AUGUST 28, 2014

India cricket

Has MS Dhoni become a law unto himself?

ESPNcricinfo staff

In Mid day, Clayton Murzello says that MS Dhoni has shown poor form in his recent interactions with the media. He also questions the reasoning behind the BCCI's decision to not send a selector along with the team to England.

At a time when Indian cricket needs to turn off the surround sound and play some soul music, the captain decides to go off tune. Then, as if to show his displeasure over what has been reported, Dhoni skips the media conference ahead of the second one-dayer in Cardiff. Nor does the team management send a representative for a briefing. This is sheer arrogance and it's surprising it happens under media man Shastri's watch.

It's also an escapist approach. In some ways, Dhoni is no more Captain Cool.

AUGUST 27, 2014

English cricket

Cook's boys are all right

Criticism has been as regular as breakfast for Alastair Cook. He saved himself from becoming an "untenable" option as Test captain but the focus has now shifted to his one-day capabilities. With former players questioning if England have the composition to win a World Cup, Stephen Brenkley, in the Independent comes to the support of the embattled England captain

Cook's batting strike rate as captain is 81.89 runs per 100 balls, acceptable even by the era's standards. There seems to be a desire outside the selection room to pack the team with sluggers on the grounds that one or two are bound to come off. England may actually have it right as long as the totals to which they aspire are based on conditions on the day, not some statistical database. The plan is to backload the innings after a solid start with Joe Root, Morgan and Jos Buttler all scoring at a lick

AUGUST 27, 2014

Indian cricket

Is India's connection with fans failing?

India, at least in the latter stages, barely played the kind of cricket that would attract crowds during their recent tour of England. As much hold as the sport has in the country, the efforts of the BCCI to control how much the players share with the media and by extension their fans has resulted in a deterioration of their bond with the people, writes Tanya Aldred in the Telegraph.

And yet for what? It means that Indian fans and the cricket-loving public overseas with a romantic soft spot for India no longer feel such affection for their cricketers. Aside from M S Dhoni and poor Virat Kohli, who could not get a run this summer, how many of the current touring side do people know about? Bhuvneshwar Kumar, a bowler from the scissor-factory town of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, who did not even have a pair of cricket boots before his under-17 trial and who as a young man bowled Tendulkar for his first first-class duck in Indian domestic cricket? Cheteshwar Pujara, the teenage triple-century sensation who has tried to make his way in Test cricket the old-fashioned way? Without knowledge, will fans support their side when the going gets tough?

AUGUST 27, 2014

English cricket

When war made cricket retire hurt

Sticking to the 'show must go on' attitude can be admirable. But when the MCC adopted it in the midst of the First World War, the county season was a jarring interruption on reality. Soldiers prepared demonstrations during the breaks in efforts to recruit more men to the front, matches were curtailed, rescheduled and finally stopped when the dissent gained a couple more voices that could not be ignored. Andy Bull, in the Guardian, takes is back into history.

On 27 August, 100 years ago this Wednesday, a letter from WG Grace was published in the Sportsman. He was unequivocal. "I think the time has arrived when the county cricket season should be closed, for it is not fitting that able-bodied men should play day-after-day and pleasure-seekers look on." Two days later, Field marshall Lord Roberts, who had served in the Indian rebellion, Abyssinia, and Afghanistan, told the volunteers of the City of London regiment: "How very different is your action to that of the men who can still go on with their cricket and football, as if the very existence of the country were not at stake. This is not the time to play games." The very same day, the MCC decided to cancel its remaining fixtures, as did all other counties.

AUGUST 27, 2014

Australia cricket

Richie Benaud, live from his lounge-room

Richie Benaud was absent from the commentary box last summer and although his health is still an issue after his car crash in October last year, he has been asked by Channel Nine CEO David Gyngell to be part of the commentary team from his lounge-room. Benaud was also absent on Tuesday when he was inducted into the SCG Media Hall of Honour, and Andrew Webster in the Sydney Morning Herald considers just how important a part of the summer Benaud is for Australians.

Former Test opener Michael Slater remembers making his calling debut in England alongside Benaud for Channel 4. He was nervous, and in the heat of the call described a situation as a "tragedy". "Michael," Richie said in a commercial break. "You used the word 'tragedy'. The Titanic is a tragedy. Being bowled is not a tragedy." On another occasion, Slater said the "ball snuck under the bat". He asked Richie off-air if English viewers would understand the term "snuck". Benaud looked at him, then said nothing for several overs, before finally pulling Slater aside and pointing out the importance of accuracy and knowing your audience. "Michael, I know of plenty of 'uck' words," Benaud said. "But a 'snnnn' isn't one of them."

AUGUST 23, 2014

Australia cricket

What more must Phillip Hughes do?

Being one of the best young batsmen of his generation has done little for Phil Hughes, who continues to suffer from the injustice of Australian selectors, writes SB Tang in the Guardian.

