25 July 2008

Tame elephant

India's inability to capture wickets on placid tracks in recent times has only been matched by Pakistan. India has been more succesful on pitches that are more difficult for batting. There were great swathes of the Sri Lankan innings where the bowling looked just too docile. For how long will India continue to blame pitches where they only need to look West and South. Until a few years back, Pakistan was great at getting wickets on shirtfronts, and Murali has been pegging away for Sri Lanka in the most heartbreaking conditions. Ishant the Messiah has not blasted away everything in sight, and Kumble and Bhajji seem to increasingly depend on helpful conditions. Kumble will need to take a harder look at his bowling resources - perhaps even consider a third, or different spinning option for the next Test.

24 July 2008

Dhoni missed

Kumble's bowling is not kind to wicketkeepers and Kartik is its latest casualty. Dhoni is firmly perched now as India's best keeper, and he can partly thank the amount of cricket he's been playing. Sri Lanka is a bad place to drop catches. One can only hope that things don't go the way of Australia in 2003 when getting the edge was lesss than half the battle won. Not only does he need to get much better at keeping to Kumble, but he needs to bat out of his skin now.

About doubt.

Going by the evidence of today's play, the on-field umpire is still best placed to take decisions on certain aspects of the game - such as the existence of a fatal nick and judgment of bounce. Under the current referral system, the third umpire is expected to take into account all aspects of the referred decision.
The problem is that most referred 'out' calls have enough element of doubt on camera - technology still unable to conclusively distinguigh a ball-on-bat and bat-on-ground sounds, or predict the trajectory of a delivery or determine the legality of a close catch. It is almost certain that an 'out' call will be overturned by the third-umpire and a batsman can ride his luck on doubtful catches and faint edges. Wait for a crucial wicket before further action on this debate.

19 July 2008

Trust and the Dark Knight

Technology is very strange, sometimes simultaneously clarifying while obfuscating. Like the bump catch. The more cameras we get and the greater their resolution and speed, the more we realize the limitations in our understanding of the three-dimensional through the two-dimensional. Any referral of a dubious catch will always throw up an inconclusive verdict - certainly going in favour of the batsman.

This problem sounds very similar to the Heisenberg principle, though I'm sure it has nothing to do with it. (I'm assuming all of you went to high school)

Cricketers know this, umpires know this too, and so do administracrats - but the charade of taking it upstairs continues.

Taking the fielder's word for it is the only option we got now. Until of course, the ICC invests in the kind of sonar imaging that the Dark Knight invested in.

18 July 2008

Tick tock, tick tock

Is it conceivable that any movie can stand up to months and months of breathless anticipation and hype? The Dark Knight hits Delhi theatres today, and to try to keep my expectations low is proving futile, as I quickly dash to smear paint on my face...

Same goes for Flintoff, I guess.

We'll know soon enough.

08 July 2008

Quick office reflections on the test squad

I have not blogged here for an inordinately long time. Combination of factors. Can't say work, though it has contributed. Boredom too, to a large extent, with the endless cricket being played out everywhere. I missed switch-hits, Collingwood's ethical diemma and subsequent just desserts, Zimbabwe, CWB in the Wisden, Ajantha Mendis... basically a load of crap. Or that is how I have been thinking, and it is a reflection of the direction in which cricket is heading - when a confirmed cricketaholic starts thinking this way..

Anyway, chuck all that..

Once again, there are not too many surprises in the selection of the Test squad. With most of the team selecting itself, the only points of contention concerened Jaffer and the reserve batsman. Jaffer, a giant of the domestic game, has not captured the same kind of rhythm internationally. Yuvraj Singh, a giant of the one-day game, has not been able to utilize his outrageous talent in the Test arena with any kind of consistency. The question before the selectors was first, whether to let matters drift and allow Jaffer and Yuvraj another shot in the squad. Secondly, if not them, then who?

In Yuvraj's case, it did not make sense to carry him along in the squad. Only an injury to any of the top and middle order would allow him into the side. With Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman very well rested, the chances of Yuvraj spending some time in the middle were close to nil, and it made more sense to send in someone who had more to gain from spending time in the same dressing room as Laxman, Dravid, Dada and Kumble. Rohit Sharma was an obvious candidate, though Badri's fans will claim that the Tamil Nadu domestic colossus continues to be ignored. Fair to say though, that Sharma was quite clearly ahead in the pecking order, having seen success in the one-day game. Such an argument does not sit easily (even when Veeru was dropped after the SA tour, there was the whole problem of using ODI form to measure Test selectability), and Badri's backers will cry until they are hoarse that his game is more suited to the longer version than Sharma's or Raina's.

In Jaffer's case, the selector's had to make a decision of greater importance. On the cards was a clean break with the past. With DK no longer in contention for the opener spot (unless India play Irfan as the fifth bowling option), Jaffer's departure signals the end of the opening combination that made gains in England. With Gambhir coming in, two men who have walked out together innumerable times for Delhi and for India, will do so again. It is not difficult to feel sorry for Jaffer, but the hopeless waft outside off has to leave his game. But more than Jaffer's shortcomings, it is Gambhir's incredible hunger for runs that has seen him make this comeback.

In the bowling department, Zak, Arpy and Ishant can be an uncomfortable three-card trick. My guess is that Zak and Ishant will get picked first, with Ganguly chipping in with a few overs. But on heartbreakingly benign Lankan tracks, the backup would be crucial. Sreesanth misses out and it is not clear if injury is the reason, and Munaf makes the cut. Kumble and the recently shamed Harbhajan will do the bulk of the bowling. Piyush misses out and in comes Ojha the left arm spinner. In case we decide to carry three spinners, there is great variety that might just make up for the lack of bite in Harbhajan's bowling, or the lack of experience in Pragyan's. However, we need to consider Murali Kartik for a moment. After years of being in the shadow of Kumble and Harbhajan, it is one of his own kind that has upstaged him this time. The question of pecking order, that is crucial to Rohit's presence in the squad today, is probably meaningless to Kartik now.

Finally, does Dhoni backing out mean anything more than a stopgap arrangement for DK or Parthiv? I would assume that DK gets to be in the team ahead of Parthiv, and if he is able to play Mendis and Murali with authority, the selectors would be in a spot - and might have to consider a situation where the vice-captain is not able to find a place in the squad. Dhoni who is now one of the most consistent ODI batsmen, has not set the world alight with his recent performaces in Tests.

Irfan gets dropped as well, which after his horrendous run in the Asia Cup should not come as a surprise for many. On the other hand, his Test form has not been too bad of late, if we would just cast our minds at the last two Test matches in Austalia. What is clear is that in the subcontinent, once the ball stops swinging, he finds it difficult to pick wickets. What we will miss though, is the option of playing five bowlers.