Category Archives: West Indies

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


Bowlers Or Batsmen: Who Are More Intelligent?

During Day 2 of the West Indies-Pakistan Test, Rameez Raja and Ian Bishop began an interesting discussion about Wahab Riaz’s action. The specific discovery that triggered the topic — Riaz’s angled wrist position — wasn’t what caught my attention. It was more Raja’s tone. He asked Bishop, his voice conveying genuine bemusement, why it was so hard for a bowler to slightly change the delivery angle of his hand. Surely, this was something relatively easy, no? So why hadn’t it been done? To be fair, Raja later qualified his remarks, but his undercurrent was clear: Are bowlers dumb? Why can’t they do a simple thing like change their action? 

When we say cricket is a batsman’s game, we not only mean the rules give them the upper hand, but also that they are the main attraction — the elite of society. By contrast, bowlers are generally depicted as creatures of habit. Like the underclass, they are unappreciated and expected to toil under a hot sun while the batsman lounges in his crease and decides a ball’s fate. (This bias may be encouraged by modern commentary. I haven’t studied this closely enough, but I’ll bet the ratio of batsmen to bowlers in the media box clearly tips to the former.)

Think of the language we use to discuss batsmen — their technique, especially. Raja’s question about Riaz’s wrist implied that, compared to fixing a batsman’s technique, bowlers face relatively easy puzzles. A batsman has to work on his defensive game by learning proper footwork and a level head, but a bowler just needs to make minor adjustments to his action, which they then can repeat endlessly on a loop, for God’s sake.  (Ian Bishop gave a meandering reply, but he noted that for many coaches, the toughest thing is to decide what to leave in a player’s arsenal, and what to change. Imagine trying to shift or reform a golfer’s swing — the danger is that if you insist on changing one thing, some other problem will emerge as the athlete adjusts.)

This reminds me of something Wasim Akram once said about batsman-captains. He noted that, during a bad bowling spell, they would often run up to him and offer useless bromides like, “Good line and length, Wasim.” And he would wonder, “Yes, but why am I not hitting a good line and length right now?” A related problem is that we have words and vocabulary to describe a batsman’s failure — he’s out of form, say, or his stance makes him liable to particular balls (short, yorkers, in-swingers, whatever). But for bowlers, we still rely on vague — almost mystical — notions like “rhythm.” Why a bowler does well on one day and badly the next is still largely a mystery to me. Why a bowler suddenly finds swing, and otherwise not (a la Irfan Pathan) — let’s just say I suspect it has more to do than the position of his wrist.

The Trouble With Chris Gayle

Huw Richards and The Old Batsman — two of the better cricket writers around — both have pieces on the strange mystery that is Chris Gayle. Only a month ago, he was sidelined from his national team, clubbing at 3 a.m. somewhere in the world, and excluded from the IPL. Then, Richards writes:

He single-handedly has transformed his team’s fortunes. Bangalore had started slowly, with three early losses. It won Gayle’s first five matches to leap from also-ran to serious contender for one of the four playoff places.

“It shows that one man can change the fortunes of a team in a Twenty20 tournament,” said the former India batsman Sanjay Manjrekar in his weekly video diary for the ESPNcricinfo Web site.

Second, T.O.B.:

Lots of players hit the ball hard and a long way, but not like [Gayle] does. Virat Kohli said today that he had ‘the best and most dangerous’ seat in the house to watch him. Dilshan admitted he was scared by the power with which Gayle strikes it.

There’s no doubting Gayle’s talent and power, but his famous coolness — routinely praised by others — has always irked me. Here is a guy who could be as good as he wants, but he decides to turn the ‘on’ switch only when he wants. So, now, he has an average of 99, but during the 2011 World Cup, he notched just above 42. That’s not bad, but things are relative, and for a depleted and lackluster West Indies, the difference between a batsman who scores 40 and one who scores 99 is huge. (Consider: Gayle wasn’t among the top 40 batsmen in that tournament, and he wasn’t even the best West Indian — both Darren Smith and K. Pollard scored more.)

The pessimistic view is that Gayle is an asshole, who plays for himself (as Otis Gibson suggests). The optimistic view is that he’s caught in a pressure trap: when there isn’t any need for him, Gayle will make his presence felt the most. When there is, the tension breaks his back.

