Thursday, June 26, 2008

Home Sweet Home?

Even a moderate cricket follower can predict the type of pitch you would expect for a Test match at Perth. Similarly, you wouldn't need too many guesses to figure out how the pitch at Headingly would behave. Sydney's always been a turner, Galle's conducive to swing bowling and the Wanderers usually has something for both batsmen and bowlers.

But predicting a pitch for a Test match in Pakistan is not too different from guessing who would be managing Real Madrid next season. I've witnessed games with green tops, slow turners and completely flat decks, all at the same ground. Keeping in mind that Pakistan does not have a fixed international cricket season at home, the variable weather conditions for each series only adds to the level of uncertainty for the preparation of the home side.

All this means that each pitch is prepared based on the type of opponents, the situation of the series, and (probably of least significance to the Board) Pakistan's own strengths and weaknesses. I say this after helplessly watching countless matches where Pakistan's world class bowling attacks of yesteryear were forced to churn out sadistic amounts of overs on dead, spinner friendly tracks. The strategy has always appeared to be to exploit the opposition's weaknesses rather than to facilitate our own strengths. Not only is this nauseatingly defensive, but it also shows lack of character and thinking by so many of our boards and management (ad-hoc or not).

So you can forgive the Pakistan team to some degree for their unpredictability, at least when they play at home. I think its about time there are fixed curators for each ground itself, not just foreign specialists brought in on a series by series basis. And each ground should be allowed to have their own flavor of pitch. Its not surprising that Australia are so good at adapting to different conditions since they have plenty of practice playing at a variety of pitches at home.

And it would do good to spectators, organizers and players to have a fixed international season rather than having to fill in domestic tours at times when the team isn't touring abroad. The October to December and February to April slots would appear ideal considering the weather and other international seasons (England play during the summer, while Australia have the winter).

Provided the team is assured of consistent pitches and weather conditions, they are bound to perform more consistently.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bowling, anyone?

Anyone who had doubts on whether cricket is a batsman's game must really have a clear picture now. After MCC's endorsement of Pietersen's "left-handed pull/sweep" (I still don't think its a reverse shot), bowlers all over the world must be looking for alternative careers. "It will add to the excitement", they say. As long as there's potential for more scoring options, the ICC doesn't mind roping it into the laws. Anything that ensures high scoring is branded "exciting". Bowlers now have nothing but a peripheral role in the team as bowling skills alone cannot justify a player's inclusion in the side anymore. If things keep on going the way they are, bowling itself would be a rare and intimidating skill that people (especially youngsters) would be too scared to learn.

I remember the times when low scoring matches were as much, if not more, exciting than high scoring ones. Now any low scoring match ends up with an inquiry on the pitch and the curator. Bowling friendly or low scoring pitches are deemed "un-fit" for cricket and match referees are brought in at once to provide a report on the pitch and conditions. On the other hand, 400 plus score pitches are encouraged and celebrated.

The "free-hit" is another ludicrous example of how bowlers are given no breathing space at all. Contrary to prevalent opinion, there has always been a free-hit available to the batsman. A batsman cannot get out on a no-ball, so he is allowed to hit it anywhere without concern. By giving the batsman another free-hit, the bowler is being penalized twice for a crime that does not deserve the bill. Some people say that the batsman on most occasions cannot hear the umpire's call in time to make use of a no-ball. My response to that is, does it matter? Why should a batsman have the comfort of knowing that he can't be dismissed before going for a shot? It can only lead to ungraceful and bizarre strokeplay.

To bring some balance between bat and ball, the ICC (or MCC) should allow bowlers to bowl with their left hand without prior warning. I think that would definitely bring some excitement to the game. And the free-hit should be done with as soon as possible. The ropes should be put back nearer to the fences to allow for more 2s and 3s, and even the odd run 4. Intelligent running between the wickets can also add a lot of excitement to the game. Its about time batsmen, who are already pampered with helmets and other protective equipment, are shown that it takes two to play this game.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Asked Steven

Yes we all love Steven Lynch and his ability to answer the most meaningless questions regarding cricket. Just to add some glamor to his column, I submitted a very interesting question which he duly answered. I've pasted the question and Steven's answer for people who may have missed this particular issue. (January 29, 2008)

Are India and England the only two teams who beat Australia in a Test in which Adam Gilchrist played? asked Abdullah Farooki from Pakistan

Adam Gilchrist lost only 11 of the 96 Test matches he played - consecutively - since his debut in 1999-2000. Five of those defeats came against India, and four at England's hands. The other two were to South Africa, at Durban in 2001-02, and in the famous match in Antigua in May 2003, when West Indies chased a world-record 418 to win.

