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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

 

End Of Chappell Era


What follows this paragraph was intended to be an independent post. I wrote it and went to have a coffee. And on TV the news of Chappell’s resignation was breaking out. I was a bit perplexed by this development for a moment but soon it became clear to me that things were taking their expected course. So I thought I would let the post follow this intro.


I was almost certain that I would ignore the highly inflammatory rumors which appeared in some channels in the form of reports. So long as they retained the ‘from reliable sources’, the best one could do for Indian cricket was to keep quiet about it. But now that Sachin Tendulkar has come out in the open against Greg Chappell, India’s coach, my silence might be construed as my inability or unwillingness to respond to such unpalatable developments.


No body knows what Chappell is likely to include in his report to BCCI. You have only rumors to go by. Rumors, they are aplenty. All the channels had this issue as their staple diet for the last few days.  Most of them talked about it as if they are handling a statement made by Chappell. But it is now clear that Chappell had something unpleasant to tell the Board about the senior players as betrayed by Tendulkar’s interview given to Times of India. He has expressed his hurt at the insinuation that the senior players had an attitude problem in no uncertain way. Chappell’s authoritarian style and his methodical divide and rule strategy etc are likely to the players’ main weapons in the no holds barred war against Chappell which is now in the open.


We don’t know what went within the four walls of the dressing room. So we will wait till the dirty linen is washed publicly. But we know one thing. India failed to enter the Super Eight because of the failure on the part of the players primarily. The coach also may be guilty in a technical way. But without attributing any motive to the players, you can say that it is their incompetence that caused the dismal performance. I admit no team would like to get trapped in such an agonizing position. Nor would any coach. Chappell obviously came to India with great dreams. To coach this Indian team to the World Cup win must have one of his dreams.


Then what caused this almost total parting of ways? Difference in perceptions? Or ego clashes? May be but the difference in approaches to achieve the same result might also be a reason.  What Chappell wanted the team to do might not have been the ideal way for the players to get the same thing done. Taking into consideration the inter-relational structure in this case; Chappell seems to on the right side at least technically.


But that is not going to help matters a bit here. He has to go. Simply because no coach can hope to coach an Indian team after having got on the wrong side of such indispensable superstars like Tendulkar. By now it must have become clear to him.  And he is not going to have any VIP friends either in India. Because of certain inherent reasons most of the former players are not interested in having a foreigner as India’s coach. None of the journalists would commit the foolishness of endorsing Chappell’s stand even if they believe him to be right simply because their reporting efficiency depends crucially on the co-operation of the major players. Which would be zero once they decide to move over to Chappell’s camp.


So without going into the arguments in this case which we are totally in the dark about, we can be sure that India is going to have another coach. And this Chappell also should know.


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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

 

Ideas Matter Not Persons

The discussion on the future of Indian cricket now has, after a severe scrutiny of the players’ and captain’s culpability, has moved on to the future of the coach of the national team. After the initial euphoria, Greg Chappell was quick enough to collect critics and they are now making use of the plight of the Indian team to pull him down from his pedestal. Many were at the very beginning itself.not at all happy about such a high profile coach. Chappell who was armed with certain well chiseled concepts and ways to put them into action promptly went ahead with his campaign buoyed by his initial success.


But soon the momentum was lost and many of his moves attracted harsh criticism. If you look back the criticism that he comprehensively tinkered with the cohesion of the team was not exactly true. All that he was fond of was forcing a little flexibility to the batting line up. And that is a strategy which has several takers in all countries. Many believe that the ability to contribute at any position-within a reasonable range- is a must for the versatility of a batting line up. And they don't believe in the theory of comfort which a batsman requires by being told of his continued occupation of a particular position. The most important thing in a match are the emerging situations and the duty of the batting line up is to respond to them effectively. Reputations and satisfied egos have to take the back seat in such situations. A batsman with his strengths and weaknesses should be willing to submit his skill to the cause of the situation. And for that he requires repeated exposure which serves as practice.


Another step by Chappell which invited criticism was his faith in Pathan as a batsman. He saw in Pathan a tool to insert at strategic positions and gave him opportunities to enable him to acquire the required skills at the top level. The limited success of both moves should not take away their merit as strategic steps initiated by a thinking coach.


