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Could New Zealand upset India?

A series win for New Zealand in India would be one of the biggest upsets in Test history.

Pitch_turning_cricket_home_away_spin

India host New Zealand for 3 Tests. But this series shouldn’t be a big challenge for the No. 2 Ranked Test team. They are overwhelming favourites and rightly so. If India’s form at home last year against South Africa is anything to go by, barring weather interruptions, India should win all 3 matches. The pitches and their preparation will play a huge role. Barring the influence of rain, it seems improbable that any of the pitches for the Tests at Kanpur, Kolkata and Indore will not assist the spinners.

India preparing pitches that help their spinners is part of the larger phenomenon in international Cricket where teams have been preparing pitches to suit them. We saw England prepare dry pitches during the Ashes to blunt the formidable pace attack of Australia. If the Test matches against New Zealand are done and dusted in 3 days or less, the debate over whether the pitches were substandard or not up to Test match level quality will surely be rekindled, but it is mostly unfounded.

The spin trio of Ashwin, Mishra and Jadeja should prove to be a handful against a New Zealand batting line up that doesn’t boast any top players of spin except Kane Williamson. The much vaunted South African line up collapsed regularly last year against the same spin trio, and it’s difficult to fathom that the result will be anything different if the pitches in this Test series are of a similar nature.

 

New Zealand did record a famous victory against India at Nagpur during the World T20 earlier this year, but a lot of factors contributed towards that win. India did not read the pitch correctly and were defensive in their mindset with the ball. The batsmen got out to soft dismissals and the required run rate climbed up swiftly. This won’t be the case in Test matches, where Virat Kohli has always looked to be aggressive with his bowling decisions, as seen in his preference for picking 5 frontline bowlers. Also, with no required run rate pressure, the Indian batsman can afford to play the New Zealand spinners out and wear them down. With two innings, it won’t be easy for New Zealand to press home the advantage, given India’s spin trio.

Coming to the teams’ current form, India were clinical in West Indies. If not for the weather, they could very well have whitewashed the series 4–0. The combination of Anil Kumble and Virat Kohli has started off well. Given Anil Kumble’s experience of leading India to victory in Tests at home, he will surely impart that knowledge to the spin trio and develop plans accordingly for each of the New Zealand batsmen.

New Zealand have had a great run in Tests in the recent past, but have faltered over the last year and lost convincingly against Australia both home and away, as well as in South Africa. Given that their inspirational captain Brendon McCullum has retired, Kane Williamson has a lot on his plate.

New Zealand’s record in India also doesn’t inspire much confidence. They haven’t won a Test match in India for 26 years. They have just won 2 test matches out of the 31 matches they have played in India over a period of 51 years. It goes without saying that they have never won a series in India. They lost their last two Test series in India in 2010 and 2012. They lost both matches in 2012. Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha were unstoppable in the 2012 series and ran through their batting line up with ease. Ashwin has further matured as a bowler, having added more tricks to his armory, and is much more disciplined now.

With a batting line up which does not have a great track record against spin and an inexperienced spin bowling attack, it’ll be an uphill battle for them to win a Test. A series win for New Zealand would be one of the greatest upsets in Test cricket history.

This post was originally published on holdingwilley.com and can be read here

Two-nil or nothing

Anything less than a 2-0 win over West Indies would be a loss for India.

West_Indies_India_Test_series_cricketThe Indian Test team has been performing very well under the leadership of Virat Kohli, enjoying memorable series victories in Sri Lanka and against South Africa at home. They seem to be well rested and well prepared for the upcoming Test series in the West Indies. The BCCI ensured that the team landed in the West Indies more than 2 weeks before the first Test and that they played 2 practice games prior to the first match. They also had a rigorous preparatory camp in India before that.

The West Indies, on the other hand, have lost 6 of their last 7 Tests and lost all 3 of those Test series. Their team isn’t at the top of their game and internal disputes have ensured that some of their top players are unavailable for selection for Test matches. Also, any victory in Test matches against a top opposition is a rarity these days.

