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Cricket News & Views

IPL needs to prove its integrity

THE SALE of two further franchises at Pune and Kochi for a combined price of $703 million for an eight-year term has underlined the fact that the Indian Premier League is here to stay. This is fine while the Board of Control for Cricket in India does remain in 'control', but the landscape will change soon.

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In 2012 the IPL is due to become a public company and the whole concept will become more aggressive. There were five bidders for the latest franchises and they were all described as "very high quality" by the IPL commissioner Lalit Modi.

The Pune franchise was bought by Sahara Adventure Sports Group for $370 million. This western town is quite close to Bombay where Mumbai Indians were bought by Reliance Industries for $112.9 million two years ago, the most expensive of the eight 10-year franchises that formed the inaugural IPL. One can easily assume that all franchises have at least tripled in value, and this fire-breathing dragon could eventually destroy cricket's structure. The IPL  needs to show it has lasting value to enhance the game, not destroy it.

Most of the franchises, perhaps all, make a profit in view of the television interest and large stadium crowds that boost merchandising income. The franchises share 72 per cent of the broadcasting rights, which have topped $1,000 million. If the IPL becomes a public corporation as planned, the circuit is bound to expand and overlap with seasons in other countries, causing friction that will not be oiled by altruism. The good of the game of cricket will not feature in the thinking.

It will be interesting to see how many viewers ITV4 will attract in the afternoon for their daily IPL matches. If the figures seem healthy, the ECB will have some data to tempt future terrestrial coverage of games from the English circuit. However, as the ECB are currently arguing strongly that a Sky monopoly is the only route to survival, ITV's interest in cricket comes at an inconvenient time.

There are drawbacks to the IPL, clearly a credible rival in world-wide appeal to Premier League football. The Twenty20 format is not actually ideal for television because the ball flies all over the place, forcing frequent camera switches. Unlike longer matches, the short format allows the highest quality players only a short time on view.

Most viewers are not particularly bothered which Indian team wins unless perhaps they are Asian, and the action can be crippled by bursts of gormless commentary. Hyperbole comes tumbling out -- "there it goes, waaaaay into the crowd" -- and the words are too often waaaay over the top. After all, sixes are not uncommon.

No one should be surprised at the success of the T20 format because, after all, cricket took root in the 18th and 19th Century as a game of coloured clothing and violent hitting with curved bat against underarm bowling. Matches were quite short and sweet, and betting was an important element among the crowds that attended. It was not cricket's fault that an age of elegance, close-mown pitches and over-arm bowling changed the game's earthy character.

Test cricket is bound to decline in importance, especially on the subcontinent, in the West Indies and probably in Southern Africa. Big-money 20-over leagues offer a big draw, despite the ICC's laudable determination to hang on to the status quo. The MCC chief executive Keith Bradshaw sees a future with fewer teams and players involved in Test cricket, coinciding with a near-doubling of international T20 sides in five years' time.

Writing in the April issue of The Wisden Cricketer magazine, Bradshaw said: "I consider myself optimistic, but it isn’t difficult to look ahead and see the pessimists’ apocalyptic version of the future of the game, where Tests are virtually redundant, Twenty20 saturates and players are globe-trotting mercenaries."

He continued: "We know several players have already forgone playing Tests to prolong more lucrative Twenty20 careers, but I believe the more covert long-term problem will be that young players will be schooled purely in the Twenty20 game and be unable to adapt to the demands of cricket played over three, four and five days. The transition from Test to Twenty20 cricket is much easier than the other way round, and the result could be far fewer players capable of playing five-day cricket."

Bradshaw said that while Test cricket remained the pinnacle of the game its position should not be taken for granted. "We have a warped sense of the well-being of Tests in England because they attract good crowds. Yet there is a real danger that the format could become the preserve of four or five countries unless efforts are made to reinstate a fairer balance between bat and ball, to work alongside rather than against Twenty20 competitions to ensure players do not have to choose between playing for their country and their club, and to attract new audiences.

"Twenty20 could sound the death knell for Test cricket, but it could also prove to be the perfect vehicle for the expansion of the game into other countries. The shorter the game, the greater the leveller and Twenty20 is an excellent pathway into the elite fold – just think of the fairy-tale qualification of Afghanistan for this year’s World Twenty20."

Looking ahead he said: "I firmly believe the next big step will be the growth of cricket in the United States and it’s not unrealistic to think there could be 20 countries capable of playing competitive Twenty20 cricket within the next five years – surely something to celebrate."

The April issue of The Wisden Cricketer celebrated Sachin Tendulkar’s historic one-day double century against South Africa by featuring the India maestro on the front cover. This sort of innings cannot exist in T20.

www.thewisdencricketer.com

Posted by Charlie Randall
24/03/2010 19:39:37

Here comes another annoying moth

MOTHS are back in the cricket news as a bigger threat than David Gower after the disclosure that chemicals will have to be used at Ahmedabad to rid Indian Premier League night matches of an annoying pest.

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The city's first IPL game on March 15 -- Rajasthan Royal's six-wicket defeat by Delhi Daredevils -- was spoilt by clouds of moths attracted to the floodlights at the lofty Motera stadium, and the Gujarat Cricket Association announced they would be using fogging machines to improve conditions for players, spectators and commentators alike.

Gower caused a stir by 'harassing' an England warm-up match in Queensland from a low-flying Tiger Moth during the 1991 Ashes tour. As Gower and fellow passenger John Morris were playing in the match at the time and had not told the management, they were in trouble, but real moths are proving much more irritating in the IPL.

The presence of insects can be clearly seen on television during matches at other venues, with Motera probably the worst affected due its riverside location. Players complained moths were finding their way inside batting helmets, and there seemed a constant danger of taking one in the open mouth. Shane Warne, the Rajasthan captain, said he was hit in the eye by a couple of moths while in the slips as Shaun Tait was bowling. It might be only a matter of time before a serious incident happens.

Virender Sehwag, the Delhi captain, said moths were distracting for batsmen. "It is difficult to focus on the ball when you are running, and it is scary when some moth comes and hits you in the eye," he said. The India opener wore night glasses in South Africa after an insect flew into his eye during the 2009 IPL tournament.

Another Delhi player, Amit Mishra, commented on the moths in the Hindustan Times. "It was difficult to keep the eyes open," he said. "But I doubt anything could have been done to avoid it. The situation got worse after the match got underway, but it was not possible to use insecticides. Such insects are common in February-Marc. It happens more so because the Sabarmati river is close by. There is a lot of greenery along the river and insects breed there."

While moths were besieging the Motera stadium, a political rally in Lucknow was spoilt on the same day by a swarm of bees - a familiar occasional daytime hazard for cricketers. Players had to lie flat on the grass to avoid danger at Kandy during a Test between Sri Lanka and England in 2007. England again had problems at Cuttack in 2008, and the following year two nests had to be removed from the Barabati stadium before an India versus Sri Lanka one-dayer. India and Australia were similarly inconvenienced at Delhi in 2008, and England A had to get down during a match against Zimbabwe A at Harare in 1990, knowing that an attack by African killer bees could result in very serious injury.

Posted by Charlie Randall
18/03/2010 13:43:46

Sean Morris jumps ship to IPL

ANYONE wondering why Sean Morris resigned suddenly from the Professional Cricketers Association had their curiosity satisfied today when Rajasthan Royals announced his appointment as their new chief executive .

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Morris, 41, a former Hampshire player, lasted less than two years as the PCA's chief executive after the previous incumbent, Richard Bevan, had spent 11 years building a players association into a major support organisation, providing leadership with 80 commercial partners and a seven-figure turnover.

Bevan left to join the football managers equivalent with some typically perceptive comments about the ICC and the state of the world game. "The ICC is not a governing body, it is a facilitator of events," he said before leaving cricket behind. "It must move to an independent board structure based on good governance and accountability. Only strong ICC leadership devoid of political influence will have the ability to control and grow the game." But another comment strikes a chord in 2009 when he touched on the large sums spent on developing the game in new countries while allowing existing pillars to become marginalised. "The ICC says it is promoting cricket in 120 or so countries, but what about safeguarding New Zealand and West Indies?" Bevan said. This point was raised angrily in November 2009 by Joel Garner while managing the West Indies in Australia. Caribbean cricket was withering while the ICC pursued their grand schemes.

Morris began his post-Hampshire career with Dunlop Slazenger and after joining the PCA in January 2008 he was faced with a turbulent period in the game, most notably the terrorist atrocities in India and Pakistan, the explosion of heavily enriched Indian Premier League 20-overs cricket and the ECB's sacking of Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen, the England coach and captain at the start of 2009.

Morris is to assume immediate responsibility for the Jaipur-based Rajasthan Royals, the first IPL champions in May 2008, and he will be focusing on developing the brand outside of India. Shane Warne, the Rajasthan Royals captain, said: "I am delighted that Sean will be joining the Rajasthan Royals management team. He is well respected by players around the world and we look forward to him helping us build on the phenomenal successes that we have enjoyed so far".

