Saturday, May 03, 2008

Let the IPL(Games) Begin!!!

Its been almost two weeks since the Indian Premier League(IPL) got up and running with an awesome opening ceremony in Bangalore followed by an even more breathtaking century by the Kiwi-Brendon McCullum in the opening match. There is no questioning the stupendous success of the IPL and we have seen crowds take to the gorunds in their thousands even in the oppressive Indian summer heat. Amid these scenes, one thing is for certain: The game of cricket has changed forever. But, has it changed for the better or the worse? That is for us to analyse.

One of the notable differences between the EPL(English Premier League) and the IPL is that EPL did not change the way football is played. Since the time, football was introduced, it has been played over 90 minutes with a break of 45-minutes and the only aim is to put the ball into the opposition goal and prevent a ball being sent into your own goal. Cricket is essentially, a game between the bat and ball and demands equal importance to the batsman as well as the bowler. But, with the introduction of T20 cricket and IPL, the bowlers have been reduced as a side show. Its the batsman who is expected to hit sixes after sixes, and bowlers are just expected to run up and send down lollipops. This has led to uneven contests between bat and ball. One argument is that, there are some good bowlers who end up picking up wickets. The word GOOD needs to be underlined here as in T20, lots of great and good bowlers pick up wickets but one cannot deny the fact that lots of ordinary batsmen end up scoring runs by the ton as well.

We have also heard that in T20 cricket, the bowlers have a better chance of picking up wickets as the batsmen are looking to hammer each and every ball out of the park and are in turn taking a lot of risks which they would not have taken in a Test Match. While, this argument has logic, there are some other aspects which need consideration here. For example, the pitch. If the pitch is one which is tailor-made for batsmen, and an absolute featherbed, with nothing in for the bowler, the chances for a bowler taking a wicket off a good ball are few and in the same way, the chances of a batsman hitting a great ball for a six are also good. Another aspect is the boundary line. We have seen the boundary lines in cricket decreasing at an alarming rate of late, once again, courtesy, 20-over cricket because of which even rank mishits are carrying for sixes. So, here we have a situation that a bowler completely deceives a batsmen and ends up giving away six runs. Also, in this scenario, the spinner's role is going to be very negligent as he will not be able to flight the ball and thus, his role is relegated to just a run-restricting one and not an attacking one. If some of these aspects are given some thought by the administrators, we could see some even contests between bat and ball. The recent match between the Knightriders and the Chargers is a case in point. It was a minefield of a pitch at Eden Gardens where the bowlers enjoyed themselves and that match ended up being a thriller.

Some have mentioned that all forms of the game(Test Match, ODI, T20) will co-exist but I have my reservations about this. One of the examples is the Test Series, immediately preceding the IPL, between South Africa and India. For anyone who witnessed the series closely, there was no doubt that most of the Indian players were looking to preserve themselves for the IPL rather than play test matches. The way we lost the 2nd test match at Ahmedabad, proves this point. There was no committment from any of the players as India was bowled out for less than a 100 on a good pitch. The players sometimes cannot be faulted. After all, IPL is paying them 10-20 times more than what a test match pays, that too for 3 hours of madness!! So what, if you are representing the nation when playing a test match? Cricket is one of the very few sports where even though you play for the national team, you earn millions of dollars a year. No other sport pays so much when playing for the nation. Its when, you represent the club or franchisee, that the other sports pay.

Overall, IPL has,literally changed the face of world cricket. Franchisee cricket could be the order of the day in years to come. But, with the cricket calendar, jam-packed as it is now, we need to really look at creating a separate window for IPL which would ensure that all the contracted foreign players are able to turn up for the entire duration of the tournament.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Of Sachin and Fitness!

Sachin Tendulkar is the greatest batsman produced by India in any form of the game and is a role model for innumerous youngsters learning the game of cricket. However, recently, he showed the kind of irresponsible behaviour which was not expected from a man of his stature.