From what we have seen of the pitches in West Indies of late, they have been dry, devoid of grass, and helpful to spinners. Also, given the cricket which has been played recently at most grounds – the WI-Aus-SA Tri Series and the CPL – the pitches are weary and expected to further help the spinners. We saw that in the practice games as well where the Indian spinners spun a web around the opposition. Jadeja seemed especially threatening.

The Indian Test team under Virat Kohli has employed a strategy of playing just 5 batsmen. This is different from MS Dhoni, who would typically play it safe with 6 batsmen. Virat Kohli’s positive approach is a step in the right direction as it ensures he has 5 bowling options at his disposal. Defensive bowling strategy was one of the reasons India won just 4 Tests (out of 26) outside Asia under Dhoni’s leadership. That Ashwin, Mishra and Jadeja can all score some runs also helps with the balance. India is expected to play 3 frontline spinners for a majority of the series.

India’s batting looks very well settled. Murali Vijay has been India’s best Test batsmen over the last few years and Virat Kohli is in the form of his life. Ajinkya Rahane has performed exceptionally well outside India, and there is very healthy competition for spots in the playing XI amongst Pujara, KL Rahul, Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. This is a good problem to have and ensures that none of the batsmen take their place in the playing XI for granted. Even in the bowling department, replacements are available if any player is injured or isn’t performing up to expectations.

Newly appointed coach Anil Kumble has also given the impression that he is a meticulous planner. The ample time available before his first series as coach will surely help him. But it must be noted that Duncan Fletcher’s first assignment as coach was the tour to West Indies in 2011. India won the ODI, T20 as well as the Test Series on that tour but went downhill after that. Kumble needs to ensure that even if India wins this series comprehensively, they should be mindful of the challenges they will face at home later this season and not be complacent.

It seems that this Test series will be decided based on how often the Indian bowlers can take 20 wickets. Having 5 bowlers on these slow pitches helps their cause. The West Indies will be facing an uphill task against a formidable Indian team. Jason Holder has to inspire his team, and the players need to respond with better than expected performances for them to put up a challenge. A lot rests on senior batsmen Marlon Samuels and Darren Bravo. The current West Indies batting revolves around them and it will be up to them to ensure the Windies put up respectable totals and offer resistance.

Given the current situation of the teams and how things stand, India should be very disappointed with anything less than 2-0 victory margin. The Indian team has a long, very long, home season ahead with 13 Test matches. They have the No. 1 ranking in Test matches in their sights. This series is meant to be a stepping stone for that. One hopes that the team plays with a much more positive outlook than the one they had in Dominica when they toured last time.

 

This post was originally published on holdingwilley.com and can be read here

The Mini IPL isn’t a bad idea, and will do what the Champions League T20 could not.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) is by far the most lucrative domestic T20 league in the world. There already exists an ‘Official’ Window for the IPL: for 4-5 weeks in April – May no major test playing nation plays any international cricket. The 9th Season of the IPL was arguably the most closely contested season and also did not have any big controversies. This helped IPL’s brand value to reach an all-time high of $ 4.16 billion as well.

After the Champions League T20 (CLT20) was scrapped, an official window of 3 weeks every September exists in the ICC Future Tours’ Programme (FTP). BCCI wants to organize the “Mini IPL” during this window. Having a Mini IPL will further improve the brand of the IPL and the franchises will get more value from their investments. This will also eventually ensure that the salaries of players increase further.

The salaries earned by IPL players are at par with that of many top sporting leagues as per this survey. Several international players earn more money playing for and in the IPL than they earn from the contracts they have for representing their country throughout the year. Also, as most of these players would have been taking part in the CLT20 anyway, a Mini IPL will not, in principle, add to their work load.

The Mini IPL has a 3 week window for this year; 15-20 T20 matches can easily be held conducted overseas at venues like the UAE, SA, England etc. Ideally, it would be better if the BCCI would conduct Mini IPL at venues where there isn’t much top quality international cricket being played, so that they can spread the game. As the majority of the revenue generated from the Mini IPL will be from the sale of broadcast rights, the ticket prices can be kept low to ensure that the curious local population can come and watch the matches. T20 can be used to further popularize the game of cricket in new territories.

