Friday, November 20, 2020

Team Jharkhand @IPL 2020

"The old order changeth yielding place to new” – Lord Tennyson 


As one Jharkhand wicket-keeper batsman fades away, another one rises. Ishan Kishan had the kind of break-out season where an India cap certainly looks close. But in these most bizarre times nothing can be said with any certainty. 

Here is a statistical look at the Jharkhand players’ performance in the recently concluded IPL season categorized under The Good, The Bad & the Ugly 

The Good 
  • Ishan Kishan (Mumbai Indians) - 14 Matches, 516 runs @ 57 & SR of 146 with 4x50s and 1 catch  A superlative season with good performances as an opener as well as at no. 4. Also finished the season with most 6s across teams. 
  • Shahbaz Nadeem (Sunrisers Hyderabad) – 7 Matches, 7 runs @7 & SR of 87, 5 wickets @35 & ER of 8.09. Underbowled at times but also picked up a Man of the Match award and in some games outbowled Rashid Khan . Done enough to stay in the India A radar and can potentially add to his solitary Test cap. 
  • Saurabh Tiwary (Mumbai Indians) - 7 Matches, 103 runs @20 & SR of 128 and 1 catch. Top-scored in the first game, then got injured. Ishan Kishan took over his spot and made it his own. Came back in later matches as back-up for the injured Rohit Sharma but didn’t get too many chances lower down the order. 
The Bad 
  • Monu Kumar (Chennai Super Kings) – 1 Match, No wickets & ER of 10. Finally made his IPL debut after spending more than a season on the bench but was a terrible one as he bowled only 2 overs of his quota. Will he get another chance? 
  • Varun Aaron (Rajasthan Royals) – 3 Matches, No wickets & ER of 11.75. A terrible season for Aaron. May not get a call-up next season.
The Ugly 
  • MS Dhoni (Chennai Super Kings) – 14 Matches, 200 runs @ 25 & SR of 116, 15 catches & 1 stumping. Overall, a terrible IPL for the recently internationally retired legend. The finishing power is definitely on the wane and reflected in the ageing team’s performance 
Meanwhile Anukul Roy (Mumbai Indians) & Virat Singh (Sunrisers Hyderabad) did not get a game. 

Till next time, as there is still no clarity on next domestic games in India.

Friday, November 13, 2020

IPL 2020 - Passing Thoughts

"It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair” - Nelson Mandela 

This can be said about the 2020 IPL also. In these most bizarre times, sport by itself does not mean much tangible – after all it does not provide a vaccine or make the virus magically go away but it provide a break from the mad news cycle and yes that tiny little flicker of happiness in these depressing times. Purely coincidental it may have been, and certainly there have been better, factors in play, but since the IPL began the graph of the number of daily cases has taken a downward turn. 

Thanks to entire organizing team, the players and all the support staff for providing this welcome distraction. It certainly looks a herculean task shifting the entire tournament outside with all the covid-19 restrictions in place. 

So just jotting down my thoughts about the events of the IPL 2020 both on & off the field. 