Posted by Charlie Randall
07/12/2009 19:34:00

Beach, bats and bullying in Madras

THE ban on informal cricket at the main beach of Madras, announced by the local government in early November, has stirred up a lively debate among the townsfolk and further afield.

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Marina beach, part of a strand extending more than seven miles, attracts thousands of visitors at evenings and weekends, and there were complaints that flying cork cricket balls and scuffing sand could spoil the day for families with young children -- except that much of the cricket takes place on the service road running along the front, and the objection to that encroachment is that parking access is reduced. One could almost assume that parking is at the root of the city council's plans.

Though the equipment is crude and the matches strictly make-up social events, the council decided to ban playing altogether for "beautification" of the area, sparking a furious response. Despite the valid objections of beach users, including joggers, the point has been made there is nowhere else in the locality for young people to play games. Another point is that the presence of such widespread activity restricts a potentially vast influx of motor vehicles, a situation that could be said to add to the appeal of the beach not reduce it.

When police broke up games and chased away the participants for a second consecutive Sunday, about 2,000 people, mostly residents along the stretch, blocked traffic in protest, supported by refreshment vendors angry at losing business. One protestor D.J Ramani, 53, made a typical comment to The Hindu newspaper. "My dad used to play cricket on the Marina when he was young," he said. "We have been playing here for so long and it is a part of our everyday life." Useful open space used to exist at the Government Estate and the May Day Park where several thousand people could play cricket, but the facility was lost to building development.

Some observers even mentioned that international cricketers used to play at Marina in their youth, though citing the beach as a breeding ground for talent might be taking a romantic notion too far.

Make-up cricket has a strong social attraction. In England a first class match at Arundel, for example, will feature several lively games in the background, depending on the size of the crowd. During meal intervals at any ground the outfield fills with people playing with bat and ball. The hard cricket ball is strictly banned, though realistic soft versions with seam can be easily purchased at low cost. A tennis ball is often used to test the skill of a batsmen -- out caught is difficult to avoid. In India players are more likely to use cork balls and bat-shaped pieces of wood.

Here are some of the comments to The Hindu on the Madras question. Sunil Kumar: "The open space in metro cities is falling prey to concrete and glass structures. It is a telling sign of our age, where a simple game of cricket cannot be played in abandon. It has become a luxury. It is sad that concerned government is not ensuring maintenance of parks and playing grounds for public. It seems to have been forgotten that playgrounds make better citizens. Beach cricket has its own charm and it should not be stifled."

Meera Srivats, an expatriate living in the United States, said what she most missed from Madras was the bhajji stalls, the aroma of agarbathi emanating from all the shops and, above all, the gully cricket. "Strolling along the beach, many a times even at my most depressed state, the shouts and laughter of those kids have planted a grin on my face. One goes to the beach to liven up one's spirits; it's not only the sea and the sand but also the people that makes our Marina a home away from home. Before our Government issues furthur orders in the pretext of making our Marina a better place to be, they should stop and think, what is it that actually makes it a better place in our hearts."

Commissioner of Police in Madras, T. Rajendran, told The Hindu it was mainly a problem of urbanisation and lack of open spaces and that a solution would be found soon. "Sports activities are very important for children," he agreed.

CHARLIE SAYS: This is amazing. There must be a compromise available to please all parties. Make-up, or gully, cricket is a wholesome pastime that should be applauded, and it can be very addictive. To their lasting shame, the MCC still do not allow spectators on to the outfield at Lord's for this purpose. Most county grounds are better aware.

Posted by Charlie Randall
03/12/2009 13:05:05

England suspects are 'dollared'

ENGLAND'S pathetic decline in Jamaica on Saturday happened one day after the Indian Premier League auction had been completed in Goa, and the juxta position of events underlined an important element in cricket's current swirl -- without honour in his own country a cricketer is little more than a wedge of banknotes.

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Though the announcements of how many American dollars Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff should earn in India attracted some interest in the United Kingdom, very few cricket followers here actually care what happens in the IPL fixtures. For example, the identity of the reigning champions -- Rajasthan Royals -- barely registers.

When the million-dollar men Pietersen and Flintoff become part of a humiliating defeat in the West Indies -- all out for 51 on a flat pitch at Kingston -- their overblown monetary status looks hollow. They become cricketers without respect, and even more so if they disappear to join the IPL circuit without repairing the damage. It is not too late to redeem themselves in the Test series, but the respect Pietersen commands within the dressing-room, let alone outside, could shrink as fast as my bank account after his undermining of coach Peter Moores.

Many England supporters might feel that Pietersen has nothing to lose and that he can simply walk away into the IPL to become Bangalore's biggest celebrity. Maybe he could become the biggest name in the whole of India, which would be marvellous for him. The problem is that loyalty to the national cause simply cannot be guaranteed, whatever he might say, and some of the South African's team-mates might well think the same.

The ECB cannot escape most of the blame for England's present plight. They appointed a managing director specifically to run the international team and, incredibly, there was a major fall-out between captain and coach occurs within a year, an unprecedented schism. That official, Hugh Morris, has lashed up and must be moved sideways as soon as possible.

The selectors, Geoff Miller and Ashley Giles, have not done their job. The 'left field' hunch to bring in Nottinghamshire's Australian swing bowler Darren Pattinson against South Africa last summer was a predictable failure. England's chronic batting problem has not been tackled. While Strauss, Cook and Bell form the top order -- Bell stays at No 3 despite overwhelming statistical evidence that this is wrong -- every innings will start by wading through treacle. Nothing will be lost by offering Rob Key, of Kent, a chance to open and giving Owais Shah a long try-out.

Personally I would encourage Pietersen to have a nice long trip to Bangalore and not come back until the Ashes series has finished. He would at least earn respect through absence, especially if he helps Indian cricket by coaching children and so on. No one is indispensible.

Posted by Charlie Randall
08/02/2009 12:09:33

England should tour India

THE Indian cricket authorities have rescheduled England's two-Test series to Madras and the Mohali ground in Chandigarh as a result of the gun atrocities in Bombay and elsewhere.

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In such a vast country as India there seems little point in calling off the tour, and it is highly unlikely that the current war-footing security will be breached when England return. If they return.

Assuming the security officer Reg Dickason and the Foreign Office give the all-clear, England should be playing India at Madras on Dec 11-15 and Mohali on Dec 19-23. One or two players will be wavering, especially those with young families and a wife to perceive danger.

But there is no real reason not to revisit the subcontinent. If the Indian Premier League, with its huge pay-days, were involved one would suspect that the dangers would suddenly seem to shrink. Kevin Pietersen, the captain, needs to give his players the lead by stating his intention to tour as soon as security clearance is given.

Posted by Charlie
01/12/2008 20:12:17

Let's not write off England yet

HANG ON, Ladbrokes have started offering India at 1/6 on to win the one-day series after their crushing first-up victory, and England's chances go out to 4/1 shots, against, but the Rajkot rumble was all about one man -- Yuvraj Singh, batting with a brace supporting his back.

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The series is far from concluded just yet, however one-sided the first game. India's 387 was their highest one-day total at home and second-highest anywhere; Yuvraj was simply unstoppable and needed only 78 balls for his undefeated 138. Not surprisingly Kevin Pietersen and his men came nowhere near a credible challenge in reply, losing by 158 runs.

Yuvraj is arguably in the top three of the world's best Twenty20 batsmen and he is a punishing one-day left-hander, so if he were to reach a century the tempo would be quick. And that is what happened, though he had not reached this milestone for more than a year. It is quite possible that this India mayhem will prove to be a one-off, especially if Yuvraj has to miss matches due to his sore back.

Yuvraj's only disappointment was missing India's fastest one-day hundred by two balls, held by Mohammad Azharuddin at 62. He batted with a runner for much of his innings, which in itself was controversial in that he entered the match with an injury already restricting his movement. Pietersen did not object as he could have done, after Yuvraj called for medical help out in the middle. His immobility might have been one reason why the Indian tormentor scored a high proportion of his runs in boundaries.

Pietersen said afterwards: "You have to trust a man. I can't see whether somebody's in pain, so you have to trust somebody. I don't think he would have made a whole big thing about it if there wasn't a problem."

CHARLIE SAYS: India should win the series, but at 4/1 in a three-horse race, including a tied series, England's odds look worth a flutter.

Posted by Charlie
14/11/2008 14:00:42

Double-ton Gambhir banned

THE India opener Gautam Gambhir has received a one-match suspension after being found guilty of breaching the ICC Code of Conduct during his double-hundred in the third Test against Australia in New Delhi. He is to appeal against the decisiion.

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The sentence meant Gambhir would miss the final Test in Nagpur, which starts on Nov 6. The Australian seam-bowler Shane Watson had already been fined for verbal abuse that preceded a shoulder-nudging incident with the batsman, but Gambhir's hearing was postponed to allow the match referee Chris Broad to review the evidence.

The player had pleaded guilty to a charge under Rule C1 of the Code (Level 2) which states that players shall at all times conduct play within the spirit of the game. Explaining the suspension decision, Broad said: "The decision to find Gambhir guilty of a level 2 offence is indicative of the fact that any degree of physical contact is unacceptable.

