Thursday, March 31, 2011

SACHIN TENDULKAR'S AJMAL MOMENTS

When Ian Gould had to reverse his LBW decision of Sachin Tendulkar off Saeed Ajmal's bowling, he looked quite miffed. I don't blame him - it was the first time in this entire World Cup that an Ian Gould decision had been reviewed and reversed. This now leaves only two umpires with clean records - one controversial and the other absolutely spotless. The controversial clean record is held by Billy Bowden (read Ian Bell) and the spotlessly clean record is held by Aleem Dar - that man is as good as the latest piece of technology available!

Tendulkar was very very lucky to survive that LBW call. Have a look:




Had even a little bit of that ball made contact with the leg stump, Tendulkar would have been out for 23. That distance between the ball and the leg stump was just about 1 centimeter (my approximation technique tells me it was about 11.2 millimeters). Phew!

Later on, it became more and more clear that Sachin Tendulkar survived because he was destined to, even if he tried his best to change the course of destiny! He admitted later that such a thing (5 chances) had never happened to him ever before. And trust me, it is unlikely to happen ever again!

The ball immediately after this LBW appeal was masterfully bowled by Ajmal. While the earlier ball was an off spinner that Tendulkar had played across the line to and missed, he now bowled a doosra that Tendulkar failed to pick and was almost stumped (again saved by similar margins)! But I have a problem with Ajmal's doosra.

For long I have felt that most doosras are clear cases of 'chucking', and in Ajmal's case, it is very very apparent. I do not know how the ICC calculates the 15 degree margin, and which point is taken as the axis, but here's what I saw and made of it.

The first image below is the delivery stride of Ajmal on that stumping appeal (doosra). The second image is the same as the first one, worked on a little by me.




Assuming ICC uses a similar methodology to measure the 15 degrees elbow bending rule (with obviously a lot more sophisticated and accurate technology), I am sure they will find that this one clearly exceeds the limit. I don't know what is the exact measure of the angle made by the red lines in the second image, but I will tell you this - if that angle is less than 15 degrees, then I am ready to jump off a 10-floor building!

I hope ICC cracks down on this increasing violation of the 15 degree bending rule. Johan Botha's doosra had been banned for some time, and I am sure that if ICC look into Ajmal's action closely, then they might well have a case to ban not only his doosra, but also his pehla!

SNAPS TO REMEMBER #MOAG BY

Here are a few snapshots from the Mother of All Games India v. Pakistan semi-finals at Mohali of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 on 30th March 2011. All photos taken from Cricinfo (except for the first screenshot of my tweet).
This is what I had tweeted 2 and a half hours before the match began...
... and that (and a little more) is exactly what Mr. Shastri went on to say!

If you think that the cameraman wanted to capture India's No. 10 with the two PMs in one shot, think again! He wanted to capture the face above SRT's left ear in the same shot with the two PMs

Discussing the script of a new movie called "Saat Chances Maaf!"
Uhhh... Errr... can't quite understand how they ended up in this tangle!
The best... Here is what Cricinfo's caption reads: "Suresh Raina inexplicably holds Munaf Patel and Virender Sehwag aloft after Abdul Razzaq's dismissal"...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

IN ANOTHER WORLD...

... Rahul Dravid has scored the first First-Class Century of English Domestic Season 2011, playing for Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) against Nottinghamshire at Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Zayed Stadium, as his team MCC went on to win the fixture within 3 days by a margin of 174 runs.

Random Facts for those who are unaware:

1. This First Class match was played in floodlights with pink cricket balls.

2. The MCC team also had two players from Afghanistan, who were trained by them in their initial years - Hamid Hassan and Mohammed Nabi.

3. Rahul Dravid now has 22552 FC runs, 63 hundreds, and 342 catches.

4. The biggest partnership in this match was between Rahul Dravid and Steve Davis, who has 5483 FC runs and 8 hundreds.

And in a few hours from now, a potentially-epic World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan will begin...

(The anticipation is driving me nuts)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

FEEL FOR GRAEME SMITH

South Africa lost the third Quarterfinal of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 to New Zealand, one of the massive upsets of this tournament, given the form of the teams involved. However, it's not a surprise or something new to see South Africa falter in a World event just when they get towards it business end.

The word "Choke" was brought out and thrown around by almost everyone, myself included. For South African fans, it was a heartbreak that they may not be able to describe properly right now. For the neutral, it was a little sad as well as a little bemusing - sad to see arguably the best balanced side of the tournament knocked out this early when they were clearly in a winning position for most of the match and bemusing because it's happened once too often now.

However, like him or not, most people's hearts went out to Graeme Smith when he came out for the post-match presentation - for the last time as the captain of South Africa's ODI team. If any look on a face could spell 'dejected', Smith's was it! Given captaincy at a young age of 22, he's carried that responsibility for a good 8 years and has played his role in scripting some of South African cricket's finest moments ever.

Yet, despite the clear anguish writ large upon his face, some journalists did not feel any pity for him. I saw the video of the post-match press conference of Graeme Smith. Its embedded here below for those who have not seen it. Listen to the question asked from the point 2:18 onwards, and judge for yourself.



Honestly, I can appreciate the fact that it is a journalist's job to ask tough questions at such places and put the subject in a tight spot. To be fair, it was not as if Graeme Smith would not have been expecting such a question. It was bound to come. But there is a way to go about it... there is something called tact. That reporter lacked it and I pity Graeme Smith for having been reminded of his team's 'choke' in such a sorry way.

I really do hope that what Graeme Smith did say comes true - that one day, it would be good to see South Africa win a World Cup!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

WANKHEDE STADIUM, MUMBAI

The failed light tower
The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai is getting ready to host the Finals of ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 on 2nd April 2011. We have been reading about tightening security, lack of tickets, Haroon Lorgat's comments about why Wankhede Stadium was chosen, speculation of who will eventually play there and so on.

