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Wednesday, 31 July 2013
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Gary Sobers 77

I was about 8 years old. I watched nearly all the cricket they showed on Doordarshan. It was late in the afternoon, and I had just watched Kapil Dev hit the bowling to all parts of the ground with Ravi Chaturvedi describing the ball-by-ball action. It suddenly dawned on me that Kapil could bat and bowl well. Up until then, I knew that in cricket there were batsmen, bowlers, wicket keepers and all rounders. Grown ups would ask, as grown ups do, what type of cricketer I wanted to be. I always said "all-rounder". An all rounder got to do everything. But that day I realized for the first time, that all rounders had to be good at batting andbowling.

That evening, I asked my father if Kapil was the best player of all time. It seemed logical to me. Gavaskar could bat, others could bowl, but Kapil could do both. My father paused, and replied in one word "Sobers.... ". I had never heard the name before. I had not yet discovered my father's cricket books. The second thing he said, in Marathi, was "Sobers used to draw dust out of English outfields". I later discovered that my father's cricket in his days as a club cricketer was a Slazenger Special. He bought it because it was the bat Sobers used. He still has it. I later read Mahiyar Morawalla's hagiography of Sobers (it was titled King of Kings: The Story of Sir Garfield Sobers). Morawalla wrote of "the mellow ringing sound of Gary's Slazenger Special".

From that day onwards, Sobers, who retired many years before I was born, was my first and only cricketing hero. I read everything I could find about him. My father's collection of cricket books had a number of autobiographies. I would eagerly look for opinions about Sobers in these. I was never disappointed.



I didn't understand the bit about "draw dust out of English outfields" immediately. It was, as many of you must have guessed, a reference to the power of Sobers' drives. Sobers loomed large in cricket books. His numbers were impressive. 8032 Test runs in 93 Tests, at an average of nearly 58. 109 Test catches and 235 Test wickets at 34. That average didn't seem impressive to me. But then I read that Sobers could bowl fast, finger spin and wrist spin. He could also catch impossible balls in the slips.

Gary Sobers was something of a prodigy. He made his debut as a 17 year old against England at Sabina Park in early 1954. England were led by Len Hutton in that series, West Indies by Jeff Stollmeyer. Trevor Bailey, who would become Sobers' first Test wicket, bowled West Indies out cheaply in the 1st innings taking 7/34. Hutton then made 205 out of England's 414 all out. The match was drawn thanks to a Clyde Walcott century in the 3rd innings. Sobers made 14 and 26 batting at 9, and took 4 wickets.

The Australians toured in 1955.  They were a strong side. The batting led by Neil Harvey, the bowling by Lindwall, Miller and Richie Benaud. At Barbados, Australians made 668 and West Indies began their reply late on the 2nd day. Sobers had batted at 6 in the first two Tests. Now he was asked to open - a tricky session against the hostility of Lindwall and Miller. He made 43 with 10 fours in about 20 minutes. The Australians knew that a star had arrived. That Barbados Test would become famous for Denis Atkinson and Clairmonte de Pieza's world record 7th wicket stand of 347 after West Indies had been reduced to 6/147 in that 1st innings.

Sobers did not make a Test hundred for nearly 3 years after his debut. His first came in his 18th Test and it was a world record 365 not out against Pakistan at Sabina Park in early 1958. 13 centuries came in his next 28 Tests. These included 132 in the tied Test at Brisbane in late 1960, a 198 against Subash Gupte at Kanpur in the 2nd innings after the great leg spinner had bowled West Indies out of 222 in the first, taking a career best 9/102, and a 226 against Fred Trueman at Barbados.

The 1960s was Sobers' decade. He was at the heart of the strongest Test team of that era. Whatever fires Lloyd's men may have lit in Babylon, Frank Worrell, the first black West Indian captain, built the first world champion West Indies Test team. As a batsman, Sobers was probably better than Viv Richards. From 1962 to 1968, West Indies were undefeated in a Test series. They beat India, England (twice) and Australia. Wes Hall and Charlie Gilchrist formed a fierce new ball pair, supported by Sobers (pace and spin) and Lance Gibbs. Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse and Sobers formed the heart of the batting. In 1966, Sobers beat England single handedly in England, making 722 runs and taking 20 wickets in 5 Tests. From the start of the 1960s to early 1969, in 43 Tests Sobers made 4343 runs at 65.8 and took 144 wickets a 32. Alistair Cook has played nearly a 100 Tests in less than 8 years to put this in some perspective.

