Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Risk in T20 particularly in the IPL

It has been many years and many moons since I last wrote anything about well, anything. I'm glad to say that I have been brought out of retirement (does it count if you didn't write much to begin with?) by this great podcast by the team at 81 allout featuring Mr. Cricket couch and Kartikeya Date. If you haven't heard the podcast (or any of their other episodes, I strongly recommend you look for them on your favourite podcast platform, take a look at their website or reach out to @ABVan and @sidvee on Twitter).

For many years now, Couch and Kartikeya have spoken, written and tweeted at length about how T20 cricket is a vastly different game to Test or even ODI cricket, and without going into the detail of their arguments (you should listen to the podcast for that), their key point is that the skill sets required are almost vastly different. I agree with a lot of their points, but that's not why I write this. I write this because I want to make slight modifications to their view, and also assess how teams seem to approach T20 in the way they structure their teams with particular emphasis on batting line ups in IPL teams.

Before I dive into it, I want to bring up a quote from a non cricket person. If you are a cricket fan, the name Daryl Morey might mean nothing to you, but in the world of sports, particularly in the USA, Daryl Morey is representative of "Money Ball" and Sports Analytics in General. GM of the Houston Rockets and one of the key founders of the world famous MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. To set the context of this quote - the Golden State Warriors had just signed Kevin Durant and beaten the Cavaliers in 5 games in the NBA finals. Across the league teams had shelved their short term plans in the face of the Warriors juggernaut and decided to either plan for a few years ahead while treading water (like Boston) or go all in on a tank job (like Phoenix and Atlanta). Daryl Morey, traded for Chris Paul. When asked by Zach Lowe (who's podcast, the Lowe Post is one of the best around), about the move, Daryl Morey reponded "They are not unbeatable. There have been bigger upsets in sports history. We are going to keep improving our roster. We are used to long odds. If Golden State makes the odds longer, we might up our risk profile and get even more aggressive. We have something up our sleeve."

I bring this quote up because it sets up my premise perfectly. My view of how sports teams are and should be structured is based on risk, especially when it comes to sports where managing your resources is nearly as vital as having the right resources in the first place. Basketball and T20 are perfect examples of just this. What do I mean by "risk" here?  Every T20 side, by virtue of the XI put on the field, will have an expectation of what they might deliver on the field. Let's consider the examples of Virat Kohli and Andre Russell. Based on his career average, I would expect Kohli's average innings to be roughly 41 off 31 balls. By the same, measure an average Andre Russell innings is worth 25 off 15 balls. At first glance, by every traditional way we think of cricket, we instantly go "Virat Kohli's a better T20 batsman". The key point here is that the average means (*chuckle*) nothing on its own. Lets look at the distribution a little. (Note: I've used statsguru for lack of time and so have looked at T20 internationals only, but should be good enough to give you a flavour). Out of 62 innings, Virat Kohli averages 50+, with only 2 ducks and 9 single digit scores. On the face of it, once again incredible. Andre Russell averages 18, with 6 ducks out of 39 innings and and 12 other single digit scores then. That's a pretty ordinary record which should be excused by the fact that he's played a lot lower down the order than Kohli has over time. Why then did I pick Russell as a comparison? Russell is the modern prototypical big hitting free swinging batsman, while Kohli is the more traditionalist "all formats" player (and secondly, this comparison was heavily featured on the 81 allout podcast I referenced earlier). How does this show in the numbers? Virat Kohli has scored at or faster than 2 runs a ball once, in his entire 62 innings. Russell, has done this 9 times in 39 innings!

Now, Couch and Kartikeya were emphatic in their rating of Russell being a more suited T20 batsman than Kohli. My opinion, stands somewhere in the middle.

Here are 2 scorecards from 2 T20 world cup finals - 2016 and 2018. What's the common thread between these 2 T20 Final triumphs? West Indies top order failed (2-14 in 2012, 3-11 in 2016) and had to be rescued by critical innings by Marlon Samuels before a late order surge (once by Darren Sammy and once rather famously by Carlos Brathwaite) won the game for the West Indies. Here, lies the perfect illustration of my view. Samuels' innings at a strike rate of 140 in 2012 and 128 in 2016, to me were just as important as Sammy and Brathwaite's blinders to their victories. While Couch and Kartikeya may argue that Sammy and Brathwaite approached T20 the way it should be, my counter would be this - players like Sammy, Brathwaite, Russell increase the ceiling of teams by upping their risk profile. But players like Virat Kohli, Steve Smith, Du Plessis raise the floor, which is equally important toward managing your risk profile. One cannot exist without the other. A team of eleven Andre Russells would lose a lot because they would always be one mishit from starting a collapse. A team of eleven Virat Kohli's would lead to a string of 150 scores from 20 overs which would on average lose more than it won. However, this also means that they would be competitive in more games. Now lets take this principle and look at how IPL teams have and are approaching this.

The Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians have followed roughly a similar formula to each other - Invest big in their top 3 batsmen and their late order hitters, and fill the gap with batman (or men) to stabilize innings that go wrong. Think Watson, Faf, Raina (or indeed McCullum, Smith, Raina) vs. Rohit, De Kock at the top for Mumbai; Dhoni (though his powers have waned with age), Jadhav, Jadeja vs. Pollard, H and K Pandya (think Morkel, Kemp in CSK teams past and Corey Anderson types for Mumbai); with Rayudu, Suryakumar Yadav types (S Badrinath, Rayudu in the past) filling in the middle. This strategy has worked well for the teams because it features a batting line up who's top and middle order, for the most part (McCullum being the only exception) are likely to take a team to a score of about 65-75/2 at the 10 over mark. Why is this important? This is where the floor of the innings is set. Collapse too early, and the game is gone before you've even finished a single innings. From this platform, now that a team has assured themselves that a 140-150 score is a near guarantee, the teams then rely on their powerful hitting down the order (or set top order batsmen) to open up on the risk front to propel them to 180+ scores. Now what does this mean? It means that neither of these teams is likely to score 240-250 scores, with the rare exception. They are also unlikely to get bundled out for 80, once again with the rare exception.

In most recent time, the Sunrisers Hyderabad have applied pretty much this exact strategy to their own time and have done well in recent years (Warner, Bairstow at the top, Vijay Shankar and Pandey to steady the ship in the middle and hitters like Nabi, Pathan, Hooda and Rashid down the end). The reason why they look vulnerable is because their middle and lower order has struggled for form, so when their top order fail, they lose. Kolkata (as pointed out to me by @Sidvee) are also beautifully structured for the T20 game, with a high risk opener in Narine, batting with Chris Lynn, stabilizers in Uthappa and Gill, and power players in Karthik, Russell, Chawla. This year, Kolkata have had the opposite problem of the Sun Risers. The one game where Narine and Lynn came off really well, they won at a canter. When they failed, Russell had to bail them out thrice. What is the lesson from these 2 sides? It's the same lesson that CSK seem to have learnt early in their cricketing journey - Mix of risk and stability is the key to success. The evidence of CSK's understanding of this stems directly from their captain MS Dhoni. Early in the IPL, he once said that CSK's goal was to ensure they won more than they lost and reach the semi finals, after which games could go any which way on the back game changing innings, and he was right. Lifting the floor of your performances, invariably means you are in close games more often, while padding that floor with the ability to bounce hard every now and then lifts the ceiling just enough to get by. If you're a team like the West Indies, spoilt with the riches of big hitters everywhere, you still need a Marlon Samuels (or even a Chris Gayle taking his time at the start) to be the floor, for the day it all collapses in a heap. This is T20 cricket's yin and yang. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Chennai Super Kings – Lack of domestic batting will hurt them in the playoffs

From the vantage point of a once hard core, and now somewhat dispassionate fan, who is following the IPL after a couple of years, it has been interesting to see the changes in the team. It has also been interesting to notice a big change in the composition of the Super Kings line up that I think will hurt them in the playoffs.

I have often believed that the strength of the batting or bowling of an IPL team is accurately reflect more by its domestic components, rather than its internationals. While a great recruit like a Malinga or a Warner is definitely of great value, domestic strength over the years has emerged as the key to consistency.

