Follow Your Heart. Lead Your Mind. You'll find a window everywhere.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pakistan cricket team needs critique, not populist sermons or bullies.

In the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Pakistan, after their first two matches, is at the bottom of the table in Pool B - which has already become the 'Pool of Death', given the unpredictability it's been offering.

No wonder the Pakistani Cricketers' heads are on the block at present, while back home in Pakistan, supporters are reacting rather savagely in tandem with majority of ex-cricketers from Pakistan, whose sole job seems to be talking toxic in media to antagonise people for cheap accolades and instant fame.

Captain MISBAH-UL-HAQ and the veteran, but off-form, batsman YOUNIS KHAN are the primary targets because, in Pakistan, like it is in India, finding one or two scapegoats for the shameless blame-game is an absolute must. 

It hardly matters though whether such brickbats or bullies are worth anything at all in the name of patriotism or nationalism which is nothing but a generic disease... spread on the social media of late... thus totally devoid of sense, sensibility, and sensitivity for cheap sensitisation on the basis of populism. 

After the drubbing against West Indies, things could still be better for Pakistan, if 'armchaired experts' suggest something concrete to the Team Management in line with the squad selected for the World Cup 2015 - which can't be changed now, so no point lamenting on or crying over - instead of launching worthless personal attacks against the skipper and some senior players.

Looking at Pakistan's performance on the field, it is evident that the team is reeling under tremendous mental pressure, and such claustrophobia hardly helps any sport let alone cricket which is through and through a mind-game.

From outside, as none of us can know or predict why this pressure is taking place, so the team management has to find the crux of the problem and fix it, as soon as possible.

Though Pakistan's strength is bowling, yet, against West Indies, that coveted bowling simply went wayward and, as a result, was torn apart in the death... while Andre Russell tormented the men in light-green with his bat. 

It was a sheer technical fault that hurt Pakistani bowlers, badly.

Being a fast bowler, you cannot afford to bowl into a batsman, who is out there in the middle to slog every delivery - length inconsequential - which comes into him by opening his front-foot. If you still bowl into him, you would always be murdered then, as a bowler. 

Pakistani bowlers, WAHAB RIAZ in particular, kept committing that gross mistake, so paid a heavy price for it, while Russell sailed to 42 off only 13 deliveries, throwing his willow at will.

Batting is Pakistan's weak link and no rocket science is needed to acknowledge and accept that. Therefore, Pakistan shouldn't elect to bowl and field first, even if there is some assistance, presumably, on the pitch or in the air at the start of play. Because such advantages get evaporated, as quickly as they appear, if three or four lusty hits help the ball reach the fence or fly over the boundary rope to demoralise and disintegrate any bowler in the world.

Now, if Pakistani top-order's abject submission to West Indian pacers is looked into minus any bias or crass intention to bully, that was more of a bad luck than lack of temperament or technique. 

Opener NASIR JAMSHED got out to a short ball that was begging to be hit. The batsman decided to pull it, and rightly so, but perhaps allowed the ball to come a little closer, so couldn't manage to control his shot and offered a dolly in the process. But, there was nothing wrong with his shot-selection. 

YOUNIS KHAN came out to bat and was dismissed immediately. The first ball he faced was cruel: right up; well-pitched; coming into him in the air; but held its line off the pitch. Such a delivery can get rid of any batsman, any moment, irrespective of his form. For debate's sake, it could be said, Younis should not have pushed at it, but, even if he had tried to block the ball, he could have edged it. The batsman literally had nothing to do there. 

HARIS SOHAIL was the next man to go. Again he played the right shot but, unfortunately, the ball went straight to the fielder who took a comfortable catch at gully. Here too, Sohail was not a guilty party who threw away his wicket. 

AHMED SHEHZAD followed the back of Haris to make it an ignominious '1 for 4' for Pakistan, while he fell to Holder. The ball was right there to be hit on the up through the off-side, piercing the cover region. He tried to do exactly the same, but, his front-foot didn't come across what it should have been. Also, he tried to hit the ball hard, instead of caressing it, but such things happen, every time, on a cricket field, hence, for that, Shehzad doesn't deserve to be crucified. His shot-selection was perfect for that matter. 

Keeping all negatives aside, what Pakistan should ideally be doing is to 'apply commonsense' to get the team combination right and set the batting order without rigidity but flexibility to adjust.

Which is why, Misbah has to don at least two thinking hats, if not six, without a fail. He needs to think rather than just going with the flow. Proactive approach is much required on his part to reactive attitude. He has to create situations before situations are created by an opponent side for him and his team. 

