Thursday, August 25, 2011


On reading this piece by Andrew Miller on Cricinfo (How good are this England side?), I was left with quite a few questions in my head. There are a couple of points in that piece that immediately left me shaking my head in disagreement. Here is the first bit:

"It is said that the acid test for this England team will come when they are faced with Asian pitches in the UAE and Sri Lanka this winter, though it's hard to believe that's really the case. If any side has the ingredients to triumph in such conditions, it is England - the fittest squad of international cricketers on the planet, whose batsmen have demonstrated the dedication required to grind out big scores in attritional passages of play, whose bowlers build pressure by strangling runs, and whose spinner, Swann - for all that he falls short of true greatness - is indisputably the best in the game at present."

I do not quite understand why is it so hard to believe that the acid test for England will come on Asian pitches. The current England squad is undoubtedly brilliant, and arguably at the peak of its powers at the moment. They managed to earn a hard-fought draw away in South Africa, flattened Australia in Australia, and demolished India at home. Like the great teams of the past, the only ground that remains to be conquered is the sub-continent (or broadly Asia, since they will be playing Pakistan in UAE).

He reasons that England is the fittest squad currently (though I think that the South Africans might want to challenge him on that), their batsmen have the capability to be attritional and score big, bowlers can strangle runs when needed, and they have the best spinner in the world. Fine reasons those!

But each of those reasons applied even to Steve Waugh's men who conquered everything in their path... or rather, almost everything! They were the fittest squad of their time, some of the batsmen and bowlers on their payroll are acknowledged today as all-time greats, and they definitely featured the best spinner of their time - one who even managed to make it to Cricinfo's All-Time Test XI as a unanimous choice!

Yet, on either side of their run of 16 consecutive Test wins through 1999, 2000 and 2001, Steve Waugh's Australia failed in its acid test on Asian wickets. The Kolkata and Chennai defeats to India in 2001 are famously remembered, but what is not remembered is that just before the start of their 16-match winning streak, they had recorded a series loss in Sri Lanka (September 1999).

So hard as it may be for Mr. Miller to believe that Asian pitches shall be their acid test, they would really still need to pass it to be able to make a further claim. Just having ingredients of success is not enough, as we Indians learnt it the hard way this English summer! We may not have had all the ingredients of success in our Indian squad, but we had managed to hold on to the No. 1 ranking with whatever ingredients we possessed for 20 months. It all came down spectacularly in 1 month! While I don't think it will be quite as dramatic for England, they still do have a task on hand to consolidate their top-of-the-table ranking.

Now, coming to the second excerpt from Mr. Miller's piece that I actually managed to frown upon:

"Passages of play such as Mishra's stand with Sachin Tendulkar prove that England are not unstoppable, but given that no team in the world can replicate their current levels of desire, it's going to take something extra to derail their ambitions."

Just one question here - just how does one claim that a certain person or a certain team's level of desire is the greatest or the least? I am really not a fan of blanket statements such as these where desires, ambitions, courage, spirit, and other such immeasurable aspects of a sportsman or sportsmen are judged.

I was not the only one who did not quite agree with this statement. There were others too, like @thecricketcouch and @grangergabblog. In reply to @thecricketcouch's question as to how could he make such a statement of England team's desire, this is what Mr. Miller (@miller_cricket) replied: 

Honestly, I believe this is as wrong an argument as any I have seen. I don't think that desire is always directly proportional to your on-field performance. Does that mean that every time a team loses a match, they did not desire to win it? It's a very rhetorical question... so lets just explore this with a few examples.

India lost 7 for 33 vs. England at Bangalore, 4 for 30 during the middle overs vs. the Netherlands at New Delhi, a mammoth collapse of 9 for 29 vs. South Africa at Nagpur, and even a 7 for 50 vs. West Indies at Chennai during the league stages of the World Cup 2011. Does this mean that they had no desire to win it? Going by @miller_cricket's response to @thecricketcouch on Twitter, it would tantamount to lack of desire.

Lets use an English example. England lost 6 for 63 in the first innings of the 1st Ashes Test match at Brisbane last year. Does that mean that the Australians had more desire to win that Ashes Test match than England? Does Rafael Nadal's loss to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon finals this year (2011), or his loss to Robin Soderling in the 4th round of French Open 2009 or Federer's loss to Nadal in the finals of Wimbledon 2008 imply that the victors were the ones who desired those wins more?

