Monthly Archives: August 2010

Cancer of Doubt – The Spot Fixing Controversy

The latest alleged sudden fall from grace, if proven true, will send Pakistani Cricket back to the stone ages. Two of the best fast bowlers going around in the world, including a sparkling teenager with a million watt smile, with abilities compared to the finest exponent of left arm fast bowling ever, are in the middle of this quagmire. This is not a couple of cagey veterans caught in a get-rich-quick scheme. Due to internecine politicking that has come to define Pakistani cricket, the current team was forced to blood youngsters and consequentially, a team full of promise but struggling in the short term and certainly would have been a force to be reckoned with in the future, was in the making.

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Century, Interrupted

I wanted to avoid writing this. People have talked ad nauseam. TV anchors yelled questions at six different panelists, simultaneously, which included the eminent scout of Javelin throwers, Bishen Bedi, who narrated stories not relevant to the topic of conversation. Typical. Fans have vented on Twitter and Facebook. Some of them were gob smacked at the vanishing spirit of Cricket while others shrugged off – Happens all the time, dude. Batsmen don’t walk any more even if they know, as sure as the sun rising in the East, they have nicked one behind. Batsmen employ delaying tactics to avoid facing that extra over before stumps. Bowlers and fielders appeal even when they know they don’t have a case, to coax an error out of the umpire. Bowlers bowling wides to avoid the opposing batsmen hitting the winning runs. It’s all part of the game. So, when a bowler deliberately (seemingly anyway, at first look) overstepped by a generous foot to prevent a batsman from getting to his 100, it’s no big deal. Meh.

But the Sri Lankan Cricket Board didn’t think so. Earlier today, they handed down, at the end of their own internal investigation – this must be the quickest ever investigation in the history of internal investigations – a one-match ban to Suraj Randiv, and loss of match fees and loss of match fees to the apparent instigator Tillakaratne Dilshan, as well. You already know the circumstances surrounding the controversy, so I won’t rehash it.

At the end of the match, when Sehwag realized he didn’t actually get to his century, he in his unique way, brushed it off, saying that teams do these sort of things to prevent the batsman from getting to a personal landmark. By then he had not seen the replays and wasn’t really aware of the egregiousness of that no ball. A spinner who doesn’t really bowl no balls oversteps so much that his back foot is at the popping crease. So this was a premeditated effort to deny Sehwag his century. When asked later, Sehwag agreed that it looked very intentional and premeditated, and reportedly not as generous or forgiving as he was at the end of the match. (Would you be? I am not so sure.)

However, reports came out later that the bowler, Suraj Randiv, had apologized to Sehwag and even Sri Lankan Cricket did too. Sehwag accepted it and it was time for all of us to move on, with the knowledge that even Sri Lanka, two time recipient of the ICC Spirit of Cricket Team award (’07 and ’08), is not above cheap tricks. As Sambit Bal, The editor of Cricinfo put forth: “The bowler apologised, the batsman accepted; where do the rest of us come in?

That’s when the Indian media machine stepped in. In the only way it knows to analyze (I am using the term analyze very loosely) any situation, it blew it out of proportion. Every damn network started piling on. They brought in people to transcribe the conversation picked up by stump microphone (as one anchor put it – real people who know real Sinhalese. Who said investigative journalism is dead?). They were positive it was Sangakkara who made Randiv do the dastardly act. The real people who know real Sinhalese told the anchor, “Sangakkara told the bowler not to give the batsman a run”. Of course. Which captain ever tells his bowler not to give away the winning run? Game, Set and Match. Some started comparing the situation to all the other times any Indian cricket player was ever wronged. Sydney 2008 was duly hashed and rehashed. The racist card couldn’t be played as those real Sri Lankans are of the same race as these real Indians. As much as I am not a fan of Sangakkara and his over appealing, sweet talking tactics, he was quickly sullied without proper proof. But after the SL Cricket Board’s punishments have come out, it has become clear that Dishan played the instigator and advised Randiv to bowl a monster no ball. The raving TV anchor is not going to apologize to Sangakkara but that is only to be expected. The story quickly moved on to demonising Dilshan.

