The reason I love reading books, is that I always enjoy coming across new stories and perspectives. That is exactly what has happened with Rahul Bhattacharya’s “Pundits from Pakistan”. The prologue throws the question “Why play sport?” onto us. I was absolutely blank when I came across this question. Much like most Indians, I picked up the sport of Cricket just instantly at a very young age. Since then I have also watched few other sports, yet this question has never popped up in my head.
The question “why play sport?” is of course completely different from “why sports are played today?”. In today’s world, with all the commercialization coming into the picture, sports are played because people want to invest in the game and drive profits of it. It results in revenues for sportsmen, reporters, boards and all the associated people. But why were sporting rivalries started in the first place?
According to George Orwell, a British literary giant, organized sport is nothing but “war minus shooting”. He believed that all sport resulted in was division of society and in fact, many others also felt that it was a grand scheme of things to keep the masses in a state of competitive frenzy and readiness for war. While I do agree, that sport often makes us cheer for ‘our own’ team, therefore resulting in divisions, to call it a grand scheme of things to keep masses ready for war is definitely over the top.
Former cricketers(for example - Sir Donald Bradman) earned their bread and butter through other jobs and resources. Yet they took out time to play Cricket because they enjoyed the game so much. So, I would like to think, that it was the love of the game which pulled people towards playing and watching this sport or any other sport for that matter. Maybe it was to keep the masses fit and involved in a physical activity, or perhaps to keep the youth away from drug abuse or other wrong habits prevalent at the time.
Just a couple of pages further into the intriguing prologue, the author says:
"For, to ask the question, ‘why play sport’, is in my view analogous to asking the question, ‘why live life’ ".
"Sport is able to sum up life, able to strip it bare and put it under a drama-fulled magnifying glass."
While these statements do not answer the question, they are beautifully put. I watch sport because of the thrill associated with it, just as the 2nd statement written above expresses. When I first read the question, I had no answer, just like my reaction when I try to think reasons on ‘why live life’.
The sixth edition of IPL is about to come to a close in about a fortnight. Even though I am not sure of what TRPs say, it has been an incredible success in almost every city where matches have been held. While there may be many who do not like the IPL or do not consider it as ‘proper cricket’ (whatever that means), for me personally, the tournament has become an addiction I don’t want to get rid of.
One of the best things I noticed about this IPL is that the quality of cricket has certainly improved from the previous editions. Fielding and batting in particular have improved a lot. Even though we did see an odd dropped catch here and there, overall standard of fielding has improved. Some spectacular ones have also been taken by both youngsters from India and foreign stars. Batsmen have also become smarter and usually teams no longer seem to panic even when required run rate is over 12 for the last 6-8 overs. Bowling is probably the only aspect which hasn’t improved much, particularly in the final few overs where many bowlers seem to be bowling the wrong length and playing into the batsman’s hands.
In this season, another new trend emerged. Teams have performed much better at home as compared to away, with 72% of the games won by the home team. In some cases, like with Sunrisers Hyderabad, the pitch at their home ground has really suited them. Rajasthan, Bangalore as well Mumbai have also been superb at home using the good batting surfaces to their advantage. If this trend continues in the upcoming IPLs, it will make the IPL very interesting. Roughly 9 to 10 wins are needed for a team to qualify for the play-offs, so if 5-6 teams are consistently good at home, (and win 6-7 home matches out of 8) then 2-3 crucial away wins will be the decider. Surely, IPL will be very closely contested as the final 4 teams won’t be decided till the last 3-4 matches(probably like it will be this year).
There was a lot of outrage over Virat Kohli being booed at the Wankhede stadium. While the Mumbai crowd was stupid to call Virat Kohli a cheater(since it was an unlucky but fair dismissal), I do not think an Indian player being booed is a big deal. I have little doubt that when he plays for India, he will be cheered. Yuvraj Singh for example, was booed by the same crowd in IPL 3 when he was playing for KXIP, but they surely cheered for him in the 2011 World Cup. In fact, what this incident really goes to show, is that city-based loyalties and rivalries are flourishing, which is great for the IPL and its success.
