Category Archives: Australia

The DRS Debate Is Getting Out Of Hand

I understand that different people have different opinions on DRS and the current series-by-series policy. I have long been an opponent of any additional use of technology in the game (I’m an old man in many other ways), but I want to note just how unjustly skewed the debate has become.

If an umpire makes a call that is confirmed to be “correct” by Hotspot or EagleEye, the commentators will merely note that it was a good decision, and how difficult it is to be an umpire today. If they’re being really charitable, they’ll show what the umpire saw in real time. That’s it.

If an umpire makes a “bad” call that is revealed to be as such by technology, however, all hell breaks loose. The wronged batsman will lay out his personal views in the post-match press conference, the commentators will have an extended discussion about what went wrong, and Twitter catches fire. Little is said about the number of correct decisions that are made, and how they outnumber the bad ones. Even less is said challenging whether or not technology has delivered an “objective” review (in the case of Cowan’s dismissal, for example, I’m still not sure what happened). In other words, the scales are not equally placed: a “bad” decision receives many times the attention that a good decision does.

The anti-DRS crowd (with whom my allegiance lies) will lose this battle if it keeps being played out this way. Some bloggers (A Cricketing View, for e.g.) have done admirable work questioning the assumptions that technologies like ball-tracking and what not use. At this point, I can only hope broadcasters will slap a label that reads “This recreation is loosely based on true events” whenever Hawkeye is displayed.

How Weak Cricket Teams Take Wickets

While Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were holding off the Australian attack just after tea on Day 2, Sourav Ganguly and Tom Moody raised the question that has haunted Australian cricket for the past few years: How do they take wickets without Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath?

Moody responded with an interesting thought he didn’t complete. “They have to find other ways to take wickets,” he said. That may sound obvious, but the larger question is more interesting: how do you change strategies to better take advantage of mediocre/good talents (as opposed to the once great ones you had)? How do you best manage declining talent?

They say that the tennis player Brad Gilbert (who went on to coach Agassi and others) never had any great weapon in his arsenal (no big serve, or forehand, or anything like that). Instead, he consistently stayed among the best by running around the court, forcing opponents into long rallies and ruining their rhythm. That’s what I’m talking about: when you don’t have great players, how do you find other ways to win games?

This is a lesson Australian cricket hasn’t yet been able to answer. Take, for example, Australia’s disastrous two-Test tour of India in 2008. At one point, the Australians decided they would remove a huge deficit by simply attacking, an approach that worked when the batting line-up included Adam Gilchrist at 7. This time, though, it fell flat on its face and they lost wickets quickly.  They looked like a gang of over-aged bullies.

So what do you do instead? What teams do you know that out-perform their individual team members’ averages? (Pakistan, maybe?) I don’t know enough about cricket to answer, but I imagine the answer involves more patience, less attacking; more restrictive fields that build pressure rather look for striking gold; more variety in bowling…? Send any feedback to Cricket Australia, please.

So Long, Varun Aaron

When Varun Aaron was first picked, I worried he would soon join the list of injured Indian fast bowlers. And so he has:

The 22-year-old, whose fastest delivery has been clocked at 153km/h, has succumbed to a back injury, just a fortnight after making his Test debut against the West Indies in Mumbai.

Aaron is the second first-choice fast bowler to pull out of the Indian squad after Praveen Kumar suffered a rib injury a fortnight ago.

The back injury is a worry; ultra-fast bowlers typically get them and occasionally have to change their action as a result. And meanwhile, we still don’t know what’s going on with Ishant Sharma. So, no Aaron, no Kumar, possibly no Ishant — and Zaheer still iffy. This will be a long winter. (I will not include a long-standing plea for cricket-crush Irfan Pathan to rescue us from our latest quagmire.)

Ricky Ponting, LBW

If a batsman plays cricket long enough, opposition bowlers will inevitably figure out a chink in his armor. If the batsman does not adapt, a game can get fairly predictable: think “employ crap left-arm spinner against Kevin Pietersen” (a Dhoni specialty), or “bowl short at every Indian batsmen all the time.” Right now, the big open secret is Ricky Ponting’s affinity for shuffling across stumps and getting hit on his pads. Here are two videos showing the great man in decline, struggling to fend off the sharks who’ve sensed the blood:

This one is almost too tough to watch:

 

Calling Usman Khawaja an ‘Asian’ Batsman

I discussed this problem on Twitter already, but I wanted to flesh out my thoughts a bit more. Yesterday, during the first day of the Test between Aus. and N.Z., Mark Nicholas said a shot by Usman Khawaja was almost “Asian looking.” Cricinfo immediately ridiculed the comment as insensitive, as did some of my Twitter friends — but the issue is a little more delicate.

