Monday, April 25, 2005

John Wright, A Straight Shooter

John Wright is once again a former Kiwi grafter with a decent record at the test level - just decent, nothing fancy. But at least in one part of the world, his contributions are likely to be recognized and remembered with fondness, although it is not likely that anyone will ask him for his autograph should he decide to take a vacation in coastal Kerala sometime over the next few years. Well, I'm not really sure about that last part given the fanatical levels of passion for cricket in India, but I wouldn't be surprised, given the low profile Wright chose to maintain throughout his tenure. Now that was something unheard of in the country, where every other guy claimed credit for the team's achievements and had no qualms about hogging the limelight at press conferences for players and coach. The small on sound bites, big on results approach was a big part of Wright's successful tenure. Even given the final rocky year, the four-year period has to be termed an unqualified success, something that Indian cricket can build on. In the process he earned the respect of the public, proved ignoramuses wrong and showed how simple things make a difference. Simple things like hard work and discipline. The one thing Wright's always talked about was how the most passionate cricket fans deserved a great side. It's a shame it took a foreigner to recognize that. But it shows how you understand the value of things that you did not have, while those that had it took it for granted. New Zealand cricket has struggled over the years to compete with other sports, namely rugby and also struggled within, being a small nation (in terms of bench strength for example). India meanwhile has been utterly profligate with its talent and resources. That is exactly why Wright was indignant when criticized the selection committee policies and the ever-changing dynamics of the BCCI, which impeded stability and progress. In doing so, he confirmed the worst suspicions of the public - the selection process has improved in recent years, but it is nowhere near the levels it should be at. In citing Kaif's example, he may have stoked other suspicions. It is common knowledge that Ganguly backed Yuvraj Singh more than any other young player, and sometimes it was at Kaif's cost. Every skipper makes his own choices; Steve Waugh preferred Brett Lee, now Lee is somewhat out of favour. Some choices work out while others don't. To be fair though, Wright blamed the selectors, not Ganguly. After all, the captain can only try to influence the process, he doesn't actually have a vote. There may be people who will express hollow disappointment at Wright's after the fact revelations. But instead of trying to hide behind officialdom, I think we need to listen to this man, a man of integrity, and set about making further reform. Oh, by the way, John Wright thinks he has a lot of money, so he's not interested in wielding the microphone! Who does he think he is? Rio Ferdinand? - NK

Saturday, April 23, 2005

It's That Time of the Year

It's late April, spring having well and truly set in, at least in most inhabited parts of North America. Atlanta is beautiful, the weather is nice as it is in much of the South. Minnesota is a habitable part of the world again (two cities I have lived in much of the last three years). But we don't wax lyrical about the beauty of spring and fall here on this blog. It's an important time of the year because it is play-off time in the NBA. For Minnesota, spring couldn't come too early given the way the Timberwolves stumbled this season. In the end, they didn't make it, even though the Grizzlies tried their best to hand them the last spot in the West! But as Scottie Pippen said in his blog on, making the play-offs could have masked problems that are now going to be addressed. I know season ticket holders won't quite see things in the same vein, but that's the truth. The team owner Glen Taylor has already expressed his disappointments and signalled his intent to ring in changes. The post season could see a flurry of changes. No doubt the Wolves should say good bye to Latrell Sprewell, who had a below par season, besides bitching about his contract situation. Michael Olowokandi should also be a transfer candidate, but then trading him may prove difficult - Minnesota may have to settle for considerably less than what they paid for him, cash or kind. Then there is Sam Cassell, who as a veteran of two rings with the Rockets was expected to lead the back-court and provide savvy and experience. But he was injured for a significant part of the season and when he did play, was not quite the player he was last year. He also has this tendency to pick up silly fouls at crucial junctures, which is not something you expect from a veteran. With Cassell starting in the point guard role, Troy Hudson was confused and unhappy about his situation. Hudson had a break out season in 2002-03 and was the Wolves' best player against the Lakers in the play-offs, but was dogged by injuries most part of last season. With Cassell coming in, he was always going to be a back up. Wally Szczerbiak was another player unhappy with his position on the roster, but to his credit, he performed commendably all season and was the second best player on the team. No prizes for guessing who the best player was for the T-Wolves. That was the only thing that went on expected lines. Don't even get me started on the Hawks. That is one team I genuinely dislike, even though that may seem irrational - this club seems to be getting worse every year. They however, will get the top draft pick, and should help their rebuilding process. And I do like Josh Smith - the kid's got wings. But the time now is look ahead, to about two months of the top teams, the Suns and the Spurs, the Heat and the Pistons and all the others challenging these teams, battle it out for the coveted championship. - NK

