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Thursday, July 22, 2010


Today belongs to Murali.

When I think of Murali, I think of three things.

1. What an affable chap he always seems; on the field, off the field ... except when bowling — when he seemed utterly concentrated and focused, almost in another place, in a world of his own — he appeared a very happy chappy.

2. The way he looked when he was bowling: the nimble feet; the arched back; head tilted back, chin at once drawn in and pointing upwards; gaze fixed on some faraway point halfway up the sky, his eyes looking like they were just about to pop out of their sockets.

3. And what else? I know there is something else ... oh, yes: the wickets.

The 800.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser: Pakistan v Australia, 2nd Test

In my last (and, of course, first) post for Poshin's World, we left off at the first Pakistan v Australia Test at Lord's, with Australia at 5-188 in their second inning and somehow in the lead. I called it a most curios Test. Well, after that particular post, the Test of course went on, as Tests must, and we were treated to the most curious spectacle of watching Benjamin William Hilfenhaus scoring some runs. You might not be familiar with Benjamin William Hilfenhaus, but speaking as somebody who has seen him bat, one normally expects an innings to be done and dusted once Benjamin William Hilfenhaus appears at the crease. But in this innings, curiously, he managed to rack up 56 runs. 56 runs not out, to boot. Making him no less than the second highest Australian run-scorer in the second innings. Notably, for some 10 overs Benjamin William Hilfenhaus partnered up with Douglas Bollinger, Bollinger of all people, who put on 21 ... seemingly giggling all the way. (I had a discussion with @cwbfeed on twitter regarding whether or not Bollinger actually bats. I maintain that in order to say that somebody 'bats' there has to be some intention involved; I have never detected any such thing when Bollinger's aimlessly swinging the bat around.)

Then business as usual resumed and Pakistan, trying to chase down some 400 runs, after some nice resistance by Butt and Ali, had some sort of batting collapse. Marcus North took 6 wickets. Pakistan, I shall neither forgive nor forget. The match was all over on Day 4 with Australia winning by 150 runs. Afridi promptly resigned from his Captaincy and retired from Test cricket. Minor chaos. Do you know what Pakistan was missing? They were missing Ian Bell. Bell gets a lot of flack for his slow run rate and his seeming inability to go on to score really high scores. Which, yes, is not totally unfair criticism. However, Bell seems to anchor England's innings in a most admirable way; at least, in a way no Pakistani batsman appear able to. But what about Younis Khan or Mohammad Yousuf, I hear you say. Well, Younis is apparently totally out of favour with the Pakistani selectors and Mohammed Yousuf, after consulting his Elders, turned down the Test spot offered to him despite Afridi's begging him to accept it. Younis Khan could probably fill it, but despite his undeniable batting talent I am not entirely convinced that Mohammed Yousuf would be able to assume the Bell-esque role Pakistan needs. He certainly didn't in Australia last summer despite both opportunity and need. I think they should go for Ian Bell. He must be at least as Pakistani as Eoin Morgan is English, right?!

After intense speculation and energetic guesswork, Salman Butt was appointed Pakistan's new Test Captain.

People in Bradford threw the Pakistan Test XI a parade. I don't exactly know whether they deserved one, but I think they needed one. Well, in fairness, their bowlers did deserve one. Their batsmen, not so much (Marcus. North. Six. Wickets. I. Shall. Say. No. More.).

Well, if you thought that after all that upheaval, mayhem and parading, things could not get any curiouser you would be wrong. Because when they all arrived at Headingley Cricket Ground, they did. Under overcast skies, standing on the side of what looked like a lively and slightly tricky pitch, Ponting won the toss and elected to bat. Not that there is anything particularly curious about that; Punter always elects to bat first. Irrespective of ... you know, overcast skies and other swing- and bowling-friendly conditions that might lead other (simpler no doubt) Test captains to ... well, not. No, the curiosity started when Australia came in to bat and left, shortly after lunch on Day 1, being all out for 88. No. Really. The once mighty Australia had managed to be all out for less than three figures in a Test match. And in a Test against Pakistan of all nations. All out. 88.

