Friday, 19 October 2007

Will the real World Champions please stand up

The one day series between India and Australia was being described as the battle of the world champions. Australia have held the crown in all formats of the game for a long time and deserve the tag, whereas India had just won the Twenty20 championship, the newest and quickest format of the game. It did not seem a fair comparison to me and Australia have duly set the record straight as they always seem to do when someone threatens their crown. They will no doubt get better at Twenty20 as they take it more seriously.

For India all the euphoria and celebrations in Mumbai after their victory seem a distant memory. I kept thinking of the celebrations England had after their Ashes win in 2005, and although I count that as a bigger achievement, I felt that the celebrations went too far. The wounded Aussies were plotting revenge on the plane home as England just relaxed and basked in the glory. England were totally outplayed in the next series and brought to earth with a bang. The Aussies had raised their game to another level after the defeat and there was this gap again between them and the rest.

I felt a similar emotion when I saw the Indians celebrating and felt sure that the Aussies would exact revenge. Nothing stirs them more than seeing another team lauding their success. That would have given them all the motivation they needed to play better than ever. They have proved that yet again they are a distance ahead from the rest. In order to beat them they have to be under par and the other team has to be playing at their best in all aspects of the game. India came closer than they have at other times in this seies and there are very good signs as they can only improve. The Aussies still won by a big margin and never looked like loosing the series.

The Indians had decided to fight fire with fire and came out throwing all the punches with their aggressive attitude on the field. It is all well and good to do this as Indians have been labelled too soft in the past but in the end it is the performance that counts and not who out sledged whom. It seems to me that Indians almost seem to invite the sledging by their behaviour and when it gets too far, they cry wolf. It is better if they channelled all that aggression into their play, as when they do that they seem to do well. The Aussies are masters at mind games as well and are no angels but they produce the goods almost everytime and you have to admire them for that.

The end of the series left a bad taste in the mouth with some sections of the crowd monkey chanting towards Andrew Symonds. This is going too far and there is no room for that sort of behaviour in the game. It is personal and nasty and clearly affected Symonds. I think the offenders in Mumbai must have thought they were being cool, copying similar behaviour in the previous game at Vadodara, when the matter was taken lightly by the officials. The way to prevent this spreading is to ensure that the offenders are duly punished and a strong message sent out that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated. The Aussie crowd are not above this sort of behaviour themselves, with many visiting teams, including Sri Lanka, West Indies and South Africa complaining of abuse dished out to them. Monty Panesar was counselled before the Ashes tour last winter against abuse that he was likely to face. In the end the crowd actually took to him and apart from some isolated cases, there was no major incident. It tends to happen all round the world by an ignorant minority and whereas a bit of mocking is fine and adds to the atmosphere, it is when it crosses the boundary and becomes personal and racist that it becomes unsavory and action needs to be taken.

I look forward to the Test series between Australia and India as it is bound to be hard fought and will carry the needle between the teams that has been evident in this series, which always makes a contest that much more spicy and even more of a spectacle. The Aussies have proved that they are the true world champs and have stood up to be counted when required. It is up to the Indians to rise to the challenge and fight hard in a format of a game that really is the ultimate test.

Monday, 8 October 2007

Less is more

I don't know if it is just me but I am finding this constant diet of the short form of cricket rather tedious and boring. It has lost any value and interest for me and it is a struggle to watch it. I was never a big fan of the shorter version of the game but the sheer number of games played is killing any interest and entertainment value.

The one day format certainly seems dull and too long after the Twenty20 circus. The powers that be want to continue this format as it is the money earner and that is the name of the game now but I am sure that Twenty20 can be as profitable if not more because of its popularity. There are far too many games played that it is hard to stay interested.

There is no time to miss cricket as one tournament follows the other in quick succession without having enough time to draw breath. It must be mentally and physically hard on the players to constantly have to perform at the top level and keep up the intensity and interest. I remember times times when I used to eagerly await a series after a long break but now it is an effort to watch some of the games as there is nothing new to watch and just too many matches.

I am now eagerly awaiting a good Test series and the time between Tests is growing ever longer.The last Test in England was in mid August, where we were left gasping for more but instead we had a prolonged one day series to be followed by more of the same everywhere. It seems an age to wait now for a Test series.

