SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

Bowling actions

Is cricket finally ready to throw the book at chuckers?

ESPNcricinfo staff

While commending the ICC's recent drive against bowlers with suspect actions, Malcolm Knox, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, says it will be really big news when a bowler from one of cricket's big three nations is reported.

What would be even bigger news is when the law comes down on a bowler from Australia, England or India. Of those so far caught in the ICC's crackdown, all belong to the nations now designated "second-tier". The big test will come when a bowler with a suspect action plays for one of the big three.

Where cricket has failed on chucking in the past, it hasn't been due to cricketing matters. It's been when politics and power have oozed in to overrule and bully those who are meant to enforce the laws. The ICC seems to be on the right course, finally, but so far it has only gone after the little-guy nations. We'll really fall off our chairs when it is able to successfully prosecute the big guys.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2014

India cricket

Ten of Sehwag's best

Speaking to All Out Cricket, Virender Sehwag has discussed ten of his favourite hundreds, from his first in Ranji cricket to scoring an ODI double. No. 2, the "perception shifter", is his maiden Test ton:

I had played about 30 one-dayers before my Test debut. Everyone was saying that I was a very good one-day player but my technique was not that great so I could not play Test cricket. I was waiting for the chance to prove everybody wrong. I scored a hundred in my debut Test against South Africa, batting at No.6, so that was the message I sent to my critics. I was always convinced I had the technique for Test cricket.

SEPTEMBER 09, 2014

England cricket

How much have England changed since 1979?

Writing in his blog, the Old Batsman, Jon Hotten recalls the 1979 World Cup final he watched at Lord's and assesses how much England's approach has changed since then in ODIs.

A win in Friday's final match was welcome, but as meaningless as any in the 3,451 ODIs that have followed that long-ago day at Lord's. England's current methodology is from around the mid 2000s of that number; they're still quite excited to score 290, and still quite daunted by the pusuit of it. The rest of cricket, meanwhile, roars on into a future that is being written from the bottom up - through T20 into the 50 over game - rather than the top down.

SEPTEMBER 09, 2014

Indian cricket

Would Dhoni have given strike to Dhoni?

After the much talked about T20 between England and India ended with the hosts' win, questions are still being asked about MS Dhoni's tactics to not give Ambati Rayudu any strike in the last over. For the Indian Express, Daksh Panwar writes that it was an issue bigger than the denied singles.

The thing is, there is no denying that the current India captain is a great leader, in that he leads from the front. But is he a great leader of men? The only way to test that is with a hypothetical question. Had this brooding, grey-haired Dhoni and his younger, long-maned self found themselves in a similar situation to yesterday's game, would current-day captain Dhoni have given the free-spirited slugger Dhoni the strike?

SEPTEMBER 06, 2014

Australia cricket

The evolution of Mitchell Marsh

There was a time when the biggest concerns around Mitchell Marsh were that his prodigious gifts would be lost to off-field distractions. On the tour to Zimbabwe, however, Marsh has given ample indication of his value as an allrounder and also made himself a possibility for Australia's World Cup squad. Ben Horne, in the Age, looks at Marsh's persona, and finds a character reference from the current tour of Zimbabwe.

The driver of the Australian team bus in Harare, a man called Kelvin, has thanked Marsh for "making his life."
Kelvin has two children and a third on the way. He earns $US500 ($A540) a month, with 60 per cent of that going to rent.
Sometimes he gets paid on time; sometimes it's a day late, or two, or seven.
Electricity cuts are a regular occurrence at their home, making cooking for his 12-year-old son and five-year-old daughter almost impossible at times.
Marsh heard Kelvin's story and marched straight into town, to buy the children backpacks and shoes for school. He also purchased a new mobile phone for Kelvin and a solar light and gas cooker for his wife.

SEPTEMBER 05, 2014

Indian cricket

Do India even like playing Tests?

Harsha Bhogle, writing for the Indian Express, tries to make sense of India's disdain towards Test cricket.

I don't think, deep down, India and Dhoni like playing Test cricket as much. At Southampton, and that is only one example, India let the game drift along bowling defensive, non-wicket taking lines for a major part. When wickets appeared distant, and that always happens at some point in a Test match, India seemed willing passengers on the tide. Yes, Dhoni tried but Dhoni the one-day captain would have been here, there and everywhere, sniffing an opportunity here, grabbing ten minutes of the game there. Dhoni likes one-day cricket and you can see that in everything he does.

