Archive for ICC world cup

Indian cricket’s ‘Special one ‘on cusp of a treble of world championships!

By Samir Pai

There is no doubt that MS Dhoni epitomizes the phrase ‘destiny’s child’ as far as India cricket is concerned. A rustic background from a region that is not a natural breeding ground for young cricketing talents; Dhoni emerged from the back lanes of Indian domestic cricket to evolve into one of the finest captain/ player, in the limited overs format of the game.

 Easily one of the best finishers of the game in the ODI format, Dhoni’s success at the game is not only confined to him being a brilliant player, but also the strategic head of the side, as its captain. His rise in stature as a leader since the fairytale World T20 campaign in South Africa 2007, has been phenomenally meteoric !

While his test record in the recent past has taken away a little sheen from his remarkable achievements as a captain; there is no denying the fact that in the limited over format & subcontinent conditions, Dhoni is the undisputed king.

If Dhoni & boys claim top honours at the forthcoming T20 world edition in Sri Lanka, he surely will become India’s best limited overs captains of all times.  After all it will be no mean feat to win three world championships!

However unlike the ODI World Cup which India won in emphatic style, the World T20 campaign is going to be a lot tougher for Dhoni & Co, primarily owing to the precarious nature of the T20 format. Such is the format that it makes it a far more equitable competition amongst competing teams! T20 as a format also negates to a large extent the advantage enjoyed by sub continent sides, in their own backyard, over their otherwise formidable rivals like Australia, England & South Africa ! Also the fact that many of the top international players of the world, play in the T20 leagues in the sub continent, including the IPL ; acclimatizes them to the playing conditions far better than in other formats of the game.  How Dhoni counters the competition will make an interesting watch!

MS Dhoni’s leadership style is almost akin to ‘brawler’ style boxer, who soaks in lot of punches & punishment from his opponent before finally counter attacking in the end with powerful punches to deliver the fatal knockout blow.  As seen in the recently concluded T20 verses New Zealand, Dhoni waited till the very last to deliver his final onslaught! There he was unsuccessful!  However record shows that this strategy has worked more often for him than not! The origins of such a strategy can also be inferred to his team composition being lop sided in favour of batsmen, weakening an already thin bowing line up.  Interesting to observe during  the T20 world, would be to see if Dhoni modifies his composition to strengthen his bowling line up with an additional bowler like Harbhajan ( also a decent lower middle order batsman in T20 format) or remains rigid with 7 batsmen/4 bowler composition!

Dhoni”s leadership in cricket is almost comparable to another titled ‘special one’ from a different sport, football- Jose Mourinho!  Both are canny, street-smart, outspoken and often successfully in blunting more attacking & free flowing opponents with effective defensive tactics and supreme man management skills.   Dhoni as a player is a different story , but Dhoni as a leader will surely seal his name in the annals  of Indian Cricket, as its greatest limited over captain, if he succeeds in winning is third world championship.

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World Series Hockey will Change Landscape of Indian Sports

Having followed, worked and written for cricket leagues, I am most enthused with the latest initiation by the Nimbus sports group with the World Series Hockey.  With the opening of the Indian economy and exposure to global sport –one is a little bewildered by the fact that India still remains a single sport nation in terms of sports disciplines with mass following. Yes there are niche sports like Tennis, golf, F1 et al, which are showing growth: however with a neo-rich clientele, their mass appeal is restricted! What Indian sport badly needs, is a sport on the lines of ball sports (soccer in Europe, American football in US and Rugby in Australia and South Africa) -middle class, athletic, fast paced and devoid of an entry barrier, for the common man to pursue. 

The identification of that fast paced sport boils down to none other than India’s national game- HOCKEY.

Why Hockey?  If one identifies other potential sporting disciplines with mass appeal, the ones that come to mind are volleyball and football! However and more so unfortunately, both these disciplines do not have the Indians standards on par at world standards. Despite the growing popularity of football in our country, one needs to understand that the popularity & following exists for European or world cup football and not the Indian version, which is still some years away from achieving top global standards. That boils down the identification of a sporting discipline other than cricket, with pan India potential; boiling down to Hockey. A rich history, coupled with a contemporary Indian team that remains a top ten hockey nation of the world makes Hockey the ideal sport. Additionally the Indian brand of hockey is unique & attractive. The Indian players still are some of the most skillful and right up there with the best in the world.

