Tag Archives: cricket

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.

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?

THE TENDULKAR PHENOMENON

By Madhu Kshirsagarphoto-2

24 Dec 2012

“The stream will cease to flow; the wind will cease to blow; the clouds will cease to fleet; the heart will cease to beat; for all things must die; death waits at the door.” Tennyson was probably talking about great careers coming to an end, as all good things have to.  But I am sure he would have said it differently if he had followed the career of the cricketing phenomenon called “Tendulkar”.  He would probably would have added, “let me wait for a while and make myself sure; for here is a man who can rekindle the glory of yore”, or something to that effect.  Every knowledgeable cricket fan wanted him to continue, defy age and recapture his glory days. But alas, the time has come.

463 matches, 23 yrs, 18426 runs, 49 one-day centuries, 96 one-day half centuries, at a strike rate of 86.23, 62 Man of the Match Awards! To put this in contemporary perspective – Ponting has 32 Man of the Match Awards and Kallis has 32 also.

The greatest one-day player ever! Many favourite memories of Sachin’s exploits in one-day cricket flash past in my mind – he almost always rose to big occasions – his exploits in all World Cup matches over 20 years are gems to be cherished.

Sachin Tendulkar has announced his retirement from one-day cricket.  For all the cricket followers, especially Indians this is indeed sad. One-day cricket will not feel the same again without the familiar walk to the middle by this small but colossal figure.  Generations of Indians will feel the emptiness, the void.  Some had unfairly started questioning his presence in the team. But in my opinion his retirement from one-day cricket has been of impeccable timing. If he had scored tons of runs in the current English series as most of the Indians were hoping – albeit against hope – his detractors would have been forced to shut up.  But all things have to come to an end and father time catches up with everyone – he does not differentiate or show partiality towards geniuses.

There is really no argument – Sachin is the best batsman of his generation and arguably best ever. Some other great batsmen over the last 30 odd years, such as Lara could come a distant second in Test cricket or a Viv Richards in one-day cricket. But Sachin is a complete package – in both forms of the game – the most complete batsman of all.

No great cricketer in my knowledge has ever retired at his peak.  Cricketers have only quit when they ran out of form towards the age of 40 or their bodies just didn’t cope. Name one batsman in the last 30 years who gave away cricket when he was scoring oodles of runs!  All great players have an unshakeable self belief that they can battle through the lean patch towards the end of the career. But alas they find that it is not that easy! And only then they come to terms with hanging up their boots – never before!

Even Ricky Ponting who retired very recently had been reduced to a scratchy batsman who averaged in his 20s for the last couple of years until be polished off some runs in a home series against India’s innocuous and friendly bowling attack.

Seriously there is no one batsman in the history of the game who has achieved so much and with such grace and aura. He stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Lara was inconsistent in Tests and was never a force in one-day cricket. Ponting was always suspect against genuine high quality bowling, whether spin or pace. Sachin has excelled against all kinds of bowling, in all parts of the world and in all conditions. A journey through his 100 international centuries – and 152 half-centuries – shows how he had mastered every bowling attack in the world.  And yet Tendulkar’s numbers and records are only half the story – the other half is how he gets his runs and his demeanour on and off the field – which sets him apart from every one of his contemporaries.   There is really nothing left in cricket for Sachin to prove or achieve!

People expect him to score every time he walks to the middle, and one cannot blame Sachin for failing to meet this unrealistic feat.  This does not reflect in any way on the greatness of Tendulkar but merely reflects the folly and naivety of people at large.  People are the ones who enshrined him as an immortal and have come to expect the most unreasonable exploits from him.  Yet all along he has been the only mortal, level headed and humble human being you can expect to meet in this crazy, egotistic warped world of ours.

It is probably our own limitations, and our own inability to achieve greatness that has made us to crave and seek improbable glory, and look up to someone else for this.  We made him invincible because it suited our own psyche to introduce invincibility into him, and beat the everyday reality in our own lives with some kind of superhuman – and believe me Tendulkar has often delivered on that expectation.  But Tendulkar himself has all along been the most stoic and the most balanced person that one can imagine.

The Tendulkar phenomenon is very hard to explain and yet is very easy to feel.  A generation of Indians have grown up with this feeling.  For all the street cricketers, those playing in the local grounds, the rich, the poor, the young and the old alike have come to revel in his glory.  He started playing cricket at the highest level at the tender age of 16.  From there it has been a fairy tale of glory.  100 international centuries!  Even if he does not add to it, he has dominated the world cricketing scene like no other before, and has already left an indelible mark on international cricket in general.

People have come to regard Tendulkar as a talisman for success, glory and reward.  Indian minds are so deeply etched with the Tendulkar phenomenon that they see their own reflection in him.  A failure in an innings from him is a failure for themselves personally and a failure for the nation.  His aura has lifted an entire nation and has instilled the resolve and the inspiration in every Indian heart to challenge the ordinary and meet the extraordinary head on.  Many ordinary Indians fell in love with cricket because of Tendulkar. They will today be sad, but I am sure will understand that this man has done more to provide them with entertainment and hope through his 23 years of tribulations, achievements and glory.

He is not just a hero; he is much more than that.  Most Indians have lived their own lives through his life.  They have been crestfallen when he failed and have been ecstatic when he succeeded.

And now, when nearing the end of his career some in the media pushing their own barrows, and a small minority of misguided new cricket fans have unfairly mocked and derided him.  How heart breaking is that!  How cruel! No one person is greater than the game itself.  But there are always exceptions, especially Tendulkar who has lifted the game of cricket to greater heights, and deserves special consideration and more leeway to fight his way back.

He has left one-day cricket but let him choose when he wants to say goodbye to Test cricket too and walk away into the sunset.  Believe me sunsets will not be the same again!

Sachin as a phenomenon transcends sports and embraces the good in all walks of our lives.  Enjoy this phenomenon because there will not be another one of its kind.