Some stats: No Pakistani bowler took more than 3 wickets: Aamer and Asif took 3 each, Gul 2 and newcomer Amin 1; only Kaneira went without. Aamer was on a hat-trick after lunch, but missed. Tim Paine was 'highest' (I use those scarequotes advisedly) run scorer with 17. Australia batted for a total of 33.1 overs. 88 is Australia's 7th lowest 1st innings Test match score: 4 of the even lower 6 came against England before 1910; all 6 occurred before 1960.

As I'm writing this, play is about to resume after tea on Day 1. Pakistan is 0-64. I call this a most curious beginning to a Test match. For Australia, anyway. Now, you shall have to excuse me, I have to wipe all these tears off my keyboard.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Most Curious Test: Pakistan v Australia at Lord's

As I am writing this, Pakistan and Australia are playing Day 3 of the Test at Lord's. So far in this match, we have had exhilaration, despair, amazement, sheer disbelief and a very steady stream of falling wickets. Oh, and a slightly less steady stream of rain, cloud, and drizzle. It is called 'English summer'. It has been, to put it mildly, a roller-coaster kind of match. The advantage has swung wildly between the two teams, in large part due to (or thanks to) a very lively and bowler-friendly pitch. All bowlers who have so far been given a chance certainly made good use of this asset, ably assisted by their Captains, both of whom have consistently set aggressive fields. In truth, the same bowlers have also been less ably assisted by some impetuous, and in some instances perhaps somewhat inept, batting.

The drama — I use the word advisedly — began early on Day 1. Shane Watson was quickly bowled by Pakistan's delightful fastbowling wunderkind Mohammed Aamer. Yes, in case you were wondering: Watson did pull his crybaby face, which is always such fun to watch. In came Ricky Ponting, who has never had much luck at Lord's. And he didn't this time either. Flicking a ball to Umar Amin at short leg, Ponting fell to Aamer, who probably not so accidentally collided with the Australian Captain, who in turn returned the favour with an elbow to the ribs and some choice words. Some choice words, presumably of a different kind, were then spoken by the umpires and, later, by the match referee. Aamer was silly. Ponting, on the other hand, reacted petulantly. Aamer is 18 years old; Ponting is almost exactly twice his age. I leave it to you to decide which player comes off looking more foolish. Later in the afternoon we were treated to what can only be described as a demolition of the Australian batting line-up. Marcus North again contributed nothing of value, unless you count my personal delight at seeing him bowled by Mohammad Asif for a duck. Australia closed its first innings by being 253 all out. Pakistan on top. So early on Day 2, they came out to bat. Except that they didn't. Not really. Imran Farhat was quickly out for 4 and with the exception of some thoughtful resistance from Salman Butt (63) and a characteristically furious Twenty20-like cameo by Captain Shahid Afridi (31 runs off 15 balls), all the other Pakistani batsmen followed suit: 148 all out. Yes, you read that right: onehundred and forty-eight.

Now, I know that Twenty20 is Pakistan's best format, but that is not even a particularly good T20 score these days. Shane Watson got five wickets. I do not know which I find worse from a cricket point-of-view. It was a sad and sorry result. Australia was back on top. And back on the ground batting in their second innings already on Day 2. At first, it actually didn't look so bad for Pakistan. The lead was only 105 and after getting both Ponting and Hussey out for ducks, Pakistan had its tail up and was definitely back in the match. Day 2 ended with Australia 4-100. The match was probably rather evenly poised at that time. But the roller-coaster rolled on and after nightwatchman Mitchell Johnson, sporting a new and ugly-looking and previously inflamed tattoo on his right forearm, was allowed to tot up 30 runs and Simon Katich crept his way to 83, Australia was back on top once more. And that's where we are at the moment: Australia 5-188, Pakistan looking a bit dejected in general and displeased in particular with the soggy ball that cannot be properly gripped.

