Saturday, November 28, 2009

Look who's talking!

After losing the opening test by 32 runs, you'd have expected Pakistani batsmen to cop the blame. Falling short chasing down a modest target of 251 in ample number of overs, it does not take any rocket science to figure out where things went wrong, specially given the fact that the pitch wasn't showing any signs of monstrous behavior. Yet when Mohammad Yousuf was asked the reason why Pakistan fell short, he conveniently singled out fielding as the cause of defeat.

Following Pakistan cricket is a thankless job anyway. And players like Mohammad Yousuf, and their such statements, don't make the job any easier. Mohammad Yousuf should be the last person criticizing the team's fielding, given his apathy towards his own fielding. Its the same guy (read: old man) who, after being dropped for the World Twenty20 squad in 2007, said fielding is a useless thing in Twenty20 cricket.
T20 mein fielding kahan karni hoti hai, ball ya tou haath mein aati hai ya chaukka jata hai
(You don't need fielding skiils in T20. The ball either comes straight to you or it goes for a boundary)

If such is the mindset of a player, how can he suddenly give fielding its due importance in the other forms of the game? Had Younis Khan criticized the team's fielding, it would have been understandable. He is one person who sets himself such high standards that he expects the same from others. But Mohammad Yousuf? Its the same Yousuf who, despite being critical of criticism over his fielding, recently admitted that he has had knee troubles since the past 4-5 years. And the troubles are indeed very apparent in his appalling running between the wickets as well. How can such a player who, despite all his class as a batsman, remains a mediocre fielder at best point fingers at it being the cause of defeat?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What's the opener's job anyway?

There was once a time when the job description for an opening batsman in test matches required the ability to start cautiously, see off the new ball, and then build on a strong start. This week's cricket gives the impression that those days, it seems, are a thing of the past. With three test matches going on in scattered places of the world, you'd have expected a traditionalist to sit back and enjoy some trademark test cricket. Fortunately or unfortunately, this was not to happen.

As I write, all three matches are still in progress. India are assured winners against Sri Lanka with two days to play unless the heavens come down pouring, the chances of which are remote at best. At Dunedin, New Zealand hold the upper hand against the unpredictable Pakistanis. And Australia are firmly placed against West Indies on day one. One interesting thing to note in all these matches is the performance of the openers. If you're new to cricket, you'd think what difference do the words 'openers' or 'tailenders' have at all? Three ducks in three different matches - is that the new 'in thing' for an opener? First of the three happened on Tuesday. New Zealand's Tim McIntosh bowled by an Aamer yorker first ball of the match. Clearly late on the ball and playing down the wrong line with feet jammed in the crease, McIntosh got New Zealand started on the wrong foot. Next up on Wednesday, Sri Lanka's latest wonder-boy Tillakaratne Dilshan. After toiling in the field for over ten hours, Sri Lanka needed a good start to reply to the mammoth 642 put up by India. Instead, it was Dilshan needlessly going early at a Zaheer Khan delivery outside leg stump. The result: simple catch at mid on, and India get a bonus wicket, first ball. And then come Thursday, Shane Watson conveniently left a Jerome Taylor delivery in hope of length. Easy decision, LBW for a duck. This one lasted seven balls though.

And so it seems like scoring the first run has become some sort of a milestone. That precisely seems to be the mindset with some openers. Lets look at Pakistan's case - Khurram Manzoor and Imran Farhat. I doubt if there has ever been such a long phase that a team is unable to find a stable pair of openers. Decade of opener-lessness is all set to be celebrated. They did get off the mark, but still failed to make a mark. Sri Lanka's Tharanga Paranavitana is another case in point. Getting in and not carrying on.

Is this the new job description for an opener? Even James Anderson would do a better job than this (he holds the record for most number of consecutive innings without a duck). Thankfully though, the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Martin Guptill and Simon Katich save the day (and the art too)!

