Denesh Ramdin’s breach of Spirit of the Game

From CricInfo:

West Indies wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin has been charged with breaching the ICC Code of Conduct for claiming a catch off Misbah-ul-Haq during the Champions Trophy match against Pakistan at The Oval. Ramdin has pleaded not guilty and will attend a hearing on Monday.

Ramdin was charged with breaching article 2.2.11 of the ICC Code of Conduct for Players and Player Support Personnel, which relates to "conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game".

Ramdin’s final sentence should be doubled simply for pleading not guilty. He went up in appeal for a catch that he had dropped, and which he then proceeded to collect again, hoping the cameras wouldn’t catch it. (It wasn’t a case of just not taking the catch cleanly and not realizing it.)

Terrible sporting spirit.

On India’s cricket captaincy

The captain needs to be someone who absolutely, disgustingly, hates to lose. Who has a thin enough skin to be bruised by ineptitude. Who seeks the best from his team, no matter what.

Dhoni was all of this and more. “If my boys give everything on the field and then lose, I can’t complain”, said he a long time ago, when he began as ODI captain. We couldn’t complain either. It’s a game, meant to be won and lost. It’s the fire in the belly that counts.

But that captain has long lost himself somewhere, among his plethora of excuses. The difference between Ganguly’s lowest and Dhoni’s is that Ganguly still cared and hurt, pushed his boys as much as he could, and blamed his own boys when they lost. Dhoni doesn’t, any more. He’s too happy to find external reasons for his losses, and that attitude has sunk in, hasn’t it? How many times under previous captains did we hear players–the same players–make silly excuses for their ineptitude?

“We played poorly; we need to improve; we need to find solutions.” That’s missing, and that’s a problem.

I wonder if Virat Kohli hates losing as much as he loves winning.

Sourav Ganguly retires from all cricket

From The Times of India:

Sourav Ganguly confirmed on Sunday that the IPL match between Pune Warriors and Kolkata Knight Riders on May 19, 2012, was his last competitive match in domestic cricket.

It’s about time.

Understandably, he wanted to leave IPL the way he left international cricket, on the back of strong performances and a personal high. (He recommends repeatedly that that’s the way to retire). That he wasn’t originally selected for IPL4 came in the way of those plans, and I have a feeling that he had to commit to playing IPL5 just in order to get back into the IPL fold, with Pune Warriors in the latter parts of IPL4.

I have a feeling he wouldn’t even have played IPL5 if he was originally selected in the IPL4 auctions.

It’s now close to four years since he stopped playing international cricket, and his IPL performances have steadily and visibly deteriorated over the past couple of years. He’s been a great player for India, but it certainly is time for him to move on.

Hopefully he’ll stick around in a coaching / mentoring capacity, though. His is one of the finest cricketing brains in the country, and Pune will do well to keep his services.

Congratulations, Dada, and best wishes for the future.

‘Look at the stats’

Indian opening batsman Gautam Gambhir, on the dwindling form of him and his opening partner Virender Sehwag:

“As an opening pair, you average 50 per inning and if you are giving 50 runs start in every innings, you can’t do more and if people talk about not contributing, I will suggest them to look at the stats.”

Rule of thumb, Gautam: if you have to resort to pulling your statistics page to justify your position, you’re probably not doing justice to your position. (If you were, you wouldn’t need your stats.)

Good luck for the England series. Yes, a ’50 run start in every innings’ would indeed shut everyone up. And make everyone watch your cricket instead of your stats.

It isn’t about Sehwag

The T20 Cricket World Cup is underway, and the Indian men’s team lost to Australia today. Badly. That they got annihilated may be more descriptive of the event.

I have some thoughts of this–and it probably won’t make sense to you if you haven’t followed today’s scorecard, and Indian cricket in general in the recent past.

The debate seems to be about Sehwag being dropped. As if Sehwag’s presence in the team would have miraculously made our bowlers bowl better. Australia cantered home with 31 balls to spare. At the rate they were going, how many more runs would India have needed to win? Too many.

No, it isn’t about Sehwag. Sehwag deserved to be dropped–he hasn’t been playing well of late, and has been throwing his wicket away. (Come to think of it, I wonder if there have been any other players in the team who have not been pulling their weight as batsmen. Anyone come to mind? Did you say Rohit Sharma? Right.)

No, the problem is one of planning, and having foresight, and making contingency plans. India seem to be doing none of this.

