Tag Archives: Mumbai Indians

The Ewing Theory in Cricket

**This article has been cross-posted at The Big Tip**

Back in 1998 or thereabout, when ESPN, The worldwide leader in sports, was launching its website, it recruited sports writers and bloggers to enrich the website’s content. While doing so, it secured the services of a sports blogger Bill Simmons who called himself “The Boston Sports Guy“. Bill (or the sportsguy as he is known now) wrote and interpreted the sports scene in an overwhelmingly Boston sports fan point of view. I have been a big fan of his writing and to this day, still read his columns on ESPN.

He had many running features in his columns, such as “The Reggie Cleveland All Stars” (For athletes with black sounding names but are actually white), “Diane Lane All Stars” (For ladies who seem to get hotter as they get older, named for the Hollywood Actress Diane Lane), Tyson Zone (Nothing a person does, no matter how outrageous it is, does not surpise you!) etc. He also had a hypothesized many theories including the one he calls as, and my favorite, “The Ewing Theory“.

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Coming full circle with Sanath Jayasuriya

The beginning and the (seeming) end of the great career of Sanath Jayasuriya has tremendous symmetry to it. He began as a bowling all-rounder for Sri Lanka considered initially for the short format of the game, the ODIs. Now, as the sun sets on his cricketing career, he is again, in the short(est) format of the game for his country, primarily as a bowler, and comes way down the order. In fact, in the last couple of games for Sri Lanka at the T20 world cup, he has actually come in at number 8.

In his debut international match, Jayasuriya did not even get to bowl. He made a very insignificant 3 off 5 balls and Sri Lanka lost chasing a very moderate 229. This was no harbinger of the things to come in the mid-1990’s where he wreaked havoc on a cricket field. He made his ODI debut in 1989 (same year as the other leading luminary cricketer of this generation, Sachin Tendulkar) and his test debut in 1991. His career was going nowhere till Arjuna Ranatunga (the fore runner to Sourav Ganguly in terms of abrasive sub-continental captains who galvanized their respective teams and changed the way their teams were perceived by their opponents), transformed the fortunes of Sanath and in doing so, that of Sri Lanka.

In 1993, Arjuna pushed the little known Sanath up the batting order during the Sharjah tournament where he scored back to back fifties.  Soon, he was making headlines with his aggressive and explosive batting opening the batting for Sri Lanka. The 1996 world cup, Jayasuriya put on a show for the world to see in the company of the little Kaluwathirana. The way they went about their business, utilizing the fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs of an ODI, changed the way the game was played, forever and brought the world cup to Sri Lanka.

There was no stopping Jayasuriya after that. He brought the same aggressive approach to opening batting in test matches as well and scored runs by the mountains. As always, he complemented his run making with his smart left-arm off spin and agile fielding. During a stretch, he WAS the most destructive batsman in the world topping the charts in tests and ODIs, setting world records for fastest fifty, century and plundering India for 340 runs in a test match. As with all great athletes, age -the enemy that always lurks around the corner- caught up to him.

Towards the second half of the oughts (2000’s), the Sri Lankan cricket board also did not manage his situation well. They were not sure what to do with this enormously gifted cricketer. The SL board wanted to move towards a youth centric team, with the reigns in the hands of Mahela Jayawardene and then, Kumar Sangakkara. So, initially, they dropped Jayasuriya from the test team, only to reinstate him on the back of public protests in Sri Lanka. Later on, he announced his retirement from all formats of the game, only to be cajoled by the country’s president to come back and play ODIs and T20s. He signed with the Mumbai Indians of the IPL in 2007 and showed no signs of slowing down, even though he was not playing the top flight of the game.

However, 2009-10 has brought the rude message home for Jayasuriya. He dabbled a little in politics and even tried his hand at commentary. He was not good at either. So, he went back to what he thought was his sanctuary. This meant, he had to accept whatever role the team management (Mumbai/Sri Lanka) made out for him. This is a man, whose very sight at the crease, holding a bat, with those lightning quick square cuts aided by his piston-like forearms, made grown men shiver in their boots. Now, he is being pushed down the order, played as a part-time bowler. In the 2010 IPL, after a couple of scratchy innings, he wasn’t considered for the starting 11. The great Matara Marauder couldn’t out duel some of the younger ones for a starting spot.

He is now in the SL squad for the T20 world cup 2010, and its almost sad to see him come in at number 8, after the likes of Chandimal and Kapugadera who can’t even hold a candle to what he has accomplished for himself and his country. Its a shame, really, to see him get devalued like this, but yet he soldiers on. As the song by Elton John from the movie Lion King goes,

Some of us fall by the wayside
And some of us soar to the stars
And some of us sail through our troubles
And some have to live with the scars

In the circle of life
It’s the wheel of fortune
It’s the leap of faith
It’s the band of hope
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle, the circle of life

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7 Things I learned from this year’s IPL

The IPL tournament just got over and my home team Chennai Super Kings won it all. They have been the most consistent team through the first 3 years of the tournament: 2 Finals (1 W, 1 L) and 1 semifinals. No other team even comes close. The entire 2010 tournament lasted about 7 weeks. Here are the 7 things I learned from this IPL (for the sake of symmetry):

1. Old batting stars look, well, old: The IPL tourney included  a handful of players who have been out of international cricket for a while and are not even playing domestic cricket. Case in point: Adam Gilchrist, Mathew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Sanath Jayasuriya. Both Gilly and Haydos at least had couple of shining moments, but Marto was utterly disappointing. Wonder Warne took him in his team just for ol’ time’s sake! The exception to this rule was Sourav “Dada” Ganguly. He kept getting better as the tournament wore on and even his fielding and catching was unlike what we have seen before from him. Perhaps, he had a point to prove and wanted to show his team of underachievers how its done. The old “bowling” stars still reigned supreme. Anil Kumble and Shane Warne were beyond belief. Simply superb!

