Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Value of the Statistical Intangible

Harbhajan Singh has been bowling flat, defensive, around the wicket nonsense for more than a couple of years now. But when people argued for his exclusion, the counter argument was the 400 wickets and the fact that his stats were on par with the so called "best offie" in the world Graeme Swann. Why then did Harbhajan Singh finally get shown the door?

Last season, to the surprise of many, OKC traded their third highest scorer Jeff Green for Boston Celtics centre Kendrick Perkins. Jeff Green averaged 15.2 points, 5.6 rebs, 1.8 assists and 0.4 blocks till that point in the season. Perkins averaged 7.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.8 blocks. Now, it is understood that a centre will pick up more blocks and rebounds than a hybrid forward. Considering that, the statistical goons would certainly laugh at OKC. Why then did OKC pull the trigger on the trade?

The answer of course is in the intangibles. What is the point of picking up wickets as quickly as anyone if you don't look like picking up a wicket on any of the other deliveries? What is the point of scoring and rebounding, if you're a leaky faucet defensively? What is the point of a football midfielder having a high pass completion rate if the majority of the passes are sideways passes that amount to nothing? What is the point of a goalkeeper making 300 saves in a season if he makes 5 howlers? That, is the problem with statistics.

The failure of statistics to truly represent a sportsman's ability and value, is sometimes dismissed as a notion of the romantics. But the problem with stats, is that a lot of things that happen on a sports field cannot be quantified. No one can state with certainty, the chances a delivery has of picking up a wicket. No can quantify the hustle and defensive leadership Kendrick Perkins brings to the basketball court. Michael Carrick's pass completion rate is quite similar to Xavi Hernandez. Yet there is no question as to who is the better player.

The intangibles in sport is what makes sport what it is. If stats could explain everything in sport, there would be no purpose of actually playing on the field would there? Long live the intangibles.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Effect of the internet on the perception of Sports Stars

Many years ago, fans, who were unable to watch a game live, would huddle around a small radio, listening to the game unfold whilst closing their eyes and imagining the game with the words of the commentator. Then came the television. Suddenly, children could watch their sporting heroes every game they played.

Slowly, exposure to sport increased more and more. As the television industry boomed, so did the sports world. In came shows like SportsCentre, shows to bring all the latest news of sport around the world to your television screens. Life was good. Sportsmen were nearly Gods. Their pay rose astronomically. However, this came to a screeching when team owners and administrators discovered the wonders of public relations.

Press releases were always in existence. But, their nature changed completely. Suddenly the rich owners and administrators realised that they could wield great power over their players. The media would be their weapon of choice. The biggest example of this realisation came in 1998-99, when the owners of the NBA locked out their players to demand a strong defined wage structure with a salary cap to ensure franchises could hold on to their star players. The owners painted the players as black-hearted mercenaries who were paid way too much and lived too much. Cleverly, they diverted the anger at the lockout toward the players.

Today, 12 years on, we are in the age of the internet and again, we are suffering through a lockout. But something is different this time. Yes, the players are more prepared. Yes, the owners still put out their press releases criticizing the players. So what’s changed? The internet.

With the internet, has come an army of bloggers and the ever popular social media networks. Why have they worked for the players? Simple. Connection to the people. Before the days of twitter, all we saw was overpaid stars whining about a million here and there. With twitter, we see them as people like us, earning big bucks for being great at their sports.

Along with this, bloggers bring in a sense of honesty. Their affiliation is (usually) with nobody.Yes, they might have some personal biases, but they remain largely unaffected by large corporations, of which a lot are indeed owned by the owners. Why? A newspaper/magazine/television channel relies on money from these very corporations to stay afloat, whereas a blog could be written by you and me. Suddenly the balance was restored. While the owners could use the media, the players could use the internet. Players started their own PR to counter the corporate PR.

Hence we have come to a situation where the owner feed news (proved later to be untrue) that the players are unwilling to negotiate, and the player association can later clarify that the commissioner of the NBA, David Stern was on a holiday. This represents a visible change from even the ‘90s, where lockouts were met with a completely anti-player response among fans. The same lockout today has a mixed response from the public. But players, suddenly, are no longer alone.

This whole piece is but a mere example of the effect of the internet on how fans perceive their players. There are so many more examples of change inspired by the net. Joey Barton, for example was only known as a thug jailed for violence. Now we look at him as an intelligent man with an issue with anger. Big change in perception isn’t it?

The point I'm trying to make is that with the advent of the internet, fans no longer depend on the news fed to them to form their opinions. We are now able to judge sportspersons for themselves. What eventually happens is that a lot of the time, we realise we agree with the player on a lot of things. Suddenly, we look at institutes and associations and criticize them. An interesting shift isn't it?

Any other interesting such changes that you can think of? Do share in the comments!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Et tu, Plaha?

For quite a while in recent times, Plaha has always seemed to be an "automatic selection". For what reason, I do not know. But it always want me to give a Shakespearean-Marc-Anthony-like-speech-about-it. Now that he's (temporarily) out of the side I will give this.

Friends, Indians and Plahatards,

Many years ago Harbhajan Singh wove a net around the "mighty" Australians. 32 wickets he picked, as India pulled off a miraculous series win. For years, he was our key strike bowler, until Dada was no longer our captain. Since, then his Strike Rate has climbed from 60 to 76, his average has similarly suffered and his wicket taking abilities have nose-dived. But friends, please remember, that Harbhajan Singh is a man with a very big heart and he has 400 wickets

Whenever Harbhajan Singh bowls around the wicket to the right hand batsmen, we all whince as if someone shot somebody in the nuts. He darts the ball into middle and leg as if he's throwing stones at the annoying cat from next door. The ball spins about as much as an ostrich can fly. But friends, please remember, that Harbhajan Singh is a man with a very big heart and he has 400 wickets.

Harbhajan Singh never ever looks like picking up a wicket now. He has lost his flight, guile and the aura of mystery that seemed to shroud him when he picked up the ball. So he looks to contain the runs. In recent times, he has struggled to do even that in tests. It's all very well to go at 4-5 rpo in ODI's and T20's (hell, it may even be considered good). But when you give the same in tests? You have a problem. But hey, don't forget, Harbhajan Singh has a very big heart, and he has 400 wickets.

Whenever a commentator supports Harbhajan Singh, you remember Anil Kumble. You remember how Kumble was dropped every now and again to "make way" for Harbhajan. You remember how Kumble was always fighting to stay in the team because of his "he cannot spin the ball" stereotype. Now Harbhajan Singh who similarly seems to have forgotten how to spin a cricket ball, is suddenly a shoo in for the team. Why? Nobody knows. Maybe it's Sachin Tendulkar. Maybe it's MS Dhoni. Maybe it's the BCCI. But somehow he still remains. Maybe it's because Harbhajan Singh has a very big wicket and 400 wickets.

But don't worry everybody, the moment has finally arrived, where Plaha is no more in the team. Let us rejoice and hope that he makes a return as a much improved bowler. Until then, we shall forever remain indebted and thankful, for his very big heart, and his 400 wickets.