And you can use the following link to read the column in its entirety:

Friday, March 28, 2008

Why the IPL is potentially more harmful to International Cricket than the ICL

There have been many misconceptions being floated around mainly by the IPL and ICC themselves in order to establish the IPL's supremacy over the ICL. They have tried hard to show that the ICL can only cause harm to International Cricket without giving any solid support to their arguments, while in fact, it can probably be proved that the situation is the other way round. First of all, the ICC has been giving their diplomatic non-sense on how the IPL will follow Anti-Corruption and Anti-Doping regulations which, according to them, gives the League its legitimacy. In reality, only ICC events such as the World Cup and Champions Trophy have anti-doping regulations. If going by the ICC's own reasoning, this means that most of Test Cricket and ODIs should be considered unofficial.

The IPL considers the ICL to be a money-making venture that does not have what is best for cricket at heart. While it is true that the ICL is a concept designed to generate money, it can, however, still be considered a somewhat controlled institution when compared to the IPL. Since there is single ownership for the ICL, regulations can be made that would support the players, teams and International Boards at the same time. However, the IPL franchise structure gives the individual IPL Teams more freedom and authority. This would eventually give the individual franchises the final say on matters pertaining to teams and players.

A more interesting analogy of the differences between the ICL and IPL would be of the ideological streams of Socialism and Capitalism. Since the ICL has a more state-governed approach, it will ensure that all stakeholders are appropriately taken care of. This structure can be loosely said to follow a derived form of the Socialist approach. The IPL has given ownership to individual entities thus allowing a more Capitalist approach, where every franchise would eventually only seek to make the highest amount of money, whether that would be by winning matches or by having the most marketable team of players. The problem with this is that profit will always be considered more important than player rights or International priorities.

A perfect example of this is how the New Zealand Cricket Board has allowed 5 players to skip the practice games of the England tour so that they can play in the IPL instead. The official verdict is that the New Zealand players will be playing "high standard of cricket for 2 weeks" and that will give them "a good level of preparation" for the tour. It is quite embarrassing to see an official board member issuing such statements. The conditions in which the players will be playing in India would be a complete contrast to what is expected in England. It would be better for them to play domestic cricket at home than to go and play in the IPL to get any level of preparation.

The ICL on the other hand made it clear from the start that International duties and prior commitments would be given first priority. They even ensured that players would be given their contracted fees even if they were injured or absent as a result of International commitments. Also, the teams were constructed in such a manner that overseas players were divided equally so that the matches were competitive in nature. The need for a separate window for the ICL would never had arisen even if it had been the sole 20-20 league in India.

But in the end, the money will do all the talking. And since the BCCI has tonnes of it in its coffers, cricket is bound to lose.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thus endeth the cricket?

This blog is dead. No one writes here anymore because no one bothers to read. The reason is simply the death of cricket. It has been killed by our bureaucratic boards run by mediocre men who know nothing about the game and cannot bear to see players earning more than them. It has been killed by their consumerism. It has been killed by their shortsightedness - aping the Australian paradigm to achieve short-term results at the cost of losing our Pakistani brand of cricket, which - oddly enough - was much more capable of bringing in the bucks. It has been killed by our media: making our up and coming talents believe they are legends and nipping them at the bud. When you see Danesh Kaneria on the "Legends" program, you know there's a problem. Lastly, it has been killed by the ICC which has neutered the players who are forced to play like zombies and not allowed to enjoy the game.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A tale of two leagues

England, Pakistan, South Africa and Australia all have domestic Twenty20 tournaments. The West Indies were also in the process of organizing one last year before it got postponed. So for cricket crazy India to completely keep away from Twenty20 cricket was indeed quite surprising. But in a dramatic change in events, India now has two Twenty20 leagues all of a sudden, with star players from different countries joining in to increase their profile.

When the Indian Cricket League (ICL) was announced, first impressions were that it was another Kerry Packer in the making but as time went by it soon appeared from far from it. There were some visible similarities though. Both leagues were conceived as a result of losing television rights and both sought to promote a new form of cricket in their own respective times. But as one was able to revolutionize cricket for all times to come, the other seems to have fizzled out before it has even started.

I really liked the concept of the ICL when it initially appeared. With names like Warne, McGrath, Lara and Inzamam linked with the series, it was indeed a mouthwatering prospect. But as time went by the ICL increasingly gave the impression of a retirement home for international cricketers as it failed to lure in current players even after they were reportedly offered unprecedented amounts of money.

Mohammed Yousuf was probably ICL’s finest catch. After just being awarded the Test player of the year, Yousuf is in prime form and I thought that his joining the ICL would cause other members of the Pakistan team, who had similar grievances with the PCB, to follow suite. This would have meant that cricket boards would probably change their authoritarian ways of handling things especially when it concerned the players. However, the present cricket boards showed that they have a lot more money and power than their predecessors of the Packer days as they ensured the retention of their players by showering them with incentives and threatening them with bans.