The captain, MS Dhoni, blamed the weather for the bowlers’ plight. The spinners were blameless, he said–they couldn’t grip the ball after rain intervened! Indeed, that is correct. Question: has rain been a surprise factor in this tournament? Has there been rain interruption for the first time in this match? No, rain has been a regular feature.

When India chose to play 5 bowlers instead of 4, why did they choose three spinners? Through their long history of playing 4 bowlers, the fifth bowler was invariably a spinner (Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, and even Virender Sehwag). Indeed, India’s part time bowlers, who India have depended upon for a long time, are mostly spinners. When you decide to play a fifth bowler, in conditions where rain has been in the air consistently, why would you play the extra spinner? If you need more spinners, you have a contingent of part timers to fill the role. What if spin backfires, as it did today, and you need other pacers? Virat Kohli is who you are forced to turn to. Play the extra seamer instead; this way your attack is balanced, and you give your bowlers more chances to fail without jeopardizing the match result.

That was bad planning. That was a case of not having contingency plans even of “what if it rains like it has been almost every day?”

I asked above why India played three spinners. I will tell you why. Because of the England game. India’s spinners ran through England, and left them in tatters. The only problem is, that result wasn’t because India’s spinners were suddenly brilliant, but rather because England were pathetic against spin. They were unsure, were not proactive, and allowed India’s spinners to dominate. Australia is no England when it comes to playing spin bowling. R. Ashwin has been a constant fixture in recent India squads, and I can understand getting Harbhajan back into the fold based on his county cricket credentials. What exactly has Piyush Chawla done since he got hammered in the IPL? Conversely, what wrong has Pragyan Ojha done to be dropped from the squad? Why is Piyush Chawla donning India colors at all?

That was an extremely poor judgement call based on the England game.

When Virender Sehwag was dropped today, who opened the batting? Irfan Pathan. Why? Why did Kohli come at No. 3 today? Did Kohli not want to open? That seems extremely unlikely, given his attitude towards his game and his confidence in his abilities. Did Dhoni suddenly think India’s middle order would forget how to bat if they batted one spot higher? Given the length of the innings, and the form that Kohli is in, why in the world would you not send him in to open?

That was, I think, a poor call, one that robbed the Indian innings of momentum.

And finally, on a day that India decided to play the extra bowler instead of the extra batsman, India were ill-equipped to carry dead-weight in the batting department. India has been carrying Rohit Sharma through his extended bad patch, and a couple of innings in this tournament is not enough to pronounce him ‘back in form’. Yuvraj Singh has just come back from serious illness, and deserves his place in the team, and the opportunity to fail a few times and find his feet. But India is not equipped to carry two underperforming batters, especially when playing 5 bowlers. At least Yuvraj has been pulling his weight as a bowler; to keep the side balanced it was time today to play another batter instead of Rohit, notwithstanding his 50 against England.

That was simply diffident of India, not being bold enough to drop the guy who made a 50 in the previous match, in favour of not carrying extra dead weight. (Curiously, the other contender for Rohit’s spot–Manoj Tiwary–was benched for an extended length right after he scored a hundred.)

No, it wasn’t about Sehwag.

What is Duncan Fletcher’s contribution to this, I wonder? MS Dhoni, the captain, can make some bad calls, but then isn’t it Fletcher’s job to point these out to him and strategize better along with him? Or has Fletcher heard too many Greg Chappell horror stories, and is wary of putting it to Dhoni that his decisions are questionable? Worse, are these strategies Fletcher’s? I don’t know what to make of this team management any more.

It wasn’t about Sehwag; it was about everything else.

“Ganguly should not have sneaked into IPL”

Came across this article a few days ago, but didn’t get around to comment on it. Today is as good a day as any to do so, when Sourav made his way back to the field and shrug off the cobwebs to unfurl some trademark strokes.

Welcome back, Sourav.

Anyway, back to the article. Some quotes:

I respect the fact that this is a decision of the franchise and Ganguly. But such moves will always have mixed reactions within the cricket fraternity.

Yes, those mixed reactions. Deccan flags flying for every Ganguly run. The crowd going crazy every time he’s on the giant screen. Even though he’s apparently playing an away match. And then this. Mixed reactions indeed, Mr Srinath.

Now, he has to start all over again, join a struggling team midway, and immediately start to pull his weight because he carries a lot of expectations.

[…] it’s tough for someone who has not played competitive cricket for so long to come in and step up straightaway.

Makes his performance today even more impressive, no?

