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'Cricket at the Olympics? You've got to be joking'
Why South Africa are likely to leapfrog India in the rankings, and the problem with Twenty20 overkill (10:16)
February 15, 2010
Related Links » Series/Tournaments: ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier | South Africa tour of India | West Indies tour of Australia Teams: Afghanistan | Australia | India | Rajasthan Royals | South Africa | West Indies
The Tony Greig Show
'Cricket at the Olympics? You've got to be joking'February 15, 2010
South Africa's tour of India
Having received a thrashing in the first Test, India now have to win the second to retain their No. 1 position on the Test table. Anything is possible, but South Africa go into the second Test filled with confidence and will be secure in the knowledge that in Dale Steyn they have a bowler the Indians are struggling to handle. I have always been of the view that to beat India at home one has to bombard them with pace, no matter how slow the pitch. It's often forgotten that the groundsman can't control the pace of the ball through the air. Slow, low-bounce pitches can also cause extra problems for batsmen because it can be more difficult to get out of the way. When there is decent bounce in the pitch, the batsman can duck or sway out of the way. My gut feeling is that South Africa will win or draw in Kolkata, and in so doing leapfrog India in the Test table.
India has no option other than to come to terms with a changing of the guard. And based on the performances in the first Test of Murali Vijay and debutant S Badrinath, it's difficult not to concede that Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were missed. The first Test was won because two fine South African batsmen were not satisfied with just making centuries: both Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla wanted big hundreds and it was this hunger that made the difference. The Indian bowling also looked a little thin. Zaheer Khan is a fine bowler, but seemed to be lacking in support from his fast-bowling partners. Bowling teams out twice is about maintaining pressure from both ends, and India will be aware that they have to improve this aspect of their game if they are to win in Kolkata. Harbhajan, it seems, will also play a vital role in the second Test, especially if the reports that Sachin Tendulkar has requested the CAB chief Jagmohan Dalmiya to see to it that the grass on the pitch at Eden Gardens is shaved to curtail the impact of the South African pacemen are true.
The South Africans boosted their self-confidence on their tour of Australia last year but they will be a little disappointed that they haven't continued to dominate. They have also had to deal with some off-field issues. It was a little sad to see the successful partnership of Graeme Smith and Mickey Arthur broken and the selectors, who were all part of their recent success, all sacked. Having said that, Smith, Mark Boucher and Kallis are seasoned campaigners and they will not allow this tough team to lose focus. South Africa are still heavily dependent on their pace attack, but Paul Harris did bowl over 50 overs in the first Test and is pulling his weight. They are a well balanced Test team and typically backed by some brilliant fielders.
West Indies' tour of Australia
West Indies performance in the ODIs in Australia has been ordinary to say the least. I would go so far as to suggest that they look more like a good club team rather than an international outfit. This, by the way, is partially understandable when one considers their injury list. They are missing four of their top six batsmen - Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Adrian Barath and Dwayne Bravo, and without them the batting looks very vulnerable. The very promising Kemar Roach is now also injured and as a result the bowling also looks thin. West Indies have also experienced problems with injuries to bowlers Jerome Taylor, Fidel Edwards, and due to the absence of Sulieman Benn.
It's still hard to believe that the West Indies have fallen so far down the ladder after such a wonderful run in the seventies and eighties. There is also little doubt that the animosity that exists between the players and the WICB has contributed to the problem. The IPL has also provided West Indies stars with the security they need, so they are no longer as financially dependent on West Indies cricket as they were. I get the feeling that Chris Gayle and his team will be very happy when the time comes to get on the plane to leave Australia.
Every cloud has a silver lining. Kieron Pollard looks a very good allrounder, and given a little time and exposure in the West Indies Test team, he will be a long term asset. Kemar Roach is fast and has already made life uncomfortable for Ricky Ponting, who over the years has been one of the best players of pace bowling. If Roach can stay fit he too will help Chris Gayle at least win back some of his team's lost credibility.
