Tag Archives: India

Bowlers hold the key in batsman’s utopia

This article was originally published on Last Word On Sports.

Much has been made about the dominance bat has acquired over ball in One Day cricket—a theme that has only been amplified during this World Cup. The benchmark total of 300 is rapidly being replaced by a younger model, 400—although no one seems to have told England—and in the space of five years, the triple century has usurped the double century as a batsman’s ODI Everest.

When Chris Gayle plundered a sorry Zimbabwe for 215 in Nelson two weeks ago, we witnessed the first ODI 200 that radiated inevitability instead of incredibility. As AB de Villiers shaved five deliveries off Corey Anderson’s fastest hundred in Johannesburg in January—he needed just 31 balls—we took another step towards inexorable batting perfection. David Warner then toyed with the idea of crunching three in Perth last week, as he cantered past 150 with over a third of Australia’s innings to go; admittedly he was “only” battering Afghanistan.

Of the 15 occasions where 400 has been posted by a side in ODI cricket, four have occurred this year, with three from South Africa. Interestingly, four of the five highest totals were recorded in 2006—two by the Proteas. A further 63 totals make the list when including innings in excess of 350, with 27 coming since the turn of the decade. The run-gluts are coming at an unprecedented rate.

However, in the 75 times a target of 350 or greater has been set, only thrice has it proven not to be enough. Scoreboard pressure has, at least, has remained a constant. Sri Lanka looked to be on track to challenge Australia’s 376 in Sydney on Sunday, anchored by yet another seamless Kumar Sangakkara ton, but ultimately, they still fell 65 runs shy of victory.

Analysis of individual statistics would paint a similar picture, there is little point indulging with further mind-boggling statistics. The dawn of batting supremacy has broken—for the first 50 overs anyway.

Therefore is all hope for bowlers lost? Can we conclude that all future pliers of the bowling trade are either masochists or insane? Well, despite the apparent overwhelming evidence, no. In fact, this World Cup has, and will continue to showcase that capable bowlers are worth their weight in gold, fast bowlers in particular. Granted, it is much tougher. Miserly career economy rates are long gone, in that aspect the game has fundamentally changed. Batting powerplays, bigger bats and smaller boundaries suggest this is ICC-induced change, but it doesn’t matter. The contest remains the same.  Good bowling is still good bowling, and it shines as brightly in the new game as it did in the old.

Tim Southee’s seven for 33 against England earlier in the tournament killed the game. In firing out their opponents for 123, New Zealand had killed the game. Similarly in Auckland, Trent Boult’s five wickets gave the Kiwis total command against Australia, dismissing them for 151. It was only another equally impressive bowling effort from Mitchell Starc—who claimed a six-fer—that almost pulled his side back from the brink.

It was Starc who was also vital for Australia when they played Sri Lanka. On a day where 688 runs were racked up, his eight overs for 29 with two late scalps that proved decisive. Conceding fewer than four-an-over choked Sri Lanka’s chase. Every other player in the match went for more than five; four leaked over eight. If just one bowler from the opposition turned in a Starc-like performance, Australia would likely have been restricted to under 350: a score Sri Lanka may well have got close to, considering how ably they handled the first 30 overs of their innings.

Pakistan demonstrated that small totals can still be defended, even against the batting might of South Africa. The choking tag is always bandied around when the latter loses, and in pursuit of 232 they perhaps should have fared better, but Pakistan won this match more than South Africa lost it. Aggressive, fast bowling—a Pakistani trademark—snared wickets, which allowed them to secure the win with the Proteas unable to utilise fourteen overs of their innings. Pakistan’s ferocity with the ball, albeit not at the level of cricket’s Class of ’92 (the Imran Khan-led side who trumped all the last time the World Cup was held on these shores) was a match-winner.

It is not altogether facetious to suggest that the best way to counter attacking batting is through attacking bowling. Brendon McCullum’s Black Caps are living proof. Five times New Zealand have bowled their opposition out this World Cup, five times they have won. Instead of sitting back and protecting strong starts, they have gone for the jugular—employing slip fielders well into the middle overs has not been uncommon. It’s an intriguing policy and one that could prove a trailblazer for future ODI bowling.

Forget slow bouncers and all the other “variations” that in a previous era would have been treated with the disdain they deserve, batsmen have cottoned on. For bowlers, it’s not about reinventing the wheel, but perfecting their original art. Attempting to contain batsmen has become a largely fruitless exercise, although pacers would be well served finding appropriate medication for their yorker allergy. In modern ODI cricket teams must seek to bowl the opposition out at all costs. It’s a high-risk strategy but if a side bats 50 overs they’ll most likely end up well into the 300s anyway—a score that is rarely chased. In this World Cup alone, only three times out of 18 has a 300-plus score been successfully tracked down.

So, working from these musings, who is best placed to take the plaudits at this cricketing carnival? New Zealand are the obvious candidates. McCullum’s men are playing like their rugby counterparts have so often. His brazen approach with the bat has paid dividends so far while Boult and Southee are spearheading the bowling attack with great aplomb: they are currently first and second respectively on the list of leading wicket takers for the tournament.  However, the hosts are yet to break their semi-final duck at World Cups and this run is very much mirroring their 1992 run, the year they last hosted the event, where they topped their group before exiting in the last four.

