cricket

No Pain, No Gain

courtesy: ESPNcricinfo

At the time of writing, India are getting quite a beating from Cook’s men at the Oval. The rapid disintegration of the players in the last three tests has been painful to watch; actually, scratch that…I have stayed off from watching most of the days’ play since the Ageas Bowl test. As Devanshu pointed out in a brilliant article recently, the emotional toll that my team’s performance exacts on me can be draining in defeat as exhilarating as it is in victory. After all, I still have not fully recovered from the 0-8 memories of 2011.

Talking about 2011, going from the highs of a home World Cup win to the nadir of whitewashes in England and Australia really tested my loyalty and support for the team. The only other performance that brought me similar grief was the 1999 whitewash down under. At least, then it was expected by all and sundry, as a weak team (barring SRT) wilted under the dominance of the mighty Aussies. The 2011 England tour, on the other hand, consisted of a phalanx of experienced veterans who were supposed to defend the number 1 ranking in style. Instead, the team went down with a flurry of injuries and contagious loss of form, as England steamrolled the tourists. As crushing as it was, I consoled myself saying that it was all bad luck. Then came the tour down under.

The Aussies seemed ripe for the taking; yet a fully fit Indian team continued it’s disastrous run overseas. That tour signaled the end of Rahul Dravid and further down the road, VVS Laxman. India were forced into the transitional period, kicking and screaming.

Fast forward to now. The Indian team picked for the England series did not boast of many high profile names like the previous tour; but given the travails of the English team and the promising performances in the previous two overseas tours, there was reason for cautious optimism. Indeed, the Lord’s test raised hopes that a corner had been turned with regards to tactics, skill and guts. Instead, the following three tests has been a sobering reminder, that there is a long way to go for this team to mature into a strong test side capable of challenging the best sides on a consistent basis.

That brings me to the point of the article; there is hope. Yes, the manner of the defeats in the last few games has been very dispiriting, to put it mildly; but as @srinivyasan pointed out, this team is on the upward curve of their careers. Players like Pujara, Kohli and Rahane will only get better. The likes of Bhuvneshwar, Ishant (yes!) and Aaron promise good signs for the future. Vijay has shown that he has the discipline to succeed overseas. While there is a question mark on the likes of Dhawan, Jadeja and Ashwin, they have age on their side. Short-term pain might have to be tolerated before the long-term gain comes to fruit.

The captain likes to talk about the importance of process over results. So far, neither the process nor the results has gone India’s way; but Dhoni himself has offered a template (courtesy, his bat) on how to keep fighting and trusting on one’s own strengths. If his players can imbibe those qualities, these present-day shambles might just kickstart a revival for this team.

 

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The emotional journey of the Indian fan during the WT20 – through GIFs

India came into the World T20, after a dispiriting few months where they just about lost every series, regardless of the format, since November last year. So, when it was time for the World T20 to begin and we realized that we were grouped with Pakistan, West Indies and Australia…..

 

The campaign started on a perfect note though, with a clinical win over Pakistan, but the heart refused to accept that the team would fare better in the remaining games…..

 

Then India beat defending champions West Indies in similarly convincing style. Suddenly, the expectations were kindled….

 

India rolled over Bangladesh and became the first team to enter the semifinals, which was a pleasant surprise

 

By the time Australia were brushed aside ruthlessly, confidence was sky-high

 

India faced South Africa in the semifinal, and were faced with their first challenging target of the tournament. Kohli was all like…

 

India entered the WT20 final for the second time since 2007 and anticipation was building, when it was realized that they were going to play Sri Lanka in the final.

 

Still, it was an opportunity for India to hold all three major ICC trophies at the same time…

 

India batted first. Kohli stuck some lusty blows and at the half way point, it looked like a good platform was set for the finish. Then Yuvraj happened.

 

The game was effectively over by the time Dhoni and Kohli returned to the dejected dugout. Sri Lanka duly completed the chase with Sangakkara leading the team to a memorable triumph in his last T20 international. For the India fan,

 

Then we remembered that the IPL is round the corner….

Dhawan: Do I stay, or do I go?

Testing times….

Did we crown him the new Sehwag, too soon?

Shikhar Dhawan has all the flair and strokes that the Nawab of Najafgarh has; and after a dazzling debut innings much like Viru’s, hopes were high. A Man of the Series performance at the Champions trophy later, it was settled. Shikhar Dhawan was the new batting star.

