Category Archives: CRICKET

Ashes Dream Turns to Ashes

By Madhu Kshirsagar, 25  August 2015

PHOTO-1The hubris emanating from the Australian camp before the Ashes series was very interesting to see.  Their overconfidence in their assumption that the Ashes was well and truly done and dusted before the start of the tour was amusing – their underestimation of the English side was at once comical and staggering.

The Australian bowlers not only bowled badly throughout the series, and most definitely when it mattered, but also batted astonishingly badly for most of the series.  Being bundled out for 60 runs in the first inning of the Trent Bridge Test beggars belief. The looked like a team completely devoid of a plan and had badly overestimated their own prowess in unfamiliar conditions. They failed to adapt to English conditions again, and just went about their merry arrogant way to wing it, and fell flat on their collective faces.

The shot selections from senior players were shocking to say the least, and the bowlers did not have a clue how to swing the Duke cricket balls used in England – again!  All this was known – the conditions; the opponents and their strengths and weaknesses were well and truly dissected – and yet they went about things in the most cavalier fashion, assuming what worked for them in Australia would work for them in England.

Failing to plan is planning to fail; and the Australian cricket team has proven that once again on their tour to Motherland.

It has been well documented that Australian batting struggles when the ball is moving, swinging and seaming. And also when the ball is turning. Well, I guess they struggle pretty much all the time when they tour! To make it worse Australian bowlers can’t swing the ball in the same fashion nor can they bowl good quality spin.  Therein lies the problem for Australia in winning outside the country.

At home they have bouncy wickets and a battery of fast bowlers who will tear the opponents’ heads off with their ‘chin music’. But that brand of bowling does not work overseas, other than perhaps in South Africa or West Indies.

So, what does all this tell us?  Every country plays well at home and plays badly in alien conditions.  Australia is no exception.  They generally huff and puff, and throw a range of non-cricketing artillery at the opposition to salvage a situation; but when cricketing skills are required to be summoned, they are no better than the next average Test playing team.

Michael Clark became a casualty of the English tour. He did not have a single innings of any substance to show from the entire series. His form has been poor for a long time now and no informed cricket follower would have expected him to turn it around in England.

Darren Lehmann seems to have escaped the axe; he seems to be a favourite among the players, maybe because he acts as a friend of everyone. Planning, preparation and execution of strategy for this Ashes series was atrocious and he has to take a big share of the blame.  No use blaming the selectors!

The art of playing Test cricket is perhaps a dying one. Too much instant cricket is taking its toll on Test cricket. The batsmen bat in a cavalier fashion, and the bowlers bowl too defensively.  Aggression should be in attitude of proper shot selection. Patience, resilience and the art of not offering a shot are imperative for Test batting; not seen much these days thanks to slam bang, thoughtless approach of T20.

England on the other hand played well when it mattered. England does not have a great batting order itself, but Australia’s ineffective bowling in the conditions made it easier for them to put up good scores. When it came to bowling, again they were very effective when it mattered and even without Anderson for a good part of the series, they were still a potent bowling unit against a mindless batting side.

One hopes that Australia has learnt its lesson from this tour – but then again it the same lesson from every English tour; and they have shown no signs of wanting to learn.

The only lesson for us as followers of cricket is that all countries play well at home and struggle abroad. There is no incentive for them to change as a collective unit.  Yes, there will be individual performances abroad by a few better players; but except for a sporadic win overseas, most teams will continue to be happy with home domination.

That is where the bread is buttered the thickest.

Coaching Dilemma India is faced with

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By Madhu Kshirsagar,  May 2015

India is yet to appoint a coach for its team. It has been three months since the void was created by Duncan Fletcher who left after India’s World Cup quest.  His stint as India’s head coach was at best chequered and at worst shocking.

Fletcher found it next to impossible to break India’s jinx overseas.  I am not sure that it is entirely his fault, but it has to be pointed out that he did not add another dimension to India’s overseas prowess (or the lack of it) in any shape or form.  India has happily continued its dismal performance overseas irrrespective of who the coach is.

So what does that tell us? It tells us that it may not be the coach.  Or is it just possible that Indian players are tigers at home but turn into pussy cats overseas? Come on! Really!

It has been the same over the last 40 years and Fletcher was unable to perform any minor miracles during his tenure. In fact they went from bad to worse under his wing – if that is possible.  I have to add that all cricketing sides face this problem; they all seem to perform well in home conditions but are not as successful in alien conditions.  But Indian players have made this into an art form!

Also, the appointment of Ravi Shastri as the Team Director did not augur well for Fletcher’s coaching job.  It was made clear to all concerned that Fletcher was responsible for the onfield performance of the team, but Ravi Shastri was responsible for the overall performance of the team – meaning Fletcher reported to Shastri.

