Category Archives: Australia

The Stages Of A Fast Bowler’s Life

I remember little from middle school, but I do recall a lesson on the Hindu conception of the stages of life. (Hint: you eventually reject life and wander the hills as an ascetic.) It seems fast bowlers go through an evolution as well, until they reach the final stage — a place currently occupied by the likes of Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan. It is here that bowlers learn (cue sonorous zen master voice) that to beat a batsman, you must first learn how to think like one.  And not only do you understand batsmen, you have the skill and control to execute the arcs of your plans.

Listen to the way commentators talk when Khan or Malinga run to the crease. They talk about each ball as if it’s part of a specific plan; it’s all evidence of a master plan — and watching it unfold over the course of a few overs is watching a master at his craft. He controls everything in his domain and the batsmen have little hope to do more than survive. I had this impression last night; Malinga bowled slower full balls; slower short balls; fast yorkers; slow yorkers; fast short balls — apart from a bad wide, I didn’t think the batsmen were going to make it. (They didn’t.)

I think these types of bowlers are much more respected than those like Dale Steyn. Don’t get me wrong; Steyn is a great bowler with a similar level of control. But he relies on sheer pace, and he hasn’t been through the trial and tribulation Malinga or Khan have. Steyn is all about innate talent; Malinga and Khan are about bowling within very strict limitations. Wasim Akram may have been the first true fast bowler guru who understood mortality and ascended to nirvana; he shortened his run-up, figured out how to hold a ball, and then knew exactly where it would land and what it would do. All those who follow are reincarnations.

What An India Victory at Adelaide Would Mean

Very little, I’m afraid. I understand the sentiment behind calls for a younger batting line-up, but I’m still skeptical. At this stage, there’s only face to be saved and even though they’ve had fourteen consecutive innings to prove themselves, I’d like to give the Big Three two more.

Say Rohit Sharma does come in Laxman’s place and does reasonably well. What exactly would that achieve, other than the untimely end of a great career? Some argue it would set the stage for the transition the Indian Test side so needs, but I think that stage is already well set for this year. We all know the retirements are coming in 2012, so why not wait one more Test? And even if Sharma does well, it’s an innings that will go to waste, since India won’t play abroad for a while. One year from now, when India ventures abroad once more, will an Adelaide Test debut matter all that much for Sharma?

Let him cool his heels. I’m not one for nostalgia or sentimentality, but I’m not a fan of mass hysteria either. It’s over, we lost, and chances are, we’ll lose the last Test too. But at this stage, I’d rather give this lot a nod of the head, some thanks and say farewell. Down with the ship we go. (Hmm, perhaps a little more sentimental than I thought.)

Praying For The Whitewash?

Devanshu isn’t happy with Venkat Ananth for pulling for a whitewash (which would, presumably, force the BCCI to reform):

The weird thing about Mr. Ananth’s article is that what he ultimately wants is an ideological victory– for the BCCI to change to suit his ideal. And it’s a worthy ideal.

But he’s willing to give up the present. He’s willing to give up on short-term victories, on short-term miracles. He’s willing to give up on the grind. Like a comic book villain, he wishes for short-term devastation, so that he can build a new world order.

Tough call. My own position is that while I’d like to avoid the whitewash (if only to avoid the sight of smiling Australians), I wouldn’t be destroyed by one. And that’s because I’d like to see some BCCI officials squirm and, obviously, see some changes made in the way India runs its cricket. The more likely outcome? India lose 4-0 (or 3-0); Indian fans start calling for Laxman+Dravid’s heads; the BCCI announces a powerless review (like the Bowles-Simpson Commission) and, one year later, we have promptly forgotten everything.

New world order, anyone?