In the past, Chennai featured (and trusted) the likes of Murali Vijay, S Badrinath, Parthiv Patel, Wridhhiman Saha, and even the likes of S Aniruddha and S Vidyut. This year, however, there has been a complete reliance on the foreign batsmen in McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Faf Du Plessis, the all-rounder in Dwayne Bravo, and now Mike Hussey. This has been further hastened by Raina and Dhoni not being at their best. This goes against general selection policy over the years, where every CSK side would have one international strike bowler, be it Bollinger, Hilfenhaus, Chris Morris, or in the alternative be stacked with all-rounders like Morkel, Kemp, Kulasekara, Perera, etc. This change has been a symptom of the unusual lack of strength in CSK’s batting reserves that will hamper them in the playoffs while McCullum is away on national duty. Outside of Raina, Dhoni and to a certain extent, Jadeja and Negi, CSK’s domestic batting group comprises only of Mithun Manhas and Baba Aparajith.

Interestingly, not only does this lack of domestic batting hamper their batting, but it has tied the hands of CSK in terms of bowling selection, where emphasis has been on domestic bowlers. Ashish Nehra and Dwayne Bravo have solved that problem to an extent by having a throwback year, but Ishwar Pandey has been inconsistent at best and Mohit Sharma has been downright poor. The biggest loss for CSK has been the player they have been unable to put on the field, and that is Kyle Abbott. Abbott was arguably the best or 2nd best seamer for South Africa in the World Cup and outperforming Dale Steyn is no mean feat. A bowling attack featuring him, Nehra, Bravo, Ashwin and Jadeja, with Negi as back up would automatically be one of the best in the IPL, but CSK cannot afford to do that, since their batting would be weakened immensely.

The reason I have spent so much time highlighting this glaring issue, is that this is opposite to what the Super Kings have been over the years. CSK would always be among the best, if not the best batting line ups in the league, while their bowling would be just average, with one or two key components. This year however, [and maybe the year before?], the identity has changed, where the batting needs to be propped up with international talent. To me that has been the biggest change for the team in yellow. It is also evident from the pitches at the MA Chidambaram stadium this year that Chennai are aware of this as well. For the Ranji trophy this season, a series of dry, beaten downtracks were laid out to aid the TN spinners. Usually, for the IPL, 140-150 wickets are the norm as CSK would really on their slow bowlers and big hitters. However, this year there have been only 2 scores below 150, and the average first innings total has been 164 [all CSK]. This tells me that pitches have been laid out to favor the batting and rely on bowlers bowling consistent lines and lengths to win games.

With McCullum gone, I expect the Super Kings to struggle going into the playoffs. While Hussey has been a fantastic player over his career and also for the Super Kings, and opening combination of him and Dwayne Smith does not scream IPL champions the way Gayle-Kohli, Watson-Rahane do. Heck, on current form, even Simmons-Parthiv sounds a better combination. The problem for Chennai is that their domestic batting strength doesn’t allow for the selection of Abbott, and hence, they are stuck. 
It will be interesting to see if CSK shuffle up their batting order, promoting Faf Du Plessis, and what tactics they use with Raina having his worst IPL season. Given their imbalance, I would suggest that RCB, or maybe even RR are favorites from this point on.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The swansong is done, the curtains are down

He's gone. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. The man I would rush home from school for. The man who would cause me to peer outside my classroom window to glimpse his barely visible image on the TV screen. The man who had the power to drive me nuts, and to depression. The man, who stole our hearts in the midst of sandstorms and the Chennai summer. Gone.

I do not intend to pen down prose on his greatness. Many writers, bloggers and fans, far better than I, have done so. There are several that you must definitely read. For me, as I suppose is the case with most Indian cricket fans, Sachin was personal. So I write, about a man who probably inspired me to love sport as much as I do today.

I don't remember much of his early career, which is understandable, given that I was only born after his career had begun. People speak fondly of his first stint as opener vs. the Kiwis. I wish I could remember that, but no.

I grew up with a cricket-mad mom and aunt, along with their father who was an ardent sports fan like I am today. I took up a bat and ball at a very tender age. I was never particularly good, but how does that matter to a kid? My first memory of Sachin is begging my mom and aunt to take me along for the India Pakistan ODI in '97. The idea of taking a 7 year old along for an Indo-Pak match wasn't exactly the most safe one at the time, so I didn't get to go.

Come March '98 however, I struck gold, and was taken along for the Chennai Test vs. Australia. I still remember the stinging disappointment of seeing him out for 4. But two incredible things happened that I will never forget. Sachin delivered a stinging 155, making the Australian attack look like a bunch of schoolkids. The second, more personally special, was visiting Sachin in his hotel room. I don't remember how that happened, it had something to do with my aunt and some work, but I was 2 feet away from him. Apparently, I couldn't contain myself and was jumping around excitedly, but there he was. I remember Rajesh Chauhan walking in and out. I remember him patting me on the back encouraging me to be a good cricketer. Thinking back, the man he was with that speech of his on retirement, is exactly the man he was that day. Humble, sweet and passionate about the game.

