Saturday, April 9, 2016

The 2016 T20 World Cup

Its less than a week since the final of the T20 World Cup and we have the IPL knocking on our TV screens. While we await the festivities to begin, there is just enough to time to recollect the lasting images from the World Cup.

West Indies Won. And provided their own highlights reel for the tournament - Darren Sammy tearing into the Board during the final presentation, Samuels talking with his bat and mouth, Brathwaite hammering Stokes for 4 sixes and finally the Champion song. It was West Indies all over.  And they also won the Women's World Cup

2. Afghanistan
They are the fairy-tale story which keeps giving happiness to all cricket fans. They cruised into the main rounds easily knocking out Zimbabwe. Then proceeded to give a scare to everyone of their Super Stage opponents. They also collected a victory over eventual champions West Indies. Such was their exuberance that even Gayle joined in their victory celebrations. 

3. England failing to collect a famous defeat
England had a great World Cup, Just when they had one hand on the Cup, they were knocked off by the Brathwaite assault. A great turn-around for a team which failed to reach the ODI World Cup quarter-finals. And this time they didn't collect their now customary famous defeat as has become their habit in World events. Though they did come close against Afghanistan.

4. Virat Kohli & Joe Root
The men of the moment. Showing that even with classic cricketing shots you can still go at a strike rate of 150+. A batting delight for both the lovers of T20 madness and the purists. And as a bonus add their golden arms.

5. Sehwag & Shoaib
During their playing careers, Virender Sehwag & Shoaib Akhtar faced off against each other many a time. Encounters which provided many lasting images for the fans. And now they have formed an interesting partnership behind the microphones. The duo lighted up an increasingly dull commentary box. For the first time in many years, I actually preferred listening to Hindi commentary over English, especially when this duo was doing the commentary.

6. Upset of the tournament - Oman beating Ireland
Says a lot about (a) the progress made by the Irish in the cricketing circles and (b) the fickle nature of the T20 format with reducing gaps between the teams.  T20 is a more encompassing format and probably would spread the game further across the world while simultaneously killing Test cricket in many of the established arenas.

7. The Associate Dilemma
To simply put it, the ICC do not know what to do with the Associates. They want cricket to spread to generate more revenue sources. Currently the Associates are just a cost centre for them. And they certainly do not want them to cause any big upset (a la 2007 ODI World Cup) which destroys revenue from existing cash cows like India. So we have a token Associate participation now. 6 teams from the rest of the world qualify to play another Qualifiers. Dave Richardson has come up with a proposal to expand the Qualifier base, but at the same time has reduced the frequency of the World Cups.

8. Teams not turning up

  • South Africa continued their tradition of flattering to deceive. This time around it was their bowling doing the choking act. 
  • Sri Lanka were defending champions, yet hardly created a ripple. The retirement of Sanga & Mahela and Malinga's absence has really created a big void which can't just be filled up. 
  • While New Zealand played attractive cricket, their campaign had a familiar ring to it - Innovative and ending in the semi-finals. 
  • While Bangladesh have made large strides, they still need some tuning up at the World arena.
9. 11-Nil
The hype is still the same. The build-up is the same. And even the result is the same, And the Indian fans are not complaining.

10. Mitchell Johnson does not learn
Some habits die hard. Mitchell Johnson is now retired, but his sledging continues to hurt his own team . Wound up Kohli with his tweets prior to India-Australia game. [Not dissimilar to this]

11. The Champion Song
Cricket now has its own patented celebration, thanks to our own DJ - DJ Bravo.

Now the World Cup can rest while the IPL madness takes over.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Rally Around the West Indies

World T20 Finals: Last Over, 19 needed - Ben Stokes bowling to Carlos Brathwaite
6, 6, 6, 6 

The Champion song rang across the Eden Gardens as West Indies cricket soared. The men became the first team to win the T20 World Cup twice. Just hours earlier the women had won their maiden title. And a few weeks back the Under-19 team had won a world cup of their own. It was time for celebrations. Even the most partial cricket follower was soaking in the happy feeling of the West Indies’ victories. 