The idea of letting UMAR AKMAL keep wicket must be dropped, for his keeping is pretty bad. If Akmal still needs to play, he should be playing in place of Younis Khan. But, that choice, to me at least, doesn't look wise at all. Hence, if I were Misbah, I would rather give Younis Khan one more chance in the crucial tie against Zimbabwe by dropping him to bat at No. 7, clearly telling him that his job is to ensure Pakistan bats through full 50 overs. 

Pakistan's first eleven should be: 

Nasir, Ahmed, Haris, Sohaib, Misbah, Sarfraz, Younis, Shahid, Wahab, Sohail, and Mohammad. 

The batting order should operate like this: 

Nasir and Ahmed will open the innings. If Nasir gets out early, Haris should be sent at No. 3. But, if Ahmed gets out early, Sohaib should be at No. 3. If openers give a solid start and don't get out early and the run rate remains around 5 per over then Misbah should promote himself up at No. 3 to anchor the innings and thereby help others play around him until Younis Khan comes out to bat at No. 7. Sarfraz should come at No. 6 only. If Misbah is at No. 3, at No. 4, it should be Haris to keep the left-hand, right-hand combination going. If Haris or Sohaib is at No. 3 then Misbah must be at No. 4.  

However, besides everything, if Pakistan can't elevate their fielding standard quite a few notches up, neither batting nor bowling can save them. That's why, field placement got to be very thoughtful according to match situations.

Last but not the least, Pakistani media and ex-cricketers should understand one simple thing that by ranting against a team, which is too anxious to perform, they are not helping the team but simply worsening things, adding insult to injury, for nothing.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Clinical India exposed South Africa's wounds for a lick.

After South Africa's humiliation at the hand of India, AB de Villiers said it was 'unacceptable'. However, the way the Proteas fared at MCG against India, the result looked pretty acceptable.

Besides manufacturing two brilliant run-outs - thanks to de Villiers only - to send Rohit Sharma and Ravindra Jadeja back in the hut, South Africa's bowling and fielding remained dismal. 

There were misfieldings galore, and Amla floored Dhawan's catch, while the latter was on 53, who eventually capitalised on that to score 137. Means, the Proteas had to concede 84 invaluable runs.

Actually that was the first turning point of the match. 

Then came the second turning point of the match, as Rahane played a superb knock of 79 runs off 60 balls in no real time. That knock was not only a treat to watch but also effective like anything - because if Rahane were dismissed at that point of time, post Kohli's wicket, India could be on the back-foot straightway.

It was Dhoni's masterstroke to send Rahane ahead of Raina - unlike the Pakistan's game - to keep the right-hand, left-hand combination going... disturbing the South African bowlers' line and, as a result, their length. 

The decision paid off, handsomely. 

On the other hand, Philander's injury helped India quite well; more so, as Parnell kept bowling all over the place. Even Steyn was stained and Morkel seemed to be breathless within his first spell. 

In contrast, first Kohli and Dhawan and then Dhawan and Rahane showed no sign of nerves. They kept playing in a relaxed manner, taking no risk whatsoever, but dispatching anything loose to the fence with an intent. 

Simply put, that was a sublime display of batting all through the Indian innings. 

Chasing 307 at MCG was never an easy task for the Proteas who had by then shown no sign of confidence with the ball. 

The first shot played by de Kock made it clear that South Africa perhaps had no plan to put up a proper chase. 

Once Amla got out, hooking Mohit Sharma's bouncer to offer Shami a dolly in the deep at long-leg, the writing on the wall became evident. 

Though de Villiers walked out in the middle and there was an expectation for some magic and fireworks; however that was not easy, given the line and length Indian bowlers had already settled into. 

The good length spots that Shami, Umesh, and Mohit kept hitting constantly happened to be phenomenal. 

Besides, neither Jadeja nor Ashiwn was in any mood to deliver anything loose, so more of an industrious, patient, and intelligent application was needed from de Villiers and du Plessis than trying to muscle the ball around the park. 

An odd boundary in every two overs compounded with 3 to 4 singles in every over would have been ideal for the Proteas. 

They too perhaps thought so, thus started to bat, mindfully, before de Villiers overran in a way to get himself run-out, taking a clumsy turn at the non-striker end, underestimating Mohit's throwing capability to some extent - what it looked to be, given no diving effort from the batsman to reach home safely, while it was tight, really tight.

(Instead of running by forming the white curve, had AB run by following the yellow arrow, he would surely have completed the second run, comfortably).

Once de Villiers departed, South Africa was clearly under pressure because having batsmen in the dressing room and having them out in the middle to perform and deliver, when chips are down, are totally different ball games in any form of cricket - especially in a run chase of a target... over 300. 

In that situation, as Miller was hitting the ball sweetly, the need of the hour was for du Plessis to rotate the strike and play a sheet anchor's role. 

But he had different ideas, so tried to play an extravagant shot to throw his wicket away for nothing at the wrong time. 

