Monday, July 26, 2010

ICC RANKINGS GO FOR A 'TOSS'

A number of things that have happened in quick succession have prompted this thought in me. First, I'll tell you what events happened.

First, Kumar Sangakkara criticised the ICC Ranking system (he's not the first one to do that!)... Second, in his latest article on 'It Figures' in Cricinfo, S Rajesh, the extraordinary stats-man observed that Sri Lanka has the most imposing home record after winning the toss. They have never lost a Test in last ten years at home after winning the toss. And third, on the comments page in this article by S Rajesh, I read someone's comment that said that the ICC Rankings should also consider the factor of tosses won / lost.

I have been thinking more and more about that comment. And it does make a lot of sense. Most of the Test matches (and even ODIs between competent teams, for that matter) are being decided at the time of the toss itself (unless ofcourse, you have captain called Ricky Ponting who always starts with "We'll have a bat!" after every toss win)!

So if a team can defy the odds, lose the toss and still end up winning the match, then it does deserve some more respect than other ordinary wins! There might also be cases of dilemma where a captain is unsure of what to do on winning the toss. The two captains may have different opinions. For example, at the Leeds Test, Ricky Ponting elected to bat first on winning the toss... but I am sure Salman Butt would have preferred a bowl had he won the toss!

In such cases, a problem arises. Pakistan won this game... and had the system of accounting for tosses been in place, they would have earned more points as they won that Test after losing the toss. Had they won the toss and then won the Test in a similar manner, they would have earned relatively lesser points.

To provide for such a problem, I have a solution. It's pretty simple. Just before the toss, the two captains must separately reveal what they decide to do in case they win the toss. If both captains had pre-decided at bat-first or a bowl-first strategy, then the toss factor should be considered important and extra points should be awarded to teams that lose the toss and win the match. But if one captain says bat-first and the other says bowl-first before the toss, the toss factor should be considered as 'not crucial' for that match and there will be no need to provide bonus points at the end of the match to either winner.

This would make the points system a lot more meaningful, especially in this day and age when teams are almost guaranteed not to lose a Test after winning the toss at Colombo. Even MS Dhoni will be thankful... considering the fact that he's not managed to win a single toss in Test cricket in his last six trysts with the spinning coin!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

PAKISTAN DESERVE TO WIN

Its inches away now... the win for Pakistan! The long awaited win for Pakistan over Australia... and its neither in Pakistan nor in Australia, it is going to happen in England! So now we know where Pakistan might want to organise all of its future 'home' matches till the security situation in Pakistan improves!

Pakistan thoroughly deserve this win... and in my opinion, they deserved a series win! Because they had the better bowling unit... more suited to excel in the playing conditions than their opponents. It was the inexperience and the resulting immaturity in batting that led to their downfall in the first Test, not to mention the less-than-inspired leadership of their former 'Test' captain Shahid I-Can't-Play-Test-Cricket Afridi.

This has been a wonderful start to the Test captaincy stint of Salman Butt. But after this win, I am afraid, the expectations from him will sky-rocket! More pressure... that's the last thing he needed!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

WAT - SON!



Oh God! Shane Watson has picked up 6 wickets as Pakistan stand on 254 for 9 in the 2nd Pakistan - Australia "neutral" Test at Leeds. That makes it 11 wickets in this series for him... off his rubbish bowling! Is there no justice in the world?

INDIA'S FIRST TEST JINX AND DHONI ON THE BACKFOOT



Oh well! It wasn't unexpected at all! This tour of Sri Lanka is the 15th 'away' Test series that India has started, against a Test opponent other than Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, from 1st January 2000. And this was their 7th loss in the opening Test of such a series.


I thought that being the No. 1 team now would have meant a little bit of change... but then some thing don't change at all. So as Sri Lanka celebrate the great achievement by their favourite son Muttiah Muralitharan to notch up 800 Test wickets... India need to sit back and introspect.


India's record in 2nd Tests on tours where they have lost the 1st one is a little difficult to analyse... out of the 6 previous occasions where India has lost the 1st Test of a tour in 2000s, India has bounced back to a win 2 times, slumped to another defeat 2 times, and managed a draw 2 times. So, it currently stands at 2-2-2.


Whatever the past record says, I will be surprised if India don't fight back with a much better performance in the 2nd Test at Colombo. In particular, I am sure that the batting unit will perform admirable once again. But will India manage to win the Test? That question remains unanswered in my mind.


India's bowling is weak. And Dhoni's captaincy was uninspiring today. Dhoni is fast going the Ponting way. He is a bat-first bully as a captain. In conditions where it is not favourable to bat second and he is forced to do so after losing the toss, he is being found wanted. And the problems have been compounded by the fact that he has now lost his last 5 tosses as a Test captain for India (and batted second in all of them).


