Friday, December 31, 2010

The Good, Bad and Ugly from 2010.

It was an year containing many genres. Fun, intriguing, good, bad and ugly. Here is a list of, what I feel, the best and worst moments from the year 2010.

Also, will be my team for the year for both test and ODI format of the game

The best

1. England have beaten Australia in Australia for the first time in 24 odd years, catalysed by form of Andersen, Tremlett, Bresnan, Swann with the ball, and Strauss, Cook, KP, Trott with the bat. Ponting’s end is very near.

2. Amla’s 253* at Nagpur & a defiant 123* at Kolkata in 2nd innings. Amla was God of batting in the year.

3. VVS Laxman. Saved a test, won 3 tests in a span of 6 tests he played.

4. Umar Gul’s destructive spells at Oval and Lords (3rd and 4th ODI) bringing Pakistan back into the series in hair-raising dramatic fashion.

5. Darren Sammy’s innings of brutal power vs SA (2nd ODI, at Antigua). Razzak’s innings of revival vs SA (2nd ODI, at Abu Dhabi). Yusuf Pathan’s maiden century (5th ODi vs NZ). Sachin's double ton in ODI (2nd ODI, IND-SA @ Gwalior)



6. Bresnan’s feary spell at the MCG (4th test, Ashes) removing Watson, Ponting, Hussey. Siddle’s hat-trick in the Ashes opener at ‘Gabba. Bhajji’s 4 wkt haul vs SA in Durban. Steyn removing 5 Indian batsmen in the space of 22 balls for a 7 wicket haul in 1st innings of 1st IND-SA test at Nagpur, after South Africa had posted a mammoth 1st innings total.

7. Onion survives last over again, saves the day again. (3rd test, SA vs Eng, Newlands, Cape Town)

8. Afghanistan qualifies to play ODIs against elite international teams.

9. AB de Villiers had the 7th fastest ODI century (59ball, 3rd ODI vs India @ Ahmedabad)) and fastest SA test century (1st test vs India Centurion)

10. www.twitter.com/theashes




The worst

1. Pakistan’s spot-fixing controversies

2. Lalit Modi / BCCI / IPL .

3. Randiv’s cheap tactics to prevent Sehwag from reaching a century, assisted by Dilshan’s “expert” idea.

4. Too much of advertisement on TV, decreasing the viewer’s interest in the game.

5. Afridi’s ball-biting incidence (2nd ODI vs Aus, Perth)



6. Ian Chappel and Ian Botham fight in the car park, after the two (now commentators for Channel 9, and SKYsports respectively) seemed to have remembered something from 30 years ago.

7. Ricky Ponting’s argument with the umpires. What was worse was the fact that he was docked JUST 40% of his match fee. Had it been someone from the subcontinent or WI/NZ/SA, things would’ve been much severe.

8. IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND, IND vs SL, SL vs IND............................................................................

9. Steyn vs Benn run-in and spit-gate clash in the SA tour of WI

10. Wahab Riaz vs Jonathan Trott fight in the nets before the 4th ODI of the 5-match ODI series in England. The spirit of the series was completely lost.

Test team of the year

Virender Sehwag (IND)
Shane Watson (AUS)
Jonathan Trott (ENG)
Hashim Amla (SA)
Jacques Kallis (SA)
VVS Laxman (IND)
MS Dhoni (IND) † *
Graeme Swann (ENG)
Peter Siddle (AUS)
Dale Steyn (SA)
Jimmy Andersen (ENG)




ODI team of the year

Shane Watson (AUS)
Hashim Amla (SA)
Virat Kohli (IND)
Kumar Sangakkara (SL) † *
AB de Villiers (SA)
Darren Sammy (WI)
Shahid Afridi (PAK)
Shakil al Hassan (BANG)
Abdul Razzak (PAK)
Dale Steyn (SA)
Umar Gul (PAK)


Awards

Debutant of the year – Steven Finn (ENG)
Biggest Retirement - Muttiah Muralitharan (SL, 800 test scalps,513 ODI scalps)
Flop of the year - Ricky Ponting (AUS)
Captain of the year - MS Dhoni (IND)
Batsman of the year - Hashim Amla (SA)
Bowler of the year - Graeme Swann (ENG)
ODI of the year - SA vs Pak, 2nd ODI, Abu Dhabi.
Test of the year - IND vs AUS, 1st test, Mohali.
Best pitch prepared - Kingsmead (Durban), for 2nd test, SA vs IND.


Newest cricketing term: Sprinkler. (pictorial description below)




Wishing you all a Very Happy & prosperous New Year 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Testing the best in test

While two teams ranked 3 and 4 (formerly, 5) try to reduce each other to ashes, the real test of cricketing character is happening in a different part of the Southern Hemisphere.


India tours South Africa, in what might be the most important series in the 6 months preceding the World Cup. With all due respect to The Ashes, this one is a much better series on paper.

Let me build this up before the test series starts.

The Teams, in the recent past

South Africa
South Africa played 5 ODIs and 2 tests in the Middle East vs Pakistan, and the report card isn't very nice. South Africa were stretched to full extent in the ODIs (which they managed to win 3-2), and couldn't buy 20 wickets in either test, though the surfaces weren't very encouraging. Yes a 0-0 dry series.

India
India hosted NZ for 3 tests and 5 ODIs. India won the test series 1-0, after saving one test from almost losing, and a not so exciting draw in another, before enjoying a crushing win in the last test. And, for the ODIs, India tested their bench strength, and it seemed pretty strong one as it gave the AlreadyAeaten4-0AtTheHandsOfBangladesh NZ another 5-0 series defeat. Black caps are so whitewashed now :-P

Final Frontier

For both the teams, this is one series to prove their worth before they fine-tune their ammunition for the world cup. And also, prove to the world who is the real World No.1 . South Africa haven't had good home series vs Australia or England coming into this series. And India have never won a series in South Africa. So, the spices are on your plate, bite them! Its gonna be that hot!

India have enjoyed quite some success in the subcontinent, had been reasonably good in England and West Indies and in New Zealand, but are yet to "conquer" Australia and South Africa (FYI, S.A. have beaten Australia in Australia, before they lost fort to Aus). With that at the back of their mind, and comments from people like Sangakkara pointing out that it is strange for India to be on top of the rankings despite never winnings a series at Aus, SA or SL, the pressure is more on India to justify their ranking.

India is 13 points ahead of SA, so even a loss wouldn't matter much on paper, but the reputation will be at stake.

South Africa, meanwhile, will try to make a name for themselves once again, at home. Their pace battery is pretty much fixed up, and batting is all set, but the momentum is missing.

BATtleground

South Africa
South Africa will be going in with the combination of Smith and Petersen. After McKenzie was done away for reasons I'm not sure about, Petersen has fit into the side well, and has had a good series in the Middle East coming into the test series. Smith will be looking to get over his batting worries of facing Zaheer Khan and try to lead from the front.

At number 3 is the man living on cloud 9, Hashim Amla. He has been on a form that I just can't script into a writing. lets just say, he is the best batsman alive on Earth now by now, I mean NOW). Following the genius, are Kallis and AB de Villiers. The last three names I mentioned form one of the most resilient middle order the 21st century has seen. Not only is it hard to break through all of them, it is near impossible to stop the leakage of runs. You just can't control them. Each of them is vastly different in style, and bound to make every fielder cry.

To fill in at number 6 will be Ashwell Prince, for the first test atleast. he gets the nod ahead of JP Duminy. Talented, and has to return to form if he wants to keep that place. When South Africa were 0-2 down to Australia, Prince came in as an opener in his comeback test, scored a century and helped South Africa gain some pride. He was about to be given the captaincy, but it was handed over to Kallis instead, so, he needn't carry additional pressure on his comeback game. At number 7 will be the dependable keeper, Mark Boucher, who can play freely, as well as extend the play with the tail.

India
Indian openers, Delhi Duo, Sehwag and Gambhir are both in form. Gambhir, got into form in the ODIs after he made his comeback from injury in the test series and led India in the ODI series whitewash victory. When in good touch, the two can pile on huge partnerships at good pace. Not only do they form a left-right combo, they also have a different approach, which not many bowling sides can break through easily.