Overall, city-based loyalties and teams being tough to beat at home are surely positives for the IPL, which will help in making it a success like football leagues around the world. However, there are a couple of things which can be changed or thought on. Firstly, the length of the IPL is a major concern. 72 matches in the league stage is just too many. Now, that IPL 6 has been going on for more than a month, I find it hard to remember too many matches. Close finishes or unexpected turnarounds are remembered, but that is about it. I would suggest, a 40-matches long tournament, with 36 games in league stage(4 home and 4 away for each team) and 4 play-off games.
Another important issue is the auction held after every 3 years. In the 4th edition of IPL, I realized many(including myself) were struggling to keep up with the new squads. Ideally, instead of this auction system, I would prefer a transfer window with a certain amount of transfers possible at the end of each season. No need of having completely new teams. If however, the auction system is continued, it should be held every 5 years instead of 3 and no player retention should be allowed. That way, when the auction happens in the 6th year, the team will (most likely) be absolutely new.
Apart from this, I feel the league is wonderful event and very enjoyable. Around the 4th edition, some people believed that within a couple of years, people will start getting bored of T20 and this league. However, this year we have seen full houses game after game, at almost all venues except Chennai and Mohali. So the IPL has continued to prove its critics wrong and I believe it will only grow from here on, especially if the few issues mentioned are handled properly.
MS Dhoni is a fabulous ODI batsman. Wonderful finisher, who is always calm and gets the job done on most occasions. I have absolutely no doubt in his ability in the one-day format, but its the T20 format I am not so sure of. You look at his IPL career and 11 fifties in 75 innings, when he has batted mostly at 6 or 7, is very good. There have been some superb knocks, mostly (not surprisingly) in chases. Like the onslaught on Irfan Pathan at Dharamshala or just the other day, we saw him taking on Dale Steyn and the other Hyderabad bowlers to take Chennai home.
Dhoni has shown over and over again, that he is one of the most reliable finishers in the limited overs game, who can turn it in his team’s favor even when 12 runs an over are needed for the last 5-6. Many players have the big shots these days, but to get them going on a consistent basis is something that very few are able to do. MS Dhoni has done this in ODIs and IPL very nicely, but in T20Is, he hasn’t been anywhere as good.
His career stats in T20Is are quite ordinary, to be frank. In 39 innings, he hasn’t reached 50 once and batted with a strike rate less than 120. That for someone of his caliber is poor. Even though he mostly bats below/around 6 in T20Is, 30 innings is fair number of chances. The only good T20I knocks that one can recall him playing are 45 against South Africa back in 2007 T20 World Cup, a quick fire 46 vs Sri Lanka at Mohali in 2009 and the recent T20 with England in December 2012. Apart from these, he hasn’t really fulfilled his potential in T20Is. Suresh Raina, who mostly bats at 5/6, just one position above him, has not only scored more fifties, but his strike rate has also been a lot better.
Mind you, I am not here to bash him or ask him to be dropped. I have seen very little of Micheal Bevan, so for me, he is best ODI batsmen in chases barring no one. All I am saying is, MS Dhoni can do much better in T20Is, it almost feels like he doesn’t use his ability to the fullest. I wonder why that is the case and I just expect a lot more from a player of this quality. If and when he becomes more consistent, India will surely be a much better T20I side.
Often, in a sport like cricket, matches are remembered and celebrated for contests and battles between players. SRT vs Warne, SRT vs McGrath, Lara vs McGrath and more recently, SRT vs Steyn as well as Clarke vs Steyn have been talking points of different series. While these battles are fascinating to watch, it means the other crucial battle is not given enough importance.
In Timeless Steel, Rohit Brijnath quotes Rahul Dravid talking about this battle when describing his efforts in the famous Adelaide test of 2003 - “That’s the real beauty, when you win the battle against yourself.”
