AUGUST 06, 2014

India in England 2014

Sledging, a blight on cricket - Boycott

The prospect of James Anderson fronting up against India at Old Trafford, his home ground, puts England in the driver's seat. That advantage, though, has come about in the backdrop of an unsavoury dispute with Ravindra Jadeja. Geoffrey Boycott, in his column for the Telegraph, believes dominating the opposition can happen without resorting to offensive behavior.

Sledging is a blight on cricket and needs stamping out. Light-hearted banter, amusing remarks are great for the game. But this stuff is downright offensive. Downton agreed with me but was reluctant to tell Jimmy not to do it in case he lost his competitive edge. Presumably winning must be everything whatever the cost. I believe if something is not right you should set a moral standard. It ishould have nothing nothing to do with winning or losing.

Farokh Engineer, a former match referee, is bemused that the James Anderson-Ravindra Jadeja dispute has taken nearly a month to resolve. Speaking with Andy Wilson of the Guardian, offers his brand of justice along with a few anecdotes.

"It's ridiculous that it has all dragged on for so long. I blame the match referee [David Boon] and the ICC. If I'd been the match referee - and I used to be one - I'd have had Jimmy and Jadeja into my room there and then, asked them to sort it out between them and, if Jimmy was at fault, I'd have asked him to apologise. If he refused, then it could have been an issue but it should have all been sorted out in five minutes."

Ajinkya Rahane has bedded into the Indian middle order and has sparkled away from home, especially with his temperement while batting with the tail. His state-mate Rohit Sharma, though, is slipping up both on the field and in terms of percetion. Amit Gupta, in Mumbai Mirror, seeks an explanation for this disparity between two talented players

As former India player and Mumbai captain Ajit Agarkar says, "They are two different personalities and not just players. Rahane calmer, Rohit flamboyant. At this point it will be a little bit unfair to say that it's turning out to be two different stories. Rahane is having a good run but Rohit had to sit out of the first two matches and come back and get runs when team was under pressure ... But yes, Rahane has taken that one step higher in the last three away tours."

JULY 08, 2014

Indian cricket

The Praveen Kumar guide to bowling in England

There weren't too many Indians who could remember the 2011 tour to England fondly, but Praveen Kumar, who was thrust with the mantle of leading the bowling, responded by becoming the team's top wicket-taker. Speaking to Saneep Dwivedi, of the Indian Express, he explains how English conditions might not necessarily remain batting-friendly, even if they start out so, and the importance of having specific plans, like the one that almost worked on Kevin Pietersen.

"So I started with a series of balls that moved away from the off stump and this was followed by an in-coming effort ball on the legs. And all through the plan Dhoni had placed Rahulbhai (Rahul Dravid) as the leg-slip. Pietersen fell for the plan. After being starved of his favourite shot, he flicked the faster in-coming ball," he says before revealing the anti-climax end. "The ball fell just short of Rahulbhai. Had it travelled a bit more we could have got a big wicket." Pietersen, on 49 at that point, went on to score a double hundred.

JUNE 25, 2014

Indian cricket

Dravid, through the eyes of Pujara

Cheteshwar Pujara has borne the tag of being the next Rahul Dravid for the better part of his Test career. The similarity in temperement is apparent and their fondness for playing the long innings is another unifying factor. Shirin Sadikot of asks Pujara how his technique compares against his predecessor's.

I think his square drive was much better than mine is right now, mainly because he could play that shot even on the front-foot. I am good at playing the square drive on the back-foot but I haven't tried doing it on the front-foot. It's about picking the swing and the length early on. You really need to be good at it to play the square drive on the front-foot because otherwise it puts your wicket at risk. These are the shots you try out in the shorter formats rather than in Tests. I have tried it out in the Ranji Trophy but not at the Test level, where the ball comes at a higher pace and the wickets have more bounce. It's better to play it on the back-foot.

JUNE 25, 2014

England cricket

Tend to Cook the batsman, before Cook the captain

England's hopes of a new era were struck down in Headingley by a young and hungry Sri Lanka. As much praise as Angelo Mathews and his side deserves, the hosts did not do themselves justice both in terms of the cricket they played and the tactics they used. Mike Selvey, in the Guardian, casts the magnifying glass on the captain Alastair Cook and suggests he might be trying too hard to change himself and the process if proving to be detrimental.

If Cook were to score runs in the kind of quantity he once managed, then that would underpin the innings, with others feeding from it, and leadership would seem easier. It does appear, however, that he might be placing too much emphasis on being in the vanguard, perhaps trying to be something he is not, rather than being a little more selfish in that regard and thinking primarily about his own game. The point has not yet been reached where either Cook or his employer should be considering whether his position as Test captain is appropriate for both the team benefit and his own but it will be under discussion.