Rest of the top and the middle order is here on a mission. They want to win the series here. They have been here time and again, but failed to win it all. Dravid, Sachin, Laxman. Combined, they have saved and won many many games, but the three, along with Sehwag, average just over 36 per head an innings in South Africa. Laxman has the most, at 41.11 an innings. The centurion from the last test vs NZ (Dravid), ICC cricketer of the year (Sachin), and the man who saved 3 tests in a row for India (Laxman) now have their task cut out, to bite into the South African pace battery and handle the middle order on true tracks. Not only will the ball bounce and swing, but the Indians have to be patient to play the nagging South African line-and-length bowling.

At number 6 is a toss between the out-of-form Raina, or the new boy, Pujara. Raina is jumping in and out of form in the recent past, and Pujara has been rubbing his hands in expectation for years. As of now, the selectors might want to go with Raina, in spite of Pujara's wonderful experience on foreign soil.

At 7, captain and 'keeper Dhoni will come in. His form has been nothing great to tell about. It will be good to add some good batting numbers to his glorious captaincy tales.

The Sharp Shooters

South Africa

South African pace battery will have the ripping pace of Steyn and the tall, lanky, fast, Morne Morkel. While Steyn has the fiery pace and swing, Morkel will present the toughest challenge to the Indians - the short ball. Indians will have a good smell of the Kookaburra ball in the series as the SA bowlers will target the chests and head of the Indian batting line-up, which has clearly stated its worst weakness. The third seamer will be either Tsotsobe or Mclaren. While Tsotsobe has been bowling well in the recent past, McLaren can bat. And of course, there is the world's most complete cricketer since Sir Gary Sobers, Jacques Kallis. And, since Botha is released from the squad for the first test, it is sure that Paul Harris will be the lone spinner for SA. At 6'3", he is one of the tallest spinners in international cricket, but has had a liking towards bowling to Indian batsmen, Sachin, in particular...

India
India are troubled with the news from Zaheer Khan's doctors, who say that Zak has a hamstring injury, but it is a 50-50 possibility that he'd play the first test. Assuming he does, he will be accompanied by Sreesanth and Ishant, both of who are doing well with the ball. In the event of Zak being unfit for the first test, it will be an inki-pinki-ponki betweent Jaidev Unadkat and Umesh Yadav, both unknown quantities. A reminder - VRV Singh was an unknown quantity in the 2006 tour, when he partnered Sreesanth to destroy SA in that famous Indian victory in the first test (....before losing the other two tests, and hence, the series). Bhajji, will be carrying to hopes of many fans back home, as he would be the lead spinner and home to get both luck and form stitched together for the test series on tracks that don't particularly favour spinners. In the unlikely case when the team wants to go for pure experience over 3 pacers - 1 spinner bowling strategy, Ojha will come in (read as Sree, Ishant, Bhajji, Ojha).

Verdict

Batting : India hold the slight edge
Bowling : South Africa miles ahead of India on paper, unproven quantity on the field.

Result : 1-1 . A famous Indian victory, a resounding South African home dominance, and an exciting draw which might feature rain, and maybe episode 2 of "So you think Sreesanth Can Dance?".

Watch out for - Any appearance of Pujara, all-round performance of Kallis, and some spoilers, like rain.

Looking forward to a great series with some good commentators to listen to

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Aus winning the Ashes will be tougher than the Ostriches flying

- All Australian players are either injured or out of form, or both

- Mitchell Johnson is an unknown quantity

- All batsman, save Hussey, had a poor run in the most recent round of Sheffield Shield cup

- Australia lost 3 tests on a trot, one to Pakistan, two to India

- England have beaten Pakistan in the test series played on the same land

- Local profile too low after series defeats at home in T20 and ODIs to SL, effectively saying bench strength is too weak to be tried for the longer format

- Hauritz, backed by Ponting, failed to impress in the best conditions possible (India). Doherty gets a look in, Steven Smith, the most hopeful gets relieved.

- Staying with Ponting, no one knows how long he will be the leader of the pack

- Speaking of leader-of-the-pack, there is enough rumour for the press to trouble the Aussie all throughout the series for things as simple as "Why did Ponting not give hi-5 to Clarke when Clarke caught the ball"... Surely, the press don't understand that Clarke is hygienic and doesn't like physical contact with someone who has been spitting in his hands all day long!

- John Buchanan is helping England

- Monty Panesar has taken a diving, right handed catch in a practice game



- Swann plays for England

- Glenn McGrath hasn't predicted anything yet... oh God, he is confused!

- It is raining at the Gabba, making the situation more Manchester-esque than Brisbane-y


Jimmy Andersen is recovering from the boxing bout injury... Michael Clarke passes the first physical test... But, more than recovery, it is about who will cover whom when nothing goes fine :-P .

"Aussie Aussie Aussie" vs "Barmy Army"... let the fight for the Ashes begin!

(if you like this post, you might also like this )

Monday, November 8, 2010

An ode to a living legend, a Very Very Special one

Three matches saved in succession, by one man - V.V.S. Laxman!

The WARRIOR

He took India to victory from 62/4 chasing 257 in 3rd test vs SL on a turning track in Colombo, Sri Lanka with the armed Lankan bowlers ready to stick their fangs into the Indian skin. India, already lost a game in the series and were needing almost 200 runs in the game, when Laxman stepped out in the middle to accompany Sachin. Randiv was wreaking havoc with four wickets already (India had played just a little over 21 overs by then). Laxman was patient. He had immense concentration. He built a partnership with Sachin, a big one. And just when one thought the two of them would take India past the target, Sachin fell, to Randiv! And in came the debutant, Raina (already flaunting a century in the first innings). Though Raina has all the artillery, one doesn't associate him with patience. So, all eyes on Laxman.



And now, Laxman had cramps and back problems pinning him down. Like a warrior with one arm tied behind his back, Laxman stepped over the mountains on the path and took India to a victory which, let me be fair to anyone who followed it, seemed IMPOSSIBLE at 5 pm on day 4! Calm, sensible, undeterred, immense concentration.

Had India lost the test match, India would've been dethroned from the top of ICC test rankings.


The STROKE-MASTER

A month or so later, he took India to victory from a scary, almost all is lost, hope against hope hopen 124/8 chasing 216 in 1st test at Mohali. And to partner him was none other than Ishant Sharma, with just the batting armoury of Pragyan Ojha waiting in the flanks! And, what does the injured, already delayed in the batting line-up Laxman do? Stand and deliver! Yes, he just stood there like a valiant soldier, standing on one foot, battered by cramps and sore back yet again, and wielded his willow on anything thrown at him. He scored at more than run per ball through most of his innings, with strokes flowing to different parts of the ground as gorgeous as dancers in a Rio Festival! He slowed down only because he saw the target within striking distance and protected Ishant Sharma, on request, against Mitch.



What was more important was that he gave Ishant the strike he deserved. He knew that one man can't chase down a 100 runs all by himself. Ishant played his part wonderfully. Score 30 or so, and those runs will go down as one of his best contributions to a victory (not to mention that Ishant too was getting painkillers and shots on his calf muscle so that he can stand on his feet and fight).

When you saw Laxman shout at Ojha for not showing concentration, you saw how much he wanted that victory. He was like a father-figure out in the middle handling the likes of Ishant, Ojha and by-runner Gambhir like his kids. When he saw the fear on Ojha's face, he went up to him and apologized. That is the human that lives in that lion's heart! When Ojha hit the winning runs, Laxman was at the point position (since he was off strike, and Gambhir was the one running for him at non-striker's end), he lifted his arms up, and like a magnet, attracted the whole Indian dressing room to him! He doesn't ask for respect, it just comes to him when nature takes its course.

Had India lost the match, India could've at best leveled the series 1-1. And, this could mean possible shedding of points on the leader board allowing SL to inch closer to India. Didn't happen. Thanks, to VVS.


The SAVIOUR

Today, in the first test (At Motera) vs the touring NZ Laxman took India to safety from a ridiculous 15/5 in 3rd innings. When MSD failed, he trusted Bhajji, who had his career best figures of 69 in the first innings of the game. He grounded the Kiwi bowlers, while Bhajji rode his confidence and luck. Laxman anchored one end of the pitch, stroking freely, creaming the field, mocking the field set up. Bhajji, whose batting coach is VVS hiself, also played his role by unleashing some strokes he is capable of playing but never did with this consistency due to forgettable reasons. And what a role that was, bettering his first innings score to notch up his maiden first class century that saved a test match, and bag him a Man-of-the-Match (first in 5 years, first time for his batting exploits) award.



