Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cricket sighting in administrative law ruling

From EPA vs. Universal Circuits, (Clean Water Act, Docket No. CWA-IV-88-001, April 11, 1990).

Administrative Law Judge Frank W Vanderheyden, as part of his ruling, notes:
Both the Act and penalty policy speak of economic savings as benefits resulting from the violations. In the context of the facts of this case, few wickets could be stickier.
What maakes this quote interesting is, a) it is found in an American legal dispute b) the judge, doesn't seem to be from a cricket playing country (he graduated from NYU in 1952). Perhaps a Dutch family member told him about the game? But "sticky wickets" aren't such common knowledge. Quite intriguing, I think.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011


By Satadru Sen

             When the team that you support has had an unbelievably bad series, and the angry and serious post-mortems are out there for all to see, the sporting thing to do is to look for the brighter side of the whole affair. The India-vs-England Test series is over: that is a joy. It is also surprisingly helpful to remember that the world is no worse that it was before: waking up to a 0-4 whitewash is not like waking up to unemployment, a divorce or a death in the family. Godzilla has not ravaged Tokyo. And best of all, Varun Aaron has declared that he enjoys hitting batsmen on the head. Ah, an Indian-accented echo of “I like to see blood on the pitch.”  Aaron is a 21-year-old fast bowler from Jharkhand, M.S. Dhoni’s home state. He is, by most reports, seriously quick. He is not Jeff Thomson, of course, and in these days of helmets it’s unlikely that he will send many batsmen to the hospital or shatter a good batting line-up with pace alone. Still, the boy – who is on his way to England to beef up the Indian team for the ODI section of the Magical Disaster Tour – has the right idea about bowling, and my heart rejoices.
                Pace bowling is the great Indian mystery and obsession, mainly because it has been rare in India. That rarity is cultural, in two senses. One is negative: it is not a national-biological peculiarity. The other is positive: Indian failures with fast bowling, and its moments of success, have generated a mass of writing, regret and fantasy built around the desire to hit a batsman on the head with a shiny ball going 150 kmh.
If bowling fast was an ethnic accomplishment, pacemen would be as common among Indian Punjabis as among Pakistani Punjabis, and there would no apparently India-shaped hole between Imran Khan in the northwest of the subcontinent and Lasith Malinga in the southeast. Also, if we look at where Indian quick bowlers have come from in the past couple of decades, the distribution is pretty wide: Bombay, Baroda, Gujarat, Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Bihar. They have come, in other words, from all over the country, not a particular region or ethnic group.
             But like any other form of culture, modern sport is the stuff of myths, especially the myths of what-we-are-like. As the most overtly physical aspect of cricket, fast bowling cannot escape the discourse of bodies and ethnicity. In Bengal, a region particularly hard hit by the colonial theory of ‘martial’ and ‘effeminate’ races, there was an early and enduring obsession with bowling fast. (Ramachandra Guha made this connection many years ago, so my observation is not original.) Spin was for sissies in Bengal, even in the heyday of Indian spin. Not coincidentally, the first really promising Indian pace bowler after the era of Mohammed Nissar and Amar Singh was Sarodindu ‘Shute’ Banerjee. Banerjee’s career was a casualty of the world war, and he was unlucky to miss out on the 1948 tour of Australia. By then he was already past his prime, and it is ironic that he is remembered primarily for a batting record: a last-wicket stand of 249 with Chandu Sarwate against Surrey in 1946.
After the Partition, with a large chunk of Punjab and its ‘martial races’ lost to Pakistan, a crisis of fast bowling seemed natural and unavoidable. The solution, too, seemed obvious: Sikhs. One enthusiastic cricket administrator declared that given a few Sikhs to train and feed, he could ensure an adequate supply of pacemen for the national team. (Unfortunately, except for Balwinder Singh Sandhu and that surly, burly fellow in Lagaan, the Sikh fast bowler has proved elusive.)