 

World Series Hockey will formulate Hockey as a career option for the average young sportsman

 

Ever since the launch of the World Series Hockey , an initiative by Nimbus sports with IHF; one sees roadblocks  &  threats from parallel bodies and the FIH ( premiere world body for Hockey).  This is the most unfortunate thing that one could see, to an initiative that goes with the mission statement – Reinvigorating Indian Hockey.  The critics and opponents of this league have been misleading the Indian fan by stating that players have been choosing commercial interests over country.  These people need to understand that alone national passion cannot bring about a following for the game! Despite an adequately large talent pool, the number of kids taking to hockey has diminished.  The major reason for this can be pointed to lack of lucrative commercial & social value in playing the sport. What a player needs is a sport where even if he does not get into the national team: he/she could make a good living, earn a social standing and exhibit his talent to a respectable audience base. This is what league sport does to a sporting discipline! It helps garner larger following, generates decent player-salaries, helps set up job opportunities for support staff, coaches’ et al. Most importantly it encourages a young enthusiast and his family to confidently pursue the game as a career option. This is what IPL has done to cricket and is exactly what WSH will do to Hockey.  For the people at FIH and HI (on war path with IHF) my humble request would be – this initiative will build the brand value of hockey, creating great opportunity for   bi lateral series between nations, delivering unprecedented financial revenues! My advice to FIH and HI is simple, concentrate on international hockey (test series between nations et al) and leave league hockey to nimbus and IHF which will act as a catalyst for your international operations, both in terms of popularity and monetary benefits.

 

 

Why WSH is a far better product as compared to PHL from ESPN – Star

 

Well as ironical as it may seem; comparisons between the PHL, India’s first sports league and WSH is inevitable. However I would like to state and as rightly pointed out by the Nimbus chief Harish Thawani, WSH is building all the right ingredients (home and away, franchisees et al) to make it a complete sports league. The PHL was a half baked job, where the players were fit into different teams as is done is school competitions.  All matches were played at a single or two destinations, taking away the true home and away flavor of league matches. Also important to point with WSH is the induction of franchisees. Multiple owners reduces the capital investment burden and propagates fair & dynamic competition between franchisees, resulting in diversity that sets the true flavor of league sport.

 

In the final analysis this brilliant initiative will transform hockey from an amateur sport to a professional sport. It will change the landscape of Indian sports from a ‘single sport following nation’ to a multi-discipline sporting nation. Hockey today galvanizes the Indian public only once in 4 years during the Olympics. This according to me is a gross injustice to a sport that is our national sport, enjoys a rich legacy & sees us competitive at the highest standards of the game. This is Indian sports’ moment of liberalization. It will bring in riches and social recognition for the sport, its affiliate bodies and players. In turn it will make sport a way of life for a vibrant young population.

I personally believe that WSH has a far more significant role in shaping the future of Indian sport, even more than initiatives like the IPL.  I would urge opinion makers in Indian sport, a vibrant media et al- to take up the cause of WSH as much as they have for cricket and IPL. The benefits for the same will be for all to earn in the long run.

 

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Sachin Tendulkar AKA- God delivers his sermon for future of cricket!

The game of cricket has always been dynamic! The modern history of the game has seen advent of new formats and none has quite boosted this metamorphism as much as the advent of T20 cricket & its league format. As is the process with the rest of worldly things, the old guard is skeptical to change; while the other objective fraction deals with the challenges of change in an objective manner. One such objective voice that has seen cricket at closer quarters than most is that of Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. In the euphoria of India’s magnificent win at the 2011 ICC world cup, a lot of media personalities interviewed the Indian stars. One such interview involved one of India’s finest cricket analysts Boria Majumdar interview Tendulkar. As part of the interview they discussed the future of ODI cricket! Tendulkar in his response was categorical in stating that the format needed a major overhauling. His suggestion was that ODI cricket has to be tweaked into a two innings 25 over format. He also gave valid reasons with which I as a cricket analyst agree completely. Refreshingly his views were not based on the commerce of cricket, but rather on strong cricketing reasons. It is unfortunate that in the euphoria of the world cup celebrations and the advent of IPL, the issue was not prodded further. But I guess now with bilateral cricket back in the forefront time is opportune to understand why the greatest Indian cricketer wanted these changes in the format.

