Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Statistics - everybody wins

Think you should win the toss and bat at Karachi? Think again. Only twice in history has a team batted first upon winning the toss, and subsequently emerged victorious at the National Stadium

So think you should have no hesitation in ignoring every cliched adage in the book and field first? Think again. Every single visiting team that has won the toss and inserted Pakistan has LOST the game. That's lost - not one has even held out for an honourable, or dishonourable, draw.

So what on earth should you do? That's the wonder of statistics. The one that's really interesting is that England in 2000-01 are the only visiting team to ever win at the National Stadium. What that all means is that India were doomed from the outset. The path to victory at Karachi is pretty simple - you have to be Pakistan.

In fact, should India, by some miracle, fail to lose this match, they will have rewritten the history books. Meaning that there is actually something to play for.

Okay, so I'm not sure what my point really is, but it was worth making anyway.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Pakistan vs. India: T2 D1 & D2

Dare I say it - not a lot of surprises here. The pitch looked and has proven to be a good one - though ideally there'd be a bit more pace, and some grip for the spinners. Still, nobody has any right to complain.

Quite predictably, Dravid elected to field after winning the toss - history shows us just two victories after winning the toss and batting first on this ground.

Equally unsurprising was the start Pakistan got off to. I don't mean that I anticipated a hat-trick in the first over, but after two games on the deadest wickets you could imagine, it was no surprise to see batsmen look startled when the ball actually moved a fraction (or more).

It really should have been India's match, with that advantage, but a few key factors have swung it right back in Pakistan's favour.

  1. The lbw that wasn't given - at the start of the Akmal-Razzaq partnership that rescued Pakistan from the depths of 39-6. There have been a few that haven't been given in this series, but I doubt any could have had more impact than this one.
  2. A brilliant knock - Kamran Akmal was absolutely superb. Not one batsman on either side even came close to matching either his audacity or his control over proceedings.
  3. A missed stumping - Kiran More fluffed a chance once, and Graham Gooch went on to make a triple century. Now he's looking on as keeper after keeper struggles to get it right behind the stumps, batting prowess notwithstanding. At what point will someone realise that wicket-keepers have to do the basics right?
  4. Bowling in the right place - Mohammad Asif was superb. He looked world class in this match - though we'll have to wait and see if he is another one of the Pakistani one-off fast bowlers. The Indians, however, couldn't bowl six balls on a line and length in the Pakistan 2nd innings. Only Irfan Pathan, and dare I say it, Ganguly, came close.
Many pundits have opined that the Sehwag fiasco, resulting in Laxman having to open with Dravid, was costly. I beg to differ. We're talking about a man who averages over 100 in his first innings in every series, and 40 thereafter. There was next to no chance of him making a difference. That doesn't excuse the screw-up, but it certainly puts it in perspective.

India have at this point negated any advantage that was gained from winning the toss. The only hope lies in all moisture evaporating from the pitch, but not so soon as to give it a chance to crack up. This one may just turn into a right belter on Day 3/4 in particular. Early wickets on Day 3, and restricting the lead to around 300-350 could give India a whiff. And maybe it's time for Sachin Tendulkar to actually win a game for his country.

Two more things that it would be remiss of me not to mention. Firstly, I must give credit where it's due - Saurav Ganguly displayed hunger and determination galore in his stint at the crease, the traits which many years ago took him to the pinnacle of his own game. Sadly, it was all too shortlived, and his injudicious dismissal, coupled with what had come before, illustrated just where his batsmanship is at today.

Secondly, brilliant as one bouncer to Yuvraj in particular was to behold, there is no doubt in my mind that Shoaib uses every one of the 15 degrees permitted to him by law every once in a while.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Gary Neville is a Red... he hates scousers!

Sheer jubilation. A performance verging on the mediocre, transformed into a victory that I will savour for years to come - with a 90th minute goal from Rio, no less. Unbelievable stuff.

I have to say, I thought we were poor, by and large. The three exceptions to that were Rio, Wes and Giggsy, who turned the clock back many years with a handful of mazy runs. Patrice Evra also looked a lot better on his second outing - and it was his bold run that drew the foul, allowing Giggs to plant the ball on Rio's head.

What really moved me though was not even the last-gasp winner to bury the self-proclaimed second-best team in the land. It was the genuine delight I saw on the faces of the players when the goal went in. When I saw just how much it mean to them, it filled me with confidence (misplaced or otherwise) that there is an upswing in our future. Of course, it's no surprise that Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville were the happiest of the lot.

In fact, the only surprise is the nonsense that has been spewed about Neville's celebration. It was amusing to read Jamie "let's toss a coin into the crowd" Carragher criticize his England colleague. I wonder what he made of Robbie Fowler's 5-finger salute last weekend. Which, incidentally, says a lot about Robbie Fowler. Fancy winning a Manchester Derby, and then attempting to goad the United fans with an indication of Liverpool's success in Europe. I'm sure the City fans were thrilled to bits with that.