          It is not that quick bowlers no longer existed in India. Ramakant Desai could be disconcertingly fast on his day, and as a Gujarati not much over five feet tall, was a living rebuttal of the ‘ethnic’ theory of Indian bowling. Indian cricket fans revere Anil Kumble for bowling with a broken jaw (against the West Indies), but Desai did it first, against New Zealand in 1968. Shute Banerjee’s legacy continued in Bengal’s Subrata Guha, who had an unremarkable Test career but took 299 first-class wickets at just over 20 per wicket, including 209 Ranji Trophy scalps at an average of under 15, and eleven wickets in a zonal match against the West Indies in 1966-67. Amazingly, he was not selected for the next Test, which began in Calcutta three days later. Bowlers like Desai and Guha, who played in India’s pace-bowling wilderness of the 1950s and 60s, were casualties of culture as much as of their own limitations. They barely registered in the consciousness at a time when crowds, coaches, selectors and journalists alike saw no pace bowlers in India and teams were packed with twirlers. And that semi-invisibility became a self-fulfilling prophecy; without supporting quicks to keep the other end going, both men were severely overbowled. Desai bowled 49 overs in his very first Test innings. Guha bowled 43 in his.
                Kapil Dev played in a different cultural reality. To a considerable degree, he created that reality, with his skill, hard work and undeniable success. But it is worth remembering that Kapil Dev’s career began unspectacularly; he did not take many wickets in Pakistan in 1978. In an earlier era, that could very well have been the end of the experiment. But the context of Indian pace bowling had changed, partly because that tour of Pakistan snuffed out the hegemony of Indian spin, partly because the simultaneous emergence of televised cricket generated a growing audience for the excitement of fast bowling, and partly, I would suggest, because Gavaskar’s burgeoning status as an opening batsman who could hold his own against Roberts, Holding, Thomson and Imran – and his displacement of Bishan Singh Bedi as the dominant personality on the national team, which Bedi is yet to forgive – made Indian fans more interested in pace, and the team more hospitable to pacemen. So even very limited talents like Karsan Ghavri and Manoj Prabhakar got extended runs as Kapil’s partners.
                Much has been written about the place of Kapil Dev in Indian cricket history and I need not go into that. I will limit myself to a simple observation. Kapil brought to the Indian supporter an element of joy that goes beyond results. My favorite image in all of cricket is Kapil Dev in delivery stride: side-on, airborne, athletic, kinetic, a freeze-frame of aesthetic perfection. (See top of page.) My three favorite memories from Indian cricket are all Kapil-centric: the seven for fifty-six in the second innings against Pakistan in Madras in 1980 (which was also the first time I listened to an entire Test match on the radio), the five for twenty-eight on painkillers in seventeen straight overs against Australia in Melbourne in 1981, and a brief, intense burst in the dying minutes of the fourth day of a losing Test at Lords in 1982, when he ripped out three English wickets (immediately after scoring a murderous, 55-ball 89 in the Indian follow-on).
That kind of irrational air-punching pleasure, even when it comes crackling out of the radio, is closely connected to fast bowling itself: its violence, the element of explosive release that one feels vicariously in the muscles of the arm, shoulder, back and leg, the touch of madness. Kapil Dev did not walk down the pitch to glare childishly at the batsman, and he did not sledge: he did not have to. To quote Jeff Thomson again, he just wound up and went whang, and while his whang was more modest than Thomson's, it lasted longer and took more wickets. And he did not clutch his hamstring and limp off the field every three Tests like the present generation of Indian bowlers. Nietzsche would have approved – almost. Almost but not quite, because the Indian cricket fan’s attitude to the game is invariably tied up with ressentiment, the need for revenge against history and discourse, which goes against the ethos of the Ubermensch. Varun Aaron’s pleasure in hitting batsmen on the head – or rather, the Indian fan’s satisfaction at Aaron’s desire to crack heads – is slightly different from Thomson’s pleasure at seeing blood on the pitch. That’s just fine; ressentiment on the cricket field is better than ressentiment in fields of actual slaughter. Cricket without a frisson of revenge would be boring, hardly worth the late nights with radio static.
A generation after Kapil Dev, Indian cricket is again in a crisis of pace bowling. Promising quick bowlers keep losing their pace and turning into 120-kmh trundlers: a tendency that began with Venkatesh Prasad and has now become an epidemic, thanks to a calendar that burns out players’ bodies and gives them no time to recover, and a trend in coaching (influenced, no doubt, by the ascendency of limited-overs cricket) that emphasizes line-and-length bowling and sees pace as an indulgence. The resulting run-fests may have enriched the coffers of the Indian board and its corporate cronies, but it has impoverished the serious fan by taking away a basic pleasure of the sport. This was all too evident in England in the past few weeks. The humiliation of losing a series or a rank is nothing compared to the humiliation of having a fat, slow R.P. Singh open your bowling. Perhaps Aaron will turn out to be ineffective at the highest level of the game. Perhaps he too will be a medium pacer by the time the BCCI is through with him. But until then, break some helmets, kid.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Close-in fielders need not apply

I've complained so often about the lack of close-in fielders for Indian spinners in recent times that I'm going to sound like a stuck record, but what the heck, here we go again. The fields set for Amit Mishra are utter shite. And MS Dhoni has to be the most defensive Indian captain I have ever seen in this regard. Someone shoot me please: no close-in fielders for a batsman, in his nineties, facing a leg-spinner?