Mr Javagal Srinath, it’s one thing to have doubts about a comeback. Yes, we all had doubts. But isn’t it another matter to call it “sneaking back into IPL”? Especially coming from you, sir, who was coaxed out of retirement by none other than Sourav mere months before the 2003 World Cup?

How would you have reacted if you were said to have snuck into the 2003 World Cup team, a week before your first game?

Sourav Ganguly and IPL4

So IPL [1,2] season 4 is under way, and there has been controversy about the non-selection of former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly[3,4,5,6].

Today, however, this video is making the rounds.

Translation:

Host: We’ve had countless phone calls [from fans, asking whether Sourav will ultimately be seen playing IPL4].

Sourav: I think yes, you’ll get to see me. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, though.

Moreover, there’s this quote from Kochi Tuskers Kerala (KTK) management:

But if there is a need [for a replacement player], we may opt for Ganguly.

KTK, will, of course, lose their captain and star batsman Mahela Jayawardene to his national duties in a few days.

Two things:

1. If KTK can recruit him now, why was there all the drama from BCCI and the other franchises before? To be fair, KTK did show interest in him after the auction, but could not sign him (see links 4,5 above).

2. If he does join KTK, Kolkata Knight Riders owner Shah Rukh Khan should prepare for completely empty galleries at Eden Gardens. He really should.

But every time I see these stories, there’s always one nagging thought: in addition to all his other engagements, I hope Sourav Ganguly has been practicing very, very hard in the off season. For all his fans and detractors that are shouting for him, at him, and at each other, it’s him who has to take to the field and score at better than run-a-ball.

Even though I’m a big fan, I don’t think he should be playing this season. He’s been away from it all for too long now, even though he scored a bulk of runs last season. Well, he’s done it before – come back from the dead. I hope he does it again.

I’ll be waiting to watch him.

Playing for Money

Came across this Hindustan Times article by Soumya Bhattacharya about the IPL, where the author argues that it is infinitely more pleasing to watch our cricket heroes in our national colors, rather than for their respective franchises.

I can understand the sentiment, and where he is coming from. I’d much rather root for Sachin all the way, than realize with every scintillating shot that he’s pushing my team, his opponents this time, inexorably towards defeat. But Mr Bhattacharya quickly moves to reasons that leave me baffled, and no longer able to support his position.

At the beginning, Mr Bhattacharya recognizes that a Tendulkar innings at the IPL has every bit of class as any of his international gems, but:

Why was it that this innings (71 not out from 48 balls) gave me not a fraction of the delight that those innings [some of SRT’s great ODI innings] had? Because those were proper international games. Because Tendulkar was playing for India rather than for a league side. And we all know where we stand when India plays cricket, don’t we?

This bit above can be understood: he realizes that the quality of the opposition is not as good as in international fixtures, and hence the diluting of the pleasure quotients. But the next bit of reasoning is more baffling:

We know, too, the frisson of pride and honour that illuminate a player’s best performances when he plays for the country.

[…]

For the most part, there is only one big motivation for playing — and playing well — in the IPL: money. In the league, there are many players whose international careers are over (Warne, Gilchrist, Kumble, Ganguly).

The money from this is all they can make out of playing cricket now.

He doesn’t prefer watching the players at the IPL because they are playing for money? As opposed to…? These guys are professional sportsmen – they are supposed to be playing for money! Would I be fair to reject the posts that Mr Bhattacharya writes for the Hindustan Times because he’s getting paid for them?

Also, it’s a long stretch to imagine that money is the only factor. Yes, money is a factor, of course – they won’t play for free. However, there’s much more at play here. Retiring from international cricket is very different from retiring from all forms of cricket – indeed many players continue on the domestic circuit long after they bid adieu to their national colors. That’s because there is a very significant difference between maintaining international levels of physical fitness and competitive sporting skills, than having to maintain them for 8 weeks of the year for a domestic competition.

International retirees are playing the IPL not just for the money (does Mr Bhattacharya really believe a Sourav Ganguly or a Shane Warne needs a couple million dollars more doing something that they would otherwise not do at all?). They are playing because they still believe they can compete (whether they actually can, is a different question), and it is still manageable for them to maintain themselves for a few weeks every year, and be on the touring circuit away from their families.

A Sachin Tendulkar innings or a Sourav Ganguly masterpiece is exactly that – an artist doing his magic. It doesn’t matter which stage he chooses to display his craft.