What’s wrong with cricket?

I’m an avid cricket fan. But of late, the volume of matches has meant that it’s impossible to keep up with the game. Notably, the increase in T20 games and club games (thanks to IPL and CLT20). Tournaments with multiple teams are of course more exciting to watch because there is always a prize at the end of it. Whereas in bilateral series, the question that crops us is, “What’s the point?”

Football is a global game that thrives on the Club level. Because players move around and create interest in either their destination or origin countries. Cricket has managed this to some extent with County cricket previously, but the number of players from overseas countries (read India!) were always too few to elicit sustained interest. Yorkshire became a known name to young cricket lovers only when Tendulkar played for them for a year. Ask most fans (not the hardcore ones, of course) which county Murali Karthik plays for and chances are (despite his recent unsportsmanlike behaviour making the news), not many would know.

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Something’s bothering Sanga!

By now, we’ve all heard about Kumar Sangakkara’s ovation-worthy speech at MCC’s Spirit of Cricket lecture. It’s takes a brave man to stand up and announce to the world that his country is messing up. Especially in the subcontinent where cricket administrators are akin to rulers of their fiefdom.

Thank god Sangakkara is good enough to continue playing and this outburst (albeit controlled and appropriately timed) won’t cost him his place. If it does, we’ll know it wasn’t for cricketing reasons. There is no cricket board (or sports body as the FIFA has recently found out) that is perfectly run. Peter Roebuck is rather gracious in his column where he leaves India out of the list of ‘troubled boards’, so to say.

A few years ago, a power struggle not too dissimilar from Sri Lanka’s was on full public view in India. Embroiled in it were Jagmohan Dalmiya, Sharad Pawar and Sourav Ganguly. The Sri Lankan issue has similar attributes. Except Sangakkara who stood up and proactively shamed his board.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka’s board answers to their sports minister. A politician. Who as a rule, are thick-skinned. So his first order of action was to demand a report from the board’s president! Fat lot of good that will do! This is one imbroglio that will play itself out over time. Unfortunately for SL Cricket, in full public view. And Sangakkara is now ‘that guy’ who had balls of steel to stand up to his ‘masters’. Kudos.

And here’s hoping more sportspersons have the gall to stand up and fight. And not worry only about their future. Easier said than done, of course!

Cup within cup!

I thought that the World Cup was “the cup that mattered”. Definitely not to Australia or New Zealand. Australia has mastered the art of putting down the event or series or tournament they are playing in. When they were playing India, the “focus was on the Ashes”. During the Ashes, the “focus was on the World Cup”. And now, during the World Cup, they want to play for the Chappel-Hadlee trophy.

I think this has a deeper reason. I think Cricket Australia is being miserly and wants to save money by not having to advertise for the CH trophy or host the visitors. They last went to NZ and won it there and figure that doing it at someone else’s expense will save money. Sure, they say that they are doing it because the two teams won’t be meeting in 2011. So do it in 2012. And if it’s a matter of just the one match, they could just fit it in anywhere.

What also baffles the mind is this statistical insight by Cricinfo:

The New Zealanders should be happy with the move, as they have beaten Australia in nine of 21 Chappell-Hadlee matches, but have lost all 12 of the other ODIs the teams have played during the same period. The trophy has been contested every season since it began in 2004-05, and is currently held by Australia after they won 3-2 in New Zealand last March.

Are they trying to say that because this match is now considered the CH trophy New Zealand become favourites? What about the head-to-head of the actual tournament they are playing? Or the head-to-head when the two countries have played at neutral venues or in India? This is some seriously cockeneyed statistic!

Which brings us to the point, what are NZ’s chances in the CH trophy in day/night games when they bat first? Never mind the pitch or the venue or the main event!

Kolkata to cry again?

A crying Vinod Kambli walking off the Eden Gardens in 1996 is one of the most haunting memories of Indian cricket. Since then, the Eden Gardens has not had the best of times and has unfortunately seen India lose far too often. The ground developed a reputation for having the worst crowds and soon enough, the city lost out on hosting key matches. The emergence of better grounds and facilities at venues like Bangalore, Chennai, Mohali and even Nagpur meant that the coliseum that was Kolkata was reduced to a footnote.

Come 2011 and the Cricket World Cup, big time cricket would have returned to the Eden Gardens. But alas, typically lax Indian planning and work ethic meant that the city has been denied this chance. Despite the BCCI trying (not too convincingly, if I may say so) to get an extension for the work completion date, the ICC has refused to budge. Unlike with the CWG 2010, there isn’t to be a miracle at the Eden. Probably because the list of pending work is just too long.

