This blog attempts to function as a confluence of thoughts from the blogosphere on any matters pertaining to international cricket.
March 2009 - Posts
The Windies might have been on a momentary high after securing a hitherto rare Test series victory over the visiting English since the 90s, but are these necessarily the Windies of change or just a Gayle that will blow through?
It has to be noted that this series victory came largely from one morning's deeds from two bowlers in Sabina Park. Those were the only difference-making performances from the West Indian team. Those same bowlers were rendered quite impotent in the subsequent matches; in fact one of them couldn't even hold down his spot for the full Test series. The West Indies bowling struggled consistently to knock down the English 10-pin. One could argue that this is reflected directly in the fact that the ranking of the highest run-scores in the series from both teams has Englishmen from ranks #2 until #6. The English batsmen would argue otherwise and they would be partially justified, especially since some of the aforementioned five batsmen had to weather the fieriness of Fidel on certain late afternoon and the bends from Benn on certain others. Those were the exceptions.
As far their own batting goes, Ramnaresh Sarwan scored big and bigger and Chanderpaul did what is the minimum expected from him these days and Gayle chipped in here and there. But that was mostly that! The rest of the seemingly good performances, including a couple from the spruces of Brendon and Denesh, seem so more due to the generosity of the Brits than the virtuosity of the Islanders. The question then becomes what if two of these three stalwarts fail in an entire series. One doesn't have to be Tim Burton to imagine that scenario. And the less said about the West Indian fielding the better.
And all this against an English team that has been stumbling on its own mess: Flint-OFF, Unkeen Pietersen, Andrew Stress, to name a few.
"Work ethic" is a word that is being thrown around in world cricket these days, thanks to the entry of a "corporate" mentality and the purported "accountability" that should come with it. But the world famous West Indian "lackadaisia" might be too much to handle even for these task masters. The fact that one of them, a big one at that, might end up behind bars for a long time to come doesn't help either. The laid back island culture might have even gotten to their Aussie coach, one of whose main purpose was indeed to break that easy floating bubble, as he seems to be getting himself nicely ensconced within it when he called back his batsmen in bad light even as that would directly result in their loss.
Off the field, it doesn't help that the captain is at loggerheads with the "Mother Board", which itself is not on the best of terms with the "Mother Chip" or as some call it, DigiCel.
There are more entities at play as well in contributing to that eerie premonition that West Indian cricket might never again scale back its own past heights, not the least of which are those of its fas bowlers! As Simon Evans laments, the aforementioned corporate agenda, albeit half-baked in execution, as well as fully inept cricket board have combined to make West Indies a newfound "home ground" for the English in a new form of colonialization. The locals, especially in Antigua and Barbados, with their rum-soaked breaths and their steel drum-driven hearts and vintage cricket memories have been left with just that. As Lara has hesitantly admitted, the rise of T20 seems to have given birth to a new type of cricket viewer in the Caribbean.
" ... Not necessarily the right ones I think; the ones that just want to go to the game and don’t even know what happens ..."
The English might have spoilt that party with an ODI series win, but they themselves can't lay any serious claims to have done so anywhere close to convincingly. John from the Bleacher Report seems to agree:
Despite succumbing to the brilliance of Andrew Flintoff's bowling, and subsequently losing the one-day series, the West Indies have enjoyed the better of England's tour. Test series victories are rare moments, but the reaction of the returning crowds shows that cricket remains an important social activity in the Caribbean.
The limited overs exhibition has been wrapped up. The boys are busy
discarding their crayon colored clothing and will be graduating to men
in whites. These days, except Australia, almost every other team seems
to be wearing the whitest of whites. But enough of the sartorials and
on to the gladiatorials!