Here’s why it makes us cringe: 1) Any mention of racial essentialism is not cool. Saying a practice is inherent to a race/culture takes you to tricky areas (“You are Indian, therefore you must like X.”). 2) Khawaja is Asian (of Pakistani descent, specifically), but he plays for Australia. To say he is an ‘Asian’ batsman implies he’s not fully Australian; he’s a foreigner in our midst. (I’ve addressed Khawaja’s heritage in another post.)

A related example: A few years ago, I went with my family on vacation to South Africa. At one stop, my father met a South African shopkeeper of Indian descent; naturally (because all Indians rejoice inside when they see a member of the diaspora), my father asked him where he was from. My brother later berated him for doing so; it’s probable that this particular South African had lived in the country for generations; to ask where he was from implies he wasn’t from South Africa. (Similarly, I have friends of Indian descent here in America who absolutely hate answering the “where are you really from” question because white people never have to answer it, and it sort of emphasizes their difference and exclusion. “Oh, you’re not really American; you’re a foreigner.”)

OK. But here’s why it’s a difficult issue: 1) To call a batsman ‘Asian’ in cricket means they have deft wrists. It’s as style of play that apparently was once associated with Asian players (Ranji, I’m told, in particular). It’s sort of why we call left-handed leg-spinners Chinamen. In other words, it’s nothing about a person’s culture or heritage; it’s simply cricketing shorthand. (Dissent: But when was the last time you heard a white batsman called ‘Asian’? Surely there are wristy players outside the subcontinent, right? And isn’t ‘cricket shorthand’ derivative of colonial/racist discourse? I mean, come on — Chinaman?)

2) Then again, we know that the diversity of cricket (and how it is played) is its chief attraction. Pitches are different around the world, as are sporting cultures; this leads to different types of players and techniques. How can we talk about this diversity without referring to different cultures? (Dissent: But is it true that Asians are now more “wristy” than other batsmen? And what exactly is the “West Indian style” of cricket? If you find yourself using words like exuberant and Calypso — well, that’s taking us back to colonialist discourse, right?)

Perhaps Nicholas should have just named famous players who did in fact play with their wrists. “Khawaja almost looked like X there.”  I don’t know — am I just indulging the worst kind of political correctness here?

Untangling the Duncan Fletcher Factor

Is Duncan Fletcher behind India’s recent selection decisions? Since the BCCI has erected an electric forcefield to keep him from the media, we can only speculate. Take it away, King Cricket:

Umesh Yadav is a Fletcher bowler and we’ll doubtless be seeing more of him after he took 3-23 in West Indies’ first innings. As England coach, Fletcher erred towards the workmanlike spinner, but he’s blessed with more options in India and both Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin have done enough to justify Harbhajan Singh’s exclusion. Was that another Fletcher move?

A couple of things have irked Indian fans lately. First: why drop Praveen Kumar after his solid performance in England? And second, who the hell is Rahul Sharma? I’m not sure what I feel about either (Is Praveen really a Test bowler? Would he be able to swing it all that much in Australia?). But the question left unresolved thus far is what exactly Fletcher (and the Indian think tank) learned from the England 4-0 debacle. Was it just a freak breakdown unlikely to ever be repeated? Was it just that the English planned better? Or was it simply that we need to manage injuries better?

It’s hard for Fletcher — or anyone — to believe that the Indian batting line-up will fail as woefully as they did in England. Even if he does belief that, Fletcher can’t change the batting line-up at this point (since Dravid/Tendulkar/Laxman/Sehwag/Gambhir/Dhoni all pick themselves, leaving just one spot to fight among Raina/Yuvraj/Rohit Sharma/Badrinath?/Pujara?/etc). He does have some leeway with the bowling, which explains the current experimentation with Ohja/Ashwin (instead of Harbhajan) and Yadav/Aaron instead of (or as part of an attack featuring) Ishant and Zaheer. Picking Yadav so soon into his career seems strange, until you realize that this is just the way Indian selectors work. Why waste young fast talent on crappy Indian pitches, when shiny ones beckon in Eng, S.A. and Aus?