That, in my opinion, would be an insult to the vanquished - be it India this summer, Australia last winter, or Nadal and Federer over those (and other) matches. Every sportsman in every sport (be it a team game or an individual sport) takes the field of play with the sole desire to win. That is my opinion at least, for that is how even I used to play during my school days even against an XI comprising of seniors! These men are professional, and to compare and judge their levels of desire, in my opinion, is quite like insulting them!

Monday, August 22, 2011


After my previous post on The Dravid Selection Debate, this one is now on the 2nd innings dismissal of Rahul Dravid during the 4th Test at the Oval. It looks like Dravid debates are the fashion for this season! Already, this dismissal has been discussed and dissected all over Twitter and other cricket forums on the internet. Here are my thoughts for what they are worth!

First, let me state very clearly that I did not see the dismissal live and did not even manage to catch a replay till well after the end of day's play. When I did see the replay, I already knew that Dravid had admitted to have edged it. So whether I think there was an edge or not does not matter, because my eyes were always going to be prejudiced after that admission by Dravid. But here's what I do know:

1. Most English commentators and tweeters were of the opinion that they saw a slight deflection from a certain angle, and so Steve Davis was justified in ruling Dravid out.

2. Most Indian commentators and tweeters were of the opinion that they saw no conclusive evidence for Steve Davis to overrule the on-field decision. Since DRS over-ruling works on the basis of conclusive evidence, Davis was not justified.

3. Amongst the neutral, I don't recall many opinions. But I do recall Mike Haysman tweeting that he didn't think there was any conclusive evidence to rule Dravid out.

I think that based on these statements, we can assume that it was a marginal call either way.

Now what I am going to state here has been stated so often already that it's sounding more and more like a cliché, but it has to be mentioned nevertheless. So here it goes again - the DRS was meant to eliminate howlers, and not rule on marginal calls. Where marginal calls are involved, the ground umpire's decision should be taken as the final one. Only when there is overwhelming evidence against the ground umpire's ruling should that decision be overturned.

But while I state all this, lets not forget that the primary aim of the judiciary (and this includes the umpires as well as the technology that has been provided for their aid) is to come to the right decision. And in Dravid's case, the right decision was indeed reached, even though in a wrong way! I remember once an umpire (I think it was Simon Taufel, but I'm not sure!) stated that they would not want their walkie-talkie conversations ever recorded, because often they reach the right decisions in very wrong ways!

So what to make of this debate? Now that we have the benefit of hindsight, in my opinion and strictly in my opinion, I think that the right decision was made and Steve Davis was good to have spotted that faint edge and deviation. In his mind, he was must have been reasonably sure that the edge had been taken, however thin it may have been, and he relayed that decision back to the ground umpire. That's it!

But that's not the end of the story! What I have trouble comprehending is that why are umpires inconsistent in this matter. Some like Billy Bowden prefer to go exactly by the rule book and rule Ian Bell not out in the World Cup match against India even though the evidence overwhelmingly suggested that he should have been Yuvraj Singh's victim! And some like Steve Davis decide to use their initiative and overrule the foundation on which the DRS is based - i.e. the foundation of overwhelming evidence!

I know that the "Ian Bell - Yuvraj Singh - Billy Bowden" example is not quite an exact parallel to this one. And to be honest, I couldn't find any exact parallel. So I will give you the best I could find...

The following video shows the wickets and close calls during the Canada vs. Kenya match in the World Cup 2011. Watch this video from 5:02 onwards - the batsman is Kenyan Steve Tikolo, and the bowler is Canadian Rizwan Cheema.

Now, from what I see here, I think that the edge was clearer here on Steve Tikolo's bat than it was in case of Rahul Dravid at The Oval. I know that it may be a futile exercise to compare, since the situations were different and the umpires involved were different (Bruce Oxenford was the third umpire in the Steve Tikolo case). But the point I'm trying to make is that Oxenford saw it was a marginal call, and though some angles suggested an inside edge, he decided to rule it in favour of the on-field umpire's call. He saw no overwhelming evidence to overrule!