PS: That post linked to above is from Different Strokes but I've mounted this complaint before on Eye on Cricket. I'm just too lazy to find the posts in question. Mea culpa.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Plumbing New Depths

By Sankaran Krishna

Even the most cynical and inured of Indian cricket fans will have to gasp in astonishment at the spectacle unfolding at the Oval. I'll confine myself to making a few points: (1) What exactly is Munaf Patel doing in the team if, despite injuries to both Zak and Praveen, he cannot make the playing XI? (2) The coach, the captain and the selectors knew before the series that Sehwag was not going to be able to play the first two tests and possibly the third. How then do they pick a team with 2 openers - one who made his test debut a few weeks before the series and the other quite untested in English conditions? (3) How do you take someone who is fresh out of shoulder surgery and has not played any cricket at all since his rehab (which had not even ended) and fork him in as opener in a test match? (4) How on earth does RP - who was not deemed good enough to be selected for the tour in the first place and has not played anything longer than a 3-hour T20 in half a year- being called to open the bowling at the Oval? Why not throw the ball to Ishant or Sreesanth at least? (5) How does one justify bringing on Raina before Mishra during the first day? (6) Given what we've seen of Raina's batting so far this series, its obvious that he's now in shell-shock. If Graeme Swann were to bowl a bouncer at him, he'll probably cough it up into the gully after averting his eyes from the ball. Why not give Virat a shot?

Its all rather depressing, and yet a tale foretold. Back in '74 we fell to pieces in similar fashion. Then too we came into England riding high - on the success of three series victories, two of them abroad. Its very likely that Cook or (God forbid) someone like Bopara is going to take us for a double- or triple hundred. Believe you me - the worst is yet to come.

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Court transcript for Greig vs. Insole

One of my biggest regrets with regards to the ICL fiasco was that the ICL didn't long last enough to trigger a court case or two. It would have been interesting to see what courts (in any jurisdiction) would have made of the various national boards' actions during that sorry mess. The Indian Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission, had of course, launched an investigation into the BCCI's actions but I have no idea if a report was ever submitted. A pity; a proper legal dispute would have clarified board-player relationships and also enabled an examination of the contracts players all over the world sign (I'm particularly curious about the BCCI contracts - has anyone seen one?).

Meanwhile, for your reading pleasure, here is the transcript for perhaps the most important labor dispute in cricket history: Greig vs. Insole from 1977, shortly after World Series Cricket was launched. Here is a little summary. Here is little Wikipedia article on World Series Cricket for all the young 'uns out there (this also includes a very useful summary of Greig vs. Insole).

Here are some other significant legal disputes in cricket.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Podcast Number Three - Oval Test plus Gavaskar/Shastri/BCCI

I think this file got clipped at the end; sorry about that. I'm not sure why Audacity played up like that. I just had a few sentences after that where I say "conflict of interest is pretty simple really; look it up!".

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The hangover of a Test defeat

