September 27, 2010

Champions League T20 - A Post-tournament Insight

  On a certain September 10th, when the rains were pouring down here in India, the “Cricket Monsoon” had started elsewhere in a land far away from here in South Africa. The two IPL teams, Mumbai Indians and the Bangalore Royal Challengers were touted to be the favorites of the tournament. How could they be more wrong?  There has not been and still is not a great history of favorites actually ending up as the “Champs” The only team that I can remember of doing that are the Australians. The Opening match was a slap in the face with the Lions downing the Mumbai Indians. Perhaps that set the precedents of the tournament. The teams in this tournament can be grouped under three heads; chumps, also-rans (Name courtesy @diogeneb)and champs.

   The Chumps are like “hmm” “ah” “oh” just fillers. This tournament certainly proved they dont belong to this stage. Lets start with the Guyanese who lost all of their matches. They might have fancy Indian names with mutations like ‘Devendra Bishoo’ et all  but they did not have any fancy batters or bowlers. Along with them are the “Central Stags” who were tied with the Guyanese for the ‘Top Chump’ perhaps we need a super over to break the tie. The Stags looked absolutely pathetic against even mediocre spin bowling, let alone top class spinners. The sorry tale is that the Central Stags are just a reflection of what New Zealand cricket is right now, totally dried up. Wayamba 11 aren't far behind, in my eyes they are equally pathetic. They have ended up 3rd in the chumps list only because they beat the Central Stags.

There are teams who were 'also-rans'. Barring the 3 chumps, the rest of the 7 teams can beat each other on any given day. These teams just couldn’t replicate their domestic form to make it to the semifinals of the tournaments.  The lions, Bushrangers and Mumbai Indians just couldn’t bring their ‘A’ game. Bushrangers were pretty unlucky to not make it to the semis despite winning 3 of their 4 matches.

  Usually only the best teams make it to the Knock out stages of any tournament. Beyond that it is purely how the team performs on that day, previous performances hardly matter. The classic example would be the Red Backs. They have pretty much won everything in their league and ended up loosing just one in the semis to be sent ‘Down Under’. RCB were also unlucky to lose Kallis in the league stages and then Steyn in the middle of the semifinals. Yesterday the SA champions and IPL champions locked horns and we all know who won it. No wonder Warriors are under the Kings. It wouldn’t be an understatement if i say they were the 2 deserving teams.

  Many players came to fore in this tournament like Davy Jacobs, Aaron Finch, Michael Klinger, Colin Ingram and Dan Christian. You can really see the dominance of CSK if you look at the ‘Top Scorers’ and ‘Top Wicket Takers’. Three of the top five wicket takers and 2 of the top run scorers are from the Super Kings. Also both of M.Vijay and R.Ashwin top their respective charts. To notice that both have been brought up in Chennai brings a sense of pride and happiness that donned the pretty much the same streets I do.

One highlight of the final for me would be when Vijay went past Davy Jacobs’ tally of runs. Davy Jacobs ran to Vijay during the overs break to congratulate him on beating his tally *RESPECT*. That is the showcase of Sportsmanship of the highest order and hair raising moment for every true cricket fan. I wish Davy Jacobs a great career ahead. People like him are gems when you see no balls being bowled to stop batsmen from scoring centuries.

Yellows seems to dominate the cricket world like anything. Not long ago the Australians were marching rampant. Chennai Super kings have fallen into that bracket with 1 runners up, 1 semifinal, 1 IPL title and 1 champions of Champions title. For me CSK carries Chennai’s no nonsense approach to its cricket. Perhaps one of the least controversial, devoid any fights and a very cohesive and consistent unit. If any team carrying those qualities wins, it certainly makes me happy. The fact that is is CSK just makes it special. The sad part is that, yesterday was the last time they will play as an unit together, thanks to IPL’s decision of including  2 more teams a fresh auction. For me they will be remembered as The Invincibles, everything they touched turned golden yellow. Period!