Amidst all this, one concern that I have not read or heard much about was the fact that one of the light towers during the New Zealand v. Sri Lanka match at that stadium had met with power failure. The match continued as the umpires deemed that the light from the rest of the towers was good enough, which is commendable. However, such a fiasco will not be seen in good light again if it happens in the World Cup Finals.

A few days back, I got a link to this interview of Mr. Sudhir Naik (the pitch curator of Wankhede Stadium) uploaded as a podcast (via @grangergabblog). Here, he addresses the concern about the failing light tower, and also touches on other interesting bit about the kind of surface he will prepare for the Finals, especially if India makes it till there. It is an interesting interview, and you must listen to it if you have not already done so.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A PRAYER TO THE WEATHER GODS

With the Quarterfinals slated to begin in less than 12 hours from now, I took a glance back at the matches that we have seen in the league stage of the World Cup 2011. One thing that immediately struck me was that the Weather Gods have been kind on this edition of the World Cup.

So far in this World Cup, we have had just one match where the Duckworth Lewis System had to be used - Pakistan v. Zimbabwe at Pallekele. And there was just one match that had to be called off due to rain - Sri Lanka v. Australia at Colombo. This is quite good as compared to the last two editions of the World Cup.

In 2007, even though no match had to be called off, but there were 7 matches that were decided by the use of Duckworth Lewis System, including the infamous and farcical Finals between Australia and Sri Lanka.

In 2003, there were 5 matches decided with the use of Duckworth Lewis System (including that tie between hosts South Africa and Sri Lanka that resulted in the elimination of the former in the first round itself) and there were 2 matches that had to be called off due to rain. Amongst the D/L results, there was the First Semi-Final between Australia and Sri Lanka (yet again... rain seems to follow these two countries' matches in World Cups) at Port Elizabeth. There was a minor rain interruption in the Finals between Australia and India as well, though not enough to curtail the match or cancel it.

Now, there are 7 more matches left - all Knockouts. 3 of those MAY face bad weather. I know that these weather reports do end up being unreliable on a lot of occasions like this one, but still I cannot help having a look at them.

3rd Quarter Final - South Africa v. New Zealand at Dhaka on 25th March - Weather.
4th Quarter Final - Sri Lanka v. England at Colombo on 26th March - Weather.
1st Semi Final - Winner of 3rd QF v. Winner of 4th QF at Colombo on 29th March - Weather.

Not the best reading, but I am hoping that like they have done all through this tournament, the Weather Gods will be kind enough to let cricket take center stage. Considering how D/L Method haunted South Africa in 2003, and calculated Sri Lanka's elimination in 2003 and 2007, the fans of these two countries should mutter a silent prayer for an uninterrupted game. Rains have invariably shown themselves in the final stages of last two World Cups, but lets hope they stay away this time.

(Note - If you want to know what will happen in case rain intervenes and the match cannot be completed, read the procedure specified towards the end of this page.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

GARY KIRSTEN

As the World Cup enters the Knock Out stages, every team knows that one slip-up and it might spell the end of the road for them. For some players in these teams, it may well be the end of their cricket careers.

India play a tough Quarterfinal match against the Australians at Ahmedabad's Sardar Patel Stadium on 24th March 2011. If we lose that match (I desperately hope not!), that would be the end of Gary Kirsten's coaching period with Team India. His coaching career with India is now anything between 1 to 3 games long.

Since there is this uncertainty about what can India do in these Knock Out stages, I thought I'll write this tribute to Gary Kirsten right away, for I do want to be amongst the first ones to applaud him during his last few days with the team.

Whether or not India succeeds in winning this World Cup, Kirsten will always be remembered as one of India's best loved coaches, and definitely the most successful one till now. He will leave India, having attained the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket, No. 2 in ODI cricket, and hopefully, a World Cup!

Officially, Gary Kirsten took over as the coach of India's cricket team on 1st March 2008. India's previous full-time coach was the controversial Australian Greg Chappell, who had resigned almost a year earlier, after India's disastrous campaign in the World Cup 2007. During this interim period, where India had a good and successful tour of England, a win in the inaugural Twenty20 World Cup, and a tour of Australia, we did not have a full-time coach, but the responsibility was carried out by men like Chandu Borde, Lalchand Rajput and Ravi Shastri.

During that acrimonious tour of Australia, the Indian team saw Gary Kirsten joining in as a traveler. He was not officially the coach then, but he had been announced as the future coach. He wanted to spend some time with the team before he took over the coaching duties. He joined the team after the infamous Sydney Test, and almost saw the tour being called off. Luckily it wasn't, and India won the next Test at Perth, followed by a win in the ODI tri-series.

His first assignment as the official coach of India's cricket team was against his home country South Africa, who had toured India in March 2008. That was the start of a wonderful journey, during which India lost just 1 Test series (to Sri Lanka in August that year), and towards the end of this journey, several cricketers have come out profusely praising the contribution of this man to their success.

Almost every Indian cricketer that I can think of, who has played substantial cricket for India during this period, has gone on record praising Gary Kirsten. The Indian skipper MS Dhoni called him "the best thing to happen to Indian cricket." Mighty words those!

Less than 50 days into his new job, Kirsten saw the launch of Indian Premier League. The most commendable part of Kirsten's coaching has been how he has managed to get a lot of youngsters to ground themselves from the high they attained in the riches of this league. India's sustained presence at the top of Test rankings, and emergence of Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan and in particular, Virat Kohli bears ample testimony to Kirsten's brilliant handling of India's post-IPL cricketers. It is no wonder that his man-management skills have been hailed by one and all, and I won't be surprised if his tenure is taken up as a case study in the future by management graduates at reputed B-Schools studying the subject of Human Resource Management.

