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Give Onfield Umpires The Power Back

12 May
The use of technology for umpiring decisions is undoubtedly good for the game. Given the amount of money and pressure that now rides on televised matches, the backup of a 3rd umpire for replays of run outs and stumpings is a worthy addition to the umpires’ armoury. But has it gone too far, even to the point of spoiling the enjoyment of the game?
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The Sun Also Rises

23 Feb

As the sun began to set over the Azad Maidan in a hazy mid-November dusk, Prithvi Shaw tucked his bat under his arm and walked off unbeaten on 257. Over a billion Indians had given their final farewell to Sachin Tendulkar a few days earlier and with this 14 year old the burden of carrying their hopes seemed to find a new recipient.

It was on these same dusty orange pitches in 1988 that Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli put on 664 runs in a Harris Shield game, a partnership that still resonates around the world. Down the same threadbare pitches as Shaw they danced, silencing the boorish drone of the late afternoon Mumbai traffic.

Tendulkar was many things – master batsman; role model extraordinaire; advertising gold dust – but most of all he was a modest man who chose dignified silence and weight of runs to speak for him. He spent his entire career allowing the big players of Indian cricket to burn brightly and fleetingly: first it was the same school friend, Kambli, who allowed himself to believe his own legend, and eventually was consumed by celebrity. Then Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag came and went in a blaze of glory and controversy all whilst Tendulkar shied away from the limelight. As his career progressed from teenage starlet to wizened and fabled hero he saw it all, absorbing the adulation and expectation.

Yet his last years were not golden ones. He failed to score a Test century in the last 24 months of his career and the vultures were circling overhead long before he announced his decision to retire as the world watched the great man scrape and forage uncomfortably, willing him to find a final innings to savour. The last two fruitless years were not pretty, nor were they deserving for a man who had meant so much to so many people.

What about his highlights, then? For there were moments which brought India, and the cricketing world, to a standstill. His three shot salvo that went ‘six-four-four’ against an electric Shoaib Akhtar in the 2003 World Cup. The year of 1998 against Australia, the world’s best team, in which he averaged 97 runs per innings across 12 visits to the crease. Then 10 years later and the fourth-innings 103* versus England in Chennai, as he led India’s colossal chase of 387 to win the match.

And all this achieved whilst he had the pressure of being the latest in the line of prodigious Indian batting talents. From Ranjitsinhji, the British Indian who revolutionised batting, through to Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Mohammad Azharuddin, India has a rich history of strokemakers. Tendulkar found himself tasked with the responsibility of continuing this legacy with the dust of the Maidan still on his whites when, at the age of 15, he scored a century on his Ranji Trophy debut.

Whilst he was at the crease the nation would stop working and there would be hope for India’s innings. Whilst his supporters felt that his achievements meant more than life, the little man in the middle did not. He was still the boy at the Maidan, scoring centuries with his friends against the din of his beloved hometown, which was diminished beyond the sound of his bat on ball. Cricket was just cricket, no more, no less. And as the sun set on his career, Indians were lost as they sought a new idol.

Back at the Maidan, and the day after he had begun his innings, Prithvi Shaw was finished with 546 runs after batting for a day and a half. The extraordinarily talented young man appeared to herald in a new time – a new sun – for Indian cricket.

Perspective

16 Feb
Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

Mitchell Johnson has more than his moustache to thank for his rejuvenated career

In 2012, Mitchell Johnson was at a crossroads in his career. After starting with such a bang he had faded to so much that he had become an international laugh stock. He was humiliated on and off the pitch and for anyone that is a tough spot to be in, but for Johnson – not the toughest mentally who put lots of pressure on himself – it was nigh on unbearable.

Enter Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith. An Australian soldier who won both the Medal for Gallantry and the Victoria Cross for Australia, ‘RS’ saw plenty of action in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a celebrity both in Perth, his home-town, and Australia as a whole. Johnson and Roberts-Smith met two years ago when Johnson was looking to anyone he could for help – and he found what he was looking for. Essentially, Roberts-Smith brought out the mongrel in Johnson that was lurking beneath the surface, and turned the boy who is, by all accounts, a perfectly pleasant person, into the man who has no remorse for the damage he can inflict with the ball. The talent was always there, but it just needed to be coaxed out of him.