Chappell like Dravid is not indispensable to Indian cricket. But a great deal of thought has to be given to the next logical step if it is meant to serve Indian cricket in a more useful way. I personally believe that a coach is to be invested with more powers as in football. He should have more if not absolute say in selecting players. In fact it is better that we dispense with the selection committee. But unlike in football cricket has and needs a captain who can take control of the on-field proceedings unlike the football captain who is more of an ornament. So depositing the entire decision making with the coach might not be a happy a way of organizing things if the captain does not think in the same frequency. So it has to the collective effort of the captain and the coach. A technically well equipped committee without executive powers should be there to co-ordinate things and to intervene if frictions arose. All major items like pitch preparation, team selection, giving shape to strategies etc have to primarily the job of the coach and its execution should be the captain’s job.


What we hear like having an interim coach to Bangladesh may not be the ideal response to the crisis before India. Chappell may not be essential for India but he should not be sent out because some busybodies in the corridors of BCCI do not like his looks.


I am deliberately keeping away from reports on Chappell’s views on the mafia of the senior players. I cant behave like the irresponsible visual medium which in its eagerness for one-up-manship dives into any story without verifying its truth. They can use the safety latch of ‘sources say’ and sink their teeth into the rumor. So I will wait till the crucial BCCI meeting on April sixth.


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Friday, March 30, 2007

 

Let  Dravid Continue

In one’s eagerness to distance himself from the tragedy Indian cricket is going through, the average cricket enthusiast is on a mission to find fault with any one connected in some remote way with the game in India. The players must now be thinking about ways to get off the tiger’s back. Now it is the captain’s turn.


The catastrophe according to many was obviously the handiwork of the captain. Had been as alert and innovative as the ideal one who deserves India’s captaincy, this agony could have been avoided. Rahul Dravid many feel is not the aggressive personality who can inspire the players to greater heights and thus better results.


Let us look at Dravid’s performance as a captain. As a captain. He has a cool head on his shoulders and is not swept off his feet by adverse situations. Except for a few decisions regarding the toss- he may have his own reasons for such decisions- he has done well as a captain. You can’t blame a skipper for the omissions and commissions of the players which lead the team to trouble.


What I mean is that even in the midst of the present chaos, Dravid stands as a captain who has done enough to deserve more chances to prove his yet to be displayed levels of captaincy skills.


The cricket atmosphere is rife with rumors. So you don’t know which is likely to happen and which may not. But if the reports hinting at termination of Dravid’s tenure because of the team’s collective failure are true. I have only sympathy for the administrators who are swayed by petty whims and prejudices of the little men in the periphery of power in BCCI.


I don’t mean that Dravid is indispensable as a captain but much less is Tendulkar. Tendulkar who during his tenures did nothing to prove his leadership talent is inviting trouble at this stage of his career by opting to take over the reigns. He has enough to worry about his batting. He is in the twilight of his great career and only a conscious effort on his part will enable him to bow out in style. Otherwise he might be going the same route Kapil Dev took at the fag end of his career. People will be more critical about the little master’s continued occupation of the crease. To be on borrowed time is the greatest tragedy that can happen to one of the greatest luminaries of the game.


Sourav Ganguly left alone has been able to tinker with his batting and has some runs to show for that. Let him be comfortable there and squeeze out the last few runs of his bat.


What India needs now is a search for a new captaincy material which is knowledgeable, innovative and highly focused. At this moment you can’t look far beyond Dravid for these qualities. And a fresher with such budding skills will not find a more suitable person than Dravid to learn his lessons from.


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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

 

Murali Another Factor

Yesterday I forgot to add an item while talking about the failings of the disgraced Indian cricket team. Batting problems, bowling inadequacies, poor fielding, lack of grit etc were there.. At least against Bangladesh, the pitch-again a failure on the part of the captain- was a tad unfriendly. But the crucial factor which worked against India in the match against Sri Lanka was Murali. I know I am treading into dangerous territory. But the picture I feel will be incomplete if I don’t mention Murali and his influence on his opponents.
Murali is an unfortunate person who has an elbow deformity. Which I am sure prevents him from doing several things which we take for granted. But that bent elbow enables him to bowl in such a way that he unlike normal humans can deliver his off breaks and doosras without any change in action.
Several players and umpires feel that he has an illegal action. And at least one umpire, who later got the tag of being an anti-Asian, in fact went ahead and called him. And that let loose all the hell. Sri Lanka converted this simple issue of a bent arm into a racial slur and ICC, even otherwise a spine-less creature, cringed dutifully and yielded to this blackmail. Based on the original premise that every person chucks, the law makers had made a provision of a five degree allowance for spinners and ten degrees for the quicker bowlers. Which only means one can bend his arm by this much before he straightens it. When the Murali issue snowballed into a first class crisis, threatening to divide the cricket world into whites and not so whites, ICC in a holy gesture raised the bar enabling everybody-spin and pace alike- to bend his or her arm by 15 degrees. And thus Murali’s action became a legitimate one.
But I don’t think any batsmen and off spinner would ever feel comfortable with Murali’s action. Even as he weaves a web of death around the batsmen with his even otherwise excellent control and guile, the dismissed batsman might be permitted to think he had been upstaged by non-cricketing forces.
This is not an excuse for the final nail he hit on the Indian coffin. But his bowling also was an important factor for India’s collapse. And anybody who has only a four-inch wide bat to defend his citadel might feel stumped even before he has faced a ball!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

