Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cricket's conqueror Sachin Tendulkar

For the third time in less than a year, Sachin Tendulkar came within striking distance of an ODI double hundred at Gwalior. He reached his hundred in the 28th Over off 90 deliveries, and took a further 57 to reach 200. It could have been better - his last 10 runs took him 10 balls, but even so, he made 200 not out in 147 balls out of a possible 300 available to the team. This was the ultimate demonstration of the logic that the best player in the side should have the chance to play the full 50 overs.

Tendulkar has passed 150 in an ODI game 5 times now - 186 v New Zealand, 152 v Namibia, 163 v New Zealand, 175 v Australia and now 200 v South Africa. He has made 93 international hundreds, and going by the landscape of International Cricket today, we are living in special times - what with Mutthiah Muralitharan and Sachin Tendulkar both on the anvil of unbelievable international milestones - 800 Test wickets and 50 Test hundreds respectively.

Tendulkar's career has seen a revival tremendous revival since the 2007 World Cup. He has made 2779 Test runs in 31 Tests with 12 centuries, at 59.12, while in ODIs he has made 2751 runs in 57 games at 51.2. He has reached at least 50 in 23 out of 54 Test innings, while in ODIs the figure is 21 times in 54 innings. He has made two centuries and a ninety in grand finals, and now, has made an ODI double hundred. Nobody has made more Test hundreds than Tendulkar since the 2007 World Cup (even though many have played more games), and only Mahela Jayawardene has made more Test runs. Only MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh have made more ODI runs than Tendulkar in this period (even though he has played only 58 games to 92 and 84 by Dhoni and Yuvraj respectively) and only Gautam Gambhir and Ricky Ponting (6 each) have made more ODI centuries. For a player whose career went into seemingly terminal decline between the 2003 and 2007 World Cups, this has been an astonishing revival. Tendulkar has remained largely injury free in this period and has flourished thanks in no small part to a very healthy team environment - first under Rahul Dravid, then Anil Kumble and now M S Dhoni.

This was an innings, in style and in essence that Tendulkar could not have played in an earlier phase of his career. There was a Laraesque flourish to some of his strokeplay, as well as a Richardsesque brutality. The bowler's line and length was what he - Sachin Tendulkar, decided it was. He pierced the off-side ring at will, hit the straight boundary with great ease, and when it came to making a choice between cover and mid-wicket, it seemed to depend only on his mood.

The ODI 200 could have been reached in many ways. It could have been reached by a brutally powerful slogger having the day of his life, or it could have been achieved in desperation - by say Herschelle Gibbs had he made 25 more runs (the way he was playing it would have taken him merely 5 or 6 strokes). Instead it was somewhat fitting that it was achieved with a degree of certainty, by a man who has gotten close more often and more frequently than any other player in history. The milestone has well and truly been achieved - in the sense, that not only has Tendulkar done it, he has done it in a way which makes it possible to imagine that it could happen again. For it was an innings in which all the parts came together - it was perfectly paced and it made full use of the rules - 33 runs in the batting powerplay. This was no freak occurence. This was just around the corner, especially if you consider the man's form in the last 12 months. He retired hurt on 163 at the end of the 45th over at Christchurch, and was out for 175 off the first ball of the 48th over at Hyderabad.

It was a question of when and not if. That has now been answered. But just consider how terribly toothless the fast bowlers were. This attack included the world's best fast bowler today - Dale Steyn, who has a Test record which is superior to any bowler in Test Match history with around 200 Test wickets or more (Barnes excepted). We don't even talk about bowlers being taken to pieces nowadays. That is a given.

There will come a time when less worthy batsmen reach these milestones. What does that say about these batting-centric rules?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Top English football club interested in IPL, says Modi

Lalit Modi, the IPL commissioner, claims a leading English football club is interested in bidding for a new team in the fourth edition of the IPL next year. In an interview to the Times, Modi - also the Champions League Twenty20 commissioner - said he was in talks with the Marylebone Cricket Club who were also apparently eager to become involved in the IPL.

"There is a football club, a very famous football club in the UK, very interested in bidding," Modi said. "[They are] probably one of the most famous football clubs - that's all I can say. Probably top three. They are interested in taking a stake."

Responding to speculation in the Indian media, Modi later said on his Twitter page that the club in mention was not Chelsea. A report in the Sun named Manchester City as the team looking at buying a franchise although the club told Cricinfo they were not involved.