While the result is sad for the cricket fans of Kolkata, it is a serious wake-up call for sports administrators in India – BCCI included. There never seems to be a plan and deadlines mean squat to any of these. It has always been known that the fans’ are at the bottom of the food chain for sport administrators in India but this sort of callous behaviour only re-emphasizes it.

Being from Pune, a city where cricket has had a sorry excuse of a ground for the last many years, I totally understand the frustration of fans. Often, Pune was left with the worst possible games in a tournament, if at all. As a fan, it’s a task to watch the game at the stadium. Hopefully, with the new stadium coming up just outside the city, this may change.

For Kolkata, however, this was a chance that was available “now”. And it has been mucked up. Typically by administrators.

Meet Cricket’s iPhone.

Dare I say it? For as long as I can recall, India has been looking for that missing piece of the puzzle: an all-rounder. Kapil Dev was the last of the genuine ones India had in its ranks. Many since have flattered only to deceive. Manoj Prabhakar had his moments, as did Sourav Ganguly. But consistency denied them the tag of true all-rounders. Hopes had once been pitted on even Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag and even Ajit Agarkar. None delivered.

Once again, as only a true Indian cricket fan can, I shall pin hopes, all and sundry on Harbhajan Singh. After all, the man is India’s leading run-scorer in the series. Two scores of 100-plus and a 50 cannot be ignored. And it isn’t like he hasn’t taken wickets either.

That Bhajji has been prepared to work on his batting at this stage in his career itself is a big thing to me. Hitherto someone who would be expected to contribute the odd 20 and plenty of entertainment, Harbhajan’s recent batting efforts are seriously noteworthy. Unfortunately, only 5 wickets (as at the time of start of New Zealand’s second innings in Hyderabad) in three innings doesn’t do him justice. Four of those came in the first innings in Hyderabad.

So what is an all-rounder for India supposed to do? It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that he needs to be cricket’s equivalent of the iPhone. All-pervading, always winning, good-looking and with a ton of features, apps and fans to support him! Does Harbhajan fit the bill? Sure. Obviously, as with the iPhone, this judgement is very subjective and there will be those who would scoff at it. So be it. They can go get an Android or a BlackBerry, or worse, a Symbian!

Think of some of the names previously mentioned and try to fit all the above attributes to them. You can’t. Not even to (blasphemy alert) Sachin Tendulkar (*gasp*). As Harbhajan’s batting average edges towards the right side of 20 and his bowling average towards the right side of 30, his age, slowly but surely headed towards the wrong side of 30 could be the only deterrent. Could be a case of the mind being willing but the body not following.

For now, to my mind, that description is fit for Harbhajan. Cricket’s iPhone.

My favourite World Cup

The 2011 Cricket World Cup (CWC) is almost here. It’s in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Should be good, loud, colourful and all that given India’s recent experience in handling cricketing events (read: IPL). But the last time this event happened in India, it wasn’t the happiest of endings. We all remember Vinod Kambli crying his way off the field. Soon after, he was pretty much lost to the annals of has-beens of cricket.

I vaguely remember the 1987 CWC in India. I distinctly recall the 1992 edition in Australia – it was one when I was in class VII, very bad at Maths and was attending extra classes at 7am every day. I would do my best to miss these or catch the match at the tutor’s house. I also remember getting up early and being amazed at the quality of grounds in Australia. Not to mention the coloured clothing and the white ball. And then, there were some terrific matches as well. India beating Pakistan at Sydney was especially sweet since it was spoken about for at least the next four years. Then Ajay Jadeja happened! But that’s for another time.

The 1992 World Cup is a cherished memory because it was the first time the world “LIVE” cricket meant something. Not only at our house, but most friends’ houses, TV sets were bought (colour if they had B/W as was our case) and cable connections were bought. This would change our life forever. That, again, is a topic for another time! Waking up at 5.30am with the permission of my father to watch cricket was the best thing to do. No other day since would I be caught awake at 5.30am with so much enthusiasm! It was a pity when India all but whimpered out of the cup. And it also brought to an end Ravi Shastri’s career. Garlands of slippers awaited him at the Mumbai Airport, if I recall correctly for his slow batting that is claimed to have caused India some losses.

The 1999 World Cup in England was not a typically British affair. With coloured clothing becoming the norm for ODIs, this was an unusually bright event. Tendulkar going home for his father’s funeral and returning to score a 140 against Kenya remains the highlight. India’s wins over Sri Lanka and England saw them scrape through to the next round, but it wasn’t convincing! The most exciting match of the tournament remains Australia beating South Africa in the semi-final. Who knows if Australia would have dominated cricket the way they did since had they lost on that day!

