Category Archives: India

A legacy over a goodbye

Every fan is invested in the career of their favourite players, and I’d rather remember a great legacy like that of Kumar Sangakkara than a grand goodbye like Sachin’s.

I loved watching Brian Lara.

I was upset when Lara retired, not just because he would be no more, but because I felt he went prematurely. He retired in 2006/7, when he was 36, but when I was just 13.

This feeling of being robbed of some sumptuous Lara runs was compounded when contemporaries like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid, Shiv Chanderpaul and others, continued right until they were 40.

The question of when to go is really a dilemma that bugs fans as well as players.

On the one hand, you want to see your favourite players play on and on, but on the other hand, everyone forges a legacy, that must end at some point.

I remember Lara walking off in his final innings, thinking that he could have carried on, but in recent years, I’ve had to change my view.

His abrupt ending was not right, but at the same time, Sachin Tendulkar’s legacy was arguably tarnished by his decision to play on too long.

He played on until 2013, when he was 40. But he had scored just over 500 runs in his last 15 Tests. He was playing for numbers and records, chasing a nice figures, like getting to 200 Tests, 100 international hundreds, and 15,000 runs.

Like the three bears, if Sachin played too long, Lara was cut off prematurely, one batsman got it just right, and is perhaps the model for future great retirees.

Despite being fifth on the all-time Test run scoring list, Kumar Sangakkara is so often overlooked as a true ‘great’.

But, perhaps one hallmark of greatness, is knowing when to quit.

His exit was slow, starting with International retirement in 2015, done at a time when he could have continued. He scored 1,400runs in 2014, averaging over 70. He left us wanting more.

Despite no more international ambition, unlike Sachin and Brian Lara, after retiring Kumar Sangakkara climbed down to domestic cricket. He scored a thousand First Class runs for Surrey, averaged in the mid-forties in List A cricket, and got through 46 T20s in 2016.

He recognised that retirement is a process that requires the sequential relinquishing of responsibilities.

This week, in an interview with Island Cricket, the Sri Lankan Legend shows no regrets. Speaking about his retirement, he said: “..my mind was made up at that time and I was not going to think of reasons that were quite selfish [to continue].

“..in my view, when you know it is time to go, no matter what is in front of you, you have to make a decision and stick to it..”

He fulfilled his desire to carry on in some capacity, whilst not jeopardising the legacy he’d built up.

Sadly, he has got to the bottom rung of the ladder.

He has just been dropped by his Big Bash League side, the Hobart Hurricanes after scoring just 173 runs at 14.41 without a fifty.

Damian Wright, the coach spoke about dropping Sangakkara, saying it “was comfortably the hardest thing I’ve had to do… because of the quality person that he is”. He says: “You could feel he probably knew it was coming. He was pretty apologetic that he hasn’t gone as well he would have liked it.’”

Retirement might be hard, but remembering a batsman’s retirement is the biggest curse a player can have.

I’ll remember Sachin walking down the steps for the last time, and I’ll remember Lara walking off for the last time. I can’t remember Sanga’s last Test.

He showed no regrets about retirement or bitterness from his decline. He showed no greed to carry on for Sri Lanka, but a hunger to continue in another capacity.

Not being able to remember Sangakkara’s finale is the biggest complement one can pay him.

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Let’s stop this race to the bottom

If poor quality cricket is seen as more entertaining then good quality cricket, then all that will happen is the degradation of the sport.

Last week two Tests concluded.

Australia lost to South Africa, after being humiliatingly bowled out for just 85 in 32.5 overs.

England drew with India, after two mammoth totals were unable to separate the teams.

If a martian landed on earth, and had the option of watching cricket for the very first time, I have little doubt which they’d chose.

They chose the calamitous collapse down under, not the hard grind in the sub-continent.

Fortunately, Test cricket’s popularity is not determined by extra-terrestrial beings, but by fans of the sport.

In the concluding day of these two test matches, a martian seems to have written an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald however.

This particular being, known locally as ‘Malcolm Knox’, claims that “While Australia destroy themselves, England destroy the game”.

He writes in his article, “…while Australia are lambasted for playing their own way, a feckless younger generation putting entertainment ahead of survival, Cook cruises like a stately zeppelin towards his fifth Test century in India, more than any other visitor.

As he did so, televisions were switched off across the subcontinent, and left on only in places where the only alternative was to look at the rain”.

His logic, is: ‘Sure Australia were bad, but at least people watched it’. It’s is the kind of lowering of standards, that does long term damage. It’s the kind of attitude that encourages people to say “what’s the point of Test cricket..”

What’s more, India and Australia have fairly similar win records at home. The difference, is Australia lose a lot more, because they are more gung-ho, or perhaps more willing to take risks.

Since 2007, when a number of Australian greats retired and the IPL was set up, India and Australia have fairly similar records for home test wins.

Out of 52 home Tests in Australia since, 33 have produced home wins (63%). India have won 28 out of 45 home Tests (62%).

