Category Archives: Ishant Sharma

Lay Off The Indian Bowlers Just A Little Bit

I noticed a full onslaught from my Twitter friends about India’s insipid bowling on Day 1 against the Sri Lankans. To which I offer this as a defense: 1) Yes, the bowling has been a tad “toothless,” as Cricinfo says, but it wasn’t the bowling attack we wanted. Zaheer Khan should have been there, but he’s not. Injuries take tolls.

2) Perhaps so, detractors may respond, but India should never be in a position to rely solely on one person. Hasn’t Ishant Sharma grown enough in the past few years that he could improve his seam position? Yes, but at the same time, we have to recognize the conditions these guys are bowling in. If India had won the toss, we’d likely be pleased as punch right now that the Sri Lankans were on the receiving end (and I have little doubt they would have been — though perhaps that’s just naivete). But this is how things work in Sri Lanka: the team that wins the toss bats first, takes advantage of a belter of a pitch, and then pressures the other team with 500+ runs in the board.

Again, I don’t like this bowling attack any more than the rest of you. Still, this is history we’re talking about — this is how it’s always been. So let’s just wait for that declaration, shall we?


Worried About India-Sri Lanka

There are a couple of storylines emerging from the sports journalists about the Sri Lanka-India Test series: 1) Murali’s final goodbye. 2) India’s bowling malaise. 3) Possible pitches that allow batsmen to go on and on.

And I’m really worried. If you give or take away certain Tests, I think you’ll find that most subcontinental Tests are extremely boring. The typical way to win is a) win toss; b) bat forever; c) use spinners and pressure and 7-2, or even 8-1, fields to stifle opposition. Repeat x2. That’s not nearly as much fun as the ebb-and-flow of English Tests, where the weather can determine if one team has been bowled out for 100 or not at all.

So, this could be boring. Even worse, it could be exciting — but bad for the Indian team. There’s nothing worse than the sight of a haggled Ishant Sharma, his badly lined teeth staring from his open mouth, as he trudges through the heat with his impossibly long run-up. If the ball doesn’t seam, and Harbhajan doesn’t grip, this could be a long week.

The Better Narratives Of A Test Match

I’d like to offer the Eden Gardens Test Match as Exhibit A in the case, Tests v. Twenty20.

Yes, there were the centuries and the wickets and the close finish at the end. But the match also highlighted Test cricket’s biggest attraction: its seemingly endless duration, simply unimagined in other modern sports (and I include the shorter versions of cricket). The best thing that time allows is the sheer range of narratives, replete with the requisite twists and turns and the great characters.

Take that last bit first: in the shorter formats, there’s not much time for men to reveal their nature. As a Twenty20 batsman, you have one goal, and there’s nothing subtle about hitting DLF Maximums. There’s more room to grow in ODIs — you have the pinch-hitter, for instance, or the middle-order consolidators — but you need Tests for a true reflection of human variety. There’s the ‘nightwatchman,’ (a lovely moniker) or — my favorite — the Anchor-Savior (exemplified by S. Chanderpaul, H. Amla and G. Gambhir at Napier). Think about the forces that led to Amla’s mammoth innings: he needed to become a Wall; blot out all emotion or impulse, and all for a draw.

And just as in a long novel, where authors foreshadow major events with strategically planted seeds, Test cricket has its own dramatic devices. Take Ishant Sharma’s burst on Day 1, which many commentators said partially explained the collapse that later occurred in the post-Tea session. Or take the marks left on a pitch as bowlers complete their run-up. Those habits of routine become potentially explosive on Day 5, when balls land in their place and explode.

Now, think about Twenty20, which produces only one plot, really: one side hits, and the other tries to out-hit. Batsmen have only one character: the hero persona who hits X number of boundaries in a given time period. I’m not knocking Twenty20, because pulp fiction has its place too (and I love too many bad television shows to be judgmental). But one reason I feel more satisfied and fuller — almost more learned, really — after a good Test match is a better story line.

Lessons From The First Test Against South Africa

Despite the Indians’ shameful batting display, Eye On Cricket argues for cooler heads given the circumstances:

What if anything, have we learned from yesterday’s collapse? Not that much. Indian batting line-ups (like lots of batting line-ups the world over) are susceptible to high-quality pace and swing. And this line-up was weakened by the absence of Dravid and Laxman (we had collapses even with those gentlemen present). Indian tails are still notoriously fragile, so its no surprise to see the bottom bit of the line-up buckle and fold.

I’m inclined to agree. Tosses are generally important in cricket, but especially so in India. Still, watching Dale Steyn bowl, I couldn’t help feel sorry for our pace attack in comparison. I realize that’s not how we generally win in India; look over the India-Australia scorecards from 2008 (which India won 2-0), and you see the crucial role that Amit Mishra and Harbhajan Singh played. But, man, the ball just seemed to fly out of Steyn’s hands (and note the way he “set up” M. Vijay and S. Tendulkar, proving he’s smart as well).

So, this is a case of strategies and fortune going against India: 1) Our spinners, the usual trump cards, didn’t bowl as well as they could; 2) We lost a crucial toss; 3) We were without the experienced middle order (and just when we needed Gambhir to prosper once more, he didn’t, exposing young lads too soon), and 4) The South Africans gambled on an old premise — Indians can’t play raw pace, and a yorker in Nagpur is as good as one in Perth (as Steyn said) — and won.