Duminy never looked settled in his short vigil at the crease and eventually played a suicidal reverse sweep off Ashwin to give Raina a catching practice at first slip. 

Miller got run-out immediately after Duminy's dismissal, owing to an accurate throw from the deep square-leg by Umesh into Dhoni's gloves.   

South Africa's ignominy (177/10 in 40.2 overs) was finally over, as Jadeja trapped Imran Tahir for a plumb LBW decision. 

In a nutshell, clinical India exposed South Africa's wounds for a lick.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Pakistan beat Pakistan while India won their first match in Cricket World Cup 2015.

To begin the Cricket World Cup 2015 campaign, when India made 300 at the loss of 7 wickets in 50 overs, it was more of a commendable bowling performance by Pakistan in the death to concede only 84 runs in 10 overs for 5 wickets than India's flourish with the bat!

However, unlike bowling, Pakistan's fielding remained below average, especially the butter-fingered catching that allowed Virat Kohli to duly capitalise on the opportunity to produce a very useful ton. That innings not only helped him win the man of the match award but also helped India set a stiff target for Pakistan.

On the other hand, Suresh Raina played his part rather handsomely for a knock that was the nucleus of Indian innings. Though, for that, Misbah's captaincy should be put under the scanner in order to know why he let his spinners bowl to Raina... providing him with suitable lengths and angles that he would love, always, being a southpaw to free his arms, effortlessly.

Wish Misbah could learn one or two things from Dhoni who immediately removed Ashwin, the off-spinner, from the attack not to give Misbah even the slightest of opportunities to hit the ball straightway through or over mid-wicket.

Nevertheless, with the ball, Wahab Riaz was exceptional because of the discipline he showed throughout. 

In spite of Pakistan's tight bowling in the last 10 overs, it was Indian think-tank's thoughtlessness that didn't help India get extra 15-20 runs which should have been there in the scorecard. 

If Rahane was sent ahead of Jadeja, given his cricketing sense, which Jadeja lacks, he could've rotated the strike and thereby let Dhoni face crucial 5 balls to slog at. And who knows, some vital runs might have been scored off them in the process! 

Against a side that doesn't have a fragile batting unit unlike Pakistan does, those 15-20 runs might be deciding factors in the end. 

Albeit, the match was on, evenly poised, and a real battle of nerves was on the cards between clueless Indian bowling and listless Pakistani batting. 

And nobody perhaps expected Pakistan to win unless there were some miracles from Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq... using their willow power.

But, the moment Pakistan sent Younis Khan to open, Pakistan went down to 'zero for one' even before the start of the innings.  

It was kind of suicide because Younis is the guy who plays spin remarkably well and can rotate the strike at will, even playing within the 'V'. Plus, one shouldn't overestimate a batsman's capability to open an innings based on the runs he made and makes on subcontinent wickets, and in Abu Dhabi.

At No. 3, Haris Sohail was off the block in no real time, but, for reasons unknown, got into the shell, which looked more self-inflicted to anything to do with the Indian bowling in operation, to put pressure on Pakistan and destabilise the momentum which was constantly required in a chase, especially when the target was 301.

Not to mention, shot selections are more important than shot executions in any form of cricket. Because cricket is after all 'the game of judgements'. For that, one must understand and accept own limitations, as deeply as possible. Given the height of Ahmed Shehzad, if he tries to square drive a short ball being on the front foot, 90% chance would be there for him to slice the ball, helplessly, to get caught at point or at gully on pitches that offer considerable bounce and carry to the white cricket ball.

Sohaib Maqsood's head should be scanned in order to get a confirmation on the presence of a brain within his skull. Because if someone can think, he will not fish outside the off-stump on his arrival at the crease by playing away from his body while the opponent skipper anticipating him to do that only, and thus positioned a first slip for an edge.

Umar Akmal should definitely consider himself unlucky because the 3rd umpire gave an absolutely bizarre decision - even after using all technologies. That particular decision was awful, to some extent shameful, more so, as a benefit of doubt should always be given to the batsman, as per the law of cricket.

What Shahid Afridi did, only he could and can do that. His cricket has always been devoid of thinking, so an application from him to find gaps in the field was not expected. If that is understood, it won't be hard to justify why one needs to play a rash and lofted shot to a full-toss, while simply playing it along the ground or chipping it, gently, over the in-field one can get a boundary, as there was none in the deep patrolling the cover and extra cover regions.

Though Misbah played a captain's knock and duly deserves 'wah, wah, wah' from everybody, still, his tendency not to take enough singles to keep the scoreboard ticking, didn't benefit Pakistan. Misbah's batting was sublime but the approach was not so sensible and calculative.

Apparently, thanks to the favourable result, there should be no complaint against any Indian bowler, and Shami might also be considered as a rock star. However, things were, and hence are, not so rosy, if the length and line and no balls were scrutinised.

