Category Archives: New Zealand

Shakib Al Hasan Needs To Move To Another Country

Shakib Al Hasan, Bangladesh’s former captain, has a problem — let’s call it ‘Dan Vettori Syndrome.’ He is, without a doubt, the best player in his squad. And he clearly knows it; he has made it a habit of routinely stepping up to the crease with bat and ball when his fellow players do not. Take a look at the stats: in Tests, he averages in the low 30s with the ball and the bat (and he has seven five-wicket hauls); in ODIs, he scores 35 on average, and takes wickets at 28. (And he’s only 24!)

But like Dan Vettori, Hasan’s efforts usually don’t earn results. That’s because their teams are largely mediocre. So the issue is this: what do you do when you have a singular talent in the midst of mediocrity? Someone like Chris Gayle reacted to this problem by shrugging his shoulders and dispensing his talent only when he saw fit. (This attitude — which included giving the middle finger to his board of cricket — only makes sense now that lucrative T20 contracts are available.) Others, like Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar, tried to hold up the entire team on their shoulders, either to stall the inevitable (Lara’s case), or to wait until better talent arrived (Tendulkar’s).

The problem for Hasan and Vettori is that they are all-rounders. Now this may be a completely unscientific prejudice on my part, but if you have a star player, wouldn’t you want him to be a star batsman (or bowler)? All-rounders are great; they inspire and rescue your team from trouble, but I don’t see them building squads or getting results. By the time Shakib comes to bat, for example, the most he can do is try to put on a respectable score; he can’t do the top order’s job of dominating the game. In other words, I’d rather have a 50-average batsman, or a strike bowler of Dale Steyn or Zaheer Khan quality, rather than a 30-and-30 all-rounder. [Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot in the comments.]

So what should Hasan or Vettori do? Vettori can’t wait until better talent to emerge, because New Zealand’s small pool may not deliver. Both can make more money through the IPL and elsewhere, but Hasan could imagine a scenario wherein Bangladesh become a threatening squad in another 10 years (and by that time, at 34, he’d be ideally placed to lead). Perhaps he could do what Tendulkar did — inspire the Rainas, Kohlis and Sharmas — and stick around long enough to see his team lift the World Cup trophy.

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

The End Of The Daniel Vettori Experiment

From Cricinfo comes dispiriting news:

John Wright has replaced Mark Greatbatch as New Zealand’s coach, and Daniel Vettori has lost his role as a selector, as part of a review of the team’s recent tour of India. Wright will take charge of the side immediately, while Greatbatch will become the convener of a three-man selection panel that will also include Glenn Turner and Lance Cairns.

Good for Wright, but bad for Vettori. His ascension to a formal role on NZ’s selection committee was hailed as a bold experiment when it was announced. I’m not sure how other countries do this; I believe most captains can advise selection committees but have no proper vote. That’s not ideal, because it means captains have to put up with players they don’t like, or, conversely, go without players they’d like to have. It also introduces an additional layer of politics: a popular, winning captain will get his way; a losing one won’t.

And so it was with Vettori. I honestly don’t know how to explain the two whitewashes (against Bangladesh and India), but I’m fairly certain Vettori had very little to do with it (the general level of mediocrity of NZ cricket should take most of the blame). Anyway, the end of a bold experiment. Too soon.

Harbhajan Singh Is Not An All-Rounder

Not to rain on Harbhajan Singh’s parade — this guy has just saved two Tests for India on the trot — but people need to stop calling him an all-rounder. Sure, the current evidence to the contrary — two fifties and a century — seems overwhelming, but it loses some force when you look at the actual video footage of the innings.

Take this last one in particular: Singh is just about all over the place. I counted at least five different times when the gap between where Harbahajan wanted the ball to go and where it ended was wider than the Pacific Ocean. He hit, he was lucky, and all to the good for the Indian team. But we’ve all seen plenty of innings from Singh where he immediately tries his hand and fails. (The law of averages confirms this; Singh scores 17 runs each innings on average.)

