Category Archives: ODI

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.

One More Time For Bangladesh

Hope springs eternal for Cricket Minded:

Now that the World Cup is over (and I have no other excuse to stay up all night and be disfunctional at work), I look forward to the Aussies coming to Bangladesh. More so because for the first time, I have hope.

That would be hopes of a win. Yes, a win. Against the Aussies.

I had high expectations (relatively) for Bangladesh in the World Cup, and I was left sorely disappointed. For such a good team to be bowled out for under 100, twice — well, it doesn’t inspire confidence. That said, Purna makes a good enough case. I’m just looking forward to seeing Michael Clarke’s baby face ordering old men around.

When Cricketers Meet Politicians

(WARNING: This post includes political opinions that may or may not lie outside the realm of cricket commentary. If you can’t handle that, stop reading now.)

I don’t necessary mind politicians showing up at cricket stadiums. There are important caveats: who paid for their tickets? How are these tickets allocated to other VIPs? And how can we ensure politicians are at least 50 feet away from the post-match presentation ceremony? But I do get annoyed when I see cricketers forced to shake hands with them after games or tournaments.

My reasons: a) It’s a shameless attempt on the politician’s part to insert himself into a news cycle. (It’s hard to say this about Indian President Patil, since her office is largely symbolic and, quite frankly, is rarely in the news cycle.) b) It’s usually a one-way street in terms of expression. That is, Murali meets President Rajapakse. The President gets a picture with a national hero, and the warm embrace shores up his reputation as a consensus politician (Murali is an Indian Tamil; Rajapakse employed unusually brutal and awful methods to eradicate the unusually brutal and awful Tamil Tigers). No athlete can say, Actually, I’d rather not shake your hand, Rajapakse (or Narendra Modi, who employed unusually brutal and awful methods to orchestrate an anti-Muslim pogrom in his home state). They just have to stand, shake, and smile.

Now, some people think that’s perfectly OK, because it separates politics from sports. (Does anyone really care what, say, Harbhajan Singh thinks about the Congress Party, or the BJP?) OK, but then, what’s the point of these photo opportunities with leaders? To the extent these leaders represent national symbols — and I think a legitimate case can be made, again, for Patil — I understand the impulse as part of a wider effort to thank athletes. But it still leaves me a bit unsettled. Am I over-reacting?

Bizarre Cricket Writing, Exhibit A

This is in line with a previous post about unduly rewarding/lionizing the World Cup-winning team. From Mid-Day:

Tendulkar was touched when the group of NSG commandos tasked with protecting him requested to be photographed with him and his family. Tendulkar immediately went into the dressing room and returned with son Arjun. Father and son posed with the commandos for the picture. “They are the real heroes. They defend our nation,” the premier batsman said. The members of the Indian team might disagree, though [italics added]. For them, he was God, the reason they played and won the coveted title. “I am not at all a special person. It was a nice gesture by the teammates. If you are talking about special, our nation is special. The people of our nation are special. We won the World Cup for them,” Tendulkar said.

Huh. Find me one Indian player who would actually disagree with Tendulkar and say, on the record, “I think Tendulkar is the real hero, not a NSG commander.” What’s refreshing — in a horrible sort of way — is how openly adoring Indian cricket writers and fans can be. In America, the celebrity dynamic is alive and well, but no celebrity — or journalist, even — would be caught dead saying they were worth more than a soldier. That’s usually left unstated or implied (i.e., we spend more time following Charlie Sheen than the latest events in Afghanistan), and you can question the sincerity of any celebrity’s humility. But still, to openly say it’s a valid question — who’s of more social utility, Sachin or a soldier? — shows you the crazy extent of adoration occasionally reached in South Asia.

When India Lost At Wankhede

Via Cric-Sis, Great post from Mars at Corridor of Certainty:

The last match I saw here [Wankhede] did not give me very pleasant memories – the loss left me less affected but a certain section of the crowd shocked me. I’ve never witnessed such crass and rowdy behaviour in any of the previous matches. Abuses were rampant and directed towards each and every English cricketer by a bunch of teenagers – all sitting in the grandstands thanks to their family connections and misbehaving as if it was a thing to be proud about. Sachin was booed after failing in the 4th innings and it’s a memory I try to erase but cannot.

This is the game Mars is talking about. This is an article on the booing of Sachin. How fickle we are.