Coming back to Laxman's innings. He brought in that calmness into the middle of madness. At 15/5, India's top order looking for empty seats on the next flight to Hyderabad for second test, VVS calmly said "nothing is over until it is over". And, sure enough, while he was in the middle, NZ had no answers. The all so very confident Chris Martin was reduced to ordinary. If he swung into the stumps, Laxman just nudged it to the on or off as per will. If it was well outside off, Laxman left it alone. Vettori couldn't help placing that many fielders sniffing Laxman's willow, all in vain...all they could do was get blinded by the sun's reflection off the blade of Laxman's bat as he twisted it in either direction with the world's best pair of wrists.

Only umpire Steve Davies' first (of the two) pathetic decision could get rid of VVS Laxman, who was looking like a train without brakes. (another wake up call for India to accept UDRS)

If India had lost this match, India's lead on top of the table would've reduced significantly, mainly because NZ are placed way below India on the table at 6th, just a few points above Pakistan!


THREEller
That makes it three saves in three consecutive tests.

Really, India owes its no.1 status to this one man, Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman. He has shown that India is world number one for proven reasons.

Laxman is a blend of class and courage, patience and control. He is the lynchpin of the middle order. He can stop a a train with one hand and slap it away with the other. He can be the mountain that cannot be pushed, he can be the rocket that cannot be stopped. And when he lifts that mask (helmet) off his face, he has a smile on his face that might make a sunflower unfold its beauty in the night. A handsome warrior, India can never forget, I will never forget!


Pressure has adverse effect on many, but it has inverse effect on Laxman



When they say "Very Very Special Laxman", the word "special" must feel honoured.



(Source(s) of Pics - Colombo pic courtesy CNN/AFP. Mohali and Motera pics courtesy cricinfo/AP )

Thursday, October 28, 2010

And the 8th team on IPL4 is....

Which team will be selected to feature in the IPL4?

IPL4 was supposed to have 10 teams... But too much of Gandhiji, Benjamin Franklin and the Queen's face on paper had been flooding in and out of the business... SOOOOO, some teams have failed to make the cut... The event which might have been longer than an Indian summer, was hit by a speed bump! Now, the IPL roster is down to 7 teams, and is desperate to have 8 on it... It was an emotional termination of the Kochi team. Terminating it and asking it to return with a convincing statement on "why it shouldn't be scrapped"...



Assuming BCCI is on the lookout for a new franchise, which one can it be?

Let me help you with a few options...


1. Ziro pointZero
2. Viruddhachalam Captain(s) (to be pronounced as "Gabtun(s)")
3. Udupi Caterers
4. Tirupur Adidas
5. Tezpur Snails
6. Salem Witches
7. Ranchi MSDs
8. Kavaratti Islanders
9. PortBlair Andamans
10. Patiala Paaji s
11. Ooty Coolers
12. Nangal WaterPowers
13. Mambalam Mosquitos
14. Moradabad BrassSmiths
15. Mahabalipuram Rockers
16. Leh SnowLeopards
17. Ludhiana Sweaters
18. Kota wannabe-IITians
19. Karaikkudi Chettiyars
20. Jallandhar Lions
21. Howrah Bridgies/Bridgemen/Bridge Players
22. GANGtok Policemen
23. Dholka Dhoklas
24. Dhanbad Miners
25. Cuddalore SeaMonsters
26. Bhuj Earthshakers
27. Nagari Trekkers
28. Anand Milkmen
29. Aligarh Grads
30. Nilgiri Rangers
31. Mughal-e-Agra
32. Secunderabad Seconds
33. Queens of Jhansi
34. Cuttack Kathaks
35. Darjeeling Chaiwalas
36. Rampuri Churis
37. Lucknow Badshahs
38. Ujjain Observers
39. Allapuzha (coco)nuts
40. Panaji (Cashew)Nuts
41. Patna Farmacies
42. if Jaipur comes back, it'll be Jaipur Pinkies
43. Chandigarh TriStates
44. Madurai BullFighters (or, Jallikattu)
45. Porbadar Peacemakers
46. Kolar Goldies
47. Chandrapur Powerplays
48. Cochin Backwaters would've been nice... but, unfortunately, buri nazar lag gayi
49. Shimla Capsicums
50. Konark Suns
51. Kharagpur Platforms
52. A foreign team on IPL4 will be "Burma Bazaar"
53. Kanyakumari Ocean's11
54. Trichy 128
55. Tanjore Thangams
56. TrichyTerrors
57. Nanha Jaisalmer
58. Surat Sweets
59. Guwahati Mountaineers
60. Cherrapunji Rainmen
61. Srinagar Dals
62. Bhopal Gases
63. Trivandrum Kathakalis
64. Mysore Kings
65. Vizag Steels
66. Nagpur Oranges


Hmmm... So, which one is it going to be. Let's give BCCI some time to think and select one...



Please add on to the list, if I've missed some other franchises.

Hope the BCCI can find the task easier now!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Style Statement

Here is my Style-XI, a pick of the most stylish cricketers of the 21st century!




1. Virender Sehwag
2. Hashim Amla
3. Ross Taylor
4. Md. Yousuf
5. V.V.S. Laxman
6. Dwayne Bravo
7. Adam Gilchrist
8. Daniel Vettori
9. Graemme Swann
10. Jerome Taylor
11. Dale Steyn




Rest of the "Squad" -

Openers - Shaun Marsh, Brendon McCullum (+wicketkeeper)

Top order - Rahul Dravid, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Yuvraj Singh

Middle order - Umar Akmal, Saurav Ganguly

All Rounder - Jacques Kallis, Jacob Oram

Bowlers - Md Asif, Nuwan Kulasekara, Jimmy Anderson




Your XI?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Lakers. Mission ThreePeat

Viva Los Lakers!

We are back! The time has come to officially start the journey for the pinnacle of the mountain named ThreePeat.

Three consecutive trips to championship rounds, two consecutive titles (The Repeat), and the Lakers couldn't be in better shape to be the team to beat this season, no matter who or what is happening in the East!

First things first - Phil Jackson expressed his willingness to coach the Lakers for one more season, before seeking retirement owing to his health. And he is on the lookout for his 4th Threepeat! There you go, a legend, isn't he?

As soon as the trade window opened, in came Steve Blake from the Clippers. A tall guard, good from range, capable of running plays, a good substitute for Jordan Farmar (NJ Nets, now), a good back up guard behind Fisher. He is a bit slower than Farmar, but makes up for his pace with better defense and lesser turnovers than Farmar. And from what I've seen thus far, "Blake's calling the play like he knows the Triangle inside out for years". Do I need to say more?

Also came in Matt Barnes, another nemesis of Kobe Bryant. After Raja Bell snubbed Lakers (and Kobe) with a chance to team up with Kobe, Lakers set their eyes on Matt Barnes, who has traveled with 7 teams in 7 season. Barnes has stalking defense, good role player, good from range (though he gets over confident on them), and good on boards, not to forget, athletic and dedicated. Barnes was in the Lakers radar ever since his match-up against Kobe, especially the one played in Amway Arena, Orlando. he actually texted Kobe to make sure he wanted him in his team, to which Kobe replied that he had no problem at all, and was looking forward to Barnes dressed in Purple and Gold. Barnes will be a good back up for Ron Artest. Last season, the SF spot, if not for Artest was filled by Kobe (4th quarters), or by Josh Powell and Adam Morrison (bench), both of whom have signed up with other teams since. So, Barnes continues to Defense that Artest had been doing on the floor after the substitution. Boy o Boy! D-fense it is!