Shortly after came the legendary pair of sandstorm innings. I still remember those games. There was a function of some sort, involving musical concerts at home, and happily, the TV was shunted into my bedroom, where me and my cousins were holed up. I remember the dance down the track. I remember the brutality. I remember the sight of Sachin single-handedly willing India into the final and then winning the final as well. I was 8 years old. I had a hero.

Over the years, Sachin has delivered some extraordinary performances. The 98 vs. Pakistan. His role in India's resurrection after the disastrous loss to Australia in the same world cup. The heart breaking loss to Pakistan in Chennai. The cover-drive-less double in Sydney. I'm certain, each of us associate one of the many brilliant knocks, as something special in our lives. Sachin touched us all. And that was his greatness.

I was talking to a friend the other day about Sachin. He said something very interesting about the "God" phenomenon. He said it hurt him, to hear him referred to as "God" because he felt it took away from Sachin. I was puzzled, but he went on. He said that the greatness of Sachin, wasn't in his genius, or his talent, but in his passion and his values. Sachin was what he was, because of the incredible amount of work and sacrifice and he inspired millions because of the man he was - simple and humble. To deem him immortal, he said, was to understate the greatness of the mortal man, who rose above us all to be a role model, not just for cricket fans, but a shining beacon for the country as a whole.

I found that whole conversation interesting, because I also realized how deeply personal his feelings toward Sachin were. I had always felt that he should have hung up his boots a little earlier, but to actually see him go, was heartbreaking. When I heard him speak about his family, his coach, his fans, I felt like I was losing a family member, or as someone put it perfectly, part of myself.

In a moment, that was beautiful beyond words, he said that the chants of "Sachin, Sachin" would ring on in his ears forever. Sachin was personal, so wonderfully personal. At some level, I guess he took his relationship with fans at various stadia personally too. He needn't worry though. As long as there is the game of cricket, and seats in Indian stadia for fans, I am certain those chants will make their appearances and over.

In an era of the Lance Armstrong, John Terry, Allen Iverson and Wayne Rooney, we were lucky beyond words to be surrounded by the heroes that were Sachin, Dravid, VVS, Ganguly and Kumble. We were lucky growing up, not just because the Indian team was filled with greats, but because we had them to look up to. Parents could tell their kids to be graceful and courteous like Dravid and Laxman. To be persistent, and to never say die like Kumble. To go into tough situations head on, full of self belief like Dada. And above all, no matter what, to be responsible, strong, yet humble, like Sachin.

Dear Sachin, I would like to thank you and your generation of great cricketers, were helping me grow into the person I am today. I will miss you sorely, and though you may not hear my voice out alone, you will always hear it as part of the chorus in your head, going "Sachiiin, Sachin!"

Thank you for the memories. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

David Stern - Another Blunder

David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, has never been among the most loved people on earth. Not among owners. Not among players. Not among sports writers and anchors. To be honest, he endears himself less and less to the fans everyday. The NBA might be a collaboration between 30 teams, but lets not kid ourselves. It is a dictatorship, plain and simple.

Over the last few years, Stern has made many ridiculous decisions and statements. There was the blatant (and borderline racist) move to distance themselves from the American "hip-hop culture" that was criticized by stars like Allen Iverson and Charles Barkley. There was the controversial moving of the Seattle Supersonics franchise. There was his insistence on handing out technical fouls like candy for even the tiniest expressions of emotion. There have been draft controversies, ownership controversies and a potpourri of other controversies including his infamous "I know where the bodies are buried, because I put them there myself" comment in the midst of an acrimonious lockout. The list goes on and on.

Two days ago, after going through 5 games in 8 nights, San Antonio Spurs coach Greg "Pop" Popovich chose to rest his veteran players Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Additionally he gave the night off to the player leading his minutes charts - Danny Greene. Unfortunately for Pop, he chose the wrong night. The night the Spurs were playing (on national television) in Miami. It didn't matter that the so-called scrubs of the San Antonio roster nearly pulled off the win. Stern came down hard - $250,000 hard.

