Monthly Archives: August 2010

This is not how to run between the wickets

Great anecdote from Anand Ramachandran:

[F]ormer cricketer and uncrowned grandfather of mixed metaphors Navjot Singh Sidhu has finally revealed the true reason for his tendency to get run out, which once sparked a row between him and then skipper Mohammad Azharuddin.

“You have to realise that most of the time I was batting with K Srikkanth and Ravi Shastri. So the calling was a total disaster,” said Sidhu. “When the simple ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are replaced with ‘This is what the doctor ordered, Sherry, let’s add to the total’, or ‘No, don’t run, my dear friend, I think that’s totally suicidal. I think we better not run, my dear friend. Rukh jao, Sherry bhai’, it doesn’t quite make for quick running. Run-outs are bound to happen.”

Sidhu also sportingly refused to blame it all on his former batting partners. “I was equally bad. I once called for a brace by telling Srikkanth, ‘It’s a happy day for the gander and the goose, when good running converts ones into twos.’ Needless to say, Cheeka was duly run out. We never realised that the precious seconds we were wasting on calling could actually be spent gaining ground between the wickets” he said, explaining a great deal more than he intended.

Pakistan spot-fixing allegations

My god, this is hardly a confidence inspiring response:

Nervous Butt faces the media
August 29, 2010

Why can’t Salman say whether are the allegations are true or not?
Butt: These are just allegations and anybody can stand out and say anything, it doesn’t mean they are true. They include quite a few people and they are still ongoing. We’ll see what happens.

Sambit Bal puts the blame where it belongs. What a shame this concerns Amir, in the opinion of many commentators the best 18-year-old bowler they’ve ever seen.

Stop the tour, save the game
Sambit Bal
August 30, 2010

Irrespective of how the investigations go, Pakistani administrators must ask some tough questions of themselves. Why is it that their cricket has not managed to shake off the ghost of match-fixing? Why will the whispers around their team not go away? Is it because the board itself is so dysfunctional and so utterly shambolic that it has been unable to provide any sense of stability, let alone guidance, to its cricketers?

Or is it because it never managed to make a clean break with the match-fixing, merely chopping down a few rotten trees but letting the seeds remain? Justice Malik Mohammad Qayyum, who presided over the match-fixing enquiry and himself admitted to being lenient towards a player or two, has blamed the PCB for not implementing his recommendations in full. Too many players indicted by him were let off with fines and left within the system. It’s hard to tell what message it sent to the players, and hard also to deny that the taint of match-fixing has never been fully cleansed.

The cost of losing out on a few one-day games is a trifle before the cost of the sanctity of the game. Mohammad Amir must either stand tall or never bowl a ball again. Nothing in between is acceptable.

Osman Samiuddin puts this broken Cricket Board in the context of a broken society.

Forever the shadow
Osman Samiuddin
July 9, 2010
For Pakistan, the cloud of match-fixing never really went away. The perception of it has woven itself into the very fabric of society at large

Two ghosts have haunted Pakistan this decade: Osama bin Laden and the Fixed Match.

India and South Africa made more or less clean breaks after their investigations in 2000. Sourav Ganguly and Shaun Pollock (and then Graeme Smith) immediately began new, successful eras for their sides as captain. Big existing fish such as Hansie Cronje and Mohammad Azharuddin were banned for life and smaller fish, such as Ajay Jadeja or Ajay Sharma or Henry Williams, were not only punished but never played for their countries again.

The Qayyum report, on the other hand, was a classic Pakistani attempt at inquiry, one which bathes in its ambiguity and smells fresh of cover-up afterwards. Saleem Malik was banned for life, but he hadn’t played for Pakistan for over a year. Similarly Ata-ur-Rehman had last represented the country in 1996. The rest, mostly big names, were absolved but in varying degrees. Even now we remain uncertain about the full extent of the involvement, if any, of Wasim Akram, Mushtaq Ahmed, Inzamam-ul-Haq, Saeed Anwar and Waqar Younis.