Alas, reality has come crashing down.

Dhawan looks terribly out of sorts. If he fails in the remainder of this series, should Dhawan be persisted with? Would it mean the return of Gambhir? Or does India need to look to blood newbies? Jiwanjot Singh? Vijay Zol?

Personal opinion: Dhawan needs to be persisted with. At least for another series. He has the class and the ability. Take the case of Murali Vijay. Who would have thought at the onset of the South African tour that he would be the most reliable opener of the two? Give Dhawan the opportunity to redeem himself. If he still fails after enough chances, it might be time to look elsewhere.

What you need to know about the Position Paper

“I did say that the ‘Brown Ultimatum’ would have been a better idea…”

What better way to break a self-imposed blogging exile than to write about something that I have no idea about? The ‘Position Paper’, a leaked ICC draft about proposed changes to the structure and governance of the game internationally has sent the cricket world into a tizzy over the last few days. Journalists, administrators and even players have had their say on the issue, which has been roundly criticized as a naked power grab by the BCCI, with its two sidekicks in CA and ECB along for the ride. These were my first thoughts when the story broke out…

1. What kind of name is ‘Position Paper’ for a draft?

2. How did the Big Three think they could even get away with this?

3. Even by BCCI’s standards, this is preposterously ballsy. It’s as if Srini and co are seeing how far they can go…

Ultimately, we should have seen this coming. Most administrators, if not all, look after their own interests; and that is precisely what these three cricket boards are doing. Now, I am not particularly nuanced with details of finances and administration matters pertaining to the ICC and thus I am not going to attempt to explain this latest outrage; what I do care about is how this will affect me as a cricket fan. Will I still be able to follow high quality cricket between different teams? Will I still be able to follow my favorite cricketer in action in Tests? Will this finally put an end to the overkill of India vs Sri Lanka ODIs?

The following is a selection of my favorite articles on the ‘Position Paper’. These helped me to get a clearer picture of what international cricket is going to face in the coming months; and these are all that you need to read on the whole matter.

You’re welcome.

  1. My all time favorite cricket writer Jarrod Kimber in, “Tell the administrators you’re watching them
  2. Harsha Bhogle on how the “Decision to run cricket according to commercial interests will cause inequity”
  3. Russell Degnan on “Cashing out the future of cricket”
  4. “And then there were three” by Sharda Ugra
  5. Devanshu Mehta’s “The End Game”
  6. Kartikeya Date asks “What is the ECB, CA and BCCI’s Game?”

 

2 Reasons Why You Should Read My BuzzFeed Post

I made my writing debut for BuzzFeed with All You Need To Know About Cricket In 10 Minutes. You should read it:

 

1. Because it is about Cricket

2. Isn’t that reason enough?

I got the idea mainly after struggling to explain the game to my girlfriend; added to the several ‘How do you explain cricket to Americans’ questions which popped up in the aftermath of the rain-affected games in the recently concluded Champions Trophy.  So, this was my attempt to explain the game to casual observers. Take a look!

 

Champion of Champions – India prove their number 1 status

On a wet Sunday evening in Birmingham, the last (supposedly) Champions Trophy game ever came down to the final ball. James Tredwell had to only smite a six to bring glory on himself and the English team. On the other hand, Ravichandran Ashwin had to stop that from happening to complete a stunning come-back for the Indians. Ashwin bowled, Tredwell missed and Dhoni danced. England missed yet another opportunity to grab their first ICC trophy in ODIs while MS Dhoni collected the last trophy that had been missing in his collection. Funny that it had to take a Twenty over game to prove which team is the best in the fifty over format.

To read the rest of this article, head on to The Cricket Magazine.

The Heart Of The Fix

So, there we go. With the arrest of three cricketers belonging to the Rajasthan Royals team in the IPL, for the crime of spot-fixing, widespread and long time speculations of corruption in the cash rich league have been confirmed. S Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan – all bowlers – were allegedly promised money ranging from US$ 36,000 to 109, 000 for conceding a specific number of runs in a particular over in three separate games. These cricketers have been charged with fraud, cheating and criminal conspiracy – a shameful list of wrongdoings which is the antithesis of sports. If proven guilty, these players are staring at the end of their careers, a considerable amount of time in prison and a lifetime of regret and guilt.