Here's an analysis of Tests in which Dhoni has lost the toss and was made to bat second by his opposing captain:


v. South Africa, Kanpur 2008 - India won by 8 wickets - This win came due to the fact that South Africa was rubbish at playing spin on a crumbling pitch. Paul Harris managed to pick 4 wickets in that Test - that should tell the story! I don't think that Dhoni was spectacular in his part-time role as a captain (he was filling in for Anil Kumble then).


v. England, Chennai 2008 - India won by 6 wickets - Dhoni's 4th Test as captain and he was definitely found wanting when the opposition batting unit clicked. Andrew Strauss hit a hundred in each innings, as India crumbled to hand over a 75-run 1st innings advantage. In the second innings, Dhoni couldn't separate the pair of Strauss and Collingwood for a long time. In the end, India managed to win only because of Sehwag's belligerence on the 4th day and Tendulkar's composure on the 5th. Otherwise, this might well have been Dhoni's first loss as a captain.


v. Sri Lanka, Mumbai (BS) 2009 - India won by an innings and 144 runs - When Sri Lanka was batting in the 1st innings, the signs were not good for India. Dilshan and Mathews batted brilliantly and Dhoni was always one step behind the game as Sri Lanka notched up almost 400. Again, Dhoni should thank Sehwag for his brutal 293 that ensured that India managed 726 in reply. Dhoni chipped in with a 100* himself... but then India was already 200 runs ahead when he came in to bat... not exactly a knock under pressure by the captain!


v. Bangladesh, Dhaka 2010 - India won by 10 wickets - Well, it was Bangladesh after all! They have indeed made very decent progress in Test cricket, but they are still Bangladesh!


v. South Africa, Nagpur 2010 - India lost by an innings and 6 runs - Dhoni's first loss as a Test captain was an embarrassing one for the No. 1 Test team. Dhoni looked absolutely clueless as Amla and Kallis piled on 340 runs for the 4th wicket. This showed in an absolutely clear manner that when the opposition is on top, Dhoni starts to sink.


v. South Africa, Kolkata 2010 - India won by an innings and 57 runs - India did manage a win, but Dhoni did look helpless in the first two sessions on Day 1 when Amla and Peterson put on a 209-run 2nd wicket stand. He fared much better once Zaheer and Harbhajan had engineered a collapse to dismiss South Africa eventually for 296. And yes, another ton for the captain... after all, he came in to bat when India was just 12 runs shy of a 100-run lead!


v. Sri Lanka, Galle 2010 - India lost by 10 wickets - I don't need to say a lot. The bats of Paranavitana and Sangakkara did the speaking.


Back in February this year, after India had lost the first Test to South Africa at Nagpur, Avjit Ghosh had written on his blog: "Dhoni is a master of mediocre bowling but is hardly the same batsman against stronger attacks."


I really want to add further that his captaincy is not very different. He needs to start a Test match strongly to be able to dominate. Where India starts a Test on the backfoot, like batting second after losing the toss, he looks helpless and uninspiring as a captain. He still has managed to give a few positive results in such cases, but any captain would have managed that if he had Sehwag and Tendulkar playing the way they did in those cases!

Friday, July 16, 2010

ABSURD SCHEDULING

Nagpur will be hosting the third Test instead of Mumbai during New Zealand's tour of India in November - December 2010. Earlier, this match (20 - 24 November) was scheduled for Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai. But after Mumbai Cricket Association's announcement that it will be unable to host the match due to the preparations for World Cup 2011, BCCI decided to shift it to Nagpur.

Empty Stands don't bear a pretty sight!
The current BCCI President Shashank Manohar, originally from Nagpur, was elected to his post on 29th September 2008. From that point, India played 33 international home games (11 Tests, 20 ODIs, 2 T20Is), out of which Nagpur has hosted the most number for any venue - 5 matches (2 Tests, 2 ODIs, 1 T20I).

By the end of this year, Nagpur and Mohali would have hosted 3 Tests each (starting from October 2008). Given that these two venues have seen extremely low crowd attendances in Test cricket over the recent past, it seems that BCCI is not using any head in its scheduling. In 2008 against Australia, Sachin Tendulkar went past Brian Lara as the highest run scorer in Test cricket in front of virtually empty stands at Mohali. And a couple of weeks later at Nagpur's new stadium in Jamtha, he scored a century acknowledged by a handful of spectators.


Things were no different when Mohali hosted its next Test against England and Nagpur hosted against South Africa. Part of the reason for low attendance for Test cricket in these grounds (apart from the dwindling interest in the purest form of the game) is the fact that these stadiums (at Mohali and Jamtha) are located quite some distance away from the main cities of Chandigarh and Nagpur respectively. Most spectators are unwilling to travel that far for a day of Test cricket that might not even bear a result.

So I am stumped as to why BCCI has ignored the other Tests grounds that have shown good crowd attendance whenever they have had a chance to witness Test cricket. Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata have hosted just 1 Test each during this period... and by the end of 2010, Bangalore will be the only venue amongst these four to increase its tally to 2 against Australia. These grounds have seen good crowd support for Test cricket... but either BCCI is blind and deaf or it is dumb. I guess it's the latter!

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100 RUNS TOO MANY

Salman Butt: The Key Man
Target 440. Too much! Pakistan were in a situation yesterday when they had the chance to dismiss Australia for at least 100 runs short of what they eventually managed. The target would then have been 340... and at their current stage (148 for 1... incidentally, they were 148 for 10 in the 1st innings), they would have needed just 192 more runs with 9 wickets in hand.

That would have been a sure shot way to put Ricky Ponting under immense pressure... and he's not been the best of captains when the tide is not in his team's favour! But all that is fiction!

Right now, Pakistan is still 292 runs short of their target with 9 wickets in hand. Salman Butt is unbeaten on 80 and Azhar Ali on 40... both having made a positive start on Day 4. The weather forecast reads 'Partly Cloudy' and Miller in the Cricinfo commentary team says that the sun will be out during the day. So all in all, things do look positive for Pakistan.