The old order changeth giving rise to new & the more things change the more they remain the same. Two contradictory themes yet both hold true in this IPL. 
  • The new boys made a name for themselves. An Indian uncapped XI can certainly hold its own in the international front. Hers is my pick for such a lineup - Paddikal, Gaikwad, Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Tewatia, Priyam Garg, Samad, Varun Chakravarthy, Natarajan, Bishnoi, Tyagi. Some of them are knocking on the India doors. 
  • Chennai Super Kings failed to make the play-offs for the first time; Delhi Capitals made the Final for the first time and Rajasthan Royals finished bottom of the league for the first time. 
  • Shane Watson bids farewell to the cricket – one of the true IPL heroes. Meanwhile Raina & Harbhajan skipped this year’s tournament. Not sure if we would see them again in the field. 
  • Aaron Finch played for his 8th IPL franchisee this season. Given his age looks set to be heading to CSK soon! 
  • Which brings us to CSK’s side. In this no IPL for old men, poor Sam Curran was given all the jobs, sometimes a finisher, opening the batting and the bowling and even death bowling! 
  • Same was the case of his English team-mate Jofra Archer, the tournament MVP. One end he was bowling thunderbolts and at the other end the likes of Unadkat, Aaron & Rajput leaking runs! 
  • Raw pace works best – Alongwith Archer the likes of Rabada, Nortje, Shami, Bumrah, Ferguson and Boult all made a mark. Especially heartening to see a couple of Indian names in this list. 
  • The Indian finishers are still missing. The big hitters are not consistent enough although the Pandya brothers, Axar and Jadeja do show some promise. 
  • However, we can put in a wicket-keepers top 6 –Rahul, Saha, Samson, Kishan, Pant & Karthik certainly makes for a power-packed lineup. 
  • Professional sport has fine margins – imagine Super Overs also not yielding results. And that short run called against Kings XI made a difference in them being knocked out. That’s an area where the 3rd umpire should take more initiative. Why have all the technology in place and not use it. Any on-field error which can be corrected by a single replay should be done so. 
  • New Zealand can now try using Lockie Ferguson instead of going to Southee for the Super Overs 
  • The new star - Rahul Tewatia who made completing seemingly impossible chases, not once but twice! 
  • The celebration - Thanks to Riyan Parag for making the Bihu dance mainstream. 
  • The new frontier - Chris Gayle was benched, then hospitalized, then batted at No. 3 and breached the mark of 1,000 T20 career sixes. Not for nothing he is the Universe Boss! 
  • What could have been – Ali Khan became the first USA player to be picked up by an IPL squad but then got injured without getting a game. 
  • What’s with the number of fantasy leagues & gaming apps mushrooming all over. While it is fun and in the legal grey area, the authorities need to be on high alert for keeping the corrupt in check. 
  • Finally, Rest In peace Professor Deano – the voice of the Select Dugout! His commentary will be missed 
There is now an IPL shaped void in the daily schedule. The Australia tour can’t come soon enough

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Arbit Stats #71: A Series of Numbers

From the University of WhatsApp came this test.


And with it came a helpful hint –."difference between each letter may or may not be the same but there is an underlying pattern i.e. difference between A & B, B & C, C & D to M & N follow a pattern. Some numbers may have to be force fitted" 

It was an interesting exercise, cracked only once the pattern had been guessed. And then reverse fitting the numbers to famous (or not so famous) cricketing instances. The difference between the consecutive numbers are in Fibonacci sequence (each being the sum of the previous two differences). So here are the solutions

A - 181 – Sir Vivian Richards vs Sri Lanka in the 1987 World Cup helping West Indies to 360 to record a 191-run victory. Richards got his 181 off 125 balls while Desmond Haynes scored a more sedate 105 off 124 balls!
 
B - 181 – Matthew Hayden’s 181 helped Australia to 346 which was overhauled by the Kiwis. After suffering a whitewash in the series Australia went to go on to win the 2007 World Cup with another undefeated run! 

C - 182 – Mohammed Azharuddin top-scored in Eden Gardens in 1993 to set the tone for 3-0 whitewash against England and rescue his captaincy. 

D - 183 – India’s team total in the 1983 World Cup final. And they won comfortably by 43 runs. New Zealand got the same score in the 2015 final and were thrashed! 

E - 185 – Shane Watson's blitzkrieg helped overhaul Bangladesh’s 229 in just 26 overs! Wonder where Watson would have ended up if he had played the full 50 overs. 

F - 188 – Gary Kirsten vs UAE in the 1996 World Cup. A match also remembered for the UAE skipper Sultan Zarawani coming out to face Alan Donald without a helmet and promptly getting knocked in the head. 

G - 193 - Netherlands stunning run-chase vs Ireland in 2014 T20WC. They needed to chase a target of 190 in under 14 overs which is exactly what they did to go through to the next round. A chase which was replicated a few weeks later in the IPL by Mumbai Indians against Rajasthan Royals (the famous Dravid cap throwing incident) 

H - 201 - Jason Gillespie came in as a nightwatchman and got a double century against Bangladesh. Got the Man of the Match & Series Awards for his efforts. And never played another Test for Australia! 