Next new comer - Theo Ratliffe. A 15 year old veteran, will be mostly retiring with the Lakers, with the hope of a ring to his name, mostly this year. His main task will be to keep the defensive breath still going strong with his strong nature at the low post, to box out, to board and to block (most importantly, to block). He still seems very fit to play good minutes off the bench. In the absence of Bynum in the initial stages of the season, he might have to check in for a few extra minutes. In the pre-season, he sure has impressed. Much more experience (than Mbenga), and another coach for Andrew Bynum, who is likely to push for an all-star spot if he can be fit and in the same form as he started last season. The other coach, is, the legendary Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

What can be like a dream come true for kids? Get into the Lakers' roster, though they were 2nd round picks! Derek Character and Devin Ebanks are living their dream now, having been picked by the Lakers, in the 2nd round of 2010 Draft Picks. They played very well, and pleased the coaches in the Summer League (Vegas), though the Lakers lost all 5 games in it. And, they continued to do well off the bench with lungs full of energy and enthusiasm and confidence. And, finally, the two of them made it to the roster. Ebanks, in particular is playing very well and getting recognition for reasons more than one. His minutes off the bench in the pre-season have been very productive. He is fast, has a good range, but is not very consistent yet. He drives well to the basket, and has a nice clutch drive-in layup, and powerful dunks for the Lakers fans to enjoy (apart from, you know, Shannon Brown). He fills in at SF and is capable of keeping the defensive strength go on for a few more minutes when both Artest and Barnes want to spend some time chatting on the side-lines. Derek Character, a strong tall lad is beginning to be a better low-post player day by day. He is strong enough to press the defence, make quick spins and jump, make bank shots (a la Shaq, one handed) and is learning from the other big men in the team, including the coach, Phil Jackson.

The summer was a time to rest for almost all the retained players - namely, Kobe, Fisher, Gasol, Artest. Bynum went to South Africa to watch the football/soccer world cup. Walton was nursing his back, and is now nursing his hamstring (but this is listed as a day-to-day.) Walton did play in the pre-season and has been fine. Brown had been on the rest too, I presume, didn't hear much about him in the off-season. Pau Gasol skipped the FIBA World Championships this summer, but played one on one games with his brother, Marc in their backyard in Spain. Marc did play in the World's. Speaking of the World's, Odom was one of the two veterans to accompany Team USA for the FIBA World Championships, in which Team USA emerged winners. Odom was steady in all games, and steadied the team too, which was full of youngsters to say the least. Odom had an all important double-double in the finals of the championships. Odom played center in all games. He is now in mid-season form, showing no signs of tight muscles, and has much more decision making skills now, is more respected, and is much wiser than his usually high basketball IQ.

All in all, things looking so very good for the ThreePeat! I just pray it does happen! Cometh October 26th! Let's win this!

Viva los LAKERS!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cricket Administration sure is funny

Mr B is attending a rapid fire word round with his friend Mr C. B has to let out the word that comes to his mind the moment he hears one from Mr C. I happened to eavesdrop on them...

C: school?
B: Interval!

C: Music?
B: Shakira!

C: Car?
B: Ferrari!

C: Food?
B: Italian

C: Cricket?
B: Ashes

Aahhhh.. The Ashes... the Marquee event of cricket... the trailer and climax of the movie named "cricket", the wrapper and core of the chocolate that's named cricket, the oxygen of cricket, without which the game is so incomplete!

Cometh the southern summer, cometh the Aussie Ashes! This December, England and Australia will once lock horns and battle for pride. But this time, it is not going to be the real test of character, strength, skills or very many things of that sort. This must be one of the funniest sounding build up to the Ashes!




First thing first!
If I had an exam tomorrow, I would rather be preparing for it, than watch a movie, visit a theme park and go on a tiring ride for 100 miles down the countryside. If Australia were wanting to prepare for the Ashes, I do not see how they would do the same by playing in India just a month before the Ashes! Blows me down! The conditions are completely different. At Perth, anyone can send a sniffer ball at even Ishant Sharma. At Mohali we saw the Wester Australian all rounder, Marcus North, shouldering arms to a Zak delivery that sent a flying kiss to the bail, which was romantically stunned and fell down. If you wanted to give the comeback man, Hauritz, a chance to tweak his way to form from a back injury, INDIA was a poor choice of opponent. Sehwag, Sachin, Dravid and Laxman can milk most world class spinner as easily as Usain Bolt can win the 100m heat against Inzamam-ul-Haq carrying Arjuna Ranatunga on his shoulders with his legs tied together. Hauritz did get Laxman in the first innings but got "beat-up" by him in the second. He wished it was the other way round...

"He flicks the ball to the mid wicket for four, and then hits the same ball that pitched at the exact same point through the covers for four! How do you bowl to him and set a field to that ball?" - David "Bumble" Lloyd on VVS Laxman


Next.
Ah well, I don't know what superstition Cricket Australia were following to come to India and hold the second successive Indian Border-Gavaskar trophy, the fizz of the last 2-0 drubbing yet to die out. Having decided to tour their recent nemesis, why couldn't the two boards, CA and BCCI decide to have a 4 or 5 test series? Two test series? Border Gavaskar trophy? Sigh! I don't know how sad those two legends must be, their names tarnished, burnt in poor quality fuel, blown in the air to unknown land of pathetic decision making! A test series is a joke. It shows nothing. Its more of luck than anything. Players don't get chances, you can't learn. If you think your knowledge increased...too late, the series is over for yourself to find out for yourself. 1-0, or 1-1 says nothing. A 2-0 may show some resurgence. But a 5 test series with 2-0 after the first 2 games will still be interesting. There is so much drama after it. 2 test series...sigh! What prevented the two sides from playing a 4 or 5 test series? Aus were not busy. Nor were India.

Bangladesh ever played more than 3 tests in a series??? Ahh... yes, against the West Indies, the West Indies team that would've played better blindfolded than open eyes... Rather, we should've been blindfolded. No one could watch that squad, that made Tony Cozier almost cry in dismay.

Nevertheless,
Even in gully cricket, we played at least 3 matches a day!

And yes. No Slater, Taylor, Chappel, Border in the commentary box for this India-Aus series! Michael Bevan and Brad Hogg are novice. Talks about the level of interest that the Australians have lent to this series. And of course, we have to put up with Laxman Sivarama Krishnan who claimed live on air that the phenomenon of the ball moving to the rough side is called reverse swing. Dropped dead...twice!

As long as Wilbur Sargunaraj doesn't start commentating, I can breathe cricket.

And yes.
After India displaced Australia from the top for the first time in their last tour and then Aus hit their lowest position when South Africa beat them down under and when Pakistan made things worse for Australia sending them to 4th spot, Aus are just one point atop England. England would have a bucket party running for a whole week if Australia loses this test series 1-0 or 2-0, whichever is the minimum requirement to dock those point(s) off Australia. How would Australia feel to be fifth in an eight-man race? We will see...we may see. Their series in India is far from over.

KP might be telling his son. "look sonny, We are better than the Aussies. remember this moment. You tell your kids that you saw this happen". Or will he tell his son after the winter "You know what sonny, I grew up in an era when Australia were ranked better than England. hmmm... you won't be able to see that anytime soon, sorry"

As for England, they would rather try sending Jimmy Anderson to a flatter surface in a dry atmosphere as he can't carry the atmosphere of Trent Bridge everywhere he travels. And yes, it's Kookaburra. If you want to get wickets only by swinging the ball, you have five overs to live in a day.

In other news, Madhusudhan Panesar makes a comeback into the squad that travels to the Ashes. A squad to which KP did make it, despite his patweetic form off late, including that 80 runs that featured 3 drop catches, two UDRS survivals, 1 survival thanks to the unavailability of further UDRS appeals...after which he lifted his bat in appreciation of the crowd's patience to have put up with his show of "fortune favours the brave". KP is now in South Africa to get some form back on pitches that might resemble Australian pitches better than Indian pitches.


"I don't know why New Zealand charged Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag when they arrived at New Zealand with slightly unpolished shoes, but welcome Ponting every other summer despite watching him use his hands as his saliva's wash basin." - Bagrat


Friday, September 24, 2010

Speechless moments

Watch some of the best moments captured on tape from the history of cricket, sure to leave you in awe, searching for breath!

Lets start with Shane Warne's Highway to jaffa' to Mike Gatting. This is more famously known as the "ball of the century".



Mike Gatting had no answer. Look at his expression. I have seen Warne bowl Strauss and Shiv Chanderpaul from around the wicket, bowled around the legs of the batsmen, but the Gatting ball is pure class - drift, turn, off bail!

Well, that was the 20th century. And we are in the 21st century. So, there must be a "ball of the century for the 21st century, right? I got one. Arguably the best spinner walking on earth presently, Graeme Swann, bowls an absolute beauty to get rid of Imran Farhat.



Same description that went in for Warne's delivery to Gatting. Farhat falls over searching for the ball, which he thought had defended well. Swann has this canny knack of picking up a wicket in his first over of an innings, test and ODIs alike. This one, was the best of all of his wickets in his wonderful wonderful career.


Now, you are a batsman, facing a paceman, who bowls more than 93 miles an hour, consistently. And guess what, he swings the ball. What do you play for? The pace? the swing? Look at this slow-mo replay of one ripping ball that left the batsman look like a novice.




Look at the gap between the ball and the bat!


Lets go progressively now.
What can turn the course of a session, match or series the other way? One answer is the ball that swerves the other way! In 2005, we were all witness to two wonderful wonderful deliveries. Have a look at them.



First - Freddy's ball to Katich. Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff, stands almost 6'7" tall and is/was one of the two bowlers who can come around the wicket and swing the ball away from the left hander, the only one who could do so at 140+ kph (Andrew Hall, the other one, is not that good with the pace). So, you can see Katich expecting the ball to be moving away from him, or at least, not coming back at him. But, the well directed and well handles ball swerves in and sends the off stump for a walk.

Second - Jones. If at all England were wanting someone to be fit forever, it must've been Simon Jones, who just couldn't let the batsmen take control over him. Just watch the replay of the ball, look at the shine on the ball, look at the seam. Pause the frame! What do you think? Its a classic out swinger? Maybe, but the ball is pretty old, and the reverse swing strikes! Damien Martyn was awestruck, like everyone else watching it.

I wonder what Kallis was thinking about this ball?



A jolly to the crease run up, and then a bullet... Wet Irish conditions, the atmosphere helped a bit, but no one is going to be easy against a ball like that. That was a swinging, fast, new ball!


Another classic that became an instant hit :-

"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its Jonty Rhodes" is what the newspaper read the next day!



Jonty took athleticism to a whole new level. People gave it more importance. Saving runs was gaining importance. It was around that time when Batsmen started to attack in the field restriction overs. My dad always reminds me - Kris Srikanth was the one who took the charge. So, fielding became another column on your CV, and you were graded on it! Jonty Rhodes was one man miles and miles ahead of hundreds others in that aspect. Once he calls for a catch, you can see the other teammates stop dead at their feet and just watch the ball come down into his pouch.

I love Matthew Hayden's batting. He is exceptional off his front foot and is good square of the wicket too. So, bowling to him is pretty difficult, because you are very likely to be outsmarted by his straigh drives, pulls and cuts. Unfortunately, he features in two of my favourite catches too.

Hayden thinks he has 4 on this ball...



Have you seen a better outfield catch in International cricket? Look at Hayden, he wants someone to come and tell him that it was a dream and he is not out.


One guy who has amazingly been fit for almost all throughout his career while on the field, gets rid of Matthew Hayden in this next video



Haydos...Haydos... Look at his plight!


What will you do to save 2 runs? Will you stick out your leg? Will you stretch? Will you dive? huh?

Will you fly?



Best ground fielding I've seen on tape!


One for "innovation" :-



No comments...


And, to finish the collection, here is a real beauty! Never seen a better catch from an Indian! This guy is one for the future, if his batting can get better and better. But this catch is the highlight reel of this fellow!



That is the commitment you will love to see on a cricket field. That's the spirit you need when you know that there is a prestigious title at stake! That's the spirit you need to keep the Ranji Trohpy as the best domestic tournament in the country. Manish Pandey, take a bow!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Master, and his cards

Team's jersey...



Rs. 1500












Ticket to the Match


Rs. 400












Auto ride to the stadium


Rs. 50












Watching God in action



Priceless...












There are some things

money can't buy




.




For everything else,









There is

MasterCard.



. MI+MasterCard =







(I do not own the rights to any photograph/logo)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Shane Watson, lynchpin of Australian cricket team!

The burly all rounder of the Australian side, who is finally seeming to keep good health over larger period of time, Shane Watson is one of the most important player in the present Australian side. His bio data speaks of numerous occurrences of hip injuries, strains, ankle injuries, stress fractures etc, but his determination to fight into the side after every unfortunate injury is commendable.

When the Australian side needed an all rounder, he stepped up to the call and was finally chosen over Andrew Symonds, whose form was dipping, and losing touch, let alone other issues outside the cricketing field. Now, Watson had to show the world that he is capable of cementing his place in the XI on a regular basis, rather than “filling in” for someone else.

After a series of call-ups and drops, being made to play at almost all position in the top and middle order, Watson got a chance to play as an opener, along with Katich. Note, Australia were still looking for their perfect openers ever since the departure of Hayden-Langer combo a few years ago. And this time, Watson capitalised with good scores, and got the preference over Phil Hughes (who vented his anger on twitter...). His bowling improved, he was able to correct his action, so as to prevent any more hip injuries, or at least, reduce the chance of its occurrence. His speed was into the 140 kph marks, and had improved on the trajectory. So, there he was – an all rounder Australia needed. A batsman to get Aus a good start, and a bowler to share the load of the quickies.

Let me try to describe his place in the side. Watson, by nature is a hard hitting batsman. After he became a regular in the test side, he added a bit of calmness and composure to his attitude. He is good on the front foot. He reads the line of the ball early, and has the temperament to leave the swinging ball outside the body. He opens up sideways (chest facing cover/mid off) and meets the in-swinging ball on the front foot, bat in front of the pad when needed, thus reducing the chance for him to get out lbw. His tall nature allows him to come quite some distance outside the crease to meet the ball, hence the full, swinging ball are met before the ball can curve a lot. Having said that he is usually committed to the front foot, he is not troubled by a bouncer. His back-lift is perfect for him to just hang back, stand tall and pull the ball behind or in-front of the square leg as per the pace and height of the delivery. Not very likely to keep the ball down, but very likely to play the ball in the gaps. Suck is his control. He doesn’t play with a sense of urgency. Never seen him do that in tests. He does see off the new ball, and when it comes to spinners, he plays them with the full face of the bat. Strong on the leg side, he can “hoik” any long hop to the cow-corner, or long on. Also, he is good driver of the ball, thanks to his front-footed batting style. So, covers, mid off also come under is radar. Being able to transfer his weight back onto his back foot in time, he is again capable of cutting the ball behind or in-front of the crease, on either side of the pitch. So, now, if you look at the big picture, he can score on all sides. my favourite Watson-shot – straight drive. Clean as you like, and when he plays the shot, you can see the elbows straight over the bat, head behind the ball, bat perfectly straight, and the two fielders at mid on and mid off looking at each other, bowler staring in dismay... It all adds to the beauty of the shot! When someone drives you like that, and watches the ball race to the boundary from the place he played the stroke, bat held stationary in mid air, it calls for the photographer to take a snap of the bat... Its what’s called “Picture-perfect”.




Now, lets move on to his bowling. He is one of the very few bowlers who bowl with the straight seam. When the Lees and Johnsons are exhausted, in comes Watson at first or second change, with the relatively older ball, shine maintained on one side. So, while he can swing the ball even after 20 overs, he is even more dangerous than that because of his ability to get movement off the pitch, due to the ball pitching on the seam on most occasions. In India, he was one of the toughest bowlers to face because of this reason, being helped by the pronounced seam of the SG balls used in India. Lee is full of pace, but his advantage lies in the swing he generates with the new ball at that lethal pace. Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle are pretty much one-dimensional with their pace and unidirectional swing. Hilfenhaus is a la McGrath, Bollinger is more of “hit the deck hard” kind of person, and his bowling action doesn’t allow most deliveries to pitch on the seam. So, clearly, Watson distinguishes himself as a unique threat in that line up. His bowling action is steady, smooth, close chested at the stride of the deliver, and high arm action. This allows the ball to be well directed, controlled, seam and bounce. A minute change in the grip allows him to intentionally move the ball in either direction. He has been a disciplined bowler, and hence, scoring off him in the limited over format is not easy, unless you try to take some risks on your own.

Here is Watson’s bowling action for you



To complete the activities of a cricketer on the field, another important factor is – fielding. Watson has accomplished himself as a good slip-fielder after his resurrection into the side a couple of years ago. He takes the place of Warne/Hayden in that zone, and is usually accompanied by Clarke and/or Ponting. And, sometimes, he would be at gully. As compared to the yester-years , this formation shows that Aus is more athletic in the slip cordon and gully (usually manned by Mike Hussey). Earlier, with Hayden, Warne, Ponting standing behind the crease, you cannot make many changes in the field and expect the move to work. Hayden was flat footed, and he had a tough time when posted at gully region. Batsmen used to tuck the ball near the crease and scamper for a single before Hayden could collect the ball. Now, with guys like Watson, Clarke and Hussey, the cordon is more electric than before, and choices are ample when Ponting wants to alter his field for a fresh bowling tactic (like, having a leg slip and silly mid on for Johnson to bowl at a batsman’s ribs). Having been in the business for quite some-time, Watson is a safe catcher, with large palms helping the cause.

All in all, I feel I have illustrated the one player in the Australian team who means the most to the performance of the team, as he is sure to contribute in two ways (at least) in every match he plays. Him not being in the team would mean the loss of a safe-cum-attacking option at the top of the order, and a hostile wicket taking bowler you can always turn to!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

BagraTRIVIA 16

X was born in the country of A, where his father was a first class level cricketer. When X was 8, his family moved to the country B. X was an extremely talented leg spinner, and was coached by his father (who actually wanted X to become a batsman). X made it to the side of junior level cricket at every age-level, and at the age of 12, was the youngest to represent his club in an u-15 match. But by the time he was 15, his growth of nearly 1 foot made him lose touch with his bowling, and he had to give it up, and turn to batting as his day job. At the age of 22, he made his debut against WI, but was dropped from the side after the series. 3 years later, he was recalled again, and dropped. 3 years later, he was recalled again to join the side that was to tour A. And he proved his selectors right, by posting good numbers, bagging a man of the match, and the eventual man of the series award. 3 years later, he became the first captain of mixed-origin. He had the 3rd most number of tests as a captain, and was one of the most revolutionary of all to have captained B. After 8 years of captaincy, he stepped down himself, for a poor show in the world cup, and retired within a year. This famous man is still associated with cricket, even after his retirement from all forms of the game. Who is X ?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

10-man side

Having seen the performance of the side in the past year or two, I think I have come down to the best possible team for Pakistan in the current scenario.

Its a typical team - 7 batsman (keeper included) and 4 bowlers

The team is as follows -

1. Imran Farhat
2. Yasir Hameed
3. *
4. Md. Yousuf
5. Azhar Ali
6. Umar Akmal
7. Kamran Akmal
8. Md Aamer
9. Umar Gul
10. Saeed Ajmal
11. Md Asif

Bench (err) strength :-
at number 6- Umar Amin, Shoaib Malik

for 'keeper - Zulqurnain Haider

extra paceman - Wahab Riaz

extra spinner - Danish Kaneria

Special note on " * "
* refers to the Captain. Pakistan plays with 10 players, and a captain, who is usually cursed. So as of now, its Salman Butt, who has so intelligently sacrificed a lot for the team for several reasons...
1. he was/is the captain
2. he is hit by the captain's curse, and by default can't play well at the opener's slot.

So, he HAD to drop down in the line up, and allow Yasir Hameed to open. This man, who had no impact of the earlier losses in the series, as he wasn't part of it, played lavishly and gave Pakistan a good start. So, all praises to Butt.

Butt's captaincy has been good, and intelligent. He found exactly what was needed for Pakistan to win the match - allow Cook to score big. Cook and England had different fortunes all summer. And when Cook went about scoring, the whole English team was so stunned, that they failed to contribute. There were only two news in the English camp - Cook's sudden golden touch(wood) and Swann's inclusion to the list of nominees for the ICC player of the year award. Now they have the third - a loss! Great captaincy by Butt indeed. Whatever message he sent down to a combined 38 years of talent (Umar akmal - 20 yrs, Md Aamer 18 yrs), they understood it and scored the remaining 16 runs required for the victory. The two kids were out in the middle, like kids lost in a huge fair, not knowing what to do. Too many maidens came and went, and the pair failed to put on a score for more than 4 overs since the departure of Md Yousuf. So, it means, Butt does get good respect from his young team-mates too.

All the more, he seems to have liked the captaincy, and proved that he can play with it too, scoring 48 runs in this innings, more than all the runs he scored in the series put together.

So, my theory - put the person out of form as captain. that solves the issue.

10 men are all that are needed to win!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sometimes, cricket is not a gentleman's game

Sometime, want and greed takes over the sportsmanship in the game of cricket, which is widely knows as the gentleman's game. Players will do ANYTHING to win (or not let the opponent achieve something), letting their pride go for a walk and reputation in jeopardy. I will try to list three such incidences. One is very famous. One was missed by many. And the latest of them all has triggered a widespread controversy in the subcontinent.



Scene 1
February 1, 1981, MCG - Melbourne
Australia were playing New Zealand in the third ODI final of the World Series Cup. The series was level at 1-1. New Zealand needed 6 to tie this match. the bowler Trevor Chappel was to bowl to Kiwi number 10 batsman - Brian McKechnie, while the centurian of the day, Bruce Edgar was at the non-striker end, praying, I assume. Greg, came up to Trevor and gave him some instructions. The execution of the instructions would shock the cricketing world for ages. Its been almost 30 years now, but the incidence is still a thorn in Australian cricket.

It was an under-arm ball delivered by Trevor Chappel! Yes, the batsman was flabbergasted. All he could do was touch the rolling ball with his bat, throw his bat away in disgust. Well, the MCC rules had nothing against the under-arm ball, but this was beyond the limit of unsprotsmanship, and should I say, cowardice.

Their elder brother, Ian Chappel was going "No no... you can't do that!". If only they could listen from 90 m away!

here is the moment -


The video clip of the ball -


The video of the last over. Richie Benaud called it the worst moment in the history of the game -




Scene 2
August 16, 2009. Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo
Almost exactly an year ago, Zimbabwe were hosting Bangladesh in an ODI series. The series was into the fourth match, with B'desh leading 2-1. Charles Coventry was in the form of his life. The lanky middle order batsman was scoring runs like it was his birth right to do so. He had surpassed the previous highest score by a Zimbabwean (172 by Wishart vs Namibia, 156 by Masakadza vs Kenya, importantly 145 by Andy Flower vs India ). And by the end of 46th over or so, he was going good enough for the 200. He was on 191 at the start of the last over. He takes a single, and has to wait for an opportunity to get the strike back once again. When Utseya tried to do so, in the third ball of the over, chipped a ball to long on, the fielder present there over-ran the ball to give him the four and disallow Coventry the strike. I do not know if he was upset with himself or put the team before individual achievements, but Coventry agreed for a 2 in the next ball, stayed at the non striker end. Got the strike for the last ball of the innings, on which he took a couple to put him at 194*, the highest individual score in an ODI, tied along with Saeed Anwar's knock against India more than a dozen years ago.

Here is the page covering the match. click here for the commentary section.



Scene 3
August 16, 2010 (good day for a controversy, is it? ). Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium, Dambulla.

Sri Lanka play India, in the third match of the tri-series. SL and NZ have pocketed a match each, and now India were five runs away from getting their first to square things up on the points table. Sehwag was facing Suraj Randiv, the prospective off-spinner of Lanka. Plenty of overs to spare, even to get a bonus point for India. First ball goes for 4 byes through the sides of the keeper, bad/poor bounce for the let off. And then, Sehwag plays cautious for a couple of balls, trying to sneak a single. he perished on 99 in a test match against the same bowler trying to reach the mark in style, his style. So, he was trying to be cautious. One run to win, one run to his 13th Century in ODIs.

Randiv hops and comes and bowls a HUGE no-ball! A football can go in the gap between his heel and the crease! And Sehwag launches the ball beyond the ropes for a six and celebrates the Indian victory and what he thought, his 13th century. But India had won the match as soon as the no-ball was called and the match is hence, completed. Thus, Viru's 6 doesn't count, and he is left stranded at the crease at 99! What a cheap tactic! Whatever respect I had for the spinner was lost in that moment. One incidence is enough to bring your reputation to the floor! No matter what he has achieved, or will achieve, he will surely be remembered for this incidence. Especially when you do it against the team you play more often that you play your video game!

Watch it for yourself



Comments, views, and suggestions welcome

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Stars of Tomorrow

We are now living in an age of cricket when the quality of a batsman is also including the age as a factor for consideration. The players from yesteryears, though full of class and style, are overshadowed by the new generation players. Yes, the new guys also have talent, in their own ways. Some of them are very very talented. Let me try to list the ones who caught my eyes. Team by team.


Australia

Long term number one is tests and ODIs, now losing the mantle to others. Why? I don’t know. But I can say that they had an ageing team that kept them on the top, but a younger team isn’t able to keep up the good work. Still, there are some really promising youngsters in them.

Tim Paine
>He is, maybe, the best after Gilly retired from international services. Tim has the abilities of an athletic keeper and a dashing opener. He is far better than his competitor Manou, who was tried and disposed. Tim seems to have satisfied the selectors, after he showed some composure in the test format as well.

Steven Smith
After trying a few spinners, Australia may do well to settle with Steve Smith. He has the flight, and the turn that Warney had... a little less turn, but good enough nevertheless. Still very young, he can develop the varieties as the time goes by. He is more than handy with the bat too. A little unorthodox, but confident enough to middle every ball thrown at him. He may do what Warne never did – score a century..if at all he plays that many tests, I mean. Care should be taken that his batting skills do not divert him away from his bowling. We all know about Cameron White, a bowler who no longer bowls, even when he is captaining Victoria!


Bangladesh

Well, more than 3/4th their team are less than 25 years of age. So, by their standards, the youngster to watch out is -

Tamim Iqbal
Very young, and pretty consistent too. He is the batsman an opponent really tries to get dealt with as quickly as possible. Once he is off, there isn’t much that can stop him. He has a variety of strokes through both sides of the fields, but is particularly strong through the covers and point region, and his icing-on-the-cake straight drive. A la Jayasurya, just that Tamim keeps the strokes to the floor more often than Sunny did.

Wanted to list out some others too, but their team is pretty young, that most of the rest would be of the same age.


England
Aah... England! Yooongsturs from around thee wooorld, now for Eeengland

Eoin Morgan
This young Irishman has his own textbook of strokes. His reverse sweeps remind me of the Zimbabwean star, Andy Flower (who is the English coach, incidentally). He has the ability to steady an innings, play an innings the team needs, take the team to victory, accelerate, take control and others thinkable, all at the age of 24. What do you call a man who can reverse sweep Morne Morkel yorker for 4 through 3rd man?

Steven Finn
Very young, very fast for a high arm action, and very very accurate. He was very accurate in falling off his bowling too. So much, that I thought it was a part of his bowling action. After his first test, against Bangladesh, he rectified that issue and is better off now. Against Pakistan, though he came as a first change bowler, he still got the ball to swing and seam around. 4 wickets in just as many overs are enough to trigger a collapse in any side, especially Pakistan. What I like about him is his consistency – speed, length, and movement on and off the deck. His seam position is pretty good. Though the Duke or the Kookaburra aren’t going to have that pronounced a seam when he gets the ball after Jimmy or Broad is tired, he still manages to extract some movement off the deck. 6’7” tall, bounce is always there, without I mentioning it. If he can just prevent himself from falling down that much for that extra bit of an effort, I think he will be an asset to the English side, especially during the Ashes down under.


India
Your turn to scrutinize me as much as you can. But these are my views, and here is my list of young guns :-

First and foremost –

Cheteshwar Pujara
Why this multiple triple-centurian, double-centurian, the highest u-19 run getter, highest WC avg, best in-form Indian is STILL out of the Indian squad baffles me... wherever he goes, he makes sure he scores big, shuts the opposition’s bowling down, atleast at one end. And the best part of his batting is his technique. He defines his offensive strokes as “an extension of my defensive shots”. What a player. If only lord BCCI could us him for Team India instead of India-A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O,P,Q,R,S,T,U,V,W,X,Y,Z,A1,B1...,India emerging, Board President XI etc etc!!! As cool as one can be, this young lad has been impressing everyone but the national selector, with his array of strokes and scores at every level, in every tour, year after year, since the age of 14. If Sachin was discovered at that age, why not Pujara?

Pragyan Ojha
To be a spinner, you need to have a big heart. Ojha does have a big heart. He can bowl hours and hours together, waiting for his reward. He has the tweak, the turn and the loop. He is improving on the loop now, which is the most important. When he tries to vary his loop, he has the tendency to stray down the leg side, once that is rectified, I am sure we can see the Bedi of 21st Century.

Ravichandran Ashwin
Tall, hefty lad from Madras, but like is the trend now a days, is a spinner. (O boy, how would it have been to see him be a paceman?) High arm action, and a good turner of the ball, which surprises the batsman. Yes, since he has that height, he does get the bounce too. He has been very consistent amongst the wickets. Now, he has an able partner in an even younger spinner, Aushik Srinivas. This very young teenage (16 yrs) sensation, groomed and protected by the watchful eyes of TN coach W.V. Raman is such a miser when it comes to bowling. He would go through spells of 30 overs with an economy rate of less than 2 runs an over. Back to Ashwin now... Ashwin, is also good with the bat and has good captaincy qualities too, having led Tamil Nadu to victories in various forms of the game


New Zealand

the only name that comes to my mind is

Tim Southee
I was fortunate enough to be watching u-19 WC , or unfortunate enough to have fallen sick to be lying at home, but watching the action nevertheless. Tim was that one man who could’ve led his team to victory over India in the semi-final. He bowled his heart out in the tournament. He could hit 140 kph against India, whose fastest bowler would go only as far as 130 kph. And Tim, the boy, was able to move the ball, the overcast conditions helped him. But NZ lost the match after the target was reset due to spells of rain. Soon after, Tim, the man, was there in the Kiwi line up. NZ has been one of the most unsettled team since the departure of many biggies – Stephen, Nash, Harris, Cairns amongst others. Tim was in the team for a while as a permanent fellow, but is now a part of the mix, tried once in a while. He has lost his pace a bit. I am sure he can regain it back, as I saw earlier this year, against Pakistan in the Kiwi Isles. He is a good long-term find NZ should rather try to develop, than look beyond.


Pakistan

One of the most unlucky sides in the world for many many reasons. Some come from inside, some from outside. But that doesn’t deter them from bringing up new talents, new young talents!

Umar Akmal
Brother of Kamran Akmal, this kid, is not living under his shadows. Umar is a dasher when you need him, and a steady watcher, when you gravely need someone to keep one end steady. A pocket size dynamo, he made his debut in such a wonderful style. In one test, he showed both the sides of the coin. First innings was a breezy, fast century(129), sharing a huge partnership with his brother. Not caring for who was bowling at him, not caring to respect Dan Vettori, he would deposit anyone over the fence as and when he liked, flawlessly. In the second innings, when Pakistan in deep trouble, wanting someone to stay put at one end, there he was, Umar Akmal, to hold fort for a watchful 75. But his wicket triggered a collapse and Pakistan were to lose a well contested match, by very few runs. He is the future of Pakistani top order or middle order, as you like it. But, must improve on patience, must the young lad.

Md Aamer
No praise is enough to sing for this young fast bowler! Emerged as an unheard bloke out of nowhere to the ones watching the T20 WC, Aamer took the opportunity with both hands. He had the pace. Then he developed the swing, into the left hander. Then, he developed the one that swings away from the left hander, at the same pace (this is what Mitchell Johnson tried and failed). Now he is a threat to any top order. Especially, in the tests. The tests in swinging and bouncing tracks are his favourites. By the time you try to read the swing off his hands, the ball may have gone past you, or if it’s his slower ball, you’re reading it too fast. He can be a handy lower order batsman too. He has the range of shots, a little more beautiful than a pro-lower order (Murali?). and he can hang in there as well, if required, like always.


South Africa

South Africa, even after exporting so many players to England, do have their own pool of great players.