Here, I am not trying to blame Steve Davis in any way. I have already stated that with the benefit of hindsight, we can all agree that the correct decision was made. But the blame lies entirely with ICC's pathetic implementation of the DRS, and its use for marginal calls.

I understand that Bruce Oxenford may not have been as convinced as Steve Davis was to overrule the on-field call, but if I am allowed to judge the third umpires here, I am sure that neither Oxenford nor Davis could have been 100% sure about the edges. Even if Steve Davis was reasonably certain about the edge, I am prepared to bet that he could not have been a 100% confident about his call... simply because it indeed was a very marginal call and the replays could not have been deemed to be 100% conclusive. The varied opinions all over Twitter suggest nothing else.

So what does the ICC have to state? Are the on-field calls to be over-ruled where the third umpires are just reasonably sure about the evidence on offer? Or are they to be over-ruled only when the third umpires are a 100% certain about the error in the on-field decision? Till the ICC does not answer this question clearly and decisively, we will continue to have such vagaries in decision-making even in the future. How this decision might affect the result of this match will be known only tomorrow (and even then, just speculatively), but what it did was that it ended a marathon effort by India's best batsman on this tour on a very sour note!

Well played, Rahul Dravid! Much respect!

Saturday, August 20, 2011


After what's been a nightmare of a Test series for an Indian cricket fan, the only silver lining is that it can continue for just 3 more days. I hope the change from white to blue will change the fortunes as well!

Talking of white to blue, I was just thinking about the Indian ODI squad for the 5-match series later. And obviously, the biggest surprise in that list was a certain Rahul Dravid.

Dravid has been one of the face-savers of India's batting in this Test series. With 2 hundreds against his name, he does seem to have gotten his touch back after a not-so-good run over the past 2 years. It was nice to see him bat the way he did, and the best aspect of his batting on this tour for me was that he did not get bogged down even when India was in a backs-to-the-wall situation (which was often). He still played his shots when the bad balls came (which was rare)! Over the last 2 years, I think he used to get bogged down quite easily but it didn't affect India much because the men around him were having golden runs.

Coming back to the ODI squad, as good a form as Dravid may be in, it was a surprise still to see him named in the ODI squad. I know that the Test team has been hammered by the English bowlers and English conditions. Yet, I somehow feel that asking Dravid to strengthen the ODI squad's Middle Order is a bit of a regressive step.

The last ODI that India played under MS Dhoni, it defeated Sri Lanka by 6 wickets in a match that was the finals of a World Cup! If you do not retain faith in a World Cup winning squad, it is quite a disappointment.

For the sake of argument, people would say that India was the No. 1 Test team too going into this Test series. Yet is floundered in a big way! But the point is, are we going to use this Test series then as a judgement scale for all our future selections in all formats of the game? Yes, it was a nightmare of a series, as I have already stated. But the ODI squad is different - even if it has to fail, it should be allowed its own chance to fail! The fact that the selectors have decided beforehand that the ODI squad is likely to fail and thus it requires services of Rahul Dravid, even without giving it a chance to fail, has disappointed me immensely.

The selectors have often been criticised for making Test selections on the basis of ODI performances, and Suresh Raina is still used as a case in point. Now they are making an ODI selection on the basis of Test cricket. How is the latter justified if the former is considered wrong?

I remember the time when the Vengsarkar-led selection panel decided to field a very young and inexperienced ODI squad against Australia in Australia. Back then, Australia were the reigning World Champions and also the World No. 1 team in ODIs (as they still are). Yet, we were bold enough to test our younger lot in the harshest way possible.

A certain Gautam Gambhir was the highest run-scorer for India in that tri-series. That same Gautam Gambhir went on to have a brilliant run in Test cricket over the next 2 years, and a little over 3 years after that tri-series, that same Gautam Gambhir fell 3 runs short of a World Cup final winning century while chasing a stiff target!

As a fan of the Fab Four batting lineup, I do feel happy to see Dravid back in the ODI squad. But as an Indian cricket fan, I do not think it is a move in the right direction. Rahul Dravid was persisted with despite a prolonged slump in his batting performances for over 2 years. I think the selectors should have shown similar faith in India's ODI batting unit!

