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.