Friday, April 22, 2005

Get on with it, Sourav

It's a little bit late to be debating Chris Broad's decision as the match referee to suspend Sourav Ganguly for six games for continual slow over rates. There has already been a subsequent appeal against the decision that has been turned down. I couldn't help feeling that the BCCI, which rallied around Ganguly the last time he was handed a similar ban by Clive Lloyd, did not approach the appeal with the same energy or conviction. Now, I'm not very sure about the rules around the various levels of offences as stipulated by the ICC and so I'm not sure whether the six-match ban was appropriate or harsh. What I do know is that there were far too many matches where our over rate was poor. Even with concessions made for contingencies, it didn't quite add up. The team management had to take the blame for it, and as captain Ganguly was held accountable. Fair enough. The public posturing by the BCCI and its office-bearers is understandable - they did not want to be seen as pusillanimous given the long held popular view that the ICC treats Aussies with kid-gloves and comes down harsh on India. A view that is far from baseless, courtesy Mike Denness, Cammie Smith, Barry Jarman et al. But it would be wrong to raise the colonial, racist bogey every time a player from the sub-continent was punished, as hard as it is to resist the temptation. And in this case I think the ICC got it right. It is ironic though that Chris Broad was the one handing out the punishment and to people who have followed the game for a long time that must have really riled. Broad never received the punishment he deserved for his misdeeds as a player. But then, the ICC was a sort of an old boys' network those days, with no power over anything. In any case, it is time for Ganguly to move on and concentrate on getting back to some sort of form (that is stating the very obvious). It may not be too late yet, but he has already severely tested the patience of a people many of who never really accepted him. The way things have gone over the last eight months or so, he may need to reinvent more than just his batting. - NK

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Marks, Goals and Pies

In the end, I came home a somewhat dejected man Saturday night, though not as much as my friend and colleague who is a real Essendon supporter. It is quite another matter that I hardly understood the basic rules of the game, but once I put on Steve's Essendon Bombers' Red and Black jumper, I was somehow transformed into a Bombies' fan! My first 'Footy' game ended with the Bombers being trashed by the Geelong Cats, who at one point reeled off twelve consecutive goals. Essendon had the ignominy of sliding to the bottom of the AFL standings to boot, so all in all it was a pretty miserable night for them. Not being a passionate supporter helps in situations like this, and so I was able to take in some of the aspects of the game and the atmosphere of course. It was a well attended game with the Telstra Dome near capacity, and that's always good to see. After all, Aussie Rules Football or simply 'Footy', is the sport Victorians care most about. Everything else is secondary. I could see a sense of anticipation for the new season just as the cricket season was winding down and the Australian Open was long gone. Not that those two sports could compete with Footy for mindshare - this is the true mass spectator sport in this neck of the woods. The game itself is a mix of aspects from soccer, basketball and rugby. Or so it seemed to my untrained eye. The one thing that stands out in footy is the fitness of the players involved - this is a game where the players have to be great athletes. It is nevertheless a physical game - a man's game, as one might say and hard tackles and on-field bickerings are a pretty regular sight. And yes, I'm told it is a tradition to have a pie at a footy game - I missed that part. - NK

Going on about Wisden...

