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


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.

OCTOBER 10, 2014

England cricket

ECB is not blameless

In his column for the Telegraph, Geoffrey Boycott writes with utmost clarity that the ECB should not try to take the moral high ground in the ongoing Kevin Pietersen saga, which has gone to new levels after the release of his autobiography. Boycott says the ECB and Andy Flower should have handled the player and the situation better.

Yes Kevin was awkward, difficult, different and at times his own worst enemy. But his record and his performances do not deserve a character assassination. The ECB should be dignified about it all and not try to belittle him.

I hope the ECB is investigating how one of its confidential documents reached the public domain. If it discovers someone within the ECB leaked it then they should get the sack. If nobody is sacked then we can only assume that the ECB was happy or even complicit with the document being leaked in order to denigrate Kevin.

OCTOBER 10, 2014

Bowling actions

Will the World Cup be one big free hit?

The ICC stance against illegal actions has been quite decisive. Saeed Ajmal can no longer bowl in international cricket. Neither can Sachithra Senanayake. Sunil Narine was reported twice by Champions League T20 match officials. While this purge has been met with support, some of the criticism against it has been regarding the timing - months before the World Cup. With bigger bats, smaller grounds and lesser mystery to worry about, Chloe Saltau of the Age, wonders about the balance between bat and ball during the showpiece event.

Ajmal and Narine are the most dangerous spinners in the world and arguably the most alluring, and while cricket's most prestigious global tournament is no place for those who bend the rules, an unfortunate consequence of the crackdown could be that the World Cup is one big free hit for batsmen in a game that is already tilted towards their kind

OCTOBER 09, 2014

England cricket

Will ECB take control of the Pietersen mess?

Kevin Pietersen's book has thrown up some damning claims against the England team. He has alleged that Andy Flower ruled by fear and that there was a clique of senior players who practiced in bullying. While Greame Swann has called KP the autobiography a "work of fiction", Pietersen has not been short of support either, especially on twitter. The situation is degenerating fast, but would the ECB take control of it soon? Ted Corbett, in his blog, thinks not

In the third of my life devoted to studying the habits of the men who control this game I long ago ceased to expect quick and decisive action. Frankly, they are responsible for the mess that is the England dressing room but I do not think they will either summon KP for talks, listen to what he has to say and then make the urgent changes that are needed. Urgent! Bah! A snail will win the Derby long before the ECB will get off their underworked backsides and lead the way to a better world.

OCTOBER 06, 2014

English cricket

The KP files

In an explosive interview with the Daily Telegraph on the eve of the release of his autobiography, Kevin Pietersen lashes out at former England coach Andy Flower for "ruling by fear", and alleges that wicketkeeper Matt Prior - who, along with the bowlers, was a bully - orchestrated a campaign against him.

"I could give you telephone numbers of international players around the world. You ring them and ask them about the way the England team conducted themselves through the last three, four years. Listen to them. Ask the Sri Lankans, ask the Australians. Ask the West Indians, ask the Indians. I got messages from Indians and stuff when they played against them saying: 'I can't believe you could play with these guys.' "

In the Guardian, Barney Ronay tells us about the flotsam in the decaying cricket universe, and why Kevin Pietersen is "such an obvious lightning rod for English cricket's transformation anxieties".

OCTOBER 01, 2014

Cricket in unusual places

Colombia's first homegrown cricketer

Cricket may be about to spark to life in a tiny but significant way in Colombia, which is due to host the inaugural Amazon Cup, a triangular T20 tournament also featuring Brazil and Peru. When the tournament begins, a Colombia-born player, Jairo Andres Venegas, will represent his national team for the first time. The Guardian's John Ashdown profiles the wicketkeeper, who is "almost certainly the only Colombian to have a Lord's tea-towel framed and hanging on the wall of his living room".

For Venegas it represents the apogee of a journey that began not long before Allan Border's no-nonsense Australia side thrashed David Gower's fracturing England in 1989. And it's a journey that began, of course, in, um, Belgium. "I was six years old, we were living in Belgium because my father used to work for Phillips," he says. "My older brother and I studied at the British School of Brussels and while my brother actually played at school, I did Kwik Cricket or whatever it was called at the time. We came back to Colombia the next year and cricket became just a memory of good times."

A flirtation with rugby followed and the first time Venegas played what might be called "proper cricket" was in Bogotá, after an email to Lord's, conversations with ICC Americas, contact with the British Embassy in the Colombian capital and a long wait. The wait, though, has been worth it - now he is a committed convert and admits to being the "most cricket-obsessed Colombian in the country".