 

The Dew Factor- Most of India’s home cricket and sub continent cricket at large is played in India’s winter season. This sees dew as a major factor governing all games.  It is no hidden fact that the toss in such a scenario plays a major role. The team winning the toss fields first and almost has 90% of the match in its grip. Bowlers bowling second are at a disadvantage, spinners are almost made redundant and chases of the highest of targets are made a mockery of! As a student of the game Tendulkar felt this was a serious threat to the sanctity of the game & therefore proposed the two innings format. What happens under his proposed situation is that both the teams get to bat half of their overs when the dew is absent, while they bat their respective remainders under similar conditions of dew. This makes the match more equitable and removes the dew factor as a deciding factor in results of the game.

 

Of course Tendulkar had promised to discuss the same with Majumdar at length in future! As a cricket fan I am sure me and many of you are waiting to prod the genius further on his proposal! However let me make a few points as to why Tendulkar’s proposal for future of ODI’s makes absolute sense.

 

  1. Majority of ODIs are played in the bilateral format – There is no doubt that the best testimonial to the ODI format came in way of the resounding success of the 2011 world cup. What with it being played in the nerve center of world cricket-India; topped with the hosts winning it! But the question is will the format still hold the interest for four long years, before the next world cup. The interim period is flooded with only bi-laterals save the Asia cup or certain triangular series. The on going India verses West Indies ODI series is testimonial to the fact of weaning interests not only amongst viewers, but also the top cricketers themselves. Also as is the case with the present Windies series, most bilateral matches feature the balance between the oppositions lop sided in favor of one team. The difference in standards between the top four nations and the rest is growing by the day; making matches one sided and predictable. Grafting of one’s and two’s in the middle overs, dibbly-dobby harmless wicket to wicket defensive bowling is certainly not what the viewers want to see; irrespective of its effectiveness in winning matches! This is what the cricket committee of ICC needs to look and introspect at! Especially with the ‘food for thought’ provided by the greatest ODI cricketer of all times.

 

 

  1. A More interesting and challenging Format Two 25 over innings with only 10 wickets ( both innings included) will test strategies, captains and skills of the players at the highest level. Imagine a match between India Vs Bangladesh at Chennai. In the present format if India scores 350+ batting first the chances of you switching channels at half time are much more than India batting the first 25 overs scoring 150/3  runs , followed by Bangladesh scoring  125/4 in its first innings. It is your guess now to decide if you would switch the channels by the start of the second India innings or not. If you are not salivating at the prospect already, imagine a similar situation when India is playing a stronger opponent like Australia or Pakistan in similar scenarios. I think Tendulkar has just scripted the biggest pot-boiler for the cricket fans of the world.

 

  1. T20 League cricket is here to stay- All said and done whether you hate the IPL or not! The fact is it is here to stay. ODI cricket has a legacy and has probably delivered two of the best five great moments of Indian sport over the last three decades. It would be a shame if ODI cricket would become extinct just because administrators and analysts of the game did not tweak it with changing times. Rather than waiting for IPL or league t20 cricket gobbling up the ODI format; administrators would be well advised to tweak the formats with changing times. The air time for these matches too remains the same if not more, making it equally interesting for broadcasters to sell their inventory. The ways forward for ODI cricket, especially in its bilateral form, is to co exist with T20 cricket. And for this it has to reinvent and repackage itself.

 

The biggest critics of this change would argue that India is the world champion in the existing format and that a change will dilute its world champion status. However I would tell them that the status is not permanent and 2015 will see India play the world cup in Australia, under conditions that suit opposing top sides more than them. Four years is also a long time to carry on the euphoria of a being a world champion. Numerous bi-lateral series in the interim will dilute that status.  Tendulkar may have already established his legacy on the field; whether his precursor in the field of cricket administration gets its due debate is for the ICC and cricket boards to decide.

 

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