OCTOBER 30, 2014

Pakistan cricket

Explaining Pakistan cricket

Pakistan's unpredictability is renowned. They scale unbelievable highs and slump to inexplicable lows. They haven't played at home in five years, but produce cricketers of rare talent. Their cricket board is in a mess and there is never a shortage of controversy, but their performance on the field is always an event. Andy Bull simply loves them and he says why in the Guardian

What a curious affliction it must be to be a full-time Pakistan fan, to follow a side who go through such giddy swings of form. Does anyone in cricket suffer so much? And is anyone in cricket rewarded for their suffering with such exquisite performances, such paroxysmic peaks of pleasure? In the last week the world watched, ever-more slack jawed, as they destroyed Australia in the first Test at Dubai. The result gave just as much pleasure to cricket-lovers in this corner of the world as Pakistan's 3-0 demolition of England in 2011 must have done to those Down Under. And yet it was only a fortnight ago that Pakistan lost two wickets for no runs at all in the final over of an ODI when they only needed two to win. Off Glenn Maxwell's bowling.

OCTOBER 30, 2014

Australian cricket

The case for Wade

Matthew Wade is temporarily back in Australia's one-day squad, despite a poor Matador Cup with the bat, because if Brad Haddin is missing at any stage from now to the end of the World Cup he is the safest replacement as wicketkeeper, writes Jesse Hogan in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Arguably the most credible candidate to fill in for Haddin for the first two one-dayers, based on Matador Cup form, was Ben Dunk. The Tasmanian belted 403 runs at an average of 67.17 and a strike-rate of 109.21, including a record innings of 229 not out off 157 deliveries. He has, however, been playing as a specialist batsman. While it is right to give him a chance for Australia in Twenty20, especially as he is a legitimate contender to succeed Haddin in that format, it is a bridge too far to bring someone who has been playing as a specialist batsman straight in to be Australia's one-day gloveman, even just for two matches. When it comes to career domestic one-day averages and strike-rates Wade's - 38.95 and 84.14 - is the best of all the available glovemen

OCTOBER 28, 2014

Indian cricket

A young, upbeat, fresh Mukund

Having last played for India in 2011, opener Abhinav Mukund tells Nihal Koshie of the Indian Express how he is working on his batting, what cricket he was playing in England recently, how his thinking has changed since his Test debut, and that, being 24, a long road lies ahead of him.

"When I made my Test debut, I wasn't as prepared as I thought I was. I was a young rash kid and just went out and batted and it worked because of whatever I had practiced previously. I played a rash shot at Lord's. I faced the challenge of an Indian batsman playing abroad in England. I am still 24 and it is always a matter of just one good Ranji Trophy season and you are back in the reckoning. You never know what might happen in a year."

OCTOBER 28, 2014

Indian cricket

India's self-critical fast bowler

After generations India has been able to produce genuine fast bowlers. Varun Aaron is one of them and in conversation with Bharat Sundaresan of the Indian Express, he explains how he uses the bouncer, how consistency is key and what similarities lie between him and Marat Safin.

"You can't just say I'm on full throttle and bowl full-tosses and half-trackers. You bowl fast and be consistent or swing the ball and be consistent. Consistency is the common factor. My strength is not bowling a half-volley length or trying to swing the ball from upfront. I can't bowl a half-volley and swing the ball. That's the way Bhuvi bowls. My full is hitting the top of off, and that's what I am always striving to do," he explains.

OCTOBER 28, 2014

Australia in UAE 2014-15

Kim's calamity, and a case of soured relations

In the Guardian, Russell Jackson looks at six memorable tours of Australia in Pakistan - from the 1982 tour when Australia failed to win a single game, to the 1998 tour that was the setting for Mark Taylor's 334

Their birthdates were even more flexible than the wrists of the spinners, we spelled their names wrong or else pronounced them incorrectly and marveled that the earth contained so many people with at least two Qs in their name. These Pakistan teams that we saw with our own eyes or on Channel 9's telecasts were easy to fall in love with for they were loaded with unconventional talent and an abundance of memorable characters like Imran, Sarfraz, Qasim, Ijaz, Wasim, Waqar, Saeed, plus all those Mushtaqs and Mohammads. And Mushtaq Mohammad.

OCTOBER 28, 2014

Australia in UAE 2014-15

The first day of the rest of Australia's cricket life

In the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Baum analyses Australia's 221-run loss to Pakistan in the first Test in Dubai and says that while the defeat is tough, it's not a catastrophe for a side that is being remade and reinforced.