Most important of all was the lesson of perspective. By teaching Johnson that there was more to life than cricket, and that there are people who have things considerably worse, the pressure was lifted from his heavily tattooed shoulders, and the burden was gone. This eye-opening realisation can come in various forms.

Stress-related illnesses can take down people in all professions and cricket is no different – so when Jonathan Trott returned home from the recent Ashes tour there was plenty said about the health of someone being infinitely more important than the result of a cricket match. And although the tour was disastrous, the felling of a giant of English cricket in such a way asked new questions of the training regime and intense playing schedule that England undertake. As a result, the coach who implemented the regime left his post, and English cricket is due a major environment upheaval.

Key to that upheaval will be captain Alastair Cook, who was half the cricketer he can be on that tour. Leaving Australia in early 2014, he returned to his farm in Bedfordshire with his pregnant wife. It has been widely reported that he enjoys taking his mind off cricket by lambing and with a lamb of his own on the way he will undoubtedly see that there is more to cricket, even after a tough day on the pitch.

Yet there are times when an incident which should lend perspective fails. New Zealand batsman Jesse Ryder was assaulted following a night out and left in a coma in 2013, a serious attack which threatened his life more than his career. He recovered sufficiently to make his return for the Blackcaps but, on the verge of a Test recall against India and being named in the World Twenty20 Cup squad, he was reprimanded following a late night out in Auckland. Dropped back to domestic cricket and not named in the World Cup squad, Ryder has set his own career back immeasurably after this indiscretion – the latest in a litany of alcohol related issues.

Obviously it is wrong to make assumptions on why Ryder breaks rules and damages his career, but following the attack on him last year he gained a huge amount of support from around the world. It would be disappointing if he can’t back up his talent with the maturity required to make it on the international stage.

Perhaps what Ryder needs is a mentor from outside the world of cricket. Johnson’s meeting with Roberts-Smith, however it came about, was the spark he needed to reinvigorate his career and rediscover his love of cricket. If Ryder and Cook can do the same they’ll be better for it.

5 mostly unrelated cricket thoughts

10 Feb

1) New Zealand are getting quite good

Beating India in your own conditions is not difficult, but for a small nation that is widely disregarded it is a huge achievement for New Zealand. More so considering they have just won the limited overs stuff against the same opponents and now have managed to translate ODI form into Test form. There are questions over the Blackcaps – BJ Watling has a distinct technical fault in his keeping whereby his weight shifts to the leg side before he adjusts and moves back to the off; Corey Anderson is neither a Test match bowler nor a Test match batsman; Peter Fulton is floundering at the top of the order and surely just keeping the spot warm for Martin Guptill; they lack a Test match quality spinner. However, beating one of the 3 super-powers in World cricket is a huge coup and warms the cockles of all but 1.6 billion of the cricket loving family.

2) Eoin Morgan wants another crack at Test cricket

He burst onto the scene as a spunky youth with fancy shots and the most battled hardened stare since the callow boys returning from the Western Front. Yet, as so often happens in Test cricket, he was found out and then booted into the long grass by the selectors. But now with KP jettisoned like a space-dump he has stuck two fingers up to the IPL by withdrawing himself from the auction. Setting his sights on scoring heavily for Middlesex in the Championship, he is gunning down KP’s vacated number 4 spot. His First Class record is ropey at best (average of 34.45 with 9 centuries) but he has the resolve and nous to have a second crack. More over, the fact that he’s turned down a contract worth roughly $1 million in order to play Test cricket will be welcome relief for the ECB given their horror week. So what about that week?

3) The ECB are having a stinker

Firstly they (Paul Downton, the new MD, and also James Whitaker, the National Selector) demand that there is only one coach for all 3 teams. Not unreasonable, as that would surely result in a more cohesive unit – until you look at the amount of cricket England play. From the 1st of January 2012 to the 1st of January 2014 they played 86 matches across all formats, spanning 202 days of cricket. For one man that’s a lot of work, before the time spent away from home is factored in. Ludicrous. Secondly, firing KP was probably the wrong call. Yet it’s the nature of the business, so fair enough, as long as good reasons are cited. Have they been cited? Has the ECB given a couple of a reasons that would justify sacking the leading run scorer England has ever produced? Have they heck. Instead, they’ve basically called Piers Morgan a poo-poo head in the world’s worst press release and then implied that if you are ‘outside cricket’ and your opinion is not in line with their own you’re worthless and a nobody. This threw up a whole new bag of issues – a) what does ‘outside cricket’ mean, and who is ‘inside cricket’?, b) are we not allowed to question decisions made by the ECB or are we supposed to blindly follow them?, and c) if we disagree with the ECB does that mean we agree with Piers Morgan? Time to bathe in bleach again guys!