Added today:
As if three ducks in three days weren't enough, Martin Guptill fell for a fourth-ball duck today! Inside edging Mohammed Aamer, and New Zealand off to a disastrous start in the second innings bringing Pakistan right back into the game. Change the batting order I'm telling you, CHANGE IT!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lets play what India wants to play

If you've been following cricket closely for quite some time, you would have noticed that there has been a growing Indian influence on the game. The Steves, Michaels, Daves have been replaced with the Dalmiyas, Pawars, Modis etc. And that is precisely the reason why there is such a huge debate over the future of cricket in terms of what formats should stay and which ones should go.

Two Indian journalists write on a renowned cricket website that the recently-concluded ODI series between Australia and India attracted record audiences and TV ratings. All six matches were sold out, while TV ratings were several times higher than the two preceding ICC events (World Twenty20 and Champions Trophy).
Digging deeper into the article, we come across an interesting comparison. The average TRP (mesaure of TV ratings) for the 27 matches of ICC World Twenty20 was 2.11. The TRP for India's matches was considerably higher at 3.98. Then the Champions Trophy. India's matches fetched a TRP of 3.16 but the tournament had an average TRP of a mere 1.11. On the other hand, the six India vs Australia games accorded a record TRP of 5.52.

Lets play what India wants to play. How about six IPLs a year?The formula is simple: If you want higher TV ratings, just play what India wants to play. And that is why we hear it too often that tournaments like Indian Premier League and Champions League have 'breathed new life' into the game of cricket. Of course Indian players do well in the IPL. Why wouldn't they? If they wouldn't, how would you ever come to know about Subramaniam Badrinath or Manpreet Gony? (You're excused if you still don't know them). Did Lalit Modi mention two IPLs every year from 2012? I say make it six a year. The more Indian players are in action, the more TV ratings you get. The more Badrinaths and Gonys you will see instead of the Michael Clarkes, Umar Guls, Shane Bonds etc. Who cares about the quality of cricket? What is more important is that golden number called TRP.

Why play Champions Trophy when India can't do well in it?For a change, if you still want some international cricket, lets play that too. But hey, don't forget the rule: play what India wants to play. Why play World Twenty20 or Champions Trophy when India can't do well in it? World T20 - a tournament India's bitterest rival Pakistan ended up winning - is useless. After all, a 2.11 rating is nothing compared to 5.52. Champions Trophy - a tournament in which India were again agonizingly knocked out by none other than Pakistan - has a rating of 1.11. Even Star Plus soaps would attract a better rating! So what India's absence from the bulk of these tournaments affects TV ratings? The Indian theory is simple: We're billion-strong, and you can't do anything about it. So if you want international cricket, let India play what and where they can play well. Away tours should be done away with. ICC tournaments are unnecessary, do away with them too. And one day, trust me ONE DAY, cricket will surely match the TRPs of football matches! But for that you'll also have to do away with the unimportant, annoyingly close encounters between South Africa and England or Pakistan and New Zealand. Do that and see the magic.

Ravindra Jadeja scored a splendid fifty. But who was watching?Do the figures really mean Champions Trophy was a flop compared to India-Australia ODIs? A 5.52 TRP for India vs Australia. Five times as popular as Champions Trophy? Maybe yes. But hey, NO! Did you forget there are more Indians in this world than the rest of the major cricketing nations' population combined? My friend in Toronto doesn't know who Munaf Patel is. But he surely remembers Ricky Ponting lifting the trophy in Johannesburg. Or what about a 12-year old kid who paid £300 to watch the World T20 final at Lord's? He'll remember Shahid Afridi standing with his arms aloft in celebration of victory for a lifetime. Does he really know how a moment of madness from Ravindra Jadeja cost India the match? I don't think so.

But the bottom line remains - let's play what India wants to play!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stupidity, of the highest order

Within the last few hours, we've had news coming in that Younis Khan has asked for a break from cricket and, therefore, Mohammed Yousuf has been appointed captain for the test series against New Zealand. The decision not only signals yet another period of turmoil in Pakistan cricket, but is also marked by stupid and senseless decisions all-round.