OCTOBER 01, 2014

Australian cricket

'He's one that crept up on us'

Jake Lehmann, son of Australia's coach Darren Lehmann, is poised to begin his journey in senior cricket. After winning a rookie contract with South Australia last season, the 22-year old will be making his debut in the Matador One-Day Cup. Andrew Ramsey, writing in Cricket Australia's website, learns more about Lehmann junior

"He got a rookie contract this season and his body shape has changed completely and as a result - not just because of that - throughout pre-season he's got 50s and 60s and then most pleasing (last weekend) in the Premier League he scored his first hundred," said Darren Berry, the South Australia coach. "So he's right in the mix. He bats on the same side (left-handed like his father), he's got really good hands, and he's got an eye like his dad as well. He plays the ball late, and I think he's a really exciting talent - he's one that's crept up on us to be honest."

SEPTEMBER 29, 2014

Indian cricket

A quintessential fighter who kept coming back

In an interview with Shirin Sadikot for the BCCI, Gautam Gambhir opens up about his brand of cricket, leading Kolkata Knight Riders' to their longest winning streak, and being left out of the Indian squad while dealing with a personal tragedy.

This phase was the most difficult one of my life, not only from the cricketing point of view but also personal. I lost two of the closest people in my life within the span of a year. I was trying to get my career back on track by going to England and playing for Essex. I scored a century and I began to regain my confidence, started to believe again. Just then I got the news of the death in the family. I had to fly back home and miss two championship games. The hardest part was when I had to go back to England just four days after the tragedy. My wife couldn't travel with me because she had to be with the family. I was on my own there, coping with the loss while trying to resurrect my career. It was a very difficult time. But then these are the times that teach you a lot about yourself.

SEPTEMBER 28, 2014

County Cricket

Leicestershire's turmoil

Leicestershire have not won a county championship game for two seasons. They are stuck in the second division. They lost promising young talent to other teams as well and were forced to issue a press release accepting the situation needs to change. BBC spoke to former and current players from the county, coaches and administrators to get to the root of the problem and Shiv Thakor, a recent export to Derbyshire, mentioned the off-field support was lacking.

"Leicestershire are going through a rebuilding phase - both on and off the field - and I felt I need to be somewhere where they had an established programme in place. "I really wanted to make a push to play for England and I want go somewhere that will give me an opportunity me to do so and has a structure in place immediately.

SEPTEMBER 18, 2014

English cricket

Root, Ballance and the Idle days

In an extensive interview with BBC Sport, Joe Root and Gary Ballance reminisce about their early years in Yorkshire's cricket set-up and the time they spent as house-mates in a village called Idle. Root, a practical joker according to Ballance, recalls an incident involving Ryan Sidebottom and a sock that paid a quirky tribute to the legend of the Yorkshire Snipper.

Root grins knowingly, then adds: "The worst one was when I did it to (veteran fast bowler) Ryan Sidebottom after dropping two catches off him. At the end of the day's play he was sitting next to me in the dressing-room and was already absolutely furious.
"Then he got out of the shower, pulled his first sock on right up to the top of his thigh and just blew up. All the lads were trying not to look at him and laugh. I just knew I had to get out of there or I would be in a bit of pain."

SEPTEMBER 18, 2014

New Zealand cricket

Rise again, Hogan

The news that Martin Crowe will undergo further treatment for his ongoing battle with lymphoma yesterday was met with messages of support from people from all over the globe and sheer positivity from the man himself, writes Marc Ellison for Yahoo Sport.

It's been wonderful to view Crowe's growth as a person over the last few years. From someone who was deemed to be too critical, too honest and too emotional in his public comments about the national team, he finally appears comfortable in his own skin and more measured in his analysis of the game. Most importantly, to those who he works with, his words are received with the utmost respect given they're coming from a human-being who has fought his share of obstacles in life and prevailed. This latest contest with his 'friend' lymphoma promises to test him. History tells us he thrives on a challenge. Rise again 'Hogan'.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2014


The nature v nurture debate in cricket

In an article for Aeon magazine, David Papineau explores the idea of nature v nurture in cricket by comparing it with other sports and examines whether genetic qualities plays a bigger role in the development of cricketers than environment.

If environments matter more in cricket than in soccer, then this makes cricketing skills look less genetically heritable than footballing ones. In football, most of the differences come from genetic advantages just because there aren't many environmental differences (if you live in a soccer-mad nation, opportunities to play are everywhere). But in cricket, there would still be a wide range of abilities even if everybody had exactly the same genetic endowment, because only some children would get a proper chance to learn the game. In effect, environmental causes are doing a lot more to spread out the children in cricket than they are in football. To sum up, cricket runs in families precisely because the genetic heritability of cricket skills is relatively low.