 

The Panic Button Stays Pressed


The failure on the part of Bermuda to upset Bangladesh in the last preliminary match of this World Cup has sealed India’s slimmest chance of sneaking into the Super Eight stage. This becomes all the more agonizing as it comes in the wake of very expensive and exotic preparations through the last few seasons when the fulcrum of all the efforts was the Caribbean conquest. .


India had three matches to play in Group B, two of them against Bangladesh and Bermuda. Results of which everyone took for granted. Thus a corner in the Super Eight was India’s rightful place. So the shock of finding itself replaced by a pretender was simply too much for this nation whose humiliation knew no bounds. To be pushed out by a country which viewed with envy the Plate level stars of Indian cricket.


Of course what happened was and is not to be brushed under the carpet. We cant allow things to go on as if nothing untoward has happened. India without doubt bungled in more than one way. The toss which has at least in the early stage influenced the games unduly went India’s way. Instead of looking back at the warm up games and the behavior of the pitches for those matches, Dravid, covering the angle of giving batting practice to even the lower order batsmen, chose to handle the early life of the track. And we now know how hard was that blow! To crown the whole thing we initially batted without an apprehension of the nature of track and played into the Bangladeshis’ hands. It is quite evident that India has yet to master the art of managing its innings on bowler-friendly pitches. The Sri Lankan innings against India was an example worth remembering. Luck went a long way to help them but they showed enough resilience to pull the chestnuts out of fire when they got half a chance to do so. In both cases  India failed to do well in its stronger department making things very difficult for the team’s cause. Against Bangladesh, the pitch had lost its venom by the afternoon and they made full use of it. But our batsmen against Sri Lanka muffed up the glorious chance of ensuring victory on a placid afternoon track. And in both the matches the rivals made Indian fielding look pathetic. Our steady catching was overshadowed by the run-leaking ground fielding. The combined effort of hesitant running between the wickets and poor fielding contributed about fifty runs to the opposition putting so much more pressure on our batsmen.


These on-the-field negatives were aided by some dressing room decisions like refusal to play Pathan, hesitancy to give a chance to Sri Santh etc.


Yes there were shortcomings on the part of the captain, players, perhaps coach, selectors. Look how the Australians who went down to the Kiwis and the Englishmen recently bounced back with enthusiasm and confidence in the World Cup matches? This is called character. I am not an expert in suggesting clues for character formation. But one think I know like you all that it is not available off the shelf!


While acknowledging the tragic failure to live up to the dreams of the fans, it should be realized that such things do happen in life. We call them upsets or shock results because we never thought they would have happened. We get angry, form reactions not in proportion to the crime. That also is natural. But we should be quick enough to realize our off-the-tangent fury and check ourselves. Otherwise we will harming whatever we feel we are trying to save.


The credit for the hue and cry about the miserable performance and its possible motives should rightfully go to the media, especially the visual variety. Trying to make the most of this once-in-four-years festival, they geared up for the mega event in their own innovative ways and hyped up the India’s chances, the exotic stroke play of our superstars, the non-existent penetration of our bowlers. The advertisers trying to cash in on the occasion tried to make tigers of ordinary mortals. Things were proceeding in a comfortable vein when everything collapsed. Ratings would surely take a nose-dive, the momentum built so assiduously would dissipate. So the only way ahead of them was to switch over to the failed saga of the Indian team ( with a bonus of Woolmer’s murder). I am not blaming any body for his disappointment. But many went beyond that and tried to cash in on the misfortune. They painted it as a tragedy. It in a way was a sporting tragedy which affected the stakeholders more than the couch potatoes. The channels which laughed all the way to the bank created a funereal atmosphere in the minds of the ordinary cricket fan. There of course were many informative discussions but several channels stealthily moved over to the tempting territory of sensationalism. They still do. No serious attempt was made to tell the viewers and readers that such things do happen and let us take corrective measures and try to continue to move ahead. Moderation seemed to be passé.