Pakistan vs. India: T2D1-D3 (Dhoni proves me wrong)

I was worried when this match started. Naturally, I was thrilled that Ganguly was dropped, but my elation was short-lived when I saw that he was replaced by a bowler. From the get-go, it was clear that this wicket, whilst not bowler-friendly, was not a 400 for no loss pitch either. I feared that if Dravid was ever dismissed, early or otherwise, a collapse would ensue. I didn't have much faith in Dhoni or Pathan delivering.

I guess I couldn't have been more wrong, and I'm quite thankful for that. I know that both were dropped, and had Pakistan held on, India would have been staring defeat in the face, but that's part and parcel of cricket. Instead we got to see some brilliant counter-attacking cricket, with a hook for six from a 93mph Akhtar bouncer standing out amongst everything else.

That said, there's a long way to go in this match. An early wicket this morning, and Pakistan could easily restrict India to 500, and set a 5th day target of 350. Should the pitch get trickier, then India would have to battle to save the match. An Indian victory is next to impossible, barring a generous declaration from Younis Khan, or a Dhoni triple century. So the advantage is truly with the home side, with the odds pointing to another draw, leaving it all to play for in Karachi.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

£10 Million for an arm!

I was absolutely blown away when I read this recently. The Indian cricket team has struck a sponsorship deal with Nike for "the non-leading arm of the shirt." The deal is worth a staggering £10 Million per year for a 4-year term.

Let me put that in perspective for you. Manchester United receives £9 Million a year from Vodafone, for the entire shirt. Real Madrid receive £9.5 Million from Siemens, Chelsea will get £10 Million a year from Samsung, and only Juventus, with £15 Million a year from Tamoil, can top the Indian number.

But remember, the footballers are being paid for the entire shirt! Sachin Tendulkar will merely be wearing the Nike logo on his right sleeve. That's right - that's the sleeve that you DO NOT SEE on TV when he is batting. Nike simply reached the table a bit late in the game - the other sleeve was already taken, as was the front left position on the shirt.

Just think about those numbers again. It defies belief. We complain that football clubs are commercialized operations that make too much money. Turns out the BCCI makes even more. And yet, which cricketer is paid a Rio Ferdinand-esque £120,000 per week? Where is all that cash going?

I wonder how much the Mumbai and Karnataka shirts will go for once televised domestic cricket in India takes hold next season.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Lost in Translation

I hear Brett Lee is doing pretty well with his Hindi lessons - a commendable effort. Ajit Agarkar might just start worrying about his place in the Indian side.

I suppose he's learning the language to help boost his already lucrative endorsement income from the Indian market. One wonders what demographic the advertisers think he can target. We know that Rahul Dravid brings in the single women, Sachin Tendulkar brings in the married mothers, and Irfan Pathan brings in the single men - so who is it that Brett Lee will attract?

The whole language thing brings up one of my favourite issues in the world of cricket - the quote and the misquote. Many years ago I was asked how I felt about a bad loss, and I mumbled something about how the young players in my team would learn a lot from it. The following morning, the newspaper had a great little report on the game, including a quote from the captain describing his happiness at losing. And that was a scenario in which the reporter and I were both speaking in English.

After hitting Harbhajan for four sixes last week, Shahid Afridi was asked about his relationship with the hapless bowler, and the english language journos would have us belive that he responded by saying "Harbhajan is a lovely man, and I enjoy his company!" Now you never know, but something tells me that a lot has been lost, or perhaps gained, in translation.

I guess Afridi hasn't spoken to his chairman of selectors, Wasim Bari, who purportedly claimed that Rahul Dravid is "a decent person, unlike normal cricketers." Wonder what his former team-mates make of that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Pakistan vs. India: T1D5 (Serves them right)

Fancy coming out to bat just so that you can chase a world record! Of course, I would do the same, but that doesn't detract from the irony of it all. Honours are even, some would say - but there really weren't a lot of honours to be distributed, despite the farcical fielding award presented to Saurav Ganguly in the post-match presentation.

It's on to Faisalabad, where similar weather is in store. Of course, all attention will be on the pitch - which I'd almost dare to wager will be singularly underprepared, as if to compensate for the belter at Lahore.

Pakistan will likely go in with an unchanged side, and unfortunately, so will India. The pitch will be the scapegoat for Agarkar's performance, and after taking the 'catch of the match' and not batting, there's no way that Ganguly will be dropped.

My prediction - if the pitch has something in it for the bowlers, India will realise, somewhere around day 4, that they should pick their opening batsmen to open the innings, and leave the world's best #3 right where he belongs.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Pakistan vs. India: T1D2 (aka: Why Australia are a step ahead)

There's so much I could write about the 2nd day's play. I could wax lyrical about:

  1. Chappell cracking up when Ganguly made a complete hash of that catch, but still clung on one-handed
  2. Agarkar claiming a brace of undeserved wickets right at the end of the game
  3. Afridi's nonchalant striking of 4 sixes in succession off Harbhajan
  4. The sense, or lack thereof, in playing the world's best #3 as an opener - however benign the pitch may be
  5. Sehwag's continued poor technique against the short ball - specifically the periscoped bat which got him off the mark, or would have had the umpire not called leg byes
  6. Rameez Raja's stupendous end of day proclamation that "India are in a good position"
However, the issue that really caught my attention was the reaction of the commentators to Younis Khan's dismissal for 199. It said everything anyone needs to understand about the difference between Australian and Indian cricket. The difference between being #1 and being #2.

