Saturday, May 23, 2020

Curious Case of Kieran Powell's Omission

Sri Lanka is known to produce mystery bowlers, West Indies is known to produce mystery Selectors. The tussle between the West Indies Cricket administration/selectors and the players is well documented. It has been frustrating for the players as well as the fans who have missed deserved players from action often due to inexplicable reasons. 

The latest casualty of the selection policies is Kieran Powell. 

Leewards Islands captain Kieran Powell has been left out of the provisional 29-man squad for the West Indies tour of England which might go ahead despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Cricket West Indies and England & Wales Cricket Board are working out plans to somehow carry forward this tour which has been delayed due to the pandemic. 

The provisional squad sees return of Shannon Gabriel, Veerasammy Permaul and Jermaine Blackwood and also includes quite a few new selectees in Preston McSween, Paul Palmer, Shane Mosely and Keon Harding. 

Given Kieran has scored heavily in regional cricket, his absence from a squad of 29 is surprising to say the least.  Powell has been the top scorer in the regional 50 over competition this season and also scored well in the 4 day format. Though he didn't top the charts in the 4 day competition, an as opener he played quite a few very solid innings when the team was under pressure. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Commentators are not neutral anymore?

Has commentary, which defines the best experience for cricket viewers, lost its touch? With more cricket players now being seen in the commentary box, we expected more banters, on field experiences, and interesting anecdotes. We got a few glimpses of these but the touch of neutrality seems to have started to go away. We have been lucky to be born in a generation where we have seen commentators like Richie Benaud, Tony Grieg, Geoffrey Boycott, who went beyond the nationality to serve the TV viewers. The excitement of Tony Grieg whenever Sachin hit a straight drive, or the joy in Richie Benaud’s voice whenever the spinner flighted the ball, or hearing the now famous Line “Prince of KalKuta(Kolkata)” in Boycott's voice, those memories will stay forever in cricket lovers’ minds.
Of late, the standard of commentary has not been what it used to be. Cricket players who retired have joined commentary but few stay for a long haul and make an impact. Also, while commentating the game, they tend to pick up a side eventually. The recent event of the BCCI throwing out Sanjay Manjrekar, may not be due to his non-neutral side, but more because of his trash commentary. He was ultra-critical in his tenure, made unnecessary remarks, which ultimately led to his axe. In the past, Harsha Bhogle faced a little period of ban from Indian commentary due to him criticizing some players. Being a critic is acceptable, but you cannot get beyond the line and spill out unnecessary remarks for a player. The basic point of being a commentator is to cater to the audience and engage them in the game. Picking up a player or a side will lose the charm of commentary.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Winning, the Aussie way

8th March 2020 will forever be a historic day in cricket, women’s cricket to be specific. Not just because it was the final of women’s T20 world cup, but because of an attendance of 86,174 people at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It was the highest attendance for a women’s cricket match globally and the highest for any women’s sport event in Australia. It was a day of unprecedented enthusiasm and passion for women’s cricket. However, something not so unprecedented was an Australian domination in the final of a world cup and the Australian women’s team winning the T20 world cup for the record 5th time in last 6 attempts.

There was a lot of hype about this final in India also. The fact that India had reached the final of women’s T20 world cup for the first time was exciting enough, but 8th March being the International Women’s Day and birthday of Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur made the media report more prominently about this final than it ever did before for a women’s match. India had convincingly defeated this Aussie team in the tournament’s opening match, with young sensation Shafali Verma taking apart the experienced Megan Schutt in the first over with 4 boundaries as well as Poonam Yadav spinning a web around the Aussie batters with 4 wickets. India came into the final on a winning streak throughout the group stage and it was touted as their best chance ever to beat the Australians in their own den and win the cup for the first time.

But what happened in the final was totally anti-climactic, from India’s point of view. Australian openers Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney batted the opposition out of the match. The pressure of chasing a big score in a world cup final in front of a massive Aussie crowd proved too much for the Indian team and they capitulated to be bowled out under 100 runs. Unfortunately for the Indian fans, it was a painful reminder of another day in March, 17 years ago. Australian men’s team decimated the Indian team in the ODI world cup final on 23rd March 2003 in Johannesburg in a similar fashion. Being a 15-year-old fanboy at that time, that defeat was heart-breaking, on par with the miserable loss in the 1996 world cup semi-final defeat against Sri Lanka. But since that day, if there is anything we have been used to seeing, is an Australian team that plays like a well-oiled machine on the cricket field. The Australian team did have a tough time in the early years of this decade when their team was rebuilding, but they recovered sooner that other teams would have hoped for.