Given that there will be so few matches in the Mini IPL, almost every game will have some context. It will go a long way in ensuring that fans from all over the world, and especially India, tune in to watch the matches. One of the major reasons for the CLT20 failing to reach its projected revenue targets was because of the participation of weaker teams, which led to one sided matches and teams with small fan bases playing. This will not be the case with the Mini IPL as we have most of the top international stars playing and all the teams (yes, even the new franchises) have established fan bases.

Organizing a Mini IPL this year might be a challenge given India’s packed home calendar.

India’s tour of West Indies ends on August 22.

India A’s Tour of Australia ends on September 18.

New Zealand’s Tour of India begins on September 22.

BCCI president Anurag Thakur has said that the Duleep Trophy, which will be held between August 22 and September 22, will feature all the top players.

But the Mini IPL is sure to be played from 2017 onwards, and it might not necessarily be a bad thing. Many cricket fans will surely be looking forward to the Mini IPL when it starts.

This post was originally published on holdingwilley.com and can be read here

On a batting paradise like Wankhede, India’s below par score doomed them more than the no balls.

For me, the biggest disappointment of the India vs West Indies semi final wasn’t India’s bowling or the no balls. It was the way India approached their innings with the bat.

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Everyone knows that chasing is easy at the Wankhede stadium. The pitch is flat and has almost nothing for the bowlers. The boundaries are small and sixes galore are on offer at this ground. India strengthened their batting by going in with a specialist batsman instead of an all rounder in place of injured Yuvraj Singh.

The move to replace Dhawan with Rahane was understandable, but the way in which Rahane was allowed to play was shambolic. Having witnessed the match from inside the stadium, I saw how India had sent a 12th man with a bottle after almost every over. Rohit Sharma played a lot of dot balls but made up for it to an extent by hitting six boundaries (3 fours, 3 sixes).

It wasn’t as if Rahane was playing slowly all by himself. There was no urgency shown from the team management to push him to score quickly. Rahane also did not try to hit sixes or go after boundaries, he was happy to just rotate the strike. He hit just two boundaries (both fours) in his innings which lasted 35 deliveries. At Wankhede, that’s criminal.

With Dhoni, Raina, Manish Pandey, Pandya, Jadeja and Ashwin left to bat, this attitude cost India dearly. The boundaries were few and far between and India had scored just 128 runs with just 27 deliveries left to go by the time Rahane got out. An innings of 40 runs in 35 deliveries is a match losing knock at Wankhede. The team management needs to be blamed for allowing him to score at such a slow pace on the batting paradise at Wankhede.

All this meant that India was destined to score a below par total at this ground. A par score, considering the depth and explosive nature of the West Indies batting line up and the batting paradise that was the ground, would have been 210. India fell considerably short of that.

The results of the previous Day Night games during this WT20 should also have been a lesson for the team management, the bowlers and especially the spinners find it difficult to grip the ball at night. English spinners struggled against Gayle and South Africa weren’t able to defend 229 at this ground. Anyone who has seen IPL matches at Wankhede will also know that how easy it is to chase and even a required Run rate of 12 is achieved easily in the last 10 overs if a team has wickets in hand. Even if Indian bowlers did not bowl any no balls, it would be wishful thinking to imagine that Indian bowlers with a wet ball would have been able to defend 193 against the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Darren Sammy,  Carlos Braithwaite etc. What the West Indies batsmen did was that they never let the required run rate creep up above 13. That meant that if they scored a Six an over they would be good, and they did that pretty easily.

This post was originally published on holdingwilley.com and can be read here

 

It is time to prepare for the future.
Does Cricket needs This ? © Creative Commons

A lot of sports have indoor stadiums these days. Baseball, American Football, Tennis, etc. This is to ensure that the interruptions due to the weather are minimized and also so that the game can be played throughout the year. Cricket has been played in an indoor stadium before. Back in August 2000, during the Australian winter, Docklands Stadium hosted a three-match ODI series between Australia and South Africa. Cricket isn’t played in Australia in August but this series was possible only because there was an indoor stadium.

