Monday, February 28, 2011

Cricket: Some Opportunities for Improvement!

Having just seen a great match (the tied encounter between India and England) it’s quite natural to think about the match for some time - at least until we see the next match. In fact, Cricket is all about that – wasting a whole day watching it and then many more days thinking and talking about it in great lengths.

Though it looked spectacular to watch 676 runs being scored on a same day in a single match, I strongly feel that this is what is going to kill the game in the long run. It is fast becoming batsmen’s game in the name of making it more attractive, more so after the introduction of T20. Bowlers are becoming ineffective in almost all countries.

I grew up hearing about how one day format was killing the real Cricket, i.e. the test format. Today, there is a new format that is killing both test and one day formats. Is it good for the game? No, it is not – if you think of the amount of test and one day spectators being lost. Is it good for us? Yes, it is – if you think of the amount of time saved by not watching test and one day matches.

Yeah, coming back to today’s match, one major problem that I noticed today was the pitch. It has always been a problem in the subcontinent. Luckily, it was a tie. So, I can talk about it now. Otherwise, I would have been blamed for giving excuses (if we had lost) or for taking away the credit from those who deserve it (if we had won).

Many times, I have seen better teams lose just because of the pitch condition or a lost toss, especially in subcontinent venues. At times, I even think if we should ban day-night matches in the subcontinent. The pitch and toss play bigger roles than the players in this part of the world more than anywhere else. If toss or the pitch decides the outcome, then where is the place for talent?

There should be acceptable standards for pitches. Some time back, one of the intelligent Cricketers of our time – Ravi Shastri was suggesting that artificial mats be used for pitches. Considering the volatility that the game has to bear, I think, it is a sensible idea. Both teams would play on same pitch. Even then factors such as dew would play their roles.

Sri Lanka is the worst country to have Cricket matches. Some below average batsman with good stamina would hit a hundred and an average one will hit two or three hundred runs against a formidable bowling side. This problem is something that the T20 format does not have. Another reason why T20 should pick up!

Some people say that the best team should win in all conditions. I agree. But, there won’t be any best team going by that argument. Even the Australian team during best of its times could not win a test series in India. Does it mean we were better side? Rubbish! The organizers of the game should ensure equal opportunity and conditions for all sides. Creating definitions for ‘the best team’ is the job of part-time spectators of the game.

I get pissed off when we win by innings at home and then lose by an innings and hundreds of runs away. It’s all because of the spin-friendly slow pitches that we have been making for ages. It is okay to have such pitches in international matches until we get used to pace-friendly pitches because that is what our strength is. But, to start with, we should make pace-friendly grassy pitches for at least the domestic matches to face tougher challenges in foreign soils.

With this, I am also reminded of many other aspects of the game that I have never been comfortable with. One of them is the amount of attribution done to the captain of the team. Every time we lose an important series or two in a row we remove the captain and give the mantle to someone else who may not even deserve it. Does it really make sense?

If you have identified someone as the best talent to lead the side, he should never be changed until there is a better one identified. May be, we didn’t identify the best one correctly or we didn’t know how to do that. That’s the reason we kept on changing captains, I guess. That way, we are better than Pakistan. A feel good factor!

I never liked Kapildev as captain in the team that had Sunil Gavaskar though it had won a world cup. Likewise, I didn’t think Azharuddin was the best captain material when Kapildev was in the team and Tendulkar in Azharuddin’s time and so on. I always thought, it should have been like this – Gavaskar > Kapildev > Shastri > Azharuddin > Kumble > Tendulkar.

Just because Gavaskar didn’t win too many games as captain it didn’t mean that his leadership skills or his knowledge on the game was questionable. The team is as strong as the team and not the captain alone. That’s why it’s called a team game. It does matter but not to the extent that we have been made to believe.

I always hated Ricky Ponting as captain. He has zero (or negative) leadership qualities or for that matter gamesmanship. It has taken almost a decade for the world to recognize that. I thought Shane Warne was the right choice for the job after Steve Waugh, but he had his own controversies to deal with. Anyways, he proved his point to the world by making the weakest team win the trophy in IPL-1 as its captain and coach.

Then, another thing that I don’t like in Indian Cricket is our domestic Cricket format. People are not talking about it because we have started winning more these days. It would come back for discussion only when we start losing again. Either you win or lose – our problems are problems, strengths are strengths and leaders are leaders. End result should surely be considered in decision making but other factors also need to be taken into account if we want to rule the world consistently.

I strongly feel Ranji Trophies have spoiled our talents. Hitting triple centuries against teams like Goa and Pondicherry should never be considered. There should just be five or six teams like in Australia. That would improve the quality of games being played at first class Cricket, which would eventually contribute to the national side in better ways.

Then, LBW is one grey thing in Cricket that causes too much unrest at times. There is no foolproof method to ascertain whether someone is really out or not. This gives a huge room for wrong decisions and puts a lot of pressure on umpires. With so much technological advancement, we should certainly make better use of the technology.

There are too many voices against using the technology to its fullest potential. I do not understand why. People do not want to remove the human element from the game. Okay. It’s fine. But, what is wrong with it if technology could help us make better decisions and avoid mistakes?

Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) that has been introduced in this world cup is good, but is not the best. Some say that it would put umpires in bad light. True. But, what is the solution to the problem? Earlier, for some time, the umpires had an option to refer to the third umpire for LBW as well. I don’t know what was wrong with that. For some reason, that also was removed.

Then, the world cup format has mostly been meaningless with number of groups and too many minnows to spoil the game (in fact, in the name of popularizing it). Kapildev’s 175 and Vivian Richards’s 189 can never be compared with today’s top scores in dead pitches against the countries that are learning Cricket in world cups. I pray that this sanity prevails from next world cup.

I would say the one in 92 was the best format – all teams (only nine, which should have been just eight excluding Zimbabwe) playing against all in league and the top four meeting in knock-out semis. Luck played the smallest possible role (though it played a horrible role for South Africa in a different manner, the favorites Aussies couldn't even enter semis and the most inconsistent - yet one of the best teams at all times in terms of potential - Pakistan won the cup).

2007 was the worst with four groups and quarter finals. It was ridiculous to see Bangladesh in place of India. I agree with the argument that India did not play that game better than Bangladesh and hence Bangladesh went in, but a format that allows a team that has lost 20 out of 22 times to qualify over a side that has won so many times against them is a failure in the format.

Every team has a bad day. Such bad days should not decide the fate of teams in a great Cricket event like world cup. Even in 83, it was one such bad day of West Indies that helped us win the trophy. That was proven in the next home series that we had against West Indies. We were beaten like mad! 'Best of three' would solve this problem, but that might take away a lot of fun.

I do realize that such surprises and shocks are what that make this game all the more interesting, but what gets beaten up is the talent and the confidence of the talented players. What you opine would depend on what you want from the game – whether it is fun or fair play. I think fairness is important even in games because it involves huge money and time of people. And, not just that, the games are meant to play larger roles between peoples of different countries and cultures. That should explain how important it is for the organizers to conduct fair games.

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