I - 214 – the 3rd highest score on Test debut – by Lawrence Rowe for West Indies vs New Zealand & Matthew Sinclair for New Zealand vs West Indies. Behind Tip Foster’s 287 & Jacques Rudolph’ 232 

J - 235 - Virat Kohli vs England

K - 269 - Kohli is 269th Indian test player and hence the tattoo. 

L - 324 - Waheed Mirza’s score in the 561 run opening partnership with Mansoor Akhtar for Karachi Whites against Quetta breaking the record of 555 made by Holmes & Sutcliffe 45 years previously. No one else needed to bat for Karachi as they recorded an innings & 294 run victory 

M - 413 – Opening partnership of Vinoo Mankad & Pankaj Roy against New Zealand. A record which stood for over half a century. 

N - 557 – Clarrie Grimmett Test runs aggregate. His record for fastest to 200 wickets was finally broken by Yasir Shah after Ashwin nearly threatened to break it. 

This was one wicked quiz. Cricket’s obsession with statistics makes it truly a mathematician’s delight.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Farewell Ian Bell

Ian Ronald Bell, the maker of Slipstream centuries, the sledgehammer of eternal justice, and the patron saint of this blog has announced his retirement from all forms of professional cricket. 

"Bell would have reached his 100 only if Cook had reached his. So all this is Cook's fault." 
One fine evening, more than a decade back, I sent in the above comment to cricinfo’s text commentary for South Africa-England Test match at Newlands. And lo and behold – the comment got published (my first ever!). And that was the impetus needed to start a dedicated cricket blog. (The debut) And Ian Bell was anointed the patron saint of "Slipstream Cricket".

Bell had developed a reputation for getting a century only when at least one other batsman had got a hundred in the same innings. This penchant for so called slipstream centuries also gave this blog its name. Of course, Bell duly corrected this anomaly after some 10 attempts, but I guess reputations stick. 

And my favourite cricket columnist/humourist, Andy Zaltzman (Twitter) gave him the lovely moniker of “the sledgehammer of eternal justice” – an apt one considering the superhero era we live in! (Reddit)

Bell ends his career with over 7,700 international runs with 22 Test centuries and a test average of 42. Not a particularly great number in an era where 50+ averages are not uncommon. But somehow, stats never seem to do justice to English batsmen. Graham Gooch had a similar average and Michael Atherton who finished with similar tally has a batting average similar to Shahid Afridi's in Test! Bell also finished with over 5,000 ODI runs which was England’s highest tally at that time. 

English cricketers are judged by their performances against the old enemy. And this is where Bell stood out. Being part of 5 Ashes winning campaigns (and 2 losing one’s) spoke of both his longevity & the increased frequency of Ashes contests. And like fine wine he aged well in the Ashes battles. From being Warne’s bunny and barely able to get a run in the classic 2005 series to three centuries in the 2013 series – that is a mark of resilience in a cricketer! 

From an Indian perspective he got his highest test score against India. But the moment which stands out is that brain-fade run-out at the stroke of Tea. The spirit of cricket had to be invoked, India withdrew the appeal, and Bell came back to bat. In a miserable tour for India, we got some points in the spirits stake at least! (BBC)

His run in the longer format may have been cut short, although he was good enough for one last recall which unfortunately never came. And after announcing his retirement post a measly domestic run, has now gotten twin 50s in his final first-class game. 

Farewell Ian Bell. That straight drive will be missed. 

P.S. the man can play a perfect straight drive to a toilet paper roll as well! 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Test

The Test is a 8-part documentary chronicling the journey of the Australian Men’s cricket team over a period of 18 months from the lows of the ball-tampering scandal in 2018 to the high of retaining the Ashes away from home in late-2019. For a cricket tragic like yours truly, all the events depicted are familiar. Yet, that doesn’t take away any of the excitement of re-living the events. 

