Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sachin & Dhoni in Top Bracket - IPL 4

Around 62 Indian cricketers will be up for auction for the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) with Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the legendary Sachin Tendulkar in the top-bracket of cricketers valued at Rs 1.84 crore. 

However, Tendulkar and Dhoni are likely to be retained by their respective franchises -- Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. 

Former India captains Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid along with VVS Laxman are in the third bracket which has a base price of Rs 92 lakh. 

The cricketers who will command the highest base price of Rs 1.84 crore are Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh. 

The second bracket is that of Rs 1.3 crore where Twenty20 specialist Yusuf Pathan finds a place alongside speedster Zaheer Khan and the talented Suresh Raina. 

Similarly stand-in ODI captain Gautam Gambhir, who didn't have a great IPL 2 and 3, has been priced in the third bracket at Rs 92 lakh along with the likes of Virat Kohli, Irfan Pathan, Robin Uthappa, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma, Praveen Kumar and veterans such as Ganguly, Kumble, Dravid and Laxman. 

The fourth bracket is of Rs 46 lakh which consists of domestic cricketers and the fringe India players who have represented the country since 2005. 

Bengal players Wriddhiman Saha, Manoj Tiwary, Ashok Dinda along with Saurashtra's Cheteshwar Pujara are some of the players in the fourth bracket. 

The fifth and final bracket is of Rs 23 lakh where there are India discards such as Manpreet Gony, Sudeep Tyagi, Sridharan Sriram to name a few. 

The five brackets of base price: 1st: Rs 1.84 crore; 2nd: Rs 1.3 crore; 3rd: Rs 92 lakh; 4th: Rs 46 lakh; 5th bracket: Rs 23 lakh 

List of Players up for auction 

Andhra: Yelakka Venugopal Rao; Assam: Sridharan Sriram Baroda: Yusuf Pathan, Irfan Pathan, Ambati Rayudu, Munaf Patel; 

Bengal: Sourav Ganguly, Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha, Ashok Dinda; 

Delhi: Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Ashish Nehra, Ishant Sharma 

Gujarat: Parthiv Patel, Siddharth Trivedi Haryana: Joginder Sharma, Amit Mishra 

Hyderabad: VVS Laxman, T Suman, Pragyan Ojha 

Jharkhand: Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Saurabh Tiwary 

Karnataka: Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Manish Pandey, Abhimanyu Mithun, R Vinay Kumar, Robin Uthappa 

Kerala: S Sreesanth 

Mumbai: Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan, Wasim Jaffer, Abhishek Raut, Rohit Sharma, Abhishek Nayar, Ramesh Powar 

Madhya Pradesh: Naman Ojha 

Punjab: Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Manpreet Gony, VRV Singh 

Railways: Murali Kartik Rajasthan: Pankaj Singh 

Saurahstra: Ravindra Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara 

Tamil Nadu: Dinesh Karthik, S Badrinath, R Sathish, R Ashwin, M Vijay, L Balaji 

Uttar Pradesh: Mohammed Kaif, Suresh Raina, Praveen Kumar, Sudeep Tyagi, Piyush Chawla, Rudra Pratap Singh 

Vidarbha: Umesh Yadav.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Bhajji - Harbhajan Singh

Harbhajan Singh is one of India's all time great spin bowlers. Only Anil Kumble has taken more Test wickets for India amongst spinners, and only Kumble (66) and Chandrashekhar (66) have better Harbhajan's strike rate (68 deliveries). Bishan Singh Bedi took a wicket every 80 balls, Prasanna, a wicket every 76 balls. For Venkatraghavan the figure for 95 balls. 

Look beyond the famed quartet, and we find Vinoo Mankad taking a wicket every 91 balls, Subhash Gupte doing so once in 76 deliveries and Dilip Doshi doing it once every 82 balls. Only Kumble (2.6), Gupte (2.4) and Chandrashekhar (2.5) took more wickets per innings than Harbhajan has done - 2.3. Amongst finger-spinners no Indian spin bowler - not even the classical orthodox spinners, have done better than Harbhajan Singh. This, despite the fact that Harbhajan has faced far more professional batting line ups than any other Indian spin bowler except Kumble. Armies of computer technicians and simulated wickets dissect every quirk that a bowler has these days. This hurts spinners the most, for spinners rely on mystery and guile far more than the quick men.