Thank you.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

In Defence of the BCCI

Kilometres of newsprint, days of television, and millions and millions of kilobytes of material have been used up attacking the BCCI's "money-mindedness". The English press, former cricketers, all seem to be obsessed with talking about UDRS and the BCCI's staunch refusal to accept Hawkeye. Not a single person has bothered to counter argue. I shall now make an effort to do so.

The thing is nobody disagrees with the fact that the BCCI is indeed a money making enterprise, and nobody should, because that is a fact. What is also a fact (that the foreign media love to forget) is that the ICC and it's members are equally money-obsessed.

Fact number 1: The ICC has not bothered to stand up to the BCCI

Why do you think that is? The BCCI is like a white elephant. As much as the rest of the world's bodies might despise them, the BCCI are the ones that bring in the majority of the moolah. So when the world says so much about the BCCI's money power, it must also be pointed out that the world refuses to act.

Fact Number 2: T20 Internationals

When the matter of having international T20 games came up, the BCCI were dead set against it. Even in one or two games that they did play, they refused to take them seriously. When the voting came up to establish the T20 world cup, the voting went 8-1 for it. Who voted against it? The BCCI. It is amazing how the world seems to have forgotten this. The ones that established the T20 format, are the ones who are now calling it a death knell for cricket. Hypocrisy.

Fact Number 3: Domestic T20

One again most of the world displays a significant amount of selective amnesia. England created the T20 game at the county level to try and draw back the grounds and make money. The counties even had a handful of foreign players. The ICL, IPL all came later. But when the IPL boomed, the English Press were the first to express their disgust at it. The English who pretend to be high and mighty and most importantly abov and against leagues like the IPL created the 1st T20 league in the world. FACT.

Now lets come to UDRS, and more specifically Hawkeye. I am not going to spend any time talking about whether there are technical failings or not, because frankly, I have no idea. The problem with the majority of the people in support of Hawkeye, is that they either work for them, have a slight idea or have absolutely no idea.

The ICC Technical committee that approved UDRS and Hawkeye contains mostly former cricketers. No physicists. No mathematicians. Nobody who can truly grasp what the Hawkeye manufacturers are saying when they make their presentations. How can the ICC make a decision without understanding the finer details, and knowing what questions to ask, what errors could possibly occur.

Of course, to be fair, Hawkeye has been willing to undergo an independent assessment along with competitors like Virtual Eye. Has it been done? No. Has the ICC pushed for it? No. Tell me how can they be absolutely certain that Hawkeye is infallible.

Another problem with Hawkeye that not enough people talk about, is the nature of the errors that Hawkeye can potentially make. Even omitting to discuss the 2.5 m rule and the 40 cm rules. My problem isn't with the margin of error. Any system designed will always have a certain margin of error. To me the bigger concern is the massive goofs.

When Sachin escaped being out LBW Saeed Ajmal in the WC SemiFinal. India rejoiced. But to every fan's naked eye, that looked out. Except to Hawkeye. After the game Ajmal was astounded. He had bowled a doosra, yet Hawkeye showed it drifting away down leg. Now by I all means I am indeed willing to accept that maybe my eyes were deceiving me. Maybe Hawkeye was right. But when the majority of the cricketing world doubts that decision? What do you do?

Hence we come to what I feel is the main issue with Hawkeye. The trust factor. A scientifically unverified Hawkeye is an immense danger to the whole reliability of UDRS. We cannot trust a system that might make 1 massive mistake in even a million. As long as all mistake are within the 3mm range it's fine. But when there's even a miniscule chance of a mistake larger than that happening, everybody from players to umpires to fans will doubt every decision. Only we won't have anyway of conclusively saying if a decision was right or not. Why? Because all our eggs will be in Hawkeye's basket.

Would I be ok with a well verified and scientifically accepted HawkEye? Yes. And I am certain the BCCI will be too. Until then, I will remain as skeptical as ever. So dear English media, before you jealously pounce on the Board of Control for Cricket in India, and indeed anybody else who has taken a dig at them, please look up the facts, before you attack. Thank you.

EDIT: As @Chandan3 (on twitter) reminded me, The BCCI along with the SriLankan Board, were the first boards willing to trial the system.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The characters that made up the Tour De France

This has been one of the most intriguing tour's in recent memory, other than maybe last years shootout between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck. But the number of great riders involved this year, and their stories made for a really great tour. So let's look at the "actors" who made it all happen in this year's "Maillot Jaune" (Yellow Jersey) comeptition.

Thomas Voeckler:

Even the hardest man in the world would have been severely heart broken when Voeckler lost yellow on the slopes of the Col Du Galibier and the Alpe D'Huez. Voeckler despite not being a climber, completely gave credence to legend of the yellow jersey making a rider ride like two men. His constant battles and almost surprised happiness every day he held on to the yellow jersey warmed many a heart. And being a frenchman, the support that went out to him was considerably higher. At 32, he's no spring chicken, but despite him not holding on to the Maillot Jaune, he will always be fondly remembered for this performance, in addition to his '04 battle with Lance Armstrong.

Alberto Contador:

I will admit, that ever since Alberto overtook Andy Schleck in the 2010 tour (while Andy suffered a problem with his cycle's chain) he isn't exactly my favourite rider. But there is something to be said about his riding when going up a hill. There is a certain panache about the way he gets out of his seat and dances on his pedals, as if he's waltzing with his bike to a romantic tune. After a couple of crashes in the crash-filled 1st week, and a knee problem to boot, quite a few wrote off the Spaniard. But, every time he looked finished, he somehow found an extra gear to get himself into the top 5. A really great performance from the 2-time defending champion and the champion of the Giro D' Italia. (All this among allegations of doping, for which he stands before the CAS).

Frank Schleck:

The senior Schleck was (to be quite blunt) pretty much the boring brother. He may have finished 3rd overall but he hardly attacked or tried to get himself higher. Of course, it wasn't his fault entirely. The Schleck's did state before the tour that both of them would try to get on the podium (they both did) but if it came to helping the brother out, they wouldn't hesitate. Frank just sat on Cadel Evans' and Contador's wheels for almost the entire tour, briefly attacking in a couple of stages, thereby nicking a few seconds here and there. A successful tour definitely for the older Schleck. But hardly one to remember.