It is a weird situation and only Indian administrators can come up with such out of the box (read crazy) short term fixes that ultimately confuses the living daylights out of everybody concerned.  Most of all the coach and the players.

Does it really matter who the coach is when you have a team Director above everyone else? Guess not. It all but relegates the coach’s position to the bin.  Maybe, ‘Team Director’ is the new name for ‘Coach’.

May be the strategy is to have a team director and no coach! Or just bowling, batting and fielding coaches! Perhaps! So I guess then that team Director position is here to stay.

Sourav Ganguly is being touted as the next team Director, as Shastri was only being ‘helpful’ in gracefully agreeing to do the job in the interim until the end of the World Cup.  It is rumoured that Ganguly has the backing of BCCI; in other words the confidence of his old ally Jagmohan Dalmiya, who is the current BCCI President.

It is also rumoured that Shastri, on the other hand, who was only doing everyone a ‘favour’ in the interim, has now decided that it is an attractive position afterall and wants to continue indefinitely.

Don’t get me wrong; Ganguly could well turn out to be a very good team Director (coach?). He has history of nurturing players and is competitive and unrelenting in approach, has captained India successfully, and instilled the thirst for winning in his team mates. Something that Shastri never had the opportunity to display in his playing career.  Again, Shastri might have these qualities, but you have to just take them at his word.

On the other hand, although Ganguly’s strategic skills might be next to none, his coaching skills, especially relating to fielding and fitness, is next to just about anybody.

Whoever is chosen will have to walk the tightrope in keeping BCCI happy and also delivering on the ground.  He has to be both strategic and diplomatic – sounds like an oxymoron within Indian cricket administration.  Whereas Ganguly might be strategic, Shastri will be diplomatic.  Not sure which will deliver results in the Indian scheme of things.  The former will be good for cricket and the latter will be good for BCCI. You can figure it out for yourself which will prevail.

Ravi Shastri Sourav Ganguly

Or should we again go down the path of an overseas former player as India’s team director?

Now that is a can of worms! An Indian is always going to be accused of being parochial in selection and he has to walk the tightrope, and a foreign team director will only bring about marginal change in results if he has to keep all the administrators and senior players happy.

Either way we are all but setting them up to fail. That’s a pity!

So who cares! Just go overseas, have a good time, and get thrashed again. Come back home and a pot of gold will be awaiting you in the form of IPL.  If some individual performances adorn the otherwise indifferent attitude of the players overseas, well then that will only help the individual players’ bid price to shoot up to the sky during IPL auction.

All good. Everyone is happy.

Except the poor cricket fan. Who cares; he is only a minor cog in the wheel of this commercial juggernaut.

Why Bouncers Should be Outlawed from Cricket

PHOTO-1By Madhu Kshirsagar

The violence factor in fast bowling

Cricket is a sport. Fast bowling is an art, not a lethal weapon. Fast short-pitched bowling above shoulder height, or a bouncer as normally referred to in cricket, is unnecessary and used for the sole purpose of intimidation.

Having said the above, let me put the case to you.  A bouncer or a short-pitched ball which is aimed at the batsman’s head at 140 to 150 kms per hour is a missile that requires a lot of talent and technique to avoid, leave alone scoring off. Even a very experienced international batsman is at risk if there is a momentary lapse of concentration.

And it can happen to the best of batsmen, as in the tragic case of poor Phillip Hughes. It is a catastrophic incident and emotions are running high at the moment. But it is all the more reason why the future of this delivery should be debated now and if possible confined to the annals of history.

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The only other fatal incident in cricket I can remember is that of Raman Lamba, who was a Test level batsman who succumbed to a hit to his temple while fielding at short leg.  Although they are two different set of circumstances, it shows the devastating effects of a high speed ball striking the head region. But there are other numerous incidents of batsmen getting badly hurt by fast short-pitched deliveries.

Correct technique in playing the short ball is very important to be taught from a very early age.  Let’s look at what a batsman can do when subjected to a bouncer that is travelling at great speed towards his head.

  • Duck under the ball
  • Sway away from the line of the ball
  • Pull or hook the ball, or
  • Cut the ball

Every one of the above alternatives requires a great amount of practice, training and technique. The most important of them all is the often repeated adage: never take the eye off the ball. The human instinct and reflex will almost always ensure that the body reacts appropriately if it can see the path of the ball to the very last split second.

Despite all the skills, the element of danger is still clear and present. A very slight lapse in concentration, a wrong bodily move, a wrong shot-selection or a simple ‘eye-off-the-ball’ can end in catastrophic results.

Moreover, although helmets can protect in some situations, they are not foolproof. They merely give the batsmen a false sense of comfort and overconfidence, and therein lies the danger. Batsmen are generally said to have only around 0.4 seconds of reaction time to avoid being hit by a short-pitched delivery.

