Saturday, January 21, 2006

Where's the Contest?

So, Pakistan are 379/4 at the end of the first day's play, with both Inzi and Afridi looking good for lots more. Pakistan should go on to make 550+ from here, which would mean that the test will either be drawn, or Pakistan will win. Afridi played very well, as did Inzamam and the other Pakistani batsmen. But where was the contest? It was definitely less one sided than Lahore, but honestly, Shoaib Malik and Mohammad Yousuf fell to poor shots, and Younis to a great catch. India missed a couple of run outs, and a couple of close lbw shouts (one against Inzamam, another against Afridi) went against them. Apart from those two lbw shouts, and the wicket of Butt, the bowlers really had nothing to show. That's three deliveries out of 540. Basically, Pakistan could have been 400/2 and it would still have been understandable.

Of course, the real determination of whether this was just too flat a wicket or the Indian bowlers bowled badly can only happen once India bats, and facing a mammoth score, they might collapse (alternatively, they could concede a first innings lead of a 100 or so and collapse in the second innings, like in Bangalore last year). Today, however, there was no contest between bat and ball. That's a pity.

One of the reasons could be that Irfan Pathan has been very disappointing, and that all the seamers bowled at mediocre speeds. That's where Shoaib could be handy for Pakistan. On this wicket, I think medium pace will get slaughtered. Unfortunately for the game, Pakistan have omitted Rana, thus reducing the chances of a result. And even though India have five bowlers, I don't think it made any difference.

The toss, obviously, was crucial. On these wickets, you bat first and easily make 500+; then wait for the opposition to commit hara kiri. If they don't, it's a draw. If they do, you win. Not good. I found the day's play quite boring after about the first 45 minutes - and I'm not saying that because India were under the cosh. But because, like Lahore, it was essentially a no contest. You need bowlers like Wasim and Waqar to make these pitches interesting - watching anyone less accomplished is a waste of time for the viewing public.

Rana Out, Razzaq In?

According to this news item, anyway:

"Pakistan, meanwhile, are likely to make one enforced change, with Mohammad Asif expected to step in for Mohammad Sami, and one optional one. Sami has come down with a sore throat and a high fever and is a doubtful starter, while Abdul Razzaq is in line for a recall, at the expense of the ever-willing Rana Naved-ul-Hasan."

Why would Pakistan do that? They don't really need an all rounder, and Razzaq is hardly threatening at the test level as a bowler. Rana is definitely a better bowler... I suppose we'll find out, but if it does happen, Pakistan may find themselves a bowler short, with Afridi doing more bowling than they would have accounted for.

I'm keen to see Mohammad Asif though. Always fun to see a new Pakistani fast bowler... he's got to be better than Sami (sometimes I think even Agarkar is better than Sami)

Future Tours and Programmes

There has been a hue and cry about the BCCI 'going its own way' and arranging series bilaterally without regard to the ICC's FTP. I think the BCCI have their priorities right - maximize revenues and ensure that the Indian team (and the public) play the bigger opponents as frequently as possible. While the ICC's stated goal of broadening the appeal of cricket by having top countries play minnows frequently is laudable, it doesn't make for very good viewing. A far better way to popularize cricket in countries where it is not popular is to have games between top countries at those venues - they will attract revenues and crowds. That is exactly what the BCCI is doing when they talk of playing India-Pakistan games in the USA, for example. I've digressed a bit, I know, because really what India is saying is that it doesn't want to play Bangladesh more than once every blue moon. I think that's fair.If Bangladesh A can win the Duleep Trophy, for instance, then we can think of playing them more frequently. If they keep getting beaten in the first round of an Indian domestic championship, what's the point?

Also heartening is that India will now play Pakistan, England and Australia (I'm talking about Test matches) once every couple of years. And the BCCI will ensure at least one good series at home each year. Both positive. Fun times are ahead!

Back to Blogging

I haven't blogged for the last couple of weeks, owing to some serious travelling and a fairly busy work schedule, but hopefully should be more consistent going forward.