Let us wince, but not catastrophise. The miracle of last summer was that all that winning without end was achieved by a patchwork team - the ancient, the rejected, the brittle, the untried, but most of all, the Mitch Johnson - that found inspiration within and brought England and South Africa to heel. But it was also obvious that it could not last, that the team would have to be renewed and reinforced and remade, and that the process would involve some pain, and it is now obvious that the Gulf was always going to be a difficult venue for the new beginning. In Dubai, the two debutants floundered at times, which ought not to have surprised; they were up a level. They underscored the reality that this is a different team in a different place at a different time. This could never have been the Ashes and South Africa continued. It was the first day of the rest of Australia's cricket life.

OCTOBER 27, 2014

West Indies cricket

India should be trying to help save West Indian cricket

Instead of threatening to sue the WICB and cut off bilateral tours to the West Indies, measures that would severely damage cricket in the Caribbean, the BCCI has a choice, writes Ian Herbert in the Independent: "either to stride off over the horizon with England and Australia, leaving the West Indies shrivelling to irrelevance in its wake; or to show some philanthropy and help nurture a once-proud competitor."

The West Indians command none of that territory after the farcical failure of the game's governing body in the Caribbean and its leader, Whycliffe "Dave" Cameron, to anticipate the storm clouds that have been gathering over wages. "President Cameron", as he defines himself on Twitter was retweeting philosophical quotes from Nelson Mandela and others when the storm was brewing, rather than taking a flight to India to sort it out.

The roots of the problem are also located in the fact that the West Indies is a fictional concept. "It's the only thing we do together," Michael Holding says of cricket in Fire in Babylon and the islands have certainly become more fragmented and mutually hostile. Witness Trinidad and Barbados recently refusing entry to and deporting Jamaicans. In the current conflict, the players' union leader Wavell Hinds - a Jamaican - seems to have cut a deal with the West Indian Cricket Board that favours the second level of players, including lots of hungry Jamaicans, against the most established stars like Bravo, of Trinidad.

OCTOBER 26, 2014

South Africa cricket

Close encounters with a hippopotamus

Mark Geenty interviews Dale Steyn for the Dominion Post, and asks the South Africa fast bowler about his brushes with wildlife, how he began playing cricket, and whether he can tell if a batsman is scared.

Can you sense fear in a batsman? "The answer is yes. Through body language you can see it. A lot of players are scared and they back away and hit you over extra cover and it looks really good, it's a one bounce four and he runs down near where I'm standing but I know inside that he's absolutely crapping himself. I know, and he knows, the only reason he played that shot was because he was shitting himself. I get that feeling all the time."

OCTOBER 26, 2014

New Zealand cricket

Jesse Ryder not New Zealand's sole hope

New Zealand's batsmen are struggling against South Africa in their first series in the build-up to the 2015 World Cup. Jesse Ryder is plundering lesser attacks, dividing opinion of whether he should be picked in the national side.

Writing for the Dominion Post, Jonathan Millmow is adamant that New Zealand can do without Ryder.

Three conditions need to be placed on Ryder before he is even considered for the World Cup. (1) Will he swear off alcohol for the duration of the tournament. (2) Will he shorten his Big Bash contract with the Melbourne Renegades to focus on New Zealand's buildup to the tournament. (3) Will he toe the line in terms of his fitness work. Only then, should he be considered and even then I wouldn't pick him. If New Zealand is stuck for an opener then Brendon McCullum is as good as anything going around. My guess is Ryder won't agree to those conditions, so he is not an option for the World Cup.

In the New Zealand Herald, Mark Richardson writes that Martin Guptill, who is struggling for form against South Africa, needs to be given more chances at the top of the order.

Guptill has played 86 matches and averaged nearly 39 with five centuries and 18 half centuries and a strike rate of 80. What's more, he's a specialist opener. He's not been good lately but you cannot deny the class is there. To write him off on the back of two tough starts on a tough wicket to start on is knee-jerk and irresponsible.

OCTOBER 24, 2014

Indian cricket

Politics and commentary not for Yuvraj

In an exchange moderated by Vipin Pubby, Yuvraj Singh opens up to Indian Express about his fight against cancer, his favourite captain, his equation with Sachin Tendulkar, and also shares his thoughts on Virat Kohli's "angry young" persona, WAGs, politics, and coming under criticism for his infamous knock in the World T20 final.

Well, I have tried my hand at acting when I was a kid. I remember I flunked in exams once in school, my father took me to his film set for a role. I managed to do roles in two Punjabi movies as a child artist. One was Putt Sardaran de and the other one was Mehandi Shagna Di. Lets see what happens in the future. But I don't think I can do cricket commentary.