In these times of money driving schedules and the number of games played it would be good if the authorities realised that more is not always better but that less is actually more.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Young guns clinch T20 Cup

The final of the Twenty20 Cup lived up to all expectations and was a fitting end to a successful Twenty20 World Cup. How different it was in every way to that other final six months ago in the Caribbean.

India and Pakistan have had a long and hard journey since they were dramatically dumped out of that tournament with each having their own problems. Both faced criticism from all quarters and had the hard task of rebuilding their teams and restoring faith.

How different both teams have looked in this tournament, both with young fearless captains leading young and inexperienced teams with nothing to loose. There were no expectations this time on either team, but both have stood out with their attitude, skill, hunger to win and above all willingness to have fun. Both teams have not had the senior players or superstars and I think that that has the effect of lifting them to play uninhibited cricket. It is almost as if a burden has been lifted akin to parents being away from home and the kids playing in a free spirited manner without any restrictions and fear of being reprimanded.

Dhoni has shown faith in his players and asked that they perform to the best of their ability and above all have fun. It has worked on this occasion and he has proved to be an exceptional leader in his short spell. There are sterner tests ahead but it is a great start and he should take the credit for the success as he would do for failure.

The question now remains on what happens when the senior players return and indeed if they can walk back into the side after this team has performed so well. It is hard to break up a winning team so some hard and brave decisions lie ahead for the Indian selectors. One feels sorry for the big four as they never managed to get a winners medal in a major world cup tournament after so many successful years and this young team has done it at the first time of asking.

The success of Twenty20 heralds a new era for the short version of the game and I fear that the one day format may be the victim of its success. There is not enough room to play all formats of the game at a rate it is now, with the number of Twenty20 matches likely to increase. I can foresee more Twenty20 matches and less one day matches in the international calendar. The one day format was suffering beforehand and now I cannot see a way that it can compete with the new more popular and entertaining version of the game which has taken all the good bits of the one day game and taken them to another level.

India will no doubt have a grand welcome awaiting them when they land in Mumbai tomorrow, with a procession planned and no doubt more praise and riches being endowed on them from all quarters. The party boys will continue the dancing they started in South Africa and will have many more to dance along with them.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Cricket for breakfast, lunch and dinner

I did not think that I would be watching too much of the Twenty20 World Cup, as it is so removed from tests, but my interest was aroused after Zimbabwe defeated Australia in the first week and I started to watch the matches. The games were very conveniently scheduled as they were on when I was having breakfast, lunch and dinner, so it was wall to wall cricket all day. The pace is fast and furious, blink and you miss another big six.

It is easy to understand why it is such a big hit and has drawn in spectators new to cricket. The formula is simple and it is all over in three hours, and before you know it the next game has started. If test cricket is your four course gourmet dinner, 50 overs is your fast food, then Twenty20 must be grabbing a snack on the run from a stall. Each satisfies your appetite in different ways and maybe you pick and chose the one that best suits you at the time. The purists of the game may think that is is watering down the game to an extent that it is unrecognisable but if it is popular, as it clearly is, then it is sure to stay and is a sign of the times. If it can help to globalise the game, as it looks like doing then it can be good for the game.

Whether fans will upgrade to the longer forms of the game, having been introduced to it in this short format remains to be seen. I came into the game watching tests and for me there is nothing else that can touch it in cricket or any other sports. If tests were not played I am doubtful that I would watch the game as the passion and all the wonderful subtleties of the game would not be there. I think there is room for all formats, and as long as they do not tinker with tests I will be happy.

The tournament is reaching an exciting climax at the end of the second week and when I look back at the matches, it all seems a blur and I can only recount the stand out moments. For me that was Australia loosing, as it is such a rare event, the bowl out between India and Pakistan because I had never seen anything so crazy before, six sixes in an over by Yuvraj for pure entertainment and that is it. As we reach the climax, my short lived love affair with this format seems to be waning. It is almost like I have been on a diet of junk food for the last two weeks and my stomach has had enough of the quick fixes and carves some quality home cooked food. I will have to put time and effort in to prepare it but for me it will be worth every minute for the satisfaction just like tests take up five whole days but the satisfaction and pleasure during and at the end of it is incomparable. I never feel like I have had enough but cannot wait for the next one.

