Thursday, January 01, 2004

Bouncers and Beamers

Articles written for as an amateur writer in 2003

Bouncers N Beamers Part 1

What does the suspension of 15 rebel players from the Zimbabwean cricket team mean?

This week, we were subject to the news that all 15 rebel Zimbabwe players, who incidentally are "All-White" have been stripped off their contracts with the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, owing to their dispute with the ZCU. This means that the world would be subject to more one-sided games featuring the pathetic amateurs led by Tatenda Taibu in the name of the Zimbabwean cricket team. The Zimbabwean squad, which played in the 5 ODIs against Sri Lanka have only one decent player in their captain and wicketkeeper, Tatenda Taibu, who again at best is a promising player with potential to become a good wicketkeeper batsman in a few years time. They also have some jokers in the squad, such as Stuart Matsikenyeri, whose idea of defense is to put his front foot prodding forward across the line making him a sitting duck for a LBW and whose idea of attack is a close-the-eye-swing-the-bat hoick to god-knows-where. That this bloke opens the inning against good new ball bowlers and is bound to do so against the likes of Glen McGrath suggests the total degradation of cricket and its pathetic that the ICC, which is supposed to run the game, is infact trying to ruin it knowingly or unknowingly. Last week, we were subject to further parody when the ICC president actually berated the rebel players for not showing commitment by assuring to play along with the current bunch of jokers in the Zimbabwe squad. It then takes me to wonder which ICC president has been more dumb, Jagmohan Dalmiya who gave Test Status to Bangladesh on the basis of a single ODI victory over Pakistan or Ehsan Mani who has chosen to scold the innocents instead of the people who are making a mockery out of cricket.

The talent in Zimbabwe is as much as the apparel that is worn by the Remix-artistes on Indian Television, threadbare. And to further dilute their base by choosing cricketing nincompoops to represent their country, they are reducing international cricket in these few days to an absolute farce. That the ICC has turned a blind eye to rapid degradation of World Cricket by the presence of teams like Zimbabwe and Bangladesh further infuriates any international cricket lover. Will sense prevail on the panjandrums who run the game in the name of administrators? The chances are as much as the current Zimbabwean team pulling out a non-weather-affected draw against the Lankans in the ongoing Test series.

Which side of the argument sounds sounder? Murali is a hero because of his 520 or Murali is a villain who usurped the throne because his doosra is illegal and because his action is highly unorthodox?

Murali's record breaking 520th wicket was an event that signified one of the best achievements ever in the game. He broke Walsh's record with aplomb, taking his customary 5-fer and above in the first innings of the test against Zimbabwe in the process. Sri Lankan and Murali lovers have been thrilled by this achievement, but equally, his baiters and non-believers-in-the-genuineness-of-his-action have poured vitriol on his feat. Hence basically the reactions have been bordering on the extreme. Murali's action was cleared earlier by the ICC, and hence there was no need to berate him on his unorthodox action, which resulted in a bagful of wickets irrespective of the surface or situation for him. Before the doosra was bowled regularly by him, the criticism against him wasn't exactly warranted. But after his doosra was reported and preliminary reports have found out that this delivery of his was indeed outside what the ICC prescribed as limits of legality, there certainly has been a slur on his achievement.

The lesson that we have learnt from the Murali imbroglio (and also from the multiple chucking controversies regarding Shoaib Akhtar, Shabbir Ahmed, Brett Lee etc) is that there should be no toleration at all for any kind of action that looks closer to illegality from the naked eye itself, henceforth. Excuses such as hyper extended arms, magical wrists, bent elbows and the like should not cloud the simple ways of judging whether the action is legal or not. Such unrelenting measures should be used on every newcomer in international cricket and the judgment should not be driven by prejudice that suggests that the earlier method of forwarding illegal delivery action reports to a committee of experts from the cricketing world for decision-making seems to be a sounder process rather than the roundabout and controversial current stage-wise process which seems to sweep more into the carpet rather than rectify the problem as a whole. The argument that a player's career can be made or broken by such stubbornness on playing by the rule book in a martinet fashion is flawed, because several batsmen's careers can also be made or broken because of getting out to deliveries from the malefactor bowlers.

What does the BCCI's decision to hike the pay for domestic cricketers signify?

It signifies that Indian domestic cricket now looks more rosier for the ones who are good enough for the grind but not good enough to enter the starry world of international cricket. A pay packet of Rs 52000 per game for every Elite Ranji player is very decent remuneration for the sweat and toil on the Indian tracks. If only the BCCI could devise a sure shot strategy to attract viewership for the Ranji games (at least the important and elite ones) by focusing on sustained and creative marketing (techniques such as hyping up games between traditional rivals, trying to use the American model of anointing team names for every Ranji Team, for eg, Tamil Nadu Sambar or Hyderabad Shahis or Nizams, Mumbai Clippers or Mumbai Box Officers etc). That should be the BCCI's next big step in bringing cricket to the levels of proficient professionalism.

Bouncers N Beamers Part 2

So, does Murali chuck his doosra?