But refute it the Australian selectors did. For you see, the young batsman occupied an extreme end of the physical spectrum for a professional batsman and that extreme in physical size, combined with his bush upbringing, produced in him a heterodox batting technique that some on the Australian selection panel doubted could withstand the rigours of international cricket, causing them to consistently overlook him in favour of batsmen of inferior performance. Even when they gave him a run in the Australia XI, it was never an extended one - he was always the first to be dropped, while the batsmen of inferior performance were given opportunities of greater quality.

AUGUST 22, 2014

Indian cricket

'The practical has triumphed over fantasy'

Test cricket is in decline in India, according to Ajaz Ashraf, writing in Scroll. The reason for this, he surmises, is the change in the ethos of the grassroots game, particularly at the school level.

Mind you, in those good old days, school cricket was mostly a 40-over game, punctuated by drinks and lunch breaks, stretching from 10 am till 4.30 pm. Yet it lacked the hurly-burly of the abbreviated forms of the game, much in vogue now. It wasn't the duration but the philosophy of playing which inspired the young to imagine their cricket in the mould of Test cricket, or the long-form version.

School cricket was an extended apprenticeship to acquire attributes recognised as most valued. It was a step on the journey to become a cricketing artist, even though most knew they might not play the sport in college. It was they who became the educated audience of Test or Ranji matches, and taught those younger to them to distinguish right from wrong, beauty from crass, in cricket.

Travel around the city and watch the cricket as is played in the maidans, residential colonies, or in schools now. The earlier imagining of the sport has undergone a transformation, the defining attributes of which are now pragmatism and lack of imaginative indulgence. The opening bowler can count himself lucky to be given a slip; the batsman smites with the impatience and anxiety of a man working against a sharp deadline. Reverse sweep is in, shouldering arm considered a waste of delivery. There is no waiting, no pause, and no reflection.

AUGUST 21, 2014

Indian cricket

Shastri could play Upton role

During Gary Kirsten's time as India coach, Paddy Upton performed an important role in the backroom, as the mental conditioning coach whom the players could go to for a heart-to-heart chat, and a 'mate they went to in times of trouble'. Since the time Duncan Fletcher took over from Kirsten, India have lacked an Upton-type figure. Writing in Wisden India, Dileep Premachandran says Ravi Shastri could perform that role.

Right now, Virat Kohli could probably do with a drink and a chat with someone who's been where he is now. The recurring theme when you speak to the greats of the game is that fallow runs and troughs usually coincide with the joy being sucked out of the game. When it becomes a chore, you need to step back and try to see things differently. It's no secret that the three prolific years Rahul Dravid enjoyed at the end of his career - he made 10 of his 36 centuries then - had much to do with taking a more relaxed approach.

Shastri will certainly help with that. Bharat Arun, who comes on board as one of two assistant coaches, would have worked with some of the players at Under-19 level. Sanjay Bangar would have played against a few of them in domestic cricket. These are young coaches with the hunger to succeed. For those on the outside, this may seem a stopgap arrangement. For them, it's akin to an audition.

Ayaz Memon, writing in Mint, says Shastri's straight-talking approach could help the players, and his time with the team could bring benefits even beyond his short tenure.

Purely from personal knowledge of the man over the years, I can see Shastri providing some robust pep talks. He has a positive, never-say-die attitude which can instil self-belief and confidence in the players. He will also be unafraid to spell out the riot act to players who deserve it.

In the changing dynamics of Indian cricket, Shastri's elevation as cricket director is much more than just a fancy-sounding designation. He has been put in charge of cricket affairs for the next fortnight, when five One Day Internationals (ODIs) will be played. This gives him sweeping powers, including a say in team selection, which is significant. I would imagine he is also going to speak to all the players, support staff, assess the issues, concerns, etc., and submit a report to the BCCI on why the performance has been so mercurial.

Not everyone is convinced by Shastri's appointment, though. In the Hindustan Times, Pradeep Magazine reckons Shastri was rewarded 'for aligning himself with the cricket establishment'.

And people like Shastri, adept at speaking the language that pleases their masters, are guilty of professing that their heart bleeds for the demise of the India Test team. Just a few gems from Shastri in the past should remind everyone what this former all-rounder stands for. He described Lalit Modi as the Moses of world cricket for creating the biggest T20 brand called IPL. Today, as Modi stands condemned in the eyes of the world, this accolade is reserved for N. Srinivasan, the man who is controlling the reins of Indian cricket in his iron fist.

In Shastri's view, the Decision Review System is an evil that is to be shunned because the Indian Board believes so. For him, IPL was the greatest thing to have happened to Indian cricket and we were told its benefits will help India conquer the world. These benefits are so evident now that India can't even last 50 overs in Test cricket. In the final embarrassment at the Oval, India lasted just nine overs more than the 20 they are so adept at playing. I can go on and on, but suffice to say by making such sweeping changes after the horse has bolted, that too when the team will now be engaged in a format they are very good at, makes little sense.