But I really doubt it... Pakistan chasing down a 4th innings target of 440 against an Australian attack of Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson seems an extremely unlikely scenario to me.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

ELBOWGATE ON 'A CRICKETING VIEW'

I read a couple of articles by Kartikeya on the blog "A Cricketing View" about the latest Elbowgate incident involving Australian captain Ricky Ponting and Pakistani pacer Mohammed Aamer at Lord's. I must say that they are very well written and well researched articles on this issue and by far the best amongst all those that I have read so far. (Link to Article 1 and Link to Article 2).

I just want to quote this part from the first article: "Chris Broad has officiated a number of Australia games. During these games, with one notable exception - Ricky Ponting was fined 100% of his match fee was dissent and verbal abuse in an ODI game in September 2006, Broad has not found it necessary to fine any Australia player over 25% of his match fee. During this same period, Broad has routinely levied fines of over 40% to other senior, distinguished players, for similar offences - conduct contrary to the spirit of the game and the players status and dissent and verbal abuse being the most common. Any effort to identify consistency in Broad's decision making fails. You could argue that every incident is unique, but the only pattern that emerges is that Broad takes a systematically more sympathetic view of Australian misdemeanors than he does of others misdemeanors. Note that this does not include instance like this one, in which he completely ignored the extended elbow."

To all those who have been following the latest Elbowgate incident, these articles are a must read.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ELBOWGATE PART 2

Not too long ago, an elbow-gate incident had bruised the so-called spirit of cricket... and tongues started lashing everywhere. Another elbow-gate occurred yesterday... right at the home of cricket, Lord's.

I want to draw a comparison between the Shane Watson - Gautam Gambhir incident of October 2008 and the Mohammed Aamer - Ricky Ponting incident of July 2009. So first, I guess one must watch the video of the earlier incident to refresh memories. The video below contains clippings of the instigation as well as the elbow poking action, which attracted the ban for Gambhir.

video

In both the cases, the batsmen poked their elbows after being instigated by the bowlers. Shane Watson's instigation lasted quite a while. Then when Gambhir clipped a ball off his legs, Watson said something to Gambhir and showed his hand to the batsman when he was taking the first run. So while returning for the second, Gambhir also decided to show his hand a little more closely to Watson... and the result was the 'poke'.


Yesterday, Ponting got out to Mohammed Aamer. Now, Aamer got too close to Ponting at the time of his celebration (an act that we might refer to as instigation)... and Ponting, on his part, shoved his elbow towards Aamer. Ponting may say that he could not avoid physical contact with Aamer as he was too close to him. Granted! But he could have certainly avoided elbowing Aamer. The photograph here clearly shows that Ponting could have avoided the elbowing.
In the first case, the instigator Watson, who had carried on his activities for quite a while was fined 10% of his match fees... and Gambhir was banned for a Test match (and I don't recall completely, but I think there was a 100% fine as well). Compare this with the second incident... the instigator Aamer was talked to by the match referee (not even an official reprimand) and Ponting was left out of the picture completely.

Here is the official release of what the match referee Chris Broad had to say on this incident: "Aamer is a young, exciting, talented player full of enthusiasm for this great sport and that is to be celebrated and nurtured. But there are a few things he still has to learn in relation to how to conduct himself on the field of play. I told him that when he takes a wicket, he should celebrate with his team-mates rather than getting himself into the personal space of the outgoing batsman. It's a spirit of cricket issue."

Why this stark contrast? And to top it all, it was the same Chris Broad who gave his judgement in both the cases. I am not against Gambhir's ban... he deserved it. It was Gambhir's second incident in a period of 12 months... so there was nothing wrong with that punishment.

But Shane Watson getting just a 10% fine? That's crap! He kept ranting on and on during the day in the direction of Gambhir. In the video, you will see the first verbal incident between the two occurred when India was 42-2... and the elbow incident occurred when India was 155-2. So Watson had a lot of time to get under the skin of Gambhir before finally seeing him retaliate.

And now, Aamer is spoken to and Ponting goes free? That's crappier! If the same level of leniency and / or strictness is to be maintained, then Aamer should have gotten a 10% fine (as per Watson's rubbish judgement) or maybe more considering that it was his second incident in a short period. And Ponting should have gotten atleast a 100% fine (I am not stating a 1 Test ban because this is his first incident of such nature in the last 12 months).

I know there will be a lot of varied opinions on this issue. But mine is pretty clear. This judgement throws up a big question - how can the same match referee give such contrasting judgements on two incidents of similar nature?

Monday, July 12, 2010

FIFA WORLD CUP 2010 ENDS

SPAIN ARE THE FIFA WORLD CUP 2010 CHAMPIONS!

As two hours of a physically as well as mentally exhausting game were coming to an end and the players were getting tired, it took one defensive error in the Dutch penalty area that was scooped up by Spain... and Iniesta, with the composure of a surgeon, turned that moment into one that will be etched in Spain's history and ensured that his name will be counted amongst the legends of Spanish football.

My heart goes out to the Dutch. Netherlands were by far the most enterprising team through the tournament... and had a 100% record right from the qualifying stages to the World Cup Finals. They just did not have the energy in the end to land their foot across the finish line.

The game itself, was a curious mix of unconverted opportunities and a lot of yellow cards (as well as a red at the end). The referee used his yellow card 14 times in 2 hours, once along with a red. Both the sides, surprisingly, were rather unconvincing in their opponent's penalty area. The referee too did not have an easy match... and at the end of it all, the Dutch fans let their frustration be known by booing the Englishman Howard Webb when he went on stage to collect his medallion.