Not too long to go before the second test, and the news is that Ganguly could miss out as India are looking to play five bowlers. That would also mean Dravid opens again. Some of you may recall that I had commented earlier (during the SL series) that opening with Dravid was probably the best thing for India, with VVS at number 3. Looks like the experts are slowly coming round to the same view. Gavaskar commented in his column recently (I don't have the link here) that the Sehwag-Dravid opening combination was the way to go. I agree. I think it could end up being the best opening combination India have ever had. Yes, Dravid averages quite low as an opener, but most of those innings were played when he was searching for his slot in the team - he had played at pretty much every position till then. It's very different now, when he's at the top of his game and captain. The other argument against Dravid opening is ususally that he's far too important at number 3, since he can control the innings if a wicket falls early. It's an argument with merit, but if he can be as consistent at the top as he's at number 3, then he can both control the innings and set up the middle order for massive totals. We'll see more 100+ stands with Dravid and Sehwag opening than we will with Sehwag and anyone else.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Blogs in China

Here's food for thought: I can make entries on my blog from the Beijing airport, but I cannot view my blog. In fact, I cannot pull up any webpage which reads xxxx.blogspot.com! So, people in China can blog (at least on blogger.com), but they cannot read any blogs! Even funnier, I can view all the pages I want to from my companies' office in Beijing. I wonder if it's "one country two systems" even at this level! I would not be surprised if it was.

By the way, its no fun waiting at lounges when the flight's delayed (as I just found out mine is).

DD Not to telecast Series Part Deux

Rahul Bhatia is right:

"It's not the ideal solution, but compared to what was, Prasar Bharati's decision to not broadcast the Test series live will do for now. There are those, including the government, who argue that putting free cricket on every television in India is not only good, but also national duty. They're missing the point: seizing legally acquired private property for public consumption is illegal"


As I said before, it doesn't make sense for Ten Sports to share feed with DD at rates that are unprofitable for it. However, seizing legally acquired private property for public consumption is not illegal, as long as compensation is paid. That is why the Right to Property is not a fundamental right in India (unfortunately). If the State so wishes, it can sieze private property by giving 'adequete compensation/' How much that compensation is is decided by the State. That is why DD is so bold. And that is why the SC's decision is to be welcomed.

Now, I only wish Ten Sports do not use Arun Lal or Laxman Sivaramakrishnan to commentate.

Inzi's sense of humor

Inzi has the best sense of humor among current cricket captains. He had amazing one liners during the last tour. And he hasn't lost his form. Here, in reply to whether his fever would keep him away from the first test:

"Not me but the entire country is in cricket fever. The Indian cricket team is in Pakistan and with them here, my fever has no value"

Ha! There will be more, I'm sure. And I can't wait to hear his one liners.

No Games on DD

According to this report, anyway. I wouldn't take this as definitive, though. Things always happen at the last minute. However, if DD is not allowed to telecast the games, it only serves them right. If they want to piggyback off their position as the 'public broadcaster', they should be willing to pay for it.

Meanwhile, in a piece that a year ago would be sacrilege, Harish Dugh seems to suggest that Tendulkar should be dropped if he does not perform in the Pakistan series, since he's no longer the best batsman in the side. Well, I agree, at the moment he's probably not. But that's hardly a reason for dropping him! Worse, he seems to ask whether it's worth having Tendulkar in the team since he's not as important to the Indian team as Ponting is to the Australian team:

"In fact, one can say that Ponting is better than Sachin currently as he scores at such devastating speed that he not only terrorizes the bowlers but also builds up the morale of his team to do well. He has put steel in the minds of his players to deliver outstanding personal performances. Look at the new-look Matthew Hayden, the mind-boggling Andy Symonds and the spectacular Mike Hussey.
In short Ponting powers his team not just with the bat, but also gives booster shots of confidence to the entire team to ensure Australia win matches regularly, ensuring their status as world champions.
So, is Sachin, as a mentor, worth as much to Team India. One must say that he is not. However, having said that, if we drop Sachin, do we include Wasim Jaffer, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Rains, Venugopal Rao? None can say their blade carries more weight than Sachin’s."