MAY 08, 2014

The baseball-cricket crossover

The upcoming release of Million Dollar Arm, a movie based on the story of two Indian cricketers who signed professional Major League baseball contracts after winning a reality TV contest, prompts the Guardian's Andy Bull to ponder the relationship between the two sports. With the rise of Twenty20, the lines between the skills used in the two sports are blurring, as shown by the appointment of Julien Fountain, who played baseball for the British national team, as coach of the South Korea cricket team.

While he was on holiday in Sri Lanka this summer, Fountain went to watch a match between a local side and a touring team from, you'll never guess, South Korea. This year's Asian Games are being held in Incheon this September, and, as with the 2010 edition, the 2014 Asiad will include a T20 cricket competition. As hosts, the South Koreans have decided to enter a team. Trouble being that outside of the ex-pat scene, the country isn't well stocked with cricketers. But what they do have, of course, are plenty of baseballers. They won the Olympic gold in 2008, and silver at the 2009 World Classic. Well, you can see where this is going.

Fountain is now the head coach of South Korea. He is trying to create a T20 team out of a bunch of baseballers. He remembers that match in Sri Lanka, he told Al Jazeera, because "the funny thing was that they made a lot of basic mistakes but they still posted 165 in 20 overs. And they even had 59 dot balls. It's monstrous - they just hit." Fountain says: "They're beginners but it's cheating to call them that. Show me a beginner cricketer who can hit the ball 110 metres. I've got an opening batsman who hit 90 runs last week. He took the opposition apart."

MARCH 31, 2014


The need to simplify batting

In his column for the Hindu, Greg Chappell lists the factors that have changed the style and character of batting in modern cricket. Stressing on the need for simplicity, especially in coaching at the junior level, Chappell suggests that the role of a coach could be limited to creating an environment and observing the action.

Coaches should be seen and not heard. Their role should be to set the environment and observe the action. If refinement to a player's method is required, the parameters of the training session should be adjusted to encourage the desired outcome. This, in my view is what real coaching should look like. No other sport trains in an environment that is as far removed from the real game as cricket does. Good players don't learn to play and compete in nets. They have to learn from playing and competing in environments that replicate the real thing or they will not develop sufficiently to be able to make a difference and to attract spectators to the longer game.

FEBRUARY 17, 2014

Australia in South Africa 2013-14

The Johnson show

Could Mitchell Johnson carry his Ashes form to South Africa. Damn right he could. At Centurion Park he ended with a career-best 12 wickets and inflicted some potentially serious scars on the South Africans. Writing for the Guardian website, Russell Jackson says that Johnson is now a must-view event, one where you stop what you are doing and race back to the TV set. It's a remarkable tale with, you sense, more to come.

He's also now an event himself, which is an astounding thing to achieve over the course of six Tests. It's Mitch as appointment television. It's Mitch as default headliner and Mitch as TV news bulletin place-setter. You find yourself rushing back with a drink in time for the first ball of his over. It's a cage fight and we're all clamoring for a better look. For opponents it's more about endurance and survival than winning or losing. In those six Tests he's taken 49 wickets at 13.14 with a strike rate of 27.1, a rare case of numbers doing justice to what you're seeing with your own eyes.

SEPTEMBER 24, 2013

Fast bowling

Fast bowling in a time of tortoises

In a piece for the Guardian's weekly segment The Spin, Andy Bull questions whether fast bowling in Test cricket is actually losing its pace. Bull cites a study of baseball pitchers conducted by Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute, and the latter has suggested that fast bowlers might also be reaching their physical limit. The important question is whether the trend may be depriving fans of one of the most exciting elements of Test cricket.

That mindset has been passed down by coaches, who see the perfect action as being the one that bears the most repetition while minimising the risk of injury and maximising the degree of control. As Brearley says, Test cricket is poorer for it, stripped as it is of the physical threat to the batsman and robbed of one its most exciting elements. But bowlers have longer careers as a consequence. Fans and players love to argue about who was the fastest. That's a debate that can't be settled. But it is clear that you won't find many contenders in this day and age. We are in a time of tortoises, not hares. The perfectly fast action, like the perfect game of draughts, is a thing of the past, a target players have long since stopped pursuing

SEPTEMBER 05, 2013

Indian cricket

The Kanga League, where '50 equals 100'

The Kanga League, one of Mumbai's and the country's toughest domestic environments, is slated to begin on Septmeber 7. The players walk out to wet, uncovered pitches that offer ready and often exaggerated help to seam bowling. As former Mumbai captain Shishir Hattangadi puts it, "If a batsman scored 30 or 50 runs, it would be considered equivalent to an 80 or a 100." Though the tournament has sustained several changes, stark among them being it beginning after the monsoon instead of during, former India cricketers reminisce the Kanga League's impact on their game in the company of Venkat Ananth of Livemint.