Slow-Motion Michael Holding

This footage had a special moment in Fire in Babylon (the last time I bring this up, I promise!): slow-motion Michael Holding, a.k.a. Whispering Death. This YouTube video should have more than 140,000 views, people. Watch until a little past the first minute:

“Some bowlers are ugly, some who are beautiful. This fellow, I think, is magnificent.”

Fire In Babylon

Waited in line Thursday night to catch Fire In Babylon, a hugely compelling documentary of the West Indies cricket team (1975-1985). My quick review: this is an unbelievable piece of cricket folklore. Get the DVD now. My long review:

1. I’m young, so I missed this whole era. To be re-introduced to legends like Viv Richards was hugely gratifying. It’s not just that Richards was a good batsman; he also had, as he says, a certain amount of swagger — chewing gum while batting; staring at upstart bowlers; not wincing when hit by a fast ball. Few batsmen have that same presence now, even though batsmen rule the game now. (The best part of this movie is seeing batsmen squirm; few in the audience will realize just how far the scales have tipped in their favor since the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ruled.)

2. The film itself does a good job of moving quickly (though the Kerry Packer episode could have been edited out, in my opinion). First, it sets up the political/cultural moment in the Caribbean circa 1960s/1970s, so as to explain just why the West Indies cricket team mattered so much. Then, it follows the team’s initial failure in Australia, to its never-ending victories. A good amount of political commentary as well.

2A. It could have been better with more cricket though. There’s a moment when the film slows to show Michael Holding bowling an angry over in England, and it’s electrifying. (It’s this over, against B. Close.) The producers/editors should have done more of this — though I understand why they felt wary, given that they were trying to get as big an audience as possible. (Seeing Malcom Marshall catch and bat with a broken arm — simply incredible.)

3. How brutal is cricket? I complain now about injuries to cricketers, and they are serious, but to watch what batsmen faced in those days…the audience in the cinema gasped several times, and with each one, you got the sense they had discovered a Big Lie — this cricket, it hasn’t and never has been for gentlemen! What separates this from rugby?

4. The movie’s central premise, though, is a difficult one for me. Basically, Clive Lloyd and the West Indians swear never again to fare as badly as they did while touring Australia in 1975, when Lilee/Thompson scared the form out of them. Lloyd’s answer — we can bowl just as fast as they can — is satisfying on one level (political equality; beating the masters at their own game), but also disappointing (imitation isn’t the best political protest). Now, there’s a place for this logic initially in the post-colonial moment — I just don’t think it’s useful 60/70 years on. In other words: India, please, please, don’t try to become Australia. Imagine a different trajectory! (See Gandhi/Tagore’s views on nationalism for more on this line of thought.)

5. The filmmakers made a smart, but risky, decision to feature only West Indians talking about West Indian cricket. You see almost no one else — no Ian Botham, no Tony Grieg — in the present day reflecting on that period. I like it. This is as much about history and the power of a region’s narrative as it is about what the world thinks.

6. I feel really, really sorry for Colin Croft.

7. Sunil Gavaskar comes off very badly. The next time you hear him commentating in his trademark condescending tone — oh, these batsmen, they don’t know how bad we had it! — remind him about India’s disastrous tour of the West Indies.

8. The central mystery remains, though: how did one region — mere dots on the globe, as one team member said — produce so many greats over such an extended period?

8A. It’s hard, by the end of the movie, to see these old West Indian men talk about their team. You see footage of them bowling, batting, protesting, training, and drinking beer in their dressing rooms…The best part about Fire in Babylon isn’t just that it’s a great historical tribute to these athletes; it’s also a two-hour exercise in nostalgia and lives and days gone by.

The New Men In Blue: India Tour Of The West Indies

Never too early to start rampant selection speculation, no? The Times of India is a-flutter because all the major players of the Indian team — Dhoni, Khan, H. Singh, Tendulkar, Gambhir, Sehwag — expect to sit out the West Indies tour in June. Their proposed list of replacements makes sense (based purely on 3/4 IPL matches), and could include some second-acts and surprises. Questions:

1. Will the selectors really go for P. Valthaty? This could be a beautiful thing.

2. Don’t know why, but D. Karthik, V. Rao, and A. Rayadu have never inspired confidence. On the other hand, I have irrational cricket crushes on R. Sharma and R. Uthappa. Go figure. (And the Times misses out the greatest cricket crush of all time, M. Kaif — who’s doing little to nothing in the IPL, I suppose?)

3. The bowling department looks a bit better: Praveen Kumar’s back. L. Balaji returns from the cold? Don’t know a thing about I. Abdullah; don’t care for I. Sharma in ODIs, and I’ve liked P. Chawla since those World Cup warm-up matches.