The first thought that came to my mind when I heard of the news was, “How can these guys be so stupid?”. In the last few years, spot-fixing has been firmly thrust in the spotlight; Amir and Asif during a Lord’s Test, Kaneria and Westfield in county cricket, uncapped IPL players attempting it in the Indian domestic circuit. All these players got caught and were handed appropriate punishments. The ICC and the respective national boards have revamped their anti-corruption units in recent times, while there has been an increase in efforts to better educate the players as to what to do when they are approached by bookies and which authorities to contact when it happens. Spot-fixing has been pretty much publicized and recognized as a new scourge of cricket all over the world, and yet three well paid cricketers, one a Test player, have likely sacrificed promising careers in the pursuit of “just a little more $”.

Sure, there will be a bunch of detractors gunning for the tournament. Any league which throws around the amount of cash it does will always be a ripe target for bookies. Added to it, is the lopsided difference in salaries between team-mates at a particular franchise; a seasoned player getting much less than a supposed T20 specialist is as susceptible to approaches by undesirable elements as an uncapped rookie who earns barely a fraction of the highest paid players in his team. These and other points by IPL detractors are pertinent and not to be ignored. At the same time, these should not distract from the core issue – the susceptibility of these players who fall prey to greed.

Spot fixing or match fixing is not just confined to the IPL; in fact, it is not even confined to the game of cricket. It permeates just about every major sports in the world to varying degrees. One can’t wash his hands off watching sports altogether, just for that. The problem is not a specific format or a tournament; the problem is the man who is willing to compromise his morals, ethics and integrity to satisfy his greed and in the process, deceives his team-mates, fans, coaches, family and himself.  And its not a problem that is going to go away easily.

The game of cricket is lucky to have some extraordinary players who entertain with their talent, inspire with their courage and make us loyal fans with their commitment. In a nutshell, that is the essence of sports. A few bad eggs (a term which is all the rage right now!) should not shake our faith in the game or its players. You can form all the anti-corruption units in the world, educate the players every day about the scourge of fixing, provide better salaries – but there will always be a few for whom greed pervades over all other factors. So, much like the War on Terror, the fight against corruption in sports will have to be an ongoing exercise; there will be setbacks along the way but it must never end. More importantly, never let a select few sully your love of the game.

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – In the end, Mr Cricket is the real winner

Match: Chennai Super Kings vs Rajasthan Royals in Chennai

Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 5 wickets

Narrative:

The Royals chose to bat first, and were single-handedly powered to a mammoth score by Aussie all-rounder Shane Watson, who scored a belligerent ton (also the first of IPL-6). He was particularly harsh on CSK’s new favorite, Jadeja, who cracked in his third over conceding 18 runs including two sixes and two big wides. Stuart Binny was the only other batsman who made a substantial contribution and Ashwin was the only bowler who ended with decent bowling figures. It left the Super Kings needing 186 to win the game.

The Super Kings were in control of the chase, right from the start. Despite Vijay’s failure (again), Hussey and Raina never let the required rate shoot up. Raina scored a much-needed half century with contained some trademark shots of his, while Hussey continued his rich vein of form to score a match-winning 88 from 51 balls which completely neutralized Watson’s century. Despite a late stutter, Bravo’s six in the final over bowled by Watson ensured that CSK would move right to the top of the points table.

Analysis:

It was refreshing to finally see the Super Kings break the back of a chase in the power play overs. Last time I mentioned how their strategy of keeping their push for victory too late would not work every time, and that they need to retune their strategy; it seems like they paid attention. It also helped that chasing a mammoth target meant that they would have to come out all guns blazing from the word ‘go’. For a team which boasts of an enviable depth in batting, they really should bat more confidently and more often. Hopefully, they will make this a trend.

First, the disappointments. There were two, namely Murali Vijay and Ravindra Jadeja. Both were stars of the last Test series against Australia and both were in contrasting form in this IPL, up to the start of this game. Except for a run-a-ball fifty against KXIP, Vijay has had a shoddy time with the bat, and moreover he doesn’t project an air of self-confidence either. Honestly, I don’t see how he can survive the axe for the next game. Baba Aparjith can be given a chance, considering his allround skills.