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pant khule diyechhe

by Satadru Sen

There is a Bengali expression that goes ‘pant khule diyechhe.’ It refers to being suddenly deprived of your pants, and indicates a particularly comprehensive defeat. The expression is hybrid and slangy, but it is also very culturally appropriate. It conveys, for instance, not only a sense of violation, but also a combination of exposure, embarrassment and shame that is perhaps more comprehensible to Asians than to Europeans.
It would not be inaccurate to say that in England over the past three weeks, the Indian cricket team has been pantsed. It has been so thorough that it raises suspicions about whether the emperor of world cricket had been wearing pants to begin with. If this had been a Japanese team from a couple of generations ago, Dhoni and company would have been expected to commit seppuku with sharpened stumps. Being products of a shameless time and place, they are safe. Nobody will resign: the captain will probably not step down, neither will the coach, let alone anybody in the BCCI. There is too much money at stake; giving up the captaincy means jeopardizing future endorsement deals.
It may be unduly bloodthirsty to call for heads to roll. This is neither a war nor a bank meltdown. It is, as I wrote in the last blog, only a game. But you know there is a problem when you feel obliged to repeat that cliché in successive blogs. So now I want to touch upon two related aspects of the problem, or of any problem: explanation and responsibility.
On the face of it, the explanation for the ongoing Indian debacle in England is very simple: India has consistently played very badly, and England has been excellent in every facet of the game. But when we look a little under that surface, things are not so clear. The cores of both teams are unchanged from what they were three or four years ago. England is still built around Petersen, Cook, Bell, Prior, Strauss, Anderson and Broad; India is still Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Sehwag, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Yuvraj.  No new Tendulkar or Murali has emerged on either side, and the old Tendulkar is still where he was. Even the supporting cast is made up of veterans, give or take a Swann or a Praveen Kumar. The roots of this England side go back to Nasser Hussain’s team, and the Indians are based largely on Sourav Ganguly’s outfit. While both men were outstanding team-builders, Ganguly undoubtedly had the more brilliant eleven. The tables have now turned emphatically, but they are still the same tables.
Obviously, one group of men have got better, and another have fallen apart. England’s improvement has been quiet and steady, rather than dramatic. Cook and Bell are fine batsmen. They have scored a lot of runs over the past couple of years, but they have done it against ordinary bowling attacks; nobody would mistake them for Sobers or Richards or Lara. Anderson, Broad and Bresnan are very good bowlers, but they are not Holding, Marshall and Roberts. Yet here we are: the Indian team, which includes the two highest run-makers in the history of Test cricket, have just made them look like Richard Hadlee bowling in tandem with Keith Miller with McGrath and Botham as back-up. And the Indians are all about drama, spectacle and superstars. You cannot get more dramatic than Sehwag’s ‘performance’ in this series: flying in late to save the team and promptly making two first-ball ducks, at least one of them due to horrendous shot-selection.
And then there is the Indian bowling. Earlier this summer, when the Indians were touring the West Indies, Andy Roberts rather unkindly called Munaf Patel a spinner. Munaf, mind you, was once impressively quick. But now Roberts is more or less correct. When he made his ‘spinner’ comment, my thought was that the rapid death of Indian pace bowlers was an aesthetic loss. Fast bowling, even fast-medium bowling, is one of the great pleasures of watching cricket, and the Indian bowling attack has ceased to be entertaining. (By way of comparison, you might recall Irfan, Balaji and Agarkar less than a decade ago. Or for that matter, Ishant Sharma bowling to Ponting in Australia more recently, and Sreesanth bowling to Kallis in South Africa last winter.) This year everything has suddenly gone flat, and in England it has become apparent that the loss is more than aesthetic. A boring attack will also, inevitably, be an ineffective attack.
In both batting and bowling, the team had lost its pants even before it reached England. Anderson, Broad and Cook merely pointed it out. The proven performers were patchy, and the others barely showed up to play, plagued by injuries, absences, exhaustion, under-preparation, and technical deficiencies. This is a side in which the ‘quality element’ is aging, ill-used and not replenished, complacency is endemic, and there is no joy. If the BCCI was inclined to be merciful, it would bring them home early from England.
This brings us to the issue of responsibility. I do not think that the players are blameless. If a Test cricketer like Tendulkar is going to pick and choose the Test series in which he plays, then he ought either to retire or to do a better job of staying ‘in practice.’ Ultimately, however, the fault lies with the Indian board, which has taken a great team, destroyed it by reckless overuse and artificially induced distortions (such as flat wickets tailored to maximize television revenues, and the IPL nexus of greed and intimidation that bribes and pressures players to hide their injuries until they are exposed by the longer game), and totally neglected the domestic first-class game without which the Test side can only wither away. The BCCI has, in fact, shown itself to be fundamentally unprofessional. It is driven by a corporate money-making mindset, it celebrates the new India of ‘brands’ and ‘products,’ but in its search for immediate returns, it unfailingly ignores the need to protect and nurture its most fundamental asset - the team – over the long term. It is, in that sense, the perfect example of an immature capitalism that is not responsible even to itself.
 As a bureaucracy, the BCCI is perhaps impervious to the basic aspect of being pantsed, which is the experience of shame. It is institutionally averse to any admission of responsibility, and Sharad Pawar is after all a politician. All the more reason, then, for Dhoni to take responsibility. He should step down as captain immediately and speak candidly about what has gone wrong. (And while we're at it, Duncan Fletcher should be given his money and kissed goodbye.) This is not because a better captain is waiting in the wings; frankly, no automatic candidate jumps to mind, and we would probably get another mediocre one. Personally I would like to see Laxman given a crack at the Test captaincy in the time that he has left before retiring. But more important than getting a great tactician immediately is establishing the principle of responsibility in leadership.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Legal interpretation and cricket

In responding to the post on the possible legality of the Trent Bridge Test match, reader joseph_kaye first posted a dismissive comment, suggesting the entire exercise was a waste of time (check comments), and then on my asking him to offer an argument, wrote:

Yes, Samir, but what's the use? Which of these two scenarios is more likely here:

1) A terrible miscarriage of justice has occurred, and only the penetrating Pushkar Pendse has seen it. Well, the result of a test match, and potentially the #1 ranking, hangs in the balance. This is no joke! He needs to inform the ICC at once!