September 25, 2010

A Preview of the Upcoming India-Australia Test Series:

Some weeks ago, or may be it is months – I am not sure given that I have done very little that is non-phonological during these queerly dark ages as far as entertainment is concerned – Peter Roebuck wrote how the upcoming India-Australia test series may be a faint encore of the type of cricket these two nations have produced over the last decade. Given that Roebuck has the predilection, like yours truly often does, to get such things wrong, I hope and wish he is wrong again. Nonetheless, there is more than a grain of lingering truth in the journalist’s words.

The two test series that kicks off next Saturday is not about a contest between the top-ranked test team in the world and a resilient outfit that can still be world beaters although for the sake of appearances it looks like that. Rather, it will be a time-filling dress rehearsal between one team which got the saddle of being the best by the inexplicability of default statistical logic and another which prepares to take on in its own backyard arguably the strongest England team to have visited those shores in years. That way, there is more for Australia to take out of this short series. For India, it will probably be a question of: “Will Harbhajan Singh once again regain something like his lost form against the Aussies who bring out the best in him?” “Will Laxman again be very, very special?” “Will Tendulkar leave Ponting even farther in terms of hundreds?” “Will India continue their stay at number one for a little while before the bubble collapses one night?”

Personally, this series still induces just enough excitement for me as I am one of them rare breed of test cricket lovers who have been outnumbered, outstripped and outflanked by the followers of the game’s youngest sibling – namely T20 cricket. Also, the prospect of seeing Rahul Dravid bat again in a home series, especially after his deplorable outings in Sri Lanka where he “found new ways of getting out”, is more than just a consoling thought. Add the fact that Zaheer Khan, my favourite Indian bowler among those playing now by a distance, and Gautam Gambhir are back in the team, the side promises to be a balanced one that can retain the Border-Gavaskar trophy the Indians took in 2008 after a 2-0 triumph, one of the rare one-sided series these two teams have played out in the last eleven years. (Cheteshwar Pujara’s selection is another enthralling prospect and although he may not make the eleven with Raina in silken touch, there is one guy who may splice the Indian middle order in the years to come).

For the Australians, the rookie and the veteran alike, there is a point to prove. Ponting himself would want to do more than just that. Undoubtedly, one of the run machines of the decade and the greatest players of the modern era, Ponting’s sub-twenty-five average in India does not quite become of a player of his class. As a captain, who has been widely criticised as having ridden on the back of a great team without exceptional leadership skills, Ponting has to conquer the final frontier too, one which Steve Waugh failed to do despite his most intense bids and one which the Australians did way back in 2004 under Adam Gilchrist as injury kept Ponting out of the two matches that Australia won to take an unassailable lead. Michael Clarke expects big things from his captain and I hope he is right for the sake of Australian cricket. Clarke himself is a transformed batsman in test cricket these days, if his Ashes exploits last year are any indication, and with the likes of Hussey, Katich and Watson he would like to forge a strong batting combine to help his captain in the conquest. Although Australians are thin in the bowling department, with Mitchell Johnson, arguably their spearhead, wavering between Herculean and pedestrian, one can expect them to raise their game against a tough opposition when the stakes go up.

After all is said and done, the outcome will still be hard to predict not despite but because both teams are far from playing their best cricket. In terms of consistency and ruthlessness, England followed by South Africa has been playing the best cricket in all forms of the game for some months now. Under those circumstances, the focus of an India-Australia series can for a change be on the actual cricket and not on whether one team is the undisputed the leader and the other a rightful successor. Right now, both teams are miles away from the Holy Grail. The cricket between them, however, may be as exciting as it has been at Kolkata, Adelaide, Nagpur, Sydney, Perth and Mohali over the decade because it is always a challenging task to play India in India and it is always daft to write off any Australian team.

So as spend the week eating into the workload left for my submission, I will also wait for the umpire at the popping crease to call play. And just for the fun of it, I would say it is likely to be 1-0 India.