I had a few conversations during the day on social networking sites and just good ol’ fashioned chats with some friends. The topic revolved around, not the usual “OMG, how could Randiv do that?” but more on the lines of, “Did SLC have to do this? Was the punishment too much?” [especially considering Mr. Broad Jr is getting away with only a portion of match fees docked for throwing a ball at a batsman and for general wussy-ness].

With just the video evidence, it is hard to prove that Randiv’s action was pre-meditated. People bowl big no balls and wides. Ask Steve Harmison. He has bowled a ball so wide, it bypassed the keeper, the pitch and went straight in to the hands of second slip. And so, yeah, it happens. I asked one of my friends from my undergraduate days – he is a trained umpire in the Asian Cricket Council – and he responded thus: “The umpire should have called the ball dead and cautioned the bowler for misconduct if to him it was delibrate, as he is empowered to under the “preamble” spirit of cricket points number 3 and 4. Clearly the offence”intention” to deny sehwag occured before the noball was bowled.” However, one cannot get inside the head of Randiv to know for sure, what he was thinking. The ICC couldn’t have interfered in this as technically, Randiv has not broken any of the game’s written laws.

I commend the fact that SLC Board decided to step in and nip the issue in the bud and do their own investigation, through which they have determined that Dilshan prodded Randiv to bowl the no ball. Good on them. In my opinion, Dilshan should at least have received the same punishment as Randiv, if not more. Dilshan is an experienced international player and should have known better than to resort to such idiocy. If he felt so compelled to deny Sehwag, he should have taken the ball and bowled that over instead of Randhiv.

But did SLC had to do this in the first place? No, of course not. There may be any number of reasons why they did it. It’s possible that the Board was ticked off with the team losing the 2009 Spirit of Cricket award to the Kiwis, or,  may be they are just really good Buddhists, or they are dependent on BCCI for solvency and so wanted to avoid any drawn out, media driven controversy.

I wonder if SLC Board would have been this stringent and swift with “justice” if it weren’t Randhiv – a relative newcomer on the cricketing scene – but one of their main bowlers and the following match was a semi-final or a final. But that’s neither here nor there. So what have we learned from this?

The spirit of cricket is a big bogus thing. In the current days of big time commercialization of cricket, the old practices of what used to be a “gentleman’s game” is slowly but surely drifting out the window. Secondly, Indian media is a non-stop non-sense circus where street corner preachers are masquerading as TV anchors blowing every possible issue out of proportion and propagating the view that one of ours was wronged and so we will drag you through hell. Thirdly, SLC Board cares about its team’s “spirit of cricket” image for one reason or another and they decided to display it by over-penalizing a new comer.

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Let the Ashes begin

Ricky Ponting has fired the first salvo of the Ashes 2010 by saying a 5-0 whitewash is definitely possible. I think he meant Australia beating England 5-0. Sure. Whatever you say Ricky. England are in the process of winning 8 test matches in a row (if they beat Pakistan in the remaining 2 test matches, which is highly likely).

However, in my view, the contest is a lot closer than most people think. Continue reading the article at World Cricket Watch

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Just Short

Test Match Sofa started an initiative where they published a short write-up of their favorite cricketers and opened it up to the fans and listeners as well. So, like any normal listener would do, I wrote with in the next 5 minutes a brief profile of my favorite cricketer, Rahul Dravid, and here it is:

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There was always something endearing about Rahul Dravid, a batsman that had the look on his face as if he was trying to solve a differential equation while going back and across.  I had heard about his domestic exploits but the 95 runs on debut at Lord’s when he started his recurring role as the bridesmaid, made me a believer. He perfected the role in one of the greatest test matches in India’s history at Kolkata (2001). He has kept wickets, led the country, written foreword to Steve Waugh’s book, scored gazillion runs, and all that quietly. Take note Chris Gayle.