SEPTEMBER 04, 2014

Cricket trivia

The enormity of compiling A to Z XIs

What's your XI with all names starting with 'F' or 'N' or for that matter, 'Z'? Andy Bull, in the Guardian, discovers that the exercise of compiling alphabetical XIs can be depressing, obsessive and soothing at the same time. (P.S. Do scroll down to the comments section too)

Boycott, Broad. And so it went, night, after night, after night. Not Broad. Brearley. Boycott and Brearley, then Broad. And day, after day, after day. On the bus. During meetings. Watching trailers. Swimming lengths. It became an obsession and, by extension, a curse. Compiling alphabetical XIs is, you see, something of a Sisyphean task, in that by the time you've got to the end of 'W' - you can't wring much mileage out of X, Y, and Z - you've entirely forgotten most of the people you picked for the A side. Butcher, Barrington, some team this. And since you've forgotten, you start all over again, expecting, this time round, that all the names will stick.

SEPTEMBER 03, 2014

Indian cricket

MS Dhoni on cricket, and life after cricket

For his first magazine interview in five years, MS Dhoni chats with Mark Nicholas for All Out Cricket about things across different spheres of his life - the World Cup win, the disastrous tour of England later in 2011, captaincy, his love for the army, his 35 motorbikes, and much more.

"Winning the World Cup was very special because it meant so much to so many. One thing about our country that is constant is cricket. The smile it brought to people's faces was the thing I shall always remember. It reminded me, reminded all of us, of our importance to the lives of the Indian people less lucky than we are.

"I love my country," he says. "I tell my wife she is only the third most important thing after my country and my parents, in that order. The point is that while I am an Indian cricketer I will devote myself to that cause. Cricket is not everything, not by any means, but it is a large part of who I am. Therefore I want to play in all formats of the game and to play as much as possible because before long it will be over. Then I'll focus more on the Army!"

SEPTEMBER 02, 2014

Indian cricket

More Tests for the women, please

Snehal Pradhan, writing in her blog Grass on the seam, believes that India Women have the perfect blend of players and resources to thrive in the longest format of the game.

To win a test you must be able to bowl the opposition out twice. Assuming that the wickets for women's tests would most likely be result oriented, there would be some seam, swing, bounce ,or turn . And India have the bowling options for all of the above. In Jhulan Goswami, India have an experienced pace spear head, who hits the deck hard. And Niranjana, Shikha, and Shubhlakshmi proved at Wormsley that they have the skills to exploit favourable conditions. Add the loop of Gouher Sultana (who missed this tour due to illness) and unpredictable turn of Ekta bisht, and India have spinning options aplenty.

SEPTEMBER 02, 2014

Zimbabwe triangular series 2014

Insular Australia avoid local adventures

While the South Africans have spent their spare time in Zimbabwe interacting with the locals and immersing themselves in culture, the Australia players have been more withdrawn and preferred to stay in their hotel rooms, writes Neil Manthorp for Business Day Live.

The two touring teams have different attitudes to the job and both the "embrace" and "quarantine" approach to difficult or awkward situations can be successful, provided they are carried out with an appropriate recognition of reality. If everybody in the best hotel in town is making do with slow Wi-Fi and non-award-winning bolognaise, and if everyone is making do with a single towel because, for once, there is 100% occupancy, then what's the point in complaining?

SEPTEMBER 01, 2014

Women's cricket

'They didn't like it so much when a girl bowled them out'

England women's allrounder Natalie Sciver has been showing up boys since her teens. She recalls herself as a 12-year old playing football in Poland's women's league, but rose to prominence as a cricketer when she tussled with Surrey's boys in club cricket. Amy Lofthouse of the BBC catches up with the only player to take a hat-trick for England in T20s.

Sciver fell into cricket as a teenager, playing games against her dad and brother in her back garden, before joining Surrey club Stoke d'Abernon. She played the usual games against boys' teams. "They didn't like it so much when a girl bowled them out," she joked. Her performances led to her being selected for Surrey's academy, which became the pathway to an international career that began when she was selected for England's limited-overs series against Pakistan in 2013. It was not until last October that Sciver made her big impact at the top level, becoming the first England player to take a T20 hat-trick in Barbados

AUGUST 31, 2014

South African cricket

Du Plessis' old bond grows stronger

Faf du Plessis shared a double-century stand with AB de Villiers recently. The partnership, though, goes a long way back. The two went to school together and then played for Titans. However, it took a while for Du Plessis to make his mark in international cricket unlike de Villiers, who, Du Plessis told the Independent, had the knack of scoring big when it mattered from a young age.

"We were very close at school, but also very competitive. I was laid back at school, just wanting to play games, and he was a bit of a hoofseun (headboy), wanting to study," Du Plessis said. "I remember one particular night before our exams when we were in Standard 9. I bothered him the whole night and the next day in the test; I obviously had no clue. So, during the test, I was like, 'Hey, AB, show me your work there, let me copy a few answers'. He took his suitcase, put it in the middle and turned himself the other way! So obviously I failed that test. Afterwards he said, 'You wanted to bother me last night, so there was no way I was going to help you'."

AUGUST 28, 2014

India cricket

Has MS Dhoni become a law unto himself?

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.