Not only the Dutch crowd, but even the Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk and their midfielder Arjen Robben lashed out. Both were specifically upset that Webb has failed to book Carlos Puyol for the second time when he had his arm around Arjen Robben as he looked to get one-on-one with the Spanish keeper Iker Casillas. Van Marwijk was simple in his assessment: "I don't think the referee controlled the match well." And Robben was not too discreet when he said: "When you play in a World Cup final, you also need a world-class referee."

But, there was no doubt at the end (the Dutch coach agreed as much) that the better and the more deserving team was crowned the World Champion. The top goal-scorer David Villa, the finals goal-scorer and man-of-the-match Andres Iniesta and the ever-reliable workhorse Xavi set the foundation on which Spain built its success. Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique and Iker Casillas were fantastic at the back. And Sergio Ramos was brilliant at the back as well as wide on the right while attacking.

This year is turning out to be even more beautiful than 2008 for the Spanish sports fans. In 2008, Rafael Nadal won the French Open, the Wimbledon and the gold in Beijing Olympics, Spain were ranked 14th in that Olympics with 5 Golds, 10 Silver and 3 Bronze, they won the Davis Cup and of course, the football team won the European Championships... their first major international football title.

In 2010, Nadal has managed to duplicate his 2008 feat (minus the Olympic medal, of course) and Spain has already been crowned the Champions of the World in football... a glory that they have never seen before.

The World Cup has drawn to a close now... and South Africa must be congratulated on hosting a brilliant event. Just 12 months backs, there were fears that it might not be a success, there were security issues just a few months back and there must have been myriad other obstacles, but just as the Rainbow Nation's history suggests, they overcame everything. CONGRATULATIONS TO SPAIN AND CONGRATULATIONS TO SOUTH AFRICA!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

ANY COMMENTS?

Greame Smith uploaded this pic on his Twitter page. I am speechless...

FIFA WORLD CUP ON THE LAST LAP

In just about a couple of hours, the closing ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 2010 will begin... before the Grand Finale between the Netherlands and Spain.

Now, the bookies all over the world are reportedly favouring Spain to lift the title. In fact, most Indian celebrities are also reportedly backing Spain... a number of them have said as such on their Twitter pages. The German team manager has thrown his weight behind the Spaniards. Robin van Persie, the Dutch striker (supposedly target-man), has also admitted that Spain will start as slight favourites. And yes, before I forget, the star of the World Cup hero from Germany, Paul the Octopus, has also predicted a Spanish win.

Does this increase the pressure on the flamboyant, yet perennially under-achieving Spanish side? I guess it does. Now, I did use the word flamboyant to describe Spain... because all the newspapers seem to think so. But I think that this word has come out only after the semi-final match against Germany... where Spain indeed was flamboyant and the deserving winner.
However, if we look further back, it was not an easy ride for them as it has been for the Netherlands. Spain just about managed to scrape through over Paraguay... and though they were the clearly better team against Portugal before that, they won the game because Portugal underperformed and not because they were exceptional.

Netherlands, on the other hand, have been a lot more attack-minded than Spain. Their goal tally shows as such. Spain have scored just 7 goals over the past one month whereas Netherlands have been way ahead on 12 goals. In fact, the problem for Spain is that apart from David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Carlos Puyol, no one has managed to strike the back of the net. And they certainly cannot rely on Puyol to score everyday... then who will be at the back!?

For the Netherlands, the scorers have been Dirk Kuyt, Robin van Persie, Klaas Jan Huntelaar, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Arjen Robben and of course, Wesley Sneijder. This seems to suggest that they have a lot more settled and confident attack than the Spaniards.

The Dutch, however, have not been very strong defensively. They have conceded 5 at the back, in comparison to just 2 by Spain. And when you compare the goalkeepers, I would pick Iker Casillas any day over Maarten Stekelenburg.

So this contest builds up nicely... on one hand is a team with a misfiring attack but a strong defense facing up to a team with a confident attack but a faltering defense. Both teams are chasing history... never having won this competition in the past 80 years of its existence.

Spain already starts on the backfoot... in terms of history. No team has ever won this showpiece event after having lost their first match. Spain had lost the first match to Switzerland... but they have regrouped since then.

So... now the wait is just about over. In a few hours, the world will know which team has made history. Let the battle begin...

FORLAN, YOU BEAUTY!

Uruguay is losing the 3rd place playoff match of the FIFA World Cup 2010 against Germany 3-2 in the 89th minute... but irrespective of the result, I must say that the second goal of Uruguay scored by Diego Forlan was amongst the best I have seen.

Scoring on the volley that hit the ground before crashing into the back of the net, Forlan notched up his 5th goal of the World Cup... the top tally in this event, alongside David Villa, Wesley Sneijder and Thomas Muller.

And, oh my God! 90 + 2', Forlan takes the last free kick of the match from the edge of the penalty box and beats the wall and the keeper only to see the Jabulani ball hit the woodwork before referee blows his full time whistle.

Germany are the 3rd team at this World Cup, having beaten Uruguay 3-2. But make no mistake, Forlan is a true champion! He gave a champion's performance at this World Cup... and had that free kick gone in to make it his 6th goal, he would have certainly deserved his lead in the race for the Golden Boot.

