Thursday, November 30, 2006

He's baaack!

I suppose with a new selection committee at the helm, we should have expected nothing short of a complete U-turn in policy. And sure enough, Sourav Ganguly is back in the Indian middle order.

Make no mistake about it - he is going to play in each and every Test match on this tour. India won't go in with less than six batsmen, and as Gambhir is the spare opener, the lineup is going to read: Sehwag, Jaffer, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly. Yes, Ganguly, the man whose least favourite opponent is.... South Africa. He averages 27 against them for heaven's sake. And this is a pick to "lend solidity to the middle order?"

This is, it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway), a complete disaster for Indian cricket. After all the pain we had to go through to try and take a step forward, the long term planning has been jettisoned. A big step backwards that will serve no-one's interests, even if Ganguly in one series eclipses Mohammad Yousuf's new calendar year scoring record. Australia bringing back Michael Bevan would be a more positive move than this one.

Looks like the Vengsarkar selection committee is going to take us back to the good old days, and I guess that given that Kiran More has quite amusingly endorsed the choice, none of us should complain.

On the plus side, the appointment of VVS Laxman as vice-captain is probably an astute one. With Rahul Dravid an uncertain participant in the series at this juncture, Laxman is probably the right person to lead the side. He has long been highly regarded as far as his cricketing acumen is concerned, and it is rumoured that John Wright always felt that VVS was a FIC (With apologies to FEC Atherton). Either way, if India is to have a chance in this series, it is going to be down to Dravid and Laxman to deliver. Let the games begin.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ponting or Dravid?

Several months ago, I wrote a post entitled "The unbearable greatness of Ponting."

With his magnificent performance in the first Ashes Test this week, I find myself reflecting on that opinion once more. And I've come to the conclusion that I stand by it. History simply will not be able to ignore the fact that in
14 innings in India, Ponting has scored 172 runs at an average of 12.28.

I assure you that a batsman with a similar record to Ponting - brilliant success everywhere, and an average of 12 from 14 innings in Australia, would always be labelled as one notch below greatness. I suppose it's a
truism of the sport that success against spin is just not considered relevant.

Before I get slammed again, let me state that Ricky Ponting is nothing short of awesome as a batsman, and the blot on his record is highly unfortunate. It is sad that he won't tour India again until 2010. But none of that changes the facts.

Let's take another approach. The Big Four are unquestionably Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting and Dravid. Let's see which countries their averages dip below the 50-mark, which is typically the greatness threshold.

Tendulkar: averages just 40 in NZ, Pak, RSA and Zim, with 47 in the West Indies. That's Michael Atherton
greatness, not Bradmanesque. No major weak spot, but far too many good-but-not-great ones.

Lara: averages just 33 in India, 36 in NZ, 42 in Aus and 48 in England. A bigger spread than Tendulkar, but then he's also won a lot more off his own blade.

Ponting: averages a whopping 12 in India, and 40 in England (we'll discount his single innings 31 in Zimbabwe). Of the four, he's the only one with a major blot on his record.

Dravid: his weak spot is an average of 42 in South Africa, and 47 in Sri Lanka.

Two things stand out here.

Firstly, while we've all been talking about Tendulkar and Lara, it's Ponting and Dravid who have been batting out there in the middle.

Secondly, while Ponting obviously has a better conversion rate on his 50s (turning them into 100s), and is the more destructive batsman, it's not remotely clear that Rahul Dravid should be left out of any discussion of who is the leading batsman on the planet currently.

And that's ignoring the fact that Ponting usually comes into bat after Hayden and Langer have started pulverising the opposition, versus Dravid coming into bat after Opener-Of-The-Week has been dismissed in the first over.

In truth, I'd be hard pushed to say either is greater than the other, even though on a personal level I'd take Dravid any day of the week. What I can unequivocally state however, is that a man who averages 12 after 14 innings in one country cannot be equated with Bradman. That's just nonsense.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Marvellous Summer Down Under

I would write something about India's performances in South Africa, but I consider myself fortunate in having not watched the games, and therefore I shan't bother. There really weren't any surprises there. The wickets have pace and bounce, and only Rahul Dravid coped. Simple, and expected. The sooner Indian fans stop expecting the unreasonable, the happier their lives will become.