The schedule seems packed of the shorter version of the game in the next couple of months and I am just tired watching so what must the players feel like? It is a constant roller coaster and the addition of yet another format which is likely to grow will only add to the already packed schedule.I fear for player burnout and the quality of cricket which it is bound to impact, not to mention the likelihood of more injuries and key players out of action for the important games.

I am going off to prepare my home cooked meal, might take a while but it will be worth it.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

England clinch the series

There was a lot of anticipation and expectation for the grand finale of an exciting one day series at Lords. St Johns Wood station was a buzz with hardly space to move, with tickets being sold at crazy prices. After the fantastic game at the Oval, most people expected a repeat performance.

Apparently the Indian team had been to a formal dinner the previous evening and perhaps had a late night or something as they just looked out of sorts. The first ball to Ganguly by Anderson set the tone. England seemed ready for battle whereas India found it hard to come out of the starting block. Ganguly who has been in prime form through the tour looked anxious and tried to hit his way out of trouble. Tendulkar who looked in supreme touch realised his partner was struggling and offered advice but he persevered skiing the ball all over the place before being caught at slip. An good opening partnership has been an important factor for India doing well in the series and this was not a good omen for them.

Credit has to be given to England who did not let India settle and bowled to tight plans and fielded brilliantly. Collingwood captained the side well again and must have been glad to loose the toss. This England side has taken huge strides throughout this series and for the first time in years looks like a good outfit with a handful of young exciting players which have brought renewed vigour to the side.

There were some controversial umpiring decisions against Dravid and Tendulkar at a crucial part of the Indian innings. Technology showed that Dravid had a nick whereas Tendulkar was unlucky yet again and showed his disappointment when walking off perhaps for the final time on English soil. Uthappa was lucky not be be given out so these things usually even out but it raises the debate on what part technology should play in the game. India never really recovered after the early collapse and a flourish from Dhoni at the end helped them to a half respectable score but it was always going to be hard to defend unless they took lots of wickets.

England lost both their openers without scoring but Pietersen came good for the final game as good players tend to and Collingwood played as well as I have seen him play to ease to a comfortable win in the end. It was not the thriller we all wanted and but in the end England deserved to win as they had played well in all departments of the game consistently through the series, with their bowling and fielding making the difference. India relied too much on their batsman putting up big scores to make up for their inferior bowling and fielding. They will have to improve in these areas to really put pressure on the opposition.

The action now moves to the Twenty20 World Cup in South Africa and both these teams hardly have time to draw breath as they leave today. At least they will be nicely warmed up for the event, whereas other teams who have been out of action for a while will need time to warm up. The Aussies have had a long break again but who would bet against them clinching this title as well to add to all the others in their crowded trophy cabinet.

I can hardly believe the tour is over and I hate this time, especially after a memorable tour as this one was, having been lucky enough to catch a lot of the games, with both tests and one day games being of the highest standard, between two well matched sides. There is that empty feeling now that every cricket fan feels after a great series. It is Sunday and the sun is shining so maybe I will go and watch a game of club cricket somewhere, any cricket will do........

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Grand finale at Lords

Apologies for the break in blogging, other events took over and cricket took a back seat.

I am a cricket purist and love test matches, always have done, ODI's have never had the same passion and intensity for me and I usually find it hard to muster even enthusiasm to write about them or discuss them at length. Having said that, a series between India and England is not one I would miss and would always have half an eye on.

The teams were well matched which made for a great test series but I expected India to be the favourites against England in the ODI's. The most surprising factor for me has been the way England have played throughout, looking a very good side, challenging India and coming out on top where in the past they would have flopped.It has been a very different side to that seen previously and they have exploited India's weaknesses very well. India's seam bowling which was so good in the tests has let them down, except for Zaheer Khan and the twin spinners have been very impressive. The fielding and running between the wickets has cost them many runs and been cruelly exposed in this format of the game. I have been surprised at Dinesh Karthik, who has many good qualities and is a high spirited young man and gives the impression from his body language of being an ace fielder when in reality he was less than ordinary. Robin Uthappa made a real difference coming in as his replacement at the Oval.