We’ve been here before (see: Ahmedabad, South Africa v. India 2007). As E.O.C. argues, this is the new cricket world: each side has its weaknesses, and it’s all the more fun because of it.

Ishant Sharma’s Falling Pace

When Ishant Sharma started, he regularly topped 140 km/h, earning him induction into “fast bowler” category (above that much-hated “medium fast” that Zaheer must toil in). Since then, like all Indian bowlers, he’s fallen steadily, barely breaking 130 km/h against the South Africans in his first over.

Is this a big deal? Some argue control matters more than pace (nudge, nudge, Venkatesh Prasad), perhaps even more in India, where the unforgiving pitches slow down everything. But others argue that the slow wicket precisely demands someone who can hurry up batsmen.

With the South Africans including legitimate pacemen like Steyn and Morkel, we’ll see which side wins the debate.

Shahid Afridi’s Bizarre Ball Tampering Apology

According to Cricinfo, Shahid Afridi offered this bizarre non-apology apology after he was caught ball-tampering:

“I shouldn’t have done it. It just happened. I was trying to help my bowlers and win a match, one match,” he told Geo TV, a Pakistan-based news channel. “There is no team in the world that doesn’t tamper with the ball. My methods were wrong. I am embarrassed, I shouldn’t have done it. I just wanted to win us a game but this was the wrong way to do it.”

Count the number of ways Afridi approaches his remorse: first, he righly admits he shouldn’t have done it. OK. But then, second, he says, it just happened (meaning, it was not pre-meditated), though chewing anything requires a fair amount of planning (hand-mouth coordination and all that). Then, and third, everyone does it (meaning, it’s something he should have done?).

As The New York Times reported this week (after Toyota flat out apologized for their faulty gas pedals), a good apology seems to have fallen out of fashion:

Examples of bad apologies abound. “ ‘I want to apologize’ is not an apology,” Ms. Weeks said. “It’s no more an apology than ‘I want to lose weight’ is a loss of weight.”

How about “I’m sorry if you were offended,” or “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings”? These imply that the injured party is just too sensitive. “I’ve been agonizing about this. I’ve been losing sleep. I feel so bad.” These suggest that the wronged party should take care of the apologizer. And then there’s, going on attack — “Are you going to hold this against me forever?” — if the apology isn’t immediately accepted.

For another example, see Matthew Hayden’s faux apology after he mocked Ishant Sharma’s accent.

Ishant Sharma Bites The Dust

His descent is nearly complete. Dropped from the 2nd Test against Sri Lanka. But the selectors replace the man with S. Sreesanth, another once-heralded pace asset who quickly fell from grace with bad form, persistent injuries and an absolutely ridiculous on-field persona that even Jerk Supremo Harbhajan Singh couldn’t stand.

I’m already up to sign a “Bring Sharma Back” petition if someone’s passing it around. (Just watch Sreesanth do well in this Test, just to spite all of us.)

The Coming Ishant Sharma Backlash

It’s already started, after that lackluster ODI series against Australia, but the backlash will get worse after Ishant Sharma’s performance on Day 2 in the Motara Test. There’s nothing worse than seeing his mouth open, contorted into a grimace that reveals all his teeth, after being called for yet another no-ball. It’s unbelievably frustrating, not least because the umpire calls it out loudly, and he has to repeat deliveries with a very long run-up.

It’s sad, because only a year ago, this man was heralded as the much-needed ammunition for a flagging pace attack. Since then, he’s lost his pace and intimidation, even though his in-swinger looks intact for now.

Sharma’s problems remind me of Irfan Pathan’s earlier, and both players’ experience suggest Team India isn’t as good an incubator of talent as it could be. I had hoped that with a younger line-up and a younger captain, things would move past what John Wright encountered in the early 2000s, when senior veterans would have the little blokes fetch tea for them. But perhaps that’s not the case. We need some management consultants here!

The Decline and Rise of Cricket Nations

Rather grand title, no? But as I was on another interminable subway ride, I started to wonder: why do some cricketing nations dominate, and others do not? And — given Australia’s recent fall — why do some decline? 

The simplest, and possibly best, answer has something to do with the quality of players. Modern cricket has known only two great teams: the West Indies, which had the reins for a frightfully long time, and Australia. Both these teams had unmatchable players, and kept producing them. The West Indies had Viv Richards, Rohan Kanhai, Malcolm Marshall, all the way down to Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and lastly, Brian Lara; the Australians — well, you know who they had. 

Once that long supply was exhausted, the team suffered, and Lara was not enough to carry it. The West Indies also missed a trick with the rise of spin, which the Indians consitently relied on, but the Australians — with one Shane Warne — took to a match-winning quality. Pace alone, and spin alone, cannot do the task; one needs both, even if Paul Harris is your one spinner (as in South Africa’s case). Australia, however, now find themselves in the same position the West Indies did in the early 1990s: gone are McGrath and Warne, and Langer and Hayden, and Lehmann and Martyn, and the Waugh brothers and Gilchrist. 

There are underlying factors behind this sudden lack of resources: Continue reading

Ishant Sharma’s Hair

With the ODI series against England now inconsequential, let’s turn to more pressing matters: “ISHANT SHARMA GETS A NEW HAIRCUT!!!”

I like it. It makes him look like a schoolboy, which, at his tender age, he should look like. Still, there were times when his hair really looked out of control, more comical than scary. Continue reading