And yet, Harbhajan is under fire these days. His performance has declined. Unlike in the days of Prasanna, Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Venkatraghavan, Gupte, Mankad and Doshi, India are now the World's Number One Test team, and are expected to win. Harbhajan is measured against Warne and Muralitharan, not against an Indian spin quartet, that, good as it was, won less than Kumble and Harbhajan have done in the 2000s. Faced with a number of merciless wickets, Harbhajan Singh has suffered. His unorthodox style counts against him, especially in India, where the spin standard has been set by the famed-spin-quartet. Facts rarely come in the way of perceptions in these matters.

There's little doubt that he's a bowler of great class. His ability to hit the bat high up towards the splice regularly suggests that he's not easy to read and is constantly beating batsmen in the flight. On slow, dead wickets, batsmen can play the ball off the pitch quite easy, and it becomes harder for a finger spinner to get wickets. Wrist spinners can still make something happening because they spin the ball more and have a greater capacity to get it to hurry off the pitch. But finger spinners need a wicket with at least some life if they are to be successful. It's especially hard to be an attacking wrist spinner like Harbhajan Singh is, on dead wickets. The bowler is forced to vary flight and speed, giving batsmen scoring opportunities and making it harder for captains to set fields. It's much harder for a finger spinner to induce error on dead wickets than any other type of bowler.

Harbhajan's criticism of dead wickets is therefore well founded. But it is often received in bad taste. However right he may be on the merits, Harbhajan doesn't help himself by praising a wicket after the first two days when he takes 4/76 in 35 overs, and then complaining at the end of the game after he takes 1/117 over the last two. Having little or no support at the other end doesn't help. Pragyan Ojha is a steady bowler, but he's not in the same class as Harbhajan Singh. I think curators at Test Match grounds will do well to produce wickets which offer at least something for the bowlers.

I suspect that an extend stint away from Home will do Harbhajan a lot of good. He will look forward to South Africa, England and next December, Australia.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Reputations, Expectations and Australia's impending Ashes success - Part 2

continuation of Yesterday article.....

If England's self-regard appears to be less than misplaced, it is only because Australia have looked alarmingly poor in the last 2 years or so. Since Stuart Clark and Brett Lee left the Test Match scene, Australia have not done as well as usual. This is even though, since their Ashes defeat in England they have beaten West Indies 2-0, Pakistan 3-0 and New Zealand 2-0. Their last two series results have been a 1-1 draw against Pakistan in England and a 0-2 defeat in England (which should have been 1-1, but for VVS Laxman and some amazing tactical choices from Ponting).

Yet, if you compare a bowling line up comprising of Bollinger, Siddle, Hilfenhaus, Johnson and Watson with one comprising of Anderson, Broad, Bresnan, Finn and Tremlett, Australia, in my view, have the edge, especially in Australia. Against the non-minnow Test playing nations, these bowlers have the following records:

Bollinger 49 wickets at 23.79 in 11 Tests
Siddle 60 wickets at 31.53 in 17 Tests
Hilfenhaus 48 wickets at 31.06 in 12 Tests
Johnson 166 wickets at 29.06 in 38 Tests
Watson 40 wickets at 27.25 in 21 Tests

Anderson 168 wickets at 32.88 in 48 Tests
Broad 91 wickets at 33.53 in 30 Tests
Bresnan 3 wickets at 32.33 in 2 Tests
Finn 13 wickets at 22.92 in 4 Tests
Tremlett 13 wickets at 29.69 in 4 Tests

There isn't much to choose between the two sides batting wise either. Australia have been using a makeshift batting combination - Katich and Watson, who have done well. These are followed by Ponting, Clarke, Hussey and North, a formidable combination. Haddin is a solid wicketkeeper, and Johnson is quite capable with the bat. England will field Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Morgan, Collingwood, followed by Prior and Broad. These are two evenly matched line ups. The most telling thing about these line ups is that if you asked the punditocracy in England and Australia, almost to a man, they would point to Marcus North as the weak link. Why? Is it because North averages 37.4 in Tests? This is low for a specialist batsman, especially one who plays for Australia. 