AUGUST 21, 2014

Indian cricket

'Dhoni's captaincy not up to Test standard'

Contending that they came up "against really top- quality seam and swing bowling on the grassiest set of pitches I can remember", Mike Brearley, writing in the Telegraph, has some sympathy for India's batsmen following the 3-1 Test series defeat in England. He isn't too impressed with MS Dhoni's captaincy, though, and says it was not 'up to Test standard'.

Captaincy is the art of balancing attack and defence. In the field, usually up against it, Dhoni has been determined to keep attacking fields, even when England were miles ahead. I wonder if anyone has calculated how many runs England scored to third man at the Kia Oval; while England's total raced on, India retained three or four slips.

Poor Varun Aaron in particular, a raw but promising fast bowler, was given no protection, and, it seemed, little guidance. By Sunday morning, India were run ragged, the ball coming off every part of the bat as Joe Root and Stuart Broad played attacking shots at every ball. Did Dhoni even think of posting a third man? Or did his philosophical capacity to put the past behind him amount to a failure to learn from experience?

AUGUST 21, 2014

English cricket

My flair turned out to be productive - Gower

That elegant left-hander, David Gower, talks to KC Vijaya Kumar of the Hindu about his style, and how it was all about scoring runs, whether your batting looked good or not.

Yes in terms of left-handers, for me it was always pleasant when people said that there was elegance and style but then none of that works unless you get runs and spend 10 to 15 years playing Test cricket. For me to walk out to bat at Lord's, the Oval, the Eden Gardens, the SCG, wherever it might be, I am not thinking hope this looks good, I am thinking hope I get some runs.

AUGUST 20, 2014

West Indies cricket

Can CPL rival the IPL?

While the poor results of the West Indies Test team drove people away from the stadiums in the longest format of the game, the glitz, glamour and global appeal of the Caribbean Premier League has gone a long way towards winning back the crowd, writes Nick Sadleir for Cricket365.

It is unclear whether the CPL is proving to be a financial success or not but there is no doubt that its longevity is safer than the T20 leagues in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Without doubt it would have been watched by two or three times more viewers outside the West Indies this year than in the first edition. The standard of cricket may be behind that of the Australian Big Bash and is probably no better than South Africa's Ram Slam competition but it is more advanced in its commercial product than the Ram Slam, despite its time-zone disadvantage.

AUGUST 19, 2014

Indian cricket

India's scars will run deep

The biggest setbacks of India's debacle in England will be the team's reluctance to play more five-Test series in the future, and the self-doubt creeping into the minds of the younger players, writes Sriram Veera for the Mumbai Mirror.

To win a Test and still feel like having been part of a whitewash must be a cruel feeling. Like losing a Test under three days and still being fined for slow over-rate. Oh the cruel irony of it all. And it only worsens as even the past also gets tarnished by the present. This team did perform decently in seaming conditions of South Africa and New Zealand but as it's been said, what would have happened if those were also five-match series?

AUGUST 19, 2014

England cricket

England's unforgettable summer

The Guardian's writers pick their most memorable moments from an English summer season which included a thrilling draw and loss to Sri Lanka, a short-ball collapse to India at Lord's, a baptism of fire for the captain Alastair Cook, and a remarkable revival culminating in a 3-1 series win at The Oval.

In the minutes after the humbling defeat to India at Lord's, waiting for the post-match interviews to see if Alastair Cook would announce his decision to surrender the captaincy - as so many were demanding at the time - news broke that England's captain had retired from all internationals with immediate effect. It seems an odd moment for Steven Gerrard to have chosen.

AUGUST 18, 2014

Pakistan cricket

A welcome, but overdue landmark

Younis Khan took his 100th catch in Test cricket during the SSC Test against Sri Lanka. Writing in the National, Osman Samiuddin wonders how it took so long for a Pakistan cricketer to reach the landmark, considering Younis was the 32nd player overall to get there.

There are 11 Australians in that list, eight Englishmen, four each from the West Indies and India, two South Africans and one each from Sri Lanka and New Zealand. It is a list in which every major Test-playing country has long had a representative. That Pakistan has only now produced a representative is mostly an indictment of the casualness with which it has treated fielding institutionally.

A long time ago, it was easy to use the generally grassless, bumpy grounds a lot of the country's players grew up on as a valid excuse. Fielding was an accident waiting to happen. Even now, with so many players starting cricket on the streets, the excuse holds true to some degree.

But once a player has been identified as a prospect, at the national or domestic level, this becomes less and less valid. There are decent, well-nurtured grounds available in most major cities. Not having specialist coaches at lower levels is a problem, but the most important thing about fielding is that the desire has to come from within. The best fielders are generally those who love it.