Many went to question the integrity of the players. I am not trying to hold their brief in this case. If a black sheep indulged in some foul play he has to be handled with utmost severity. But to envy a player’s appearing in some ads is stretching things a little to much. Let us realize that the companies won’t use these players as models unless they are sure that thy have the influence over you and me. If we refuse to be swayed by their personal glamour and still like their game, companies will look for others for celebrity advertising. We make them big and then we try to bring them down to earth for their natural, human limitations. Which batsman does not want to score a century in every outing! Who wants to go wicket less and who wants to drop a catch? Even a dropped catch tends to affect his ability to persuade the millions.


Now are our players in any way responsible to the fans except in a moral way? They are in the team because of their talent, hard work and because of their ability to handle immense pressure created by us. We have nothing to do in any of these things. If they get fame, if they make money the credit should go to them alone and of course to the personality of the game.


Then about their failure. They fail often and boy, did they fail this time! But who does not?. Our politicians? .We who are often less hard working than these maligned stars?. .Nothing could be funnier than that. A whole truckload of uninformed criticism from a lot of no-gooders!



Let us look at what happened once more. We were arguably in the strongest group. Bangladesh is the strongest team outside the top eight. If an upset would happen, the criminal could be our eastern cousins. And I may be blamed of the sour grape but this format also has to do something about the increased possibility of having a strange visitor to the super Eight . In fact this time we have two. The two most potent contenders outside the regulars. With India’s greater versatility, it is almost certain that we would have responded much better to the more powerful challenges posed by the stronger teams in the eight-team round robin than Bangladesh. Another thing. Had we met Sri Lanka first and lost to them we would have been very careful and more prepared against Bangladesh.


One thing is sure. We have hit the panic button. What are we going to do?. Sweep all the current lot under the carpet? Where do we have the reserve to replace them? When a rocket fails, do we change the team as such?  When the school leaving exam  results plummet, do we go in for a total revamp?


Our cricket administrators could do well to keep quiet now and speak only in the appropriate forums. Now is not the proper occasion nor the media the proper stage to give vent to one’s prejudices against a player, captain or the coach. I am not going into the idea of having two teams. We will go into that when the idea takes its contours.


Now about us. The fans, the couch potatoes. Match after match is served on a platter before us with expert comments like a super spectacle for a pittance. We delve into the chips or Kurkure packet and watch the game like a period film. The advertisers use this medium to carry their ads as they know we the couch potatoes will be in front of their sets in millions. They are there to increase their market share, not to contribute to cricket’s cause. And we if impressed by an ad might buy that product. There ends our involvement with cricket beyond the spectacle level.


But this process plus the magnetism of the game has become so successful that it has made this game a fashion statement and a graveyard for other sporting activities. The full credit should go to the media. But unfortunately the media which bring money and fame to the players bring brickbats also. Cricket once was the preserve of a few who knew something about the game. Now the tentacles of the media have made it the most monstrous source of uninformed criticism. And the trend betrays no loosening of the vice-like grip.


I can only say That’s not cricket!


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Friday, March 23, 2007

 

Pathan To Open?

An error crept into my last dispatch and sorry for that. I wrote about a five-bowler attack and Karthik. It was obvious that they won’t go together. It was clear that to play five bowlers one batsman has to be dropped. One’s hope was that that loss would be at least partially compensated by Pathan. And the batsman I suggested for the block was Uthappa. But I overlooked the obvious that Karthik for Uthappa means Pathan can be accommodated only by dropping another bowler. Sorry that was not what I intended. I wanted Pathan to play along with four other bowlers. The Big Picture was right but the error made things look funny. Sorry again.


But who will then open the innings?. We of course have three batsmen who can open. But if India is inserted to bat on a pitch even slightly helpful to the bowlers, some rethinking may be in order.  Then either a technically well equipped batsman or a minor cog in the batting wheel should be asked to open the innings. I would prefer the second option. And for that I would choose Pathan to go out with Ganguly. His job would be to make the ball as old as possible before our heavyweights get their turn to bat. Then he can join the other bowlers in thwarting the Sri Lankan attempt to overhaul India’s total. Of course if India gets to bowl first, then Pathan the bowler will be more useful and the services of Pathan the batsman less required.