Andy Schleck:

I am an unabashed Andy fan. Tommy Voeckler did steal my attention for a while, but you cannot not like Andy. One of the most aggressive riders around, he breathed life into the pyrenian stages of the Tour while the other riders around him attempted sleep walk (erm ride?) their way through the pyrenees. He didn't gain much there though, while his brother Frank nicked a few seconds here and there. It was on the Alps and in particular on the Col Du Galibier and the Col d
Izoard, that Andy really took everybody's breath away (and his own) by a stunning and audacious attack with over 60 kilmetres to go, only to be stunned by a resiliant Tommy Voeckler keeping hold of yellow by just 15 seconds!! Andy is the most exciting rider out there, and he has now finished runners-up 3 times at the tour. I, for one, was terribly disappointed to see him lose yellow in an Individual Time Trial

Cadel Evans:

Cadel Evans is a great rider. I've never really liked him. No that's not right. I've never really noticed him is more true. He's probably the kind of man who admonishes a person running around with the scissors, or one who's decked his house with cushions to prevent his kids from hurting themselves. But his grit and determination this tour was a mark of a champion. The way he single handedly kept half a dozen riders in the tour (following Andy's attack) was quite incredible. This, year he seemed a lot more ready to take control whenever required, and performed admirably to win yellow. His Time Trial performance will be talked about for ages. (Though personally a tour being decided on a 42.5 km time trial is not-very-funny-joke). Cheers to the first Australian ever to win the tour.

The above make up the top 5 of the tour. Here is a list of riders that made an impression (even if they didn't really challenge for the Maillot Jaune - or any other competition for that matter)

Phillippe Gilbert:

Another guy from the Andy Schleck school of riding (though not a very good climber). Clad in the green jersey in the early stages of the tour, he took part in senseless attack after attack. Why? Because like Blazing Saddles so succinctly stated, he could. He was a real joy to watch in the early stages, giving every HTC rider in the race heart attack after heart attack with his fun little jaunts off the front of the main field. Look out for him in the future.

Danny Pate and Lars Bak

The unsung heroes of the HTC highroad team (who have suddenly become very sung about) whipped up incredible speeds on the flat roads and did so much for team leader Mark Cavendish, that they pretty much gift-wrapped up the Green Jersey in a box (with a bow and a card) and handed it to him. Easily the best pacemakers any team could ask for, their selflessness left many a word of praise on everybody's lips. Still some work left for the duo on the Champs-Elysees in Paris to ensure Mark leave in yellow. Which brings us to Mark Cavendish.

Mark Cavendish:

There is a certain air of inevitability on flat stages when it comes to the man from the Isle of Man winning it. So it was a nice change to see him robbed on the line by the big German Andres Greipel and also once by young Norwegian Edvard Boesson Hagen. But the man is the best sprinter alive. 4 stage wins in the tour so far (19 in the last 4 tours), owner of the green jersey (riding into Paris), I can't really tell which is more exhilarating - Mark Cavendish leaping of Mark Wrenshaw's back towards the finish, or the Giant HTC train that forms near the end of every flat stage.

Team FDJ:

The sponsors of this young French team would be extremely happy. This tour was one where you couldn't name a break away without an FDJ rider. (Go ahead, I dare you). This team lived to entertain. But there were also a couple of heart warming events, as a brave Jeremy Roy went down fighting to World Champion Thor Hushovd, (desperately trying to win France a stage at the tour) he raised his hand in apology to the crowd there. Truly a heart-wrenching display by a great young rider - one (of quite a few Frenchmen) to look out for in the future.

Pierre Rolland:

The white jersey man (best young rider) with a light Peter-Crouch face, was incredible throughout the tour. Without him Tommy Voeckler would have probably packed in his yellow ages before he actually did. It was almost fitting that on the day Voeckler finally let go of yellow, Rolland climbed the Alph D'Huez like a man possessed to become the first Frenchman since the legendary Bernard Hinault to conquer the famous mountain. It would have warmed several of the French to witness the emergence of a new talent to get behind.


The recently besieged citizens of Oslo would have no doubt enjoyed their Tour a lot this year, with 4 stage wins going to the only 2 riders from the Scandinavian kingdom. Thor Hushovd (World Champ to boot) and Edvard Boesson Hagen really made the many Norwegian fans who littered the French streets proud.

Johnny Hoogerland, Bradley Wiggins and the crashes:

This tour had an almost absurd number of crashes. Right from Vinukourov's career ender, to Wiggins' tour ender. But it wasn't just the number of crashes that was absurd. It was indeed watching a media car hit 2 riders (One of them falling into a fence of barbed wire - Hoogerland). But the hilarity quickly subsided as Hoogerland, who looked good for a stage win as well as for the Polka Dot Jersey, struggled through the rest of the tour with his 33 stages. Also mentionable is a motorcycle driver's crash with Team Saxo Bank's Nikki Sorensen. The Vinukourov and Wiggin's crashes though were frankly scary with sever injuries being received. In the light of Wouter Weylandt's death in the Giro d'Italia saftey for the riders must improve drastically, but in part it his sometimes hard to blame anyone but the riders themselves.

Special Mentions:

A few more riders who made the tour special: Ivan Basso, Damiano Cunego, Matthew Goss, Sylvain Chavanel, Geriant Thomas

Sunday, July 3, 2011

West Indies cricket's way forward

West Indies cricket

The amount of print dedicated to the decline of West Indies cricket is enormous. Blame has been sent in various directions. Basketball, the players, the money rich T20 leagues of the world, the WICB, the people/organisations blamed are numerous. This isn't a piece about the blame, but where West Indies cricket needs to go.

The 1st thing the WICB needs to do, is get rid of people like Hilaire, who are hated by the players and seem to be impeding Windies' development. Ego clashes like the one he is having with Chris Gayle and (the less publicised one) with Jerome Taylor. I do not pretend to knowthe stands of the WIPA and WICB with respect to contract issues, but with the WICB's personnel being as they are, this will never work.

Taking a look at the stock of young West Indian players around I remain optimistic. The bowling resources in particular speak of tremendous strength. A pace battery of Jerome Taylor, Fide Edwards, Ravi Rampaul, Kemar Roach with all rounders Andre Russell and Darren Sammy is a solid pool of quicks. With a really talented leggie in Devendra Bishoo and a decent yet temperemental left arm bowler in Suleimann Benn, these guys could serve West Indian cricket well and for a long time.

Batting is a real weakness however. There are some talents in Adrian Barath, Lendl Simmons and Darren Bravo, but their tendency to throw away their wickets is a major concern. The likes of Kirk Edwards, Xavier Marshall do not seem to have enough to cut it. This is why Chris Gayle, Shivanaraine Chanderpaul and (to a slightly lesser extent) Marlon Samuels are so crucial. Their experience, and more importantly their ability will give West Indies some much needed stability to their batting line up.

Now the most important thing West Indies cricket needs to do, is distance themselves from the past. That means not having Viv Richards, Desmond Haynes, Michael Holding etc being involved in coaching. This might sound contradictory to improving cricket in the region, but it is a necessity. The problem with these legends coaching this group of cricketers is the disconnect in terms of ability.

For instance, imagine the mentality of Sir Viv Richards as he walked out to bat. He was such a fine player, that he was probably soaking in the crowd, ready to entertain. This approach would not do for a guy like say Adrian Barath. Gifted player he may be, but nowhere near the calibre of either Haynes or Richards. Somebody needs to give him solid technical advice and more importantly, advice on how to keep his concentration and not throw away his wicket.