As for Jadeja, this game was bound to happen sooner than later. He was tonked mercilessly by Watson and he seemed to crack from the pressure bowling two huge wides in his third over. With the bat, he lasted for a mere two deliveries before getting his stumps knocked out of the ground. If he was floating in the air after all the “Sir” jokes and mass adulation, he would have come back to earth with a thud after this game.

We also got our first look at Jason Holder, the tall West Indian bowler. Nothing special about his performance though; unless he picks wickets by the bunch in the next couple of games, I don’t see him getting picked over Nannes, Laughlin or Hilfenhaus in the future.

It was great to see Raina back in fine form; he is one of the finest T20 players around, and the Super Kings would have heaved a sigh of relief when they saw his meaty blows to the fence. Undoubtedly, the real hero for CSK this year has been Michael Hussey. Free of national commitments, Mr Cricket has narrowed his focus to performing for CSK with all the zeal and determination of a player trying to make his mark among the big boys. With his third fifty this year, he has zoomed to the top of the run charts and established himself as CSK’s most prized wicket; and that’s saying something considering the rich array of batsmen that the men in yellow possess.

Preview of next game:

Hyderabad Sunrisers in Chennai. Without Perera and Sangakarra, the team will be considerably weakened; but the likes of Mishra , Steyn, White and Vihari, with the possible inclusion of World Cup winning skipper Darren Sammy, will ensure a tough contest for the Super Kings. The Sunrisers are third in the points table and they will itching to show just why.

 

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – When Sir was enough for the Knights

Match: Kolkata Knight Riders vs Chennai Super Kings in Kolkata

Result: Chennai Super Kings won by 4 wickets

Narrative:

Kolkata Knight Riders batted first and Gambhir opened with a new partner in Yusuf Pathan. The move seemed to have worked as KKR raced to 46 in 6 overs, as they take full toll of Albie Morkel in particular. It took a Hussey special at third man to trigger a slide, as Gambhir was the first one to get dismissed. Two balls later, a direct hit from Badri sent Kallis on his way without facing a delivery; Morgan and Pathan followed quickly, and just like that KKR had lost 4 wickets for 9 runs in the space of 13 deliveries. Tiwary and Das staged a mini fight-back, but once Ashwin scalped both of them in consecutive overs, Jadeja picked three other lower order wickets as KKR stalled to 119/9 from their allotted overs.

In response, Dhoni surprised everyone by sending Ashwin to open the innings with Hussey. The move didn’t totally work out as Narine broke the opening partnership in the fifth over. Soon, errors of judgment accounted for both Vijay and Raina, and CSK were staring at a familiar top order failure. It turned into dire straits when Dhoni was dismissed with the target still 66 runs away and 51 deliveries remaining. Hussey stood solid at one end, but his slow scoring seemed to hurt CSK as the required rate kept creeping up. The arrival of Jadeja at the fall of Badri’s wicket changed all that. Twenty too balls later, Jadeja stood tall with an unbeaten 36 from 14 deliveries as he stole another win for CSK.

Analysis:

First of all, let me just state for the record that sometimes it can be frustrating to be a fan of the men in yellow. They always seem to push themselves into a situation where they need a minor miracle to win a game. Despite the target being a paltry 120, the batsmen batted themselves into a situation where they needed 50 from the last five overs. That they won is another matter; it is high-risk tactic for CSK despite their depth in batting, and it might not come off in a given crucial encounter.

A few words of praise for the fielding. In a tournament which has seen a dramatic improvement in fielding standards from last year’s edition, it is good to see that the Super Kings are one of the finest exponents of it. Hussey’s well judged catch, Badri’s direct hit when he had one stump to aim at, Bravo’s fielding and throw for run out (off his own bowling) – all this would make the fielding coach Steve Rixon a proud man.

The bowling seems to be fine-tuned with the exception of one specialist bowler. Nannes’ injury had opened the way for Morkel, who has not really inspired confidence; even the rookie Mohit Sharma is bowling better than him. Apart from that, the consistency of Morris and the spinners is reassuring.

Murali Vijay and Suresh Raina continue to be a source of concern for Fleming and Dhoni. Their attacking style is supposed to bookend the likes of Hussey and Badrinath, who play more of a stabilizing role in the side. Their failures have been the cause of the batting stutters so far in this tournament, and it has required Dhoni and Jadeja to bail them out often. It is highly likely that one of them will be missing from the playing XI for next game.