It is actually an interesting time (in that Chinese curse kind of way) for both the Pakistan and the Australian XI. Pakistan seems, of course, to be in perpetual turmoil, with the Pakistani Captains in particular retiring, returning, being swapped and changed, banned and unbanned, even fined, in what for a while seemed a peculiar form of musical chairs for cricket captains. Add to that what must have been a demoralising Test series in Australia, which they lost rather comprehensively, and the fact that they can no longer play international matches in their home country.

On the other hand, Pakistan did quite well at the Twenty20 World Cup and also swept Australia in their recent Twenty20 series. And lately, they seem to have settled on that mercurial but charming ball-chomper, Afridi.  Australia, on the other hand, already has its eye on The Ashes, which will be played in Australia this (Southern Hemisphere) summer. Lost in the 2009 series, we have everything to play for: The Ashes have not been lost on Australian soil since dinosaurs roamed the earth ... or Alan Border was Captain, I forget which. Barring injury, Ponting will captain, but with the exception of Michael Clarke and the inescapable Watson, the rest of the, by now, ageing batting line-up is probably not completely certain of selection; they will have everything to play for ... and must do so.

It has been a most curious Test. It has been fast. It has been slow. It has been delayed by rain, bad light, and Ponting perpetually slow over rate. It has never been boring. I hope it stays that way. Most of all, I hope that the cricket grounds powers-that-be all over the world take a cue from Mr Hunt, the head groundsman at the Lord's Cricket Ground, and provide us with the wonders of lively pitches. It makes for such mesmerizing watching.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

ODI – A dying format?

One Day Cricket changed the face of cricket and brought together so many elements into the otherwise simple and ordinary game. It changed the very way cricket was being played with aggressive batting, inspired captaincy and the advent of World Cups. Of course it also brought about plenty of other changes namely cooperate sponsors and television rights. Bigger viewership, bigger sponsorships, and bigger money made cricket a more spectator friendly sport and professional sport. It was viewed as a global sport for perhaps the first time and new countries started showing interests in the sport. It was all the rage in the nineties and early twenties and brought about a revival in cricket.

Now in 2010, it's that very format of the game that is dying. It is no secret that the 50 over format is dying. Meaningless tournaments, matches, coupled with the monotonous and rigidity of the format are the main causes. But it is the birth of T20 cricket and various leagues such as the Indian Premier League that has actually acted as the final nail in the coffin.

It must be strange to say ODI cricket is dying because cooperate sponsors are still very much behind it. They support the format, despite falling attendance and viewership. It still remains the favorite for television broadcasters. ODIs generates the maximum money in terms of television revenue as maximum commercial breaks are available. This is one of he main reasons it's still alive. Even players prefer the 50 over format more than the T20 format despite the latter's more lucrative financial advantages. The ODI format gives a quality player a better platform to exhibit and express himself. Plus there's little in a T20 match for the bowlers. As a batsman, unless he's an opener, he'd prefer the ODI format. As a middle order batsmen in T20 cricket, you seldom get the opportunity to bat, and even if you do get the chance it is near the death when a high percentage of risk has to be taken. Big partnerships, and centuries are seldom seen in the T20 format because it is too small. ODI is the perfect format for this without being too long. Also as a bowler, you don't have to worry about the batsman coming at you all out and hitting you for sixes over a 55 yard boundary. You get a more balanced game and a battle between the bat and ball with ODIs.

This is where the positives stop and the negatives start. With all the money involved, there has been an excess amount of ODI cricket played. Specially in the 1900's and early 2000's, almost every other day hosted an ODI match and with series after series, cricket has become over saturated than ever. Now we are seeing the effects of it with player exhaustion and drop in viewership ratings. More and more meaningless matches are played for the sake of sponsorship money and I strongly feel that the cricket boards have betrayed their players and the game by giving into the sponsors, broadcasters and their ideas by stringing together meaningless ODI tournaments. A perfect example would be the Asia cup that took place a few weeks back. Also long series such as a seven match series kill the game, with the result of the series being decided more often than not before the final match. Match fixing is also one of the effects of this I feel. With meaningless matches played, I'm sure weaker players when showed huge amounts of money gladly accepted the green bills and underperformed in a few 'meaningless' games. Hansie Cronje remains a witness for this. Match Fixing has left a permanent scar on the game.