I will go out on a limb and say that Tom Moody or someone in that mould would be the ideal coach. Someone who will keep the squad grounded, draw from a wide array of coaching experience, and give the players the tools they need to concentrate.

From a bowling point of view, the coaching emphasis should be on pace and consistency for the fast bowlers. I would rope in someone like a Wasim Akram. Ideally, I'd like Imran Khan, but he's busy with his politics. The reason for my choice is that these players will understand both how to handle really fast bowlers and good talented spinners. Famously, Imran Khan used to tell his bowlers, not to worry about wides and no balls, but to just bowl quick. That should be their apprach. Not to mention the fact that they've successfully captained the likes of Saqlain and Abdul Qadir.

Captaincy to me needs a change as well. My personal view is Darren Sammy is good enough to command a continous role in the team. He's (though I hate to admit it) a decent bowler, but he doesn't merit a place as an all rounder especially in tests. More that that he doesn't have the charisma of a leader. The need of the hour is someone with a bit more of a fire in the belly, though who this man could be is a mystery as well. All I am certain of is that Sammy isn't that man.

West Indies cricket is in disarray, but I strongly believe that with the right kind of guidance, they can indeed recover. What is needed is advice on how to work on the basics from professional coaches, and not advice how to be great from the likes of Sir Viv and Desmond Haynes.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Michael Jordan - You ruined basketball

Dear Michael Jordan,

For years, we watched in awe, as you, the magician with the bald head, smiling face knocked off great team after great team on your way to six championships, all with your tongue sticking out all the time, as if you were toying with your opponents as much as the ball. We’ve seen you perform physics-defying acts in mid air, shoot a free throw with your eyes closed, dunk from the free throw line and knock down shot after game-winning clutch shot. Michael Jordan, you ruined basketball.

Kids grew up watching you and trying to grow up to “be like Mike”. Impossible standards were set as the kids tried to reach the sky like they saw you do. Most soon gave up reaching those impossible standards. Some chased it longer, wasting away their lives. Michael Jordan, you ruined basketball for kids.

Any player in the next generation that entered the NBA was matched up against you. Kobe Bryant has spent an entire career chasing your shadow. He’s the one who’s gone closest. Grant Hill was the “next MJ”. Vince Carter, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, all names that came under the “next MJ” tag. None of them could come close to your legacy. Michael Jordan, you ruined basketball for the next generation of players.

Any new young player, who enjoys reasonable success or has great talent, is immediately compared to you. LeBron James is a fantastic talent. He’s strong, athletic, a great passer, rebounder and scorer. He also may be the most complete defender in the entire league. But, we struggle to look past the fact that he’s an average shooter and doesn’t have a great post game and are always ready to criticize him heavily when he fails, but not to shower him in praise when he does deserve it. Michael Jordan, you’ve ruined basketball for all great players of the future.

Dirk Nowitzki delivered a great 21 point, 11 rebound performance in Game 4 of the NBA Finals while suffering from a fever. Yet to us fans, it seemed normal. LeBron James scores 30 points in games quite regularly. Yet when, he scores just 2 points in the last quarter of a final game, we call him out for not being “clutch”. LeBron (while at Cleveland) hit a fade-way three against Orlando to clinch the game. Yet there is only one “The Shot”. We, as fans, have completely lost the ability to appreciate greatness. Nobody’s “greatness” matches up to yours. Michael Jordan, you ruined basketball “greatness” for the fans.

When LeBron James left Cleveland for Miami, he was met with a shower of abuse for “ruining his legacy”. Nobody praised him for forming a formidable team, tuned to compete for multiple championships. Wade and LeBron are constantly compared to your airness and Scottie Pippen. When Kobe Bryant was accused of rape, we laughed at him for trying to be better than you. We didn’t watch and appreciate these players’ talents. We just looked for ways to pull them down in comparisons with you.

Michael Jordan, you ruined basketball for everybody, and we enjoyed every single, bloody, magnificent moment of your perfection. Thank you for being there.


A Fan

Thursday, June 16, 2011

NBA Season Review Part II: The Central Division

Hey everyone,

This is Part 2 of a six part series, looking at NBA season gone by. It’s been a tremendously fun season with the Mavericks emerging as the champions. As the league heads to a probable lockout, no is as good as any to review the great season gone by. So read, enjoy and as always comment away.

The Central division, the division comprising the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Detroit Pistons, the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks hasn’t been a really competitive division in a long time. However, they remain a division where even the weaker teams often are scrappy enough to win a few games here and there. This season, the Central Division was home to the leader of the Eastern Conference the Chicago Bulls. The only other team to make the playoffs, were the Indiana Pacers, who were 25 games behind. That should tell you all you need to know about the division’s strength.

Chicago Bulls

Regular Season Record: 62-20 (1st in the Central Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference)


1st Round – Beat Indiana Pacers 4 - 1

2nd Round – Beat the Atlanta Hawks 4 – 2

Conference Finals – Lost to the Miami Heat 1 - 4

Major Personnel Moves:

Traded James Johnson for a second round draft pick from the Raptors

The Bulls management went all out in the free-agent bonanza of 2010 trying to bring Wade home to Chicago, or sell LeBron on playing with Derrick Rose. But Rose stayed away from it all and didn’t bother inviting anybody to join him. They, in the end, landed up with Carlos Boozer. With the signing of Carlos Boozer, the Bulls fans were definitely positive going into this season. A young core of Rose, Noah and Deng was believed to be a good base for Boozer to come in and make them a top 4 team in the East. But even the most ardent Bulls fan cannot honestly tell you that they expected the Bulls to be this good. Rose had a magnificent year (winning the league MVP) and the Bulls finished with the best record in the NBA.

A starting line up of Rose, Bogans, Deng, Boozer and Noah may not have sounded imposing pre-season but they developed into a fighting unit. In the injury absences of Noah and Boozer the likes of Taj Gibson, Kurt Thomas and Omer Asik really stepped up and there, for me lay the Bulls strength. Depth. A bench with Watson, Brewer, Gibson, Asik, Korver and Thomas worked their tails off all season to deliver this record.

The one disappointment of the season was Boozer, who to me, never really fit in. Leaky defensively as always, his offense never really picked up in the playoffs and that was for me the reason the Heat were able to overpower them. Where do the Bulls go from here? They either need to find a way to fit Boozer in their scheme of things or look for a trade, either for a starting level power forward, or a clutch of offensive role players with Gibson sliding up to the 4. Also, to end this section I have to say, Rose is a stud.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Regular Season Record: 19-63 (5th in the Central Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)

Playoffs: -

Major Personnel Moves:

Traded Mo Williams and Jamario Moon for Baron Davis and the Clippers’ first round pick

Not very often, do you get the opportunity to deem a team’s season a success when they’ve performed so badly. 2nd worst record in the NBA, trading for a bad contract (Baron Davis). You would think this was as bad as could get. Yet, in the aftermath of “the Decision”, this was probably the best thing that could have happened to the Cavaliers. Rather than hanging around the 30 win mark, neither reaching the playoffs or getting high picks in a weak draft, the Cavs chose to trade away their best player (after LeBron) Williams and Moon for (primarily) the Clippers’ draft pick.