During Kirsten's tenure, India played 33 Tests, with 16 wins, 11 draws and 6 losses. The fact that these results came despite the fact that India lost 21 tosses makes it even more commendable! In the 94 ODIs, India won 56, lost 29, tied 1 and others were abandoned or yielded no result. The worst ODI win-loss record that Kirsten can end with is 56-30, and the best is 59-29... both numbers of a highly successful coach during the Golden Era of India's cricket!

Kirsten leaves the job due to family commitments, as he would like to spend more time with his two young children and his wife. The Indian team, along with the followers of Indian cricket, respect that decision. We all wish you well, Gary!

CRICKET - THE FUTURE

Over the last 4 weeks, the Group stage of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 was contested across 13 cities in 3 South Asian countries. The top-8 Test teams have eventually managed to make it to the quarterfinals, a prediction made by a lot of people well in advance. While for 4 of these teams, the ride was easy and straightforward; for 4 others, it was an up-and-down adventure!

Two teams, by general consensus, have been the most exciting teams to watch in this World Cup… and to no one’s surprise really, they are both from Group B – England and Ireland! There were a total of 11 matches involving these 2 teams, and 10 of them were definitely worth a watch. The only one-sided match where either of these teams was involved was the Ireland v. South Africa match at Eden Gardens, where South Africa won comfortably by 131 runs.

The Difference

However, the similarities between these two teams end here. The path ahead for England is very clear – win 3 straight matches and lift the World Cup, or lose in the interim and return home for some rest after a hectic few months of non-stop cricket! The path for Ireland is not quite so clear though. They have an ODI scheduled against Sri Lanka in a couple of months’ time, when the latter go on a tour of England, and they have a few fixture scheduled in ICC’s Associate tournament structure. But what next?

England host Sri Lanka followed by India in the coming months. Then they will visit India for their cricket tour in October. As for Ireland, I doubt if they will get to play this much cricket over the next 4 years, by the time the next World Cup comes calling in 2015.

So when the time comes for them to play in the Qualifying round for World Cup 2015 against the lowest-ranked teams amongst the Full Member countries, there is a good chance that they may be found wanting. Ireland did not get a lot of cricket to play over the 4 years separating their impressive performances in 2007 and 2011, yet they managed to put up a fine effort in the latter edition. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT IF THEY DO NOT PLAY MUCH CRICKET OVER THE NECT 4 YEARS, THEY WILL AGAIN MANAGE TO PUT UP A FINE SHOW AGAIN IN 2015! Far from it, in fact!

Ireland in World Cup 2011

Cricket Ireland did a tremendous job in these four years from 2007 and 2011. They must be applauded for that. But in their achievement, they have pointed out to the ICC a mistake made by it. With their performances, they have clearly made a statement to the ICC telling them that had they been allowed to or made to play more top-level competitive games in this intervening period, they might well have been able to close out the games against Bangladesh and West Indies, where they were in a winning position, but lost out partly due to inexperience. They could have easily won those 2 games and finished 3rd in the Group B – the Group of Death – have would now have been in Colombo awaiting their Quarterfinal clash against Sri Lanka, while England would have had to be in Dhaka ready for South Africa, and West Indies on the flight home!

I believe that most cricket followers would opine that Ireland performed better in this World Cup than Bangladesh. The latter may have had more points, but one look at the NRRs of both these teams will give you an idea of the level of competitiveness that they played with. Bangladesh lost 3 matches in the World Cup – in one, they allowed the opposition to score 370 runs (the highest score of the tournament thus far), and in the other two, they were bowled out for paltry scores of 58 and 78 (two of the three lowest scores in this tournament thus far). A lot more was expected from a Test nation playing in conditions that were ideal for their brand of cricket.

Ireland, a minnow and an Associate, won only 2 matches – in one, they stole a win from England when all hopes seemed just about extinguished, and in another, they comfortably chased down a target in excess of 300 (with more than 2 overs to spare) against another Associate, the Netherlands, showing them in no uncertain terms, that they are ‘the best amongst the rest’. In the four matches they lost, they put up a hard fight in three, and were in winning positions in two of those three before losing out as much to inexperience as to the opponents.

However, the biggest difference between Bangladesh and Ireland in this World Cup, in my opinion, was not in the performances, but in the mindset. I recall one incident that I would like to bring to everyone’s notice. During the pre-match cricket program for the Bangaldesh v. West Indies game, the broadcaster aired an interview of Bangladesh’s bowling coach Ian Pont who made a remark that did not go down well with me, and even one of the studio experts. When asked about their chances of winning that match against West Indies and getting into the race for Quarterfinals qualification, Pont said that the team management had indentified that match as one of the four that they would target a victory in – the other three being against Ireland (already won at that stage), England and the Netherlands. Compare this to the Irish coach Phil Simmons’ comments where he said that the team was there to win. The Irish captain William Porterfield too stated on numerous occasions that the team would go for a win in all games that they play, regardless of the opposition, and given the way he captained the side and placed his fields, he certainly stuck to his promise.

The Problem for ICC

Numerous people have said during this World Cup that the Associate nations need more exposure against the top sides so that they may improve. Most of them were those associated with the Associates – Jimmy Kamande, Steve Tikolo, William Porterfield, Phil Simmons, Peter Borren, Ryan ten Doeschate, Ashish Bagai and others, but there have been a lot of other people, amongst the average cricket followers too.

I know that it will be difficult for ICC to do so. It makes little commercial sense to have a series, howsoever small, between a team like India or South Africa or Australia or England and Ireland or the Netherlands or even Scotland or Afghanistan. Moreover, these matches may not be contests as well… they may just end up being massacres that will force the ICC to stop this practice. So I have tried to think of a solution or two for the ICC, and how it can go about maximising the growth of cricket in these centres.

Possible Solutions

One of the most commonly suggested steps, which I would wholly support, is to organise frequent tours of ‘A’ teams of the stronger countries to the Associate countries. More exposure to good quality cricket in home conditions followed by more exposure to good quality cricket in alien conditions when they themselves will tour these countries for ‘A’ team matches should definitely show improvement.

