Wednesday, 25 January 2012

My StrangeLove or How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Broad

This title is one I never thought I would type. It’s also one I’m sure many of my followers on Twitter who I’ve constantly nagged to read me will not appreciate. But, despite myself, Stuart Broad is really, really impressing me lately.

I can’t stand the way he appeals, or how he reviews everything. I’ve come so close to unfollowing him on Twitter so many times that I’ve lost count. He looks like a girl, and thinks he can commentate but can’t. But, since the debacle of a Sri Lanka series, everything has just been clicking for him. No matter what you think of the guy as a person, it’s quite difficult to argue with 25 wickets in 4 Tests against India (technically including a hat-trick, though we all know it wasn’t), and a Herculean 31 overs in Dubai. His batting has been typically inconsistent with ducks interspersed between technically impressive fifties, but his presence at 8 means England no longer panic at losing their “last specialist batsman”. His 169 at Lord’s in 2010 seems to have had some of its sheen removed following the revelations about the Pakistani attack, but it’s a pundit or fan with a short memory who forgets quite how brilliant some of his shots were in that knock.

What frustrates me most of all about Broad is how so many of the criticisms levelled at him could be rectified by Broad himself. Why does he feel it within his right to review LBWs that pitched a foot outside leg? Why does he appear to view himself as above the normal etiquette regarding appealing and simply celebrate as soon as a delivery of his strikes the pad? His moping, teenage body-language in the field gives the impression of one who doesn’t try hard, but Dubai was the 4th Test since Adelaide last year in which he’s bowled 30 overs in an innings. Over his career, he’s bowled around the same number of overs per innings as Anderson and Bresnan (all of whom are way behind Tremlett in that aspect), and if he were to look slightly less like child denied sweets every time Strauss denied him a review, the fans (not too mention the Twitterarti) might appreciate him a little more.

Whether his Indian Summer was a false dawn or not remains to be seen. His batting needs to become more consistent if he wants to be seriously considered at number 7, and Broad himself needs to accept that, while his record as an opener may be slightly better than that as first change, he must bowl when his captain wants, not when he wants. Yet it seems to me that an attitude change is all Broad needs to go from laughing stock of the online community to an all-rounder who can help England cement their place at the top of Test cricket.

STATS:

Overs per innings in Tests: Anderson 19.40, Broad 18.72, Bresnan 17.82, Finn 14.40, Tremlett 21.32

Broad as an opener:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/player/10617.html?bowling_positionmax1=2;bowling_positionval1=bowling_position;class=1;filter=advanced;orderby=default;template=results;type=bowling

Broad as first-change:

http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/player/10617.html?bowling_positionmax2=3;bowling_positionmin2=3;bowling_positionval2=bowling_position;class=1;filter=advanced;orderby=default;template=results;type=bowling

Sunday, 15 January 2012

What connects a broken laptop and a broken Test side?

Despite a positive response to Friday’s post, I was unable to post a report of the 2nd Day’s play for two reasons – I slept through the entire day, and a fall from one of my housemates that resulted in a severely cracked laptop screen. A replacement PC was sought after, and found at lunchtime today. I realise that any analysis of the last two days (OK, four sessions) will be found wanting having not watched the game live, and anything I say about the 2nd Test will be purely based on reading other reports and Cricinfo scorecards. Essentially, I might as well post a list of links with “read these” written in large font.

So instead, this will be more of a general musing on both the remarkable decline in India’s Test Match fortunes against world-class opposition, and what the next twelve months might hold. Since their World Cup triumph, India have lost every Test they have played against teams that weren’t the West Indies – in fact, they’ve basically failed to avoid humiliation in any of them. They have been somewhat without luck, it’s true. An injury to Zaheer Khan and a batting line-up that suddenly consisted of only Rahul Dravid during the Pataudi Trophy coincided with a dramatic return to form for several England players and Broad’s bat-before-wicket hat-trick. It could be argued that the plethora of bad umpiring decisions from Marais Erasmus at Melbourne was no more than they deserved given the BCCI’s stance over DRS, but one still felt for Dhoni as he saw decision after decision go against his side. But it’s simply impossible to blame four innings defeats in six months on bad luck alone.

First, let us scrape what we can into the column marked “positives”. Umesh Yadav, while still leaking runs like a sieve is at least picking up wickets. Zaheer Khan can still trouble the best in the world with his medium-pace swingers, and while Ashwin might not be an Anil Kumble or Harbhajan Singh, 26 wickets and a Test hundred are not a bad return from 5 matches. In the batting department, Dravid has been not so much The Wall as The Mountain Range, putting his team-mates to shame with his considered approach. Kohli looks to have great potential, and while Sachin’s search for that ton goes on, he is still getting runs for the time being. Even the fielding has improved since Donkeygate.