The old guard of Sachin and Saurav came good again and when they had a good opening stand, India did well. Sachin in particular was very impressive and looked like his old fluent self with none of the inhibitions that were evident in the tests. Yuvraj showed what a good player he is again and Dravid has had a good series. The batting when it fires is awesome but India will have to work on the other areas if they are going to compete with the Aussies, who are likely to expose those frailties even more.

The crop of young players coming through for England is amazing and many would not have had a chance but for the long line of injuries that continue. It is a shame that Andrew Flintoff is again suffering with his angle, after looking really impressive with his balling. He gives England that extra dimension and they are a much stronger team with him in it. The young guns like Broad, Bopara and Wright have been very impressive and shown their potential in the series. I saw Luke Wright at one of the warm up games and could tell that he was a special talent, as he has that mix of talent and temperament to succeed. Stuart Broad has the makings of a genuine all rounder as does Bopara so the future looks good.

At the start seven matches seemed too many and I expected interest to wane near the end but it is all set up for a thrilling climax at Lords with the series level at 3-3 and all to play for. It will be the ideal setting for such an event with packed crowds and the weather set to be fair. Most people will think back to that classic Nat West final in 2002 at the same venue and wonder if that will be repeated. India will certainly be hoping for the same result and will be buoyed up to finish on a winning note to add to their success in the test series. England will want to continue their good form and will be looking to clinch the series to register a series win which would have seemed unlikely at the beginning.

It is all set up for a grand final and even I will savour the last day of a memorable tour with a tinge of sadness that this is the end of the season in England and autumn looms.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

England run India ragged

England won the first one-day match at the Rose Bowl convincingly, outplaying India in all departments.

On yet another cold day, Dravid chose to bowl first hoping to get some help from the conditions but the wicket was flat and favoured the batsman. England made a steady start and did not take advantage of the power plays, deciding to build a solid foundation instead. They played correctly and the run rate began to increase as the innings progressed. One felt that they were missing a trick again but this time the batting came good with Cook and Bell making maiden one-day centuries, with Bell particularly impressive, continuing where he had left off at the Oval on the last day. They stole the show from the stars, with Pietersen only coming in for the last few overs and Flintoff not required.

India have few options in the bowling department and looked very ordinary. In the absence of swing, their bowlers had no other weapons and were just hoping for the batsman to make mistakes. Ajit Argakar, with a distinct lack of pace looked very ordinary and India may have to re -think their bowling attack. The other major factor was the fielding which one felt would always be their weakness and it really showed up today as there was nowhere to hide. England took full advantage and literally ran India ragged by taking an extra run on most occasions. A total of 288 was good but possible to get by the stellar batting line up. England would have been disappointed not to reach 300 from the position they were in but this was a handy total to defend.

The crucial blow for India right at the start was the run out of Saurav Ganguly by none other than Monty Panesar. They never really recovered from that and were relying on Ganguly to make full use of the power plays. England bowlers bowled superbly, revving up the pace in the absence of swing. Anderson was right on the money and made the crucial breakthroughs in his first spell, leaving India in tatters. To add to this there was the comical running between wickets which only got worse as there seemed to be a total lack of understanding between the batsman who simply stared at each other after every gaff.

Andrew Flintoff marked his return with an impressive spell full of aggression and speed. His presence certainly strengthens the team and gives them more options. He seemed back to his best straight away and the celebration after he took Dhoni's wicket said it all as he has not shown that sort of determination since 2005 Ashes. It all augers well for England and India will have to think of ways of counteracting his pace and accuracy.

Many fans did not stay until the end and the stadium was half full before the end, as an England victory was inevitable from an early stage. The Indian fans , who take this to heart will have been very disappointed by their teams performance. They did not have a chance to show their presence today and were dampened not only by the weather but by India's performance.

England fans on the other hand will be hoping that their team can go on to reproduce this kind of performance consistently throughout the series. They proved their detractors wrong on this occasion and showed what they are capable of. They pulled off one of their best one-day performance in a long time.

It sets it up well for the next match at Bristol on Friday.