Cricket in the Olympics
It seems that cricket has been cleared to bid for inclusion in the 2020 Olympics. Are those responsible for this serious? There may be a few exceptions but in my view the Olympics are for individual sports and low-profile team games and the more we clutter them up with high-profile team games the more the likelihood that we will undermine the spectacle. Cricket has enough trouble finding time for an acceptable international programme without having to find time for the Olympics. What, by the way, will the status of a gold medal in the Olympics mean to a cricketer? Will it be more important than winning the World Cup? I don't think so. It seems to me that taking all cricket's men, women, back-up staff and administrators to an Olympics will be a huge junket the Olympics and cricket don't need.
The rise of Afghanistan cricket
It's always lovely to hear good-news cricket stories, and Afghanistan's battle against adversity during their rise up the cricket ranks is one such story. Afghanistan earned the right to take on the leading cricket nations at the ICC World Twenty20 as they won the qualifying competition in Dubai. After securing their trip to the West Indies in April with a four-wicket win over the United Arab Emirates, they easily beat Ireland in the final. Hamid Hassan, their star performer, has compared his country's success against the odds to the iconic boxing movie Rocky. Really, this is just a wonderful story, and I am looking forward to seeing how Afghanistan and Ireland perform in the World Twenty20 in West Indies.
|"Already top cricketers are retiring early to take advantage of the situation, while others like the Pakistan players are being discriminated against. It's only a question of time before all this will come to a head, and this is when cricket's wise and calm heads will be truly valuable"|
Overkill of Twenty20
Stuart Robertson, the brains behind Twenty20 cricket, has warned that too much of the shortest version of the game could result in overkill. Mind you, he is English and they are inclined to be very conservative. Nevertheless it's worth taking stock from time to time and there is absolutely no doubt that domestic Twenty20 competitions the world over are succeeding. The best Twenty20 cricket I have seen took place in the KFC Big Bash in Australia, and this tournament, rather like the IPL, will certainly grow in stature. In years to come, Australia will attract many of the best players in the world, and it's reasonable to assume that every other major cricket-playing nation will try to do the same.
In the meantime the rush to grab a piece of the pie continues as India plan to expand the IPL to the USA, and have also announced that the Champions League tournament will clash with the English summer. Now we hear that the IPL franchise the Rajasthan Royals want to globalise their franchise, and presumably play more Twenty20 cricket. It seems inevitable that the ad hoc manner in which Twenty20 cricket is being rolled out will have to stop soon and a workable formula introduced.
On the international front, the ICC has done well to restrict the number of international Twenty20 matches to two or three per tour because they are determined not to destroy ODIs as well as protect Tests. This may be a short-term measure, but at least it's giving everyone time to think through the position and back this assessment with meaningful crowd figures and TV and other pertinent stats.
It's difficult to come up with a blueprint for Twenty20 cricket, because while the ICC controls the international game, the domestic game is very much in the hands of each individual cricket board. What these boards do within their borders is their business but they all want the players from other countries to play in their respective Twenty20 competitions, and it is this that will ultimately create the inevitable standoff. Already top cricketers are retiring early to take advantage of the situation, while others like the Pakistan players are being discriminated against. It's only a question of time before all this will come to a head, and this is when cricket's wise and calm heads will be truly valuable.
The global Twenty20 franchise
It's worth trying to work out what it is that the Rajasthan Royals are endeavouring to achieve. A week ago this IPL franchise flew in to London to announce a Twenty20 association with other domestic teams, including English county Hampshire, South Africa's Cape Cobras, Trinidad & Tobago, and possibly Australia's Victoria Bushrangers. The exact terms of these associations will become evident in time, but the teams will wear the same playing outfits, play under the same name, and share revenues, and possibly players. It seems that they think that this is the way forward. There are certainly others who are of the same view, so expect to hear of more associations between teams from all over the world.
England's former captain Michael Atherton is a bit of a boffin and is one of my favourite writers. His views on this subject are worth noting. Atherton warns those running cricket not to be fooled by the soothing words of those pushing the Rajasthan Royals barrow. I totally agree.
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