There are also people who are suggesting that when major nations go on Test tours, they should play their warm-up matches against the Associate nations in that region. While Sri Lanka will just be playing an ODI match each against Ireland and the Netherlands during their tour of England later this year, I would also like to see more First Class matches involving Associate teams and Test teams. This again poses a commercial problem because the Home Boards lose out on revenue if Associate nations play the practice matches, instead of a team registered under that Home Board. For example, the BCCI would lose out on revenue if England plays their practice matches on tour to India against Afghanistan, instead of the Board President’s XI team. It also deprives the young home cricketers of a chance to impress the selectors ahead of the main series. But in my opinion, these two problems are not grave enough that they should stall the potential progress of cricket as a sport.

Over the last few days, I have had another couple of ideas in my mind. One of them is to organise a few big-team tournaments in the smaller countries, e.g. ICC Knock Out Tournament of 2000, which was held at Nairobi, Kenya. I would love to see every alternate Champions Trophy and every alternate World Twenty20 Championships held at smaller cricketing countries. There are a number of benefits of this. One, this will definitely help in improvement of infrastructure at those places and allow better facilities to that country’s cricket team in future. Two, the best way to popularise a sport in a new territory, in my opinion, is to take the best practitioners of the sport to that territory, and allow them to showcase the sport in the best of lights over there.

The other idea that I have had is a two-tier Test Championship. The ICC has already shown interest in the concept of Test Championships to lend more meaning to the game of Test cricket. My solution would just involve adding another tier to that Test Championship to help the game grow. In the ICC Inter Continental Cup, where the Associate nations play First Class cricket, 7 teams took part in 2009-10, including a Zimbabwe XI that wanted to get a bit experience before their return to Test cricket this year. The winner of this tournament was Afghanistan, with Scotland, Zimbabwe and the three-time defending champions Ireland taking the next three spots. So, apart from Ireland, there are a few other Associates as well, who look very promising for the future of our sport, and can be included in the two-tier Test Championships.

Test Cricket

My last solution involves integration of ICC’s current plan of a Test Championship as well as the ICC Inter Continental Championships. There are 105 members recognised by the ICC – 10 Full Members, 35 Associate Members and 60 Affiliate Members. A further 24 non-members are under constant ICC scanner to be enrolled as Affiliate Members. If this plan of Two-tier Test Championships is planned, organised, and executed properly, in a few years’ time, we could have at least 35-40 of these member countries (including all of the Associates and a few Affiliates) play First Class cricket at various levels, with a real chance of breaking into the top-level by the process of promotion and relegation.

As it stands today, 15 Associate / Affiliate members have already had a chance to participate in the Inter Continental Cups over its various seasons, which even includes territories where you wouldn’t know cricket existed, like Cayman Islands!

The Need to Dream

The reason why I think a Two-Tier Test Championship (and Multi-Tiered in future) is necessary for the game is to give the lesser Associates and Affiliates a chance to dream big about competing at the biggest stage called Test Cricket. Afghanistan was once in Division 5 of ICC’s World Cricket League. But they knew that they could still qualify for the World Cup 2011 if they won or ended up as Runners-up in all the subsequent league matches they play. And thus, they had a dream! This dream was possible only because they could see a way of fulfilling it. And they almost accomplished their dream, missing out by a very small margin during the World Cup Qualifiers, having zoomed up through the lower leagues.

How will cricket see sustained development in these places if youngsters do not dream of becoming cricketers? I come from India, a country that stands at about the 140th rank in FIFA’s team rankings. As a 10-year old, I only played cricket and dreamt of becoming a cricketer. Football never crossed my mind as a serious sporting career because of my country’s low profile in that sport. In my country, as things stand, an average footballer will never achieve anything big, and football as a career is feasible for only those who are extraordinarily talented and have a decent chance of making it to the European Leagues.

A lot of countries have a low profile in cricket too, which the ICC must better. When the profiles of these Associate countries in cricket increase, and they see a realistic chance of playing at the highest level of our sport, the youngsters there will be bold enough to think and dream of a career in cricket. There will be more number of cricket professionals, as there are in Ireland today.

The performance of Ireland in the World Cup 2011 has given ICC a chance to work on developing the sport further and taking it to new shores. It has made ICC see beyond its traditional big-powers and gauge the level of development amongst its smaller members. I dearly hope and pray that ICC does not let go of this chance, and for once, takes a step that would benefit our sport rather than just its coffers!

(Note: I have purposely not made any reference to development of cricket through ODIs and Twenty20s in this post. The reason is this - I believe that these two formats of the game, particularly the smallest one, are the best vehicles to spread the game in far corners of the earth.

Soulberry from The Cricket Watcher's Journal puts it well when he says "T20 is the best vehicle for it provides a pleasure factor with the least debate in a new recipient's mind. The process of acculturization employs what is available to create a context - the desire for fun outing that doesn't consume or encroach upon existing vitals and the clarity of simplicity which helps acceptability because there are no tedious debates they have to understake in their minds over Cricket. And all you need is a park and a TV camera cabled up to an OB van to get started with T20."

However, my dream extends beyond the growth of merely the shorter formats of the game in these lands. I, as already stated, would love to see Test cricket take wings and spread just as much. That is why the solutions offered in this post are all related to Test cricket and First Class cricket. The Twenty20 format is bound to grow without a lot of effort from the ICC. Test cricket's growth will require effort.

There is a good chance that ICC may rest on it laurels of having spread cricket wide just on the basis of popularising Twenty20 cricket everywhere. However, that is not what I want to see ICC stop at. Hence, this post makes no reference to Limited Overs Cricket of any form.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

STEVE TIKOLO

What is common between Marcus Trescothick, Subramanium Badrinath, Brad Hodge and Steve Tikolo? These are men who played less Test cricket in consideration of the respective talents that they had. One quit early, one suffered due to lack of chances, one just could not reproduce his domestic level of performances at the highest level, and one... that last one played for an Associate team!