Dropping V.V.S. Laxman Isn’t A Good Idea

I’m surprised to see the knives have started to come out for V.V.S. Laxman. Cricinfo collected advice from former players — always a source to be taken with caution — and a couple suggested bringing in Rohit Sharma in Laxman’s place. E.g., Sanjay Manjrekar:

“I would still drop VVS [Laxman] and get Rohit [Sharma] in for next Test. Makes long-term sense. Give Virat [Kohli] one more Test … just to be sure he does not belong here. VVS averages 20 in last 12 overseas innings. Even if he gets a good score in next Test, it will not serve India long. Also if Virat, before the tour, was India’s next big thing, should he not get more than two Tests on his first stint in Australia?”

The issue is that it’s silly to “make long-term sense” when you have a more pressing short-term goal — namely, avoiding a consecutive overseas whitewash. After this tour, India won’t play another overseas game for a year, giving youngsters ample time to fill in big shoes in less difficult terrain than the WACA. Besides, whatever success India has earned abroad has come from Sehwag, Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman. Let’s give them two more Tests, please.*

One small point to end: I think a reasonable case can be made that the weakest link in the line-up is Sehwag, who too often gets out early to an impetuous shot, exposing the middle order to a newish ball. I know people — i.e., Ian Chappell — like him for the attacking option he offers India, but I’d rather have two staid openers who kill the new ball than someone who leaves the No. 3 at his every beck and call.

* Did anyone else catch the anger in Sourav Ganguly’s voice when he started to talk about Michael Hussey? Ganguly said it was strange and ridiculous that Hussey was under pressure, given the Ashes series he had less than a year earlier. “Just because of his age,” Ganguly said, letting off more than a whiff of bitterness about the circumstances that led to his own retirement.  I imagine Ganguly is secretly happy that his former position has yet to be permanently filled — but is there a lesson here about age and retirement? Is it better to let older players stay on if you don’t have a good replacement, or is it better to let them go and try and blood newbies on the spot? (Call this the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien conundrum.)

Giving Into Despair

Samir Chopra has an excellent post on why this latest defeat — India’s sixth in a row overseas — hurts:

But the problem is that even that minor comfort of disastrous novelty is not present in the current circumstances. For the Indian loss at SCG was made singlularly rank by the utter familiarity of it all: India are playing overseas; when their batsmen bat, the pitch turns green and hilly; when the opposition bats, a squad of alert groundsmen runs out, flattens the pitch and mows the grass; when India bat again, the gremlins take up their usual positions underneath the pitch…

What gets my goat is that I just don’t know why any of this is happening. I don’t mean that in the way of a victim of sudden misfortune; I mean there is no evidence to explain why such talented and in-form batsmen (like Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman) aren’t scoring. Apart from Gambhir’s noodling, I haven’t seen anything from the middle order that screams fault or failure. Over at A Cricketing View, Kartikeya explains the slump all has to do with the off-stump and how well the Australian bowlers have built pressure by hunting in a pack in that area. O.K., but how is it that a team that was able to stare down a much more attacking and well-respected line-up in 2003 (and even 2008) fail to do so again here?

So what do you do? Some people will inevitably point to age and grumble about the lethargic fielding. That needs to be qualified, given Dravid’s (and Ponting’s and Kallis’) recent efforts. And yes, these old folks aren’t stellar in the field, but I seriously doubt Jonty Rhodes or Paul Collingwood would have changed anything on Days 2 and 3 at the SCG. Hence my despair: given the record, given the evident form…why is this happening?

Have We Hyped India’s Batting Line-Up?

The Reverse Sweep goes over India’s recent overseas batting:

For the record and in reverse order the sorry tale of inepitude against Australia, England, West Indies and South Africa reads: 191, 169, 282, 283, 300, 244, 224, 158, 288, 261, 286, 347, 201, 252, 246, 364, 228 and 205.

During this sorry run these are the averages of India’s top seven: Gambhir 25.00, Sehwag 20.54, Dravid 47.66, Tendulkar 42.71, Laxman 32.15, Dhoni 27.00, Raina 25.92 and Kohli 13.75.