Sending Sehwag after the pitch has lost some its life may not be such a bad idea. A cameo innings might be more useful to the team’s cause than an early exit. Batsmen with tight technique can work their way out of trouble with less scars than hand-eye co-ordination specialists like Sehwag. They need intervention by God and some of his
colleagues!
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

 

Battle Won, War Still To Be Fought

At last when confronted with the frightening reality, India unleashed it batting potential in no uncertain terms and posted the highest total in the history of the Cup. Its only four hundred-plus score! I would like to interpret it as a warning to the rest of the contenders that India has after its trials and tribulations during its training sojourn has acquired the strength to roar. Teams will ignore it only at their peril.


Even as a patriotic Indian, I believe in it only partially. I am sure this batting line up on friendly tracks is capable of achieving great heights. But such heroics happen only rarely in India’s case. There is a psychological barrier which prevents India from flowing spontaneously like a well oiled batting machine regularly.


Now the World Cup record for the highest total, greatest victory margin, the maximum number of sixes etc belong to India. Great. But let us not forget that the battle has just begun. The battle to find a place in the Super Eight. This mammoth total has only ensured that in the event of point tie, India would have the advantage of a better net run rate.


So far so good. But for this memorable Caribbean saga to become meaningful, India has to beat Sri Lanka. Period. On that victory depends the entire hopes and aspirations of a huge chunk of the world’s population.


Let us take a look at the arithmetical jugglery which would take into the next round. The present point position taking into account the NRR is:-


1)      Sri Lanka  with two matches against India and Bangladesh remaining- 2 points


2)      India with  one match against Sri Lanka remaining – 2 points


3)       Bangladesh with two matches against Sri Lanka and Bermuda remainig-2 points


4)      Bermuda with one match against Bangladesh remaining- 0 points.


So Bermuda is out. Among the other teams more than one possibility can arise pushing one team out. Sri Lanka should be expected to take care of Bangladesh. So they should have four points. Bangladesh should be able to dispose of Bermuda perhaps much less spectacularly than was done by the Indians. So they also should have four points. With this point position as the indicator, these two teams should represent Group B in the next round. Because India after two matches against relatively weak teams has only two points and the best NRR. So everything hinges on the Sri Lanka- India match. It seems the knock out stage has been forced on India a little too soon. History points to some occasions when India came out with flying colors on those occasions.


But this is a new tournament and a new match. India’s enemy is a team which is tipped to win the cup or at least to do well in this tournament. And they have begun well too. Sri Lanka has a reasonably strong batting line up but it is not as strong as India’s. On any day given the same conditions India’s mighty batting machine would outshine Sri Lanka’s. I don’t know if the same can be said about the bowling. India can boast of the best bowling outfit which ever left its shores for the cup. But I doubt if it is enough. Sri Lanka has at least two accomplished bowlers who can exploit the pitch conditions of the Trinidad track. Vaas and Meharoof. And Malinga can be erratically dangerous. Among the spinners Murali has the guile to slow down and take wickets against any team in the world. India may have the reputation of being the best spin-playing team in the world. But Murali is no ordinary spinner. Blessed with a deformity, he can be lethal even against the best especially when he gets a whiff of the batsman’s aggressive intentions.


So given the track conditions, India can not hope realistically to post a big score against Sri Lanka. So the only way to neutralize this disadvantage is to strengthen its bowling. I would play Pathan and four other bowlers. It could be four pacers and a spinner or three pacers and two spinners. If Pathan fails miserably-that is a risk- India can look up to its other four bowlers to take up the extra workload. If he clicks! India can storm the Sri Lankan citadel on all four cylinders and can bat very deep down to number eight! There is no other equation which would enable India to subdue Sri Lanka, if you ask me.   


There is one more change I would like to effect. Karthik in, Uthappa out. On a seaming track with some carry, Uthappa can be a sitting duck to the experienced Vaas and company. Let India open with Ganguly and Karthik. I know what I am suggesting is against the interests of a young boy seeking level playing grounds. Promise him that failure here would not be counted against him. Their job should be to keep wickets in hand at the end of the third Power Play. In other words, to prevent a collapse from happening. A close study of the pitch coupled with the assessment of one’s rivals strength would help you to arrive at a score possible and hopefully defendable. And bat for it. Then it is the job of the five-strong bowling attack to put up a spirited display which would enable India’s onward march


One undesirable development during this World Cup is undue dependence on toss. On pitches with some juice in them everyone would like to field. And this factor out of any one’s control like the unwelcome showers should not unduly influence the fortunes of such a mega cricket event. This trend of worrying about the toss is likely to continue at least till the end of the first round of matches. Coming back to match-specific considerations, one can only hope Dravid calls correctly and does not forget that eventful morning of the match against Bangladesh! India can’t afford another wrong decision from the skipper!


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