Yet, if you dig deeper into North's record, his batting average is low on account of having made only 77 runs in 8 innings against Pakistan. In all, in 32 innings, North has reached at least 50 9 times. Keep that figure in mind - 9 out of 32. He has also been dismissed for single digit scores 14 times. So Marcus North is a nervous starter who reaches 50 once every 3.6 innings against non-minnow Test teams.

What are the numbers for England's players?

Andrew Strauss: 36 out of 135, or 1 fifty plus score every 3.8 innings
Paul Collingwood: 29 out of 106, or 1 fifty plus score every 3.7 innings
Ian Bell: 29 out of 93, or 1 fifty plus score every 3.2 innings
Kevin Pietersen: 33 out of 110, or 1 fifty plus score every 3.3 innings.
Eoin Morgan: 1 out of 6
Alistair Cook: 33 out of 101, or 1 fifty plus score every 3.1 innings

Not very different from North's are they? Ironically, the two most criticized England batsmen are Ian Bell and Alistair Cook, and they both do better than the England captain, and England's Steve Waugh - Paul Collingwood.

What are the numbers for Australia's other batsmen?

Ricky Ponting: 71 out of 188, or 1 fifty plus score every 2.6 innings (over the last 10 years)
Michael Hussey: 31 out of 91 or 1 fifty plus score every 3 innings
Michael Clarke: 33 out of 100, or 1 fifty plus score every 3 innings
Shane Watson: 13 out of 37, or 1 fifty plus score in every 2.9 innings
Simon Katich: 33 out of 92, or 1 fifty plus score every 2.8 innings

The Australians are consistently better than the Englishmen.

Sachin Tendulkar is right though. Eoin Morgan and Graeme Swann are the players to watch out for. Morgan is a promising player. The comparison between Morgan and North is an interesting one and I'll get to it in a minute. Swann could turn out to be the difference between the two sides. He has been called the best England off-spinner since Fred Titmus, and I think he's a complete orthodox spin bowler. But is he good enough to be the difference between the two sides and give England the decided edge? I doubt it.

Swann's impressive career record (113 wickets at 26.55), is built around tremendous success against Bangladesh (22 wickets at 27.9 in 4 Tests), Pakistan (22 wickets at 12.22 in 4 Tests) and West Indies (26 wickets at 22.15 in 5 Tests). Against Australia, India and South Africa, Swann's record is decidedly more modest (13 wickets at 40.5 against Australia, 8 wickets at 39.5 against India and 21 wickets at 31.4 against South Africa). Swann's record mirrors England performance almost perfectly. With his zany sunglasses and his swagger, he embodies England's Test team, and holds the key to the Ashes. He is the one plausible spinner playing in this Ashes series.

In conclusion, the 2010-11 Ashes series is decidedly a mid-table clash. It will decide whether or not Australia have declined sufficiently to be a solid mid-table team, just like England have been over the last couple of years. The formbook is being read, in my view, in two contradictory ways. As far as Australia are concerned, the reading is mostly negative, mainly because they are unlikely to match their 5-0 performance. As far as England are concerned, it is a narrative of excellence and ascendancy, mainly because they are unlikely to suffer the kind of humiliating defeats that have been the norm for them in Australia over the last 24 years. Hence, Eoin Morgan is England’s great hope, while Marcus North is Australia’s weak link.

The facts, as they ought to be read, tell a different story. Australia’s decline only makes this a plausible contest, instead of an easy romp for the hosts. But the hosts still start as favorites, as most hosts should in Test Cricket. Graeme Swann could change that, but I doubt that he will.