Everything seemed perfect in the West Indies Cricket world. Until their skipper, Darren Sammy dropped in a harsh reality check. In an emotional victory speech, he described the struggles his team had faced, mostly from their own board. 

"We started this journey … people were wondering whether we would play this tournament. We had a lot of issues, we felt disrespected by our board .... We had a new manager in this tournament in Rawl Lewis, he had never managed any team before. He came here, we were at a camp in Dubai, but we had no uniforms, no printed … he left Dubai, went to Kolkata, that's where he started. The trouble he went to, to get us in this uniform ……Lastly I really want to thank the heads of CARICOM, throughout this tournament they have been supporting the team, we've got emails, we've got phone calls,… and I'm yet to hear from our own cricket board. That is very disappointing......For today, I'm going to celebrate with these 15 men and coaching staff. I don't know when I'm going to be playing with these guys again because we don't get selected for one-day cricket. We don't know when we're going to be playing T20. So this win, I want to thank you my team, I want to thank you coaching staff … everybody know West Indies are champion!" [Full Text]

Disrespected by Board! A manager who has never managed before! No uniforms!
Pretty damning words! Says a lot about the state of West Indies cricket. Pay disputes are now part and parcel of the West Indies story. As are weird selections. Players choose to play franchisee cricket over playing for West Indies. There has even been a tour pull-out, of all places, India, one country whose board you do not want to mess with. There have been farcical tours where players have been picked on the basis of who agreed to toe the Board’s line. Ironically, Sammy himself was first picked in such a series. He was appointed captain because he was considered an establishment man and now has fired the biggest salvo against his board at the biggest stage of them all. Ah! The irony of it all. (He has become WICB’s own Frankenstein monster).

Some would say it’s the players who are to blame. They have given into greed and play only for money. They are a bunch of mercenaries who only turn up for West Indies when they do not have any other paymaster. Could be true. But if the incentive to play for a franchisee is more than that for a country then the administrators also have to take the blame. After all this is a board which sold out its team to a fraud billionaire, imposes weird selection criterion for its best talents. At the same time manages to anger the most powerful cricket board. The pay disputes have gone on for too long to be just a player issue now. 

On the field, the West Indies players are the most sought after in the T20 franchisee world because they are match-winners and more importantly are always available. But as a team, hardly anyone is interested in a series with West Indies. [Aside – how can so many T20 leagues avoid clashing with each other, while international assignments do?] 

If the Board head honchos had any sense of shame, they would have resigned after Sammy’s outbursts. But then that’s too much to expect from any administrator across sports in any part of the world. They need to be hounded out (a la Blatter or Srinivasan). All they have offered is talks with the key players on their future after the IPL (After all in West Indies cricket, a T20 league always takes priority over all other matters). 

West Indies cricket has always lacked money but has been full of individual flair and passion. Since their inception, their players have played for other teams. Earlier it used to be for the counties and league cricket in England and Australia, and then for Packer. So the current lot is just continuing the trend of their predecessors. Only they have more options now. How the Board manages the money pumping in from the CPL is a bigger question. And that will be the key to deciding the future of their cricket, specially in the longer formats.

The wins prove that West Indies still has talent and more is coming up. Yet how much of it will keep playing for West Indies is a big question. Something which needs to be sorted out together by the Board and the players. Otherwise the end is nigh for West Indies cricket. 

Sammy's speech was the best thing to happen for West Indies cricket. It carried more punch than the 4 Carlos Brathwaite sixes combined. And it seems to have reignited the Fire in Babylon

While we wait for the next salvo in this war, here is to the Champions. After all everyone knows that Sammy and his men are Champyons!!!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

India at the 2016 T20 World Cup

Ladies first

This was a golden opportunity squandered by the Indian team to hog some of the limelight at the biggest stage. A good performance at home would certainly have provided a big boost to women's game in India. But being eliminated in the group stages with just one win from 4 games didn't help the sport's cause. 

