Category Archives: World Cup Cricket

One-sided cricket matches are here to stay. Why would you attend?

World cricket is in a parlous state, not in terms of the money it makes, but in terms of the contests it provides. The games are one-sided to the extent that patrons at the grounds are few and far-between.

There is no better illustration of this than in the ongoing Australian games, where the home team is playing New Zealand and the West Indies in three Tests apiece. The first Test against New Zealand was won convincingly, and the second looks like going the same route. As to the West Indies, they are not expected to last beyond four days in each of the three Tests.

The man who is responsible for this farcical outcome, where Tests are mostly one-sided, died recently. Jagmohan Dalmiya was the one who set in motion these unending Test matches, where cricket goes on round the year, and the same bunch of players have to play, and play and play. Dalmiya’s so-called Test championship was set in motion after he became head of the ICC with the help of Australia and England. His first attempt to become the chief of the ICC in 1996 failed, thwarted by England and Australia with support from New Zealand, South Africa and the West Indies. England and Australia insisted that candidates needed the support of at least two thirds of the ICC’s full members, the nine Test-playing countries. Dalmiya was backed by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe, and also 19 of the 22 associate members. Test-playing countries have two votes against one for associate members.

In the 1996 poll, Dalmiya obtained 25 votes against 13 for Australia’s Malcolm Grey in the first ballot. A third candidate Krish Mackerdhuj from South Africa withdrew. But at the second ballot, five of the Test-playing nations supported Grey and with South Africa abstaining, Dalmiya was shut out. The ICC then decided that incumbent chairman Sir Clyde Walcott would continue for another year until July 1997.

But in 1997, Dalmiya cut a deal with Grey that he would be the next ICC head if Dalmiya was given the reins, and he ascended to the throne. Dalmiya is from the Marwari community which is known for its business acumen. He is also a Bengali.

Thus it was not surprising that he managed to give Bangladesh full Test status soon after he became ICC chief. At that time, Kenya had a much better team. Bangladesh is the eastern part of the Indian state of West Bengal, which became a part of Pakistan at partition in 1947 due to its majority Muslim population, and finally a separate nation in 1971 after a war.

Dalmiya’s other interest was to make money for the ICC. Hence the future Test tours programme where every nation had to play every other nation at least once in a certain cycle. Points were awarded and rankings created.

But the standard of the game, apart from contests between a few countries, dropped like a stone. Players are human beings and get tired, in body, mind and spirit by playing too often. Apart from the Tests there have been countless one-day series and also Twenty20 games. Each country has been interested in organising games that result in more income; India and Pakistan, for example, still capitalise on the age-old enmity between their countries and try to play whenever possible. Due to political tensions, that has not been possible in recent times.

Dalmiya was later embroiled in a TV rights controversy and had to leave his ICC post in 2000. But he has hovered around, being in the Indian cricket board or the Calcutta cricket board and was head of the Indian board when he died.

Nobody has done a thing to try and rectify the abnormal amount of cricket being played. Money is the sole criterion and while countries have to adhere to the ICC-mandated timetable, they organise other games which will bring in money as and when they like. The players could complain, but the money keeps them from doing so. But then they cannot perform like trained monkeys and the quality of the games is very low.

Australians normally turn out in large numbers for cricket in summer. This year, the crowds are poor, very poor. New Zealand played before 1373 spectators on the final day of the first Test and 6608 on day four, when the contest was still open, though the target set favoured Australia. It does not look very good at the second Test either with 13,593 attending on day one and 10,047 on day two.

Let’s be clear about one thing: national cricket bodies do not need crowds to make money. That is already done through TV deals. Not a single spectator needs to come through the gates for the books to be in the black.

But is that all the game is about? It is on life support now, with few, if any, Tests going to the fifth day, and big wins for one team all the time. People are losing interest and that is a dangerous sign.

Myths about Dhoni shown to be just that

As the Indian cricket team was slowly moving towards defeat against Australia in the World Cup semi-final, many commentators, the normally erudite Allan Border among them, were still convinced that Indian captain M.S. Dhoni would explode at some point and carry India to victory.

It looks like Border and all the others of his ilk were dreaming earlier in the summer when Dhoni called time on his Test career, indicating that he was unable to handle that job any more. He did not step down from the captaincy, he quit Tests altogether.