They landed the 4th pick of the NBA draft, along with the pick they received from the Clippers turning into the number 1 pick (Clippers’ curse anyone?). The Clippers traded away the pick citing a weak draft, but they’re probably livid with themselves for trading away what eventually became the number one pick. The Cavaliers’ current roster, to me, is filled with only players who could be role players for various teams. So a complete overhaul is an absolute must. With some smart drafting and developing their roster much like the Thunder, hopefully the Cavs will re-emerge from the LeBron fiasco, better equipped and develop into a powerful roster 4-5 years down the line.

Detroit Pistons

Regular Season Record: 30-52 (4th in the Central Divison, 11th in the Eastern Conference)


1st Round: Lost to the Miami Heat 1-4

Major Personnel Moves: NONE

Detroit just had one God awful season. No other way put. Throughout the season, the Pistons’ inexperience at the point just shone through and really cost them multiple wins throughout. It was a tremendous struggle not just for the players but the fans and viewers as well, as an honestly decently talented roster comprising, Rip Hamilton, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villenueva and the two past-their-prime pro’s Tracy McGrady and Ben Wallace should have been much better than they were.

To top their on the court issues came the off-the-court spat between Hamilton and the coach John Kuester, leading to him being benched. To make matters worse, many in the team rose in a “mutiny” leading to half the team (most of the contributors) being benched for a couple of games (as if they could afford it).

Kuester’s now been sacked. The only way I see this Pistons team going anywhere is if they’re each playing for a different team. Sorry but Detroit will have to rebuild totally, replacing their injury prone vets, with enthusiastic rookies and their sulking stars with hard working role players.

ilwaukee Bucks

Regular Season Record: 35-47 (3th in the Atlantic Division,9th in the Eastern Conference)

Playoffs: NIL

Major Personnel Moves: -

I must admit to being mildly disappointed. I didn’t really expect them to be a 50+ win team. But definitely I did expect them to make the playoffs at least. Brandon Jennings didn’t really take off from his great start to his rookie season last year. Averaging around 16 points and 5 assists normally might sound pretty good but at a FG% of 39% & 3PT% 32% are area’s he just must improve. Also 5 3-pt attempts a game is way too much.

Another factor for the Bucks’ season (as usual) was injuries. Michael Redd missed most of the season (again). Encouragingly Andrew Bogut got through 65 games this season. However, Jennings’ injury around the all star break hurt the team big time.

With some solid drafting, maybe a trade involving Redd and some much-needed injury-free continuity, Milwaukee seem to be a team capable of making a string of playoff appearances over the next few years.

Indiana Pacers

Regular Season Record: 37-45 (2nd in the Central division, 8th in the Eastern Conference)


1st Round: Lost to the Chicago Bulls t 1-4

Major Personnel Moves:

Traded Troy Murphy for Darren Collison& James Posey (Through a 4-team trade involving New Jersey, Houston and New Orleans)

Indiana is one of those teams you root for when you watch. They had a VERY ordinary season under Jim O’Brien and he paid with his job. Frank Vogel then stepped in as “interim” coach and did a great job of getting the team to playoff-level basketball.Still you always get the feeling that Danny Granger isn’t a guy you want to build a team around.

The trade for Darren Collison for me was a great move (even though it came with James Posey’s utterly loony contract). Collison gives Indian a great point guard who will gel well with Roy Hibbert and Granger looking ahead a few years. The other big positive for the Pacers, was Hibbert’s breakthrough year. He finally has begun to look every bit the bright prospect he was always looked like he could be and hopefully will carry on in the same vein. Tyler Hansborough is an NCAA legend, holding multiple records at that level. He had a injury-affected poor rookie season but bounced back well to impress quite a few with his active play.

The Pacers look a talented bunch and in my opinion (if they stay healthy) will be a playoff fixture every year. However, I still feel they’re one big talent away from really threatening the likes of Boston, Chicago, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta. Hopefully, either they find one or one of their players turns up their production several notches. Keep an eye on this team. They might not be as good a developing team as the Thunder, but they’re definitely worth your attention.

Well that’s a wrap of the Central Division, will write again in a while, covering the remaining 4 divisions of the NBA. Here's my Atlantic Division review. Thanks for reading, comment away.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

IPL – Will it really destroy cricket?

Before I go back to my NBA Season reviews, I just felt I needed to get this one done. The IPL has been talked about a lot, mostly negatively. With viewership falling, people have begun to question the model. Not to mention the fact that, selections like that of Manpreet Gony have really been criticised and blamed on the IPL. I stress that I will not outright defend everything about the IPL, but merely defend it from what I feel is some unfair criticism.

Let us first understand that the creation is not the first compression of cricket as an attempt to fill the coffers. Back in 1971, desperately trying to pacify an angry crowd, the English and Aussies decided to play a 40 8-ball over game in wet conditions. This inadvertently, became the world’s first ODI. The success of the format led to it being adopted by the ICC leading to the creation of the World Cup. Similarly years later, the ICC would adopt the ECB's new 20 over format to bring crowds to the stands. They say history often repeats itself. In this case, the repetition doesn’t end there.

In the late 1970’s a famous Australian businessman, owner of the Channel 9 network decided he wanted to make a truckload of money out of cricket. The ACB had rejected his bid for rights to Australian tests and so he decided to create his own cricket. Out went the whites and the red ball, in came “pyjamas”, lights and the white ball. The man of course was Kerry Packer. Players flocked to his “World Series Cricket” in a bid to earn more money than they’d seen in a lifetime. The annoyed ICC banned the league and banned its’ players in a bid to put a stop to it. It didn’t work as the World Series Cricket went on to establish itself strongly. Finally, in a if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them move the ICC decided to adopt day night cricket and legalised the World Series.

Fast Forward a good 20-25 years. After the success of India in the T20 World Cup, a certain Subash Chandra decided the time was right for him to take advantage of the formats success. He, of the Zee Network, created the Indian Cricket League which once again was admonished by the ICC, banned etc. The only difference was this time, the ICC managed to crush it. Then, with the blessings of the ICC (like they had a choice), the BCCI set up their own league and hence the IPL was born.

Critics of players who try to earn through the IPL forget how many players in the past have chased money. Back in the 1980’s in the apartheid era, groups of players risked immense sanctions by going to South Africa and playing unofficial tests. Why?? Because they were paid well.

In the 1970’s and 80’s Tons of cricketers packed up their bags for England where they were hired by counties to play for them. Yes, their games did improve playing in English conditions, but anyone who thinks they went there merely to improve their games needs to do some introspection. The economic security county cricket offered was the major reason players would fly to England to play.