That’s pretty damning, but the post goes a bit too far when it suggests India’s batting is more myth and propaganda than actual merit.* Here are the career overseas averages for the players listed above: Gambhir: 49.75**; Sehwag: 46.21; Dravid: 54.13; Laxman: 46.40; Tendulkar: 55.61;  Dhoni: 35.07. (I’m not going to include Raina or Kohli because they’re too green at this level.) Those averages don’t suggest a line-up inept in the overseas circuit (though, admittedly, their averages in England and Australia specifically are likely to be much less flattering).

So why do these batsmen suddenly look like they’re playing in 1990s highlights? I don’t know and I haven’t seen a good answer from anyone. I wrote in an earlier post that India’s team management seemed to think that the England series was essentially a fluke compounded by bad luck and injuries. You can see why they didn’t seek radical change: Gambhir’s poking around off-stump works well in South Asia, but not so well against the swinging/seaming ball; Dravid and Tendulkar look great; Sehwag is and always has been a lottery and no one — no one — knows what’s going on with Laxman.

Whatever the cause, India’s batting-line up now looks like Sri Lanka’s: it all rests and falls with two men, Mahela and Sangakarra (or Dravid and Tendulkar in this case). Get to them (through a volatile opening pair), work hard to get them out (by restrictive lines and good luck), and you have a suddenly weak Laxman, Dhoni (not the best Test batsman) and a tail that goes from No. 6 down. If India fails to post a reasonable total in Sydney, the counter-narrative will begin to gather some momentum and more folks will be talking about “flat track bullies.” Either way, the series will be lost; Dravid’s (and possibly Laxman’s) retirement will be hastened, and a generation of fans will ponder why a team with such obvious promise and talent failed to rule the world at the start of the 21st century.

* I think it’s also a tiny bit unfair: teams like South Africa, Eng, and Aus will have higher batting averages in South Asia because pitches there are generally more welcoming (at least for the 1st innings). [I’m too lazy to check this hypothesis out — am I right? Are subcontinent averages for batsmen from these countries high?]

** Gambhir’s overseas average is inflated by performances against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. On the other hand, he has done well in New Zealand and South Africa, which aren’t kind to most batsmen (let alone Indian ones).

The Follow-Up Question For R. Ashwin

This is what R. Ashwin — given the unenviable task of facing Indian reporters after Day 2 — said about India’s defensive field with Australia at 99/3:

“What else do you do with 190 in the pocket?” Ashwin said. “You’ll have to save every run possible. Supposing you get two or three wickets later on, and someone is having a good spell, we have those runs to play with later. That has got to be the only idea. It’s common sense. Nothing else.”

But please, sir: “Given that Australia’s run-rate did not dip below 4 through the day, doesn’t that mean you failed both at taking wickets and containing the batsmen? Wouldn’t you rather have conceded a few boundaries if an attacking field meant your chance of taking a wicket increased?” Good Lord, I sound more and more like Ian Chappell with each passing day.

I Just Don’t Understand India’s Batsmen

Somewhere on this earth, a young cricket fan with an intense hatred for Team India holds a collection voodoo dolls in his closet. He brings it out at crucial moments for the team — say, away tours against prestigious teams — and he pokes the fabric with glee when he wants the most effect.

How else to explain the bizarre dip in form from Gambhir, Sehwag, Laxman, No. 6 (be it Yuvraj, Raina, Kohli or — inevitably? — Rohit Sharma) and Tendulkar? During the lunch break today, Dean Jones told an almost incredulous Ravi Shastri that he still believed the Indian line-up could pull it off. Less than an hour later, Dravid, Laxman, Gambhir and Kohli were all back in the pavilion.

Clearly, Jones hadn’t been keeping up with this team. Yes, it’s a great line-up; yes, it’s scored many runs and has much experience. But for the past decade, a prosecutor could easily point to evidence of brittleness — innings when batting collapses meant this line-up couldn’t even last 50 overs (Sydney 2007/8 would be a chilling Exhibit A, umpire errors or no). These guys have crafted great moments, it’s true, but hungry enough oppositions have learned to snake through.