Thanks to fellow-blogger AKR - the piece on he referred to is cheap and absolutely disgusting. This just goes to show what goes on in the name of 'writing'. These guys have no idea. Wisden-Cricinfo is simply the best cricket site out there, even if you don't agree with some of the stuff that's written about. The merger of Wisden and Cricinfo was clearly a win-win for the site and the fans - Cricinfo hardly had any content on its own. But the Guardian piece that another reader pointed me to was an indication of the attitudes still prevailing in some English quarters. The suggestion that Wisden awards are cricket's equivalent of the Oscars is ludicrous. It is people like these that get one's goat - there are morons everywhere, that's not the privilege of any particular group! - NK PS: Thanks to Scott Wickstein for pointing out that NBA is indeed available on ESPN Down Under. I fired the 'salvo' and realized my folly pretty soon, as I remembered promos about the games. I guess I just have to find a hotel that has ESPN!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Wisden (Non) Controversy

There has been quite a bit of criticism of the Five Cricketers of the Year chosen by Wisden, as part of its annual exercise - most of the criticism stems from either ignorance or just sheer stupidity. Much of this criticism has emanated from the sub-continent and frankly, it is embarrassing. Now, let me admit here that I don't count myself among Wisden devotees and Wisden hardly is the last word on cricket. Having said that, one has to understand what Wisden's annual list of five outstanding cricketers represents, before reaching all kinds of conclusions. The five cricketers of the year are chosen from amongst those that play in the English season, i.e., either for the English national team or in the County circuit. Now, there was a time when this list was a fair representation of the best talent in the world, because both England and the counties had world-class talent. That has hardly been the case in recent times. But Wisden has chosen to stick to tradition, and even if one does not like it, it's only fair. After all, Wisden cannot be dissociated from the English game. The brouhaha over the composition of the five players this year, coming as all of them did from England, is therefore totally unwarranted. It is not entirely surprising some media outlets in India have picked up on this without even basic consideration. But even by their standards, The Indian Express' twisting of Wisden's comments about Tendulkar are shocking. A few seasons ago there was a major uproar over the fact that none of Tendulkar's test innings was highly rated in a list of the all-time 100 best innings. Underneath these controversies lies a stark truth - India, fueled by the media, craves for recognition from Western quarters. When our icons are not held in the same esteem by Western media or public, it tends to upset us a great deal. One suspects this will continue to be the case for a while. So long as dignity and self-esteem are at a premium at home, this will be the case. I have sometimes wondered whether the cricket the English play is the same game that we play; whether the game that Wisden (not Wisden Asia Cricket) writes about is the same game that we love. For me, Wisden represents the old establishment, their recent bitter criticisms of the ICC not withstanding. The same establishment that was quite happy to keep cricket confined in the long room at Lord's and refused to adapt to the changing world. But that is a whole different issue and even for me, this is not acceptable. - NK

Rockets Get Their Act Together

A couple of weeks ago when I was in the Singapore airport on my way to Calcutta, I caught some NBA action after a long time. It has been almost impossible to get any NBA on TV here in Melbourne (at least in the hotels), and that says something about sports coverage on TV in India. One can follow endless amounts of cricket of course, but also European and South American Football (soccer), Tennis, Golf, Rugby, Motor Sport and, quite a bit of NBA. Not so in Australia. Perhaps, it also has to do with the fact that there is really only one sport in India that is seriously followed, and it is international cricket. Anyway, this is not intended to be a blurb about regional vs global sports coverage. That NBA game featured the Houston Rockets (against the Cavaliers, I think) and it made me think how fortunes have changed for the Rockets since the early part of the season. Their turn of fortunes has been reaffirmed again with a couple of wins over the Phoenix Suns, who have dominated opponents this season. Houston is now playing solid defense that is a trademark of Jeff Van Gundy coached sides and has really improved on the offensive side. At the start of the season, with the acquisition of Tracy McGrady, the Rockets were really expected to take off and make a run for a play-off position. But it did take a lot of time for all the pieces to gel together, primarily T-Mac and Yao. But it is the support cast that was brought in more recently, Jon Barry and David Wesley, that has made a big difference. Both are veterans with skill and experience, adept on both ends of the floor. In Barry's case, Denver's loss has been Houston's gain. The Hornets' rebuilding exercise presented a good opportunity in Wesley's shape and the front office made another good move. Along with Bob Sura, these two provide a solid back court with options. And sure enough, as the season has progressed, both Yao and T-Mac have picked up their level of play and intensity, and the Rockets look like they are ready to make a run, not just for a play-off spot, but deep into the play-offs. - NK