Indian bowlers' good stars - if any - saved them, whereas Pakistani batsmen behaved like school cricketers and were keener to come on the front-foot, instead of waiting on the back-foot, to mess things up by playing no horizontal shot whatsoever at Adelaide Oval - the ground with shorter square boundaries.

In case short balls were India's game-plan against Pakistan, then fine; otherwise if this length is maintained against South Africa or even Zimbabwe and West Indies, then Indian fielders might have to work overtime to become breathless sooner than later.

Frankly, Pakistani batsmen's approach to play Mohit Sharma was quite baffling too. Without attacking a newcomer from the word go to unsettle him, they rather allowed him to settle down. And Mohit is like one of those bowlers who are pretty rhythmic, and once they find the rhythm, can become ominous thanks to the momentum they gain, as the play progress.

Luck favoured Umesh Yadav and that's why he managed to survive. Else, a bowler who relies more on cross seam notwithstanding his pace that goes over 140-Kph often is not mentally fit to play at the highest level.

On the contrary, Ashwin, though his figures don't reflect that, has been the only bowler who seemed to have applied some grey matter, thus reduced the speed of deliveries in the air. To create more doubts on a batsman's mind and get more bounce off the deck, letting the ball spin.

Finally, if Pakistan applies commonsense to set their batting order, they could be in the second spot in the Pool B, for Zimbabwe or West Indies might stage an upset in this world cup by beating India, owing to their ability to play horizontal shots, if Indian pacers keep thinking... 'aggressive cricket means pitching the ball short, shorter, shortest'.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A N Ghosh Trophy on coir-matting wickets, Bengal's progress to regress in cricket.

Sourav introduces changes -- The Telegraph reported on Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Here is my rebuttal to explain why those changes are changes no doubt but of 'no use', mostly.

CHANGE 1: Sourav proposed a host of fresh ideas at a meeting for the upcoming AN Ghosh Trophy, an inter-club tournament, with the intention making the playing conditions more challenging for the players, which would shape them to be better cricketers.

The most striking of his innovative plans is using 'coir-matting wickets' for the matches. The basic idea behind it is that coir-matting will ensure more bounce off the wicket and hence, the batsmen will get used to playing rising deliveries before the Ranji Trophy begins.

MY REBUTTAL: 'Coir-matting wickets' provide any bowler with undue advantages by offering an uneven bounce; lateral movements off the pitch; and vicious turn. Thus, even a mediocre bowler starts to believe he has it in him what it takes to perform at the next level but finds himself all at sea on turf wickets, on which, his mediocrity gets exposed. Plus, to win 4-day Ranji Trophy matches, 20 wickets of an opponent team need to be taken, and for that, quality bowlers got to be developed, which could never be produced by letting them make merry on 'coir-matting wickets'.

To understand what I mean, please look at the 'coir' used in a cricket mat:

CHANGE 2: It will help the matches begin at 9.30 am instead of 10 am, as the factor of the pitch being soft in the early hours during the winter season can be ruled out.

MY REBUTTAL: Moisture or dew or water particles on 'coir-matting wickets', expected at 9.30 am in Kolkata, make the wicket heavier, therefore it becomes as dangerous as a turf wicket. In fact, it helps a cricket ball zip through after pitching, keeping abysmally low often, again providing undue advantages to bowlers.

CHANGE 3: To ensure that the bowlers conform to a better line, Sourav has also suggested that if in an over two deliveries are bowled outside the leg stump, a penalty of one run will be awarded to the batting side.

MY REBUTTAL: This is ridiculous! For such a rule doesn't help a bowler to experiment with his in-swings; off-cutters; googlies; and off-breaks. More so, when there is already a penalty rule for wide-balls.

CHANGE 4: The former India captain has also said that there has to be a slip fielder all through the innings, irrespective of who the bowler is.

MY REBUTTAL: Bogus! Because, in a match situation in Ranji Trophy, Bengal can't impose such a clause on its opponent teams.

CHANGE 5: Vision 2020 is Sourav’s brainchild, a project to bring up talented cricketers through proper coaching. It has also been decided that the Vision 2020 XI will not have more than three Ranji Trophy cricketers, thereby ensuring that the young players get more chances.

MY REBUTTAL: Why should Vision 2020 XI have even three Ranji Trophy cricketers, as other eight clubs anyway have Ranji Cricketers?

CHANGE 6: The duration of the AN Ghosh Trophy matches has been changed from two days to three. There will be two innings per side; while the first innings will be of 95 overs, the second will be of 45.

MY SUPPORT: That's the only welcome change! However, over divisions for each innings should ideally have been 90 for 1st innings and 50 for 2nd innings. Because, ODs are 50-50 games, so in way, 50 overs second innings could also help players get an additional match practice for ODs.