MuralitharanAs of now, according to the team of biomechanical experts from the University of Western Australia led by Dr Bruce Elliot, the evidence to prove whether Muthiah Muralitharan chucks his doosra, is still INCONCLUSIVE. Using the "innocent till proven guilty" adage hence, Murali's action while he delivers his befuddling doosra, has proven to be within the letter of the bowling-actions-law envisaged by the expert committee. The Srilankan Board has forward this report to the ICC.

Dr Elliot says that he would be recommending to the ICC to reconsider the "elbow-bending" threshold limit of 5 degrees to be increased to 10 degrees for spinners, adding categorically that a bending of the elbow worth 10 degrees would not suffice enough to provide an unfair advantage for the bowler.

The ICC however has suggested that it wouldn't consider Dr Elliot's recommendation to increase the "elbow-bending" threshold. Hence the ICC has intimated that Murali's doosra is illegal and could tantamount to a ban if Murali keeps bowling it. Murali however seems to have ignored the ICC's diktat, by bowling quite a few doosras against the hapless Zimbabwean side in the first two ODIs.

The final word is that Murali 's action is still in scrutiny. Considering that Sri Lanka is about to play 2 test matches against a watered-down Zimbabwe squad and also the fact that Murali is just 7 wickets behind Courtney Walsh's bowling world record, Murali's bowling action would still remain in controversy with a lot of newsbytes to be devoted on him.

Was Ricky Ponting right when he suggested that Brian Lara's 400* wasn't that praiseworthy considering the fact that Lara's monumental innings had reduced chances for an outright win for the West Indies?

Ponting's point seems to be right when the scorecard of the England-West Indies match is seen in hindsight. However, Lara's innings came at a time when the West Indies were deep in the lowest lows of their nadir after being beaten 0-3 against an arch-rival. This innings not only brought back the cheers among the cricket watching public, but also reaffirmed some more faith in Brian Lara's abilities as a batsman who can raise the notches of quality even when his team is mired in desperation. Eulogies aside, however, if Lara had probably declared early in the third day and given a session more to his bowlers to bowl out England, he might have been happier with a 1-3 result rather than a personal milestone and a 0-3 result in the end.

Are Irfan Pathan and L.Balaji a potent new ball attack promising much in the future?

Pathan and Balaji were drafted in the national squad just a few months after playing for the India Emerging XI along with other wannabes, youngsters and players of potential.

Considering that these two have become a match winning combination in such a short duration, the future indeed seems bright for the Indian bowling attack. Irfan Pathan shows more natural talent than probably anybody else has ever exuded in the past few years. Pathan, according to even Akram, seems to be a better bowler at his age than Wasim Akram was at the same age. More heartwarming is the fact that there seems to be a lot of "upside" about his bowling. He is a very genuine swing bowler who bowls very natural inswing and can move the ball away from the right-hander. He can bowl long spells, has shown the ability to reverse the ball and to add to all these promising features plays in the V with the bat and shows very good common sense. Pathan is a very promising find and the sky seems the limit for him if he keeps on improving himself.

Balaji on the other hand seemed a one-dimensional bowler worth parodying, when he played for India against New Zealand on the batting friendly tracks of Motera and Mohali. A tendency to bowl wide from the crease and an arsenal of one in-swinger and one in-cutter was all Balaji was supposedly all about. This in spite of heavily strong domestic performances, where he single-handedly bowled out opposing sides while playing for Tamil Nadu, with a slew of 5-wicket hauls. After being selected to represent India instead of Avishkar Salvi who was injured, Balaji has underwent a tremendous metamorphosis under the tutelage of Bruce Reid in Australia and seems to be a different bowler altogether. He has worked on his wrist action, his point of delivery, his run-up and a host of lot of nuances, which has now made him to use out-swing as his primary delivery and the already present in-cutter as the stock delivery. His ability to learn and identify areas where he could improve has impressed one and all. Next questions on his learning curve should be "How do I increase my pace" and "How do I keep myself durable?” It seems he has realized them already, judging by the questions he has asked Waqar Younis, with respect to the diet for a fast bowler and fitness regimes.

A fast bowler with tremendous potential and another with a voracious yen for improvement surely measure up to an ideal combination for project building. To add to the above-mentioned talents, Avishkar Salvi has come out of injury and should be back with his McGrath inspired accuracy as a contender for the fast bowling slots in the team. It certainly is a ripe time for Indian fast bowling.

Will there ever be a cricketing equivalent of the UEFA Champions League?

The UEFA Champions League featuring the marquee clubs of Europe who in-turn encapsulate the best talents in football, certainly is the stage for the best quality football. An equivalent of the talent-rich, profit-oriented, spectator-friendly, dream-team-galore UEFA Champions League in cricket seems a utopian thought. Not long ago, in 2000, a similar trophy called the Champions Cup was played between the domestic champions of some countries (viz. Mumbai, Western Australia, Central Districts and Kwazulu Natal). The Trophy however remained mired in invisibility probably because the marquee players were missing. Considering the fact that international cricket dominates the cricketing calendar already pretty heavily, there seems a remote chance of such tournaments occurring again. Maybe, the ICC can still chart out a plan for such events by reducing international commitments to some extent. In the opinion of yours-truly, a Champions Trophy between domestic champions involving even the international players would make for very interesting viewing. Add in a few elements of tinkering between squads by providing options for inter-club-inter-nation transfers, you have a very juicy recipe of first class cricket.

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