Sometimes the mind can refuse to react quickly enough depending on the situation - the mind might be fatigued due to tiredness from a long innings, an untimely bat of an eyelid due to a speck of dust, an ill timed flash of sunlight - it could be anything!

I can hear many people arguing that a bouncer is part of the game, and that it will take away the ‘combative’ nature of the game. And that it has been an essential part of the game all through its history.  Nothing untoward, outside of a stray incident, over all these years has ever happened is the argument.

Batsmen have forgotten the art of leaving the short ball

I disagree. Test players of olden times, in fact even as late as the nineties, had the choice to leave a short ball alone. Yes, it demanded good technique to duck or pull away, but they had the option to ‘not’ offer a shot. What changed the paradigm completely is Twenty20 (T20) cricket, where every ball counts. A batsman is pressured to play a big shot against every ball that is bowled. This is where a well-directed short-pitched ball can prove to be lethal.

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Moreover, T20 cricket has changed how other forms of the game are played in recent times. Batsmen take more risks to score quickly and hence 300+ scores in one-dayers, which did not at all happen often until the turn of this century, and 3-day Test matches, where batsmen play in an attacking style and are in no mood to stick it out.  Tests demand both cricketing skills and character skills, whereas the present day instant varieties need only cricketing skills.

So the pressure of not conceding a dot ball has immensely changed how a batsman reacts to a short-pitched ball travelling at a high speed towards his face. Danger lurks!

Time for a change in laws?

Cricket is all about batsmen scoring runs and bowlers trying to take wickets. A fast bowler can use all types of techniques to get rid of a batsman – there is a huge range of variations that can be deployed. But a short pitched delivery aimed at the head should not be one of them. It is intimidatory bowling with the threat of bodily harm, thereby either forcing a false shot or actual bodily harm.

There is a fine line between taking a wicket and threatening to cause extreme harm. That fine line should never be crossed. Bouncers are a form of extreme sledging, the only difference is that it is in action rather than words.

That is why you have rules against head-high tackles in rugby, high sticking in hockey, rabbit punch (blow to the neck or base of the skull) in boxing, and a raised foot in football.

The head should be protected at all costs because it can result in fatal injuries. Therefore, short-pitched bowling above shoulder height should be banned in cricket. Cricket is a team sport where emotions can run high on the field, and there is a huge potential for tragic accidents when a charged up fast bowler steams in and hurls a ball at a very high speed towards the head of a batsman.

In the heat of the moment, it could lead to tragic situations, even though the bowler, when reflecting back, is probably the first to recognise the danger he is causing with the ball. Although in real match situations, most fast bowlers seem to wear it as a badge of honour when they physically hurt the batsman.

All the hubris regarding “chin music”, and statements such as “knock his block off”, “roughing up”, etc. are nothing but misplaced arrogance and have no place in the sport.

Cricket has changed over the years, so should the rules. By all means, tighten the rules around batsmen scoring freely, and there are other ways to give bowlers more freedom and clout.

But let’s put an end to this primitive and gladiatorial element in an otherwise gentlemanly game before someone else is seriously hurt.

The Day India Conquered MCG

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By Madhu Kshirsagar, 27th Feb 2015

The summer in Melbourne this year has been a mild one. But it was an unusually extreme summer’s day in Melbourne with the mercury reaching up to 36 degrees Celsius.

The Indian fans were not deterred. Everyone I knew was going to the cricket.  The train we took to Jolimont was packed with Indians from all parts of India and bore a carnival atmosphere.  They were carrying all sorts of placards and signs, noise making instruments, the Indian Flag and back-packs filled with snacks and drinks.  They were preparing themselves for a great evening, and a great evening is what they experienced, thanks to the flawless performance of the Indian cricketers against the strong South African side.

The same Indian side has spent the past two-and-a-half months in Australia without a win, and come World Cup they are putting on their best performances when a lot of cricketing pundits had written them off.  The script, so far in the first two matches, has gone very convincingly India’s way, and they have won the games handsomely.  They are now almost sure to reach the last 8, but whether they keep up the momentum to win the crucial knock out quarter-final and semi-final matches remain to be seen. We have known Indian sides flatter to deceive in the past too often, so let us keep our fingers crossed and enjoy the moment.

The atmosphere at MCG was electrifying, starting from the national anthem to the scoring of every run; be it a single or a boundary, the overwhelmingly Indian dominated crowd made the match seem like it was being played at Eden Gardens or Chepauk.  One of the biggest ever MCG crowd for cricket – close to 87,000 (of which more than 80% would have been Indian supporters) ensured that it was a memorable match in every respect.  I can’t imagine what the reaction of the crowd might have been if the result was adverse. The silence would have been deafening.

But as you might have it, it was the joyous roar of the crowd that was deafening and I really felt sorry for the few South Africans strewn around the mammoth stadium.