India has had a mixed bag on this tour of Hobbitland leading to a
"neither her nor there" kind of feeling. But now the Tests are
Dhoni's forces have already been able to erase his predessor's dark
history in New Zealand in the limited overs versions of the sport. Can
they do it in the more pristine version? While reports such as this one
suggest an answer to that, Vettori would most certainly want to answer
that question. And if history is any indicator at all, then his current
team has all the more ammunition that his own predecessors to answer it
in the most affirmatively negative. While the Indian team only has
marginally more special talent in its ranks compared to the 2-0
embarrassment of 2-0-0-2, the New Zealand team is exploding with a lot
of fresh and striking talent in almost all departments of cricketing
The oldies-but-goldies of current Indian cricket - some would say
"ever" - must be unpacking their coffins in Hamilton to try and
resurrect some pride this time around. It is easy to get carried away
by the seemingly unlimited success of the Indians in the limited
versions since that famous bowl off in South Africa, amost two years
ago. But one might also remember that the main difference seems to be
in the age and the attitude of the team, something that will largely
remain unchanged in the Test side, except that of the captain, who
himself is always the first to admit that his qualities matter very
little in translating to sweeping vicissitudes for the team.
DreamCricket's own columnist, Suresh Menon, notes
the seemingly precipitous downfall in the last ODI as a possible shock
test before the real Tests. But when most of the personell will be
shuffled, that shock might not be conducted to the required
New Zealand has a palpable increase in talent and balance among its
ranks which is accompanied by an equal, if not greater, decrese in
experience. The specialist Test opener, Tim Mcintosh. The most easy-on-the-eyes batting talent to appear on the international circuit since Rohit Sharma, Martin Guptill
who is most likely to get a wink from his selectors' eyes and an
opportunity to get his own eye in from the top. Daniel Flynn, who has
already tasted a bit of success in Tests. He had said after his maiden
Test against the West Indies:
"I thought I was going to kill two birds with one stone there
today but obviously not," he said. "Getting runs on the board is what
counts so to get through to 95. Obviously I'm disappointed not to kick
on and get that hundred, but to make a contribution like that I'm very
The fearless rookie Ryder. Pugnacious middle orderlies in Taylor,
Elliott, and Oram. Then you have the poucher-***-pouncer McCullum. The
spinning skipper Vettori. The prodigious Tim Southee. The deck-hitting
O'Brien and Martin. The swinging Mills and Franklin. The if-needed
Jeetan Patel. The if-selected Brent Arnel.
Tim McIntosh's successful predecessor points to rankings and recent
statistics to make his point about the bowling reserves of New Zealand:
The most effective seam bower in Test cricket for New Zealand of late has been Iain O'Brien, and his ranking, 27, leads you to conclude that penetration is not the strong point of the New Zealand Test team right now.
But then if one only goes by history then one should not be
surprised if the Test series sees no wins for India yet again. Mahi
refuses to ackowledge the burden of history:
"I am not bothered about whether we have won here or
not. I am just bothered about the things we need to do over here as a
team. We are not thinking about what happened in the past. I am not
great when it comes to stats, so that really helps."
Platitude or attitude? The results of the forthcoming Tests can tell.
The amount of cricket on grass would make it seem as though some good old-fashioned Test control is needed. In just the past three days, Gayle force Windies couldn't move England nor themselves but somehow saw West Indies win the Wisden Trophy in a long time. Bravo! The pitch was over-Cooked and not even a Baker in the West Indian attack could fix that. Broadly speaking, though, the English have Owais had a problem closing the deal on the Islands. All they needed to prepare was some good old fashioned Hindsight to realize that even before coming on this tour. The English batting Flowers as expected, but there is only one Swann in all of this for the English bowling department.
Meanwhile, Australia's Johnson gets hard on the South Africans. Steyn consistent has been a problem for the Proteas who Neil yet again in front of their formidable foes. They retain their status as only the Prince of Test cricket. Surely a lot is Wayne on the minds of their selectors, what with the whack-a-mole captaincy updates from them over the past couple of days. Latest is that it will be the Jacques of all cricketing trades.
In the ODI scene, Sehwags the dog which is actually a Kiwi. New Zealand would like their Broom to not just sweep the boundary
but to also get some dirt on the Indian bowling, not unlike their easy
Ryder who is not willing to Grant any corner to them. For the New
Zealand bowlers, though, it might just be a matter O' Brien over
batter, but with Sachin form batsmen who've Gautam by their balls, it
remains to be seen who Singhs to whose tunes in days to come.