The team had a good run-up to the tournament. A maiden series win in Australia was followed up with a series victory at home against Sri Lanka. So a semi-final appearance was the bare minimum expectation. However, at the crunch time they came up just short. 

A big victory against Bangladesh was followed by 3 close losses against Pakistan, England and the West Indies. They might have been done in by the rain against Pakistan but they missed multiple run-out chances which might have kept the D/L score in their favor. A dropped chance at the most crucial moment (2 wickets left with 2 runs required) saw England scraping through while against West Indies, the team fell short by 3 runs. All three losses were narrow but the India team finished up second in all three. 

It was similar to the 2013 ODI World Cup held in India, when they lost out in the first round itself. Probably the pressure of playing in the limelight overcame the likes of Mithali Raj, Jhulan Goswami & Harmanpreet Kaur. Or probably it was just plain bad luck. The Indian ladies team has slipped back. Not long ago they were just outside the Big 3 of Women's cricket (Australia, England & New Zealand). Now, West Indies women (who seem to be going the other direction than the men) have overtaken them in the hierarchy. While the South Africans too are coming close as are the Pakistanis. Their current performance also does not give them a direct entry into the 2017 ODI World Cup (which might be a good thing in the long run, if the team has to go through the qualifiers)

It was a heartening sight though to see the men & women team taking the same ground and cheering on each other. Although they play the same sport, there can't be a bigger gulf in perception across genders in any other sport. 

Now for the men 

Virat Kohli carried them single-handedly into the semi-finals. He had able support from the bowlers (in helpful conditions) and Dhoni but the rest of the line-up never came to play. And at Wankhede, the first batting pitch they encountered the bowling just disintegrated with the honorable exception of Nehraji.

Kohli was a class apart. One can safely say he is the best chaser of all time. During run chases the man provides Dravid's solidity, Sachin's run hunger and  Ganguly's aggression, all in one. And he has VVS’s love for Australian attacks, a love also extended to Pakistani and Sri Lankan ones. 

Then Nehraji - He is picked for the biggest stage on the world cricket after years in wilderness and comes up trumps. A economy rate under 6 across a T20 World Cup, those are unbelievable figures especially for a fast bowler who bowled either in powerplays or at death. Now the question? Will he be mothballed again like after the 2011 World Cup or will he have a longer ride in the near future. 

Dhoni’s sprint to prevent the last ball bye against Bangladesh would be replayed over and over again. And still you would not believe that it happened. However Captain Cool was feeling the pressure of the World Cup. He miscalculated his winning six hit against Pakistan. Add his new form in the press conferences. Something loved by cricket fans but being hated by the journalists. 

In Jasprit Bumrah, we have finally got a bowler who can bowl yorkers at will. Now it remains to be seen if he remains a one-season wonder? (like many an Indian fast bowler over the previous years). 

Yuvraj Singh had a strange world cup. His best contribution came as collapse-breaker, trying to get the innings back on the feet after Dhawan, Rohit & Raina had derailed it. And yet most of the time it seemed he was just playing on past reputation. 

As for the others, they all had a World Cup to forget. As a team, the performance wasn't quite up to the mark. The worst part is the team being repeatedly found wanting on spinning tracks. How can Kiwi spinners outperform Indians? However in tight situations the men did come out trumps. 

Catches win Matches. An old cricketing maxim which didn't quite hold true in this World Cup. Sometimes they don’t. e.g. Watson taking Yuvraj’s catch actually benefited India more than Australia. And in the semi-finals against West Indies, if those two catches had not been taken, the no-balls would not have been reviewed and no subsequent free-hits awarded either. 

So what are the lasting images from the 2016 World Cup for Indian fans - the sight of Virat Kohli on his knees after the Australia chase overcome by his own stupendous effort, Dhoni winning the race to the stumps against Bangladesh or simply the the two teams cheering each other .