Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Selection Blues

It was a refreshing change to see Dilip Vengsarkar and his colleagues in the BCCI selection committee field media inquiries about the selections somewhat transparently (from what I gather from the Cricinfo article). Vengsarkar certainly did have a few headaches following India's Champions Trophy debacle, but did not think it necessary to change too much. A couple of old campaigners are back, and their experience may help the team, but one can only be cautiously optimistic about Zaheer Khan's return. What of Anil Kumble? Well, wait and see, I guess. But I think the selectors did well to recognise the lack of potency in the attack and even if Kumble doesn't take too many wickets, it is unlikely he will leak runs by the buckets. One thing that Vengsarkar said got my attention. Articulating the reasons behind Wasim Jaffer's selection, he said that a good test player will make a good one-day player. A few red bulbs went off in my head when I read that. Where has Vengsarkar been all these days? If he has been watching both forms of the game (give Twenty20 only emerged recently), he should know there have been specialists in both forms of the game who haven't really graduated to a good enough level in the other form. Certainly there are those like Dravid, but even someone as good and attacking as Justin Langer does not find a place in the Australian team (Hayden is still good enough, IMO). We've had our share of Sanjay Manjrekars and SS Das-es. I hope the selection committee is smart enough to recognise that there are indeed specialists in this era. But the real reason they were forced to look to Jaffer may be that our bench strength is not exactly great. Gautam Gambhir has the talent, but he made it easy for the selectors to overlook him. Suresh Raina and Dinesh Mongia both stay in, and as I mentioned in my last post, I'm totally lost in Dinesh Mongia's case. Looks like we have to deal with the spectre of Mongia's insipid batsmanship come World Cup time. While that may be difficult to bear, I'm certainly in a better position to deal with it than VVS Laxman. On to South Africa, then. Any bets on who'll bat at number three? - NK

Champions Trophy stuff

This has been a real rollercoaster tournament so far and, as many commentators have noted, has been rather exciting given that the ball has had an upper hand for most of it. Low scores aren't necessarily entertaining, but it is still a refreshing change from the mindless carnages we have got used to lately. Some former players have observed that the current crop of batsmen have all too often feasted on flat tracks and may have lost tightness in defence and attack that is needed to counter good quick bowling on helpful surfaces. I'm not knowledgeable enough to comment on whether this is indeed the case, but I have a gut feeling it might be true. If there was the one thing India couldn't have done, it was not making it to even the semis. This latest cockup is another morale sapping loss, at least for supporters of the team (hopefully the team can bounce back). Increasingly, this side looks farther and farther from being able to mount a serious challenge for the World Cup next year. Both batting and bowling were a worry, with batting being the more problematic. What on earth was Dinesh Mongia doing at No.3 in the crunch game against Australia? I must say I haven't seen anything that will convince me Mongia can hold his own against top drawer fast bowling. Don't worry, he'll be on the plane to South Africa. Sehwag has become so inconsistent these days, even as he remains a potential matchwinner, that he must be given no special treatment. Oh well, the problems are endless, but the bowling in the crunch game was pretty pathetic. Anyhow, with India gone, subcontinent fans can relax and enjoy the good cricket being dished out by those in the semis. Australia is no doubt a favourite at this stage and they have quality and know how to win, but they are not runaway funs yet for the semis against their other perennial rivals. Martyn is firing again, Watson is coming on well, Gilly's back in touch and to top it all, Glenn McGrath was back to his normal self against Tendulkar and India. Two othes players have had a huge tournament so far in Chris Gayle and Stephen Fleming. Gayle is an easy crowd favourite with his swashbuckling methods with the bat, but he's also proved his worth as a one-day bowler on more than the odd occasion recently. He's definitely a player worth paying for to watch. Fleming's not, but he has quietly become the lynchpin of the Kiwi batting order. Some of his more prolific or talented colleagues no longer command a regular place in the side, and Fleming has made up a great deal of that gap on his own. In other words, he's more than earned his place in the side, not just making statements at press conferences, although that is an occupational hazard. There is a lesson there. - NK

The Race Card

This is a post I wrote about a month ago but didn't actually post so it may not be relevant to the current context. Two events, in my mind, contributed heavily to change the geo-politics of world cricket forever. The first was when, against supposed odds, India and Pakistan managed to lure the cricket World Cup away from England, having recognised the potential of the game as a money spinner. The second was when Muttiah Muralitharan was no-balled repeatedly by Ross Emerson, triggering that finger-wagging response from Arjuna Ranatunga. The first event was a step in the right direction and perhaps was seminal in brushing away the cobwebs of the colonial past. I'm not being judgemental about the conduct of the Sri Lankan team here, but the second I fear was the starting point of a rather more distrubing trend, the use of the same colonial and/or race card at the drop of a hat. The subcontinent nations have certainly had to cop colonial and racist attitudes, but we have now reached a point where any crisis is examined in the backdrop of racism rather than just the merits of the arguments from the parties involved. The whole Oval forfeiture affair was just the latest in this sordid saga. Whatever the arguments against Darrell Hair's judgement, refusing to take the field was a grave offence that should have attracted the strictest penalties in accordance with the laws of the game (if there are any, given that this was a first). Insteas, what ensued was a total fiasco that has left no one in doubt as to what the outcome was about: power play. As much as I hate to admit it, the subcontinent cricket boards are now somewhat guilty of the same attitudes they once fought hard against. The fact that cricket and nationalism are quite entwined makes matters worse. What should have been a technical issue to be resolved by the sport's governing body became a matter of national pride for Sri Lanka. Some may also point to the Mike Denness affair as another example of the BCCI strongarming the ICC and they may have a point (even though Denness crossed all lines of fairness in handing out arbitary punishment). Many cricket commentators have rightly lambasted the ICC's handling of these issues and if the ICC is increasingly seen as being bullied by Asian cricket boards, it is not going to help anyone. - NK PS: I still have reservations about some of the attitudes of English and Australian commentators as well as players on the Zimbabwe issue. We all agree Mugabe is heading a despicable regime, but the said could be said of many around the world. To equate the Zimbabwe situation with apartheid era South Africa is being facetious and dishonest. How many nations have cut off relations with Zimbabwe? If not, why not? Also, I do not remember any English or Australian cricketers refusing to take the field when the 'rebels' came back into the fold. So much for principled stands.