OCTOBER 24, 2014

Australian cricket

From McDonalds to Barbecues

In his blog the Wasted Afternoons, Russell Jackson presents every Australian domestic one-day uniform from the last 30 years.

At some point I may update this and provide some more detail on the designers and the competitions themselves, but for now let's just stick with pictures because that's what you're really here for. One final word of warning; uniform designers were dead to me after about 1999 and you might feel the same way, so the final 15 years at the bottom was something of a chore for me and I'm sure it will be for you other purists.

OCTOBER 23, 2014

Pakistan cricket

Younis Khan, man for a fight

Where does Younis Khan rank among Pakistan's finest batsmen? Osman Samiuddin has his say in the National.

It is in this time, the era of Misbah-ul-Haq that Younis has pushed himself right up in that conversation and made it into an era of his own. Has anyone brought as great a sense of security and comfort as Younis to this flimsiest batting order? It is difficult to remember one who has had to nurture as many young batsmen around him, or who has figured in as many critical partnerships. There is something more there, right? Some heart, an inner struggle that maybe puts him beyond all of them.

OCTOBER 20, 2014

West Indies cricket

West Indies have lacked a strong leader

Strong leaders were needed to unite and grow a cricket team from the West Indies, not a country but a diverse region. Frank Worrell was one, Clive Lloyd another, so was Viv Richards. In the Age, Greg Baum writes that there has been no one after them to break the freefall West Indies cricket finds itself in, after the latest player payment crisis forced the cancellation of the India tour.

West Indian cricket is nearly irrelevant. Yet their teams still are populated by cricketers who a Caribbean commentator once characterised as "a bit too pleased with themselves". Chris Gayle epitomised them: such a devastating player, so insouciant. No successor to Worrell and Lloyd emerged to temper and tame.

OCTOBER 19, 2014

West Indies cricket

'WICB pushes things to the brink'

Amidst yet another "crisis" between West Indies players and the WICB, Michael Holding writes in his column for Wisden India, how the board has allowed for such a situation to come up again, despite being familiar with such issues in the past. Holding says the WICB and the WIPA should have taken better steps to avoid the curtailment of their tour of India.

The problem with West Indies is that the WICB always pushes things to the brink and waits till the last moment. That's why so many tours begin with players having not yet signed tour contracts. This MoU was signed in September. Why didn't the players know exactly what was in the MoU until they got to India at the end of the month? Why weren't all the players e-mailed the MoU? I'm sure the WIPA and the WICB have e-mails and contacts of all the players. But no. They wait until they get to India, and then try to manipulate the players. They had all the leadup time before the first ODI to try and iron something out but no, no compromise. From the very first instance the prospect of the players striking came up, on October 7 as the BCCI release says, the WICB/Cameron were willing to cancel the tour immediately. The WICB have not denied it. As a matter of fact, the WICB have not even mentioned the BCCI press release. All they've done is put out another press release to divert attention from the BCCI release and of course trying their very best to blame the players. Again, dishonest.

OCTOBER 19, 2014

Broadcasting

Has cricket hit the roof?

Cricket's dominance in India might not be fading just yet, but the team's performance has not been as compelling as the last decade and high-profile retirements since have also had an impact on viewership. Ashok Malik, in Asian Age, wonders if a saturation has been reached, especially with other sports enticing the average fan.

Cricket viewership, even Indian Premier League viewership, is not growing. It has either reached a ceiling (IPL) or a floor (Test cricket). Even limited-overs cricket (the Fifty50) game, the mainstay of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is showing a worrying pattern. On-ground presence is lower than previously. The BCCI is masking it by hosting matches mainly in smaller cities and towns, where the novelty may still be there. As for television, a comparison between the India-West Indies limited-overs series of 2011 and 2013 would be telling. Both series were played in India. The first was played in the aftermath of India's World Cup victory and showed a TRP of 3.4 (male/15-34/Sec A, B and C). By the 2013 series, the TRP number had fallen to 2.2. TRP figures for the just-concluded (October 2014) India-West Indies series were not immediately available.

OCTOBER 15, 2014

English cricket

A moment cricket will never have again

The 2005 Ashes represented a high point not just for English cricket, but for cricket in England as well, with the sport capturing the country's attention in a way it seldom had before. Since then, it has receded from view once again, with the ECB selling broadcasting rights to Sky and cricket going off free-to-air television. Writing in the Guardian, Andy Bull ponders the repercussions of that move.