2. Sachin Tendulkar has mastered another format of the game: This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. 2008 season was injury-plagued for Sachin and 2009 was so-so. As we saw from him in 2009-10 international fixtures, he has found the fountain of youth. He quite easily became the leading run getter of the league stage. He never resorted to ugly slogs like VVS did and showed everyone he is in a class all by himself. He also showed his true grit by playing the final match even with 5 stitches in his hand. Take bow, Master!

3. Sreesanth is like a dog’s tail – Cannot be straightened out: After the slap-gate incident, the new and improved, and seemingly contrite and looking to be under control Sreesanth vowed that the days of acting like a petulant teenager are long gone. But, that behavior reared its ugly head yet again this year! From mocking the batsman who just hit him for a four, to sarcastically applauding the umpire who called him for no balls,  Sreesanth was well and truly, back to his own child self. Its a crying shame that a talent like him is getting lost in all the hoopla and hype that is Indian Cricket. There are very few bowlers that can swing the ball away from the righthander at such good pace like him but he needs to screw his head back on straight, pronto! The proverbial rope he may get with the administrators and fans of Indian cricket is fast running short.

4. Kolkata Knight Riders are not the most dysfunctional team: That title, at least for 2010, goes to the Kings XI Punjab. The captaincy was taken away from their icon player, Yuvraj Singh, during the off-season, and given to Kumar Sangakkara, which led to news/rumors that Yuvi is extremely unhappy with the Kings XI set up and wanted to move to Mumbai. Though these reports were laid to rest by the team management and Yuvi himself, he didn’t seem to be clicking on all cylinders for his team. It seemed like he was not very interested. This team was the most up and down team of the league. They lost matches they should have won walking away! When their batting clicked, their bowling was abysmal and vice versa. After the early days experiment with Bopara up top, Sangakkara brought Mahela Jayawardene in as the opener and he served his captain well. Irfan Pathan looks a shell of himself. The guy is a lasting evidence of the effect Greg Chappell has left on Indian Cricket. The local indian domestic players did not contribute much to the team’s success, which segues nicely in to the next item on the list. Did I mention Sreesanth is part of Kings XI? ‘nough said.

5. You win with domestic players: Since 7 of the 11 players in a team are Indians and quite possibly, 5 of those 7 do not have international experience and are not big name stars, a team can win consistently if these 5 players can step up to the plate from time to time and contribute to the team’s cause, as bowlers or batsmen. Mumbai showed the blueprint for this. The Indian duo of Ambati Rayadu and Saurabh Tiwary held the Mumbai’s middle order together. They played a cautious game when the chips were down and drove home the advantage when the openers gave them a platform. The Deccan Chargers benefitted from the bats of Monish Mishra and more significantly, Tirumalasetti Suman. Even the Chennai Super Kings solved their opening bowling blues by having the local talent R. Ashwin to bowl off-spin with the new ball. The Kolkata Knight Riders suffered most acutely from the lack of performance by the local talent.

6.  Indian pace bowling stock is threadbare: Besides Zaheer Khan, there were no noteworthy and consistent performances by Indian pace bowlers. The two (medium) pacers from the Royal Challengers Praveen Kumar and Vinay Kumar benefitted tremendously by bowling alongside Dale Steyn and the miserly wizard, Anil Kumble. The batsmen had to take the chances against these two bowlers (PK and VK) and hence, these 2 got a bucket load of wickets. For the sake of fairness, PK bowled well with the new ball but as it got older, his lack of pace became painfully obvious. Some of the names that were on everyone’s lips the past 2-3 years, Ishant Sharma, RP Singh, VRV Singh, Sreesanth etc., were extremely disappointing. The young lad, Umesh Yadav, from Delhi Daredevils looks like a promising fast bowler. Ashish Nehra is still too inconsistent for my liking.

7. I Can’t figure out the Delhi Daredevils: This batting lineup boasted a cavalcade of stars: David Warner, Virender Sehwag, Dilshan, Gautam Gambhir, AB De Villiers, Dinesh Karthik (and towards the end, Paul Collingwood). Their bowling was nothing to sneeze at either with Dirk Nannes, Amit Mishra, Sangwan, Nehra. Yet, they did not even qualify for the semifinals. Gambhir seemed to be a capable captain and put the responsibility on himself to bailout the team in tight situations, such as the match against CSK in that electric oven in Chennai. They were surely put back in some key games by top order collapses. Too many batsmen in the same mold? Perhaps.