Talking about the criticism received by the IPL, one category of criticism received is about the T20 format itself. Mickey-mouse cricket is just one of the names given to it. The T20 format was born (like I mentioned before) to fill the ECB’s coffers. With a tremendously tedious and boring 2007 World Cup the ICC were in a bit of a jam themselves. They decided to go to the T20 format and it turned out to be an unmitigated success.

Now, I am not particularly a big fan of the jokers at the ICC, but they are absolutely right about one thing. The best way to take cricket to new horizons is through the T20 format. Of course, that shouldn’t mean excluding the Associates from the 50-50 format, but that’s an argument for another day. Let’s face it. In the modern day of 9 to 5 jobs, twitter, facebook and instant everything, only the real ardent cricket lovers who have plenty of time on their hands have the time to watch a game from 930 to 530 for 5 straight days. The T20 format is ideal for bringing in fans who otherwise wouldn’t bother, simply because these are 3 hour games usually held at a very convenient time.

So is the T20 format here to stay? Most definitely. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the T20 format could be cricket’s ticket to being an Olympic sport, something the ICC has always dreamt of hopefully. Becoming an Olympic sport will definitely improve the lot of cricket with Olympic giants pumping money into their respective teams and structures. Like the emergence of ODI’s only served to improve test cricket rather than destroy it, I am certain new countries joining the game through T20’s will take to the other formats as well given time.

Now coming to the Franchise League format itself. The objections raised can basically be classified into: “Damaging to international cricket”, “Damaging to Indian cricket.”

Critics of the IPL-like leagues of the world say that with the money involved, players will eventually put their franchises over their countries eventually destroying International cricket. We have already seen instances where a player like Chris Gayle joins his international side late due to the IPL, or players injuring themselves on franchise duty and thus unable to fulfil international commitments. Firstly, I feel persons who criticise players like Gayle for putting money over country should take a cold hard look at themselves. For example, if you are a software professional, would you give up a $200,000 job in the US for a job that will improve our own country. Of course not. It is ridiculous to demand extra patriotism from a sportsman just because he is a sportsman. At the end of the day players want to earn as much as they can, while they are able, because even the best cricketers often last only about 10-12 years.

Now, if you are aiming criticism against the ICC and the BCCI for the IPL, I will agree with you, but only partially. I believe the IPL or rather the “Franchise model” was an inevitable result to the money Indian companies pour into the game in terms of sponsorship. Understand that, for a large company, being able to earn money directly from the game, by owning a team or something similar will always trump earning indirectly by sponsorship and subsequent marketing. We should also understand that for a new fan a game of India vs the Netherlands or Bangladesh vs Australia holds little importance and so very little interest. But pick out Gambhir, ten Doeschate, Brett Lee and Shakib Al Hasan and line them up against a team of similar strength and suddenly interest soars.

Will the IPL and its’ sister leagues across the world destroy international cricket? Not if the ICC ignores BCCI bullying and plans it out well. What I would propose as a solution is the creation of a window. Not an “IPL-window” but a “Franchise League Window”. Allow all Northern Hemisphere countries six weeks in April/May to dispense their respective domestic T20 leagues, and all Southern Hemisphere countries to hold theirs for six weeks in November/December. Then sometime in September over 2-3 weeks the Champions League can be held and that’s that.

This window will ensure players get to earn their dream pay and not miss international commitments as well. As for injury concerns, what really amuses me is that the same people who bemoan the fact that international players do not play enough domestic cricket, now moan about cricketers playing more cricket at the domestic level.

Now the effect of the IPL on Indian cricket is being analyzed and many say it could have an adverse impact. The argument is based on the assumption that youngsters would work toward landing an IPL contract rather than play for the country. I can understand this point of view to an extent and I do understand that it is inevitable. But I do believe this problem can easily be put in check by the BCCI. Grass-root improvement of cricket at the school level is mandatory. Creation of many academies for school kids funded by the BCCI would be a giant step in that direction. At the top level, the selectors will have a huge role to play. Fantastic IPL performances mustn’t translate into a national side spot. However they mustn’t go ignored either.

I strongly believe that players who do well in the IPL can be picked to play in T20 Internationals, but not the other 2 formats. What the selectors must do is monitor the domestic List A and First Class performances of IPL success stories for a couple of years to monitor their consistency. Based on this selection decisions must be made.

Some say the IPL has destroyed cricket. New fans of the game claim the IPL is the most interesting form of cricket. What we must understand is that we can right now say neither. What we can say is the IPL has changed cricket. For the good or for the bad, will depend solely on how the ICC and its’ various members handle the growth of franchise cricket. The impact will definitely show a few years down the line. As of now, I would like to remain an optimist and hope to see an accelerated growth in the game over the next many years.

Before I sign off, I would like to tell those that thing the IPL has lost its’ sheen and will hurtle toward obscurity, to think again. With the 2011 World being in India and being won by India a sense of fatigue set in all over the country, hence leading to a drop in the IPL ratings. With hardly any cricket in India between this year’s IPL and the next, expect a large increase in interest between now and then. That’s it from me on this topic over and out J

Thursday, June 2, 2011

NBA Season Review Part I: The Atlantic Division

Hey everyone,

This is Part 1 of a six part series, looking at NBA season gone by. Yes, the finals are still underway. But now, is as good a time as any to write about the NBA. So read, enjoy and as always comment away.

Today, I will begin my analysis with the Atlantic division, the division comprising the Boston Celtics, the New York Knicks, the New Jersey Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors. The Celtics won the Division with New York and Philadelphia making it to the playoffs. They were the 3rd, 6th and 7th seeds respectively.

Boston Celtics
Regular Season Record: 56-26 (1st in the Atlantic Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference)
1st Round – Beat the New York Knick 4 - 0
2nd Round – Lost to the Miami Heat 1 – 4
Major Personnel Moves:
Traded Kendrick Perkins & Nate Robinson to the OKC Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the LA Clippers’ 2012 first round draft pick
Traded Luke Harangody and Semih Erden for the Cleveland Cavaliers’ second round draft pick
My Take:
It’s been a mixed year for the veteran Celtics team as they desperately chased a championship. Things looked up early with Garnett having a real vintage year, displaying some great moves on defence as well as offence. Rondo do continued his development into one of the better passers in the game. Pierce and Allen saw their outputs drop a little but nothing to really alarm the fans.
The real “big moment” of the season for them though was the trade of Perkins for Jeff Green. Losing Perkins was a major blow to their structure, since Perkins was the anchor of their defence. The Celtics were banking on the fitness off both O’Neals, not the best idea considering their recent fitness woes. Shaq suffered injury after injury and never really got on the court, while Jermaine despite delivering throwback performances in the playoffs was never able to fill in Perkins shoes. Rondo dislocating his elbow in the Miami series didn’t help either as they crumbled against the Heat. Rondo has really established himself as the leader on the floor for the Celtics, and he playing one-handed did not help their cause.
Looking at next season, Boston will 1st have to decide where they are headed. The Jeff Green trade while wildly criticized for its’ timing, was probably one made with an eye on the future. With a number of college players pulling out of the draft with lockout worries, the Clippers’ 1st round pick of 2012 (which would probably be a top 20 pick) could bring in good young legs to this Boston team, not to mention Rondo and Green would be a solid Point Guard-Wing Player combo to build on. But, if the Celtics are to really rebuild, it would be best to break up their trio of KG, Pierce and Allen. Will they do it? That is the major question they will answer this off season.

