheer for Delhi while these two are batting.

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Cricket and becoming American

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cricket sightings in the works of Gabriel Orozco

Why did I put up a post yesterday that merely linked to an article that talked about how you could catch cricket telecasts in the US? Because I still haven't been able to get past the feeling of pleasurable surprise when I stumble across any mention of cricket in an American context. It's another matter, of course, that more often than not, that initial pleasure turns into irritation (one of my earliest posts on Different Strokes was an expression of this emotion at the persistent, seemingly willful misrepresentation of cricket in the US media).

A long time ago, when I used to frequent the newsgroup rec.music.gdead there was a recurrent thread titled "Dead Sightings". Posters wrote about unexpected sightings (aural or visual) of the Grateful Dead. Perhaps someone had heard the Dead on a radio station that didn't normally play them; perhaps a news bulletin had shown a small clip of a Dead concert; and of course, there was the gold dust, perhaps a lucky fan had run into one of the musicians themselves. There are times I feel like that is how I still respond to cricket. It's a sighting of a rare bird, an exotic species in an unfamiliar clime. Perhaps this sort of sighting will become less rare as the IPL aids in the penetration of US media markets by cricket, but I suspect my reactions will persist for a while.

In any case, while IPL sightings have become more frequent, other kinds are still rare. Thus, I almost fell out of my chair over the weekend when, looking at an old issue of the New Yorker, I saw what looked like a photograph of Shaun Pollock. Looking closer, I saw it was embedded in an announcement of an exhibition of works (at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) by the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. Here is the image I am speaking of:

On digging further, I found yet another work by him that centers on cricket:

Again, I do not know the name of this work (I found these images at Bernardo Dominguez's blog on this page - thanks very much!). Full marks to anyone who can identify the batsmen and the occasion above. I'd also like help with naming the images if possible. I'm going to do some digging around, but in the meantime, if you are in the know, please do post a comment.

I'd have to say that this particular sighting of cricket must count as amongst the distinctive for me in recent times. I've caught bits of cricket on television and in the print media. But to see cricket appear in the works of a modern conceptual artist (not from a cricket playing country) is a very pleasant surprise.

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The IPL in the New York Times

The IPL makes it to the New York Times again. One marked difference in the treatment of the IPL as compared to its usual coverage of cricket is that there is very little commentary on any of the supposed exotic qualities of cricket. (It helps, of course, that the NYT article is actually a linked article from GigaOM, an independent tech blog network). The IPL's presence in the NYT and Forbes is also proof that what you need in order to get into the times is a fair degree of Americanization, and that the IPL has in plenty.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Neunundneunzig runs

When it comes to batting tragedies (or comedies, or tragi-comedies, take your pick) there is nothing quite like a 99. The first one I ever saw was the one inflicted on Javed Miandad. I still remember the fielder: Srikkanth. But not the bowler (Cricinfo tells me it was Madan Lal!). In those days, Miandad was quite a favorite of mine, and I was keen to see him get his ton. He dithered in the 90s, got stuck on 99, and then incredibly, was gone, to a scooped-off-the-shoelaces catch by Cheeka. I had heard about 99s but didn't think I would ever see one or that it would happen to a batsman whose success I was invested in (a few years later, I would have rejoiced on seeing Miandad dismissed on 99).

Since then, incredibly, I've never seen a 99 live again in test cricket. I've seen plenty on highlights I missed Ricky Ponting's 99 last year against South Africa because I was called away for a cup of tea by my sis-in-law. I was visiting India at the time and a beautiful Delhi morning beckoned. I wasn't feeling too fond of Ricky at that time so there is a good chance I would have cheered.

For a good example of the kind of reaction that a 99 dismissal can engender, check out this one from the now-sadly-defunct Outside the Line. What made Ponting's dismissal particularly catastrophic was that he had scored 101 in the first innings. Still, a nice round 200 for the game. Not a bad return, and one that every single batsman in the world would envy.

I have, however, borne witness to a Tendulkar 99, which was a pretty painful experience. (If I remember correctly, it was one of the three he picked up in one-day internationals in 2007, probably against England).

The most painful 99 for me, however, was one I read about in a newspaper: Kim Hughes' dismissal against England in the non-Ashes series of 1979-80. I'll never forget the horror of that morning. I had eagerly run out to get the paper to check the first day's scores and still remember thinking there must have been a mistake when I read the score. It turned out to be a match-winning score, because without his 99 out of a first-innings 244, Australia would have been in much worse shape in that game. But that was no consolation for me. My hero had come so close and yet had been cruelly denied. (Someday I need to write a post about my Kim Hughes obsession, which would put my reaction into some perspective.)

So, how do I feel about the Pietersen dismissal yesterday? Strangely indifferent. There was a time when KP did get under my skin and my reactions might have been akin to those of DS Henry's above. But KP has become more human recently, perhaps lost a bit of his swagger and so concomitantly has lost his ability to get under my skin as well. Schadenfreude isn't that much fun in those circumstances. Still, bully for the Bangers; it must have lifted their spirits a bit.