The penultimate match of the FIFA World Cup 2010 has ended and by this time tomorrow, the Waka Waka World Cup winner would most likely be decided. There have been some amazing moments as well as some disgraceful ones... as it happens in every bug sporting event. But one thing's for sure: the first football World Cup to be held in Africa has been a success!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

WHICH GAME IS THIS?

I think you are at the wrong place, Johan!

WE JUST LOVE OUR CRICKET!

Two kids watching their team Afghanistan in action against Ireland...

Friday, July 9, 2010

COLOURFUL CRICKET

Various shades of cricket...

GOLDEN BALL NOMINEES

FIFA has announced ten nominees for the Golden Ball award at the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. Here is the list of nominees:

1. Diego Forlán (Uruguay)
2. Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
3. Andrés Iniesta (Spain)
4. Lionel Messi (Argentina)
5. Mesut Özil (Germany)
6. Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
7. Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
8. Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
9. David Villa (Spain)
10. Xavi (Spain)

3 Spanish, 2 Dutch and 2 Germans... clearly stating which were the best teams in the tournament!

My vote would go for Xavi (Spain). He's got the most number of successfully completed passes in the tournament, and has been the heart of Spanish midfield. He has been the key figure in the team and their strategy of holding ball possession has been centered around the control showed by him and his fellow midfielder, Andrés Iniesta.

I was surprised that Thomas Müller (Germany) did not get a nomination. He's been a huge force in Germany's march to the semis... and their chance to be the No. 3 team in this World Cup. Mesut Özil from Germany is a very good nomination though. This young left - footer has impressed one and all!

These ten men have a chance of getting their name written in history, alongside the likes of Pelé (Brazil - 1970), Diego Maradona (Argentina - 1986), Ronaldo (Brazil - 1998), Oliver Kahn (Germany - 2002) and Zinedine Zidane (France - 2006). May the best man win!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

WEIRD!

I received this extremely weird forwarded email some time back... I don't know how many of you have read this.

Brazil won a FIFA World Cup in 2002. They had also won in 1962. 2002 + 1962 = 3964.
Brazil won a FIFA World Cup in 1994. They had also won in 1970. 1994 + 1970 = 3964.
West Germany won a FIFA World Cup in 1990. They had also won in 1974. 1990 + 1974 = 3964.
Argentina won a FIFA World Cup in 1986. They had also won in 1978. 1986 + 1978 = 3964.

Going by the magic number of 3964, the winner of 2010 FIFA World Cup should be the same as the champion of 1954. In 1954, it was West Germany. So this time again, the number of 3964 is going to fail... just as it failed in 1998 and 2006.

1998 Champions were France, while 1966 Champions were England.
2006 Champions were Italy, while 1958 Champions were Brazil.

But if we take it that this formula will hold true for the next World Cup, then you can place your bets for the 2014 Champions... Uruguay (they won in 1950). And the Champions in 2026 and 2030 will be Italy... followed by Uruguay again in 2034. That's it! Can't predict any further as the formula will become obsolete then.

So now you know whom to place your bets on in the future!

FIFA WORLD CUP FINALS - NETHERLANDS V SPAIN

Last time when Rafael Nadal won the Wimbledon, it was 2008. It was also the same year in which his country Spain won their first major international football title... the Euro 2008!

Now in 2010, Nadal has regained his Wimbledon title... and a week later, few thousand miles down south... Spain will compete against the Netherlands in the finals of the FIFA World Cup 2010 at the Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg. So is the history about to repeat itself?

Right from the start of the tournament, there were three teams that I was supporting: Argentina, Netherlands and Spain. I am glad that two of them are in the finals and all of them are in the top-5. So I am lost as to whom should I be supporting! May be, I'll just sit and enjoy as a neutral... hoping for some quality football.

The semi-final clash against Germany was a hard-fought win. Yes, Spain did dominate possession and had more chances... but then Germany has been the best team on the counter-attack in this World Cup. Even during the loss, it could be seen that the chances created by Germany were really good ones. Iker Casillas was forced into making some fine saves. In fact, when Spain had not opened their account after 30-35 minutes, when Spain did not open the scoring despite really good chances, I thought that it will be Germany's day. They will remain solid at the back and one of their counter attacks is bound to succeed.

But Carlos Puyol's head had some other ideas. He had had another opportunity earlier when he headed over the bar. That one, I felt, should have gone in. But he compensated later by scoring the winner.

Germany, as I had predicted in a comment on some other blog (can't remember which one), missed Thomas Muller. He has been exceptional for them, and in his absence, their brilliant left-footer Mesut Ozil was not able to combine well with anyone else.

In the finals, I would like to see Fernando Torres start in the First XI... something he didn't do in the semis. I know he's been off-colour in the Rainbow Nation thus far... but he had been off colour even in Euro 2008. That didn't stop him from scoring the winner in the finals!

Whatever the First XIs, I am just hoping for an exciting game of football... a fitting finale to a wonderful event! So will this be a Spanish season once again or will Jo'burg be painted Orange on Sunday? It will be worth watching!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

MURALI: A LEGEND ABOUT TO RETIRE

Muttiah Muralitharan! This name elicits one response from me: respect, immense respect! And the reason is simple: this man has deserved every bit of it.

He's been embroiled in controversies... none of which were of his making. He was called for 'chucking' a number of times in his career. But how could he help it? It was a physical / biological problem that he could do nothing about. It was incurable. He was just a lover of the game who wanted to serve the game in his country to the best of his abilities.