I was sitting in the Pavilion Stand up front in the second row from the boundary line, and felt every electrifying moment of the match to the fullest. Turning back and looking up at the colossal stadium all I could see was a sea of blue and crazy Indian fans having the time of their lives.

No wonder then Allan Donald called this a home game for India.

Now to the game itself; Shikhar Dhawan, having played a very key role in the win over Pakistan the week before, was once again the star of the match. He started carefully, built up momentum and sustained it throughout his magnificent innings.  When in full flow his attacking style at the top of the order reminds one of Virender Sehwag in his elements.

Ajinka Rahane also played a crucial innings when he came in at the fall of Kohli. He created his own momentum with clean crisp shots and took the pressure off Dhawan.  Virat Kohli, after playing carefully for a while, ended up playing a shockingly bad short to a bad ball and hit it straight to the short mid-wicket fielder.

No bowler was spared, with the worst treatment being meted out to Wayne Parnell who went for 85 runs from his 9 overs.

When it was South Africa’s turn to bat they quickly got into trouble by losing wickets. And although they kept themselves in the chase for the first 20 overs, the fall of AB de Villiers’s wicket through a run out broke their will completely. From that moment onwards they were like lost souls and went through the motions in a trance as the asking rate kept climbing higher and higher, and ultimately beyond their reach.  The rest was formality.  I had expected them to come close to India’s total, especially the way in which du Plessis and de Villiers fashioned a 50 partnership.  But, alas, they folded up pretty meekly.

The Indian bowlers had to be commended for bowling a tight length and although Ashwin’s first couple of overs cost a plenty, he came back strongly to claim 3 wickets from his allotted 10 overs.  They also fielded well and it was pleasing to see that they generally lifted their game in all departments.

Dhawan was rightly crowned the Man-of-the-match for his sterling innings.

I don’t know how much crowd support for the Indian side played a part, but surely it should mean something to be playing in front of large supporters. It is sure to spark a flame every time India takes to the field in Australia.

Let’s give them that support, and to tell you the truth they will need every bit of support they can muster after their disastrous tour of Australia so far the last couple of months.

If India reaches the semis anything can happen.

 

A look at Indian Test cricket’s perennial mediocrity overseas

Not ready

By Madhu Kshirsagar

PHOTO-1Indian cricket teams have never performed consistently well overseas in Tests, and I have been following Test cricket for nearly 40 years. Yes, it has shown patches of brilliance every now and then mainly through individual performances. No doubt India has produced world class Test players in the past decades, but it has never produced a world class Test team.

So what is in the Indian psyche which prevents them from transforming their home form to the international stage? Believe me, every player and his dog will suddenly come back to form when they reach home. So what is it? Yes they have to play under alien conditions. Are the conditions so different that they are not able to adjust? Did they not prepare accordingly to face alien conditions? Failing to prepare is preparing to fail!

Indian Test teams have been in the preparation phase for the last 40 years; means they don’t prepare or don’t care. Yes you can blame tight schedules these days. But India has always had this indifferent mind-set, even before the advent of tight schedules and instant cricket.

Winning and losing is part of the game. But the team has to show enough fight in them to wriggle out of tight situations, create opportunities out of seemingly hopeless situations, and occasionally turn the tables on the opposition. These are qualities of a competitive team. The way India loses Tests overseas – just consider the last Australian tour and the previous and current English tours – is a sports fan’s nightmare. They just do not show the spirit of a competitive force on the ground. They seem to compete equally well these days on meaningless cricketing sideshows, but when it matters on the field they are almost always found wanting.

After being out of form for the Lord’s Test, they came roaring back to form for the rest of the series. Sorry, I couldn’t help that sarcastic remark.

True, all world cricketing teams of today are only lions in their own den. When they tour they generally fall apart. Some teams have been marginally better than others when touring but there is no huge difference. But some top sides at least show a lot of fight even when going down, and there lies the difference. India unfortunately has not measured up in this department as well.

The leadership conundrum

I have never been a fan of Dhoni’s Test captaincy as you might have noticed from my previous articles. There is no doubt that he is a boon to Indian cricket in one-dayers and Twenty-20, both as a player and a leader, but a curse to Test cricket as the leader. Furthermore, his wicket-keeping in Tests is falling apart.

Dhoni’s style of cricket, and hence his thinking and understanding of the game is second to none when it comes to the shorter versions of the game. Dhoni’s record as a player and also as a captain in one-day and Twenty-20 cricket is staggering, which includes all 3 ICC titles. His strategies and execution in the shorter versions of the game are far superior. His calm demeanour and his body language – or the lack of it – lends a rock-like steadiness during often chaotic situations. And when he comes out to bat towards the end, he is the only person that you will put your faith in to deliver – and deliver is what he often does – in his own inimitable style – slow first and demolition later. In short he is the most valuable cricketer for India in the shorter versions of the game.