Arun Lal could not stop talking about how tragic it was, what a sad moment we had just witnessed, and how life and the world were completely unjust.

Dean Jones was in a different place altogether. He launched into Shahid Afridi, and bemoaned the pathetic technique employed by the Pakistanis when running between the wickets - particularly as a non-striker, and particularly when your partner is on the verge of a major milestone. Afridi was backing up like a schoolboy cricketer, and that's what cost Younis his wicket, and his double century.

And that's what makes all the difference. Nobody suggests taking the heart and soul out of the game - but to get to #1, it's the little things, and the professionalism, that make the difference. I hope a few people were taking note.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Pakistan vs. India: T1D1

  1. The Ganguly saga continues - after Greg Chappell made it clear that two of the three openers selected to tour will play, pressure from above results in Ganguly being selected. They can't drop any of the middle order, so instead Ganguly is picked as the 2nd opener. But Mr Ego is having none of it, and argues with Dravid and Chappell in the centre of the stadium, insisting that it is wrong to make him open. What an embarrassment to the nation. The man would prefer to have the world's leading #3 batsman (sorry Ricky Ponting, but you can't claim that title with an average of 12 after 8 Tests in India) sacrifice himself. With every new incident, my desire to see the back of Ganguly in the distance is reinforced.
  2. The toss - that was really the end of that as far as India were concerned. There was nothing in the pitch, and even less in the bowling - particularly Ajit Agarkar, who for the 8th year in succession showed that he doesn't quite have what it takes. Was he even trying out there?
  3. The pitch - The Pakistanis batted well, no doubt, but the pitch is a belter, slow turn notwithstanding. So much for Inzamam's desire for a pitch that aided pacemen, spinners and batsmen alike. I suspect this Test will be decided by Shoaib's first couple of spells in India's first innings - he's the one man who brings something different to the table in the form of raw pace.
  4. Day Two - Expect Pakistan to push on to 600 and then have a couple of overs at India in the fading light. If Ganguly opens, expect the light to be begged for at the first opportunity.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Dungarpur vs. Ganguly

You just have to laugh. My hat is doffed to the to the genius at the BCCI who decided to appoint Raj Singh Dungarpur as Manager of the Indian team in Pakistan. I couldn't have scripted it better myself.

The team has just landed across the border, and our man wasted no time in gleefully proclaiming to Aaj Tak, the India Today news channel, that Saurav Ganguly is lazy, "the worst fielder in the side," and that even John Wright had "a huge problem" with the former captain.

Not much one can say in the way of passing comment on this little outburst. To his eternal credit, he does not appear to have uttered a single untruth. To his eternal discredit, his actions are beyond unbelievable. You simply can't do that, and much as I believe that Ganguly should not be flying off to Lahore tomorrow, it would be appropriate for that same aircraft to take Mr Dungarpur back home on it's return journey.

That said, I must thank him for getting me to laugh out loud.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Defending the Faith?

According to the Guardian, we've just bought Patrice Evra, a left-back, to add to Nemanja Vidic. That means our first-choice back four is probably
  • Gary Neville
  • Rio Ferdinand
  • Nemanja Vidic
  • Gabriel Heinze
Should all four of them be injured, we'll probably see

  • Philip Bardsley
  • Wesley Brown
  • Mikael Silvestre
  • Patrice Evra
and in fact, should all eight of them be injured in a freak training accident, we'd be left with

  • John O'Shea
  • Jonathan Spector
  • Gerard Pique
  • Kieran Richardson
and of course there's Quinton Fortune, but he was probably the first one to get injured in any case. And I've totally forgotten about Lee Roche.

What price a bit of a clearout this summer? Silvestre, Roche and one of Richardson/O'Shea perhaps? Maybe Fortune as well, with David Bellion and Liam Miller (remember him?) joining them on the way out?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Excitement in sport

The headline had me flummoxed -- "Soccer more exciting than football," it says. Sad to say, it took me a few seconds before I realised the article was talking about American Football.

I've never been a fan of the American game, despite it's potential attraction as a master chess game between two tacticians (the coaches) deploying their highly trained pawns in battle. Apparently my position is rational, or at least the headline above would seem to suggest so.

Sadly, when you dig into the detail, these so-called researchers have done little more than assess the predictability of a result. Big deal. My relative success in predictions competitions online tells me that, contrary to their estimation, results are actually fairly predictable in most sports. Seems that watching Roger Federer, for example, would be classified as thoroughly boring.

I suppose the approach is symptomatic of the American viewpoint on sport that I hear espoused so frequently. When a person cannot appreciate that a 1-1 draw, or a drawn Test match can genuinely stir the emotions and keep one on the edge of one's seat, then it becomes difficult to rationalise the inherent excitement of a sport.

Ostensibly, if you awarded a point to each team for every successful pass or some such, resulting in United beating Arsenal 278-192 in the FA Cup Final last year, as an example, soccer would suddenly become more exciting to the average American. Go figure.