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I was told that the write-up can have a maximum of 100 words. When I was done with it, I counted the words and it was 99. Just short. The story of the life of Rahul Sharad Dravid!

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A “bored” debut

A cartoon strip I made “A tale of two innings“, is now published at the bored cricket crazy indians (BCC!) site. I want to acknowledge here that Mrs. Cricket Couch had a role to play in it. The cartoon is a commentary on the fighting, incredulous 100+ runs partnership between Thilan Samaraweera and Ajantha Mendis in the recently concluded 3rd test match between India and Sri Lanka. This partnership certainly put Sri Lanka on the way to a series win (2-nil) till VVS Laxman had other plans.

What are you still doing? Go check it out: A tale of two innings

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Name that VVS Laxman shot

During the course of his match winning century (102 N.O) against Sri Lanka in the 3rd test of the Series, VVS Laxman moved from 87 to 91 with a delightful looking stroke off Suraj Randiv through the cover region. Its a given that VVS has supple wrists and his onside flicks are legendary. His flick against leg spinners, especially when they are bowling around the wicket, is a thing of beauty. During the course of his mammoth 281 at Kolkata in 2001, he put on a clinic on how to play Shane Warne, who bowls big ripping leg breaks, by repeatedly flicking him against the spin towards midwicket, working those supple wrists overtime.

A cover  drive is defined as “straight-batted shot, played by swinging the bat in a vertical arc through the line of the ball, hitting the ball in front of the batsman along the ground” through the cover position. However, the shot he hit, mentioned above, had all the wrist work that VVS exemplifies in an onside flick aimed towards midwicket region, except this was hit towards cover. He did move his feet, stretched and got to the pitch of the ball, brought down the bat in the vertical arc but the follow through was unlike what you generally see in a cover drive.

What should we call this shot? That is the question. Is it a cover flick? off side flick? Help me figure it out. Here is the video of that shot. Cheers!

(Video adapted from Cricket online TV)

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Sehwag – The Inimitable Genius

Way back in the early Oughts, Prem Panicker, used to have an online talk-chat show called “Panix Station” (before podcast was even part of the public parlance) where people could send questions in by email. The show’s producer would read the question and Prem would give his take on it. It has since been discontinued and Prem has moved on to bigger and better things.

During the entire life of that show, I had sent in one question/comment only. It went something like this: “I don’t know why people are cribbing so much about how Virender Sehwag bats. He is a free spirit and he brings that refreshing attitude to his batting. Sure, there will be times when he gets out in a silly looking manner, but the team management seems to be okay with it. They seem perfectly happy with the way he goes about it as more often than not, he pulls it off and puts the opposition bowlers under tremendous pressure. We, as fans, should quit quibbling about his batting style and enjoy it while it lasts.”

Picture source: topnews.in

If you had seen the way Virender got out in the 2nd test match against Sri Lanka, you would either be banging your head against a wall for he has thrown out an opportunity for a fourth century on trot, or just shrug the shoulder with a nod of the head, acknowledging, “That’s the way he bats.”  Loads of ink and acres of webspace have been used up in trying to describe this inimitable genius. Of course, there is more method to the seeming madness.

Batting, when performed correctly, is an absolute work of art. Especially in test match Cricket. Sehwag, with a bat in hand, distills this art form to its purest core – See ball, Hit ball. He has been quoted many times that he doesn’t like to play “boring cricket”. Does this mean he wants to score a boundary of every ball? Of course not. There is a big difference between purposeful batting that is full of intent and general savagery where the batsman goes after everything.

I was looking for opportunities to score runs wherever I could,” Sehwag said of what he was trying to do when, for the third time in the series, he faced short and wide deliveries with a square third man, a deep point and a sweeper-cover in place. “If fielders are there I can hit towards mid-off, midwicket or mid-on. Whatever reasons. Because I don’t want to, you know, play boring Test cricket.