4) South Africa are going to drill Australia

Australia’s top 6 are shaky at best: throughout the Ashes series England ripped the head off, only to watch Brad Haddin bundle them out of trouble with a cavalier 70-odd. Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are better than England and on the green seamers that have been prepared in Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town they will tear through the Aussie rotters. Mitchell Johnson will be exposed as the average bowler that he is (seriously, it’s just quick and mostly short. Until he has a series where he perpetually swings the ball like Trent Boult he will be forever an average – if very fast – bowler) and South Africa will still be number 1 at the end of the series. They might want to find a spinner soon though, because Imran Tahir is dreadful. For example – try Simon Harmer. 175 First Class wickets, he can bat, and he’s just turned 25. One for the future, definitely.

5) The Big 3 takeover has happened and it’s bad

The formation of the ExCo is the thrust of the changes – the committee on which there will always be a representative from Australia, England and India who will be able to decide the future of cricket. Those three nations will take more money from the ICC and they will play each other more frequently than any of the ‘smaller’ nations because it will be more financially rewarding when taking these series ‘to market’. Until the FTP up to 2023 is released we won’t know how bad it is, but… it’s going to be bad.

Australia, England and India plan to take over cricket

18 Jan
In a move that will surprise no one, the corrupt BCCI are being corrupt

In a move that will surprise no one, the corrupt BCCI are being corrupt

A draft proposal has been submitted to the ICC which would effectively hand all executive control to three national boards: the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Cricket Australia (CA) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). The proposal will be presented to the ICC Executive Board at its quarterly meeting in Dubai on the 28th and 29th of January.

The proposal was drafted by a ‘working group’ of the ICC’s Finance and Commercial Affairs committee – of which the BCCI, CA and the ECB are key members. In it, there are changes recommended to the ICC’s revenue distribution model, administrative structures and the Future Tours Programme (FTP); it questions the relevance of Test rankings and suggests the reinstatement of the Champions Trophy over the World Test Championship.

A recommendation is also made for the creation of a new four-member Executive Committee, on which the BCCI, CA and the ECB will have permanent memberships and a rotating annual chairmanship, that will override all other committees. In short, almost every aspect of this proposal would give greater control to these three boards. It would see a larger share of control over world cricket to the three – both in the boardroom and on the field – as well as giving them a significantly larger share of revenues in a ratio that is linked to the ICC’s revenue growth.

Also considered is the creation of a two-tier Test cricket system, a structure which would bring relegation and promotion to the cycle. However, three nations will be exempt from the perils of relegation – Australia, England and India – because of money: “(this is) solely in order to protect ICC income due to the importance of those markets and teams to prospective ICC media rights buyers”. This is systematic fixing, institutional rigging, which the ICC is allowing because it will mean they make more money.

These proposals would lead world cricket to an endlessly repeating cycle of three nations playing each other whilst the rest of the Test playing nations play poorly attended and barely covered matches as they wait for another Champions Trophy to come around so they can play someone different. The world’s best Test team won’t play England with any regularity, there will be no more trans-Tasman tussles between Australia and New Zealand and the prospect of another India and Pakistan Test series is off the table.

Whilst the FTP was a flawed system, it was a well-meaning one. Although boards could ignore it, they had to openly admit that they were doing so – with the new system and no FTP, the boards won’t have to own up to it, meaning that the paying public won’t know what they are up to.

The ICC has been wrangling with the issue of dwindling Test cricket crowds (and therefore revenue) in countries such as New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies for a number of years now, and this is their solution. Instead of working out a way in which these nations can survive, the easy route has been taken – a route which means three boards will make enough money to sustain the sport for the short-term.

Despite all this, there is hope. The fact that this document was leaked means that someone who is working either for the ICC or for one of the major boards has realised that the cricketing world need to see what is going on behind closed doors, and they let the press have it. This means that there is resistance within, which can be used to harness resistance externally. What’s more, the people can use their voice. At the bottom of this article is a list of how to contact the BCCI, CA and the ECB. Do this to tell them what you think.

