Saturday, December 02, 2006

On Cricket

Lot's of stuff happening in the cricket world so let's get right to it.

Pakistan 2 - West Indies 0
A fair result? I guess, though you can argue given Asoka's umpiring in the first test and Lara' s innings in the second that the Windies deserved a share of the series. I'm sorry if that comes across as less-than-euphoric, but I really wasn't impressed by our cricket in the series. We dropped an awful lot of catches; our selection was wrong, just wrong (man, was I stupid when I said Razzaq should play); our batting was way too dependent on one guy (will get to him in a second); our bowling lacked bite other than Gully; and Inzi's captaincy, as usual, left a lot to be desired insofar as field placings are concerned. We were lucky that we were playing a fairly crap team, but hey, I'll take it. After the tumultuous events of August-October, I'll definitely take it.

I suppose I should extend fiverupees' heartiest congratulations to Mohammad Yousuf. So, here goes: Congratulations, Mohammad Yousuf. You've made us all very proud. But (drizzle on his parade alert), before we get carried away, let's remember the Windies dropped him something like 6 times in the series. If he was playing Australia, he wouldn't have made one hundred in the series let alone four. And he is also the beneficiary of today's pitches, bats, boundaries and bowling attacks. Consider the fact that 5 of the top 6 and 13 of the top 18 calendar-year aggregates have taken place since 2002. Those are insane numbers.

Look, I (since Lords this year) love Yousuf. Honestly. I really don't want to pull an Ian Bishop/Jeffrey Dujon by downplaying his achievements. 1700 plus runs year in 12 months with nine hundreds is phenomenal, it really is. If anything, "phenomenal" might be putting lightly. And a perfectly reasonable question in response to the "today's pitches are easy and the bowling attacks suck nowadays" argument would be "Ok, why doesn't anyone else score 1700 runs in a year?" That's a legitimate argument, even if it slightly misses the point. The point is not whether or not Yousuf is right up there with the upper tier of this age (Lara, Dravid, Ponting, Tendulkar, in that order). The point I'm trying to make is that we must place Yousuf's achievements in context. Normally I agree with the claim that you can't compare atheletes across different time periods. But here you can. If the list of top run getters is so heavy on post-2002 players, that tells you there's something drastically different today compared with, say, the 80s. So let's chill out and take a deep breath before calling him the best player Pakistan has ever produced as Inzi stupidly put it. He's not even the best player Pakistan has produced currently playing. That player is Inzi.

I'll be very interested to see how Yousuf plays in South Africa. For one thing, he's going to be up against an attack that is completely decimating the Indians right now. For another, the pitches are going to challenge his back foot play as much as any in the world (if SA are smart, they'll prepare Old Trafford 2006 type pitches every time). And for yet another, he's going to be fighting against the law of averages (again). I know I keep harping on that last point, but surely, surely, this run has to end some time. And if it ends in SA, is it because he can't handle their bowling or is because the numbers have finally caught up with him? I for one think that if he does have a poor series, it'll be the latter rather than the former, though of course a lot depends on his mode of dismissals (if he's caught at gully fending off Steyn and Ntini three times in six innings, we'll know it's not the law of averages). Let's wait and see.

Before I move off Pakistan, I want to talk about Imran the Terrible. His flashy, lucky batting has just guaranteed him three tests in South Africa. I've never been good with predictions, but mark my words. Print this post out, underline it, highlight it in pink, yellow and green, do whatever the hell you want. My prediction is this: Imran the Terrible will be a complete, unmitigated disaster in South Africa. I'm talking Agarkar-in-Australia-in-2000 type disaster. I'm talking Atapattu-in-his-debut-series disaster. If he averages more than 15 in South Africa, I promise to write a post with the heading "Ahsan is a complete fucking jackass and doesn't deserve to write about the game and is able to do so only because his friend started a blog". You can hold me to this. I will hold myself to this. 15 is the magic number. Remember this.

Gentleman, the Ashes
I just watched all of day 2 at Adelaide. The first thing that hit me was the difference in commentary (they have three of my four favourites: Mark Nicholas, Ian Chappell and Richie Benaud...they really need to steal David Gower away from Sky). After listening to Haroon Rasheed, Dujon and Rameez it was like going to a Dostoyevsky novel after reading "Archie's Double Digest". The second thing that hit me was, McGrath looks old. I mean really old. The third thing that hit me was that with Collingwood and Pietersen, England have probably the best 4-5 combination in the world at playing spin. They completely took Warne out of the game, treating him like the Indians treat him. I've always said that's the way to play him - so many teams (especially Pakistan) give him way too much respect. If you treat him as a bowler with two variations (leg spinner and slider; his flipper's gone and he never had a googly) he becomes a helluva lot more manageable than you would think. The fourth thing that hit me was that by January, England could well have a legitimate claim to being the best team in the world. I don't say that lightly, and I'm not just swayed by today's play, which was all England. I'm thinking about the way they beat us this summer (yes we were without Shoaib and Asif; but they were without Flintoff, Simon Jones, Anderson and Vaughan). I'm thinking about the way Ian Bell, despite looking completely at sea against Warne yesterday, still did enough to survive and scrap his way to 60, the type of innings every team aspiring to best-in-the-world status needs every now and then. But most of all, I'm thinking about the way they've put Brisbane behind them like it literally never happened. They look at the Aussies as equals - you can tell just the way they play and the stuff they say. And Brisbane did nothing to dispel that notion. I know it sounds horribly cliched, but to be the best, you have to believe you can be/are the best. England do. Which is why they might be in about 5 weeks.

Indian cricket
You know you're in trouble when you're calling Ganguly back to shore your batting up against pace and bounce. Dear God, how did this happen? Less than three years ago, India had a guy averaging more than 50 with a strike rate of 400 as opener (Sehwag), two of the world's three best players (Dravid and Tendulkar), one guy who had the strange habit of being un-dismissable by the best team in the world for anything less than a 100 (Laxman) and a fiery captain whom everyone backed (Ganguly). Less than a year ago, India had largely the same batting lineup, except they substituted one of the world's great young talents (Yuvraj) for the can't bat-can't bowl-can't field ex-captain. In other words, batting really shouldn't have been a problem. But man, what a problem it is. I watched some of the last ODI, and I've never seen a team look so lost against pace. Never. Now Sehwag has lost the vice captaincy, reportedly because of his weight, his work ethic, his attitude, his relationship with Ganguly and his baldness. Dravid's injured, Tendulkar's in crap form, they're using a second keeper as a middle order player and Greg Chappell has overtaken Pervez Musharraf and Daoud Ibrahim for the coveted "most hated man in India" status. All of this convinces me of one thing: India will win the World Cup. Watch it happen.

By the way, the next time any Indian gives you shit about our cricketers being involved in ball-tampering and drugs and doctoring the pitch and whatnot, just respond with the following: at least none of our players has ever killed a man.

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