So what ails them? Nobody really knows. Gambhir enjoyed a couple of great years, now he’s hit a dip and looks like he’s in need of his fix at the start of each innings.  Sehwag’s method relies chiefly on confidence and bravura, and as long as the runs are scored, his self-belief becomes self-fulfilling. String enough low scores, however, and soon enough commentators will start talking about “rashness,” a terrible technique, “look at those feet!” Dravid and Tendulkar are the only pillars left, but Dravid’s cracking under the weight and Tendulkar never wins games for India anyhow. Meanwhile, Laxman — so good at soaking pressure and leading counter-charges — well, I really have no idea what’s wrong with Laxman.

The tragedy of Melbourne was that India was really this close to victory. A couple of tailender wickets, or maybe just a few more lucky boundaries in the first innings, and it was theirs to be had. But they need to learn that if none of the Golden 4 can perform, they all need to pitch in (a la R. Ashwin). We’re all getting an early look at what the future holds for India: less genius, more hard graft and modesty. Not unlike, er, Australia.

India And Australia Don’t Really Hate Each Other

When the IPL first began, I wrote about the mercenary themes that dominated many of the ads (e.g., the Kolkata Knight Riders marching around in funny military-cum-cricket gear trash talking everybody else). I’m back in Bombay for holidays and I’ve noticed a similar thread for India-Australia series (dubbed “agneepath” by Star Cricket).

There are the ads featuring Australian players warning Indians to watch out for the thunder down under (“When it’s winter over there, it’s summer down here.”). There’s the comically aggressive and ludicrous ad showing Hrithick Roshan (Bollywood star) snarling at a white man for about 30 seconds before running into him in a ball of fire (someone, please make a GIF out of that!). When James Pattinson accidentally brushed Virender Sehwag on Day 2, a harmless moment that mattered little to everyone involved received a front page box in at least one Indian English daily.

But why all the macho talk? The spectacle of cable television has sadly arrived in India, a relatively young democracy that shouldn’t have to add Fox News-style partisanship to its long list of political challenges (having watched 2 days of full Lokpal Bill coverage, my despair only deepens). I worry that broadcasters think the flashy stuff — bowlers’ celebrations; sledging; batsmen running around when they reach centuries — matters just as much as the grist of cricket (balls going past bats). Which is why I prefer print, people! Buy a newspaper today!

The Activist LBW Decision Returns

It’s a weird feeling when Ian Chappell agrees with you. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be happy or crawl into a dark space and slowly rock myself back to sleep. Here’s what happened:

Ed Cowan received another marginal decision today; he was adjudged LBW padding up to a beauty from Umesh Yadav. The only problem was that HawkEye showed the ball missing off-stump. Chappell, seeing this, goes on a tear (that he brings up again during the tea break) and says if a batsman pads up to a ball, he shouldn’t even have the right to review.

Like Chappell, I have argued in two previous posts that umpires rightly take a harsher view of batsmen who pad up to balls. Batsmen, after all, are supposed to use their bat, not their pads, and if they happen to find themselves in a spot of bother (like Cowan), umpires should be a bit more tough in imagining the trajectory of the ball. As I said before:

The big problem with technology in this case is that it involves standardization, and in removing the human element, we also take out a crucial piece of the game’s drama. I say, unshackle umpires — let them decide how much consideration, say, ‘height’ deserves; let them decide if a batsman’s shot was stupid enough to get them hit on the pads, and above all, let them rule on whether or not a batsman failed at his most basic mission: to hit the ball.

I was rightly pilloried in the comments for giving umpires a bit too much subjective allowance. But I really don’t have a problem with Cowan’s dismissal, even if the ball wasn’t going to hit the stumps. As Chappell said: “Batsmen are supposed to score runs.”