But his record as a Test captain overseas is nothing short of abysmal. Sure, the fact that “a captain is only as good as the team”, is not something we should forget. But strategy, incisive thinking, marshalling troops and risk taking are also things that matter in a game. A captain can’t continuously make tactical mistakes and selection blunders and expect everything will sort itself out.

An average captain can lead a good team well, but it needs a good captain to lead an average team well. Dhoni unfortunately is not a good Test captain, and he is leading an average Test team.

But coming back to the reason why Indian players do not perform as well overseas; more so today than in the years gone by; it must have something to do with the new found treasure chest of IPL. India is the only country currently where Twenty-20 is played for sickeningly high stakes. This has clearly adversely affected the quality of young cricketers being churned out by the system. This rot has to be stemmed and pronto. If Indian cricket officials do not take corrective action to somehow curtail the adverse impact of Twenty-20 then they might as well give away playing Test cricket.  Test cricket fans will not tolerate this complete indifference and lack of skill and application from young cricketers for too long.

But the most important reason for India’s consistent poor show overseas, in my opinion, is that it has never had the luxury of a Test class fast bowling option. Kapil was exceptional and Srinath, Zaheer Khan and others have had some success, but there never has been a fearsome or at least a functional fast bowling option from both ends. And spinners who are unplayable at home suddenly become toothless tigers.

At best some great and classy Test batsmen in the past have always brought joy to Indian supporters overseas.

But thanks to the new found IPL mania even that morsel of joy is in jeopardy.

Shane Warne successful in getting under Alastair Cook’s skin

By Madhu Kshirsagar

20/06/2014

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Alastair Cook has taken umbrage at Shane Warne’s criticism of his captaincy.  The latter has criticised Cook’s captaincy for the entire time Cookhe has been the captain; all through the past two years.

Most of Warne’s criticism is justified whilst some are just rubbing salt into the wound. Warne started taking digs at Cook when England played well under English conditions to beat the Australians 3-0 in 2013.

Despite England winning handsomely early on under Cook, Warne has been relentless in belittling the Englishman’s captaincy. That was around the time when Cook’s star as a batsman started fading.  He did not contribute greatly with the bat in that series, measured by his own hitherto standard. He did appear to stumble through his role as captain albeit with criticism from several quarters; none more vociferous than Mr. Warne.

His subsequent tour of Australia was a disaster and the less said about the English team’s performance and Cook’s own performance the better.  And to top it off he was again roundly criticised by the former Australian leg-spinner for his “unimaginative and boring” captaincy.

Shane Warne is the quintessential Aussie if ever there was one.  He will dish out criticisms – fair or unfair – if it suits him.  The only thing he hates more than curry is the English cricket side; so his bias is clear. He will use every trick in the book, and some not in the book, to destabilise the England cricket team.

Warne is a person who sees most things as black and white. You are either his friend or his foe. Many Australian cricketers, including Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh, have found him a handful and steered clear of him, having had to face his rants at various times in their lives.

Warne is a complex character, and is not very diplomatic. He makes friends as easily as making enemies. For this reason he was not considered captaincy material during his playing days. He rubbed too many people the wrong way and there were too many transgressions as a cricketer and as a person – too many to list here, but I am sure everyone is well aware of those. To have a cricketing brain is one thing, but to antagonize team mates and also walk a fine line on morality is quite a different thing altogether.

Alastair Cook comes across as a decent bloke – a fantastic opening batsman who is currently going through a bad patch. He may not have a great cricketing brain like Warne, but he is definitely a decent and steady captain. Warne was essentially a gambler during his playing days. The 29-year-old English captain has to be more enterprising in his approach rather than adopting some of Warne’s gambling style which comes across abundantly in his commentary and his ideas. International captains have to be more calculating, strategic and diplomatic.

Forget the fact that Warne’s voice is the loudest in pronouncing Cook’s captaincy as atrocious. Many decent cricket pundits think the same and supporters can also realise it. No doubt Warne is abrasive in his criticisms, but the fact remains that Cook has not displayed great imagination in commanding his troops. Moreover, his bad patch is making his captaincy worse.

But Warne seems to have definitely gotten under Cook’s skin, and that is not a good sign for Cook since the Australlian has achieved his objective!

Cook has to take the criticisms sportingly and in the right spirit and try to benefit from them rather than letting them get under his skin. It can be done. He needs to seek a good friend’s counsel.

Let’s face it, it is easy for ex-cricketers to be sensational in the media, but not as easy to battle batting demons and also captain an average team in an exceptional way.

Mankading – Sri Lankans walking a fine line

By Madhu Kshirsagar

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Senanayaka picture

 Above: Sachithra Senanayake and Jos Buttler

 

Ashwin picture

 Above: Ravichandran Ashwin and Lahiru Thirimanne

The above pictures say a thousand words.