Wayne Parnell
Express. But, as is obvious needs some fine tuning. He does go wayward. On his own, he can be very destructive, especially to left handers, with that ripping pace and bounce that he can extract. His demolition of Australia in just his 2nd ODI showed what he is capable of. He hasn’t repeated the feat many times after that, though. If he can keep his pace going, and someone tunes his radar properly, then he will be a handy bowler for SA

Morne Morkel
Young, but not too young, Morne has been a regular in the SA test side. He has the huge, tall frame that gives his the extra yard of pace and the bounce. There are some similarities between him and Andre Nel, especially the bowling action. Morkel can do all that Nel did without that much of an effort, because of the height. In tests, he has the heart to run in over after over, just to plug one end economically and draw the batsman into playing a stroke at the short-of-length balls. His line is always probing one, to a right hander.


Sri Lanka

Lanka has always been a country knows to throw the cricketing world a heap full of surprises. Mendis, Malinga, Murali – all are unorthodox and too good for themselves! Not youngsters though. So, here he is :-

Angelo Mathews
Just 23 years of age, he is now a permanent feature of any Lankan side. His all-round qualities come to the fore every now and then. He has performed in at least one department in every match. An under-rated bowler, maybe because of the other power houses in the bowling line up, he bowls his heart out and reaps success for his hard work. A dashing batsman too. Very hard to dislodge. His strength is a bonus, when it comes to disposing the ball. A simple flick is all he needs to easily clear the field. A very well developed product, he can only get better


West Indies

Another team that is not always at the best end of the result most of the time. Look at it, look at their fire power – Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Shiv, Sarwan, Nash, Pollard, Sammy, Taylor, Benn... but still, it’s not a bowler’s day when the batsmen shine and vice-versa! Young talents?

Darren Bravo
Looks and bats like Brian Lara. Enough said!

Kemar Roach
Tiny though he may be, he is super fast! Ask Ricky Ponting! Raw pace, can extract bounce on many pitches, though handicapped by the height. His in-swingers come too fast to be handled with ease. He took the opportunity that was presented to him when WI cricketers went on strike, and is one of the fortunate few to have cemented their place in the side even after the end of the strike. There have been the likes of Fidel Edwards (who took a wicket in his first ever ball in an ODI) who have been express and erratic. Kemar Roach, if kept under good watchful eyes, I bet there are 1000+ good eyes of fast bowlers in the Caribbean Isles, he can become more accurate. He is one of those unique ones who can generate 93+ mph easily with high arm action, without the jerky motion (Steyn, Lee, Bond).

So? Your picks on talents to be groomed, or going to impress the world?

Comments and suggestions welcome!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Save Test Cricket... But how?

I know, it is obvious that test cricket is going through the worst time in its history. More than 120 years old, test cricket has been the yardstick of the performance of a team, of a player. And barely a decade into the 21st century, it is facing extinction. Not that it is not being played, but that it has lost a large chunk of audience.

Test cricket was once upon a time played over a week, including a day of rest. Then, shortened to five days of play. The format was standardised, so, there were no more “Australian overs”. But all in all, over more than 100 years, the enthusiasm involved in tests never changed, never dropped. Right from the inception of the game (and the format) by England to the era Don’s Invincibles to the Caribbean golden era over years, test cricket has been (should I say, “was”?)of prime importance to any cricketing nation. Test rivalries were born. From WI-Eng/Aus to Ashes to Indo-Pak nail biters, there always was anticipation to a series. A new team, which couldn’t even lift its head aloft too high in the competition long ago, developed into a world leader very soon, establishing itself as an ODI champion, as well as a competitive test nation. I am talking about Sri Lanka. This team blossomed in the right age. Another team, which came in much later than Lanka, isn’t able to repeat the same. This team, is Bangladesh. Apart from one “success” an year over another test playing nation, B’desh has a pretty poor record in cricket. In tests, it has no success. No, I cannot count the victories they had over WI or Zim as quality victories. Nevertheless 2 or 3 victories aren’t that great either.

England, Australia, South Africa have been keeping the standards of test cricket in good spirits, while the subcontinent is more inclined on having pitches suitable to the home team which may be as boring as the word boring can get. New Zealand have a completely opposite problem. They have good pitches, but not a good test team. I don’t remember NZ playing 5 tests on a trot with the same opening pair, since the retirement of Stephen Fleming. Caribbean cricket has been less than good since the departure of Walsh-Ambrose, their shadows, and the legendary Lara. The pitches don’t have the pace they had, primely because their opponents are better at it nowadays. WI clearly hasn’t found a “strength” in this decade, on which it can ride over their opponents.

All this, and the advent of the faster, richer (read as $) format, Twenty-Twenty has almost guided the test cricket into oblivion. Youngsters want to play for franchises, and not for their nation. Audience is more hooked to the shortest format than the other two. Argument – “we don’t have time to watch the ‘boring’ longer formats”. Well, ten years ago, people were able to watch it all, they had all the time in the world, they enjoyed it a lot, they were “crazy” for it.

Solutions?
The question is open for all. I have always vouched for test cricket. I still prefer to watch tests, the pace-men hit the deck in the opening session, batsmen consolidate, batsmen “build” an innings, spinners tweak the opponents into trouble, every day writing a new script for the next day et al. Compared to this, there are some worthless days of limited over cricket, like the one I saw a couple of days ago, where the pitch is such that the winner can be declared after the toss.

Martin Crowe, one of cricket’s biggest thinkers had come up with the suggestion of annual Test Championship. Here is how it goes -

The top 8 test nations play a knock out tournament. The top 4 teams play home. So, its 4 vs 4, then 2 vs 2, then the final. At each point, the better seeded/ranked team plays host. The tests will be 6 days each, so, that the results are assured. The normal bilateral test series will go as usual, independent of this test championship. These tests will determine the ranking of the teams.

He has set the platform for the world to see, and add its inputs and revive the beauty of test cricket. He has noticed, like you would’ve, that the lower 4 teams are at prime disadvantage. And, is looking for ideas for a more uniform competition.


Here are my ideas -
Clearly, one cannot eliminate the bilateral series. Cricket world without The Ashes is like the world submerged in water. So, like Crowe said, it has to be an independent series, and it cannot be long, as it may lose out on the market and viewers’ interest.


• Well, as far as the ranking is concerned, as mentioned above, the usual bilateral series will determine the ranking.
• But, I think there must be more than one tests played between the two sides at every knock out stage. So, both teams will play a “home” and “away” test for uniformity. The team with more victories in the two games, move to the next stage. In case it is a 1-1 or a 0-0 series, then the team with higher net first innings lead over the other will get to go to the next stage.
• The tests can remain 5 day tests, if the above idea is to be adopted, as the result need not be the only way out. It will be an insult to the memory of test cricket to eliminate “draw” from the results column. The world has seen so many exciting draws, and also tied tests.
• ICC will have to do either of the two – remove Champions trophy cricket, or, make T20 World Cup and quadrennial (once in 4 years) event. It will reduce the international pressure on the cricketers by a wee bit at least.
• ICC should control the number of foreign club-contracts a player has. I would suggest that a player must not have more than 2 active club-contracts in other nations. And, any sign-in must be made before the season starts, and must hold good for the entire season. I have seen players playing for as many as four (home + 3) franchises in the same season. This rule will “protect” the player from burnout, and make him play more formats of the game, than just the T20, in which the introduction of foreign players is more common than it was with county cricket.
• ICC and the local cricketing body should strengthen the domestic first class format structure, and improve it.
• More care should be taken to prepare the pitches. The pitches used for the international games should be reviewed by the ICC pitch committee a week before the match. And all the pitches used for the test championship, are to be reviewed by the ICC pitch committee and also a team from the visiting nation. Home advantage should be there, but not lopsided.
• The finals should be a “best of three” test series. Two at the higher ranked team’s home, and one at the other country’s home.



I feel that this will take an year or maybe one and a half years to be completed, as it has to fit into the other bilateral series, and other tournaments in other formats too. In any case, each stage may take around 4 to 6 months for completion, owing to geographical reasons. Weather conditions may play spoil sport in some cases, for which I have not yet thought of a solution. Maybe, in such cases, an additional day can be used (déjà vu?). In any case, the youngsters must be taught more about the classic format, and the skills needed to excel in this – the basics. Without basics, even the shorter forms will look ugly.

Lets see what happens. I would love to hear from you all too. Comments, corrections, suggestions are welcome!