Given the hectic international cricket schedule these days, matches are being held all throughout the year. We recently saw a test match being played at Fatullah in Bangladesh held during the monsoon season. Only 184 overs of play were possible. About 60% of the possible overs in that test were lost due to rain. Due to scheduling constraints, India had to tour Bangladesh during that time. This just shows us how helpless we are when Mother Nature decides to come to the party.

BCCI is amongst the richest sports governing bodies in the world. Given how the climate is becoming unpredictable these days with unseasonal rains and extremely high temperatures during the summer; it isn’t a bad idea to invest in an indoor cricket stadium in India. BCCI could look at part funding of the same or tie up with a private developer to make it a reality.

We could have matches starting at 12 noon in the heat of April and May, and also during the monsoons in July and August. This could help BCCI host three IPL games in a day, play ODIs and even Test matches round the year. This assures cricket fans, broadcasters and players that matches won’t be interrupted due to weather conditions. It might sound far-fetched now but given the erratic weather patterns this could eventually happen.

Indoor stadiums can be used to host concerts, rallies and also to host other sports like Football. If the indoor stadium is made in a metropolitan city, it will surely be used round the year given the number of events that are being hosted every year these days. This would ensure that revenue is being generated throughout the year.

The idea of an indoor cricket stadium has never been explored in India. This is the right time to take it forward. Some of the older Cricket stadiums in India are yet to undergo a facelift. Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Chepauk Stadium in Chennai and the Eden Gardens in Kolkata have been recently rebuilt and/or renovated. The M Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru was built in the ‘70s and has not been extensively renovated. It is centrally located and rain interruptions are common for cricket matches held in Bengaluru. An Indoor cricket stadium in its place should be explored as it can also be used as a venue for concerts and also for other sporting events.

We’ll have to wait and watch whether indoor stadiums become as common as day-night cricket or not. Do let us know in the comments below about what your thoughts on indoor stadiums.

 

DRS: Boon or Bane?

Sooner or later, technology must be embraced.
DRS- a boon or a bane © Creative Commons

The Decision Review System (DRS) is a system that allows cricket players to challenge decisions made by umpires during a match. It was first introduced in 2008 when Sri Lanka hosted the Indian cricket team. It was a new system which hadn’t been trialed in domestic cricket as yet but was directly introduced into the international arena. The BCCI and the SLC had agreed to be the ‘lab rats’ for this.

The DRS is a pretty complicated system and the rules on marginal LBW calls take time to get used to. India had a horrible time with the DRS and only made one successful review that season. On the other hand, Sri Lanka made 11 successful reviews. This was the first test series for Ajantha Mendis and Indian batsmen struggled against him. That combined with their inability to use the DRS effectively, India lost the series 2-1. Post this series senior Indian batsmen, including Sachin Tendulkar, did not take liking to this system (he has been a vocal advocate for the rejection of the DRS system). Since then, India has never used the DRS fully (including ball-tracking) in a bilateral series. However, India did agree to use the DRS without ball-tracking for the England tour in 2011. All other major test playing nations use the DRS in some form or the other. It is only in bilateral series involving India that the DRS isn’t used.

The DRS system isn’t perfect, but if one is able to improve the accuracy of decisions made in the game, it needs to be properly incorporated to reduce the number of human errors made. We’re not saying that the DRS is fool proof and that it gives us 100% correct decisions, a 100% of the time. But the DRS can be used to eliminate howlers and help remove errors that umpires make – they’re human too after all. The flaws in the system and it’s current application are ironed out, it could be applied universally for the better good of the all in the game.