An argument has been made that Sehwag gets “bored” when the fields get defensive and the bowler is pitching the ball two feet outside the off stump. I think that’s a pile of garbage. No “bored” batsman could score the mountains of runs that Sehwag scores if he were actually to get “bored”. Sehwag has the highest percentage of 150+ scores  of all batsmen with at least 10 test centuries to their name. All this does is point out the irrefutable fact that when he gets “in”, he kicks on to a very big score.  That is not a sign of a batsman that gets “bored”, is it? The bowling and fielding placements get boring, but Sehwag? I don’t think so.

In test cricket, Sehwag gives the bowler the respect he deserves, not because of the bowler’s pedigree or his reputation, but how he is performing that day, that over. He plays out maidens, with rock solid front food defense but the moment he senses any weakness in the bowler, he launches in to him. When bowling to Sehwag, the bowler’s margins for error, diminish rather rapidly to the point of being almost non-existent. If there is a slight mistake in the length or the line, Sehwag duly cashes in with his lightning bat speed, with a typical flay over point. This undoubtedly has a significant effect on bowlers who are not made of sterner stuff.

Imagine you are Uda Walawwe Mahim Bandaralage Chanaka Asanga Welegedara (Now, say that three times fast and all your wishes will be granted!). A decent bowler with moderate talent and medium pace. You are gently trundling along in your run up and you are about to deliver to Sehwag. In the back of your mind, you know you have to be inch perfect. A little bit towards the middle, he will flick you over squareleg. A little wide, you will be slashed over point. Too full, you will be driven down the ground. Too short, pulled over  midwicket. This is where Sehwag wins more than half his battles. The bowlers need to be perfect, or they are going to be carted for runs. Quite easily.

In 2003-04 test series in Australia, Sehwag was on the threshold of doing something quite unique in the 3rd test of the series at the MCG – a ravishing double hundred on the opening day of the test – and he was only a shot away at 195. He had just hit the part-time crock of Katich for a six over long on. While trying to repeat the same stroke to get to 201, he holed out. The Indian score was 311-3 and India were bowled out for 366 soon after.

Two things grab your attention: One, The Australian bowlers, including Brett Lee, in home conditions, were bowling pretty well as they got the other 9 wickets for 171 runs and Two, Sehwag made a mockery of that bowling and the conditions. He owned them and tried to bat his way to 200 the only way he knows and in the process he got out, and the rest folded. This has happened a few times where the batting conditions look easy and the bowling benign, when Sehwag is still in, and the rest of the Indian batting just folds up after he is out. Perhaps, they are induced in to a false sense of confidence by the ease with which Sehwag has been dealing.

As a man who had the front row seat to that epic inning at the MCG (and many others during their time together at Ranji trophy matches), I asked former Indian opener Aakash Chopra about this on Twitter and he responded:

Absolutely…he does make it look so simple. The trick is not to believe it.

If this isn’t the sign of a genius, I don’t know what is. He plays with such ease that can only come from the clarity of the mind. There are millions of fans of Indian cricket who will swear by their allegiance for and devotion to Sachin Tendulkar, for the pure joy he has brought to the fans and his unquestionable influence on all batting records. But if you ask them for an honest answer as to who the key to an Indian victory is, the answer will have to be “Virender Sehwag”. In the days following the dastardly terrorist attacks in Mumbai, England agreed to come back and play the test matches in India. The first match was in Chennai and England set an unlikely 387 for India to chase in the 4th innings. Sehwag launched an assault on the English bowling that sunny afternoon at the Chepauk stadium by scoring a blistering 83 of just 66 balls that left a manageable 256 to get on the fifth day which Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh did with aplomb.

One of my friends put this up on his facebook page and I don’t think I can say it any better.

They can debate about the best batsman in the world all they want but there’s no other delight for the fans and no other nemesis for the opposition in cricket today than Sehwag.

A slightly modified version of this article is published at World Cricket Watch. My debut article there. Support WCW. (They have highlights videos of all matches).

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