So he went on. He faced all the criticism and never gave up... kept on bowling day in and day out... carrying the burden of being the lynch pin of Sri Lankan cricket. The results are there for everyone to see: highest number of wickets in Tests and ODIs, highest number of 5-fors and 10-fors, and numerous matches won for his team.

For me, Murali will always be a legend! I am glad to see that he will be playing his last Test match against India. He's had some extremely absorbing duels with Indians over the last many years... and it would be a perfect way to sign off with another one!

DEAR MR. MICHAEL CLARKE

Dear Mr. Michael Clarke,

Over past few months, everyone has witnessed your continuous struggles at coming to terms with the newest form of cricket... Twenty20. What makes this situation comic (atleast for a neutral spectator like me) is that you are the captain of your country's international Twenty20 squad.

Last year, when Lalit Modi had claimed that you withdrew your name from the IPL auctions because you were scared of the humiliation of not being sold at you 'high' base price, I was scoffing. The story looked a little far-fetched! But now, I can almost believe it. To put it in very soft words for you, your batting in Twenty20 is pathetic!

Let me first revisit you Twenty20 batting record for you: 32 matches, 26 innings, 442 runs at an average of 21.04 and a strike rate of 101.14 with the help pf 22 fours and 9 sixes. Your highest score of 67 is your only 50+ score in Twenty20 internationals.

You have played just 5 innings in your career where you have scored more than 20 runs at a strike rate of 105+. And let me remind you, 18 of your 26 innings have been played at positions 1 to 4. You have not managed to score at a strike rate of 100+ in your last 8 matches now. And all those 8 matches were played as a captain! Frankly, I have never known a more under-performing captain.

I know I shouldn't compare, but Virendra Sehwag's ODI strike rate is higher than your Twenty20 International strike rate. And David Obuya has more 50+ scores than you. And to think that you are a captain of a team that has dominated world cricket for over one and a half decades!

Now here's my humble suggestion. It would do a lot of good if you voluntarily opt out of this form of cricket. It will save you the embarrassment of being sacked despite being the captain. It will hugely benefit your team. It will help a lot of fans who want to watch good cricket action. It will benefit the game of cricket indeed!

You are a wonderful batsman in the other forms, a delight especially in Tests. But having struggled in Twenty20s for so long now, I think you should be wise enough to make a call. There are enough youngsters in the Aussie structure to fill you relatively tiny boots. The captaincy can be well handled by Cameron White. So, I guess you have understood my point.
You can contact me anytime on this blog if you need more advice for the advancement of your career. I am always ready to help everyone... even Shane Watson!

Take care. Waiting for your retirement press conference dates,

SJ.

Monday, July 5, 2010

VAMOS!

No. 8 for Rafa! No. 2 at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club! Vamos!


World No. 1 and 2nd seed Spaniard Rafael Nadal beat the 12th seed Czech Tomas Berdych in almost a one - sided Wimbledon Men's Singles Finals 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. For the neutral fans, it was a disappointment as they had high expectations from the final encounter, especially given the way the finals were fought over the last two years in 2008 and 2009. But for Rafa fans, it was a treat!

Tomas Berdych, known for his flat fierce ground strokes and a big serve was outserved by the Majorcan in this match. Nadal started his first service game with an ace... and ended the match by breaking Berdych with a rasping forehand cross court pass. Though the quality of the tennis match did not match up with the semi-finals that preceded the match, but that can be explained by the fact that Nadal was at his dominating best... breaking his opponent four times on his way to the golden trophy.

At the presentation ceremony, he thanked the crowd for their support. What he said next caught my attention, I don't know why! He said that he was delighted to have the crowd support despite having defeated their favourite and the local man Andy Murray in the semis. He appreciated the centre court crowd further by saying that this does not happen everywhere else in the world. Absolutely true!

Rafa achieved numerous records and feats with his win yesterday:

- First Spaniard to win 2 Wimbledon titles
- Second man after Bjorn Borg to win a double of Wimbledon and French Open in the same year for the 2nd time (Borg achieved it thrice from 1978 to 1980)
- Climbed from 12th place to 7th place in the list of men with most singles Grand Slam titles (equaling Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi at 8 titles... going past the likes of Mats Wilander and John McEnroe)

At just 24, he has it in him to create many more records... if he can take care of his knees on the way. Many have put him in the category of one of the all-time greats for a number of reasons... the way he has fought back to the top after a bad 2009 season, the fact that he has a Grand Slam title on every surface, his humility and a lot more.

Roger Federer may be the best Men's Singles Tennis player in all time... but no one can ignore the fact that Rafael Nadal won a grass Grand Slam before Federer could win one on clay. Plus, Nadal completed a Grand Slam win on all three surfaces before Federer managed to achieve this feat. Add to it, the form that he has been in this year (his 2010 win loss record read 47-5 at the moment... the best in the ATP Circuit this year)... he is being regarded as the new champion of this era!

I just hope that he manages to complete a Career Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows (US Open). It will undoubtedly be difficult... hard courts have always been difficult for Nadal. It is tougher for his knees as well as his playing style... but that has never stopped Rafa!

Vamos Rafa! Wish you many more titles and a lot of success!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

MS DHONI TAKING MY WORDS SERIOUSLY

While I was writing my 200th blog yesterday, I had absolutely no clue that Indian skipper MS Dhoni will take my words so seriously and announce his engagement in a few hours! The announcement of his engagement has now added another case (in the future) to my study of the pre-marital and post-marital performances of cricketers.