AUGUST 18, 2014

India in England 2014

Hard to gauge how good England were

India have performed so lamentably since their victory at Lord's that it is hard to gauge the scale of England's improvement, writes Vic Marks in the Guardian.

So here was a swift and jubilant end to a strange summer of Test cricket in which the post-Ashes angst was suddenly swept away by three massive victories. As well as joy this brings puzzlement - not just about the true worth of this new England team. In the brave new world of the Big Three India were one of the parties expected to maintain and enhance the status of Test cricket. With performances like these their players are doing the opposite.

AUGUST 17, 2014

Sri Lankan cricket

The many lives Mahela touched

Sidhanta Patnaik, writing for Wisden India, sheds light on the impact made by Mahela Jayawardene on the lives of cricket lovers, off the field.

Jayawardene's wholesome nature and genuine respect for another's space has helped him connect easily with those around him. Shanaka Amarasinghe's admiration for the cricketer grew in 2006 when Jayawardene was direct and honest, and yet polite, while pointing out that Amarasinghe was late for an appointment by 10 minutes. Brad Stevens remembers how Jayawardene was always dependable and stood for what he believed in when the two of them hosted The Square Cut, Jayawardene's first show on a lifestyle radio station in Colombo.

AUGUST 15, 2014

India cricket

It's mistakes, not indifference

Amidst all the criticism MS Dhoni and his team have been getting, Dileep Premachandran writes for Wisden India about how nearly every off-field activity of the Indian team is seen in negative light and some simple statements are twisted to suggest they have an indifferent approach.

In the days since the Old Trafford defeat, there have been at least a dozen people asking this correspondent alone whether MS Dhoni and the team care about Test cricket. It's not an easy question to answer with a straight face. These players are professionals. This is what they do. Do we ask journalists if they care about doing in-depth features?

Does anyone really think Kohli enjoys watching a loved one's name being dragged through mud because he's going through a poor run of form? Does Ravindra Jadeja really enjoy being abused by thousands of trolls on Twitter and other social media forums? Is Dhoni really oblivious to the fact that even those that can't hold a bat the right way up think they could captain the side better?

AUGUST 14, 2014

The True Fan

Is it ok to want to watch only when your team is winning? Is it ok to want to watch only when the watching is easy? These are two of several questions Devanshu Mehta asks of followers of the game on Deep Backward Point.

It hurts when my team loses. And when this happens, I find myself walling myself off from the sport. I no longer follow the sport with as much interest, to protect myself from the hurt ... It wasn't this way when I was younger. I had a lot more room in my head to carry the emotional baggage of the world. I would feel the pain of far off lands, of sports teams, of leaders and people ... I think you have to experience everything before you can let it go--before you become detached-- so that you know what you're letting go of. I don't know if I'll ever get there. I don't know if I want to.

AUGUST 13, 2014

The game that takes people for who they are

Writing in the Guardian, after the news that former boxing promoter Frank Maloney is undergoing gender reassignment and living as a woman called Kellie, Mike Selvey reflects on the experience of Cate McGregor, who writes on cricket as well as working for the Royal Australian Air Force. McGregor, who is transgender, tells Selvey about the acceptance the cricket community has shown her, leading Selvey to conclude "cricket has always been a game that on the whole takes people for who, rather than what, they are":

"I transitioned into two very alpha-male environments, the army and cricket," she said. "I have been humbled and thrilled at the generous reception I have received from the global cricket community." She told me of the early important support she had received from senior, iconic figures in cricket, such as the Chappell brothers, Ian (of whom she does a wicked earthy impression) and Greg; Brett Lee; and, in particular, Rahul Dravid, since announcing her transition in 2012. "All I did," Greg Chappell tells me, "was to respect her choices, and treat her as a person, without being judgmental."

"Ian and Greg have been incredibly supportive in a business-like, unassuming way," Cate acknowledged, "and the leadership of the Australian and England cricket teams have made it clear to me that I was welcome as a respected member of the media team." She tells of hearing about the Australian captain sitting his team down and, just in case there were any who might feel otherwise, insisting that she be treated with respect.

AUGUST 13, 2014

West Indies cricket

The world of Chris Gayle

The Telegraph's Oliver Brown travels to Jamaica to meet Chris Gayle and discovers that behind the laidback attitude is a cricketer aware of his humble beginnings and disappointed at the lack of recognition for his performances on the field.

Gayle, sore at not enjoying the same uniformity of reverence as, say, Usain Bolt, laments: "I guess when you die, all the good things are said about you. But in life, if you have something to say or offer, do it now. Don't wait until the person is dead and gone to say: 'Oh, he was such a great player, he did all of this.'
"It's just the way I feel, and I want to express myself. There, I've said it, and I don't have any regrets. The government will get my message, and that's important."

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