Perhaps the main reason for the ICL’s limited effectiveness so far has been due to the BCCI’s prompt reaction to its creation. By forming a Twenty20 league of its own, in the form of the Indian Premier League (IPL), the BCCI has been able to counter the threat formed by this so-called ‘rebel’ league. With more countries involved and by having the support of the cricket boards, the IPL has been able to grab players that were on the verge of jumping on to the ICL roster and has successfully sabotaged the ICL’s plan for a successful and financially rewarding tournament.

Everybody likes a bit of competition, but I’m afraid in this case there would be only one winner. Those players who had hastily joined the ICL may be regretting it now, since there is a similar opportunity available that has the approval of the boards and therefore does not have them out of favor with their own cricket authorities. But there are a few pros in joining the ICL. Firstly, the ICL is not much of a league but more of a tournament, with the whole event hardly lasting 2 months. This means quick money for the players, and that too lots of it. This would also ensure that it has a more following amongst the audience, as generally people like to have quicker results. The IPL, however, is a league in the true sense with the whole competition lasting a good 8 months. This would mean that some of the matches would inevitably take place during cricket tours that are already scheduled and would result in fewer appearances by star players. So I’m guessing the appeal would get dampened to some degree.

However with most of the current players joining the IPL, it is the cricket boards who have won. In the end, they are the ones who will make most of the money and still will dictate what the players can or cannot do. So I think the ICL did make a good attempt but in the end, unfortunately, they were in the wrong era for it to be successful.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Building on the success

With the ICC having amassed so many critics over the years it can feel proud of having staged a highly successful and competitive tournament after a very long time. The organizers of the World Twenty 20 were smart enough to learn from the shortcomings of the previous two World cups by lessening the number of participating teams, shortening the duration of the tournament, slashing the prices of tickets to ensure bigger crowds and taking steps to increase the atmosphere inside the stadium instead of trying to curtail any festive activities.

But perhaps the most important factor in the success of this tournament was the competitiveness of the cricket. The nature of the Twenty 20 game made it possible for almost all of the matches to have very interesting and close finishes, thus removing another factor of one-sided matches that was witnessed so often in the previous two world cups.

However, this positive response to the ICC World Twenty 20 can not only be held limited to the successful staging of a tournament, it should be more broadly viewed as the arrival of a new era in cricket, one that can be expected to take the cricketing world by storm in years to come.

The ICC however still remains skeptic over the future of this new style of cricket. With 7 matches sanctioned every year, each team would practically have a maximum of 2 Twenty 20 games per tour. FICA has also appeared weary of this new format saying that Twenty 20 is not yet in a position to provide the same amount of money that 50 over cricket can rope in. All in all there is some hesitation within controlling associations to give Twenty 20 cricket their full stamp of approval and let it naturally find its feet among Test match and 50 over cricket.

Before the World Twenty 20, I was also among the many traditional cricket followers who considered the format a mockery of the sport. But after watching more and more of this new souped up version of the game have I become convinced that it is here to stay. For years the 50 over game has become more and more dull and predictable with alterations made every now and then to keep its appeal going within cricket followers. With more action filled in less time, the game can be seen as a more attractive alternative to a 50 over a side game, and like many people including Wasim Akram, I believe that Twenty 20 would absorb 50 over cricket completely in the near future.

Hence, cricketing authorities would be better off embracing Twenty 20 cricket instead of delaying the inevitable. I don’t see how Twenty 20 games cannot bring in the same amount of money as 50 over cricket does if it is given an equal opportunity to flourish by allowing teams to participate in complete series instead of one or two match contests. In fact, with the immense popularity witnessed just recently, Twenty 20 cricket has the potential to earn a lot more than what 50 over cricket does at this point in time.

At the same time, authorities should be more aware of not over scheduling the number of Twenty 20 matches which would further risk player burnout. In fact if used sensibly Twenty 20 cricket could, on the contrary, be effectively used to control player burnout as 20 over games should in theory be less physically demanding provided reasonable gaps between matches are kept and the number of matches per series does not exceed beyond agreeable limits.

With associate teams not being able to compete with Test nations at both Test and Limited overs level, the Twenty 20 format should also be able to provide a nice stepping stone for associate sides to get a feel of international cricket before diving in to the longer formats of the game and thus avoiding defeats with embarrassing margins. Even though skills required in Twenty 20 cricket can be at times drastically different from what is required in the other formats, it still can provide for experience to play against top quality players and give the opportunity to learn some of the tricks of the trade along the way.

Cricket does seem to have a bright future all of a sudden. With higher run rates at Test level and hence more enthusiastic crowds watching the 5 day game, the traditional form of cricket does seem to be secured. And with the arrival of Twenty 20 cricket, the demand for more from less also seems to have been met.