Here's a look at the numbers generated by Steve Tikolo -











An ODI batting average of 29 does not do justice to him. A First Class batting average of almost 50 is a better indicator. The fact that he is the highest run-scorer in ODI cricket amongst players from Associate teams tells one story, the fact that the person second to him is a good 1003 runs behind him (just about 70% of his total) tells another story!

He's amongst the very few cricketers in the world who have played in 5 World Cups - a feat unachieved by 4 of the top-10 run-scorers in the history of ODI cricket and 7 of the top-10 wicket-takers. At one point in time, he was widely regarded as the best batsman outside of the Test-playing nations. Not without reason!

He
 was the captain when Kenya achieved their cricketing peak in 2003, when they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup 2003. He was present even in this World Cup in 2011, when Kenyan cricket is at its "lowest ebb".

He's been there and done that in respect of Kenyan cricket. He made his ODI debut together with Kenya's debut in a World Cup - back in 1996. He was a part of Kenya's first biggest triumph - the win over West Indies at Pune in that World Cup. He helped Kenya qualify for the next World Cup in 1999, and was their best player there. He led Kenya to a World Cup semi-finals in 2003. When the Kenyan cricket administration fell out with its stakeholders, he led a players' revolt to oust that old regime and took up the effort of rebuilding Kenyan cricket. It was fitting that the name synonymous with Kenyan cricket led them in his final appearance for them at an iconic ground, the Eden Gardens!

The farewell for Steve Tikolo did not go according to the script. But it was heartening to see his opponents (the Zimbabweans) giving him their respectful compliments when he made his final walk back to the pavilion as a Kenyan cricketer! Some players see their greatness celebrated, some others see their greatness hide in pages of history. Steve Tikolo was one of the latter breed of great cricketers, and this is just one of those pages of history!

To end this tribute to Steve Tikolo on a light note, here's what Andy Zaltzman tweeted in reply to me in respect of this Kenyan legend:

All the best for your future ventures, Steve Tikolo!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

QUARTER FINALS PROBABILITIES - INDIAN PERSPECTIVE

Pakistan bowled exceptionally well to lay the foundation of their win over Australia at Colombo, ending Australia 34-match winning streak in World Cup matches. For the second match in a row, Australia (and Ricky Ponting) was confronted with the fact that their bowling attack can come undone quite easily when put under pressure. Brett Lee performed like a big-hearted champion that he is, but that's it... can't say anything more about the Australian bowling attack! It might have a brilliant day, or a disastrous day! Three consecutive brilliant days look difficult to me from hereon.

With this win, Pakistan top Group A. The standings of the Quarter finalists from Group A are:


1. Pakistan - 10 points
2. Sri Lanka - 9 points
3. Australia - 9 points
4. New Zealand - 8 points

Since we know South Africa is the Group B topper, one Quarterfinal has been fixed - South Africa v. New Zealand at Mirpur, Dhaka on either 23rd March or 25th March. I suspect it will be the 23rd March for them.

From an Indian perspective, a win against the West Indies will see them in the 2nd place, a loss will see them in the 3rd place and a heavy loss will see them in the 4th place (example - if West Indies bat first, score 250, and bowl India out for 92, India will have NRR lower than that of England and will be placed 4th).

So from an Indian point of view, it is possible that we might play any one of Australia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the Quarter Finals, though Australia is the most likely one and Pakistan is the most unlikely one. Lets look at each of the possible fixtures in detail:

(Note: We all know India's weaknesses very well, so I won't glean over them again as I look at the possible Quarter Finals fixtures below. I will concentrate of the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents.)

INDIA v. AUSTRALIA



If India win against West Indies (which we should), India will meet Australia in the 2nd quarter-final at Ahmedabad's Sardar Patel Stadium. It will be a tricky clash. Australia is a very strong team, but with their own set of weaknesses. Their pace bowling attack, on which they heavily rely, is quite combustible. With their pace, they will almost certainly target Sehwag and Gambhir with short stuff, but the former needs just a little bit of waywardness in line (very possible due to the presence of Tait and Johnson) while the latter will need just a little bit of patience to counter them.

Apart from the 30 overs of pace, Australia's bowling attack is not a lot to talk about. Watson is handy, but can be milked. Krejza can be attacking, but I would place my money on the Indian batsmen attacking him more and pulling it off well. Smith will also be facing genuinely good players of spin bowling for the first time.

In their batting, Watson is certain to get them off to a good start, but just as certain to not capitalise on that start. Haddin has been inconsistent and Ponting consistent in his failures. He will also have to face Harbhajan Singh, whose bowling becomes interesting every time the batsman facing him has a last name 'Ponting'. Clarke has been in decent form and plays spin well, while Michael Hussey is their best batsman of spin bowling. White is desperately out of form, and if David Hussey plays in his place, it will be his first bat in almost a month.

Australia played a match at Ahmedabad against Zimbabwe, where they scratched their way to a win and a damaged TV set. All in all, they are definitely beatable, but yet I am wary of them, simply because of the fight that they have in them. Not for nothing are they the top-ranked team in ODIs in the world even today!

But when I think of it differently, had Australia won today against Pakistan, India would have met them in the semi-finals at Mohali. I'd much rather have an India v. Australia game at Ahmedabad than Mohali, for Mohali is more likely to support their pace, despite the pitch there having slowed down over the years.

INDIA v. SRI LANKA

If India lose to West Indies (not too badly), then we will play Sri Lanka in the Quarter Finals. Sri Lanka is a very strong team when they play at home... but don't have a record to talk about when they play India in India. Despite the similarity in conditions, Sri Lanka somehow manages to create a fortress at home and look at sea in India.