All in all, not bad options. Should be a good series. Will S. Raina captain?

Fire In Babylon, New York City Screening

Via Peter Della Penna of DreamCricket (and a fellow N.J. resident), comes exciting news about Fire in Babylon, the documentary of West Indies cricket (long anticipated by Samir Chopra):

“Fire in Babylon” premiered at the London Film Festival in October. It also appeared at the Glasgow Film Festival in February and the Adelaide Film Festival in March. The first of four screenings at Tribeca will take place on Saturday April 23 at 8:30 p.m. Riley hopes that sports fans and non-sports fans in New York will view the film with equal satisfaction.

Timings and logistics available here. “It was like slaves whipping the asses of the masters.” Before India, before Pakistan and before Sri Lanka, there was the West Indies. See you all there! Trailer:

Is Money Not Enough To Motivate Cricketers?

Just one more point from the Otis Gibson de-briefing memo (courtesy of WICB Expose). At one point, in a list of the West Indian players’ shortcomings, it includes this sentence: “Player commitment is only financial.”

I understand the general idea motivating this criticism. Cricket is an international sport, and players should own up to the special responsibility of representing their nation. But isn’t this a rather quaint statement of purpose in the age of the IPL and T20-Sanford leagues and what not? And is it right to ask someone like, say M. Amir, a man of extremely humble origins and on a limited salary, not to be motivated for more financial stability?

In fact, given the level of risk a cricketer assumes in pursuing an international career, as well as the demands put on the modern athlete, isn’t the prospect of excellent compensation somewhat justified? It’s one thing if you’re a West Indies player in 1975, when Test cricket was still a gentleman’s sport relatively untouched by Kerry Packer and the broadcast allure. But those times are obviously gone — and indeed, in the IPL, the only motivation a foreign, established player has is money (domestic players, of course, are angling for a spot in the national team).

I don’t care if a player is playing only for money, or only for country, or — most likely the case — a mix of both. As long as the performance is top-class, and no laws/rules are being broken (sorry, Amir), play for whatever reason you want. Of course, the WICB may not have as much money on hand to pay its cricketers as the BCCI does — but this is all the more reason to cut down on Burger King costs and extraneous salaries. Lectures of Gibson’s kind likely go only so far.

West Indies Cricket Board, Exposed

I second J. Rod’s recommendation. Read WICB Exposé for the latest dirt on the West Indies Cricket Board, including a) what Otis Gibson thinks about Chris Gayle (and this explains my question in my previous post on talent management); b) Why Burger King has single-handedly bankrupted West Indies cricket and much more.

I can’t wait until some enterprising blogger does the same for the BCCI.

UPDATE: I particularly like this part from the Otis Gibson tour de-briefing:

Players do not see themselves as athletes viz-a-vis training and eating habits.

Eating habits? What are these guys eating?

A Human Resources Lesson: West Indies Axes Big Three

So West Indies have gone ahead and dropped Sarwan, Chanderpaul and Gayle. (In some way, this clarifies Gayle’s post-World Cup tweet, when he seemed to at once accept blame for the West Indies’ defeat, but also dismiss it.)

My knowledge of Otis Gibson and the various machinations of the WICB is spotty at best, but this seems like another chapter in human resource management, a topic that has become increasingly interesting to me. I ask once more: why do some teams ‘gel,’ and not others? Why did Greg Chappell fail as a coach (and Dravid as captain), only to see Dhoni (one of his main picks) go on, embrace his same strategy (invest in youth = Raina, Kohli, Gambhir) and succeed?

In the West Indies’ case, it seems the Big Three acted just as India’s Big Three don’t (see the Chuck Fleetwood-Smiths, Ep. 6, for more on this line of argument). The idea is that they are making it harder for Gibson to remake the team and give it some sort of solidity. You can’t do that if three players resist and, to follow the Pakistani lingo, begin to form ‘factions.’ But at the same time, it doesn’t seem like Gary Kirsten cares all that much if, say, Virender Sehwag plays ‘for the team’ or himself. There are two theories with ‘senior batsmen’: one is that they prevent younger talent from emerging, and they are too big for a team sport. The other is that they shelter younger talent, allowing it to mature slowly, while anchoring the side.

Clearly, all senior batsmen go from one side to the other (Ricky Ponting is only the latest example). But it’s a mysterious process that decides who’s where on this curve.