2) It's perfectly clear to anyone what happened, and Pushkar Pendse is too too-clever-by-half in an incredibly tedious way.

In simpler words: it's an amateur's move to forget that the rules serve the game, not the other way round.
First, I think there is a third option. There hasn't been a terrible miscarriage of justice, and it isn't perfectly clear to anyone whats happened. People are still disagreeing about whether the ball was dead or not, whether Strauss or Flower were justified in going to Dhoni to have the appeal revoked. Perhaps we have a situation where an ambiguity in the laws has been exposed and the cricketing community needs to figure out an interpretation of the laws that makes it less ambiguous in the ways that Jonathan and Pushkar were attempting in their discussion. This is perfectly standard in legal practice: we have laws on the book, a situation occurs which does not appear to be covered by the rules they provide, and an adjudicator offers an interpretation that clarifies matters largely by showing how the rule is to be applied. Pushkar was offering an interpretation, perhaps a contested one, but given the lack of some sort of definitive or algorithmic interpretation of the laws (notice that Jonathans' reply depended on offering a particular charitable interpretation of the laws that would circumvent the possibilities raised by Pushkar).

Second, JK says "the rules serve the game, not the other way round." Really? What is this mythical "game" you speak of? A game, any game, such as it is, is defined by its rules, it is bound by them. If it isn't then we don't have a game on our hands, we just have some arbitrary activity going on. Not everything involving a ball and twenty-two players on a field is called "soccer". Sometimes it is called "hockey", sometimes it is called "cricket". Which appellation we use depends on the rules we apply, the rules the players follow. If I see ten folks on a court tossing around a ball, I only get to call it basketball because it follows the rules closely enough to be termed so. Otherwise, its something else, perhaps a variant. Thats why we say things like "3-on-3 basketball". If you change the rules of volleyball enough, you get sepak takraw.

Rules don't serve a game, they define it. Contesting an interpretation of the rules to contest the legality of a particular denouement of a game is most emphatically not an amateur's move. You might disagree with the interpretation, but you still need to offer a better one, one that makes sense of the situation, and describes how it sensibly accords with the rules so that the alleged violation has not taken place.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Well done MS, now do it again

I hope MS Dhoni is learning a lesson from the little demonstration that he has put on today: he invariably bats better when he bats aggressively. He will always be an unattractive batsman (though his hooking is a real throwback with its off-the-eyebrows emphasis) but he is capable of scoring runs when he allows himself the freedom of the lashing stroke.

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Newsflash: England have a very good bowling attack

My angst over the comprehensive drubbing being handed out to India in this series has prevented me from being more generous. Churlish really. But England's attack is superb, well-balanced and very threatening. Not only are they taking wickets they have managed to expel any and all thoughts of any sort of counterattack from the Indian batting line-up. Well done.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Pathological altruism, test cricket, and MS Dhoni

I shit you not. Three days after my post questioning Dhoni's judgment in recalling Ian Bell at Trent Bridge went up at The Pitch, I received an email announcement from Barbara Oakley regarding her new book _Pathological Altruism_ From the book's description:
Hyperempathy - an excess of concern for what others think and how they feel - helps explain popular but poorly defined concepts such as codependency. In fact, pathological altruism, in the form of an unhealthy focus on others to the detriment of one's own needs, may underpin some personality disorders.
All facetiousness aside, the book does look interesting, and I might even attend Oakley's talk at the Community Church of New York in New York City, on East 35 Street, between Madison and Park, on August 11th, at 6:00 PM.

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New post on The Pitch

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Zimbabwe most definitely have a pair

Zimbabwe's declaration at 291-5 was definitely a bold one. At 69-1 Bangladesh might be making them look a bit silly, but I'd say odds are still favorable for the Zimbos. Well done lads. Leaving-the-door-open declarations always spice up the game.

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Brewing crises and cold comfort

"The sense of growing crisis". That is a nice turn of phrase; I've stolen it from the Independent. I suppose its an apt way to describe the developments of the last day or so on India's tour of England. For we have been treated to the news of a county side making 200 for the loss no wickets against India's "back-up" bowling attack, the recall of a flabbergasted Rahul Dravid to the India one-day international side, and the final, sad denouement to a catastrophic series for Zaheer, who is now, finally headed back to a therapist's table.