I favor Australia to regain the Ashes in 2010-11, at least as convincingly as England regained them in 2005 and 2009.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Reputations, Expectations and Australia's impending Ashes success - Part 1

England are favored to win the Ashes by many observers, including Sachin Tendulkar. This is not as straightforward as it sounds. England last won the Ashes 2-1 in Australia in 1986-87 under the captaincy of Mike Gatting. That team had David Gower and Ian Botham, and the Australians of 1986-87 were probably the weakest Australian side of the 20th century. Yet, England only won a narrow 2-1 series victory.

Since then, England have toured Australia in 1990-91, 1994-95, 1998-99, 2002-03 and 2006-07. In these 5 series combined, they have not won a single Test match when the Ashes were still up for grabs. In 1990-91, they lost the Ashes in 13 playing days, in 1994-95 it took them 15 playing days to lose, in 1998-99 13, in 2002-03 11 and in 2006-07 they lost the Ashes in 15 days and went on to lose 5-0. It only took 15 days in 2006-07 because Australia didn't enforce the follow-on after taking a 445 run lead in the first innings in the first Test at Brisbane.

It is not excessively harsh to say that England's tours of Australia over the last 24 years have been unmitigated disasters. When it is said that England are favored to win the Ashes, this must be read in the context of these disastrous tours. If Australia were to win the Ashes 1-0 or 2-1, England should probably consider that to be a successful tour.

But there is another dynamic at work which might reveal why England will take great offense at my last statement. Since Michael Vaughan took over the England captaincy, England have projected a sense of superiority that every good team should aspire to. In the last 7 years, their most notable results have been a 2-1 win in South Africa in 2004-05 and two 2-1 Ashes wins in England. Apart from this, their performance has been decided modest against good teams, but quite dominating against the lower half of the ICC rankings - Pakistan, New Zealand and West Indies. What's more, England's performances have been in decline for some time now, even as their assessment of their own abilities reveals a lot of confidence. In the last 4 years (since their 5-0 Ashes thrashing), they have lost to South Africa and India in England, lost a Test match in New Zealand, and Test series in West Indies, Sri Lanka and India. But yes, they did win the Ashes in England last year, and they did draw a Test series in South Africa in 2009-10. 

Since their Ashes defeat in 2002-03, England have won 47 Test matches and lost 24. But if you look into the details of this 47-24 record, it includes a 12-1 record against West Indies, 8-0 against Bangladesh, 7-1 against New Zealand, 2-0 against Zimbabwe and 6-3 against Pakistan. That amounts to a 35-5 record against West Indies, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Pakistan in 49 Test Matches. Against Australia, India, South Africa and Sri Lanka, their record is 4-7, 1-3, 6-6 and 1-3 respectively - a total of 12-19 in 50 Tests.

Since the start of the 2003 season (Vaughan took over when Hussein retired during the New Zealand series in the 2003 season in England), England record then, is as follows:

35-5 in 49 Tests against Bangladesh, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Zimbabwe
12-19 in 50 Tests against Australia, India, South Africa and Sri Lanka

This leads me to question the basis of their current confidence - victories over a dysfunctional, inexperienced Pakistan side in England, preceded by victories against Bangladesh. They did achieve two good results against Australia and England before that, but they had Flintoff for the Australian series, and they could have easily lost the series in South Africa 3-1 had they lost 2 more wickets. This was despite the fact that Dale Steyn was an uncertain starter and came into the series without too much match practice following injury. On the same wickets on which Morne Morkel took 19 wickets at 21 and Steyn took 15 wickets at 24, England’s fast bowlers managed 13 wickets at 33 (Broad), 16 wickets at 34 (Anderson) and 8 wickets at 46 (Onions). In the batting, only 3 Englishmen made more than 250 runs in the series, while 5 South Africans achieved this. England also scored only 2 centuries in the series - one each from Bell and Cook. South Africa in contrast managed 5 - 2 each from Smith and Kallis and another from Amla.

to be continued....
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