All things said, as long as the Indian team doesn’t ruin Yadav/Aaron the way it ruined Ishant and Irfan Pathan and RP Singh and L Balaji (and so on), this team has a fighting chance. It helps that the Australian team isn’t nearly as good as they used to be (and they’re certainly not as good as England at home). There’s hope for you yet, Fletcher.

Sourav Ganguly Has The Last Laugh

Just found this gem from YouTube. Watch Sourav Ganguly exult in Greg Chappell’s recent ex-communication from Australian cricket:

‘Meh’: India’s Strange New Path to Cricket Dominance

Over at Deep Backward Point, Devanshu Mehta has done us all a service and tried, prosecuted and defended India’s decision not to chase victory against the West Indies. After reading blog posts from across the spectrum, Mehta arrives at a conclusion (via Jarrod Kimber) likely to satisfy all sides.

But I want to come to this party fashionably late and add two cents. I count myself part of the crowd defending M.S. Dhoni’s “cowardly” antics, in part because I had an over-powering sense of deja vu to guide me last week. The feeling came from events in 2007, when India — then under Rahul Dravid — decided to settle for a 1-0 series victory against England in England (a historic moment) and close up shop at the Oval. (Dravid scored 12 off 90-odd balls, a strange and cautious effort that botched the victory narrative.)

Then, as now, the same criticisms were voiced. No tenacity. No ‘killer instinct.’ A feeling of caution out of step with modern and shiny and confident India. But since 2007, according to my shaky use of Cricinfo‘s Statsguru, India has played 43 Tests, of which it has drawn 16 and won 19 (can someone check this, please?). In that same period, Australia played 43 Tests and won 21. Not a huge difference. Perhaps I’m not comparing the right teams; after all, India’s supporters don’t want it to be like Australia circa 2008; they want it to be like Australia circa the last 15 years.

OK. So let me make another point.  When Dravid scored those 12 agonizing runs, S. Vaidyanathan hypothesized the man was haunted by the specters of previous batting collapses in Bridgetown and Cape Town. He had something to prove — a series victory in England — and he wanted badly to do so. Last week, the Indians had nothing to prove in the Carribean. That’s a crucial difference. Whereas Dravid’s timidity came from a source of insecurity, Dhoni’s  came from a generation that has perfected the whatever shrug. “Meh,” as the youngsters like to say. The thinking goes like this: I have a T20 World Cup. I have an ODI World Cup. I have the No. 1 Test ranking. I have a series victory in the West Indies, with a second-rate team that included a brand-new opening pair. Meh.

Some cut-throat fans may not appreciate such an attitude. But as an ethical stance, I prefer it to seeking out-and-out dominance, which seeks the emasculation of an opponent.  Meh also comes from a place that implicitly acknowledges past achievements; indeed, it is only justifiable when such laurels can be cited (otherwise, it would be reprehensible). Meh achieves the same stance of superiority — we really couldn’t be bothered about this right now — even as it allows space for the other team to celebrate a small victory. Win-win.

The Best Cricket Board Website

I’m doing some web design work in my current job (don’t ask), and the task nudged me to do some Internet ‘research.’ Like, which cricket board has the best website? Surprisingly, the results weren’t bad on average (except the Pakistani one, which looks like it was developed in the 1990s).

But I give my award to the ECB, which seizes the future and a) offers to sell English cricket kits and gear and jersey online; b) includes interactive links to encourage fan participation (like, podcasts and other Internet thingies). But too many of these websites advertise the wrong things — the latest game fixtures and results, or news from the national team. I doubt many fans go to cricket board websites for this sort of stuff. And why not include information on where to learn cricket, and where to play the game, and where to hire a coach, and how to get tickets at venues if you don’t have a personal connection to a VIP? The good ol’ Kiwis have some of the answers.

Anyway, you decide: England, India, South Africa, Australia, West Indies, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand

Goodbye To Shane Warne

From Mike Selvey, of The Guardian:

No bowler in the game’s history can so much have mastered the dark psychological art that all great spin bowlers have. Warne teased, and talked. He got under the skin. He took the mickey and insulted, the coat cut according to the cloth. “Come on Ramps,” he mocked Mark Ramprakash at Trent Bridge, “you know you want to.” Eventually the batsman contained himself no longer, left his crease to hit over the top and was stumped. The manner in which, single-handed, Warne psyched England to defeat in Adelaide in 2006-07 was something that surely no other cricketer could have done.

G’bye, Warnie.