Even as typing on this post began, Henry and Benjamin are possibly warming up to walk into the Kingsmead to face their foes once more. This time, the bar has been set higher by Ricky Ponting and his wards for the last day, after predictably shunning a follow-on opportunity.
The Australians' collective egos had been hurt over the past year or so. But the 'legos' of a successful unit seem to be building up yet again. Ricky Ponting had suddenly seemed a lot more relaxed in that last Sydney Test and it has translated into three successive victories for his team against their victors from the two preceding encounters. What's more his own batting has also blossomed in the process. This had been telegraphed by ... well, The Telegraph ... back in Jan 09:
Ponting says bring it on. "It's a big career challenge to turn this round. It is not going to happen overnight either. But I was really proud of the way the guys performed against South Africa even though we went down 2-1 in the Tests. The public is so used to seeing us win. It must seem all doom and gloom. But there have been enough positives for me to remain upbeat about what we are doing and where we are going."
Contrary to this, the South African leader has not been allowed to relax at all since that match. Not even a pinky, in fact not ANY pinky, was spared. In the case of the South Africans their bodies have been hurt and their team doesn't seem to function like one body. In that same period, Graeme Smith's batting has suffered, partly due to black and blue pinkies.
The contrast could not be any starker than the opening bowling and batting departments of the two teams either. Australia has found a brand new opener who followed a seemingly disastrous duck on debut with centuries in both innings of the latest Test. South Africa's veteran now-good-now-not-not-now-not-good opener Neil McKenzie is facing some demons again in what is already a comeback from a similar stretch he went through a few years ago. Even according to his own captain he will find it hard-pressed to come back into the side:
"It is disappointing for Neil," Smith said. "It is going to be difficult for him to come back at this stage of his career and reclaim his position.
Imran Khan will have to take on the mantle and try and do a Hughes in the last Test of the series. Morne will give way to a rare lefty quick for Soutn Africa in the form of Wayne Parnell. Another not-so-common feature of his when it comes to the South African cricket team is that he is still a teenager.
While these captains navigate the changing tides, there is still only one team that is still riding the waves of success atop everyone else. In fact, South Africa have a new skipper for their next conquest, Ashwell Prince.
By the time typing on this post has ended, all the hyping has been deflated and post-end celebrations have begun in the Australian dressing room.
The barrage of verbal bullets in response to the metallic type continues across the world.
The black-arm-banded cricketers are trying to move on in the Southern Hemisphere. The ever more colorful and flighted peacocks take on the currently black-capped and flightless kiwis in the ODIs. But as cricketers and fans know only too well, it is not flight alone that wins cricket matches ... something the New Zealand captain seems to know as well in this format. How else would one explain his rarely flighted deliveries, especially in the limited overs versions. Meanwhile, near the Cape of Good Hope, Australians are hoping for good things and acting accordingly.
But in all of this, the din from a few otherwise loud happenings from the immediately preceding previous weeks has been drowned.
Two weeks between Feb 21 and March 04,
three (or four if you count ARGHHHH!) pitches,
total match scores of: 1553, 1628, and 716 (in just 2 days in the now infamous Test),
total match wickets of: 18, 17, 11 ('that' test again),
number of double centuries: 4,
number of triple centuries: 1,
total declarations: 4
Tom Pilcher, on Reuter's blog-post, digs up a few more statistical gems , notably:
"A list of highest test innings above 600 includes five totals all scored in the last couple of weeks, and two of those make the top 10."
There is an easy (land)scape-goat: "The pitch must have been as flat as a dead man's EKG." But there might be more to this that meets the eye. Could it be, and this might well be an outrageous suggestion, but could it be that this has something to do with the actual players and their skills!! There, it has been said! As our very own Suresh Menon observers in his latest column on DreamCricket.com, batting skills and peripherals seem to have come a long way in the last decade or so:
"Better equipment, greater fitness, and the trained ability to place the ball between orthodox fielding positions has made the modern batsman fully confident of scoring at a galloping pace."