There’s been much said and written in the last few days on this subject: some hysterical, some technical, and some very emotional. I do not want to harp too much on the fairness or otherwise of ‘Mankading’ in cricket and repeat ground on what has already been beaten to an emotional death.

So, let us look at the above two pictures critically and without emotion.

The first one shows Sachithra Senanayake running out Jos Buttler in the ongoing Sri Lanka’s tour of England. Here, Buttler’s bat up until the very point of the actual delivery was, in reality, inside the crease. He has clearly assumed that the delivery will be completed, taken his eye off the bowler, and drew the bat closer to his legs just as Senanayake stops to remove the bail. It is a micro-split second between the time his bat slips out of the crease and the removing of the bail.

Is Senanayake justified in stopping at the very last split second of the delivery, pausing to ensure that the non-striker’s bat slips out of the crease and then run him out? This to me appears as setting a scene for a desired outcome. In other words, a set-up. Framed!

Compare this to the next picture: Ravichandran Ashwin’s run out of Lahiru Thirimanne at exactly the same point in the delivery action, in the year 2012. It can be clearly seen that Thirimanne was way out of his crease and practically walking further away. Is Ashwin not within his rights at that point to run him out?

Forget rules, I will come to that in a minute. Which situation do you think called for a justified ‘mankading’?

Anyway, when Ashwin ‘mankaded’ Thirimanne, senior Indian cricketers and captain Virender Sehwag quickly stepped in and saved the situation by magnanimously withdrawing their appeal; eventually, it adversely affected India’s chances in the game.

That did not happen in the case of Senanayake, and the Lankans, despite being the recipient of the magnanimity in an earlier occasion, did not respond to save the situation and show a generosity of spirit. What was staggering was the fact that none of Sri Lanka’s senior cricketers like Kumar Sangakkara or Mahela Jayawardene intervened to drive some sense into the situation.

Is Mankading justified at all, under any circumstance?

Correct me if I am wrong, but I can’t think of any other situation where a fielding side can claim a wicket when the ball is not in play. A ball until the time it has been delivered is a dead ball, i.e., if the bowler does not deliver the ball for any reason after running to the crease, it is called a dead ball. Then how can a dead ball be used to take a wicket?

I understand that, by taking several paces out of the crease, a runner is taking unfair advantage.  That doesn’t mean it is up to the bowler to contrive a situation, as, in my opinion, that is what happened with the Senanayake incident, to claim a wicket for his side.

Yes, the ICC rule book clearly gives this right to the bowler, but that does not make it correct or logical.  It can be manipulated to a certain extent by the bowler, as I have proven in the above pictures: Senanayake’s case is debatable and, in my view, stretching a fine line in this instance. But ‘mankading’ was fully justified in the case of Ashwin.

A good rule should not allow scope for interpretation to suit different situations and be applicable to devastating effect without justification.

Therefore, I would much prefer that the Mankading rule is re-written in the ICC rule book to give power and responsibility to the umpire and not to the bowler.  The straight umpire is the only person capable of determining whether the non-striker is leaving the crease before the delivery action is completed. He should then go through a process of warning the non-striker and ultimately give him out if he transgresses repeatedly.

Case solved. Let’s move forward.

 

Match-Fixing Psyche of a Sports Star

By  Madhu Kshirsagar

May 2014

Eartphoto-2h provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed – Mahatma Gandhi.

What drives a successful sports person to match-fix? Isn’t all the adulation, awards, accomplishments and enviable monetary rewards enough?

A human mind is very complex.  What else could be the driving force behind the decision of a sports star to stoop so low?  Surely it has to be greed! Is it predicated on the belief that one’s stardom is short-lived and therefore one should make hay while the sun shines?

Or is it much more than just that?

Perhaps it is also motivated by greed’s closest cousin – jealousy.  Why can’t I make as much money as the other bloke?  Why am I not as valuable?  Surely I am equally talented.

A weak minded sports person can easily fall prey to the ever expanding and viciously sticky tentacles of bookies.  The bookies seem to be able to spot and nurture the weak links and ultimately entrap them into their unethical and illegal world of sleaze.

Cricket is not an easy sport to match-fix but the underworld is relentless in pursuit.  But yes, cricket is very easy to spot-fix.  This is what most of the cricketers who have been charged and punished in the past have been found guilty of.  And tragically the offenders have come from all walks of cricketing lives from both affluent and non-affluent countries. More recently a great New Zealand player also appears to have transgressed but the jury is still out on this one.

The offenders have generally been iconic players with the cricketing world at their feet.  This is the most perplexing aspect of this whole episode. How can such great cricketers succumb to this lowly temptation?

Then there are some fringe players who get sucked into this vortex. This could be explained as greed and a desire to make as much money as possible when the going is good. They are opportunistic mercenaries and could be viewed as common thieves.

What is more complex to explain are the reasons why great cricketers who are revered world over stoop to trash their names for a few dollars.