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India’s home record since January 2007

The difference, is Australia have lost 10 Tests, India have lost four.

Australia think results are key. 82% of home Tests have produced definitive results. Yet, India know how to draw. They have produced 13 of them (28%).

Malcolm Knox may consider a draw to be ‘boring’, but one needs to look at the bigger picture.

Most teams would rather draw in the short term to win in the longer term. You’d rather be 0-0 in a series than 1-0 down. Right?

If a batsman, or a team is capable of holding out, then fair play to them. Right?

England, and indeed Alastair Cook, certainly showed this during his 235* at the Gabba, Malcolm?

This simplistic view that Test cricket must produce results or else it’s boring, is exactly the type of attitude that will kill the game. It’s selling the game’s soul for a cheap illusion that it’s exciting.

The entire point of Test cricket, is that it tests you. It’s supposed to be an endurance race. A long game, and sometimes, an indecisive dead-heat. Indeed, some of the best Tests ever seen have been draws.

Sometimes it can be frustrating to watch Alastair Cook.

But, he did exactly what was required of him, leading a side that just slipped up against Bangladesh.

They served a moral victory in many respects.

Whilst every team wants to win matches, forcing results for the sake of it, and branding it ‘entertainment’, is a lowering of everyone’s standards.

It’s a race to the bottom that Test cricket just doesn’t need.

Why England should consider recalling Kevin Pietersen for the World T20

Kevin Pietersen has been in the international wilderness since 2014, but there are sound reasons to give him one last hurrah.

In 2016, the ICC World T20 will be held, and it would be a perfect opportunity to both patch up relations with England’s highest run-scorer, whilst squeezing that last bit of juice out of him.

On a basic level, it’s no secret that Pietersen has experience and quality that would be beneficial for England.

He is not only England’s leading run-scorer in all formats combined , but in T20 cricket, he is England’s second top run scorer.

Of course, it would be odd if someone with that quality wasn’t already selected.

The reasons he was omitted from the side still remain somewhat a mystery. But, what is clear, is that issues which were the cause, have largely been removed or changed.

The coach is different, various players who had friction with him have retired. And, If Pietersen were to return, it wouldn’t be long term thing anyway.

He wouldn’t be back to the Test or ODI side. It would be a short-term deal to help England at the World T20, which when England won in 2010, he was the man of the tournament.

Another important factor, is that it’s in India, not only because of his time at IPL, which he has been a part of in 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014, but also because of his success there for England.

He has played nine Tests in India, including four in 2012, in which he scored two incredible and match-winning centuries.

He knows the conditions, how to attack and score runs against spin, and the crowds like him too, which is something that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Unlike most opposition batsmen who receive a deathly silence and an empty stadium, Indians flock to see KP, because he is an entertainer.

That would help England.

These factors add to the benefit his overall knowledge of the format would bring.

In 2015 alone, he played in the Ram Slam in South Africa in which he was the second top run scorer, the Caribbean Premier League, in which he was in the top 10 run scorers, the Big Bash, in which he was third top run-scorer, and which he helped his side get to the final. He recently signed up to the Pakistan Super League too.

So, why would he fit back in just this once?

England have a new coach. Andy Flower is gone, and the new man, Trevor Bayliss is a Pietersen-type coach.

He has given ‘Ben Stokes a licence to play his natural game‘ which is in the vein of KP’s, whilst also moving the aggressive left hander back up to number six, after time spent at seven and eight.

Bayliss is also more of a background coach. He isn’t a pencil pusher and clipboard-holder, a dictator.

In October, Alastair Cook credited Bayliss for his improvement as England captain, saying: “He’s a really relaxed guy, he lets the captain run the side and that is one of the big differences from the other guys.”

And, Bayliss’s recall of James Taylor, Nick Compton, Jonny Bairstow, Garry Ballance and selection of Adil Rashid, all shows a willingness to try something different, whether new or old.

England’s T20 side is jam-packed with young players, who lack experience.

 In 2015, in the overall list of run scorers in T20 Internationals, the highest England run scorer was Eoin Morgan at number 38. This is due to such a low number of games (just four) played by England internationally.

They need someone to shepherd them. There are very few senior leaders, or players with the experience and hunger that Pietersen still has. Reselecting him for one last time could be a stroke of genius.

He could marshall a young side, in an unfamiliar format, in foreign conditions and with nothing to lose.

There’d be no prospect of a long term impact on the side or interference in other formats. It’s a cricketing one-night-stand.

More than anything, as a fan, this could ensure that one of England’s greatest ever batsmen does not depart the game with the bitter taste of regret, but the sweet one reconciliation and perhaps even success.

And, it sounds like he’s up for it…

India must find balance between home advantage and good Test cricket

India’s use of home advantage isn’t unfair, but it does produce one-dimensional and turgid cricket that nobody would want to watch. 

If Test cricket is to survive, it must be embraced by India, in such a way that makes people want to watch it. 

The most recent series between India and South Africa, blunted the Proteas usually explosive batsmen.