In the meantime, what of England? I am particularly concerned by their capitulation as I'm going to be spending 5 days (I hope) in the member's enclosure at the WACA in a couple of weeks, and I'd like to see a true contest. Unfortunately, it appears as if England caved in before they even started. The team selection was defensive, and betrayed a remarkable lack of confidence on the part of the Ashes holders.

I'm a big fan of playing your two best openers, your four best middle order batsmen, your four best bowlers, and your best keeper. If one of those provides all-round capabilities, then all the better. If it were up to me, I'd be going in with: Strauss, Cook, Bell, Collingwood, Pietersen, Owais Shah, Flintoff, Read, Hoggard, Harmison, Panesar.

Three medium pacers, your best spinner, and the occasional bowling of Pieterson, Collingwood and Bell to supplement. Bring in a youngster with some spunk to add to the batting depth (Shah), and pick a keeper who can inspire with the gloves, and do the job standing up to Panesar. Back yourself, and play aggressive cricket.

Instead, we're going to see: Strauss, Cook, Bell, Collingwood, Pietersen, Flintoff, Jones, Giles, Hoggard, Anderson, Harmison - with maybe Panesar in for Harmison/Anderson if Duncan Fletcher wakes up facing due East. Five batsmen, an all-rounder whose bowling is his strong suit, two players who are in the side for their batting, but pretend to keep and bowl respectively, and three bowlers, two of whom were a disaster last time out.

I'm off to Australia this weekend. Look out for reports on the 3rd Test, the England vs. Western Australia 2-day game, and most exciting of all, the Legends 20/20 International. Dean Jones, Kim Hughes, Big Merv, Bruce Reid, Terry Alderman and Dennis Lillee, taking on Gatting, Stewart, Robin Smith, Devon Malcolm and Ian Botham.

Of course, none of that is ultimately important. Overshadowing all of this is the news that Billy Birmingham has finally released a new CD!! "Boned" promises to follow in the footsteps of his prior work. If you haven't heard The Twelfth Man, you need to get out more, and when you do, start by getting a hold of his CDs. You're looking for:

Wired World of Sports, The 12th Man Again!, Still the 12th Man, Wired World of Sports 2, Bill Lawry... This Is Your Life, The Final Dig, and now, Boned! I've actually never heard the Bruce 2000 Olympic album, but I'm sure it's just as good.

Who could avoid laughing at Sunil Have-A-Cigar going for a slash outside off stump; or Rubbish Binny being left out... only for nobody to collect him; or Max Walker's attempts to be re-instated to the commentary team; or Bill Lawry completely losing it; or the ProtectoCam, CrackCam and Scrotometer... the list is endless.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Black Swan Green

I may have lived in Hong Kong at the time, but my adolesence and schooling was as quintessentially English as they come. It's perhaps for that reason that Black Swan Green struck several poignant chords with me. Memories (the vast majority of them very fond ones) of P.E. lessons and playground games of British Bulldogs came flooding back. I can almost feel the cuts, scrapes and bruises when AB sent me sliding across the concrete and into a partially barbed fence - all part of the game, of course!

The tale of typical adolescent angst, set in a truly nondescript English village, is constructed as a series of entertaining vignettes, each independent, yet threaded together to span a calendar year in which a teenager has his life turned upside down and inside out from every angle, and yet manages to somehow use it all to come of age, as such.

Much like The Essence of the Thing, at the end of the book, I wasn't entirely sure what it was about, given that there wasn't much that you couldn't see coming after the first chapter. And yet once again, I was hooked, read it cover to cover, and was entertained throughout.

Many critics panned it as being too conventional a tome, and consequently overly ambitious for David Mitchell - ostensibly paradoxical, but then I haven't had the pleasure of reading his prior work. As far as I'm concerned, it did more than enough to hint at, without fully revealing, an exceptional literary talent, and the reputedly more complex and more cerebral Cloud Atlas has found a place on my wish list as a result.

P.S. - for those who are wondering, I'm not turning this into a book-blog per se. Lots of work-related travel of late has left me with little time for spending online reading and blogging about the usual stuff.