Monday, August 15, 2011


This is a very frustrating time for an Indian cricket fan! Coming into the English tour as the World No. 1 Test team, India has now not only lost that ranking, but will also take field at The Oval seeking to prevent a whitewash!

There is such a hollow feeling in my head right now that I really cannot be coherent with my thoughts on anything related to cricket. The criticism and finger-pointing that I wanted to indulge in, I have done so in my previous blog post. In this one, I am not going to indulge in any of that.

Over the last 2 days, I have finished reading ESPNCricinfo's publication "Sealed with a Six". It is a journey through the World Cup 2011. Just to get the complete feel of revisiting that journey, I also read the blogs that I had posted myself during that time.

In this particular blog, I want to quote two excerpts. The first one is what I had written on 5th April 2011, just 3 days after the World Cup win for India. The second one is an excerpt from an article by Sambit Bal, the editor of ESPNCricinfo. He wrote that article on the eve of the penultimate match of the World Cup - the 2nd semi-final match between India and Pakistan at Mohali.

Here's the first excerpt (from my own writing):

"I felt proud to be witnessing this moment, and not just proud because I am a fan of Indian cricket team, no! That would kill my joy! I was proud of that moment in Indian cricket because I have supported Indian cricket team even through its darkest hours, like the World Cup 2007. I have had faith in these men and boys, and I have always wished for them to perform. There have been some players I have liked more than others, a lot of decisions from the captain that I have criticised, and I will continue doing so. I have and will continue pointing out shortcomings of certain players, and loopholes in our team. But through all this, I have never stopped supporting the team through its turbulent times, nor will I ever do so."

And now here's the second excerpt (this one from Sambit Bal):

"Sportsmen compete fiercely and proudly, exhausting themselves mentally and physically in the pursuit of victory, and then the victor and vanquished walk off the field, shaking each other's hand, and often with the knowledge that no victory or loss is final. They will compete again tomorrow and there will be another shot at redemption. That is the essence of sport."

In these two excerpts, I have summed up, as best as I could, the way forward for the fans of Indian cricket, who feel as distraught about the Indian cricket team's loss as I feel. India and England will meet again in the future, on the field of cricket, and we will have our chance at redemption. And when we earn that redemption some time in future, the memory of the pain of this defeat will make it feel that bit sweeter!

Friday, August 12, 2011


India, the World No. 1 Test team, is very likely to relinquish the ranking very soon to the rampaging English team. It's been frustrating and embarrassing to witness this Test series for an Indian fan. It was a tad bit embarrassing to see our famed middle order, known for its prowess against spin bowling of all kinds, catapult against Mendis in Sri Lanka 2008. It was embarrassing also to watch a virtually limp Indian team surrender to Australia 3-0 back in 1999-2000. But none of those experiences come close to what I have seen over the last 3 weeks in England.

After the ultimate high of World Cup win, I am feeling a bottomless low even before this series has ended. The Indian supporter in me shall never die, but I pray that it never has to face this kind of embarrassment ever again!

But why has Team India reached this position in the Test series against England? Last time that India toured England in 2007, we won the series 1-0 with a similar Indian line-up against a similar English line-up. What has changed? Both the teams have gotten better since then for sure, even though the scoreline suggests that only one team has gotten better, and the other has gone down to pits!

Why are we performing so badly then? Many people have come up with different reasons and explanations. The primary reason for me is not something new and unknown... but I will come to that later. First, I want refute another view.

Sanjay Manjrekar thinks that our bowling attack lacks ability. Maybe, it does. But India beat Sri Lanka in Colombo with an attack of Ishant Sharma, Abhimanyu Mithun, Amit Mishra and Pragyan Ojha. India beat Australia in Perth with an attack of Irfan Pathan, RP Singh, Ishant Sharma and the great Anil Kumble. The current bowling attack of Praveen Kumar, Ishant Sharma, S Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh / Amit Mishra is not much worse from those attacks. Both Sri Lanka and Australia were in-form teams at those times playing on their home grounds with a series lead in hand, very similar to England here!

Admittedly, this attack has misfired, and apart from Praveen Kumar, no one has been able to maintain consistency that demands respect from the batsmen... but is that the primary reason? Often in the past, our bowling attack has been helped by a scoreboard cushion provided by the batsmen, something that has not occurred this time.