These were extra-ordinary times for Australian cricket. Over the years Australian teams had been pushing the lines of the sportsman spirit – something which Steve Waugh famously called “mental disintegration”. But in Newlands, they were caught literally with their hands in their pants! The repercussion of being branded cheats in public were huge. Long bans for Smith, Warner & Bancroft and resignation of head coach Lehmann. Cricket Australia needed a thorough overhaul of the system. 

It is at this point which “The Test” begins. No doubt a good PR exercise in collaboration with Amazon to redeem the image of Australian cricket. On the cricketing front, Justin Langer took over as coach, with Tim Paine as the captain. After a while Paine, who was surplus to the limited overs set-up handed over the ODI & T20I reins to Aaron Finch. Retired legends like Ponting, Steve Waugh, Gilchrist, Haddin came into consulting roles. 

Initially the team struggles in filing the voids caused by the bans of their best players. But over time, new players put up their hands and take the place. The path is difficult, and they take baby steps. They celebrate their little successes – a hard-earned draw, a home Test victory, a Home Test series victory, an away ODI series victory in India, a semi-final finish in the World Cup and finally retaining the Ashes away from home! And it’s not just the on-field performances, there is also a change in the approach to the game. As Harsha Bhogle said, you can’t keep any Australian team down for too long! 

And there is the parallel track of Steve Smith – relieved from captaincy and banned for a year, makes a comeback, faces the boos of the crowds, but with his on-field exploits manages to turn the jeers into cheers. In between also gets knocked out while batting! Quite a phoenix like rise from the ashes for him. 

Then there is the story of the rise of Tim Paine. From being seen as a stand-in captain to becoming an Ashes winning captain, earning the respect of a nation in a job considered as the second-most important in Australia after the Prime Minister. 

Throughout the series, there is a recurring narrative of being together and helping each other out. Someone even remarks that this was a happy & united team despite continuously losing! “Elite Mateship” is a term which they come up with. However, Adam Zampa & Marcus Stoinis take it to a different level altogether! 

They take potshots at Virat Kohli for his on-field gestures & in your face aggression in Australia. But for some reason they miss the footage of him asking Indian fans not to boo Smith during the World Cup. Sometimes when you get too worked up into building a narrative that you forget the balance in it. However, Eoin Morgan’s interview is shown where he responds in negative when asked whether he would ask the fans to stop booing Warner & Smith! 

Massive defeats are easier to live with than the ones that slipped away. England running 481 in an ODI and beating Australia by 200+ runs margin was easier to accept. While Ben Stokes’ heist at Edgbaston was a bitter pill to swallow! 

There were a couple of lines which stood out for me. And this is something which we can incorporate in our everyday life (and work). 
  1. Nathan Lyon talking about how celebrating every win is important. Because you never know if that would be your last win. 
  2. Ricky Ponting berating David Warner, asking him what he had won that he was afraid of losing. 
So that was “The Test”. A must-watch for every cricket tragic! 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Getting into IPL Mode

In the year of 2020, we are finally getting close to the start of the T20 mega festival - the IPL. There are still some concerns, but with baby steps we are progressing towards having a tournament after all (Fingers Crossed).

Meanwhile, thanks to ESPN Cricinfo for providing this lovely wallpaper as a warm-up to the tournament! 

Hoping for a successful tournament for the Royals!


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Farewell Rajat Bhatia

Rajat Bhatia, after two decades of toil in the domestic circuit has finally called it a day at the age of 40. 

One measure of greatness is longevity and, in this parameter, Rajat Bhatia certainly qualifies with over 100 matches in each of the three formats of the game (only Indian to do so without representing India as well). He was a rare commodity in the Indian circuit – a medium pace all-rounder. Overall numbers were decent (10,000+ runs & 300+ wickets), more consistent than spectacular, but just did not have that extra edge. 

He never played for India. Closest he came to a national call-up was being selected in the probables for the T20 World Cup and an India A call-up for a tour to Israel (yes, you read that right). 

Has won the Ranji Trophy and IPL – a feat which has eluded many India superstars and his last representative matches were in Bangladesh! It was the IPL which got him into the limelight. For serious Fantasy League players, he was a first-choice pick – somebody who could bowl economically and bat a bit - a safe points bet, came in at a low cost and was uncapped! What else did one need! 