It has been said by many former cricketers and experts that half the battle is in the mind. During tough times, this battle within a player’s mind gets tougher. When the runs or wickets dry up, mind too starts to play tricks. It is essential to keep the belief during such times and keep doing the things that worked in more fruitful patches.
However, this battle of self-belief is not just applicable in tough times. Even during a long innings or an unrewarding day in the field, being mentally solid is very important. Batsmen cannot let the odd ball the beats them effect their concentration, just like one ineffective over should not effect a bowler’s rhythm. ‘Staying positive’ and ‘sticking to the game plan’ sound very simple, but in the heat of the moment, to keep one’s head, a player must stay focused and not allow doubts to creep in.
Cheteshwar Pujara’s 82* at the Kotla recently showed the importance of being strong mentally. He has, at least for the time being, won the battle within himself and it was showing in that knock. On a pitch which most others found tough to handle, Pujara was batting with incredible ease. Yet, somehow between history, pitch reports, top players in opposition, tactics and hundreds of other distractions, the mental aspect is often forgotten by the general follower.
SRT’s 241* in Australia back in 2003/4 where he decided to not play shots through a particular area and Rahul Dravid’s 81 and 68 in Kingston 2006 where he batted longer than the entire WI team in both innings. These are two other examples, which clearly prove that when the battle within is sorted, just about any and every situation can be won over. This is a lesson, not only in cricket but also in life.
India have taken a 2-0 lead in 4-match test series versus Australia with considerable ease. Loads of positives in the two test matches so far, as numbers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 have all scored runs. Our lead spinner has looked threatening and got wickets under his belt and that is also the case with Bhuvaneshwar Kumar.
However, still some bases remain uncovered. Ahead of selection committee meeting tomorrow, here is what I would like:-
1. Opener’s slot - In his 3 innings so far, Virender Sehwag has looked anything but assured. Personally, I feel he is way past his best and in the long run, it will be better if we start looking for other options. With Murali Vijay making a solid 167 at Hyderabad and Shikhar Dhawan yet to get a go, I would like Gautam Gambhir to come back in place of Sehwag, thanks to scores of 112, 44*, 69 and 5 in his last four domestic outings. However, Dhawan should be given a chance before drafting Gambhir back into the XI.
2. Number 7 - Ravindra Jadeja has bowled beautifully and got the wicket of Australia’s most reliable batsman, Micheal Clarke 3 out of 4 times in the series so far. He is still to prove himself with the bat and outside the subcontinent, but so far Jadeja has fit the bill. There is no doubt that he is a much better pick than Yuvraj Singh or Suresh Raina and must be persisted with.
3. Pace attack - Ishant Sharma has been played a few matches more than he deserved and hasn’t done enough to convince. India has never had too many great fast bowlers, but giving a guy who doesn’t pick even 3 wickets per test as many chances is just not acceptable. In the next two tests, Ashok Dinda and/or Parvinder Awana(I would say Pankaj Singh, but I doubt he will ever get picked for India) should be played with Bhuvaneshwar. For the South African tour, Umesh Yadav’s fitness should be looked at. If he is in decent match form, he should surely be on-board.
4. Spinners - Harbhajan Singh has been out of form for a while and in spite of the few good overs here and there, he hardly has any wickets to show. In Chennai, his performance was forgettable almost throughout. I think it is time, India start looking for a new third spin option and stop playing musical chairs amongst Chawla, Mishra and co. On any tour outside the sub-continent, I doubt India will take 3 spinners along a spinning all-rounder. With Ashwin and Jadeja doing well recently, the fight will be between Harbhajan and Pragyan Ojha. Just like in the first two tests, it will be very harsh on Ojha if he gets dropped for Harbhajan.
My XI for the next 2 tests - Dhawan, Vijay, Pujara, Tendulkar, Kohli, Dhoni, Jadeja, Ashwin, Bhuvaneshwar, Ojha, Dinda.
Extras - Gambhir, Awana, Rahane and Bhargav Bhatt/Murtuja Vahora/Parvez Rasool/Imitiaz Ahmed/Akshay Darekar.