This combined with boring cricket and formulated playing styles added to the causes of the death. With batting teams more than willing to go at an easy pace for most part of the game and then stage a big assault at the end, became the strategies generally employed. Risks were taken in the powerplays to make the most of the fielding restrictions but after that the nudging game of gathering 4 or 5 runs per over started while taking limited risks. This was a defensive tactic to preserve wickets for a final slog in the last ten. Also the bowling teams tended to defend rather than attack letting the batting team take those easy singles. The fielding team's captain sending all but 4 fielders to patrol the boundary even when the scoreboard read 100 for 4 was a common sight. More often than not this led to some very boring cricket. Plus with bowlers bowling to contain rather than pick wickets the game was slowly losing it's sheen. This defensive style of playing added to the monotonicity and with a fixed strategy for every match, ODIs got boring, stiff and eventually more lifeless. It became all too predictable.

In the past there have been various efforts taken by ICC to stop the rot of ODI cricket, but none of these 'gimmicks' as Ian Chappell calls them have really paid off in the long term. This was a positive response from ICC to preserve the game, but rather than to analyze and find a long term solution, small short time solutions have been implemented. This is like giving a man dying from a painful illness some painkillers to ease his temporary pain rather than to treat the illness. The first of these was the introduction of powerplays with fielding restrictions encouraging both the bowling and batting team to be more aggressive. This soon didn't work as most teams were aggressive in the 20 overs of powerplay and then tended to play defensively. A big failed gimmick was the 'super sub'. This enabled a team to play more aggressively as they could have an extra player. Sadly this experiment didn't even last a whole year. The batting powerplays, shorter boundaries, mandatory ball change and batsman friendly pitches were the other solutions, and most of these have worked for the worse helping the rot spread even more quickly.

Now with the future of ODI cricket in dire jeopardy, a huge discussion is taking place namely in Australia to change some of the fundamental rules of the game. Some of the suggestions are to split the 100 over match into four 25 overs innings. This is really not such a great idea from my view as it will only be the same old wine in a new bottle. It may work for a short while, but I don't see it as a long term solution. Players and viewers alike generally dislike breaks in the game, and with 3 more proposed intervals, all I see is more television time for commercials. Cricket Australia are involved in a big discussion with Channel Nine regarding this, and let's hope some sensible and practical decisions are taken.

If you ask me, the likely thing that can be done to preserve ODI cricket is to do what the English and Wales Cricket Board did with their domestic format. They abolished it and have only the 40 over format. This is a better option compared to splitting of the innings, but I'm cynical of even this. I don't really think it can be a long term prospect.

I like Sanjay Manjrekar's idea of holding a tournament where only the top four teams will play. This involves no tinkering wit the format and is highly practicable. The top four teams will be the four teams with the most points after a given period of ODI games. This is a very sensible idea where the 'meaningless' matches get some value of importance as winning it will not only help you win the series but also qualify for the tournament. So even the fifth match in a five match series will hold some importance even if the result of the series has already been decided. While, meaningless series such as the Asia Cup should be abolished. There are two tournaments that hold high importance in ODI cricket, and that is the World Cup and Champions Trophy. The rest are mostly meaningless and can be done away with. This is specially the case between India and Sri Lanka as the two teams play an ODI series every 2 or 3 months.

It would be a real shame to see the 50 overs format die. The 2011 World Cup in the sub-continent will have a huge say regarding the future of ODI cricket. Let's just all hope that the One Day International format survives and that the 2011 World Cup is a huge success.