Quite simply, Dhoni has lost it. He is past it and his sticking on for the World Cup was a typical reaction from a cricketer in a country where the selectors do not pick people on form alone. The same applies to Sri Lanka’s Mahela Jayawardene and Tillakaratne Dilshan, and Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi. All are past it, yet were allowed to play on by their respective countries’ selectors, for so-called sentimental reasons.

Dhoni may have been the best finisher in one-day cricket for a long time. But that ability has gone. He cannot do it any more. The myth persists and that’s all it is — a myth.

Dhoni’s hanging on is not unusual in India; Kapil Dev, the captain under whom India won its first World Cup title, hung on and on, just so he could break Ian Botham’s record for most Test wickets. Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid all continued playing beyond the point when it was painfully obvious that they were no longer being picked on form. A lot of other good prospects were dudded of their chance of playing for the national team as a result.

In Australia, at times, that kind of sentimentality does not come into play. Ian Healy was denied a last Test in Brisbane in 1999, after he had shown that his talents were on the wane by dropping Brian Lara during a tense run chase in the third Test in the Caribbean. Adam Gilchrist made his debut when Pakistan arrived for the first Test of the Australian summer. But at times, Australia also looks the other way, a classic case being that of Matthew Hayden.

So the fact that Dhoni could not do anything except run himself out later on in the Indian innings did not come as a surprise. He gave an indication that he is no longer capable of captaining the team by letting things drift during the Australian innings: after David Warner had been dismissed early, Dhoni just sat back and let Steve Smith and Aaron Finch settle in. By the time he realised that the two spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, were being picked off for singles without showing any indication that they would take a wicket, it was too late. Finch, not in the greatest form, and Smith added 180-odd and ensured that Australia would cross 300.

Taking wickets later in the innings did ensure that Australia did not go on to 350-plus but the 328 that they got was at least 40 too much for any team to chase at the SCG. History teaches us many things, and one look at the totals chased successfully at the SCG in one-day matches would have told Dhoni that.

Whether the word foolish is politically correct or not, it is the one which fits the dismissals of both Indian openers Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. At a time when India was cruising and scoring at six an over, Dhawan hit the ball straight to a fielder — just after he taken 16 runs off a James Faulkner over. Rohit did something equally stupid, attempting an aggressive stroke off Mitchell Johnson just after he had clobbered that bowler into the stands.

And all the commentators did not consider one thing — only Dhawan and Rohit had scored consistently for India in the tournament. Every one of the other batsman had got just one decent score. It was not surprising that every one of them failed.

In the end, India failed when it had to step up. That is not surprising, it has happened on innumerable occasions in the past. And it will happen again unless selection policies change.

When will India’s luck run out?

India has continued its incredible run in the World Cup cricket tournament, bowling another team out as it recorded a 109-run win over Bangladesh to enter the semi-finals.

But this could not have been achieved had one umpiring error not gone India’s way.

At three for 196, India looked like it would go on to make a big total at the MCG, having chosen to bat after winning the toss.

But then Rohit Sharma, on 90, hit the fourth ball of the 40th over, bowled by Rubel Hossain, straight down the throat of deep midwicket fielder Imrul Kayes. Had this dismissal stood, then Bangladesh would have had a chance of reining India in as Rohit had carried the innings until that point, combining with Suresh Raina to take India forward from a shaky 3 for 115.

But the square-leg umpire Aleem Dar, who had earlier been bitten by a wasp, signalled a no-ball. In Dar’s opinion, the ball was above waist-level. This was clearly not correct as Rohit connected with the ball below waist-level after he had advanced a couple of steps from the crease.

And the trajectory of the ball was downwards, so it was nowhere near waist-level.

Taking his cue from Dar, the umpire at the bowler’s end, Ian Gould, signalled the no-ball and Rohit came back to his crease and continued his innings. There was no effort to check with the video umpire whether the call was correct.

Rohit made another 47 runs at a spanking pace. By the time Raina fell, the pair had taken the score to 237. At 273, Rohit was finally out, bowled by young Taskin Ahmed.

India finally made 6 for 302. No team has ever chased 300 and won at the MCG.

With that statistic hovering over their heads, Bangladesh began their chase. They started ambitiously with Tamim Iqbal and Imrul Kayes putting on 33. Tamim, it must be remembered, was the man who shone with the bat when Bangladesh defeated India in the 2007 World Cup.

But there was to be no repeat. Tamim fell to a catch behind off Umesh Yadav and the very next ball Kayes was smartly run out as Ravindra Jadeja fielded brilliantly; Yadav collected the return very efficiently and removed the bails at the bowler’s end.