Their are arguments that can be made for the fine. From the fans' perspective, especially those who paid good money for tickets, they probably did not want to watch a starting line up of Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, Tiago Splitter, Nando De Colo and Patty Mills. For the TV network that chose this game to air nationally, this meant they took a hit commercially. All in all, teams resting players in such a manner, is a loss to the league commercially. However, the fact that the fine can be argued for should not take away from the fact that it is still not justified.

Resting players is not something new in the NBA. In fact, Coach Pop rested his senior players several times in the last couple of season. Playoff-bound teams have always rested star players toward the end of the season. Lottery bound teams rest stars near the end of the season to better their chances. If anything, the latter is the worst offence, since there, the intention is to lessen the chances of them winning games. So does this fine to the San Antonio Spurs mean that Stern will punish all such offenders? The short answer is probably a 'no' and Adrian Wojnarowski has a theory as to why.

Conspiracy theories regarding an enmity with the Spurs franchise notwithstanding, unfairness is not the only reason why this decision stinks. Coach Pop rested his stars because in his opinion, they needed the break to continue winning later in the season. That is, his decision was in the best interest of the team as far as the season was concerned. What if he played his stars despite knowing it would have a detrimental effect on them. Doesn't that go against his teams' best interests? Isn't that sabotaging his own teams' chances? Isn't that a worse offence? These are questions David Stern will never answer, even if the fans he claims to defend with this decision ask him the same.

All said and done, the biggest problem with the fine is the can of worms this opens. What becomes a valid reason to rest a player? Can a player with a mild cold sit out? After all, Michael Jordan dropped 38 points when he had the flu. What if a team played their starters for just a couple of minutes and rested them for the rest of the game? After all, it is the coach's discretion in deciding on players' minutes. Will it be alright for a player to twist an ankle, walk off for the night, only to return the next game hale and healthy? Will it be alright for a player to feign an injury?

The ambiguity the above questions pose, is exactly why this decision to fine the Spurs is a blunder. There is no way anybody can decide objectively, when and how to fine a team for 'resting' players. There is no way this fine can be applied uniformly across the league. There is no way that Pop's decision to rest his players was detrimental to his team, his franchise and its fans. Logically, unless Wojnarowski's theory is correct, there is absolutely no way the NBA could fine the Spurs. Unfortunately for the Spurs and the NBA, Stern has never seemed to be a big fan of logic.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar - That big question

Writing about Sachin Tendulkar is one of the hardest things to do. On the one hand, I grew up watching cricket in an age where in most games, Sachin's batting decided the result. On the other hand, it has been a painful experience watching him, woefully short of form, scratching about against the likes of Monty Panesar and the Kiwis.

That said, if anyone knows how to work himself out of a bad patch, it is Sachin Tendulkar. For evidence, we need only rewind to Sydney, 2004, where he made that brilliantly attritional 241. Even more encouraging in this regard, is the way he tackled his poor form - by omitting the cover drive throughout that innings.

This brings us to that question - when should Sachin Tendulkar hang up his boots. The answer is actually quite simple. His boots are his own to hang up, so to speak. Nobody can walk up to Sachin Tendulkar (or any player for that matter) and tell him to retire. A player can be dropped, of course. But retirement is a personal choice. This may seem like a technicality, but it is not. If a 37 year old batsman was dropped, went back to the Ranji trophy and rattled off a series of centuries, I would not be completely against him making his way back to the team. This brings us to Sachin Tendulkar.

Like half the cricket fans on twitter seem eager to point out, Sachin Tendulkar is no ordinary batsman. They are absolutely correct. Sachin Tendulkar is a Demigod, plain and simple. Should Sachin Tendulkar be able to pick and choose when to retire? As I said above, retirement is entirely upto him, so yes. This brings us to the unfortunate group of 'wise' men - The selectors. You see, Sachin Tendulkar's job is to worry about Sachin Tendulkar's cricket. As much as we fans would love cricketers to think about the future of the team, it is an impractical expectation. Which is why we have selectors.

Unfortunately for India, the selectors have a history of not planning beyond the next match or the next series. This poses a huge problem. Nobody seems to know what Sachin's plans are. Is this home season his swansong? Is he planning to stay till South Africa? Is he thinking about the Champions Trophy next year? This is where I have a problem.