Sometimes things go wrong in in clusters. This is certainly one occasion. All the makings of an epic disaster are in place: injuries, selectorial panic, an out-of-form captain, a determined opponent, an away tour, a hostile media (both the opponent's and one's own), the sense of being the target of schadenfreude. One vital ingredient is missing thus far: internal dissension and strife. (Well, the Dravid selection announcement might have upset a few folks). If things continue to heat up, we might see that as well.

Where then, is one to find comfort in all of this? I suggest the answer lies in a knowledge of history, especially that of the Indian team. By that I don't mean the usual, facile bullshit that has been quite fashionable in the past few years "Oh, we are slow starters, we always come back". No, comfort needs to be found in two facts, one perhaps specific to the Indian team, the other common to all fans of sports.

First, the history of Indian cricket is a history of ups and downs, of new dawns and familiar depressing twilights. This year has been no different. India started the year (or rather ended 2010) with a great, hard-fought test win, and then almost immediately showed an inability to close the deal. They won a World Cup, and then were unable to convincingly put away one of the weakest sides in the world. And now this. This pattern of trough and crest, crest and trough, should be familiar by now. Sometimes I forget about it, and express voluble disappointment on this blog. But too many factors operate in the Indian cricket environment to make true consistency possible: inconsistent selection, persistent injury and fitness problems, crowded schedules, the list goes on. The Indian fan should reconcile himself to this roller-coaster ride. Yes, the Indian team has been more consistent in recent years, but even within this period, we've seen many blips. Many more await. Take a deep breath.

A small historical note: in 1969-70, India lost 1-3 to Australia at home. We then proceeded to beat, in 1971, the West Indies away, then England away (Ray Illingworth's side, then the strongest in the world possibly), and then England at home; we then lost 0-3 to England in 1974, and then, after being 0-2 down against the West Indies at home, came back strongly to make 2-2 before losing 3-2. A year later, after going down 0-1 to the West Indies in the West Indies we pulled off our most amazing victory chase of over 400 at Port of Spain. Sometimes when I hear modern, younger fans of Indian cricket try and convince me the current outfit has got it all, and are doing something so unique, so amazing, so singular, I am stunned. What did they think was happening in the period I've just described?

Secondly, these triumphs and disasters are part of the inevitable lot of a fan. The bitterness of this summer should make the next triumph sweeter. Perhaps the one-days will go better. Perhaps India will do well against Australia away. (It won't, for me, make any triumphs at home sweeter; I am, sadly, one of those Indian fans who is tired of wins at home. So sue me).

Lastly, I would like to offer a prediction: Duncan Fletcher will not last long as coach. And after his departure, we will hear stories of just how bad things were in his regime. I'm not a huge fan of the coach system, and within that, I'm not a huge fan of Fletcher. His appointment was a mistake, and I think we will soon hear why so.

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Saturday, August 06, 2011

Podcast Number Two

Small edit: I seem to say "effective off-spinner"; I am actually trying to say "ineffective off-spinner"!

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Dentures needed at Northampton

Northants 201-0 in reply to India's 352. Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the pitch.


Zimbabwean bowling attack is quite good

Today I tuned in to watch a bit of the Bangladesh-Zimbabwe action from Harare, and was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the left-right combination of Kyle Jarvis and Brian Vitori. That pair could be a real handful in bowling conditions to their liking. Nice movement off the pitch, some nippy pace, and smooth bowling actions. Well done Zimbos. I look forward to seeing more of these guys in the second innings (when, by the look of things, they'll be pushing Zimbabwe to what looks like being a win, given the control they have managed to exert in this test so far).

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Pendse on the Legality of the Trent Bridge Test Match

Pushkar Y. Pendse, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, has sent me an interesting take on the legality of the Trent Bridge Test. Please do take a look; comments are welcome. They can also be sent to Pushkar at: pypendse AT gmail DOT com

I have not yet read the piece with sufficient care but I figured I'd get it out there anyway. I hope to do so soon.