The first, and one of the most important issues, is the cost and the kind of equipment available at the disposal of the third umpire using the DRS. For test series that take place in England and Australia, Hotspot and real time Snicko are used. But not all test series across the world have the availability of Hotspot. This sort of variance should be avoided. The ICC need to define a set of equipment which are to be used under the DRS which should be consistent across all cricket playing countries. To foot the bill for the equipment they could look at roping in a sponsor. Whenever a review is taken the commentators can call it the ‘XYZ review’. XYZ being the name of the brand which foots the bill for the DRS. If they aren’t able to find a sponsor to fully fund the DRS, the ICC should look at bearing some of the cost, thereby subsidizing the equipment in order to keep a level playing field.

The second issue is that of the umpire’s call. Under the current system we have a situation when 51% of the ball hitting the stumps is given ‘out’ if the umpire originally called it ‘out’; and the decision is ‘not out’ if 49% of the ball hits the stumps when the umpire originally gave it ‘not out’. Here, the centre of the ball with reference to the line of the stumps at the time of the impact on the pads is taken into consideration. The umpire’s call has to be drastically revised and an acceptable margin of error has to be put in place, depending on the ball-tracking mechanism capabilities. If there is a margin of error of 10% in the current ball-tracking system, then it has to be considered and not the current 51% for umpire’s call.

The third issue is the number of reviews a team has. While 2 are adequate per innings in test matches, 1 review per innings in an ODI is too few and no reviews in the T20’s is absurd. Teams have to be given 2 reviews per innings in all forms of the game. It might slow down the game a little, but this will ensure that a higher percentage of decisions are taken correctly.

The bottom line: One needs to embrace technology and think of ways to improve the system in order to improve the percentage of correct decisions being made. Rejecting a system entirely because it isn’t 100% accurate is hardly prudent for our teams.

 

Understanding the vastly different playing conditions.
Maidan vs International

Indians play cricket matches wherever they get space. This is true especially in big cities where it is extremely difficult to find open spaces to play sport. Cricket is played practically everywhere, be it on a street or inside a classroom or in a local maidan (playground). The passion for the game shown in India is infectious. Local maidans hosts a lot of serious matches and the prospective players hone their skills. Players aspire to play for India and put in many hours daily to perfect their skills. Here, we will look at the differences between playing in local playgrounds and international stadiums:

Number of matches

On local playgrounds, a lot of matches are played simultaneously and the best pitches are usually on a first-come-first-serve basis. The iconic Azad Maidan in South Mumbai has 22 cricket pitches and at times, 22 matches are being played simultaneously.

In international stadiums, the ground size is massive and hosts a single match at a time. Everyone’s attention is focused on one game. There are many pitches in the central square (typically 4-8), but at any given time only one of them is used.

Practice areas

In local maidans, even a small open space is used as a practice area. Makeshift nets are set up and players make the best use of the space that is available to them.

Most international stadiums have designated practice areas inside the stadium complex, but outside the main playing arena. Some of the older stadiums have a couple of practice pitches inside the main playing arena as well.

Crowd

Anybody walking around the maidan becomes an audience for the game. They do not have designated seating areas and most of the audience watches the game by standing inside the maidan. Typically, many matches are being played at a given time, so the audience has options and can watch any game of their choice.

In international stadiums, there are proper designated seating areas and barriers which separate the crowd from the playing arena. For international matches, the stadium is full and the whole crowd is intently watching the match. With many eyes tracking the game, there is a lot of pressure on players from the home team to perform.

Rules

At maidans, the rules are tweaked depending on the playing location and player availability. Boundary location varies as per the pitch location on the maidan. If there is an obstacle on the ground like a tree and a batsman hits it, a designated number of runs are given. At times, the umpire is from batting side. Matches are also played with hard tennis balls.

In stadiums, standard cricket rules apply and all the facilities are in place. Rules are rules. The boundaries are pre-defined. There is a neutral umpire in place. Matches are played with a cork ball and every member of the team wears the team uniform and the batsmen play after wearing full cricketing equipment.

Aspirations

The players who toil daily on these maidans aspire to play for their first class team and eventually the national team. This is what drives them to continue playing in these conditions and be recognised by the selectors and talent scouts.

First class cricketers who play in these international stadiums aspire to play for the national team and those in the national team want to perform for the nation and play for the country. The dreams and aspirations get bigger.