New York Knicks
Regular Season Record: 42-40 (2nd in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: 1st round: Lost to Boston 0-4
Major Personnel Moves:
Traded Danilo Galinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Knicks’ 2014 1st round pick & 2 Warriors’ 2nd round picks for Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman and Anthony Carter.
Sent Anthony Randolph and Eddy Curry (in a 3 way trade) to Minnesota and received Corey Brewer
My Take:
The Knicks were up and away, even before the season began with the free agent acquisition of Amare Stoudemire in the off-season. A great start to the season from Raymond Felton helped the Knicks capture the imagination of the loyal New Yorkers and bring hopes of reaching the playoffs and becoming relevant after years of looking forward to this free agent class. However, things began to go south, when Felton’s form began to dip. That’s when the Knicks (with a rumoured hand from Isiah Thomas) made a blockbuster trade that landed Carmelo Anthony and Billups.
Despite initial teething trouble, the Knicks began performing well and headed into the Celtics series with a little confidence. That confidence disappeared in a hurry as the Celtics swept them in a hurry.
So what do the Knicks have to learn from this season? Well, to be honest, I think the Knicks will be a lot better with an offseason where they practise a lot together behind them. But for me, the main problem the Knicks will have is figuring out how to combine Amare & Carmelo well. Both players are great scorers but also notoriously bad defenders. It will be interesting to see where the Knicks go from here.

Philadelphia 76ers
Regular Season Record: 41-41 (3rd in the Atlantic Divison, 7th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: 1st Round: Lost to the Miami Heat 1-4
Major Personnel Moves: None that I can honestly remember.
My Take:
Philly once again had their usual there-in-the-playoffs-but-not-much-else kind of season. As a franchise, the 76ers seemed to have just stalled. The biggest problem with the Sixers for me is this stat line: 8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists. For a guy, who was picked second in a draft, in his second year, that it just not enough.
There were some positives. Elton Brand had a bit of a throwback year. Well, not entirely, but one could say that he wasn’t as bad as he’s been for the duration of his stay in Philly. Also to be considered is how the Sixers early in the season seemed to need time to settle into the Princeton Offense. They eventually got up to the playoffs, but if they intend progress anywhere they need to make some hard choices. Biggest of them all? What to do with Andre Iguodala.
I seem to remember rumours of an Iguodala trade even before a certain self-proclaimed King began his free-agent preening. Yet, somehow, Iguodala is still very much a Sixer. In my opinion, now is the time to hip him out. Iguodala is the kind of guy who would fit well in a run-and-gun offense. Someone like a Mike D’Antoni would suit him best. But, definitely the 76ers coached by Doug Collins just isn’t a right fit. Philly fans and management, it’s time to move on.

New Jersey Nets
Regular Season Record: 24-58 (4th in the Atlantic Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: NIL
Major Personnel Moves:
Traded Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, Nets’ First Round Draft Pick, Warriors’ protected First Round Pick for Deron Williams
Traded Troy Murphy for Dan Gadzuric and Brandan Wright
My Take:
Before I begin about the Nets, it must be said, that any season from this franchise would have been an improvement on their last. It’s not often that you can say a franchise has doubled their win tally when they’ve got just 24 wins, but there you have it. But this year, there was always an air of positivity around the Nets. What with Mikhail Prokhorov taking over ownership, with the Brooklyn move coming closer and the blockbuster (and to me, shocking) trade for Deron Williams, things are definitely looking up for the franchise.
One disappointment this season was Brook Lopez. After a promising season where a lot of analysts felt Brook Lopez wasn’t seeing enough of the ball, Brook Lopez did get a few more touches a game. But he stagnated a little in his development. Most concerning was his rebounding totals, which dropped considerably over this season. The Nets need him to pick up his game and cement himself alongside Williams as the cornerstone of the franchise.
Where do the Nets go from here? Well they’ve got a bunch of expiring contracts, a real franchise player in Deron Williams and decent support in Brook Lopez and Anthony Morrow. With an owner like Prokhorov (with a thirst for victory) and the thrill of the upcoming new Arena, the future looks bright for this franchise. Who knows, in a few years we might see the Nets return to the NBA Finals ala Kidd, Carter and Jefferson’s band.

Toronto Raptors
Regular Season Record: 22-60 (5th in the Atlantic division, 14th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: NIL
Major Personnel Moves:
Traded Jarret Jack, David Anderson and Marcus Bank for Jerryd Bayless and Peja Stojakovic
My Take:
Look, it’s a fact that this franchise has struggled ever since Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter decided to take flight from Canada. Andrea Bargnani might be a good player but he is definitely not worth a number one pick, sorry. Considering the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge was picked next and Brandon Roy was in the same draft, this was a blunder. Not a huge Kwame-Brown-like bust but a mistake nonetheless.
But anyway, this team did reasonably with Chris Bosh the season before. Chris Bosh is also not “Franchise Player” material in my opinion, but we’ll skip that. The point is any team losing a player of Bosh’s talents was going to struggle. Struggle they did.
Where do the Raptors go from here?? They did a good job clearing out salaries. Now it’s time to fill them with a good young core group of players. Demar DeRozan, Bargnani, Linas Kleiza and Jerryd Bayless are a good set of young players. But, without a really good player, the Raptors is like a set of car spare parts without the engine. How do they improve? I feel they should trade Jose Calderon. He’s a very good Point Guard, but not worth the 10 million a year he commands to a rebuilding unit. The Raptors need to go young, as they look to the future.

Well that’s a wrap of the Atlantic Division, will write again in a while, covering the remaining 5 divisions of the NBA. Thanks for reading, comment away.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Health of Indian Cricket

A couple of months ago a certain maverick Indian wicketkeeper batsman hit a massive six and with a magical twirl of the bat brought the World Cup to India after 28 long years. Fast forward a few months before that and you remember the images of VVS Laxman defying South Africa and it’s mighty pace attack on a green, seamer’s paradise in Durban and granting India the victory that would ensure India would retain 1st place in the Test ratings.

By current ratings, the Indian team is the world’s premier test side and the number 2 ODI side. This in itself is quite an impressive feat without mentioning the fact that they’re the reigning World Champions as well. It would be quite easy to say Indian cricket is in the rudest of good health and looks in good shape for many more years. But one must remember that, the same was said about Australia, only a few short years ago. Over the last few years “analysts” have always insisted that the structure and the policies of the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) are examples to be followed by the rest of the World. I beg to differ.

Replacing a certain Shane Keith Warne and his partner in crime Glenn McGrath was never going to be an easy task. But the alarming lack of ability in the new generation of bowlers in Australian cricket has really been a huge setback to the Australian National team. The once famed domestic structure has failed to deliver bowlers who are both fit and capable of winning test matches for Australia. But where did they go wrong? Wasn’t Australia the country with the model structure? What happened?