Convoluted logic certainly. No one would disagree that Ricky Ponting is the best around at the moment. He may even go on to make all the records that people always though Sachin would (I think there's a 50% chance of Ponting ending up with the highest number of centuries and most runs, by the way). But that's hardly a reason for dropping Tendulkar. He'll probably make one hundred this series, or three fifties otherwise. He may not be his 1998 self anymore, but he's still one of the best we have.

Three openers?

Well, Sunil Gavaskar has suggested that India play three openers to counter the threat of Pakistani bowlers. I won't say anything except that by definition you can only have two openers, and then the middle order kicks in. And if we did not need three players capable of facing the new ball in Australia 2003, we certainly don't do so now. Besides, who will be dropped? Yuvraj or Ganguly? C'mon!!

On a more serious note, though, he also says:
"The tracks in the sub continent are the same. In fact it would suit the Indian bowlers, since they may be green on the top but are soft underneath"

This is interesting. I had commented earlier that the instructions to prepare hard and bounce surfaces may backfire on Pakistan due to the weather, and Gavaskar seems to be saying the same thing - if the wickets are soft underneath, they will not give bounce. We'll know on Friday. Weather permitting of course.

Blogging and Airports

I'm coming to the conclusion that airport lounges are the best places for blogging. One usually has an hour or so to kill, is not interrupted by too many calls (if it's an evening flight), and is usually left alone. So here I am, killing a couple of hours at Beijing airport, blogging between glasses of Chinese red wine (which I must say, is surprisingly good!). It does require that the airport is good enough to have lounges with internet access, which, sadly, most Indian airports don't, and I'm headed there next (sigh!). The again, the slow connection here does tell you that you ain't exactly in the first world! That, and having to navigate through Chinese Windows!

It seems that I'll miss live action for the first two days of the first test, travelling again. The irony is that I will be in India, but will miss the action, since there's work to do... hopefully I can catch the highlights!

Monday, January 09, 2006

Pakistan team to be announced today

According to this report, the Pakistan team for the first test will be announced today. Wonder if Hasan Raza is included? Or Farhat? If Yasir Hameed is still down with typhoid, who is Pakistan going to open with? Also, as Osman Samiuddin notes, Asim Kamal may not make it to the final XI. My prediction for the Pakistan XI:

Salman Butt, Imran Farhat, Younis Khan, Mohammad Yousuf, Inzamam ul Haq, Shahid Afridi, Abdul Razzaq, Kamran Akmal, Mohammad Sami, Shoaib Akhtar, Rana Naved, Danish Kaneria.

I think Pakistan will play Sami instead of Gul, as the latter hasn't impressed in the warm up game. Looking at the possible lineup properly for the first time, I have to say that India are going to have a very tough time. Pakistan have five wicket taking bowlers (including Afridi), and Razzaq as an optional sixth; they bat down to number eight (Akmal) with an explosive lower middle order (Afridi, Razzaq, Akmal); and they have an in-form Inzamam. I just hope they don't bat first on a flat wicket.

Man to man, the Indian batting line up of Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, VVS, Ganguly/Yuvraj, followed by Dhoni and Pathan looks better, but the bowling attack (depending on pitches) looks really weak, with only Pathan looking good among the seamers. It's up to India's batsmen really, to bat Pakistan out of the game if India are to win.

Weather Blues

Osman Samiuddin, in this piece on Cricinfo, says the first couple of tests are likely to be hampered by bad weather (fog, maybe rain). I think fog will be a major factor, though looking at the scorecard of the practice match in Lahore, it seems that at the moment, things are not too bad. On the first two days, about 75 overs each were bowled till 4:30 p.m. local time, which gives hope that if weather conditions remain the way they are, we should be able to get around 80 overs a day in the first test (which, I think, will be enough for a result). We'll have to see. If the fog is anywhere as bad as it can get in Delhi (which may be possible, given Lahore's proximity to Delhi), we'll be lucky to get 4 hours of play in a day. Let's hope that doesn't happen.