Now, Singh has an incredible eye and he has the strength to wallop things around. I’m just not sure about a) his temperament; b) his defensive skills; c) his ability to cope with short balls, true pace and really fast pitches. In the end, the most we can hope from this guy is 17 quick runs. That’s not too shabby, but it’s not Shaun Pollack or Freddie Flintoff either. I worry that selectors, looking at his failing bowling, will use his recent batting heroics as a crutch, which will inevitably land us in more trouble than it’s worth.

India’s Survival Plan Against New Zealand

They’ve got to have one, right? The obvious hope is for V.V.S Laxman to yet again pull off a miraculous escape (either with Singh, Ohja, Sreesanth or Khan) and then leave too little time for the Kiwis to chase down whatever target is set.

That means: get past the first 30 overs to lunch; keep scoring (either through inevitable tail-ender hijinks or Laxman’s own fluency) and then pray for the best (170? 200?). (Pray, also, that the Kiwis will falter in their chase as they move from underdog to expected winner. Pressure works wonders.)

But, as hard as I try, I can’t fathom why we’re in this position at all (apart from the fickle wishes of the Test gods). Who the hell is Chris Martin? And did this pitch have anything to do with his (awesome) success, or was it a batting failure?

A lot has been said of India’s near-perfect record at home of late, but there have been noticeable cracks — too many of the recent games have been far closer than series results suggest, and I’m not sure why (a gap in concentration levels? Exhaustion? Complacency?).

At some point, we’ll have to address the team’s weaknesses: Harbhajan seems to be failing, with no spin successor in place; Gambhir’s form has fallen off, as has Dravid’s; our bowling attacks relies too heavily on Zaheer, who’s leading a weak pace attack.

But other than that, you know, India is No. 1. And they’ve won all their close shaves of late, so I’m rooting for them. But only just.

Let India Go Home

Sure, I’ll watch this latest tri-series concoction between New Zealand, India and Sri Lanka. I don’t have much of an option — I’m a cricket addict, and illegal, sketchy, pop-up leaden illegal streaming sites are very good enablers.

No, I’d be just as happy if the Indian team returned home and relaxed before their more taxing assignments begin this year (South Africa, eep). We just played an Asia Cup in Dambulla, before the Test series that just concluded. If we have to organize so many tournaments featuring India, then at least have the courtesy to develop tiers of teams to develop the bench talent. (And please, please, give M.S. Dhoni a break — if his fingers can’t handle things, let ’em head off to the southern coast of Sri Lanka and enjoy the beach.)

A final note: if India fares badly in this contest, be it resolved that no one should care. Really. If they want to go out there and play like idiots, let them. Let ’em have some fun.

Cricket In The USA

Cricinfo has a fairly instructive piece on the challenges facing cricket in America (which will host a New Zealand v. Sri Lanka T20 shortly). Generally, I’m a skeptic; I don’t see people other than expats or immigrants (from the West Indies and South Asia, in particular) carrying this game forward. But I don’t know much about sports development.

I did want to point out another thing: when Americans talk about cricket, they usually view it as a upper-class game. On NPR’s Fresh Air show last year, the host told the author of Netherland — a cricket novel — that she was surprised his book centered around Indian/West Indian immigrants, given that the game is so British. (And ‘British’ was code for upper-class, along with Wimbledon and tea.) A couple of years ago, Esquire magazine did a spread on “cricket fashion,” and it was what you would expect: prep boys dressed in Test cricket sweaters and whites.

In 2005, two authors of a New York Times editorial relied on the classist argument to explain cricket’s mysterious death in America after the 19th century:

This elite appropriation played into the hands of baseball entrepreneurs who actively worked to diminish cricket’s popularity. A.G. Spalding, described in the Baseball Hall of Fame as the “organizational genius of baseball’s pioneer days,” was typical. “I have declared cricket is a genteel game,” he mocked in “America’s National Game,” his 1911 best seller. “It is. Our British cricketer, having finished his day’s labor at noon, may don his negligee shirt, his white trousers, his gorgeous hosiery and his canvas shoes, and sally forth to the field of sport, with his sweetheart on one arm and his cricket bat under the other, knowing that he may engage in his national pastime without soiling his linen or neglecting his lady.”