When Foreign Reporters Tackle Cricket

Kirk Semple of The New York Times had a tough assignment: wake up at 5 a.m., and watch a bunch of South Asians enjoy the India-Pakistan semifinal. The result isn’t pretty — the lede made me cringe:

If there seemed to be a shortage of taxis at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, one possible reason was apparent on the streets of Jackson Heights in Queens.

Ugh. The rest of the article is better, but still mildly annoying. The fans come across as almost insane (“he…excitedly rocked back and forth…”), and Semple treats the exercise like an anthropologist venturing into Papua New Guinea (no one “expected any trouble among the customers”). There’s also the usual question any Western reporter must ask a cricket fan: how do you deal with the game’s duration?

The trouble with the India-Pakistan storyline, compelling as it may seem to Western editors, was that it completely overpowered any real discussion of the game itself. If you read comparable coverage of soccer World Cup fans, articles tended to note their passion, but also their reactions to the actual sporting event (e.g., I don’t like X player; I don’t think this team will do well; I’m frustrated by Y move…). But most Western reports of the semifinal have tended to emphasize the cultural element of the game — as if people enjoying a sport is not a universal human trait.

Cricket fans, a couple of tips when talking to reporters: a) Do not say the words “cricket is a religion.” Just don’t. It’s a cliche, it’s not true and it confuses the hell out of Westerners and b) Try slipping in snide comments about American football or baseball.

Was The India-Pakistan Semifinal A Let Down?

Some in the cricket blogosphere have said the semifinal didn’t live up to expectations. If by “expectations” they meant a full-scale nuclear apocalypse, with Manmohan Singh frantically trying to reach Sonia Gandhi on the phone, then yes — it wasn’t that great.

But I didn’t think it was a boring match at all. Sure, it didn’t go down to the wire, but even with three overs until the end, there was still some tension and concern among the crowd that Misbah ul-Haq would pull a rabbit out of the hat and save the game. On Twitter, and in the commentary, it seemed each Pakistani wicket augured the final end — until new fears arose that Razzak, or Afridi, or Misbah would do something.

Actually, the game had all the markings of a great match: an initial Indian blitz, a Pakistani comeback, a despondent Indian crowd upset at the seemingly paltry score of 260, an initial Pakistani blitz, an Indian comeback, a brief Pakistani resurgence…you get the picture. Add to this some impressive individual performances (Tendulkar, Wahab, some peach deliveries, some dramatic near run-outs and catches, a couple of controversial UDRS calls) and I’m not sure what more you could have wanted.

Though a nuclear apocalypse would have made for good television…

Is “Cricket Diplomacy” An Oxymoron?

Mukul Kesavan gave a rather bewildering interview to NPR today on the subject of the India-Pakistan game. The host asked Kesavan to explain a recent editorial in which he said nothing good comes from a game between the two rivals.

Prof. KESAVAN: What I meant by that is that cricket games between India and Pakistan tend to be so fraught with national feeling. And its national feeling that is of a strange Balkan thought, because it’s not a republican nationalism. Its nationalism based upon notions of partition, and irredentism, and war, and blood and soil. […] . If my team lost, I’m filled with a kind of poisonous bad feeling; and this, despite the fact that I now that I should be grown up and adult about this.

Two points: first, it’s not clear to me what Kesavan means by “republican nationalism,” because I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. What nationalism isn’t based on a notion of “partition…blood and soil”? You could point to revolutionary France or America, but both countries emphasize their cultural and historical differences even as they blend in ideals of universal rights and freedoms. No nationalism is based solely on republican rights for all.

But that’s a relatively small point next to Kesavan’s argument that “poisonous feelings” erupt, especially in the shorter versions of the game. It’s a fascinating hypothesis that because Tests last so long, it forces fans to calm themselves and their tension, so that the match’s narrative overpowers personal ones (or even national histories).

I’m not sure I buy it. The case for pushing a sporting tie is that a) it fosters cultural dialogue and cooperation (millions of fans in both countries are watching the same program and seeing commonality rather than difference; moreover, fans from one side — in this case, Pakistan — get to travel across the border); b) it sublimates whatever nationalistic tension to cricket’s own traditions (e.g., listening to both anthems before a match; watching the players shake hands and congratulate each other after the match; seeing teams play each other according to prescribed rules and neutral umpires); c) if you do end up with poisonous feelings, it’s about a freaking cricket match, and not, say, Kargil or Islam v. Hinduism.