That a match is fixed has become a casual belief, like the one that says the US, Mossad or RAW is behind all the trouble in the land. Man get out, match fixed; man go slow, match fixed; man drop catch, match fixed; man bowl wide, match fixed; man has money, match fixed.

It goes deeper than that as well, beyond the region’s obsession generally with betting. Match-fixing feeds conveniently into a number of traditional Pakistani nerve centres. There is, for example, already a deep-seated distrust of public figures in the hearts of the vast majority of the population. This has developed steadily over the course of nearly 60 years of megalomaniacal leaders, corruption, cultish politics and extreme maladministration.

That a politician, a president, a judge, a policeman, an army general or a bureaucrat is corrupt is, and long has been, inevitable. It is a given. Cricketers used to be above this, but match-fixing simply dragged them down …

Fixing also fits neatly into our thirst for a good ol’ conspiracy theory, and nothing has more currency in Pakistan. Some newspapers and TV channels exist almost entirely on such fuel. Wives conspire against in-laws, employees against bosses, maids against other maids. Banks are, according to TV show kooks like Zaid Hamid, a Zionist conspiracy. The birth of Bangladesh was a vast conspiracy. The USA conspires against us on a daily basis. India is in a perpetual state of conspiracy against us. Attacks within the country’s borders – even some outside it planned by Pakistanis – are a conspiracy against the country. Without such conspiracies, the state will fall down.

It is a convenient and cheap way out, and it suits everyone. There is no need to examine deeper causes because denial and inertia are easier than rational, analytical debate. So when Kamran Akmal drops four catches in Sydney, it has to be because he was paid to do it by some dodgy bookie. Unsubstantiated allegations are then hurled about around him. That he is unarguably a terrible wicketkeeper who has been doing precisely this for four years doesn’t come into it: Cricinfo’s ball-by-ball data from 2006 onwards shows that, at a minimum, Akmal has fluffed 31 chances in his last 25 Tests.

Pakistan’s great comforter will happily tell you all those Tests have been fixed if you want him to. And he’ll find enough supporters because even those who laugh when they say we go crazy for conspiracies add – with a worried laugh – that conspiracy theories have a way of coming true in Pakistan.

Well, amid all the gloom, a little humour:

The world match-fixing championship
Anand Ramachandran
May 28, 2010

With the menace of match-fixing once again rearing its ugly head and spreading its tentacles across India, Pakistan and England, cricket authorities are faced with the stern challenge of ensuring that the sport is kept clean. This time, however, they have responded with an elegant and far-sighted solution that will ensure that the sport is rid of match-fixing once and for all – by simply legalising the entire thing.

“Several countries legalise things such as prostitution, gambling, and even marijuana, so that these activities are brought under government regulation, and become legitimate businesses that generate revenue for the authorities. So we’ve decided that the way forward is to legalise match-fixing and bring it under ICC rules, so that the sport can be free of this illegal and evil influence,” said ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat, ignoring the shadowy figure with a mobile phone lurking behind him.

To kick off the new initiative, the ICC will organise a world match-fixing championship, in which the finest match-fixing talent from around the globe will battle for supremacy. Teams will first fix matches in a group stage, which will be played in a league format, and then the four best teams (India, Pakistan, England and West Indies) will progress to the semi-finals. In the final India will bat first and score about 250, despite losing both openers within the first three overs. Pakistan, when chasing, will start well, but a clutch of run-outs in the middle order will cost them dearly. Misbah-ul-Haq will remain unbeaten on a fighting 47 as India win by 12 runs. India will then become the first ICC match-fixing world champions, ensuring that the tournament is insanely profitable. The ICC world match-fixing championships will also be the first international sporting tournament where the final result is already known in advance, other than Wimbledon between 2003 and 2007.

Gavaskar’s great 96 in a losing cause

Gavaskar is known for his defiance of the great West Indian quicks, but as this story shows, he wasn’t too bad against spinners either. How bad must that pitch have been?