Australia possess extraordinary batting depth, to an extent where Brad Haddin can come in as low as eight, but they came unstuck against New Zealand in Auckland, and also looked shaky at times with the ball against Sri Lanka: Starc has bailed them out somewhat. Moreover, batting first in all four games has done little to assess their versatility credentials. That said, home advantage and a winning know-how will stand them in good stead as the competition reaches the knockout phases.

Claiming that South Africa have underachieved in the One Day arena would find almost unanimous agreement, and despite the compelling argument for them to break their World Cup duck in 2015, the seeds for another choke are already in place. Untouchable when given first-strike, they have looked a side confused chasing, falling 130 short of India’s 307 in Melbourne, before being skittled for a paltry 202 against Pakistan. Once again, an ICC tournament looks like being South Africa’s kryptonite.

As goes the saying in the sub-continent: “If India and Pakistan never partitioned they would never be beaten,” for the former has the batting might while the Pakistanis have historically reigned supreme with the ball. Alas, we will never know if that presumption would hold true but both have reasons to be optimistic ahead of the latter stages.

Unfancied by many, especially after their tri-series with Australia and England, India have once again turned up to an ICC event and performed. Unbeaten so far, their quick bowlers dismantled West Indies and convincing all-round displays against Pakistan and South Africa gives the defending champions much to be confident about. A likely quarter-final with Bangladesh is an added bonus for MS Dhoni’s men.

Meanwhile, Pakistan announced their revival with a blitzing of South Africa’s power-packed batting lineup in Auckland. They may no longer have the Wasims and Waqars, or the Miandads and Inzamams, but it appears that Misbah-ul-Haq’s men have found some belief. Pakistan’s two ICC victories (1992 World Cup and 2009 World Twenty20) arose following hapless starts. In beating South Africa, we saw glimpses of the old Pakistan. The fiery trio of Mohammad Irfan, Wahab Riaz and Rahat Ali caused chaos with the ball while Sarfraz Ahmed’s inclusion brought a world-record six catches behind the stumps as well as a mood-setting 49 at the top of the order. Their bowling makes up for what their batting has so far lacked—strength in the former may prove vital. A long shot maybe, but the mercurial Pakistan can never be discounted. They thrive on adversity.

Cricket may be hurtling towards a batsman’s utopia, but in a perverse way, it makes a star bowler all that more instrumental. The ability to thwart the McCullum assault is a far rarer trait than being able to blast the ball beyond the boundary, as is the nous to protect a sub-par total. No, the bowler is still essential. It is far too soon to be scribing their obituary.

Holi – The World’s Greatest Festival

Towering stacks of vibrant coloured powders can be seen lining the streets in the days before, children are fervently snapping up pichkaris (water-guns) ahead of the big day, while the more mischievous may look to acquire some bhang. This is Hindustan’s party. This is Holi.

On Friday, India will once again stop for their annual festival of love, celebrating the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil – or more namely, Prahlada’s triumph over Hiranyakashipu. A chance to spend time with family and friends, one of the country’s most important customs.

I was lucky enough to play Holi last year in the Pink City of Jaipur, during my tour of Rajasthan and two-month excursion of India. It was the most memorable moment of the trip by a stretch – usurping the Amber Fort, the Golden City of Jaisalmer, and even the iconic Taj Mahal. An almost exclusive diet of paneer and vegetables didn’t always sit well, but it was an acceptable sacrifice for this mesmeric journey.

The locals, plastered in the most vivacious hues, while dancing unburdened around the forts, palaces, and gardens. For one day, this city and countless others halted to rejoice in unrivalled happiness. “Bura na mano, Holi hai!” (Don’t be upset, it’s Holi!) you’ll be told, as someone splatters you.

There are plenty of parties organised for tourists offering the chance to play “safe Holi”, but the real fun – albeit somewhat more boisterous – takes place on the streets. Things get wild, and from afar it can seem rather intimidating, but you have to go with it. A couple of hours dancing Bollywood style, drinking, and throwing colours before the kids proceed to soak you with their pichkaris will leave you looking like a modern-art canvas and probably knackered, but koi baat nahi. It all comes out in the wash.

Holi Festival
Playing Holi in Jaipur. Photo credit: India Parish

It’s not always fun and games though. Holi has come under fire for not being safe for women and a few have even labeled it a “festival of groping”. Too many bhang lassis (a cannabis-infused drink) can lead to some pretty sleazy behaviour but many of the offenders appeared just to be opportunists. In truth, as a male, it wasn’t an issue I gave much consideration at the time. As to all travelling, the usual advice of “keeping your wits about you” applies.

Predictably, light-skinned tourists stand out and regularly attract attention from the inquisitive – which is most people in India! – although it is nearly always harmless and in fact, quite welcoming. Conversation is an underrated art, and one technology is endangering. Indians are extremely proud of their country and as people, things aren’t perfect, far from it, but at times you could be forgiven for thinking they were.