In March 1968, Sobers, by then established as the greatest players of his age, and captain of the West Indies, made a sporting declaration against Colin Cowdrey's England at the Queen's Part Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad in an effort the break a stalemate in the 4th Test of a series. West Indies lost by 7 wickets. Sobers was burned in effigy. Earlier in that series he had played one of the most miraculous Test innings of all time. On an underprepared pitch, England batted first and while the going was good, made 376 in 170 overs. The pitch began to crack and John Snow bowled West Indies out for 143. West Indies followed on, and while they did better, they were soon 204/5. The crowd rioted. Sobers had been dropped by Basil d'Oliviera on 7. After the riot stopped, he batted for 6 hours on an impossible pitch and made 113. His partner in a crucial century stand was David Holford. England had been promised an extra sixth day to finish the match to compensate for the time lost due to the riot. They survived by the skin of their teeth ending at 68/8 at the end of play. Sobers had followed his 6 hour century by bowling 17 overs, taking 3/33. In the match after the loss due to the sporting declaration, he combined with Rohan Kanhai in a stand of 250. England were eventually set 308 to win in the final innings. They survived by the skin of their teeth. Alan Knott and last man Jeff Jones (father of Simon) played out the last few overs. West Indies lost their first series in 7 years.

It would prove to be the end of the great West Indian side of the 1960s. Before the end of the decade, Wes Hall and Seymour Nurse retired. Sobers got caught on the wrong side of apartheid politics when he played a double wicket tournament in Rhodesia. He was not invited to play for West Indies when Ian Chappell's Australians toured in 1972-73. Australia won, but Chappell thought it was a hollow win, beating West Indies without Sobers. Sobers would tour England again in 1973 and make 150 at Lord's after being out at a pub very late the night before. He was not out 31 overnight and felt terrible the next morning but batted anyways. He couldn't bear it after he reached his century and asked the Umpire if he could retire hurt. He retired at 6/528 on 132. When Bernard Julien was out for 121 with the score of 7/604, the commentator John Arlott was heard observing "Oh dear, West Indies six hundred and four for seven and here comes Sobers!"

Sobers had the ability, like Lara did, to make big centuries. 11 of his 26 Test hundreds were worth 150 or more. 17 were worth 130 or more. This is all the more remarkable because in the majority of his Test innings, Sobers batted at 5 or 6 in the order. When he retired from Test Cricket, he had made more Test runs than any Test player, and more Test centuries than any player other than Bradman. He made 86 first class centuries, over 28000 first class runs, and took 1043 first class wickets.

Take Jacques Kallis and give him the additional ability to (1) bowl spin and (2) bat like Brian Lara. You are close to Sobers.

Gary Sobers is 77 years old today. 41 years ago, he played an innings which Don Bradman called the greatest exhibition of batting ever in Australia. I leave you with this video courtesy Rob Moody's collection.
Results Of My DRS Poll

Results Of My DRS Poll

Over the past week, I conducted a poll about DRS on this blog. The poll included two questions. The first asked why DRS exists in cricket. I offered readers three choices to cover the following three possibilities. 
(1) Umpires are incompetent
(2) Umpires are competent, but need help because they can't identify everything with the naked eye.
(3) Umpires are competent, but are also human and make mistakes.

The second question was about marginal decisions. I offered three ideas about these types of decisions:
1. Marginal decisions are decisions to appeals for which both out and not out are equally reasonable.
2. Marginal decisions are very close appeals, but one decision is nonetheless more correct than the other.
3. Marginal decisions are a myth.

This poll is not strictly scientific. Those who voted were among readers of this blog and the friends and twitter followers of several people who were kind enough to share my poll. The poll system did technically make it possible for the same person to vote twice but it was not easy to do so. 