The other interesting thing about the weather in Lahore, as attested by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan
here, is just how cold it is. According to WeatherUnderground, temperature today at 10:00 a.m. was just 10 degrees. Combine the cold weather with little sunshine, and it seems to me that the pitch for the first test will be anything but fast. The ball, however, could swing quite a bit, which should bring Pathan in play. If Inzamam is to be believed, the wicket will be hard and bouncy, but the weather may prevent that from happening, leading to either a flat or swinging wicket. The other interesting thing is that in conditions which are more English at the moment (by the looks of it) than sub-continental, will India play two spinners? And if India do play three seamers, will it be too much of a risk, considering that apart from Pathan, neither of the remaining two look like taking test wickets at the moment?

The other selection conundrum will be the opening slot. I think Gambhir will still play, but if he fails again, they'll have to give Jaffer a chance. What will be crucial for India is that Sehwag makes runs - if the middle order is exposed too early, Shoaib and Rana could have a field day.

The other curious feature of this tour has been the lack of frenetic build up from the media. It seems like a more 'normal' tour, which is a good thing. I also heard on the news last night, that the PCB and the BCCI have decided to hold India-Pakistan series bi-annually, along the lines of the Ashes, which seems to me to be more sensible. Annual series take the edge out a little bit.

Friday, January 06, 2006

So Who's the Most Net Savvy Indian Cricketer?

Sehwag.

And this is his blog!

The value of a "Not Out"

In the current Aus v SA test match, Jacques Kallis was 50 not out when SA declared their innings at 194 for 6. As Peter English noted in his verdict on yesterday's play on Cricinfo, Kallis is prone to trying to stay not out even when it's in the team's interest that he go for quick runs. In this case, SA made 194 from 42 overs - a run rate of 4.61. Kallis made 50* from 96 balls - a run rate of 3.125. In doing so (remaining not out, that is), he has boosted his average by 0.376, as he has played 133 innings where he has been out (being not out 28 times now). Look at it another way, combined with his 111 in the first innings, his average after this game would increase by about 0.80 to become 57.24. If he had made 50 and been out in the second innings, his average would have increased only by o.40. In general, if a batsman has played a 100 "out" innings and averages 50, the value of a not out century is an increase in average by 1.00, and that of an "out" century is only about half that.

Where am I going with this? I suppose what this means (and admittedly this is no great insight) is that the batting average can be fudged by batsman to a certain extent. Let me illustrate with the following:

The averages of six current batsmen, who could be considered the best around, are as follows (prior to the current Syndey Test Match):
Ponting: 56.27
Dravid: 57.16
Tendulkar: 56.72
Lara: 53.87
Inzamam: 51.62
Kallis: 56.45

Now, the numbers below are their "not out" innings as a percentage of the total number of innings:
Ponting: 13.41%
Dravid: 11.39%
Tendulkar: 10.34%
Lara: 2.80%
Inzamam: 10.86%
Kallis: 16.98%

You can see where I'm going. The final set of numbers are the averages assuming not out innings are counted - i.e. giving no benefit for being not out:

Ponting: 48.72
Dravid: 50.65
Tendulkar: 50.85
Lara: 52.36
Inzamam: 46.01
Kallis: 46.87

So we have two sets of averages. Which one is a better indicator of how many runs, on average, a batsman scores per innings? I agree that some benefit should be given to "not outs", but as the numbers above illustrate, they can really skew the averages. The skew in Kallis' case for example, is a whopping 10 points! Even in Ponting's case, the skew is about 8 points. But the most revealing thing about the last set of numbers is that by looking at averages without taking "not outs" into account, Lara comes out on top of the heap. Subjectively speaking, it does not make sense for Lara to average 3-4 points less than Ponting, Dravid, Tendulkar and Kallis. The reason he does that is because he hardly remains not out. Correcting for the "not out skew", as it were, the numbers, to my mind at least, give a better insight into how many runs that batsman has scored, on average.

Perhaps the "true" average lies somewhere in the middle of the two numbers. But clearly, the current method of averaging leaves scope for improvement.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Quality Indian Cricket Magazine

and about time, too. Cricinfo has launched its magazine for Indian readers. A preview of some of the articles gives a taste of things to come. Should be good fun.