In any case, here's congratulating MS Dhoni on his engagement and wishing him many more victories... on and off the field (though I'll remain concerned only with his performances on the field!)...

"It's your chance now..." I can almost hear MS say to Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Suresh Raina.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

SOMETHING FUN AND DIFFERENT FOR MY 200TH BLOG

Wow! This feels good... this is my 200th post on this blog. And as CRIC - SIS celebrates its double century, I though I'll write something different today... something fun and unique!

And so I got this idea! I had read somewhere about the views of Sir Alex Fergusson... the celebrated manager of Manchester United Football Club. I read that he encourages his players to settle down in life and get married. He believes that players gain maturity and play with responsibility after their marriages! He even pointed out the case if Wayne Rooney to prove his point. So I thought lets see if his ideologies apply in cricket... or rather, Indian cricket!

Now since I am a little pre-occupied, I decided to restrict my research to India's top-5 batsmen of the last decade... Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag. However, I have excluded Sourav Ganguly from the common analysis because he presents a unique case.

Ganguly has two marriage dates. The first one (August 12, 1996) was when he eloped with his love, now his wife Dona Ganguly, and had his marriage registered in the government records. The second one (February 21, 1997) is the date when he reportedly celebrates his marriage anniversary as he was remarried to Dona Ganguly on that day with the consent of both their families. True Bollywood style, man! More on that later on this blog...

On another note, I am sorry bowlers... but if you want I'll do a similar research sometime later for you guys! This marriage series will continue as and when I get the time...


Sachin Tendulkar married in 1995, scored a record number of runs in 1996 World Cup and raised that form in 1998-99. He maintained his good form till 2003-04 before injuries finally caught up with him and had a toll on his body. So the lady luck supported him well for almost a decade before he faced major challenges that it could not counter!

Dravid married in the midst of his golden days. His marriage in 2003 was followed by his most memorable performance in India's tour of Australia 2003-04... the one series for which he will forever be remembered. He was soon handed the captaincy of the side and led India to Test series wins in England and West Indies. The interesting thing here is his strike rate. There was a good jump in his strike rate in both forms (particularly ODIs) after the marriage. In fact, it gave a boost to his 6-hitting capabilities. So his lady luck carried him to a captaincy stint with Team India and held him well for about 4 years till the disastrous World Cup 2007 campaign.

Viru married in 2004... just after hitting his 309. He followed it up with a couple of successful seasons before his form deserted him and he was dropped from the side. But he came back stronger after that... another 300... then almost another 300... and now he is indispensable to the team. What's unique here is that he is scoring much faster while taking lesser risks! His 6-hitting in Tests has reduced marginally... but the runs are coming faster than ever! The bowlers might start cursing the day when he got married. More than anyone else, Sir Alex Fergusson's theory fits Viru pretty well. Better results with lesser risks!

VVS Laxman is the only guy to whom marriage life has not been good (professionally, I mean)! It almost signalled the end of his ODI career... and has not done anything ti improve his Test performances. Maybe, the only positive is that he has atleast maintained his place in the Test side... which is no mean feat considering the policies of our selectors over the past few years with regard to our seniors.

Coming back to Ganguly, here are his stats:


Ganguly's marriage made his career. From a nobody... he became one of India's finest captains, had a glorious career and came to be regarded as one of the legends in Indian cricket. That is what you call Lady Luck! The Prince of Kolkata had it! His performances were wretched during the period of uncertainty over his family's acceptance of marriage... but once that was out of his way, there was not looking back for him!

So, I guess its time for guys like MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir to look at the option of marriage seriously. Who knows how it might transform their career (for the better)!

Friday, July 2, 2010

NOT POLITICS... I WANT ACTION, MAN!

Not a lot to blog about today in the world of cricket as far as cricket goes... there's a lot of politics for those who are interested. I have read numerous blogs about the John Howard issue, numerous articles by esteemed writers (the latest one joining the bandwagon was Harsha Bhogle) and numerous other news reports and bulletins.

But I am getting weary of it now. Just choose someone, man... anyone! If he is good at his job, this blog will appreciate it. If he is bad, this blog will be critical. And well, if he is ugly... it will be nothing short of castration! So I have no option but to turn my sights to the FIFA World Cup and the Wimbledon... both tournaments towards their business ends!

FIFA WORLD CUP:

Two quarterfinals today... Brazil v Netherlands followed by Uruguay v Ghana.
Two quarterfinals tomorrow... Argentina v Germany and Paraguay v Spain.

My three pre-tournament favourites all feature in the last eight... Argentina, Spain and the Netherlands. I am not sure how many will progress to the last 4! I do have a feeling that the Netherlands might just edge past the Samba boys today... I guess I am feeling a bit too adventurous! And yes, it would be nice to see Ghana winning today. The reason is that I really want to see their striker Asamoah Gyan in action again (I found him extremely impressive!)... and since he is likely to sit out today due to his ankle injury, the only chance I will get to see him again soon is if Ghana win today!

WIMBLEDON:

The men's singles semi-finals today... 12th seed Tomas Berdych (the Federer conqueror) v 3rd seed Novak Djokovic... and then what should be a cracker between the 4th seed Andy Murray (the local hope of the Wimbledon staying in Britain for the first time since 1936) v 2nd seed Rafael Nadal (the World No. 1 and my favourite)!