Ravindra Jadeja is turning out to be CSK’s most valuable player this season. With the ball, he is miserly and keeps picking up wickets. On the field, he is a live-wire, saving precious runs. And now, he has taken over from Dhoni, as the team’s savior with the bat for the second time in a week. In a team full of stars, the Rockstar is the man dragging the team to the top of the table.

Preview of next game:

Next up, CSK take on the Rajasthan Royals aka Dravid’s men in Chennai. The Royals have been one of the consistent teams this year, despite the lack of big stars in their line-up. What they do have is a bunch of performers who combine well enough to win most games; Watson, Rahane, Dravid and Hodge with the bat; and Cooper/Tait, Trivedi, Sreesanth and Chandila with the ball – CSK will do well to re-jig their strategy accordingly.

Tweet of the game:

Views of a Chennai Super Fan – No Dares From the Double D

Match: Delhi Daredevils vs Chennai Super Kings

Result: Chennai Super Kings win by 86 runs

Narrative:

MS Dhoni won the toss and decided to bat first in CSK’s 100th game; Nannes missed out due to injury paving way for the return of rookie Mohit Sharma and Mike Hussey came back in place of Srikkanth. Despite Vijay’s dismissal after a rapid start, Hussey and Raina stabilized the ship taking the score to 60/1 after 10 overs. When Raina got out in the 13th over, the skipper walked and immediately took control. A frenetic 44 from 23 balls meshed perfectly with Hussey’s unbeaten 65 to take the Super Kings to 169.

In reply, the Daredevils got off to the worst start, trudging to 32/4 in the power play; Little known Haryana medium pacer Mohit Sharma snared the wickets of Warner, Juneja and Sehwag while Chris Morris got the big fish – Jayawardene. Despite Kedhar Jadav’s resistance, the Super Kings put the brakes on the scoring and kept picking wickets regularly. Ultimately, the Daredevils were bowled out for 83; Along with the lowest score of the IPL this year, DD crashed to their sixth straight loss of the tournament. Meanwhile, CSK jumped to the fourth position in the points table.

Analysis:

This was just about the perfect game for the Super Kings. Their batting finally shook off the blues; Vijay was looking good for much more when he got out and Raina got some runs under his belt. The batting relies heavily on acceleration in the second half of the innings and it came off perfectly, as Raina, Hussey and Dhoni helped add 109 runs in the final 10 overs. With the ball, their punt on rookie Sharma paid off handsomely as he gave the team a perfect start with the ball. Then the spinners took over to strangle the opposition with combined figures of 3/39 from 8 overs. The end result was a massive win for the men in yellow.

Mike Hussey showed why he is such an invaluable member of the side. He might be no Chris Gayle, but he can be much more consistent and reliable. He paced his innings just right, till the end. Despite du Plessis’ return to the side, it is highly unlikely that the Aussie will be the one to make way for him. Vijay and Raina are still not racking up the big scores, but they show signs of good touch. As for Dhoni, it is good to see that the skipper is in ‘smashing’ form. More often than not, he has struggled in T20s over the years with regards to pacing his knock. This year, there is a refreshingly simple approach to his batting and he is more trusting of his natural game.

Nannes’ injury proved to be a blessing in disguise as it made the Super Kings take another look at their local fast bowling resources. Mohit Sharma had a good game, but it would be wise to wait a few games before judging him; tougher opponents await. I’m also liking the look of Chris Morris so far; while his batting exploits are to be seen yet, his bowling has largely been disciplined and he seems to have the knack of picking wickets at crucial junctures. He would have every reason to think that he has sealed one overseas spot for himself, for the rest of the season. No surprises when it comes to the spinners; they are CSK’s strength and the team management will be pleased that they are maintaining their good record.

Preview of next game:

Next up is the encounter against defending champions KKR in their den. Gambhir’s men are a lowly 7th in the points table and their performances are more reminiscent of the KKR seen in the first two seasons; still it would be unwise to take them lightly. Gambhir and Morgan are in good touch, while Narine has been consistently troubling the opposition. CSK would do well to bring their A-game against a side which derailed their plans of a 3rd consecutive title last year.

Tweets of the game: