Monday, March 30, 2009

Nationalist apologists!

Nationalist apologists are people who disregard history and pout nationalist sentiment to question or explain away half-baked truths or full-fledged lies as FACTS. Here is one from New Zealand:

Paul Lewis writing in New Zealand Herald:
Now that the Indian cricket tour is nearing the end, it's time to ask: Why have we been so nice to them?
The answer to your question. You are returing our favour. Plently of teams in India sweat & cry blood when they see a dusty brown track but that hasn't been a problem for New Zealand because BCCI refused to upset the visitors.

New Zealand played 2 series in India over the last 10 years. In 1999, we played a 3 test match series which ended in 1-0 verdict against New Zealand. In fact, we dished a green top where India (the hosts) were bowled for 83 in the first innings. It wasn't our fault that the black caps refused to take advantage as they were bowled for 215. After that, it was all India, as we piled on 505 (2 centurions - Dravid & Tendulkar with fifties from openers Gandhi & Ramesh) and a predictable draw followed. In the second test match, the spinners ruled the roost and picked 16 wickets. NZ spinners didn't do badly - Vettori picked a 6-for. Tendulkar created a personal record in the third test with his first Test match double century. The game meandered into a meaningless draw thereforth.

In the 2003-04 series, we resumed in the same location & by the looks, the same pitch. It was Dravid's turn for a double century and the bowlers found no support from the pitch. In the second test at Mohali, NZ plundered 630 runs and 4 centuries in the first innings after winning the toss. India however saved the Test with VVS Laxman making a century in the first innings and 67* in the second innings to lead India to safety. Guess, who were the last men standing in the match? The same pair of Laxman-Yuvraj as the second test in 2009 series in New Zealand. Is Laxman becoming a pain for New Zealand after being Aussies tormentor for the last 8 years?

Bottomline: 5 test matches with 4 high scoring draws in India isn't bad. New Zealand received batting wickets in India in their last 2 tours. It is wise on their part to return the compliment else they face turners in their next visit to India. Get the point, Mr. Lewis.

Bow to thee - Master Gambhir

Small quiz: If i were to ask you to name Michael Atherton's best test knock, which would it be?

Wouldn't it be the 185 in Johannesburg - the "Great Escape" / "Great Survival"? Ray Illingworth called it "One of the greatest innings of all time". The basic stats - 185* off 492 balls in 643 minutes. Rest assured, Gambhir's latest 137 off 436 balls in 643 minutes (what a coincidence!) isn't going to be called as one of India's greatest but it does deserve a lot of applause. Gambhir, Sehwag's understudy (unbridled aggression) looked like Dravid's long lost brother or even Gavaskar's nephew!

When i checked Cricinfo Statsguru, Gambhir is in rare company. The list of players who batted 400+ deliveries to save a test or win it is an elite company of 24 innings by 23 players (Andrew Jones from New Zealand achieved this twice!). Gambhir's 643 minutes is the fourth (tied with Atherton) longest & apart from the Gordon Greenidge (226), the other three were match saving innings (following a follow-on declaration). Two have been featured in this blog. Care to know the others - the best was 275 in 878 minutes & 642 balls made by then-South Africa opener & current India coach - Gary Kirsten. The third longest belongs to New Zealand's own Mark Greatbatch who scored 146 in 485 balls and 655 minutes.

Gambhir, don't worry if this innings isn't placed in the same pedestral as Laxman's 281  or Gavaskar's 221 that nearly won the match (the other entries from India in the list of 24!), but your coach & team would know that your innings came very close. In fact, this one deserves to be in Top 10 Indian innings of all time . Also, one more small point - your Delhi teammate & stand-in captain, Virender Sehwag, owes you one. You (with copious help from the seniors) avoided the ugly questions for sehwag post his twin inning collapses against ordinary spin bowling. Encash it now!

PS: I played around the Cricinfo stats tool. To me, "Saving an away test match" is someone batting for over 500 mins (4 session) and 400 balls on foreign soil. That list is even more elite - just 7 "centurion savers"

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sachin & 500 Club

The last line in the Cricinfo stats article made me think of India's 500 performance. The line was:
Thanks largely to Tendulkar's 160, India managed their first 500-plus score in New Zealand
The question i had in my mind was - what is the relationship between India's overseas 500 run record and Sachin's performance in those matches.

Thanks to Cricinfo stats, i soon could tabularize the performance of all countries abroard. Australia (unsurprisingly!) led the way with 46 scores of 500 & above while England (39) and India (27) trail the Aussies. I was surprised that India was ranked so high. Since India prior to 2000 was known as home tigers, i didn't expect them to post huge overseas scores. 

India's record look good. They have scored seven 500s abroad than they allowed their opponents to score at home. Then, i had a hunch when i looked at England (39) and West Indies (26) figures. Maybe, most of these came  from pre-1990 era. So, filtering the above table for Sachin era, the result is startling:

Of India's 27 scores of 500+ in Test Cricket, 22 of them came in the last 19 years. What's more - Sachin played in 19 of these matches (Sachin missed in the 2006 WI tour as well as the 2005 Zimbabwe tour where Sourav & Greg clashed!). India (to my surprise!) has the best record with 22 scores of 500+ and allowing only 7 such scores from it's opponent at home. The 22 scores also indicate the golden period of India's Fab Three/Four/Five. All but one came after the debut of Ganguly & Dravid. Post-Sehwag's introduction, the frequency of these mega-scores have increased. The +15 record indicates that India has adopted better to foreign conditions better than opponents have adjusted to Indian conditions.

In the 19 matches, Sachin's record is phenomenal. His record stands as 19 Matches, 26 Innings, 2368 runs, Average of 124.63, 11 Centuries, 5 fifties and only 1 duck. What a stat! I don't have similar figures for Dravid & Sehwag (am sure, Laxman & Ganguly won't have 100+ average) but will try & put that out soon. India lost only one match - the infamous Sydney test match and won 7 times in 19 matches. Interestingly, India has never won a match pre-Sachin era when it scored 500+ abroad. It drew 4 matches & lost 1 (500 scored after being asked to follow-on with a deficit of 386 runs)

Coming back to the Master - Sachin & the Fab-five performance overseas having a direct link to our away record is probably one of the most underappreciated aspect of Indian cricket (the other - Kumble's contribution to Indian test victories)

Edit: Dravid's record in India's 500+ matches abroad: 19 matches, 25 innings, 2277 runs, Average of 103.50 with 9 centuries and 8 fifties & 1 duck. Which one of these 2 is better? That i am not sure. Dravid however has 3 double-centuries - the famous Adelaide Test match, the famous Rawalpindi Test match and the 217 in Oval while Sachin's 248 in Sydney was a drawn match & 248* against minnows Bangladesh. His near-200s - the 193 in Headingley was made on the foundation of Dravid's spectacular 148 & 194* in Multan was a support role to Sehwag's 309. However Tendulkar has one second inning century (against Sri Lanka) while Dravid has none. So, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I give Tendulkar's record a slight edge over Dravid.

Sehwag's record isn't Bradmansque. That's mainly because it is more hit-or-miss. There are 3 centuries - his 309 Multan special; whirlwind 180 in WI and the 151 second innings special in Adelaide. Apart from these efforts, there is no other significant effort in his 13 matches, 17 innings, 1135 runs, 66.76 average, 3 centuries and 2 fifties.

As i expected, VVS & Ganguly's records weren't extra-ordinary. VVS played 16 matches, 22 innings, 1162 runs, 58.10 average with 4 centuries, 4 fifties and 1 duck. His 148 in Adelaide followed by 178 in Sydney in the 2003-04 Aussie tour and a century in the ill-fated Sydney test showcases his preference for Aussie attack. Against the rest, he has a century in Zimbabwe and some fifties here & there though in his defense, his role at No. 6 gave his too few opportunities. Ganguly however cannot complain about lack of opportunities. He has the worst record of the Fab-5 in matches overseas where India has scored 500+. His stat line of 15 matches, 19 innings, 982 runs, 51.68 average, 3 centuries, 7 fifties and 1 duck doesn't look great. He started off well - 136 in Nottingham in his debut series & 128 in the match at Headingley where Tendulkar & Dravid collected centuries - both in English environment. His only other century kick-started the Ganguly-Chapell spat (century in Zimbabwe). 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Test Cricket Moral Police Force have got their facts wrong!

Vic Marks, Stephen Brenkley, Martin Johnson amongst others have criticized the lifeless pitches on offer in the Carribean where West Indies hold on to a 1-0 lead. After WI won the first, the second abandoned, the last 3 matches have seen pitches where the batsmen can play blind-folded Cricket. The complaints of these gentlemen above don't talk of disparity between bat & ball. These gentlemen talk about the imminent passing away of the great game called Test Cricket. Everytime there is a dull lifeless draw, critics pounce and declare Test Cricket dead.

Unfortunately, these critics probably failed in their history classes or they are Aamir Khan's long lost brothers from the movie Ghajini - suffering from short-term memory loss. 

Test Cricket in the olden days saw worse - slow paced dull draws. Disagree? Since these gentlemen are from England, what better examples than the Indian tours to England in 1990 & 1996. In both these tours, England won the first test match and the remaining 2 matches were boring high-scoring drawn matches. In 1990 series, there were 15 hundreds and 17 fifties in 3 test matches. A total of 4,640 runs were scored in 3 matches for the loss of 82 wickets at an average of 56.58 runs per wicket. The 1996 series was marginally better for the bowlers (mostly English bowlers!) - 8 hundreds and 10 fifties in 3 test matches. A total of 3,214 runs in 3 matches for loss of 93 wickets at 34.45 per wicket. Both these test series, post the first matches were batsmen games and that's the way the host team would have wanted it, to retain the series victory.

My theory is that the pundits have been pampered in the last decade when the win rate for test matches have gone up. Till 1999, there were 1404 test matches played (that didn't involve Zim & Ban) and 864 of these these matches ended in a result (61%). In the last 10 years, 375 matches were played (doesn't include the 2 current matches) and produced results in 269 games (71%). If we were to include Zim & Ban, the rates are 61.4% and 74.8%

So, in no shape or form, the last decade has dulled Test Cricket. Test Cricket had boring draws a few years back and will continue to have boring draws in the future. Please don't waste time in writing Test Cricket's obituary just yet.