Despite all this, my favourite CWC will be the 2003 edition in South Africa. Yes, India lost the final rather tamely. But it was the first time in a long time that fans felt this team could do something. They went off even worse in 2007, but so did the entire tournament! Yet again, the best memory remains the win over Pakistan and especially, Sachin Tendulkar bludgeoning Shoaib Akhtar. Rumour has it that when Sachin Tendulkar was dropped by Shahid Afridi, he was asked if he knew whom he had dropped… Akram has denied it since, but these things aren’t forgotten or erased that easily!

Another prejudice for the South Africa edition of the CWC is that I have since visited that country and most of the cricket grounds there and can well imagine what an exciting place it must have been for watching the CWC.

What can 2011 offer? The facilities are better, the teams stronger but the format, one feels, is still too long drawn. A month-and-a-half for the tournament is way too long. The good stuff starts almost three weeks into the tournament. Let’s hope there is more excitement on offer than we saw in 2007.

The case of the missing cricketer

Three-and-a-half months is how long I’ve not written on this blog. I have at least 5 unfinished drafts but nothing could compel me more to write again than Zulqarnain Haider. With a name that’s a mouthful, the young cricketer – all of 24 years of age and 8 international matches olddisappeared from Dubai mid tour and after resurfacing in the UK, has announced his retirement from international cricket rather dramatically.

A plot befitting a Bollywood potboiler, his exit has been well documented and once again brings to the fore the mismanagement of the PCB. But that’s not what intrigues me. I referred to the plot being tailor-made for Bollywood and for some reason, I see only Emraan Hashmi fit to play the unhappy Haider.

Hashmi has the experience of playing a match fixer previously and this would add to his all-round resume to now be on the other side of things. With Veena Malik doing stupendously well in Bigg Boss and available for any role the PCB requires, the movie pretty much casts itself. This should be a gritty movie with Malik’s inside knowledge helping to add to the drama and realism that the film can offer.

Of course, Haider who has gone on record to say that he’s pretty much broke and has “only his daily wages from the South Africa series”, would do well to quickly get in touch with the Bhatt camp and pitch the story lest he have to suffer the same fate as Chetan Bhagat did when 3 Idiots came out. No credit, little money but lots of fame.

In the case of Bhagat, the fame worked to sell the next book. In the case of Haider, it won’t do him much good.

Football versus Cricket

footballfan
Be very afraid, cricket!

It was inevitable. After the dud series in Zimbabwe, India showed up in Sri Lanka to play the Asia Cup. That there are only three other countries worth playing against surely doesn’t bode too well for Cricket. But that’s a discussion for another time.

India’s Asia Cup campaign coincided with the FIFA World Cup. And once you saw the sheer scale, impact and enthusiasm of it, the Asia Cup felt more like the ICL in its wane when the IPL hammered it out into the dark ages. Messrs Ronaldo, Kaka, Messi, Tevez, Vittek, hell even Landon Donovan against Mahela, Sanga, Dhoni, Raina, Shoaib, Afridi… ! The FIFA World Cup felt like a carnival. The Asia Cup was a funeral.

Sure cricket has its superstars and they act like superstars too. But the look like superstars on a world stage. It’s not even worth discussing that the FTP format for cricket is a failure. Test matches, bilateral ODI series, tri-series and whatnot is being played without much consequence. It’s all well and good to hang on to tradition, but soon, it starts to seem pointless.

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Kick here

For the Indian fan smarting from India’s dismal show at the ICC World T20, MS Dhoni and Yusuf Pathan offer a great outlet for frustration.

dhoni-yusuf-asses

Seems to say: “Yes, we’re asses”. Oh, well.

Image: Cricinfo

Sahara Pune Warriors

saharapunewarriors It’s a good name. I quite like it. But for the “Sahara” at the start, it’s a name that will catch on. It is also a good thing that they did not listen to our suggestions!

The logo of the team too is pretty nice and does reflect all it needs to. What remains to be seen yet are the colors of the team. There’s enough red and blue in the IPL already. Only Chennai (yellow) and KKR (black and now purple) are different. So how about orange?

Speaking of the SPW (now that’ll take time getting used to), the new stadium in Pune seems rather impressive. Take a look at the proposed stadium… and the walkthrough.

Finally, Pune seems to be looking and behaving international. Or are we being too optimistic too soon?

Stadium link and video courtesy Amit Paranjape’s Blog.