And most importantly he seemed a likeable fellow. During the IPL he played the mediator between his Delhi state-mates Gambhir & Kohli who had got into an ugly spat. And there was the news channel sting which showed him in a positive light. And it was telecast moments before being he got hit for a last ball six! 

Farewell Rajat Bhatia, who intends to pursue a career in biomechanics post-retirement. Good way to take care of those sore muscles after two decades of toil. 

P.S. Remember Harsha Bhogle’s comment about Rajat Bhatia having three variations in his bowling – slow, slower, slowest!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Rekindling the Fire in Babylon

After 117 days, international cricket returned. And what a spectacle it was. Showcasing “what is cricket” – on the field and even beyond the boundary over the course of 5 days. It may have been played in front of empty stands but certainly had the eyeballs of most of the cricketing world glued to it.

Cricket (and in general all sports) tend to avoid commenting on social issues. Individual actions are frowned upon (remember Moeen Ali’s wristband, Andy Flower & Olonga’s death of democracy protest), and collective actions are rarely seen (e.g. India’s army fatigue caps). But I guess George Floyd’s brutal televised death has finally shattered bubble. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have seen this kind of support from the administrators or broadcasters.

The West Indies team taking the knee and doing the Black Power salute with the English joining them. It certainly made a statement, even bigger than the fact that the game itself had returned after such a long gap. And there was Michael Holding’s impassioned speech. Yes, the right education is needed to remove the centuries of systemic prejudices and biases that have become imbibed in all of us. It was great to see that the right noises are being made now.

Coming to the cricket. Remember, there was a time not too long ago, when Holding was not interested in commentating on West Indies games. But in Southampton, his words seemed to have rekindled that dimming Fire in Babylon. Holder & Gabriel both stepped in to knock off the English innings. Funnily, both were injury worries prior to the game. And then Blackwood coming in to play a most un-Caribbean-like knock to ensure a victory despite the early 4th innings wobble.

To be honest, this match had everything for the neutral (or not so neutral) follower
  • Cricket can secure itself against Covid-19 through a bio-bubble but how do we deal with our old enemies - rain & bad light.
  • A game meandered along to a riveting finish in the last session on the final day. What more could you ask for?
  • An English lineup comprising of Rory, Sibley, Denly, Crawley! Sometime during this summer, hope to see Stokes, Foakes, Woakes! Even nursery rhymes do not rhyme so much. 
  • Captains knocking out each other
  • A spell from hell by a riled up Jofra Archer after a Twitter spat with Tino Best (Toothpaste is a sledge)
  • Jermaine Blackwood who scored more runs in the second innings than the number of Twitter followers he had at the beginning of the innings. [Lesson - real world performance gets you social media following]
  • John Campbell living the opener’s dream – Hitting the winning runs in a chase. (albeit he was missing from most of it nursing a smashed toe)
Thanks to all the people who made this game possible in the times of corona. Just to give a scale of the preparations, over 700 people were tested regularly to keep the venue bio-secure! Thank You!

P.S. Lewis Howard Latimer – Remember the Name of the Inventor of carbon filament! (a first step in our collective education)

Monday, June 22, 2020

281 And Beyond

281 And Beyond by VVS Laxman & R. Kaushik

The book narrates VVS Laxman’s cricketing journey, in his own words, from his early days in Hyderabad to becoming one of India’s all-time great batsmen. However, it was not all smooth sailing and the journey is full of ups and downs.

The book gives us a glimpse into the goings on within the Indian dressing room as well as the struggles of cricketers in India. This is also a story of the change that has been brought from the semi-professional 1990s to now, how various aspects of the game have evolved – from fitness, money, communication aspects etc.

The book is a joy to read for the Indian fan, especially someone like yours truly. Flipping through the pages, you relive your cricket-following career. Every tour is discussed. The book goes chronologically from the haphazard mid-90s, match-fixing saga, John Wright’s arrival, new lows under Greg Chappell and the troubles he caused, the away victories, the Monkeygate series, the heights under Kirsten all unfold as a highlights reel. Have to say this, the Indian team was quite inconsistent throughout the era. Only now do we have a relatively consistent winning record!