"Had Gambhir been charged with and found guilty of a charge under 2.4, due to his previous offence, I would have been obliged to impose a minimum penalty of a two-Test match ban. In the view of the umpires, the facts of this case - the lightness of the physical conduct and the element of provocation - would not justify such a penalty.

"The umpires accordingly had regard to the notes of the ICC Code of Conduct which provides for a player to be charged under Rule C1 if the circumstances of the alleged incident are not adequately covered by the listed offences.

"Whilst I concur with this view, the ICC has repeatedly told the players that deliberate physical contact between players will not be tolerated. I have also taken into account the previous offences of Gambhir and therefore, I am satisfied that the penalty imposed is an appropriate outcome in the circumstances of this matter. I hope Mr Gambhir will learn from this," Broad said.

CHARLIE SAYS: Australian abuse could reach its climax in England next summer when they see the Ashes slipping away from their grasp.

Posted by Charlie
31/10/2008 11:32:09

Zaheer Khan fined for circling

THE India left-arm fast bowler Zaheer Khan has been given a massive fine by the ICC for his disgraceful antics during the 320-run victory over Australia in the second Test at Mohali.

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The umpires reported Khan for giving a 'send-off' to the Australian opener Matthew Hayden after his dismissal, lbw to Harbhajan Singh in the over before lunch on the fourth day. The ICC noted that Khan ran from his fielding position and circled the batsman, shouting at him in an aggressive manner before returning to his team-mates.

Tim Nielsen, Australia's coach, shrugged off the incident as "a bit of by-play", but Chris Broad, the referee, saw it differently, fining Khan 80 per cent of his match fee. Khan pleaded guilty to a Level 2 charge under clause C1 of the ICC Code of Conduct, which states that players "shall at all times conduct play within in the spirit of the game as well as within the Laws of Cricket".

Broad said: "Clearly, this sort of behaviour is not acceptable at any level of cricket – it showed a lack of respect for the player who had been dismissed. Respect for the opposition was something that we talked about in the pre-series meeting I had with both captains, and so it was disappointing that Zaheer behaved in this way.

"However, in considering the penalty, I took into account the fact that Zaheer had a good disciplinary record. He also pleaded guilty at the first opportunity and was very apologetic while also promising not to repeat the offence."

CHARLIE SAYS: Zaheer Khan must have been very pumped to act in this way, and it seems bad blood remains between these two teams after the sledging rows during the series in Australia at the start of this year. The on-field behaviour became so bad that even Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd felt obliged to comment. "Cricket is a tough and competitive business, but you can conduct it with a bit of civility," he said.

Posted by Charlie
21/10/2008 12:09:58

Mike Hussey goes top

THE Australian left-hander Mike Hussey has returned to the top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings after his 146 against India in the drawn first Test against India at Bangalore.

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Hussey, 33, was placed third before this match, just behind Kumar Sangakkara, of Sri Lanka, and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, of the West Indies, but his form has put him back on top, a position he held for a short time earlier this year during Australia's tour of the Caribbean.

Hussey’s team-mate Ricky Ponting stays in fourth spot, despite scoring his first Test century in India. The top five batsmen are a very close ratings points, with only 19 separating them. Matthew Hayden, Michael Clarke and Rahul Dravid all slipped two places, and Dravid has almost slipped out of the top 20, on 18th.

The biggest success from the Bangalore match was left-arm seamer Zaheer Khan. He rose seven places to 11th after taking six wickets. Anil Kumble dropped eight places to 18th; India's captain bowled 51 overs in the match without a wicket.

Reliance Mobile ICC Test Rankings (Oct 14)

BATTING: 1 M Hussey (Australia), 2 S Chanderpaul (W Indies), 3 K Sangakkara (Sri Lanka), 4 R Ponting (Australia), 5 M Yousuf (Pakistan), 6 M Jayawardena (Sri Lanka), 7 K Pietersen (England), 8 Younis Khan (Pakistan), 9 M Hayden (Australia), 10 J Kallis (S Africa).

BOWLING: 1 M Muralitharan (Sri Lanka), 2 S Clark (Australia), 3 D Steyn (S Africa), 4 B Lee (Australia), 5 M Ntini (S Africa), 6 R Sidebottom (England), 7 equal C Vaas (Sri Lanka), Shoaib Akhtar (Pakistan), 9 S Bond (NZ), 10 M Panesar (England).

CHARLIE SAYS: With his extensive experience in English county cricket, it looks as though Mike Hussey will have a crucial part in the Ashes series next summer. My money will be going on England.

Posted by Charlie
15/10/2008 16:20:39
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