Immediately after the tour of Australia, the then physio, John Gloster, had in his fitness report mentioned that Sachin needs rest of at least 2-3 weeks in order not to aggravate the groin injury he had sustained in Australia. However, Sachin, inspite of the physio's advice, pronounced to the world and the media that he was 100% fit as far as he was concerned and was raring to play in the first test match against the visiting South Africans . His contribution to the Indian team in the first test was a BLOB. Of the 5 days of the match, he spent 70% of the game in the dressing room. He did not take the field on the last day as it was diagnosed that the groin injury had flared up and this time resulted in the him missing the next two test matches.

If it was any other Indian cricketer who had done such a thing, I would not have dwelled a lot on such a behaviour. Sachin, by playing a test match, when he was not fully fit, could have even joepardised the team's chances of coming up with a win though in hindsight, that was not the case. The point is, it could have cost India the match. Agreed that Sachin played in the 2nd final of the CB series in Australia, when he had the groin niggle, but that was an limited overs match and this was a test match played over 5 days.

After the Indian team returned from Australia, all the players who had played in the test matches were asked to undergo fitness tests to prove their fitness. Even, those in the ODI squad with dodgy fitness were tested, but Sachin was not asked to prove fitness when it was clearly mentioned by John Gloster that he was not fully fit. This is the kind of favoritism which has been the bane of Indian cricket and will continue to be so forever. Now, by aggravating the injury, Sachin could have done more harm than good to his body.

For the sake of Indian cricket as well as his Sachin's supporters, which includes me, I do hope Sachin comes back to full fitness soon because the team needs him more than anyone else.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

End of a Streak,Yes, But certainly not the end of an Era

I was unable to watch the semi-final match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic as I was in work and followed the match on the internet. At the end of it all, I felt it was just as well that I was unable to watch the match, as it was too hard to digest the fact that King Federer would not be in the final. This event was going to happen for the first time since the French Open 2005. That was the last time Federer did not reach the final of a grand slam. Since then, he has graced the grand final of 10 straight grand slams and won 8 of them. I was in tears as the news of Federer losing sank into me. It is late on Sunday as I compose this blog and Djokovic has beaten Tsonga in a thrilling final and I still haven't come to terms with the fact that Federer has not reached the final. I was unable to concentrate on anything else and was almost in tears as the news sunk in.

Sometimes, I ask myself, How long will the Federer reign continue? With the kind of depth in tennis we have today with the likes of Nadal, Djokovic, Roddick, Murray, Gasquet and a host of other promising young players knocking on Federer's doors, the standard and quality in men's tennis may never have been higher. This is the kind of competition Federer has to deal with day in and day out as he tries to catch up with the great Pete Sampras and eventually overhaul him. There is no doubt that Federer may no longer be the player he was in 2006 when he hardly put a foot wrong( read French Open). And even when he had a decent 2007 as per his very high standards, he still won 3 majors(Australian, Wimbledon & US) and was stretched only in the Wimbledon Final. So, it is definitely quite early to write federer off just on the basis of his performance Down Under, especially when you consider he was coming off a stomach illness which did hamper his preparations. Believer it or not, considering his non-preparation, he did have a very good tournament reaching the semifinal. But, such is his domination that if Federer does not win a tournament, it is considered a Big Big failure. As Federer himself admitted, he has created a monster that he needed to win every tournament he plays.

The Australian Open is now over and the master has got a month's rest before he takes to the courts for the Dubai Open. And with no pressure of winning the Grand Slam(4 slams in the same year) this year around, I am sure he is going to go all out in his preparations for the French Open. His preparations for the French major is going to be much more strong this year as he is playing an extra clay tournament at Estoril. And I personally feel that if he gets the French Open, he would be able to push on for the 6th straight Wimbledon & his 5th straight US Open titles without too much of an added pressure. There is no doubt that the Djokovics and the Nadals of this world are going to give Federer the fight of his life but the kind of champion that Federer is, we can expect him to come back in roaring fashion. The first battle of 2008 has been completed Down Under and we can expect the action to hot up in the run up to round 2 in Paris and Federer would be in the thick of the action trying to get his hands on the Musketeer's cup for the first time. We can talk all about it on June 8th. And so the journey begins for the Master.