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Cricket and its great books

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some thoughts on the IPL

As the third season of the IPL approaches, I've become increasingly convinced that the only way I could get interested in it was if the following conditions were met:
  1. I should be the owner of a nice, large-screen television, preferably HD with a quality broadcast to boot

  2. I should be back in India

  3. I should watch the games in the company of a few like-minded friends
My cricket-watching environment, solitary, often with headphones on, sitting at my desk, looking at a computer screen, is only conducive to pursuing well-established passions like test matches. One-day internationals struggle in this setting, and it is only major tournaments that manage to retain my interest (in this regard T20 does well for I watched the World Cup last year with keen interest).

So the IPL will come and go, and while I will tune in for some of the games, I'm not optimistic that it will evoke any significant reactions in me. I almost wish IPL had started off as a purely domestic endeavor; I think I would have been quite pumped up about cheering for Delhi then (after all, there'd be the chance that we could stick it to Mumbai, and who wouldn't want that?).

Which leads to me another thought. What if the IPL, instead of starting off as a grand international league, had simply started off as an Indian domestic competition, on a smaller scale with a little less money (but just enough to make it worthwhile for the Indian international stars to play)? Perhaps the league might not have attracted the glamor, the big bucks, the attendant hoopla. Perhaps. But would the interest have been so minimal that it wouldn't have flourished? I don't think so. Given that, I suspect it would have eased into the world's calendar a little more smoothly. And perhaps in the second or third seasons, IPL owners/organizers could have announced that teams were allowed to retain one or two international players, who might have been attracted because of the decent money available for a few weeks work. Perhaps the IPL would have made a different sort of impact on the cricketing world's consciousness then?

What would the world's attitude to the IPL, to Modi, to Indian cricket, to the BCCI, have been then? What would the average Indian fan's reaction been? I'm not sure what the answers are, and I invite your thoughts and reactions.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Pakistani cricket self-goal

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Modi and Haigh on Cricinfo

No, no, not together. If only. There are a couple of interesting interviews up on Cricinfo. Harsha Bhogle and Sanjay Manjrekar are involved in both; one features Lalit Modi (who has some interesting and revelatory comments to make), the other features Gideon Haigh (who has his history down as always). Check them out both.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Full disclosure please

Conflicts of interest seem to be quite common in the IPL. Today, Harsha Bhogle has an article in Cricinfo, talking up the IPL. But Harsha works for the Mumbai Indians. That makes his article on CI a press release. The least Harsha (or Cricinfo) could so, in the interest of full disclosure, is make a note of the fact that he is employed by the Mumbai Indians.

I'm used to the merger of the media and the establishment here in the US. Seems like it's catching.

Hat-tip to Mukul Kesavan for pointing this out to me.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Bully for the umps

Yesterday I posted an article at Different Strokes, noting how doing some umpiring can help a cricketer develop some understanding of an umpire's job (and its attendant difficulties). In keeping with that spirit, I'd like to dish out some credit today for a job well done. Step forward Ian Gould and Steve Davis.

Lets begin at the beginning. What sound did you not hear during the India-South Africa test series? No guesses for getting this right. You did not hear moaning, the gnashing of teeth, the plaintive wails of the downtrodden. In short, what we did not get was a whole lot of griping about the quality of the umpiring. These gentlemen did their job so well that they went off the radar.

In the first test, their job was made easier by the fact that on the South African side, Steyn didn't create too many problems for them by ripping through the Indian side with deliveries that resulted in unambiguous dismissals. While the Indian spinners might have shown some frustration in their appealing, I don't think there were any serious suggestions that the umpires got too many decisions wrong. It also helped that there was little rancor between the two teams (indeed, when I noticed some edginess out in the middle, the umpires stepped in quickly).

It was in the second test that the umpires really came under pressure, and they excelled in turn. India earned nine LBWs, and except for the Steyn dismissal which featured an inside-edge (only obvious on a slow-motion replay), they got everything right. Even better, the remaining seven LBWs included six to the spinners (in my opinion, more difficult to get right), and they got all them down.

Consider for instance, the two-fer of LBWs that turned the game on the first day. Both those dismissals (Prince and Duminy) were of left-handers, facing an offspinner bowling around the wicket. The trajectory of the delivery appears diagonal, headed down leg, but it pitches in line and straightens. The batsman pushes forward, thrusting his pad outside off-stump. The umpire has to quickly get the movement right and judge the point of impact. No UDRS. They were both spot-on.

In the second innings, things got even better for the home side was pushing for a win. The crowd was noisy, the fielders were boisterous, and the pressure on the umpires was tremendous. Again, both Gould and Davis showed a cool and collected demeanor and stayed unruffled. India earned four spinner LBWs on the last day. All of them good ones. De Villiers' dismissal to a googly was well-picked (even though AB didn't look happy).