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Monday, August 01, 2011

Joke-Shoke, Yaar

By Satadru Sen

            When you have the opposition eight wickets down for 120-odd on the first day of a Test match, and still manage to lose by more than three hundred runs on the fourth day, questions must be asked. Are we to laugh, or to cry, for instance. (India supporters learn, over the years, to do both simultaneously. My upstairs neighbor is a West Ham fan, for no reason other than an accident of birth. He understands.) Other relevant questions might be, was it a terrible wicket (no), was the match fixed (I wish it was), and, well then, what the hell happened to what is supposedly the best team in the world?
            Clearly, the ‘number-one team’ tag is now something of a joke. But it is a joke worth taking apart, because India’s rise to the top of the Test rankings has actually coincided with a fall in the absolute quality of the team. Now the decay has reached a critical level and become inescapable. After the first two Tests of the India-England series, cricket writers have typically pointed to weaknesses in the Indian bowling attack, and there can be little doubt that this is not quite a ‘number-one’ attack. With some exceptions, we have gone backwards to the days of dibbly-dobbly bowlers like Madan Lal, Karsan Ghavri and Roger Binny. The reason is new, however: utility bowlers can hold their own in T20 cricket, which casts its shadow on the Test team in more ways than one. Zaheer Khan, of course, has acquired a deserved reputation as a great swing bowler, but since the Man of Glass hardly ever shows up to play, that is irrelevant. It is one thing for a fast bowler like Dennis Lillee to break down once in a while, quite another for somebody who usually bowls at 125 kmh to be injured more often than he is fit. One hears Zaheer is a fitness fanatic, and shudders to think how he would have played if he was not.
But the thing is that even with Zaheer out of action, the Indian bowlers did alright, putting England on the mat twice before letting them get back up. And at Lords, the fault lay less with a depleted bowling attack than with the Indian captain, who inexplicably took Ishant Sharma off just when he was cutting through the England batting. M.S. Dhoni, too, has a reputation that is not quite right. India has won a lot of Tests with him at the helm, and the World Cup victory has put him in a position that is unassailable for the moment. He has been praised as a great leader and a genius of sorts. All this is highly misleading: Dhoni does not have Sourav Ganguly’s desire to fight, Mike Brearley’s analytical nous, M.A.K. Pataudi’s daring, Imran Khan's mentoring touch, or the all-round excellence of Mark Taylor. This is not to say that he is a poor captain, but to say that he is a very ordinary one, both tactically and strategically. (The decision to abandon the chase in the fourth innings of the Dominica Test is still fresh in my mind.) For a man who cultivates a cavalier image, he is a curiously timid leader: a sort of straw man, a typical product of the corporate age in Indian cricket. He has had the good fortune of being the Indian captain when the major teams in world cricket have been in decline, both absolutely and relatively. (England is the exception: they have clawed their way up the rankings quietly, without superstars, by getting the basics right: reliable fast-medium bowlers, a decent spinner, resilient batting, good fielding.) Dhoni's successes have disguised the fact that India, like Australia, Pakistan and the West Indies, have been in sharp decline as a Test side.
The batting, more than the bowling, is the best evidence. It seems to have escaped the attention of cricket journalists that the last time India scored 400 in an innings was in the first Test against South Africa last year. Since then, seven Tests have gone by. Five have gone by without a score of 300, including three against that farce of a West Indies bowling line-up. (You know it is a farce when the best West Indian quick is actually an East Indian.) In fact, some big warning bells should have gone off after the West Indies tour, instead of the smug grinning and posing with trophy-stumps after a highly unconvincing 1-0 win. A few years ago, India would post 500+ scores almost routinely, both at home and away. Not anymore. The selectors and the BCCI have contributed to the problem, as always. Why was Tendulkar ‘resting’ in India when he should have been in the Caribbean? Apparently he could have used the batting practice. The so-called new breed – Mukund, Kohli, Vijay – are a joke. (You see, I am still laughing.) Ultimately it has come down to Rahul Dravid, who has quietly reminded us why he deserves to grouped with the all-time greats of the game: he learned to bat when Test cricket still meant something in India. I take back everything I muttered before along the lines of ‘why has the bugger not retired already.’ If the Indian team that went to Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04, probably the best ever to represent India, was reassembled in England tomorrow, they would do no worse than this current lot.
Having been quite harsh to M.S. Dhoni earlier in this essay, I will close by trying to be fair to him. Samir wrote recently that Dhoni was excessively generous to England by withdrawing the appeal against Bell. I understand Samir’s point, but after turning the incident over in my mind a few times, stick to my first impulse that Dhoni did the right thing. The reason has to do with how one defines sportsmanship. There are, I think, two ways of looking at it: one can say (like Americans generally do) that sportsmanship is about strictly observing the rules of the game, or say (like C.L.R. James) that it is about going above and beyond the law to what is loosely called the 'spirit' of the game. The spirit of an institution is necessarily a less well-defined thing than the law, but perhaps it is also the more important thing, because it can anticipate situations that the law cannot.
The Bell episode was different from Mankading. In Mankading, you run out a batsman who is attempting to gain an advantage by backing up early. Bell was not attempting to gain an advantage of any kind. He was at most being a little foolish. ‘Dead ball confusion’ is rare but it happens. If there had been unpleasant incidents on the field already, Dhoni’s gesture would have been unjustified, but so far there have been none in this series. (A bit of sledging and glaring do not count, and Zaheer and Sreesanth give as good as they get.) It should be said, however, that it was undignified and unfair of Strauss to ask Dhoni to withdraw the appeal in the first place. Strauss should have chewed Bell out for being absent-minded and left it at that. But under the circumstances, a request having been made, it would have been churlish to refuse and Dhoni made the call that is most compatible with the spirit of the game. Not every series needs a Monkeygate equivalent, and Dhoni has done his bit to reduce the risk of genuine bitterness on the field. It is, after all, a game.