Firstly, the media has been told that Younis Khan has sought a break from cricket. If that is really the case, why? What made Younis take a break from test cricket - the only form of cricket he has consistently been good at? Had a one-day tour been coming up, it would have been understandable. Not only understandable, but also beneficial to the team (given Younis' poor form in Abu Dhabi). But after such a power struggle with Younis dictating his terms and conditions to resume captaincy after the Champions Trophy fiasco, all it required was a little sensibility from his side. Yet here he comes up with his new desire - wanting to go on a break. And what about Younis' statements of putting country first? Is he really putting the country first by withdrawing from the series? Pakistan have been the weakest in test cricket. With Shahid Afridi already skipping test matches, and Misbah axed, Younis was the much-needed backbone of Pakistan's middle-order. And now he goes away leaving behind a fragile middle-order. Other than Yousuf, there aren't many options to bank on. Shoaib Malik has always been a start-stop performer in test matches. And the last test assignment in Sri Lanka was no different. Umar Akmal is yet to debut, while Fawad Alam debuted in Sri Lanka with one real innings of note. With the sort of batting collapses witnessed in Sri Lanka, things look much worse for New Zealand.

Now to the PCB. Another ultimate show of not having any direction - Ijaz Butt. The aged chairman strongly rejected Younis' resignation after the Champions Trophy and promised to talk him out of the decision. And so it happened. Amid huge public pressure, Younis' terms were accepted and Younis was reinstated as captain. What happened now? Within a matter of two weeks the loyalties changed? Why did Ijaz Butt easily accept Younis' request for a break? He should have rather (once again) convinced Younis Khan to continue, even more forcefully than before as this was a test series and not a one-day assignment. But Ijaz Butt's silent acceptance says more about his lack of assertiveness than anything else.

And then the replacement - Mohammad Yousuf. Out of nowhere, Yousuf has been appointed captain. Does the PCB not have an idea about the risks of the decision they have taken? Yousuf has shown several times in his career that he is surely not the captaincy material. The man whose world record number of run outs is not because of slow running, but rather out of indecisiveness - how can such a person be good enough to lead a team and make good and quick tactical decisions? Such laid-back is his attitude that when he stood in for Inzamam ul Haq in an ODI during the home series against South Africa in 2003, he didn't know the allotted time to bowl 50 overs! As a result, the match ended in farcical circumstances with Duckworth/Lewis rule being applied as bad light deemed play impossible. With five overs remaining and South Africa needing 23 runs with four wickets in hand, it was anybody's game. Although Pakistan won under the D/L rule, the incident brought disrepute to the country for having such ignorant and oblivious captains. Graeme Smith, himself no lenient a skipper, took this ignorance to task and was visibly furious at the press conference. More importantly, Yousuf's unfriendly and undiplomatic behavior in front of the media has complicated matters in the past - the much-publicized spat between Malik and him is an example - and it is likely to haunt Pakistan cricket once again.

The only argument in favor of Yousuf's appointment can be: if not Yousuf, then who? Afridi doesn't play test matches. Malik fell from grace as skipper. That's the whole point - the team has no capable captain other than Younis! If one had thought about THIS dilemma before taking other decisions, things would have been much better. Younis should have realized, the PCB should have realized. That it is logically illogical for Younis to be absent from the series. Had Younis thought about it, he wouldn't have gone on a break. Had the PCB realized, Ijaz Butt wouldn't have silently accepted the request. Nor would he have appointed Yousuf as skipper.

Being an ardent Pakistani fan and supporter, I hope I am proven wrong. That all my negativity is negated. That Yousuf turns out to be a good captain, and the team does well in New Zealand. The only shortcoming though is that wishes rarely translate or influence results. I'd still like to indulge in wishful thinking. Who knows, Pakistan won the Twenty20 World Cup against all odds. So anything's possible!