Selectorial Shenanigans

It was a case of deja vu (all over again!) as VVS Laxman once again found himself at the wrong end of the axe for the ongoing one-day series against Pakistan. It was a baffling decision, more so than the decision to leave out fellow scapegoat Anil Kumble. It came at a time when Laxman was playing himself into form in the test series. I must admit I have not read/heard what the selection committee cited as the reasons for Laxman's omission, but I think he most definitely offers more to the side than Dinesh Mongia. Watching Mongia's laboured efforts in the last World Cup where he was selected ahead of Laxman was painful. I'm not suggesting Mongia could not have become a better player between then and now, but there's nothing to suggest Laxman has become worse. Laxman is just one of a few batsmen in the side who have not produced the goods this season. But Laxman has fared pretty well in test cricket, although the big scores expected of him have been elusive. True, Mongia can fill in as a part-timer when one of other one-day trundlers go for more runs than the team can afford; he may also be a better man in the outfield, Laxman's excellent slip-catching not being a factor in the shorter version of the game. But Laxman offers something, as does Kumble, that Mongia has not quite shown that he is capable of - match-winning ability, especially against the better sides in world cricket. One suspects that mobility in the outfield, recent form and in Kumble's case, his age, may have counted against the two who have contributed enormously to the side's achievements, in the process swallowing pride and preferring to let performances do the talking. But enough is enough. Mediocrity should not be preferred to genuine talent, especially of the proven kind, if that is backed by hard work and team ethic. Laxman spoke bitterly in the aftermath of his omission on the Bangladesh tour, and it was understandable. To be fair, our selectors have done a decent job over the last few years and the days when the 'Bunch of Jokers' tag seemed quite appropriate are behind us. But they have erred in Laxman's case, I think. - NK

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Curse of Bangalore

In the end, the Bangalore test was a perfect illustration of George Santayana's famously wise words. India did not learn from so many previous failures and went down the same beaten track. Not surprisingly, the result was a resounding defeat. An ultra-defensive approach, both on the batting and bowling fronts, cost India the game. Once Virender Sehwag was cut down in full flow in the most undeserved manner, there were only two possible outcomes to the game. Clearly, the approach of the rest of the line-up indicated the chase would be abandoned if Sehwag did not make a hefty contribution. Playing for a draw from thereon may not have been the worst strategy, considering it was a last day wicket offering assistance to spinners; however, the way the draw was sought was extremely disappointing. The strategy, if there was a clear one, on the fourth evening, was even more perplexing. No doubt it was a good wicket to bat on and Pakistan had nothing to lose. But the Indian team bowled as if the Pakistani onslaught led by Afridi was an inevitability. Afridi's weakness against the short ball is well known and although neither Pathan nor Balaji are quick enough to bounce him out, there should have at least been sustained attack on this weakness. On the one occasion Pathan managed to get it right, he almost got Afridi. All in all, it was one of the most listless bowling performances that I have seen in a long time, totally bereft of ideas and attacking purpose. Pakistan were allowed to freely dictate terms. All this after an excellent pre-lunch session for India frustrated Pakistan no end, with Laxman batting well around the tail, in the process showing his value to the side. But then, as has so often been the case, the ultra-defensive approach proved fatal. Pakistan no doubt would have been pleased with result, having been expected to be clearly second best. To their credit, they grabbed all the opporunities they got. For India, they don't really have any curse to cite as an excuse for the defeat, despite the venue not being India's favourite haunt. It was yet another lost opportunity in a most disappointing season. - NK