This is the other reason that a lot of people have agreed on (and I agree too) - the failure to fire of our batting line-up. It has been somewhat surprising to see this line-up misfire so spectacularly. I still have no doubt that India's is the best batting line-up in the world in Test cricket. In the last five years, whenever our bowlers have managed to pick 20 opposition wickets, our batsmen have almost always ensured that they put enough runs on the board to beat the opponent. The only exceptions to this rule have been Lord's 2007 (draw), Cape Town 2011 (draw), Dominica 2011 (draw) and Nottingham 2011 (loss).

In fact, the last time (before Trent Bridge) that we lost a Test match despite our bowlers having taken 20 wickets was Mumbai 2006 against England. 5 years and a few months since then, there have only been those 4 aforementioned instances where the bowlers have done the job, and the batsmen have not capitalised. Worryingly, 3 of those incidents have come in a span of 7 months in 2011 while holding the No. 1 rank!

So if we agree that our batting failures is the single biggest cause of this situation in the series (and even if we do not agree, this question is still important), then the question that arises is how did it come to this! Why is the best batting line-up in the world misfiring so badly?

In the 1st Test, lack of acclimatisation could have been used as an excuse. But it's been 5 Test innings and 2 and a half practice match innings through this tour now, and we have not had a single collective batting performance to rejoice. Rahul Dravid has scored 2 hundreds, and there have been a few fifties to assuage some pride, but where is the good old Indian way of applying scoreboard pressure gone?

In my humble opinion, the failures have been caused not by the lack of acclimatisation, but by the lack of preparation. The English cricket team had their eyes set on an Ashes triumph in Australia, and so they prepared for it diligently and well in advance. They planned well, had contingency options ready, and when the time came, they delivered. They then had a new goal to aim for - the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket. They knew they would have to beat India at home quite comprehensively to attain that. So they prepared again, planned again, and seem to be delivering again!

It's not that the Indian team and its management is incapable of such planning. Our triumph at the World Cup 2011 is a prime example of how we planned for a campaign that was very precious and dear to us. Players have talked about how their mental preparation started a year before the World Cup in Dambulla. They have talked about how they worked at their fitness to be in the best shape during the final stages of the campaign. They have talked about how they wanted to peak at the right time. And they delivered!

So was it a case of not having planned and prepared well to take on England in England? Was there a bit of complacency after having creditably earned a draw away at South Africa just a few months ago? As a fan, I think that even I am a little guilty of having underestimated England a little bit before the series began.

But my assessment of England before the series was based on an English attack containing a misfiring Stuart Broad. But the Stuart Broad playing in this series is a different one from the one that played earlier against Sri Lanka and Australia in the Ashes!

Stuart Broad's new avatar has ensured that the English pace attack has been able to apply relentless pressure on the ill-prepared Indian batting line-up. In South Africa, after the pressure from Steyn and Morkel was over, India could play a few release shots against Tsotsobe, Kallis and Harris. Similarly, against all other attacks, our batsmen have always had at least 2 bowlers who could be attacked for pressure-release!

However, on the evidence of the cricket that has been played on this tour thus far, India's only hope for release in pressure has been in the form of Graeme Swann. The difficulty for the Indians has arisen because Strauss has rotated and managed his fast bowlers so well that Indians have not faced too much from Swann! Instead, it has been steady and relentless pressure and testing from a highly-skilled English pace attack!

When India's No. 1 ranking used to come under fire by people who used to say that they are not like the dominant West Indies and Australia of the past, I always defended India by saying that No. 1 ranking suggests that we are the best of the current lot. That ranking does not imply that the team owning it will be one of the all-time greats like those West Indian and Australian teams!

So going by the same logic, if and when England get to that ranking, I will accept their position there. However, to be dominant like West Indies and Australia, they will need to beat South Africa (home and away) as well as India (away). Nevertheless, if they get that No. 1 ranking, then No. 1 they will be, and deservedly so! As for India, I know that I will (like a lot of others) continue the support despite this nightmare. They may have been badly exposed this time in England, but the lessons will be learnt, and we will see better cricket from this team!