A lot of people with whom I have conversed personally or on Twitter reckon that Sri Lanka will be a tough opposition, and India would be better off facing Australia. I don't know why... I still think Sri Lanka will not be much trouble.

Their batting is based around Dilshan, Sangakkara and Jayawardene. The rest of it looks quite brittle. Their bowling trump card against India would be Malinga. I know Muralitharan is a legend, but Indian batsmen have the ability to face him out, milking him for a few. Where need arises, batsmen like Sehwag and Gambhir can attack him quite well. Having said all this, I also think that our openers will need to be careful against Kulasekara's first spell, especially if we bat under lights. He can nip the ball in to the pads, and Sehwag is prone to losing balance by playing across the line and get LBW.

India has beaten Sri Lanka a number of times in the recent past at home even with our several first choice players (mainly Sachin Tendulkar) absent. Now with Tendulkar in such a rich vein of form, I doubt we'll have a lot of trouble against them. The team should not be complacent facing them, but they will certainly be high on confidence if they have to face Sri Lanka at Ahmedabad.

INDIA v. PAKISTAN


The mother of all clashes! Indo-Pak World Cup clashes are stuff of folklore! Expect nothing different if this clash does happen!

If India lose heavily to West Indies, so much so that our NRR dips below England's, then we play Pakistan in the Quarter Finals. Honestly, in my opinion, this should be India's best Quarter Final fixture if it happens. I'll tell you the reasons why I'll be very comfortable with the prospect of India facing Pakistan in QFs -

A. India will be coming off a heavy defeat, and will be more motivated to turn the tide.

B. Pakistan will be coming off a very impressive win over Australia, and will be prone to complacency. We all know that they are a highly inconsistent team, and after a great performance against Australia, a shoddy one is round the corner.

C. Pakistan will play with the additional pressure of 4-0... the history books say that in the 4 Indo-Pak World Cup matches, India has won all 4!

D. While Umar Gul with the new ball will be a difficult prospect, Pakistan's bowling gameplan in this World Cup has relied heavily on Afridi's performance. Against India, it will be difficult for Afridi to perform, given how every batsman in India loves facing a spinner (not so much for Yuvraj Singh, but even he would prefer a leg spinner to an off spinner).

E. If this fixture does result, it may well be all about who handles the pressure better. India has a lot more experience in their ranks, and men who will not be flustered by the opposition.

However, since this clash is extremely unlikely to happen, I won't write anything more about it.

THE LAST WORD

Even though I feel Australia will be the trickiest opposition for the QFs, I still feel that India should go all out against the West Indies tomorrow and play for a win rather than a strategic loss. India needs to get some confidence in their system after the close loss to South Africa, and also need to find the right winning combination. However, even if we manage only a scratchy performance against the West Indies, I won't be too disappointed... I will just hope that all the scratchiness is out of the system and come the Quarter Finals, India will be ready to show a different side of the team!

Friday, March 18, 2011

QUARTER FINALS PROBABILITIES - AFTER SL v. NZ

Sri Lanka's huge win over New Zealand at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai has now made calculations for the Quarterfinals lineup a lot easier. Group A has only one meaningful match remaining - Australia v. Pakistan. Group B has two - Bangladesh v. South Africa and India v. West Indies.

The table below shows the possibilities of Group standings taking into consideration the effects of Net Run Rate as well.


In the Group A standings, I have deliberately included a third option where points will be shared between the teams because of this:


So there you go... from the table above, the following statements can be conclusively made:

1. Sri Lanka will finish 2nd in Group A, irrespective of what happens between Australia v. Pakistan tomorrow at Colombo.

2. If the most likely scenario of SA beating BD, Aus beating Pak, and Ind beating WI, the Quarterfinals will be - South Africa v. Pakistan (Mirpur), India v. New Zealand (Ahmedabad), Sri Lanka v. England (Colombo), Australia v. West Indies (Mirpur).

3. Sri Lanka will contest their QF at home in Colombo unless SA beat BD (likely) AND WI beat Ind (unlikely).

4. South Africa will not play against Sri Lanka in the Quarterfinals... and so, their Quarterfinals will be held in Mirpur, Dhaka.

5. The last conclusion is not a result of the table above, but just a general one. Because of England's fantastic fluctuations in performances and results, the team managers of all teams (except India and South Africa) are facing a lot of logistical problems as they are unsure about where their Quarterfinals are likely to be held!

QUARTER FINALS PROBABILITIES - AFTER ENG v. WI

This post is in the updated version of my previous one regarding the Quarterfinals fixtures and their probabilities.

NOTES:

1. Out of the 6 remaining matches, 2 will have no impact on the Quarterfinals lineup - Ireland v. Netherlands and Kenya v. Zimbabwe.

2. I have assumed none of the matches will be washed out, even though the weather forecasts state that there will be scattered thunderstorms over Colombo on the day of Australia v. Pakistan match.

3. In all the matches, equal probabilities have been given for each side to emerge as the winner (even though, in my opinion, South Africa should be given a higher probability of winning against Bangladesh).

4. Lastly, I have assumed that the NRR of the teams will not change significantly over the remaining matches, and therefore, in case of a tie of points, the team with the higher NRR as of present has been ranked higher.

RESULTS:

Let us look at the probability of individual teams and their Quarter-final opponents.