Things are changing. Jaipur’s traditional Elephant Festival didn’t take place last year after pressure from animal rights groups although it looks to be going ahead this time around.

Holi has become a more international experience over recent years. I was one of many Western people who had made the trek, some had come solely for the festival. Europe and America have also attempted their own imitations. But they are just that. Imitations. Only the frolicking and intoxication remains. They are glorified paint parties with a pretence of cultural enrichment that reek merely of commercial gain. You can take India out of Holi, but you can’t take Holi out of India… Well, it’s big in Nepal too.

No, to immerse yourself and truly understand the magic you have to bite the bullet and go. For all the pictures that utilise the whole spectrum, nothing beats being there. And as I look at the paint-stained shirt hanging in the wardrobe, I long for the day I can return and do it all again.

David Warner century gives Australia command against India

A quick-fire century from David Warner led Australia into a strong position on the opening day of the first Test against India in Adelaide, as they played their first match since the death of Phillip Hughes.

The home side finished on 354-6, but the day was marred after a recurring back injury forced captain Michael Clarke to retire hurt whilst batting on 60. Three wickets in the last five overs prevented Australia from taking total command, with the Indians finally rewarded for their efforts on what was an arduous pitch for the bowlers.

The day began with a 63-second applause for the life of Hughes – the score he was on when struck fatally by a bouncer – before the Adelaide Oval attempted to restore some normality to Australian cricket.

After winning the toss and electing to bat on a supreme batting deck, Warner immediately went on the attack. Crunching seven boundaries from his first 15 deliveries – all through the offside – Australia waltzed to 45-0 from the opening five overs, giving stand-in captain Virat Kohli an early headache. With the line outside off stump being slaughtered, Varun Aaron resorted to the first bouncer of the series, a snorter which was greeted with genuine claps from the stands.

With the new ball pairing of Mohammed Shami and Varun Aaron proving costly, Ishant Sharma was called upon to restore some control, which he did in his second over as an edge from Chris Rogers flew straight to Shikhar Dhawan at second slip.

A belligerent Warner continued to milk the attack at more than a run a ball, reaching his half-century from just 45 balls, but an under pressure Shane Watson was unable to settle, and a tame effort to run an Aaron ball behind point, brought his demise for just 14 as Dhawan snaffled another.

If there is one significant milestone for a batsman en route to three figures, for the foreseeable future Australia will have two. Upon reaching 63 with a controlled sweep, an emotional Warner looked to the heavens as rapturous cheers reverberated around the ground. Hughes was selected as a special 13th man for this Test match, one imagines he will be with his teammates long past their playing careers.

Only a paltry 24 overs were bowled by India before lunch, which saw Australia manage 113-2, and after the 40-minute interval Warner and Clarke pushed on, scoring with consummate ease as the pace bowlers remained expensive. Continuing to accumulate at almost five runs an over, it wasn’t long before Warner registered his fifth Test hundred of the 2014, reaching the landmark from just 106 deliveries, in an innings consisting of 14 fours.

It was when all appeared to be going swimmingly – Clarke’s 50 up and the century partnership raised – that the brightening mood at the Oval was dampened. An unassuming delivery that sailed down the legside would have been forgotten if it didn’t bring with it a twinge to Clarke’s back. As he sunk to the ground in evident discomfort. it soon became clear the captain would not be able to carry on. Forced to trudge off after a well made 60, one could only wonder just how long the chronic injury will sideline him for this time.

Clarke’s exit brought Steve Smith to the crease, who, along with Warner, calmly guided Australia to an imposing 238-2 by the time tea was called. Six overs beyond the interval, Warner’s knock finally came to an end as debutant Karn Sharma picked up his maiden Test wicket, but a devastating 145 from 163 balls, had put his team firmly on top.

The slow over rate over the first two sessions meant a mammoth 40 overs had to be bowled in the day’s third session, not a problem as it was a typically bright, clear, South Australian day. Mitchell Marsh joined Smith at the wicket, the latter rock solid in progressing past 50, and 63, on his way to an unbeaten 72 by the end of the day.

It looked like Marsh would be joining him in the pavilion with Australia three down and in a position of complete dominance, but his dismissal for 41 in the 85th over, sparked a mini collapse.

Night watchman Nathan Lyon was bowled for three, before Brad Haddin nicked off to wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha, as Shami picked up two late wickets, ensuring the Aussies finished the day six down – effectively seven with Clarke almost certain not to bat – for 354.

The trio of wickets at the end provided a twist in the tail in what was otherwise a poor day for India, and a fantastic one for their opponents. Concerns will swirl over Shami and Aaron who leaked over five runs an over combined, but they were redeemed by their three wickets at the end, which has giving their side a foothold in the contest.

If they can skittle the tail out early tomorrow morning, a brilliant pitch awaits their batsmen. Ishant bowled tightly, restricting the Australian batsmen well, while spinner Karan Sharma improved on a very nervous beginning.

After a day where no one was quite sure what would occur, as cricket looked to move on from what has been one of its darkest fortnights, once again we can talk about the sport we all love in a brighter context. A sport which today proved, we can all be very proud of indeed.