Was India’s Test Success Just A Mirage?

There’s an argument developing online, contra my and Eye On Cricket’s take, that the Steyn battering proved that India’s recent success is just a mirage, built on results against middling teams like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and England. Here’s Prem Panicker, for instance:

It may not seem like it at the time, but this series is already proving to be a blessing – we can finally put our sense of notional superiority aside and find out exactly where we stand in terms of being a high quality Test side, and start work on building the sort of team that doesn’t require a buffet of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to climb ranking ladders.

This isn’t exactly fair. First, Sri Lanka isn’t that bad a team; we lost to them in Sri Lanka not too long ago. And neither is England — they just beat the Australians at home, and they nearly did the same to South Africa in South Africa. Second, India have also done well against South Africa and Australia (the only two other ‘quality’ teams, apparently). We drew with South Africa when they last visited, and we comprehensively beat Australia when their turn arose. Third, India has also done well outside of India, including in New Zealand, once a very serious no-go zone for Indian batsmen. (In fact, take a look at the Napier scorecard for hope in this Test — the Kiwis scored 600+ runs in the first innings; India followed-on, only to bat through to a draw.)

During this time, India faced Mitchell Johnson, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Ntini, Stuart Broad and Dale Steyn, all currently among the top 10 best Test bowlers. It’s ludicrous to think the Indians had not played ‘real’ pace before Steyn’s burst yesterday. (Besides, keep in mind that Steyn is ranked no. 1 — it’s one thing to play good bowlers, it’s another thing to play against the best in his prime form.)

The point here isn’t that India’s the best. No, they’re not, and Panicker rightly points out the flaws — a pace attack short of one good fast bowler, and a weakness against raw pace and swing. But, as E.O.C. noted, every Test cricket team has some weakness or the other, and they’ve all been exposed: South Africa couldn’t beat back England at home (at home!); Australia lost to South Africa in Australia, and South Africa lost to Australia in South Africa. Things are in flux, and no one dominating team has emerged.

The Tragedy Of Peter Fulton

We just had a brilliant Test match unfold between New Zealand and Sri Lanka. This is what sporting pitches can do (no disrespect to the Kanpur result). I’ll have many things to say about it, but I just wanted to talk about Peter Fulton, who, for God knows what reason, decided not to review his LBW decision in the 2nd innings even though he knew he had an inside edge.

I don’t know much about Fulton; the commentators seemed to imply he’s in dreadful form. But you just watch his face after he’s been given out, and your heart breaks. He touches his bat; sees the red mark; looks at the pitch and his partner (who’s looking down, almost out of shame), and then he walks off, resigned. He’s so low on confidence, the guy actually wanted to be given out and figured he’d be of more use in the dressing room.

This review system has thrown everyone for a loop, but this must be its saddest encounter yet. It’s almost an old-fashioned nod to fate and fortune: I know I wasn’t out; I know I can reverse it — but I won’t, because ’tis my time to go. (Watch it here, Part III video.)

Champions Trophy Ends Badly

Let’s play the good and bad game. On the good side, the tournament was fairly exciting, with plenty of action and close matches and compelling cricket. But on the bad side, the Australians — the ones who’ve done the most to make cricket boring in the last decade — won, and that too against New Zealand, a competent side (but nothing more).

So where does that leave us? This was supposed to be the tournament that confirmed Australia’s official demise as the best team in the world, but instead we found all the top favorites — Sri Lanka, South Africa, India — out of the running. But then again, Australia seemed much more exciting, scrapping to win down to the tail against Pakistan. If this is the future, I like it: plenty of contenders for the throne.

UPDATE: Kridaya has a different, more resigned, take.