Sadly, in the Test arena at least, that’s all I can muster. Gambhir scored two half-centuries in the whole of 2011, VVS can’t buy a run, and one could argue that Dhoni’s ban could not have come at a better time as he comes under pressure for his captaincy and batting. The bowling attack is a long way behind the smorgasbord of young guns on show for England, South Africa and Australia, and domestically prospects look little better, with only 4 bowlers having taken more than 30 wickets after 8 rounds of matches.

Before they face England and Australia on home soil next winter, India are, according to the ICC Future Tours Programme, due to play three three-Test series against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, with only New Zealand at home. Given current form, I am disinclined to agree with BCCI President Srinivasan’s assertion that they will win all three home series. On the contrary, unless a significant number of players either find form, or are unearthed from domestic cricket, I believe the next five series could all represent significant challenges for the Indian Test side – and for the cricketing world as a whole, that is a crying shame.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Australia vs India - 3rd Test, Day 1.

As this is the first in a new blog series, I feel it would be apt to introduce to the first cricketing book I read, and also to discuss its relevance to the day’s play – or, more precisely, the day’s player. I will get to the meat and bones of the Test match itself in due course, but a brief anecdote rarely does harm to an article, and I hope to begin many of my entries which such a ramble as the one you are about to read.

The book was a signed copy of SIR VIV, the autobiography of the incomparable I.V.A. Richards, and I was 7 years old. I’d discovered cricket the summer before, and had met my hero Allan Donald only weeks previously. I was now to discover the power of a good cricketing book. Sitting on my father’s knee (clich├ęd, isn’t it?), he read me the introduction, about how Sir Viv went in at the unusual position of 4 to clinch a chase on the final evening of a Test against India. In detail, he walked through his match preparation, the reasons behind his swagger to the wicket and helmet-less attire, as well as his in-your-face attitude towards any bowler who dared face him. Needless to say, I was transfixed.

I came to learn that Richards was an anomaly, a true free radical in an era of bowling dominance. He was one of a select few that truly mastered the ferocity of Lillee and Thompson, the trickery of Bedi and Wadir, the unerring accuracy of Hadlee and Dev. Of course, he never had to face the WIndies attack, but one gets the feeling that even Joel Garner and Michael Holding could not have forced Sir Viv to don a helmet.

We are beginning to see a new era of similar bowling dominance. England, at the present, are nothing short of dominant in that department. Anderson, Broad, Tremlett, Finn and Bresnan could walk into most Test sides (though not all). The arrival of Vernon Philander has added another string to South Africa’s already-potent bow; even India, infamous for their pace-bowling impotence, have begun to show us glimpses of the young quicks they have on offer.

Not that that mattered today. David Warner sent a message to all the world’s attacks that a T20 bludgeoner turned Test opener could not only hold a side together as he had against New Zealand, but also put poor bowling to the sword. He played few risky shots, but took advantage of Dhoni’s indecisive captaincy to truly take the game away from India after a poor performance from their aging middle-order. Ably supported by his hirsute opening partner Eddie Cowan, who is asking serious questions about where Shane Watson will slot in having recovered from injury, Warner never gave the Indian bowlers a sniff.

As is so often the case with super-fast hundreds, it was a case of an attacking batsman toying clinically with a morale-less and battered bowling attack. Sir Viv took his against an England side that was already 4-0 down and suffering, while Adam Gilchrist saw a tired Monty Panesar bowling in to the wind at the WACA and went after him. I’m afraid my cricketing knowledge doesn’t extend to the circumstances under which Jack Gregory scored the ton that Warner equals today, but I shall assume that they were not dissimilar to today.

The question that India must ask themselves now is “where from here?”. I could write another whole article (and many others have) about the problems facing Indian cricket, but Dhoni and co. must focus on the ones at hand. A more defensive field setting must the order of the day, with more men on the boundaries, and instructions to the bowlers along the lines of “For God’s Sake, pitch it up.” If they can dismiss Warner and Cowan for not too many more, ensuring that Clarke and Ponting do not become entrenched is key. Then, if they get this far, they must go for the jugular once the tail are in. Full-pitched, straight bowling accompanied by attacking fields are the only way the ensure that Australia do not turn an impressive total into an insurmountable one.

But this is all conjecture. It could be the case that Warner simply strides onwards and upwards tomorrow, regardless of where Dhoni puts his fieldsmen, or where India bowl. And this is where his similarity to the great I.V.A. is most apparent. For Sir Viv, there were times when the bowling simply became irrelevant, as if it only existed for the purpose of allowing him to hit another six. David Warner is not Viv Richards. David Warner will never be Viv Richards, for the simple reason that there can never be another Viv Richards. But today, for 69 balls, he batted a little bit like him. And the world’s bowlers trembled.