Then there is the women's singles final tomorrow... top seed Serena Williams v the 12th seed Vera Zvonareva in what I expect to be another walk-in-the-park for the American! How many Grand Slam titles does Serena want to end up having... she'll need more space in her house! But Zvonareva must be one happy girl... she is alive in the Women's Singles as well as Doubles draw. In fact, as I write this, her Women's doubles semi - final match has just commenced on the No. 1 Court.

Then there's also the Mixed Doubles draw where an Indian has still kept his hopes alive... Leander Paes with his Zimbabwean partner Cara Black as the 2nd seeded pair will play their semi - final match today against 9th seed Czech pair of Lukas Dlouhy (Paes' Men's Doubles partner) and Iveta Benesova.


It should be a good day with so much of sporting action packed together. A minimum of 3 hours of football and a lot many more hours of quality tennis with some of my favourite sportsmen in action (Nadal, Paes, Kaka, Robben, Kuyt, Sneijder, and hopefully the new one Gyan as well)...

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A CIRCUS CALLED POLITICS

Cricket. Politics. Cricket politics. Everyone knows that ex Australian Prime Minister John Howard's nomination to be the ICC Vice - President was rejected by majority of the member nations. There are voices everywhere doing everything... justifying, crying foul, crying, rejoicing, and some even making crap noise.

Amidst all this, I have to say that I read a wonderful piece on achettup on his blog - Short Of A Length. It's a must read for those who have followed this issue regularly and it's a must read for those who haven't.

And then, I read the response of Peter Chingoka, the chairman of Zimbabwe Cricket. He gives an interesting quip to the Australian newspaper Age: The move to nominate Howard was akin to "asking me to come and edit the Melbourne Age without any experience in the journalism industry".

I really have nothing to say much to or about John Howard. But yes, even in my opinion, Sir John Anderson from New Zealand would have been a better nomination. For now, I am just content in waiting and watching how this circus pans out.

SACHIN TENDULKAR > RICKY PONTING

Australia have a win... They restore some of their "pride"! Captain Ponting and vice - captain Clarke get 90s. And as the Cricinfo commentary put aptly... Clarke did not manage to reach his 100 since he became a victim of his own inabilities to play the big shots.

During his innings of 92, Ricky Ponting became just the 3rd batsman in One Day International cricket to cross the landmark of 13000 runs (after Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jaisuriya). Great achievement, that!

However, over the past few years, Ponting's form (especially in Tests) has gone down. He is no longer the feared No. 3 player that he used to be in his prime... the early 2000s. In fact, ever since he crossed the landmark of 10000 ODI runs, Ponting's Test average has been less than 50. So I thought that I will do this little comparison of how the progression through ODI landmarks has affected the Test form of the two great champion batsmen of our times... Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting.

SACHIN TENDULKAR:

10K to 11K ODI runs - 7 Tests, 699 runs @ 69.90 (2 100s, 4 50s)
11K to 12K ODI runs - 16 Tests, 1392 runs @ 54.20 (4 100s, 5 50s)
12K to 13K ODI runs - 6 Tests, 454 runs @ 50.44 (1 100, 2 50s)
13K to 14K ODI runs - 18 Tests, 1121 runs @ 48.73 (3 100s, 4 50s)
14K to 15K ODI runs - 8 Tests, 536 runs @ 44.66 (2 100s, 2 50s)
15K to 16K ODI runs - 9 Tests, 860 runs @ 57.33 (2 100s, 6 50s)
16K to 17K ODI runs - 13 Tests, 991 runs @ 45.04 (3 100s, 4 50s)
17K to 17598 ODI runs - 7 Tests, 674 runs @ 84.25 (5 100s, 1 50)

RICKY PONTING:

10K to 11K ODI runs - 6 Tests, 408 runs @ 45.33 (1 100, 3 50s)
11K to 12K ODI runs - 20 Tests, 1569 runs @ 43.58 (4 100s, 9 50s)
12K to 13K ODI runs - 8 Tests, 583 runs @ 44.84 (1 100, 3 50s)

So, from the mark of 10000 ODI runs to his current peak of 17598, Sachin Tendulkar has been able to maintain a very decent form... his average dropping below 50 only in 3 such stretches and just once below 45. Two of such occasion (13K to 14K and 14K to 15K) coincided with his injury troubles... back, fingers, tennis elbow, et cetera.

On the other hand, Ponting's Test form has just gone southwards ever since he crossed the 10000 landmark in ODIs during the World Cup 2007. His average has never been above 50... and just once has bettered 45. His troubles have coincided more with Australia's lack of domination in cricket rather than any injury troubles of his own. His troubles, curiously, started with the retirements of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. Or not so curious, is it?

I have been of the belief for a long time now that Ricky Ponting's good performances with the bat have come on the back of the knowledge that his team has great batsmen in the lineup to follow him and bowlers to skittle out or who've already skittled out the opposition for a meagre total. In such a context, Sachin Tendulkar's knocks, particularly during the first half of his career, have come when he's been the lone fighter for India. Complete dependency creates additional pressure. Ponting has succumbed to it more often than not. Tendulkar has not.

Such statistics and numbers sometimes make me marvel at the contributions of guys like Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul... the lone fighters in West Indies squads for many long years. Nevertheless, as this post is basically a comparison of SRT and RTP, I guess my choice is clear!

SAVE OUR TIGER!