Players who take part in fixing are not only consumed by greed but also show utter disrespect for the game.  They exhibit a dark character flaw that dictates they risk all for not very much.  Risk taking in their field of sport might have been beneficial for them in their careers, but risking all of their fame and stardom for a fist full of dollars surely demonstrates a murky fault in their psyche.

It is the same as the CEO of a multi-million dollar company who embezzles – either in a small way or substantially. This is definitely a major character flaw – what else could it be? The stolen few dollars are not going to alter his life, and yet he couldn’t help himself. But if found out, he has hell to pay! Then why do it?! Not that he is justified if the amount involved alters his life – that is a more serious crime and a different kettle of fish – albeit very similar in nature.

Some great sports personalities have also exhibited this same character flaw and are paying the price. They have to realise that the truth will out one day.  Yes, some of the dollars offered to big-time players to spot-fix appear to be considerable but it amounts to nothing when compared to what they will lose if apprehended.

One wonders how many more players are harbouring dark secrets.  It really robs the fun out of the game when one starts to suspect that something might be amiss every time a thing happens on the field that appears questionable; when in all probability it was just the natural cut and thrust of the game.  That is a tragedy!

If a player is foolish enough, or callous enough to indulge in this activity even after such immense scrutiny over the years, then he is not worth worrying about.

The offenders should not be spared and the law makers should throw the book at them.

Apart from legal punishment, nothing short of life ban is acceptable.

Should Dhoni be relieved of Test Captaincy?

By Madhu Kshirsagar

March 2014

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“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen” – some wise man has said this, and Brendon McCullum proved it by performing his own version of cricketing miracle in pulling New Zealand to safety in the second Test played at Basin Reserve in Wellington. It was a two-match series which the Kiwis won 1-0.

Cricketing miracles do happen regularly against India, though, especially overseas. Just looking at the last few series that India have played overseas – they were thrashed in England, bashed in Australia, bruised in South Africa and, finally, humbled in New Zealand.

McCullum single-handedly rescued the Kiwis from a massive defeat in the second Test by scoring a triple hundred. He was ably assisted by Tom, Dick and Harry down the order and a good dose of indifferent captaincy from Dhoni and friendly Indian fielders. It also showed the quality of Indian bowlers overseas, especially the bowlers who bowl the faster variety. Really, I feel for the Indian batsmen who will never face Indian fast bowlers in international cricket: they will never partake of the feast that the other international batsmen enjoy.

Coming to Dhoni’s captaincy in Tests, now what can I say? If you want to write a book on Test captaincy and have a chapter on how not to captain, all you have to do is plonk down a few of Dhoni’s methods: stay aloof and disinterested behind your sunglasses, make mechanical and defensive changes, and show scant understanding of Test cricket.

There sure is more to the story of Dhoni’s captaincy than what meets the eye. There is a vast difference between Test cricket, one-day cricket and Twenty-20. There are not many cricketers who are good in all forms, and there are not many captains who understand and appreciate all the different varieties. Dhoni is no exception and my following arguments will support my view that he is a boon to Indian cricket in one-dayers and Twenty-20 both as player and a leader, but a curse in Test cricket as the leader.

Dhoni’s style of cricket, and hence his thinking and understanding of the game is second to none when it comes to the shorter versions of the game. Dhoni’s record as a player and also as a captain in one-day and Twenty-20 cricket is staggering, which includes 2 world titles. His strategy and execution in the shorter versions of the game are far superior. His calm demeanor and his body language – or the lack of it – lends a rock-like steadiness during chaotic situations that the team gets itself in often. And when he comes out to bat towards the end, he is the only person that you will put your faith in to deliver – and deliver is what he often does – in his own inimitable style: slow first and demolition later.

In short he is the most valuable cricketer for India in the shorter versions of the game.

We then come to the long version of the game: Test cricket. Here his record as captain overseas is nothing short of abysmal. Sure the fact that “a captain is only as good as the team” is something we should not forget, but strategy, incisive thinking and risk taking are also things that matter in a game.

The only flaw in his career (and show me which great cricketer does not have one) is his indifferent approach and often inaction in the Test arena as a captain. He is over defensive and also gives the impression that he is bored during the 5-day matches and lets things drift mechanically. He either does not completely understand the subtle nuances of the long version or is not interested in them.  Articles and reports would indicate that he has said as much during his early days. This in itself is not a flaw: not everyone has to like all forms of the game. In fact, I can’t imagine a captain who is or was as effective in all forms of the game as Dhoni is in the shorter version.

So what is the answer for Dhoni? Relieve him of Test captaincy? Yes.

Retain him as a player and keeper in Tests? Perhaps.

Retain him as captain for ODIs and Twenty-20s? Most definitely.

Will Test Cricket Become Redundant?