I don’t want to be misunderstood: I’m not saying playing cricket automatically leads to better relations between the country. Sadly, no. But there’s enough of a case to believe that it’s not an exercise inevitably fraught with tension, as Kesavan suggests. On the other hand, one problem with incorporating cricket into countries’ diplomatic negotiations is that it makes the game a pawn in each cycle of tension/thawing. So, when things are going well, India and Pakistan tour the lands and much merriment is had. But when things go badly — and let’s face it, they inevitably will — one country barring the other from sending a cricket team is part and parcel with recalling a High Commissioner. Banning cricket ties has become a signal of a diplomatic freeze. In doing so, the game inadvertently becomes infected with the discourse of conflict, and it must carry more cultural baggage than it needs. I don’t mind people getting worked up over an India-Pakistan game, but I do mind it getting tossed around like a regional pawn. It’s sort of like childishly boycotting the Olympics during the Cold War.

Cricket Makes NPR

With three Asian teams making the World Cup semifinals, there was a certain danger that much of the cricket world — small as it may be — would have shut out the tournament. (I’m told, in Australia, that that’s largely the case now, with the news cycle already moving on to the transition to the Clarke regime.) Happily enough, American listeners received their own introduction to the World Cup stakes from NPR, National Public Radio.

This can be a bittersweet moment for any die-hard cricket fan. For one thing, American outlets tend to report on cricket in the same bemused tone, no matter how many times they have acknowledged the game in the past. What, do you people actually follow this incomprehensible sport? They actually have passionate feelings about it, one way or the other? How different! (An example of this comes from NPR.com, the radio network’s website. Mark Memmott wrote a post about cricket that repeatedly emphasizes the irony that he does not know what he’s writing about. Hey, Mark, you’re not really that funny, OK?)

But Mukul Kesavan landed on ‘Morning Edition,’ and ‘All Things Considered’ did a fairly good job too of describing just how passionate people were about the game. Listen to both when you get the chance.

 

Pakistan Did Not Lose Because Of Dropped Catches

There’s a prevailing theory in cricket — call it the “missed chance” formula — that tries to parse through victories and defeats based on a team’s lost opportunities. For those not familiar with this explanation, you’ll find a good example from Osman Samiuddin on Cricinfo:

But there are some rules in life you cannot defy, some batsmen you really cannot give a chance to. And if you give Sachin Tendulkar four chances – not one but four! Tendulkar! – you cannot expect to win a game, no matter what else you do. It was one of his least fluent recent innings as well but in the drops of Misbah, Younis Khan – their two best catchers -Kamran Akmal and Umar Akmal, went the game. It is as simple as that.

Samiuddin is careful to add caveats in his column, so I don’t want to sound like I’m picking on him. But I have a real problem when commentators wonder aloud how “expensive” a dropped catch may be, and do that that thing where they calculate the number of runs scored after the incident in question. This logic assumes a linear narrative — that is, batsman is dropped, batsman goes on to score runs, therefore, drop led to defeat.

But it’s also entirely possible that different realities are created with each ball. Say, for example, that Tendulkar got out on the first catch he offered to Younus Khan. Isn’t it also possible that Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh would have gone on to carry the innings and not get out to consecutive deliveries? Obviously I can’t be certain, because situations in cricket constantly change (as anyone calculating odds for bookies understands), but it’s likely Tendulkar stayed on and told his partners to take more risks because he planned to anchor the innings. Take Tendulkar out from this equation, and presto — different game trajectory.

I don’t mean to condone dropping catches (especially four off the same batsman, which is testing my argument). But people keeping close score would have noticed India didn’t have a flawless fielding experience either: Dhoni missed a stumping (off Younus Khan, I believe); Yuvraj did not run Umar Akmal out (at a time when many believed he was taking them home to victory), and Ashish Nehra did not cleanly catch Afridi. None of these mistakes proved decisive because other opportunities arrived (hell, I could even argue that some of these chances spooked the Pakistani batsmen into giving more chances).

So why did Pakistan lose? Well, Hafeez and Shaufiq played crap shots; Afridi did not call the Powerplay soon enough; the pitch was difficult to score off, especially against spin; Akmal and Razzak received unplayable deliveries and Misbah ul-Haq should have played higher in the innings. I’d focus on any of these, not Pakistan restricting India to 260 — a good score to chase, as M.S. Dhoni himself admitted after the match.