The umpires in short, ensured a good test finish resulted. The cricketers out there in the middle had a great deal to do with it, but the umpires set the stage for them.

The background of the gentlemen who did duty in this series is mixed. Gould has a professional (and international) cricketing career behind him, while I'm not sure what Davis' provenance includes. But what the two did seem to have in common was good cricketing sense.

Credit where it's due. If we can dish out rotten fruit and eggs, then why not a few bouquets?

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Try being an umpire once

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Sehwag says, go for the hockey! (So do I)

Right. I know this is a cricket blog. But today, I'm going to hijack this space and talk about that other Indian sport. You know, the one in which we've won tons of Olympic gold medals: hockey?

I've never talked about hockey on this blog because, well, like I said, it's a cricket blog. But I love hockey. I've only played for one school team in my life and that was hockey in my 12th year. I played all the positions on the right flank: full-back, half, forward. I used a Karachi Blues stick, a loan for the season from my coach. It was a heavy monster but it helped getting those speedy passes up or across the line. I never quite mastered extensive dribbling, but I ran pretty quickly and moved the ball reasonably well. All in all, playing hockey was a true passion that last school year and had it not been for an idiotic coach, I would have enjoyed it even more.

Before coming to the US, it was no exaggeration to say that I was a devoted hockey fan, with fairly nerdy take on the game. I followed the Indian team's fortunes with a great deal of interest and went through all the roller-coaster emotions that Indian hockey fans had to deal with in the 1980s, in tournaments like the Champions Trophy and the Olympics (it hasn't really changed in recent years). And yes, I do remember that Pargat Singh goal against Germany. (I even had a domestic favorite: Indian Airlines, which at one time, featured the entire Indian forward line!).

Sadly, I've hardly been able to get any coverage of the game since moving here. I've only caught up with hockey news belatedly and have not managed to watch a single game live. But, while living in Sydney, I did go to see one game at the Olympics: India's disastrous game against Poland, a late equalizer in which knocked India out of the semis. It rained hard that night; I was soaked, and my misery was complete.

Well, the World Cup is on now. And India beat Pakistan 4-1 in the opening game (yup, the rivalry is as intense as the cricketing one, so the score is a big deal; indeed, the television ratings for this game kicked some ODIs' arses). As you can see,

Sehwag thinks we should all go for the games and cheer on the lads. I wish I could. It's in my old home-town, at a stadium I know well. So, let me know if you know how I could watch the game on the net, and if you're in Delhi, go cheer on the boys. India play Australia today.

Update: India lost 2-5.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Viru the analytical sage

Virender Sehwag's interview after the Cricinfo awards is quite remarkable (especially when you consider the inanities we are spoon-fed by the rest of the sportsman class). He is simple and uncomplicated, and I mean those terms to apply not in pejorative fashion, but as a form of a compliment. For in the course of making a series of unadorned statements about his batting philosophy, he manages to be informative and insightful both.

The highlights, for me, were threefold.

First, Sehwag's analysis of risk. He points out, quite correctly, that risk assessment is a subjective business; that for a batsman possessed of not-great defensive technique (a 'weakness' he disarmingly confesses to being afflicted by), a 'risky' shot might be a defensive one'; that he does possess a notion of 'risky shot', it just happens to be different from that espoused by other players.

Secondly, his insulation from the buzz, the chatter, if you will, about pitches, conditions, net practice strategies, pre-match preparation exercises. This aspect of Sehwag has been talked about a great deal, so I won't say more here, expect to note that while it sounds counter-intuitive at times (you really don't bother finding out what the pitch is like?), a method to the madness emerges. For I don't think this has been a completely unthinking attitude; more likely, I suspect this is a strategy that he has retained because it works better for him. And what more can you ask from a plan of action that that it work for you?

Secondly, Sehwag's selective strategy against the opposition bowlers. (Indeed, I'd say this was my favorite). There are bowlers who might get him out; those he will be cautious against. There are bowlers he will score heavily off; their arrival he will wait for. What is noteworthy about this is that it comprehensively debunks a statistic that is almost every unthinking cricket fan's favorite: how did X do against Y (where both X and Y are masters of their domain). In cricket, as in some other walks of life, the strong prey on the weak. It is utterly unsurprising, to me at least, to find out that batsmen and bowlers do better against weak opposition (it is when they only do well against them that we should worry). And within an innings, it makes perfect sense for the batsman to save himself against a better bowler and to attack the weaker ones (yes, his strike rate against a champion might drop, but the runs go up anyway). Sehwag notes, quite coldbloodedly, how he will wait for the difficult bowlers to leave the field of battle, and will then turn his attention to the weak.

There are other bits in there that are worth checking out, for instance, the Tendulkar advice on how to pick Murali's doosra. All in all, a rare instance of a good sports interview.


Atherton on British Asian cricketers - whose culture?