I liked how VVS doesn’t mince words about his relationships within the team and how he reacted to different situations. Also, he has been quite honest about the disappointments of never getting a fixed spot, being dropped from Tests on and off and never really getting a chance in the white ball format. He also touches upon the mental issues of the game as well. The book particularly highlights the lack of communication in the setup where individual players are often left to fend for themselves.

I loved the bit where he talks about getting admitted to an MBBS course post-retirement and becoming a doctor. Imagine being motivated to study for 5 years after having lived a superstar life! However, he was talked out of this dream by his family and had to concentrate on cricket related activities only!

The book is titled aptly. Begins with THAT innings and then goes about telling the rest of the story!

In summary, a good read for the India cricket fan!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Fire Burns Blue

The Fire Burns Blue: A History of Women’s Cricket in India by Karunya Keshav & Sidhanta Patnaik

The Fire Burns Blue – presents the story of the journey of Indian Women’s cricket in India from its difficult initial days in the 1970s to the highs of 2017 and its aftermath. When women’s cricket became cricket in India!

‘She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history’ – a line which is apt for the average Indian cricket fan for whom women’s cricket barely registered even less than Cooch Behar trophy at times. And why blame fans, the game barely registered even with cricket statisticians. Just check cricinfo, which has a massive stats section. While random Men’s games dating back to mid-19th century have first-class status and are well documented in records, the women stats cover only internationals! So somebody like Ashleigh Barty has a profile on cricinfo but no stats to tell us about her on-field achievements!

Well I digress. Coming back to the book which is a treasure trove for the fans. The book begins with Haarmanpreet Kaur’s 171 in the 2017 World Cup Semi-Finals which finally captured the imagination of the cricket lovers in India for good. And then commences the journey from the very beginning.

The game had humble beginnings with small clubs in Bombay and other places sprouting in the 70s. This was followed by the founding of the Women’s Cricket Association of India and the first national championships. The book goes on to tell the stories of the first international touring teams and the first official matches. How Railways played a big part by first becoming the employer of choice of women cricketers and using that player base to maintain its hegemony on the Indian domestic circuit. And there were the long arduous train journeys and its accompanying travails. 

The journey is also a series of missed opportunities. There were times when the game could have taken off in India but for a variety of reasons did not. In fact there have been major controversies immediately after a high! Sometimes due to administrative apathy, sometimes cash crunch, sometimes infighting and player revolt, some personnel changes, and sometimes just not getting the results on field. India even missed playing a World Cup also. But always the game found a new benefactor somewhere!

The book does a good job in narrating the stories of individual cricketers while merging them with the specific issues facing women’s cricket and even women's sport in general.

A couple of passages from the book which stand out and also gives us a peek at how the journey has evolved.
"The Indian women’s team—skilfull, stylish, solid, shy, eager, kind, hungry, hard-working, driven, very good on so many days and frustrating on others—is yet to sort through everything it is and really define what kind of cricket it wants to play on the global stage."

And the second one on the leading lights of the game
"Shantha’s stature, Diana’s grit, Shubhangi’s steadiness, Sandhya’s skill, Purnima’s cheek, Neetu’s genius, Anjum’s fire, Mithali’s class, Rumeli’s promise, Jhulan’s warmth, Harman’s spark—these are the pillars of Indian women’s cricket that have held up the edifice so far. Now, as the journey gets ready to take another turn, add to it Smriti’s fearlessness."

Fun Facts
  1. Shireen Kiash represented India in cricket, hockey and basketball - a triple international!
  2. The choice of attire was something the Women’s Cricket Association in England spent considerable time on, specifying that the skirts ‘should be no shorter than four inches from the ground when kneeling’.
  3. India win their first Test against the West Indies in Patna in 1976 (a game which is often narrated to me by my father who was actually present aat the stadium)
Interestingly, I began this book around the time of the 2020 World T20 tournament where the Indian team reached another peak in its journey. While cornovirus may have stopped play, hopefully we will see the team go onward and upward.