India’s cause was not helped when they lost Srikkanth and Amarnanth to successive balls and Vengsarkar was bowled on the eve of the rest day. But on the fourth day, on a pitch which allowed even an off-spinner to bowl bouncers, Gavaskar gave a masterly exhibition of technique and judgement.

India v Pakistan 1986/7 – 5th Test – Scorecard

Boycott on Sobers

On TMS Boycott has just said that Sobers is the best batsman he’s ever seen. He’d just take him over Viv Richards, on the grounds that Garry was a better hooker of the ball, always hitting it down.

That’s some praise.

The sub-30 bowling machines

Great stats analysis. One of things I always do when looking at a players career is look at their stats via the Cricinfo ‘career summary’ option – very often you’ll find a place or an opponent against which they didn’t do so well. If it turns out that a batsman averaged 70 against Zimbabwe and 30 against Australia, that overall 50 average doesn’t start to look so clever. Unsurprisingly for recent players you’ll often find those averages suffering against Oz and maybe SA. The very best players maintain or even improve against the best (think: Imran vs West Indies).

So who among modern bowlers has been most consistent against all opposition in all countries? I smugly admit here I got the answer right 😉 See the article for a few tables of deeper analysis…


The sub-30 bowling machines
Cricinfo (Travis Basevi and George Binoy)
August 25, 2010
Bowlers with averages of less than 30 against every team they played, and in all countries they played in

Which bowler has come closest to averaging less than 30 against all nine other Test nations and in all 10 of them? If you’re thinking Muttiah Muralitharan, the taker of 800 wickets, with an average of 22.72 in 133 Tests, you’d be wrong. He conceded more than 30 per wicket against, and in, Australia and India. Shaun Pollock is a better guess, but he missed out in Australia and against them overall as well. The right answer is Glenn McGrath.

The Long Handle – Pakistan’s batting and John Buchanan

Some amusing thoughts on England v Pakistan at Edgbaston amongst others:

The Long Handle – Andrew Hughes’ fan diary

Sunday, August 8th
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better for English cricket, it has been revealed that John Buchanan is to help the England players with their Ashes preparations. And big JB is already throwing up some fascinating ideas. For instance, the England management are said to be very keen on his five-captains-per-series proposal and are seriously considering the theories outlined in his bestselling pamphlet, “Setting Your Field the Feng Shui Way”. This innovative approach does away with the traditional method of placing fielders in areas where you expect the ball to go and instead focuses on arranging them at auspicious points on the field, to maximise the flow of cricket energy. Andrew Strauss has already implemented some of these suggestions, refusing to have more than two slips for long periods of the second Test on the grounds that negative energy usually escapes in the direction of third slip. As, from time to time, does the ball.

Tuesday, August 10th
The latest from the Pakistan camp is that coach Waqar is contemplating some radical changes ahead of the third Test. The word is that the top six in the batting order will be dropped and replaced by Mohammad Yousuf. It is believed that top-secret analysis of Pakistan’s performances so far has demonstrated that dropping all these specialist batsmen is likely to have very little effect on the outcome of future games in terms of runs scored or catches taken, whilst it will offer significant savings in hotel and laundry bills and free up much needed bickering space in the dressing room.

Ten reasons why England will be world No 1 – Simon Hughes

Excellent as usual from Hughes. Of course he omits the most important reason why this may happen – the lack of any great team in world cricket to stop them. I’ll include a few of the 10 reasons in the snippet below.

Simon Hughes: Ten reasons why England will be world No 1
By Simon Hughes
Daily Telegraph
05 Aug 2010

It is just over 18 months since Andy 1 and Andy 2 (that’s Strauss and Flower) took over at the England helm. At the time the team were an underperforming rabble with their third captain in five months and having jettisoned the coach of two years (Peter Moores).