Among the articles posted on the website, a few interesting bits:

Rahul Dravid says in his interview (on the kind of team he would like to have):
"Which is, obviously, tough, competitive - a team that is looking to improve and have some fun along the way. Not taking things too seriously, as at the end of the day it is sport and we must have a lot of fun playing it and must play it hard."
Absolutely. It's sport, after all, and should be played hard, but with fun. And if the team is having fun on the field, we can be sure that the fans will have fun off it. I hope Tendulkar starts having fun again.

Mukul Kesavan deplores the subcontinental habit of devaluing home results:
"Central to our anxiety about home conditions is our acceptance of the Anglo-Australian definition of a "sporting" wicket. The good pitch has a light covering of grass, it has bounce and movement, it doesn't turn till the fourth day, the ball comes on, and it has something for everyone. Anything else is either a feather bed or a vicious turner, not a fair Test wicket. " and
"Saqlain Mushtaq invented and Murali perfected the doosra to counter hard-charging, bludgeon-wielding modern batsmen who were threatening to make finger-spin obsolete. Sarfraz Nawaz and Imran Khan invented reverse swing to move the ball in conditions that English seamers had only whinged about. To watch Tendulkar and Navjot Sidhu and VVS Laxman destroy Warne on turning tracks by reading him from the hand, skipping down the wicket and hitting him inside-out from the leg-stump rough through cover, was to be given a masterclass in batsmanship. And conversely, to watch Murali bowl doosras around the wicket in Delhi and utterly bewilder those same Indian batsmen, the best players of spin bowling in the world, was to be present at one of those pivotal moments when the game makes an evolutionary leap. "

Quite. It's about time we give our heroes their due. The ability to bat in spinning conditions should be as valued as the ability to bat on greentops. After all, cricket is supposed to be the great leveller.

Osman Samiuddin, meanwhile, asks India to be afraid of the new Pakistan. As I've said before on this website, India could be in for a shock when they visit Pakistan, and his article gives you the reasons why.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

India begins to pull its weight

Off the field that is. First there was the report that the BCCI wants to play more games against the higher ranked teams; now the BCCI is calling to scrap the ICC Champions Trophy, saying that the opportunity cost for them to host the event is USD 70-80mm. Whether you agree with the BCCI or not (I do, on both counts - India should be playing more tests and tougher opposition, and the Champions Trophy is meaningless given we have a World Cup), what's interesting is that the BCCI has started to pull its weight in international cricket affairs. As James Sutherland admitted, India accounts for more than half of ICC's revenues, and with a marketing savy BCCI, that proportion will rise. It doesn't make sense for India to have played 8 tests in 2005 (two against Zimbabwe) while Australia played 15 and England 13 (two against Bangladesh). With the BCCI pushing the ICC, the Indian cricket calendar could finally look more interesting.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Happy New Year

To all of you. Hope you had a wonderful new year. I'm back from my holiday, and I have to say that watching the Northern Lights is one of the most amazing experiences one can ever have. If you get an opportunity to do so, take it!

To cricket then, and apart from the itinerary being finalized, the word games have started. Rahul Dravid has said that Pakistan's ploy of targetting individuals won't work. He has also said that both teams start even, whereas Inzi believes India are favourites. Perhaps it's his way of taking the heat off Pakistan. The Pakistani camp has played up Pakistan's chances in general, as Zainub summarizes in a good post on her blog.

So, ten days to go for the first test, though the warm up game should be interesting from the perspective of the Indian middle order. At the moment, Indian batting is looking a little shaky at the top, as the two tests against SL showed. It's premature to say whether they can turn things around, but it requires just one innings. I'd say Pakistan have a slight edge at the moment with the form of Inzi and Shoaib. However, if Sehwag returns to form in the first test, and Tendulkar shows some consistency, the scales will be balanced. India is probably not going to be able to make the 600+ scores this time round, so the games should all go down to the wire and both innings will be crucial.

As far as I am concerned, Jan 13 cannot come too soon!