"The wet and soft pitches definitely helped develop my technique," says former wicketkeeper Chandrakant Pandit. "The wickets were a bowler's paradise and even after they eased out and got harder, they were usually two-paced. Survival was important. Your shot selection improved drastically. Whenever there were loose balls, you had to put them away, because they didn't come that often."

SEPTEMBER 02, 2013

Pakistan cricket

The mechanics of the slower ball

Former Pakistan seamer Wasim Akram first encountered the slower ball in England during a county season and thought "I am a fast bowler, why should I learn it?". However, with experience, he realised the potency of the delivery which has now become an indispensable variation for every quick bowler. Akram took Osman Samiuddin of the National over the important aspects involved in bowling the perfect slower ball.

"The key thing I learnt is that you have to toss it up, give it flight. If you throw it straight, it just skids on. The faster you run in, the shoulder should rotate as fast, but it's just the fingers and wrist. Some bowlers, when they try to bowl it, psychologically become a bit slower in their run-up, their shoulder rotation is a bit slower and batsmen read it. So you have to do the opposite - the shoulder will go around as fast, but you use the wrist to kind of twist the ball and get that dip."

AUGUST 05, 2013

The Investec Ashes 2013

What ails Watson?

Darren Lehmann boomed that Shane Watson was one of Australia's first choice openers well ahead of the first Ashes Test. But with the English bowlers exploiting his front-foot play - considered one of his great strengths - continuously to dismiss him, he was pushed down the order when Australia needed quick runs to set a target in the third Test, a situation that would have had Watson's name all over it had the batsman been in form. Malcolm Knox in the Age delves into the mystery of what ails the Australia allrounder.

His misfortune was perhaps to come into the Australian team when the baggy green conferred magical powers. Arrogance was required. Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting so dominated the pitch that they were practically hitting the ball out of bowlers' hands. This encouraged a front-foot technique and a policy of intimidation. What affected Watson were two changes. One was that the great players retired, giving him responsibilities beyond his abilities. The tide went out, leaving just the bluster. The other was DRS, which meant that batsmen could no longer get away with the front-foot stomp. Was Watson's failure to convert starts into big scores a weakness that was mental, or technical?

JULY 22, 2013

Pakistan cricket

A mix of Minogue and Cobain

Osman Samiuddin of the National places the scanner on Wahab Riaz, who was carted for 14 runs in the last over of the third ODI against West Indies by Nos. 9 and 11. While charting the two extremes of the promising Pakistan quick, Samiuddin explains the difficulty a bowler faces when he is entrusted with the 100th over of an ODI

That rush of a World Cup semi-final five-for against India in India? Kaput, amid the hangover of a spell against them that read 4-0-50-0 a year later. His entire bowling persona can be defined in such extremities: potentially he is fantastic, but sometimes that potential is not just frittered away, it is blasted by a series of explosive breakdowns. If his career were lyrics, Kylie Minogue and Kurt Cobain would have to be the alternating writers, happy shiny, simple pop one day; dark, heavy brooding rock the next.

JUNE 18, 2013

Pakistan cricket

Pakistan's batting: where failure doesn't count

Hassan Cheema, in the Dawn, analyses Pakistan's batting woes following their poor showing in the Champions Trophy. One of their biggest problems, he says, is the persistence with proven failures.

Pakistan should have used the time between the 2011 World Cup until now building a team for the future. Instead, with the captain under fire before every series, conservative options have been taken and Pakistan are further away from an ideal team now than they were two years ago.

The argument made by Misbah and the selection committee has been that Pakistan need experienced batsmen; but the experience in their cases is one of failure. Pakistan now have 20 months, almost exclusively in friendly conditions, before the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. They could begin the process of building for that by removing the deadwood.

JUNE 17, 2013

England cricket

I fire myself up to get into the right zone - Anderson

James Anderson has stamped his authority as England's leading bowler in the record books. He surpassed Darren Gough to become the country's highest wicket taker in one-day internationals, a month after claiming his 300th Test victim. Sam Sheringham of the BBC catalogues Anderson's interview with his colleague Mark Chapman, in which the he talks about the skill, physical and psychological requirements of bowling quick.

"When I first got picked for Lancashire I couldn't swing the ball, so [coach] Mike Watkinson took me aside and taught me how to do it: the grip and the seam position," reveals Anderson.

"He said imagine the feel of it coming out of your hand almost like an off-spinner, your arm coming over almost like a round-arm, or low-arm. That really worked for me because I'm a feel kind of bowler.