But what is it that exactly makes the Australian teams almost invincible in the finals of a world event? Is it the fault of opposition players, like when Indians dropped the Aussie openers in the initial overs? Or is it the luck of Aussie captains winning the toss and making a mockery of the opposition? One can’t argue about this as in the 4 ODI men’s world cups that Australia has won from 1999 till 2015, they won the toss only once in the final (2007) and in the 5 T20 women’s world cup wins, Australia won the toss only twice in the final (they in fact lost the only time in 2016 after winning the toss). So, the toss is not a deciding factor. As far as the below par performance of the opposition teams is concerned, the pressure of the final match is on both the teams. Then why does an Australian team triumph in the finals, more often than others?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Poonam and Shafali: Beauty and the Beast

"Poonam has become a favourite adjective in the skippers' dictionary. Whenever a match is in a fix, skippers call Poonam to address it. And, she has always used her weapons with sheer flair and twisted games in favour of her team," said Reema Malhotra, former India leg-spinner and now a commentator about Poonam Yadav the 28 year old Indian Leg Spinner.
Yes, she indeed repeated her act once again today when Alyssa Healey was running away with the match with her team at 67/2, chasing 133 for a win in the India Vs Australia T20WC group match. Beginning with the scalp of Alyssa Healey, Poonam turned the match head over heels in a matter of next 7 overs. Though women's Cricket cannot match the men's game in terms of power, dynamics and skill, the artistry of players like Poonam makes it worth watching. She was giving unbelievable flight to the ball, ball after ball. Some of her leg breaks went up in the air, stood there for some time as if reluctant to come down and then left the batters bamboozled on the descent.
The Googly has become the most dreaded weapon in her armory, especially because she is more consistent with the Googly than her stock leg spinning balls. Poonam now is India's highest wicket taker in T20 Internationals and was decorated with Arjuna Award in 2019. Sidelined by injury for most part of India's preparations for the 2020 T20WC, Poonam had ceded her place to the relentlessly consistent Radha Yadav. But the Team management decided to rope in Poonam for the X-Factor or should we call it Y-Factor ? If not for Keeper Tania Bhatia missing a tough catch, Poonam could have had a Hat trick today. This incidentally is the third time she's missed a Hat trick.

Kohli, the Mortal and Immortal Words of Sahir Ludhianvi

2011 April 2: Somewhere around the delayed dinner time of millions of Indians, Mahendra Singh Dhoni launched that famous six to win the second Cricket World Cup for India. Coming 28 years after the first win, Indian fans were over the Moon.
We had Sehwag, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Kohli, Dhoni, Raina and our test team boasted of Dravid and Laxman too. But over the next 3 years, Dravid and Laxman retired after back to back 4-0 drubbing in test series in England and Australia. Sehwag and Gambhir fell into bad times. Yuvraj Singh could never be the same force after he came back from cancer and Raina slipped into mediocrity. SRT was given a staged farewell at Mumbai. With only Virat Kohli going from strength to strength, MSD too retired midway through a test series Down Under.
Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane had formed a new top order that fought the loss of an entire generation of greats who dominated the decade between 2000 and 2010. Rohit Sharma's emergence as a superlative top order batsman in limited overs Cricket practically coincided with the decline of Sehwag. Indian Cricket marched into newer heights in spite of lack of big titles.
"I can go on with the same intensity for another two-three years. If you ask me when I am 34 - 35, my priorities and answers might be different..." said India Captain Virat Kohli when asked about the hectic schedule and his unflagging intensity. That pretty much sums up life as well as Cricket. Even Sachin Tendulkar has left and it's almost 6 years and India have only got better.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

10 Years of Resurgent Indian Cricket

2010s decade started with a bang for Indian cricket. The team led by charismatic Mahendra Singh Dhoni, with his uncanny techniques, tasted quite a lot success in the shorter formats. 
2011, the Cricket World Cup returned to Indian sub-continent and there was a likely chance of India winning the cup, knowing home conditions well. April 2, 2011, 120 crore Indians lived the dream after 28 years of wait. A memory for lifetime.

2013, India added another feather in the cap. ICC Champions trophy, aka mini world cup. India won by defeating the tournament favourites England. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Indian cricket achieved almost everything which was required in the big stage arena. Team was doing well in the shorter formats amid some hiccups in the 2014 & 2016 T-20 World Cup tournaments.