One of the major responsibilities of MCC – the cricket club which owns Lord’s – is to help cricket’s international appeal. The MCC was the guardian of the game for a long time, until the ICC took over. With these proposals the ICC is willingly allowing the game to become self-serving and interested only in three parties, with just a vague and insincere interest in the promotion of the game across the globe. If this is not the kind of cricketing world in which you want to live, please contact the three boards and let them know.

Contact the BCCI here.

Contract CA here.

Contact the ECB here.

The beauty of silence

15 Nov

1360383314_sachinIn a very loud world, there are few greater pleasures than total silence. The absence of noise, or, to be more precise, unwanted noise, is a rare treat. For a cricketer, walking from the boundary edge to the middle is quiet. Often it’s almost silent, as you cross the demilitarized zone before you reach the front line on the square. A commentator is not paid just to make noise, but rather to make the right noises – to be emotive and respectful to the atmosphere, without crashing it with their own voice. Some – Richie Benaud, John Arlott, Christopher Martin-Jenkins – had this difficult art down to a tee. For others, it is harder.

On Wednesday evening, I was watching a live feed on the Cricket Australia website of England bowling out the Cricket Australia Invitational XI. It was filmed on one camera – a throwback to a time before mass media, when for half of the overs you had a front on view of the bowler running in. There was no commentary. It was utter silence. It was utter bliss.

I decided to see how well the TMS commentary on the same game would match up, and to my surprise, it was almost perfect. Aggers and co. went about their merry way with a sense of irreverence that was befitting a warm up game at an almost deserted SCG, which was excellent. And as is the nature of radio, they were talking more often than they weren’t. Though whenever they were silent, it was a second of harmony.

Jump forward to this morning. After watching the first 38 runs of Sachin Tendulkar’s innings against the West Indies yesterday, I couldn’t stomach the idea of another early morning to see how many more he would score, even if the fates were on his side, and he scored a century. So when I awoke to see that he had been dismissed for 74, I went straight to YouTube to find a video of his final dismissal.

Tendulkar edges it, and Darren Sammy takes a very good catch at slip. Silence in the stadium. The shock of over a billion Indians is tangible as Tendulkar turns to leave the crease for the last time. As he leaves, the weight of the nation’s expectations lifts off his shoulders. No longer is the pressure on him, and his shoulders, though slumped, seem less heavy then usual. Suddenly, the roar from the crowd erupts, as they celebrate the Little Master one last time. Whereas the wall of noise that greeted him when he first emerged on Day 1 was excitable fervour, the adulation which adorned his curly head when he left the ground was emotional and raw.

Until Sunil Gavaskar opened his mouth.

Immediately, the moment was ruined. The Indian commentator – who in 2011 was reportedly being paid Rs 3.6 crore annually by the BCCI to toe the official line and promote the views of the Indian cricket board – took over describing the moment as Tendulkar left the ground, and decided that that special moment, as the roars of 33,000 people carried Tendulkar up the stairs to the dressing room, was the best moment to remind the viewers that, just like in this game, Darren Sammy caught Tendulkar at slip in a Test match in 2011. As the crowd’s cheer became the perfect accompaniment to the end of a brilliant career, Gavaskar crashed it with his harsh voice, telling the unrelated story, before returning the present to send Tendulkar off with a gushing and cringe-inducing “Sachin…Ramesh…Tendulkar. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

A good commentator knows when the pictures do the talking, and when silence is golden. And on this occasion, the pictures did the talking.

The modest Master bows out

13 Nov

sachin_at_lords300Cynicism is an overbearing, pervasive attitude. It’s an increasingly prevalent one too, in a modern world of disposable opinions and anonymous criticism. It has served this author well over the years – particularly when it was announced that Sachin Tendulkar was retiring.

Like many before me, I found myself searching ‘Sachin Tendulkar slow innings’, or ‘Sachin Tendulkar fail’, for evidence to back up a pithy, put-down article. Soon it was penned, and off I went. Even sooner, people were tweeting with glee that his highest score at Lord’s was only 37, or reminding each other that his 100th International hundred was a pedestrian innings that slowed down his team’s scoring rate, causing them to lose the game. Vitriol was sent back and forth and although I was spared most of this, it still didn’t sit well with me.

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