From the low point of a shocking innings defeat by the West Indies in Jamaica, the leadership has turned everything round. Since early February 2009, England have regained the Ashes, held the powerful South Africans to a 1-1 draw in their own country and won the World Twenty20. Their Test record has been P20 W10 D8 L2.

Much of this has been achieved through attention to detail, orchestrated by Flower. He has drawn his influences from a number of sources, notably Moneyball, the book by Michael M Lewis that reinvented how baseball players were analysed. England spend more on research and have better facilities than any other country, and are reaping the rewards.

But there is a human element too, centred around a collection of specialist coaches as astute as any in the game. Their achievements disprove the old theory that coaches are vehicles that transport you to the game. Here then are 10 reasons why England are shaping up to be the best team in the world.

A bowling machine with a difference, developed by England’s former batting coach Dene Hill and David Parsons, the performance director at the England and Wales Cricket Board’s national academy cricket centre at Loughborough. It features a video wall on the front on which is projected the run-up and delivery stride of any bowler in world cricket. The machine adjusts to the speed, trajectory and style of the chosen bowler, so that as his arm comes over on the screen an appropriate delivery emerges. An idea borrowed from baseball, it gives the batsman real experience of facing a particular bowler.

Flower is a great believer in varying practice methods to keep challenging the players. At Loughborough last week instead of the usual nets session, he devised a circuit with six stations – pro-batter set to left-arm over, a bowling machine replicating Danish Kaneira’s leg-spin, a bowling machine operated by Graham Gooch moving the batsman backwards and forwards to vary the pace, and other skills relating to Test batting. Each player remained in his batting kit for a number of repetitions of the circuit to prepare them for the rhythm and duration of a day’s play. The Loughborough indoor facility was also deliberately heated up to 30C to check on players who might be prone to cramp in hot conditions.

Flower, who utterly maximised his ability as a batsman, used to practise by hitting a golf ball with a stump after remembering that Don Bradman had done so in his youth. He advocates occasionally practising with a specially-made thin bat (about the width of a stump), or a heavy bat (Paul Collingwood sometimes uses a 4lb version, almost twice the weight of his normal bat, in the nets) as well as practising catching and throwing and even bowling with specially weighted balls.

The new bowling coach, David Saker, who was a bustling outswing bowler from Victoria, has a different approach to previous incumbents. He is principally a strategist rather than a technician. He believes in better utilising what you have got rather than tinkering with biomechanics. He advocates thinking on your feet and outsmarting the batsman rather than worrying too much about arm and wrist positions. This is invaluable to a group of highly skilled but predominantly young bowlers to fast-track them to bowling maturity. His influence was particularly evident in James Anderson’s performance at Trent Bridge. He looked relaxed and rarely strained for the ‘magic’ delivery, pitching leg and hitting off. Instead he coasted to the wicket and settled for systematically working a batsman over. Saker has also largely abandoned using coloured cones for bowlers to aim at in practice, preferring life-size dummies so the bowler can aim, say, his bouncer accurately at the head.

The ECB research people have developed Trackman, a piece of kit which monitors a spinner’s revolutions on the ball. It has revealed that Graeme Swann spins the ball more than any other finger spinner in the game. Also, every county is now equipped with a Merlin bowling machine, which can replicate any spinner in world cricket.

Bounce: How Champions are Made – Matthew Syed

Have just read Matthew Syed’s excellent book Bounce: How Champions are Made in two days, and strongly recommend it. Syed, ex-England table tennis no.1, is up there with Atherton (who positively reviews the book) as top athletes whose writing ability matches their sporting talent.

The essential thesis of the book is that great human success (in sport, the arts, or wherever) is down to hard work and focused practice rather than “talent”. He deploys a wealth of scientific research to back this argument up, and the conclusion should be welcomed – we are not imprisoned by our genetic heritage, and the simplistic idea that “blacks are better at sprinting” is demolished en route. It means for example that I myself am a mere 10,000 hours of good practice from the Wimbledon title.

Here’s a short and a longer video where Syed himself talks about the book.