No Bangladesh batsman made a good score, the highest being 35 by bowler Nasir Hossain. At least five others got starts, but none went beyond 30. The man who had made two hundreds in the Cup, Mohammad Mahmudullah, fell to a great catch on the boundary by Shikhar Dhawan who juggled the ball thrice before throwing it back into the field to make the catch legal.

The game ended on the last ball of the 45th over.

India has bowled out every team it has played in this tournament so far. It is doubtful that this fairytale run will continue if, as expected, it meets Australia for a place in the final.

In the battle of captains, Dhoni comes out ahead

ON SATURDAY, India won the World Cup cricket tournament, defeating Sri Lanka and becoming the first team to win the competition at home. But the more remarkable aspect of the win was the way it showed how a captain can lead and accept responsibility, even in this day and age when people are loath to do just that.

India was set a target that wasn’t overly intimidating but not easy to get either; batting second and scoring 275 at Bombay’s Wankhede Stadium isn’t a walk in the park. One needs someone to play a long innings, or two or three people to play knocks of about 60 or 70 to get to this kind of target.

India’s captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had batted at number 6 right through this tournament. He hadn’t made any decent scores, his best effort being in the low 30s. But he had led the team with his usual calm approach and the final saw him display his leadership qualities.

When India faced Pakistan in the semi-finals, Yuvraj Singh, a batsman who had been a model of consistency, fell for a first-ball duck. Perhaps the intensity of the occasion overcame him – there is no bigger game for either country, and this was a World Cup semi-final to boot.

Had Yuvraj been sent in during the final – India was 114 for three at the stage when he would normally have come in – and not performed, India would have been under immense pressure. The load on Dhoni would have been that much greater. There was also the matter of retaining a left-right hand combination to make it difficult for the Sri Lankan spinners to control the flow of runs.

But Dhoni was in woeful form. He had made some team changes – pulling in the non-performing Shanthakumaran Sreesanth, and leaving out the capable off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin – and if he had failed, then it is unlikely that anyone would have allowed him to forget his decisions in a hurry.

Dhoni could have sent in Suresh Raina, a capable if young player, to retain the right hand-left hand combination. Raina showed immense maturity in partnering Yuvraj during the quarter-final against Australia, taking the team from 187 for five, a position when things could have come unstuck if a wicket had fallen, to the 261 needed for victory.

But no, Dhoni came out himself. He looked in terrible nick, but kept making ungainly strokes and taking singles and twos here and there. Gradually, he grew in confidence and his form returned. He is never a pretty batsman to watch, but can hit the ball with great power.

One must bear in mind that the two men who were expected to do great things in the final, veterans Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendular, had both fallen by the time the total reached 31. Gautam Gambhir and Virat Kohli added 83 before the latter fell.

Then Dhoni took over. He and Gambhir took the total to 221 and then Dhoni and Yuvraj took India to victory, with Dhoni hitting a majestic six to seal the win.

One can contrast his actions with those of the Sri Lankan skipper, Kumar Sangakkara, who failed to implement the team’s strategy which has been uniform throughout the tournament – throttle the opposition, and then take wickets when they are trying to increase the scoring rate. Sangakkara left out one of the premier spinners, Ajanta Mendis, based on the logic that India plays spin well. Yet another spinner, Suraj Randiv, was included.

Sangakkara normally bowls his best speedster, Lasith Malinga, in spells of three, three and then four overs. This time, when Malinga was brought back midway through, to obviously try and take a wicket, he was given just the one over. Sangakkara’s other trump card, veteran Muthiah Muralitharan, did not even complete his quota of overs.

And long before the end appeared to be nigh, Sangakkara’s body language told the wrong tale – he looked beaten, his shoulders were hunched, he looked really agitated and in a panic.

I have commented some years ago on the way Dhoni goes about his captaincy; leadership comes naturally to this man who hails from one of the most under-developed regions of the country.

He hasn’t completed a college degree. He doesn’t know the latest buzzwords. He is verbose during TV interviews. He isn’t terribly good-looking. But he shows, time and again, that leadership is a natural trait. You can’t create leaders – they are born, not made.

Hosts to fight for honours

INDIA went into the World Cup semi-final against Pakistan depending on its batting. Pakistan, on the other hand, was banking on its bowling. On the day, things came out in reverse.

For the first time since 1983, the final of the World Cup cricket tournament will be contested by non-white teams. In 1983, India met the West Indies and registered a famous victory; on April 2, India will take on Sri Lanka, both teams bidding for a second win in the tournament, Sri Lanka having won in 1996.

