Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cricket at the cross-roads !!!

As mentioned in my last post (which was some time ago :)), this post is about the two main issues facing our favourite game post the World Cup.

These are:
- The thorough dominance of one team
- The balance between bat and ball

Coming to point no. 1, it is rightly pointed out that Australia's victory was the most comprehensive ever seen in any team sport, forget cricket. And that, to be frank, is quite unnerving. To see a team simply terrorize their opponents time and over again is not good advertisement for the game. I am sure even a die-hard Aussie fan (and there are quite a few in India as well) would have wished their team a more hard-fought and competitive title defence. The other way to look at this is to say that the Aussies raised the game at key moments, especially in the final. But then that is the hallmark of a champion and it does not hide the poor challenge offered by the other teams. McGrath or no McGrath, the Aussie juggernaut seems set to roll on without any consistent challenger in sight. South Africa are too one-dimensional and lack the flair, England are not upto the standard, West Indies are sadly in decline while India and Pakistan are too inconsistent to pose a sustained challenge. It is left only to New Zealand or Sri Lanka to look the Kangaroos in the eye. What would cricket give to have a Nadal-Federer rivalry ?

Now coming to point no. 2. One memory that I have of the final is this: Vaas came back for his second spell and was bowling to Hayden. He bowled full and Hayden hit him back over his head. He did not quite get to the pitch of the ball in fact, his bottom hand slipped from the bat in the process of striking the ball and he ended up playing one-handed lofted stroke which looked quite ugly. He deserved to be caught in the deep, however, the ball simply went off and landed in the crowds. Some of the credit does go to Hayden's strength, but still, to have a one-handed heave go for six is indicative of the dominance batsmen have in the modern variety of the game. From test cricket (where you need good bowlers to take 20 wickets and win you the game) to one-day cricket and now, the age of Twenty-20, batsmen simply hold all the aces. Again to draw a similarity between cricket and tennis, the latter also have suffered from such a change once wooden racquets were replaced with graphite racquets in the 80s. The grace of a McEnroe or Borg were replaced with the speed and power of Becker and Ivanisevic (who themselves look pedestrian as compared to today's guys when it comes to power play). Again, how I long to see the days of Gower and Azhar using light bats and carressing the ball through the covers or square leg !!!

So, as the dust settles on the World Cup and normal service begins (the English summer has already begun) these two issues need to be keenly addressed. The ICC can surely look into the latter while their member nations will have to devise an out-of-box solution to the Aussie menace. The game is at an interesting stage.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Finally.. its over !!!!

So the World Cup has finally ended, albeit in circumstances that any sports-lover would not have wished to see. Not only was the final mostly a one-sided affair, the final overs of that 'contest' were a sad sight. Dont think any other global sporting event has climaxed in near darkness with the spirit of competition relegated to the background. And to think that the farce was going on in front of a world audience, not to mention that the governing body of the sport was majorly responsible for it, is hardly the right advertisement for the game. As expected by almost everyone (though not neccessarily hoped by most !!!), the Aussies pocketed their third straight crown.

The World Cup has been severly, and mostly correctly, criticized by all and sundry on several counts: too many teams, lots of matches, exhorbitant ticket prices, lot of ICC red-tape at the venues, marketing considerations presiding over the game and so on. Clearly, most of the charges are quite right and the ICC would need to take a long, hard look at the way the game is run. However, I still feel the competition format was not way off the mark. Initial group stage of 3 matches per team followed by a gruelling 6 games in the Super-Eights was, and still is, a very good format. However, unfortunately for the ICC, Ireland and Bangladesh spoilt the party. By eliminating the two big commercial powerhouses from the tournament, they ensured that half the television audience stayed away from the Super Eights (I guess 9 out of 10 people in India who feel that the tournament was long and boring feel so because their team were knocked out). Sadly, in the process, Ireland and Bangladesh became easy meat in the Super Eights (the win against South Africa did not do much damage as far as the tournament was concerned). I have no doubt that had India and Pakistan been in the Super Eights, it would have been a battle royale between atleast the 7 other teams and, who knows, the winning streak of the Aussies might have been snapped by some, simply because of the high level of competition. The Super Eights would truly have been 24 exciting games on offer. So lets not blame the ICC on that count atleast. The tournament became long and boring not because of the no. of matches staged, but because there was a high proportion of mis-matches. And this is something the ICC had nothing to do with. I am not too sure what other format can the ICC follow. Hopefully by 2011, we will have a brand new format.

Regarding the organization itself, there is not much you can fault with the local organizing committees. Most of the venues looked suitably upgraded (especially the Kensington Oval which could have rivalled any other ground in the world), although it was sad that almost all matches were watched by some empty seats. It finally took the retirement of the local God to ensure the first full house in the Cup. The pitches actually were quite good. Infact places like Port-of-Spain, Guyana and Bridgetown helped the bowlers, something which is uncommon in one-dayers in other parts of the world, including Austalia. All the world-class bowlers performed excellently throughout the World Cup. On the other hand, no pitch was a bowler's dream either. Good batsman found the conditions to their liking as well, which is the way it should be. And apart from the final, there was hardly any rain disruptions throughout the seven weeks. So the local orgainzing committees did their job pretty well.

But for me, there are two bigger issues that came out from this World Cup (and generally, from the way the game is headed):

1. The fact that one nation can dominate a sport so comprehensively so as not to even lose a World Cup game for eight years (it will be 12 years by the time the next edition comes)

2. The balance between bat and ball in the modern-day game

I will touch upon these issues in my next post, which will also be the last on cricket for a while. Its about time I switched my attention to other more important matters.