A correction to "Dhoni the sucker?"

A small correction to my post on "Dhoni the sucker?" It was Srikkanth's second innings in test cricket - but in his debut test nevertheless.

On an unrelated note, I am betting every Indian cricket fan born about 1964 or earlier is waiting for us to cross 42.

Dhoni, Ian Bell and the run-out

A new post on the Dhoni and the Bell run-out incident at Trent Bridge is up at The Pitch

Over at Ducking Beamers, Rohan doesn't much like my analysis. Since the confusion that Rohan displays in his objection is exceedingly common in all negative responses to my post, I'm going to respond here. (Incidentally, I'm a little surprised that Rohan, who is such a serious and intelligent blogger, begins his response with the flippant "I don’t know much about Aristotle; I never cared much for the Ancients").

There are three points in my article, which people can't seem to keep apart:

1. Was Dhoni a sucker? Yes. You don't give and give in circumstances when you are not expected to, and don't need to and where giving compromises you. A mother that denies food to her child because she keeps giving it away is being foolish. It has nothing to do with the non-transactionality of morality. One could easily argue she is being immoral (but we don't need to do that - the virtue of generosity does not require you self-abnegate).

2. Is the invocation of the spirit of cricket justified? Yes, on pains of inconsistency and incoherence.

3. Does generosity demand reciprocity? Yes, otherwise free riders bring all systems of generosity to an end. If you take something out, you put something back in - that keeps the system going (or you get the tragedy of the commons - too many free riders on a system bring it to a rapid end). Otherwise it becomes one-way exploitation. Read the rationale behind the terms of the GPL license in free software/open source world (which responds to the "Why don't you just give me your code, without asking me to release it under the same terms when I make modifications and release! Boo-hoo, you are not really being generous, you are restricting me!" complaint). If Strauss and Flower do not reciprocate, and a similar incident occurs later in the series, will Dhoni feel like doing the same? I'm guessing not. Will anyone blame him for that? No. End of sportsmanlike gestures, I'm guessing.

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Dhoni the sucker?

There's been tons written already on Dhoni's decision to withdraw the appeal against Bell. The broad lines of opposition are between those who think he was suckered into it (by far the majority view) and a smaller group who think he did something quite in accordance with a rapidly eroding entity called the 'spirit of the game.' I feel a few things need to kept in mind: firstly, there was an interval looming right after the ball had been played; secondly, there seems to have been a fair amount of confusion amongst many - not all - of the players whether the ball was dead; and thirdly, the umpires too didn't seem terribly certain that it was a clear case of a non-dead ball. Under the circumstances, the Indian team seems to have viewed replays of the incident on TV and concluded that getting Bell out in this fashion would leave them with a bad taste in their mouths. Hence, they collectively agreed to withdraw the appeal. For a group of young men who had spent the best part of the day on a hiding-to-nothing on a really hot day, to so rapidly see this aspect of things and withdraw their appeal speaks greatly of their class and maturity. That almost none of this class and maturity will ever be reciprocated by English teams - now or in the future - is another matter. I think Dhoni and his men should be commended for what they did - it was rare and it was truly classy. 

I was in the stands when Srikkanth was run out by Emburey that morning  a long time ago. Cheeka was making his test debut and a stripling of no more than 20 or 21. Yes, that was his very first test innings. As was his hyperactive wont, he defended a ball into the gully and set off down the pitch to pat down an imaginary bump or two when his stumps were thrown down. The English fielders shamelessly giggled and snickered as they sent the young man on his way. I don't know if Cheeka learned any lessons that day - but I kept thinking there was another way to handle that. I could imagine someone like a Sobers or a Worrell going up to the debutant - after running him out - and saying "we're going to let you off this time, young man- but remember this in the future." That would have been the right thing to do.