By Madhu Kshirsagar

April 2014

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How many codes of cricket are really sustainable at the same time? It is not practically possible for all varieties of cricket – Tests, one-dayers and T20s – to survive in the current form forever. Something has to give!

Judging by the enormous popularity of T20 in India, which is gradually spreading to other cricketing countries, as well, it is arguably the most attractive and the most sought-after form of the game. It is more than a game: it is a family event, a carnival and a lot of fun. As an added advantage, there is great scope for it to spread to other countries where cricket is not currently popular, as it conforms to the shorter ‘time parameters’ of most team sports in the world. I believe that it is a sporting bushfire waiting to happen.

IPL is a form of Soccer League, AFL or a NFL type event in India. This form of a tournament is the ideal recipe for creating a mass following in a cricket crazy country like India. The enormous divisions between various states and cities and the cultural and the economic differences of the North and the South can be exploited to the fullest, too. The tournament has given the young and the old a sport that they can all follow, and the rivalry is very localised within the country. It has become the water cooler topic in offices and workplaces; school children enter into healthy debates and feel a sense of belongingness, with house wives, grandpas and the grandmas also happily joining the cheer squad. Within a very short span of time, local T20 Clubs have become the talismans for their states and cities.

The craze and fanaticism generated in India during the IPL, and for the rest of the year, is something that no other sport enjoys anywhere in the world. Yes, the soccer fans are fanatical and the NFL/AFL football fans talk about nothing else, but the sheer size of the market in India has created a juggernaut of passion and fervour in the sports world. Suddenly Indians have a local club that they can all follow and brain wash their young ones and newborns into doing the same. The young ones can be indoctrinated to think and act in a certain way, and this will ensure that generations of followers will be created. The formula is so simple and so potent that it is scary! It is an intoxicating mixture of brand loyalty and sport following that is here to stay for many, many years.

On the other hand, we are looking at Test cricket – a form of the game that has existed for over 100 years and, as a result, has become tired – especially after the advent of T20 and IPL.  Yes, the dawn of one-day cricket in the 70s was revolutionary, and some predicted that Test cricket would fade away at that stage. People who used to play Test cricket, however, took to media and since then have forever been singing the praises of Test cricket. Vested interests and the lack of alternatives have kept the fires burning for at least the last 30 years.

Test cricket is a unique form of sport that is played over 5 days – it used to be 6 days and before that it used to be timeless – and therein lies the strength and also the curse of this form of cricket.  As you can see, cricket has forever tried to reduce the time period it is played over, thereby resulting in the birth of one-day cricket. Even one-day cricket is too long for the current generation and, therefore, the birth of T20. Financially, the model makes even more sense, and the Indians have lapped it up by the bucketsful!

In T20, the world has a sport to rival football. In India, they have the instant mass following and the perfect environment for the sport to thrive with divisions of all sorts between the different parts of India, and there is plenty of money for all involved in the sport. So this form of the game is well set for the next few decades at least.

What happens to Test cricket, though? The logical guess is that it will fade away in the next 15 to 20 years. If India doesn’t support Test cricket, then Test cricket will fade away sooner. Yes, there will be some who would reminisce and be consumed by nostalgia. Cricket players-turned-commentators and other vested interests will scream the loudest; but already the niche of supporters is becoming smaller, and, in another couple of decades, that niche will be so small that it would not matter.

Imagine what would happen if India increased the duration of IPL from 6 weeks to 6 months of the year and make it something like the English Premier League or Australian Football League? It will kill cricket, as we know that a sport cannot survive when 75% of its funding disappears. Cricketers from other countries will join IPL as mercenaries – as is happening to a certain extent already – and IPL will have more teams and play a longer tournament over an even more extended period of time.  So what will be the cost? Test cricket will be slowly put out of its misery.

What about one-day cricket, then? Well, I think it could be the new Test cricket! It will become the new long form of the game; however, for it to work in the long term, the authorities have to make it more attractive, as it is losing some of its gloss with the advent of T20. They can introduce 2 innings of 25 overs for a start, and this would reinvigorate the sport. It will retain a lot of the Test cricket values and nuances, albeit over a shorter time period, and this would appeal to the connoisseurs of the game to a certain extent.

Time and tide waits for no one, and the only constant thing in life is change. Time is changing, and cricket is changing with the times. The new generation has succumbed to instant gratification in all forms of life, and it could very well happen in cricket, too. Old hats will complain and will find it hard to accept the disappearance of Test cricket, but they will grudgingly change over time and start enjoying the short format. After all, Twenty20 is less about cricket and more about entertainment, rivalry, brand-loyalty and a feeling of belongingness; ask any Manchester United, NFL Cowboys or AFL Collingwood supporter what that means!

And I am sorry to say that India is creating millions of such fanatical supporters in every corner of the country, or am I really?

Politics, movies and IPL: grand entertainment in a great country! Oops, sorry for clubbing politics with entertainment. But then again, why not?