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.