On the one hand, it was a brilliant assertion of Indian home advantage, as India won 3-0. But it also turned me off watching.

As a neutral, I found the cricket as I would expect too.

A little bit predictable, almost scripted, and very dry.

It was a series, engineered to be dominated by certain players.

Spinners, and by Indian batsmen who can play spin.

Neither of these facets, South Africa have in abundance.

When sides tour England, the pitches help seam bowlers and batsmen who can leave the ball.

There is, one cannot stress enough, nothing wrong with preparing pitches to suit a home side. 

But, there has to be a contest generated, or else it stops being entertainment, and begins to be a foregone conclusion. 

In the most recent series’, of the top six run scorers, five were Indians.

Only two South African fifties were scored in the duration (both by Ab de Villiers), with only one South African averaging over 30 (again, Ab de Villiers).

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The top two wicket-takers in the series, were the Indian spin twins Ravi Ashwin and Jadeja taking 31 and 23 wickets.

Nobody else in the Indian attack passed seven wickets.

Following the 3-0 victory, India should have been triumphant. But, all the conjecture was about the pitches.

Not necessarily because they were ‘bad pitches’, but because it produced boring cricket. 

In the first Test, both sides made a turning pitch look a lot worse than it was. Four low-scoring innings of 201, 184 200 and 109 suggest an inability to play the surface, as the match finished in three days. 

The second Test was of course washed out.

The third Test at Nagpur however, was rated as a ‘poor’ pitch by the ICC, whilst the final Test produced a block-a-thon.

In that final Test, in the fourth innings, Amla scored 25 off 244 balls, De Villiers 43 off 297, with the overall team going at under one run per over for 143 overs.

When asked about the state of Indian pitches during the series’, Indian spinner Amit Mishra said: “We also get seaming pitches when we go out of India. We also adjust. We don’t complain. They need to adjust.”

To an extent, he is right. But on the other hand, he is also missing the point: The brand of cricket these pitches produce is exceptionally negative.

No pitch curator would dream of creating such a surface for a T20 or ODI match, in which there is a desire to produce exciting cricket. 

The droll cricket in this series may be something one can appreciate. Especially if you’re sitting behind a screen looking at a scorecard years down the line, admiring the resilience of AB de Villiers.

But in reality, every cricket fan hopes that a block-a-thon, never happens if you’re in the ground yourself.

I would certainly be angry if I turned up at Lord’s and saw 143 runs in 143 overs. 

India need to find that balance between home advantage and producing good cricket.

At the moment, they are experts at the former, and failing miserably at the latter.

 

On this day: Virat Kohli

On this day in 1988 India’s new golden boy Virat Kohli was born. 

Silky smooth with a near-perfect technique, Kohli is widely viewed as the successor to the mantle of India’s best batsman. 

Once seen as a raw, and even immature man; Kohli has combined his golden touch with the bat, particularly in ODI cricket, with an ever growing maturity. Most recently, the Indian captain decided to play for India A, to get some match practice. Both maturity and humility it would seem. 

After being hit on the helmet by Mitchell Johnson, Kohli scored a sensational century against Australia in 2014/15, showing his ability to play in unfamiliar conditions and against the quickest of bowlers. 

ON THIS DAY: Sachin’s 200 in an ODI

Screenshot 2015-02-23 23.50.05On this day in 2010, Sachin Tendulkar broke a world record, just for a change, by becoming the first batsman in history to hit 200 in a 50 over International.

The little master’s record broke one that stood for 13 years, jointly held by Charles Coventry of Zimbabwe, and the silky smooth Saeed Anwar. 

Sachin’s 200 came up in just 147 balls, and helped India to beat South Africa by 153 runs.

Dale Steyn conceded 89 runs off his 10 overs, and not even an Ab de Villiers century was enough to save the game.

Despite breaking a long term record, Sachin has since lost his record, and the 200 mark has been surpassed three times more, including a 250 from Rohit Sharma.

In spite of this, Almost exactly a year later, Sachin would be held aloft by his team mates, winning the World Cup in glorious style. This was a building block to one of the best limited overs sides in history. 

 

 

 

On this day: Brendon McCullum becomes the first Kiwi triple centurion

On this day in 2014, New Zealand’s star batsman Brendon McCullum smashed a memorable triple century for New Zealand against India, in Wellington. 

After collapsing to 192 in the first innings, before having 400 plus piled on, it looked bleak for the hosts. Nearly 250 runs behind it would need a mammoth effort to overcome.

The pocket rocket of a batsman came to the crease with the score at 52-3 in the second innings, and the score soon plummeted to 94-5. It didn’t look too promising. 

If I had told you at the time, that the next wicket would fall with the score on 465, you’d probably laugh.

After McCullum’s mammoth partnership with keeper BJ Watling which took the score over 450, nother mammoth stand followed with Jimmy Neesham, who struck a century, on debut. 

In scoring a triple century, McCullum  not only passed the 299, set by Martin Crowe 23 years previously, but also became the first Kiwi to pass the 300 mark in Tests