It was, as Kevin Pietersen, and his ghost, write in one of the more acute pieces of analysis in KP: The Autobiography, "a moment in time" that cricket "will never have back again". Back then, they write, "English cricket had something it's lost. Superstars. Sexiness. Momentum. The right to be called the national sport." But then there were special circumstances. It had been a generation since England had last won the Ashes, they were playing a team acknowledged as one of the greatest in the history of the sport, and the cricket itself was compelling. And, of course, it was on terrestrial TV. They estimate that a total of 22.65m people watched a minimum of 30 minutes of live cricket at least one point that summer. The audience peaked at 8.4m. Compared to the last series in England, in 2001, the overall numbers had almost doubled. And, more important still, there was a 74% rise among under-15s.

And that was when the curtain came down. "English cricket," Pietersen writes, "took the decision to wind its neck back in." Unless you pay extra for the privilege, the only international cricket you've seen on your TV since has been in highlights packages. The following home Ashes, in 2009, reached a peak of just under 2m viewers.

OCTOBER 12, 2014

Kevin Pietersen

Can conflict improve team performance?

The revelations in Kevin Pietersen's book about the friction within England's dressing room cause Simon Kuper, writing in Financial Times, to wonder whether conflict is necessarily a bad thing in sporting teams.

British sports teams have traditionally modelled themselves on the army, with its core virtues of camaraderie and obedience. However, conflictual models may work better. Football's most significant thinker of the past half-century is probably the Dutchman Johan Cruyff. In the 1960s he and his coach at Ajax Amsterdam, Rinus Michels, created the cerebral, flowing style known as "total football". In the 1970s Cruyff became the world's best player. Later he brought "total football" to Barcelona, where it eventually morphed into the "tiki-taka" game that made Spain European and world champions in recent years.

Cruyff was always quarrelling (often with Michels). He thought quarrels drove creativity, because they made everyone think harder about how to play, and gave each warring party something to prove. If your teammates dislike you, you have to prove your quality. The "conflict model", as Cruyff called it, acknowledges the reality that most players in a team are motivated chiefly by their individual careers.

OCTOBER 12, 2014

Indian cricket

From Dombivli to Durban: The rise of Ajinkya Rahane

Bharat Sundaresan and Devendra Pandey of the Indian Express catch up with Ajinkya Rahane's family, friends, and former team-mates and coaches to trace the journey of a soft, aloof kid, who went from practising batting with strapping waiters, to hitting Dale Steyn for boundaries in Durban in the space of 15 years. Despite working his way to the top to become a versatile batsman across formats, Rahane remains grounded to his humble roots.

That the boy with the curious eyes had it in him to make it big was a conclusion many had made ever since he picked up a bat and joined a local coaching camp at Dombivili's Railway ground. Madhukar was then posted at Dombivili, 50 km away from Mumbai, and the family stayed at Triguna Apartments at Sangitavadi, a rickety establishment with tiny houses, located in the middle of a congested street that had no bus access to the railway station back then. Rahane, who has a black belt in karate, wouldn't take too long to set upon the path destiny had chosen for him. The exposure to karate gave him an early lesson in fitness and a competitive edge.

OCTOBER 10, 2014

England cricket

KP: England's last big star of a bygone era

Writing in the Guardian, Barney Ronay examines what Kevin Pietersen "striding about in his silk dressing gown, lipstick smudged, railing grandly against the world from his Sunset terrace and generally dominating the conversation with that 300-page monologue of rage and claustrophobia masquerading as an autobiography" means for the game in England as a whole. It's not pretty:

Elsewhere, cricket is slipping out of sight. It has become more than ever a sport for the wealthy and the pre-converted, an invisible noise through the wall for the majority of people, whose summer now belongs to the Premier League transfer window and the fall-out from Manchester United's sensational tour of Madagascar. Sealed within its bubble of connected interests, English cricket has stewed and bloomed through a decade of profitable isolation, sweating its pre-existing stars, monetising its goodwill, contracting lucratively. How can this end well?

OCTOBER 10, 2014

England cricket

'Beowulf, Achilles and Lancelot in one'

Writing for the Guardian Sport Network's the Nightwatchman, Tom Holland believes that despite all the controversies and unwanted headlines, Kevin Pietersen should not be forgotten for all the times he captivated viewers with his brilliance with the bat.

Heroes in epic, of course, often had a similar quality: bred and raised far away from the run of common men, and possessed of an aura of the eerie. Like them, Pietersen eventually succeeded in triumphing over youthful adversity, and winning for himself the chance to take on the very best. David took on Goliath, Luke Skywalker fought with Darth Vader, and KP made his Test debut against Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. The century he scored at The Oval - an extraordinary feat of dragon-slaying which ensured that England, just as they were on the verge of letting the Ashes slip through their fingers, would get to win them back after all - was the most joyous moment of that entire joyous summer. He had arrived.

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