I love Sachin. When I was 8 years old, I watched him make mincemeat of Shane Warne (live) in this game. It was my first live cricket experience (that I can remember), and he has played a major part in many such experiences since. I would love to see him torment the Australians at Chepauk one last time. That makes it hurt to say this. If Sachin Tendulkar does not plan on making the trip to South Africa, I believe that the 4th test against England, in Nagpur, should be his last. Here is why.

When Sachin retires, I assume that his spot will be taken by one among Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Subramanian Badrinath or Rohit Sharma. Not one of these batsman has ever had more than a couple of games exposure. Handing over a spot in the middle order to one of these batsman in South Africa, on bouncy and/or green tracks, against what is in my opinion the best pace attack in the world, would be a huge mistake. So, if one of these batsmen is to play in South Africa, I hope the selectors have the foresight to blood them in the Australia series. Which means the selectors need to bite the bullet and replace Sachin in the Australia series. On the other hand if Sachin plans to go to South Africa, I would hope that form is a major criteria in that decision. In that situation, it would be prudent of the selectors to take a call on Sachin's place at the end of the England series.

Ultimately though, if Sachin wants to play the Australia series and bow out at home, the selectors have one question to answer. Who is more important - Sachin Tendulkar or Team India? If they believe Sachin is above Team India and let him play out a complete swansong, I will cheer wildly for him at Chepauk. But, deep down I will be disappointed. Some part of me wants to believe that in a team sport, the team counts above an individual, even if that individual is Sachin Tendulkar.

If such a situation does present itself, do the selectors have the strength to make the toughest decision in Indian cricket? Do the selectors have the courage to make the tough (and right) call that will infuriate a large chunk of cricket fans in the country? Going by the history of the 'wise' men, I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cleveland Cavaliers - The Return

The city of Cleveland, Ohio, has always had a history of cruel moments in sport, so much so that it’s put down to a curse. “The Catch” (video here), “The Drive” (video here), “The Fumble” (video here) and of course Michael Jordan's "The Shot" (video here) – Four famous phrases that you may want to avoid when you visit the Cleveland area. On July 8, 2010, another body blow was delivered - “The Decision”. He was the Messiah who was supposed to deliver this cursed city a championship. He was the King, a hero of the masses, the son of the state. He turned his back on his people. LeBron James left.

To put the effect LeBron had on Cleveland with his departure in words, is not something that is entirely feasible. The effect on the Cavaliers was evident. The owner, Dan Gilbert, came out with an ill-advised rant (famously using the “Comic Sans” font). The Cavaliers broke to pieces. Suddenly, the support cast of a championship contending team, showed exactly what they were - a support cast without a star to support.
It’s been two hard losing seasons since, and the Cavaliers are well on their way to a third. But, as they say, it’s always darkest before the dawn. In the years since LeBron left the city, the Cavaliers management (thankfully) did not look for temporary fixes. They did not try to create a playoff team capable of staying relevant. Instead, they chose to break it all up.

Kyrie Irving, the star point guard from Duke University’s, Mike Krzyzewski coached, assembly line of a team and the talented Canadian Power Forward Tristan Thompson, were picked up in the 2011 NBA Draft, before the lockout. Joining them in the 2012 draft, were Dion Waiters, a talented sophomore shooting guard from Syracuse and the seasoned college center Tyler Zeller of North Carolina. The Cavs have found their core.

The Oklahoma City Thunder built a championship contender around three big draft picks – Durant, Westbrook and Harden. Portland nearly built a similarly strong team around Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Greg Oden and Nicolas Batum. However, injuries would go on to deflate the Trailblazers. The fact of the matter is, every great team needs a solid core. Occasionally, you will get a team like the current Denver Nuggets side, with a deep roster and no real identifiable core. But rarely, will such a team win a championship. When you think back to all the great sides over history, there has always been a key set of players who hold the key to the franchise’s fortunes.

In Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Zeller, the Cavaliers have assembled the talent they need to contend in the future. In Byron Scott, they have a coach who started for the “Showtime” Lakers side of the 80s, alongside the likes of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy. He will also be able to draw upon the experience of coaching Chris Paul, and help Irving develop into a potent force. A strict disciplinarian, and a demanding coach, there could hardly be a better choice of coach, to mentor a group of young budding stars.