It will not be a big surprise either that bowler's averages have inflated by 10% in just the past 5 years compared to what they were in the previous two decades. But is that an indication of bowler's skills dropping? Or is it more of an indication of the batsmen becoming more adept in their craft? Or is it both? While this quandary conjures up the following image,
John, in commenting about Tom's blog referred to above, thinks that the poultry farmer and the egg-distributor are in bed:
"Under Steve Waugh, Australia stepped up the tempo of test cricket to such an extent that matches began finishing regularly in four days. This, of course, didn’t please the television companies and by coincidence or not pitches have become increasingly more bland. For example there hasn’t been a result at Lord’s since 2005."
He is most certainly not alone in this view-point as Dean Wilson joins him on The Mirror:
The wickets are being produced so that Test matches last five days, and the money that is generated from as many days of Test cricket as possible keeps flooding in. Never mind that the actual product is a bore.
Vic Marks questions the science, or the very existence thereof, in the making of cricket pitches:
In an age when everything can be scientifically annotated and analysed it is amazing how neglected the art of pitch-making remains.
But does it not finally all come down to pure skill? Most in the blogosphere (and elsewhere) would readily agree that cricket is foremost a battle between bat and ball. If that is truly so, what does it matter if that ball is bounced on moon or that bat can launch things into orbit?
Who drives the balance between bat and ball ... their wielders or their "fielders"? Is the pitch really that big of a deal or is it the pitcher?
Most of the debates over the past two weeks have been over the quality of both the pitches on view in the two-Test series. As a few armed men would have it, it was not the pitches alone that ended up being dead in Pakistan. Hafsa, on "The Dawn Blog" seems to be arriving at a conclusion along similar lines, just a couple of hours after the attacks on the cricket convoy from hotel to stadium was reported:
This deadly attack simply means no international team will be willing to come and play any sport in Pakistan.
On wellpitched.com , "Sledgehammer" went one step further or, more appropriately, one foot deeper, and wrote what could be one of the first obituaries for the sport iitself in Pakistan:
I think the title says it all. Today's disgusting and shameful attacks
have sealed the deal. There is no reason for any foreign team to tour
Dominic Cork, who was on the commentary team there, had this immediate reaction:
"I won't be coming back here while I'm still
living. I don't think international teams should come back to this
country, whether it's 10 or 20 years."
The news may sound shocking and seem to vindicate most teams' stance of not even remotely taking a stance on any pitch in Pakistan. But it may well have been the "satisfactory levels of security" repeatedly promised by the PCB and accepted by the Sri Lankan Sports Minister just ten days ago, that seems to have left the Sri Lankan players alive.
But Sanjeev Miglani from Reuter's "FactBox" reminds one and all about the pre-existing security concerns for cricket to be taking place in Pakistan even before this :
- Sri Lanka's cricket team were touring Pakistan after
India pulled out in the wake of the Mumbai attacks
- Until the Sri Lankan series Pakistan had gone without
test cricket for more then a year and was keen to have
international cricket at home.
- Australia postponed a test tour in April 2008 and the
International Cricket Council also put off the Champions Trophy
after South Africa raised security concerns about playing in
- In 2002, a bomb exploded in Karachi while the New Zealand
cricket team were touring, killing 13 people including 11
French navy experts.
- The ICC last month
asked the organisers to plan alternate venues due to security concerns.
Two other, much-publicised, assumptions seem to have also been gunned down by this incident. The first of these having been initiated by Imran Khan
in the aftermath of the myriad cancellations of international cricketing events in Pakistan in 2008:
There is no problem about the security of cricketers in Pakistan.
his logic being
terrorists will never target cricketers knowing that they will then
lose the battle of hearts and minds of the people. Cricketers are safe
The second of those assumptions was that Sri Lanka being one of those seemingly rare friendly nations, especially one that chose to prove this friendship by defying what had almost become as commonplace a tenet in cricket as "bowling within oneself" or the more annoying "it ain't over until the last ball is bowled", was immune to the ire of any lurking attackers.
As far as assumptions go, chances are Samaraweera would have assumed that his double double would not be followed by so much trouble. Chances also are that he would gladly give up those four tons of runs for never having to face the predicament of him ending up on the wrong side of four kilograms of explosives. But chance is a funny thing and many know it better than an international cricketer, those many being the rest of the citizens of the subcontinent, because and brace yourself ... "after all, cricket imitates life itself".
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