GROUP A:

Australia -

Chances of playing Bangladesh in QFs: 12.5% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing England in QFs: 25% (earlier 12.5%)
Chances of playing India in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing South Africa in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing West Indies in QFs: 12.5% (earlier 12.5%)

New Zealand -

Chances of playing Bangladesh in QFs: 18.75% (earlier 21.875%)
Chances of playing England in QFs: 12.5% (ealier 6.25%)
Chances of playing India in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing South Africa in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing West Indies in QFs: 18.75% (earlier 21.875%)

Pakistan -

Chances of playing Bangladesh in QFs: 18.75% (earlier 21.875%)
Chances of playing England in QFs: 12.5% (ealier 6.25%)
Chances of playing India in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing South Africa in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing West Indies in QFs: 18.75% (earlier 21.875%)

Sri Lanka -

Chances of playing Bangladesh in QFs: 25% (earlier 18.75%)
Chances of playing England in QFs: 0% (earlier 0%)
Chances of playing India in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing South Africa in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing West Indies in QFs: 25% (earlier 31.25%)

GROUP B:

Bangladesh -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 12.5% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 18.75% (earlier 21.875%)
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 18.75% (earlier 21.875%)
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 25% (earlier 18.75%)
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 25% (earlier 12.5%)

England -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 25% (earlier 12.5%)
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 12.5% (earlier 6.25%)
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 12.5% (earlier 6.25%)
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 0% (earlier 0%)
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 50% (earlier 75%)

India -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 0% (earlier 0%)

South Africa -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 25% (earlier 25%)
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 0% (earlier 0%)

West Indies -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 12.5% (earlier 12.5%)
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 18.75% (earlier 21.875%)
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 18.75% (earlier 21.875%)
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 25% (earlier 31.25%)
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 25% (earlier 12.5%)

However, like I have already said, I think these percentages above do not reflect a true picture because I have assumed equal chances of winning for both South Africa and Bangladesh in their match as well as the fact that I have assumed that the NRR will remain pretty much the same till the group stages finish. The worst affected due to these two assumptions is England.

I will keep updating the changes in these percentages above after the end of every match from hereon (except the ones that have no effect on these probabilities as mentioned in Note 1 above).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

BEST WORLD CUP XI

As the Group stage of the World Cup nears an end and the Knock Outs are about to begin, Kartikeya of A Cricketing View has started a poll on his blog to build the best XI of the World Cup by way of public opinion.

You can select your team of XI (or even more, as he explains there) over HERE.

I have posted a link on my sidebar in case you wish to wait till the Group stages finish and vote after that. Please remember that the poll closes on March 31st, 2011. Go, vote and see if your choices match the general opinion across the world!



FINALLY, AN ICC DECISION WORTH APPRECIATION

For a good part of last two months, I have been getting more and more incensed by some of the decisions taken by ICC. The 10-team World Cup for 2015, defending Billy Bowden's decision of Bell non-LBW, then changing the UDRS rules again, reprimanding William Porterfield for public criticism and not acting against Graeme Swann for his share of public criticism after he had already been fined for swearing at the umpire!

But finally, ICC has taken a decision that I can support. They have decided to drop Ashoka de Silva as an umpire for some of the crucial matches coming up, and relocated him to the dead rubbers remaining. So whereas earlier he was scheduled to stand in England v. West Indies and sit as a third umpire in India v. West Indies matches, he will now stand in the Zimbabwe v. Kenya match and be the fourth official during Ireland v. Netherlands game. (Report)

Ashoka de Silva has given some shockers in this World Cup, and though some of them have been corrected by UDRS, that did not stop him from giving a howler even with the help of UDRS. I have already stated that I consider him the least elite of ICC's Elite Panel of Umpires and frankly, do not find him competent enough to be a part of it.

However, wrapped in this news was something unusual. In that news report, ICC has listed a certain Tyron Wijewardene as the third umpire for the Australia v. Pakistan match. I wonder how does he end up having this job without having officiated in a single match so far in this World Cup. We are coming to the end of league stages and an umpire who has not yet been a part of the World Cup will be officiating as a third umpire in a match between two heavyweights that would potentially decide the group toppers! WEIRD!

Oh well, I am again coming to terms with the fact that there is hardly going to be a single decision taken by the ICC that I will completely agree to! Maybe, I should run it one day... at least, that would help me avoid disagreements with myself!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

QUARTER FINALS PROBABILITIES

Another 8 matches remain before the Group stage of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 comes to an end. Amidst all the speculation of Quarter final lineups, I have decided to use the good old method of probability to find out the most probable QF lineup.

NOTES:

1. Out of the 8 remaining matches, 2 will have no impact on the Quarterfinals lineup - Ireland v. Netherlands and Kenya v. Zimbabwe

2. I have assumed that Australia will beat Canada in their match on 16th March 2011 at M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore.

3. I have also assumed none of the matches will be washed out, even though the weather forecasts state that there will be scattered thunderstorms over Colombo on the day of Australia v. Pakistan match.

4. In all the matches, equal probabilities have been given for each side to emerge as the winner (even though, in my opinion, South Africa should be given a higher probability of winning against Bangladesh).

5. Lastly, I have assumed that the NRR of the teams will not change significantly over the remaining matches, and therefore, in case of a tie of points, the team with the higher NRR as of present has been ranked higher.

RESULTS:

The following 8 Quarter-finals combinations have the highest probability (6.25% each):

A. SL v. WI; Pak v. SA; NZ v. Bang; Aus v. Ind
B. SL v. WI; Aus v. SA; Pak v. Bang; NZ v. Ind
C. Pak v. WI; NZ v. SA; SL v. Bang; Aus v. Ind
D. NZ v. WI; Aus v. SA; SL v. Bang; Pak v. Ind
E. SL v. SA; Pak v. Ind; NZ v. WI; Aus v. Bang
F. SL v. SA; Aus v. Ind; Pak v. WI; NZ v. Bang
G. Pak v. SA; NZ v. Ind; SL v. WI; Aus v. Bang
H. NZ v. SA; Aus v. Ind; SL v. WI; Pak v. Bang

There are 16 other Quarter-finals combinations that have a probability of 3.125% each.

However, to get a clearer picture, let us look at the probability of individual teams and their Quarter-final opponents.