The IPL will include two more teams from the 2011 season and will auction the franchise rights at a base price of $225 million ahead of the third season, which starts in India on March 12, and will invite potential investors this week. That figure - double of what the most expensive franchise was sold for in 2008 and more than four times the base price in that first auction - is, in an uncertain market, a sign of the league's confidence in itself and the Twenty20 format.

According to Modi, the MCC would be a value addition to the IPL and open up the possibility of taking the bandwagon overseas to Lord's. "I have talked [to MCC] last night and they are quite interested," he said.

Keith Bradshaw, the MCC chief executive, did not deny he had been approached but would not confirm to join the IPL. "At the moment, our finances are focused on the redevelopment of the ground," he said.

The league's expansion will see a much longer fixture list - 94 games as opposed to 59 in the first two seasons if the format remains the same - and accommodating it in the 45-day window without compromising players' fitness, and keeping the international calendar in mind, will be a challenge.

Chelsea? or Manchester City?

Time will tell us...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Afghanistan enters Twenty 20 World Cup

With their fairytale mission resting on the game, Afghanistan held their nerve to overcome a tenacious UAE side in a low-scoring thriller and take their place in the World Twenty20 that starts in May.

Rarely has an Associate competition inspired so much emotion as people from around the world willed Afghanistan on through the tournament. Their defeat to the Netherlands yesterday brought back bitter memories of Afghanistan's near-miss on qualification for the 50-over World Cup, but today there was no mistake.

Their win was crafted on a number of useful contributions, rather than an outstanding individual but on a tired surface Noor Ali's unbeaten 38, to guide his side home in a tense run chase, must be one of the most important innings in Afghanistan's history.

Asked to field first by home captain Khuuram Khan in front of a big crowd, Afghanistan settled into the contest immediately. The new-ball pair of Mirwais Ashraf and Shapoor Zadran have been important in giving Afghanistan control early and unlike yesterday, when they bowed under the pressure of the Netherlands' batsmen, the pair responded well. Within four overs UAE were restricted to 11 for 3, with Ashraf claiming two wickets and Zadran getting the important scalp of Afran Haider, who after a couple of dot balls slashed one straight down the throat of third man.

UAE have proved throughout the tournament that they are a resilient side and Abdul Rahman and Saqib Ali, who played so well against Ireland, set about undoing the early damage with 42-run stand. Having taken the score to 53 for 3 in just over 10 overs, Rahman got a grubber from Mohammed Nabi, that scuttled along the ground from a short length, straight into middle stump. Ali fell two overs later, having made a patient 24 and it was left to Naeemuddin Aslam to shepherd as many as he could from the tail. Nabi and Hamid Hassan, Afghanistan's specialist death bowler, prevented any hopes UAE may have had of pushing beyond 100 with tight and penetrating bowling. Nabi ended with 3 for 17 and Hassan 2 for 23, as UAE posted what looked to be a below-par total.

At this stage, Afghanistan would have backed themselves to coast home but they lost two wickets within the first four overs with only 16 on the board. Karim Sadiq and Mohammad Shahzad were both bowled by Shadeep Silva from deliveries that kept low and it was left to captain Nowroz Mangal to join Noor Ali to try and steady the ship. The pair carefully recovered the situation, running hard to add 32 important runs in six overs. When Mangal was out, trying to slog Fayyaz Ahmed over long on, for 14, his side needed 53 in 10 overs and the game was Afghanistan's to lose.

Ali continued to work the ball around well and found a willing partner in Asghar Stanikzai. They calmly pushed the score to 88, before Stanikzai needlessly tried to smash Ahmed over long off and was caught. It set nerves fluttering but in the 19th over, with 13 still needed, Ali swatted a short ball through midwicket for his only boundary of the innings, and followed it up with a two and another single. Nabi was bowled, deceived by a slower ball, but Samiullah Shenwari swept his first ball for four to leave just one needed from the final over.
Fittingly, it was Ali who secured the winning moment, chipping over mid off to cue celebrations that will continue all the way to the Caribbean.

He was named man of the match and is now eagerly looking forward to testing his skills against the top sides. "It has always been our dream to qualify and play in a World Cup. We missed out on the 50-over Cricket World Cup last year, so I am very happy we will play in the Twenty20 event," he said. "It is our dream to play against the best teams and have the chance to play against fast bowlers like Dale Steyn or Ishant Sharma. We will prepare ourselves very well for this event and we need to keep on getting better ahead of the World Twenty20."

Monday, February 1, 2010


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