Some say every cricket team will ebb and flow and this is just a trend that will last for a few years. This could possibly be true, but in my mind Australian cricket through all its’ success had one major flaw and that was its’ bench strength. Bench strength in fact, might be the wrong term to use. What I mean by bench strength is the flow of good, young, talented players into the fold. There were some worrying signs initially, when Mike Hussey returned to the fold at the young age of 30. Then when Warne moved on, Australia replaced him with Stuart MacGill (his long time understudy) and then subsequently Brad Hogg, both once again on the wrong side of the 30’s. And yet again, with McGrath’s retirement, the replacements that flowed through were Stuart Clark (30+ again), Gillespie (On the verge of career end himself), Michael Kasprowicz (near the end as well), Shaun Tait (Proven completely unfit), Nathan Bracken (Injured himself and never returned), Doug Bollinger (Good but consistently injured), Mitchell Johnson (Highly erratic) so on and so forth.

It’s understood that great players will always be difficult to replace, but the way Australia have struggled is something India must learn from. Ahead of the tour of the West Indies, it pleases me that India have taken advantage of the senior players’ requests for rest and sent out a side of youngsters eager to test the waters of international cricket. On the batting front, India always seems to be a healthy nation. A score of batsmen are waiting in the wings ready to take advantage of any loss of form on the part of those in the team. However, like Australia, India is only a few years away from facing a big challenge in their bowling department. In fact, the challenge may have already begun.

Zaheer Khan is currently without question THE lynchpin of the Indian bowling attack. He has been absolutely remarkable not just with the ball in his hands, but standing at mid off and mid on, in the ear of his compatriots, as well. His importance to this Indian team is unquestionable. In both the test format, as well as the limited overs formats, Zaheer’s performances have ranged from brilliant t other-worldly. One might even say most of India’s successes in the last couple of years, have been down to him.

Analysing the rest of India’s bowling attack isn’t as simple. The game has evolved over the last many years into one where the requirements of bowlers now vary strongly from Tests to ODIs & T20s. For example take India’s pace bowling stock of Sreesanth, Ishant Sharma, Ashish Nehra, Praveen Kumar, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, the young and quick Varun Aaron, Rajasthan’s up and coming duo of Pankaj Singh and Deepak Chahar, Munaf Patel and others. One look at this group and already you start arranging them unconsciously into Test and LOI bowlers.

The likes of Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma would be difficult to pick for a LOI squad simply because they are quite capable of spraying the ball around and leaking runs uncontrollably. In tests however, when they are bowling in rhythm, they are must haves because of the bucket-load of wickets they can generate. On the other end of the spectrum you have the likes of Ashish Nehra (deemed unfit for 5 day cricket) and Munaf Patel who you can bank on for a solid 10 overs of “within the stumps”, but not for picking up a five-for to win a test match. It is possible that this trend will reach acceptance and teams will have different attacks for different formats. But the fact that there doesn’t seem to be one real top quality bowler who can one day fill in Zaheer Khan’s shoes, is a very worrying sign for Indian cricket.

A look at the spin department is only slightly more positive. Harbhajan Singh, in my mind, has stretched his test career out for too long. His strike Rate which was once in the early 60’s is now threatening to reach the 70 mark. He seems to be used in more of a containing role than a wicket-taking role. His pace, line and length are of course well-suited for the limited overs games. Even in tests when he had an equally frugal Anil Kumble at the other end, his bowling served its’ purpose since pressure was being built at both ends. Now with a Sreesanth or an Ishant Sharma being his bowling partner he’s got to be more attacking with his bowling, something he seems unable to do. The problem now is who, to replace him with. Ashwin is another bowler dependant on wearing out a batsman. Iqbal Abdullah made his name being the stock bowler for Mumbai’s Ranji team. Piyush Chawla without a doubt has been a spectacular failure. Pragyan Ojha again, is a stump to stump bowler. The only real attacking spinner on the horizon seems to be Amit Mishra who while being a good attacking bowler, struggles with inconsistency. He is definitely a man who should be given more opportunities, but for that the Indian selectors must be ready to ignore reputation and performances a long while ago. Harbhajan Singh has only four 5-wicket hauls in the last 50 innings and 12 four-wicket hauls in that period. Being our premier wicket taker along with Zaheer Khan, you would expect a lot more from Bhajji wouldn’t you? Of course you might argue that his record might have suffered from playing abroad more. That would be incorrect, since only 10 off these 50 innings have been in South Africa and England. The rest are in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh places where you’d expect Bhajji to pick up 5-wicket hauls with more regularity than one every 6 tests or so.

One thing Australia was famous for was their emotion-free selections. Steve Waugh was asked kindly to retire gracefully. The same happened too, for his stylish brother Mark. The list of dumped Australian players, who contributed to the cause immensely, is quite long. India on the other hand kept a struggling Kapil Dev on board till he finally took down Sir Richard Hadlee’s record. At this time where India’s fabulous batting line up is in transition, the Indian selectors must be careful with the likes of Rahul Dravid. Dravid is in a bit of a lean patch and some may even say he’s over the hill. The selectors after the tour of the West Indies must look at his position seriously, if he fails to perform. The only two untouchable batsmen to be are of course Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. I feel any Indian batting line up must be able to bear the burden of an out of form Sehwag, simply of what damage he can cause when he gets going. Sachin of course has earned the right to choose his path for himself. MS Dhoni might be on his way to making this list but it is a couple of years too early to say so for sure now. The point I’m trying to make is that India have got to approach transition with care and not be forced into it, like Australia were when Warne and McGrath retired.

India’s cricket team, in my opinion, should permanently remain in transition, with new players getting chances every now and again. This will serve in not just unearthing new young talents, but ensure that established cricketers are constantly reminded that only their performances count. In the past, Indian cricketers have lulled themselves into a slumber thanks to the hesitance of the Indian selectors in dumping an “established name”. If India are to remain a champion side they must constantly reinvent themselves.

In conclusion, I’d say Indian cricket is in pretty good health. However, the bowling unit could use some freshening up. Also, the team must continue to be in a state of permanent transition with new players coming in all the time to ensure that India always has a strong pool of talent to pick from. This will hold India in good stead when the likes of Sachin, Zaheer, Sehwag etc decide to hang up their boots. As Australia discovered, talent doesn’t just show up every time you want. India must find, collect and cultivate talent, to ensure long-lasting dominance of world cricket.


All sports fans have an "expert" or a "pundit" inside them. Or so they would have us believe. I am just one such guy with a passion for several sports ranging from basketball to cricket, football to cycling, and so on and so forth. Here I will be sharing with you my "expert" (or should I say armchair views) views on the current happenings in the sporting world. Sporting views are of course always debatable and hence I encourage readers to engage themselves debating my views and indeed that of other readers as well. Enjoy.