GROUP A:

Australia -

Chances of playing Bangladesh in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing England in QFs: 12.5%
Chances of playing India in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing South Africa in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing West Indies in QFs: 12.5%

New Zealand -

Chances of playing Bangladesh in QFs: 21.875%
Chances of playing England in QFs: 6.25%
Chances of playing India in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing South Africa in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing West Indies in QFs: 21.875%

Pakistan -

Chances of playing Bangladesh in QFs: 21.875%
Chances of playing England in QFs: 6.25%
Chances of playing India in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing South Africa in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing West Indies in QFs: 21.875%

Sri Lanka -

Chances of playing Bangladesh in QFs: 18.75%
Chances of playing England in QFs: 0%
Chances of playing India in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing South Africa in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing West Indies in QFs: 31.25%

GROUP B:

Bangladesh -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 21.875%
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 21.875%
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 18.75%
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 12.5%

England -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 12.5%
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 6.25%
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 6.25%
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 0%
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 75%

India -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 25%
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 0% (because of NRR better than that of England)

South Africa -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 25%
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 25%
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 0%

West Indies -

Chances of playing Australia in QFs: 12.5%
Chances of playing New Zealand in QFs: 21.875%
Chances of playing Pakistan in QFs: 21.875%
Chances of playing Sri Lanka in QFs: 31.25%
Chances of not qualifying for QFs: 12.5%

However, like I have already said, I think these percentages above do not reflect a true picture because I have assumed equal chances of winning for both South Africa and Bangladesh in their match as well as the fact that I have assumed that the NRR will remain pretty much the same till the group stages finish. The worst affected due to these two assumptions is England.

I will keep updating the changes in these percentages above after the end of every match from hereon (except the ones that have no effect on these probabilities as mentioned in Notes 1 and 2 above).

Saturday, March 12, 2011

ANOTHER UDRS BLUNDER

A lot of people believe that Ashoka de Silva is the least elite amongst the ICC's Elite Panel of umpires. How he is deemed to be competent enough to officiate in a tournament as prestigious as a World Cup remains a mystery to many. In today's Ireland v. West Indies game at Mohali, he gave a howler (despite having used DRS) so large that it would have made Billy Bowden look a genius!

At 41.3 overs, Ireland were 199 for 5, requiring another 77 runs to beat the West Indians off 51 balls. Gary Wilson, batting on 61 off 61 balls was on strike, accompanied by a newly-in Alex Cusack. Despite having lost a couple of quick wickets, Ireland were in with more than a decent shot at the victory target. West Indian captain Darren Sammy was bowling... and on his next ball, Ashoka de Silva virtually decided the game in favour of West Indies.

A back-of-a-length off-cutter struck Wilson on his front pad as he was late in getting his bat down to guide the ball towards third man. When the ball struck his pad, his bat was behind the pad and came down later to meet the ball as it rolled to the left of the point fielder. As Wilson set for a single, Sammy appealed for an LBW decision and saw Ashoka de Silva raise his finger. Wilson immediately called for a review. Now have a look at the sequence of images below:



One look at just the three images, and any person who knows a little bit about the UDRS and the laws of LBW will immediately say that the umpire should reverse his decision. However, Ashoka de Silva decided to go with his original decision because allegedly, he believed that the batsman had not offered a shot to that delivery. What rubbish!

How does a man who is batting on 61 with a strike rate of 100 play a non-shot when his team needs more than 8 runs an over to win the game! Forget the situation of the match. Just read what the Irish skipper William Porterfield had to say about this: "The word we are getting at the minute is the umpire went back upstairs to check if he hit the ball before the impact on the pad and if it was pad first, or bat first. Surely if you are asking if it was pad first or bat first, you know he is playing a shot. In my opinion they got it wrong."

Simple logic that puts the argument to rest! If the umpire wants to see three replays to determine whether it is pad first or bat first, then there should be no doubt that a shot was attempted. Forget the fact that it was clearly a shot being attempted as Wilson tried to run it down to the third man... just ask yourself when do you say that no shot has been attempted. In my opinion, where the bat makes no deliberate attempt to make contact with the ball and does not make contact with the ball, one can say that no shot was attempted.

With the images, over the video footage and by Porterfield's crystal clear logic, I think it is very easy to conclude that a shot was clearly attempted on that ball. Yet when the umpire decided to rule it out with the commentators claiming that it must have been because of a non-attempt at a shot, my mind wandered off in search of some other explanation. And this is what it came up with...

I believe that the moment Ashoka de Silva saw the yellow light saying "Wickets: On Field Call", he presumed that his call will stand. He didn't bother to use his brain and see that when there is a clear green light saying "Impact: Outside", it should be Not Out regardless of the original decision. I believe that he had trained his mind into thinking that every time a yellow light saying "On Field Call" is displayed, he will not be required to reverse his decision, irrespective of whether there are other red or green lights!

I purposely placed three images up there in this post. I'll explain why. In my view, if the ball is pitched outside the line of leg stump, the review should stop there and the path of the ball should not be shown further ahead by the broadcaster to make it absolutely clear that it is a Not Out call.

Where it pitches in line or outside off, but the impact is not within line, again the broadcaster should stop right there (like in the first image). Now here, if the umpire feels that the batsman has not offered a shot, then he should request the broadcaster to continue with the projection... or else, the decision is made. At least, this will ensure that the viewers will know for certain that the umpire was genuinely in doubt of a shot being offered rather than some other reason!

I have a feeling that had the broadcaster restricted his projection till the first image instead of going on till the second image, Gary Wilson may well have survived. I know I am questioning the aptitude of Ashoka de Silva and might even be a bit biased against him, but then I cannot help it for a man who has had all 4 DRS reviews against him (before this match) in this tournament overturned and then comes up with this shocker deserves no less, in my opinion!

And if you look at the third image, you might well say that the decision should have been "Not Out" even with the naked eye. That ball is barely clipping the outside of the off stump as per Hawk Eye! Even if it were striking in line, most umpires would have given that Not Out and called right for their decision. How he gave this to the bowler casts a doubt over his umpiring abilities!

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