Additionally, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson are lucky to be lining up alongside Anderson Varejao. Varejao may not be among the biggest names in the NBA, but you would have to really strain your grey cells, to think of a better big man defender of the pick and roll, than the Brazilian big man nicknamed “Wild Thing”. Varejao came to the league limited as an offensive player. But over time, using his ability to pull down offensive rebounds, and by developing his mid range jumper, Varejao has shown the work ethic and professionalism needed to survive in this league. The 2 young big men could hardly do worse than look to Big Andy as a mentor.

For Cavaliers fans, the past undoubtedly still hurts. The present probably makes things worse. But hope is on the horizon. Another losing season could mean the Cavs landing a lottery pick in the 2013 draft and in the process another talented youngster. Add that to a core of Irving, Waiters, Thompson, Varejao and Zeller, and the future is bright. As a fan of the Cavaliers, I will be waiting in patience along with the other Cavs fans around, with a large dose of hope and optimism, for the Cavaliers re-emergence at the top of the NBA. It's almost time to add to "The Drive", "The Catch", "The Fumble", "The Shot" and "The Decision" with something a lot more positive - "The Return".

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The confused entity that is the CLT20

2009. Lalit Modi decided that the success of the IPL in South Africa merited the creation of a "Champions League". A competition of the best club/franchise/regional teams from all over the world. A brilliant idea in theory. But a little hard in practice, with fledgling T20 leagues sprouting all over the world. The resulting 1st tournament was a brilliant show on the field, with a lot of fun and a lot of unheralded names stealing the spotlight. Not a single IPL team made the semis and finals as the Aussies from NSW ran away with the tournament.

2010. The tournament is more or less about the Chennai Super Kings running away to the IPL-CLT20 double.

2011. Mumbai took the tournament with a few exciting games.

The first CLT20 was exciting because the likes of Trinidad and Tobago were pushing the so called "star-studded" IPL teams. The CLT20 was unearthing the likes of Kieron Pollard and Sunil Narine. As the spin-masters in 2009 put it, here was the opportunity for the lesser lights around the World, to grab the spotlight and make a name for themselves. A huge opportunity.

It then became about the money. That led to the IPL. Now we have a farce of a Qualifying tournament for teams not from Australia, India and South Africa. Why? "Because these three countries have a stake in the tournament." So now, teams from Sri Lanka, the West Indies, New Zealand, England and Pakistan, go through a rubbish six team "Qualifying Round" so that two of them may join the EIGHT teams from India, Australia and South Africa.

Lets face it, the CLT20 is having a really powerful identity crisis. What is the purpose of this tournament? It could be one of the two below:

1. A platform for relatively unheralded/unknown domestic teams and players to get a chance of performing under the spotlight and make a name for themselves. Is that happening? Clearly not.

2. A league for Champions of countries. A test of the best vs. the best. Is that happening? Of course not. When the best from England and Pakistan are not even guaranteed a spot in the tournament, yet the 4th place team from India plays? You know something is monumentally screwed up.

So what should the CLT20 be? In my opinion the best CLT20 till date was the first one in 2009, because of the names it threw up. I do believe that is the best way to position the CLT20 - A platform for the lesser known domestic players. Of course, there is the case of India, SA and Australia holding a stake in this tournament to consider. Keeping all that in mind I have taken a jab at proposing a re-designed CLT20:

Qualifying round: 12 teams in 3 groups of 4. Teams: Winners from England, Pakistan, the West Indies, New Zealand and Sri Lanka and the best four Associate T20 teams (Currently they would be Ireland, Afghanistan, the Netherlands and Canada). Additionally, a draw could be held to decide among all the countries listed above (in addition to India, Australia and South Africa) based on which 3 countries get a wildcard entry into this Qualifying round. The countries that win the draw will get to send their 2nd best team to this Qualifying round (or in India's case the third best team).

Ultimately, the top two from each group would go through to the final tournament.

Final tournament: Same 10 team format as it is currently, with 2 IPL teams and the South African & Australian teams guaranteed a spot.

The above tournament, in my opinion, would be much more exciting than the one we're currently witnessing. It also gives enough of an edge to the 3 countries who took a punt on creating this tournament.

The CLT20 in its current shape is a nothing tournament. It needs to be restructured to bring back the magic of 2009. I do believe that reshaping the tournament as above will help.

Let me know your thoughts below :)