After getting off to a flying start – Indian opener Virender Sehwag took 21 off the third over of the match, bowled by Umar Gul, a medium-pacer who has been one of the Pakistan’s star performers in the tournament – India did not exactly sparkle. Despite reaching 114 for one off the first 18 overs, India finished with 260.

Gul fared poorly on the day, giving away 69 runs off eight overs, the occasion probably getting to him.

The only Pakistani bowler to give away less than four runs per over was off-spinner Mohammed Hafeez who went for 34 in his 10 overs. Wahab Riaz took the wickets, five of them, but gave away 46 runs in his quota of overs. But India made life difficult for themselves; scoring ws not unduly difficult but no batsman could dominate apart from Sehwag.

India had an anchorman in veteran Sachin Tendulkar who made 85 after being dropped four times. Many of the other batsmen got starts but did not go on. Young Suresh Raina made an unbeaten 36 as the innings fell away, ending with 260.

After a start when the run-rate was around 9 during the first five overs, with Sehwag in a ferocious mood, it was a middling effort at best. Had Pakistan held their catches, India would probably have struggled to reach 200.

When Pakistan began the chase, things seemed to be on track until Asad Shafiq fell for 30 at 103. He was the third man to go and the scoring rate was, at that stage, on par. But after that there was nobody to keep Misbah-ul-Haq company.

Pakistan had no decent anchorman – Misbah made a painful 56 but did not hang around long enough and, more importantly, could not lift his scoring rate. Pakistan’s best batsman, Younis Khan, made only 13. And the two who could have scored faster when the asking rate increased – captain Shahid Afridi and youngest Umar Akmal – fell for 19 and 29 respectively. On the day, a quick 50 or 60 was called for from either of them.

Surprisingly, India’s bowling and fielding was disciplined. Ashish Nehra, coming back into the team to replace young offie Ravichandran Ashwin, was the pick with two for 33 off his quota of 10 overs.
And though Zaheer Khan and Yuvraj Singh went for nearly six an over, each took two wickets.

If India wins the tournament, it will be the first time that a host has won at home. If Sri Lanka triumphs, it will be the country’s second win as host, but neither would have come at home. Sri Lanka defeated Australia in the 1996 final which was held in Lahore; India’s win in 1983 over the West Indies was at Lord’s.

Surprising loss but no hint of foul play

WHEN Australia played Zimbabwe in the World Cup cricket tournament preliminary rounds, the openers, Shane Watson and Brad Haddin, took an awful amount of time to score their runs.

Haddin, one of the more adventurous openers in one-day cricket, took 66 balls to make 29 while Watson made 79 off 92 balls. Their opening stand of 61 took 18.5 overs.

As a result, soon after the match the International Cricket Conference. world cricket’s governing body, began an investigation to see whether the slow scoring had been done to aid the good work done by bookies in the subcontinent.

Spot betting is big business during tournaments of this kind and the Australian pair is not normally known for anything other than aggression.

The story was broken by an Indian paper, the Indian Express, and made big news all over the cricketing world.

As it turned out, there was smoke, but no fire and everything settled down as well as it can when a cricket tournament is being played in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

As the tournament is still running through its preliminary games, most of which are quite lopsided as they pit established sides against minnows, there was much interest last week when India played South Africa.

The Indian batsmen got off to a good start and at one stage the board read 267 for the loss of one wicket with about 13 overs left. The lower-end estimate by observers was that India would get 350. The more ambitious evaluations were that 400 was within reach.

But 29 runs later, India was all out. Most of the batsmen played really stupid strokes and threw away their wickets. The top three batsmen, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir scored 73, 111 and 69 respectively.

The remaining 43 runs were scored by other eight men in the team. South Africa, which has a reputation for being a side that chokes when confronted by a task such as it faced that day, held its nerve and chased down the 297 it needed for victory.

Surprisingly, nobody has even raised the possibility that there might have been something more in the game than just careless batting. It smacks of double standards.

Both countries involved have a history of being involved in match-fixing; India’s Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajay Sharma, Ajay jadeja and Manoj Prabhakar had to end their careers after being found guilty.

South Africa’s former captain, the late Hansie Cronje, was found guilty and two other South Africans, Herschelle Gibbs and Nicky Boje, have avoided going to India after Cronje was caught.

The ICC has not raised even an eyebrow at the way the Indian innings collapsed. Such are the mysterious ways of the world’s cricket administrators.