Opinion was divided on what a marginal decision is. There was far more unanimity about the purpose of DRS in cricket. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the overwhelming majority of readers who took the poll rejected the idea that umpires are incompetent.

Full results shown below.




Monday, 29 July 2013
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Gary Sobers 77

I was about 8 years old. I watched nearly all the cricket they showed on Doordarshan. It was late in the afternoon, and I had just watched Kapil Dev hit the bowling to all parts of the ground with Ravi Chaturvedi describing the ball-by-ball action. It suddenly dawned on me that Kapil could bat and bowl well. Up until then, I knew that in cricket there were batsmen, bowlers, wicket keepers and all rounders. Grown ups would ask, as grown ups do, what type of cricketer I wanted to be. I always said "all-rounder". An all rounder got to do everything. But that day I realized for the first time, that all rounders had to be good at batting andbowling.

That evening, I asked my father if Kapil was the best player of all time. It seemed logical to me. Gavaskar could bat, others could bowl, but Kapil could do both. My father paused, and replied in one word "Sobers.... ". I had never heard the name before. I had not yet discovered my father's cricket books. The second thing he said, in Marathi, was "Sobers used to draw dust out of English outfields". I later discovered that my father's cricket in his days as a club cricketer was a Slazenger Special. He bought it because it was the bat Sobers used. He still has it. I later read Mahiyar Morawalla's hagiography of Sobers (it was titled King of Kings: The Story of Sir Garfield Sobers). Morawalla wrote of "the mellow ringing sound of Gary's Slazenger Special".

From that day onwards, Sobers, who retired many years before I was born, was my first and only cricketing hero. I read everything I could find about him. My father's collection of cricket books had a number of autobiographies. I would eagerly look for opinions about Sobers in these. I was never disappointed.



I didn't understand the bit about "draw dust out of English outfields" immediately. It was, as many of you must have guessed, a reference to the power of Sobers' drives. Sobers loomed large in cricket books. His numbers were impressive. 8032 Test runs in 93 Tests, at an average of nearly 58. 109 Test catches and 235 Test wickets at 34. That average didn't seem impressive to me. But then I read that Sobers could bowl fast, finger spin and wrist spin. He could also catch impossible balls in the slips.

Gary Sobers was something of a prodigy. He made his debut as a 17 year old against England at Sabina Park in early 1954. England were led by Len Hutton in that series, West Indies by Jeff Stollmeyer. Trevor Bailey, who would become Sobers' first Test wicket, bowled West Indies out cheaply in the 1st innings taking 7/34. Hutton then made 205 out of England's 414 all out. The match was drawn thanks to a Clyde Walcott century in the 3rd innings. Sobers made 14 and 26 batting at 9, and took 4 wickets.

The Australians toured in 1955.  They were a strong side. The batting led by Neil Harvey, the bowling by Lindwall, Miller and Richie Benaud. At Barbados, Australians made 668 and West Indies began their reply late on the 2nd day. Sobers had batted at 6 in the first two Tests. Now he was asked to open - a tricky session against the hostility of Lindwall and Miller. He made 43 with 10 fours in about 20 minutes. The Australians knew that a star had arrived. That Barbados Test would become famous for Denis Atkinson and Clairmonte de Pieza's world record 7th wicket stand of 347 after West Indies had been reduced to 6/147 in that 1st innings.

Sobers did not make a Test hundred for nearly 3 years after his debut. His first came in his 18th Test and it was a world record 365 not out against Pakistan at Sabina Park in early 1958. 13 centuries came in his next 28 Tests. These included 132 in the tied Test at Brisbane in late 1960, a 198 against Subash Gupte at Kanpur in the 2nd innings after the great leg spinner had bowled West Indies out of 222 in the first, taking a career best 9/102, and a 226 against Fred Trueman at Barbados.

The 1960s was Sobers' decade. He was at the heart of the strongest Test team of that era. Whatever fires Lloyd's men may have lit in Babylon, Frank Worrell, the first black West Indian captain, built the first world champion West Indies Test team. As a batsman, Sobers was probably better than Viv Richards. From 1962 to 1968, West Indies were undefeated in a Test series. They beat India, England (twice) and Australia. Wes Hall and Charlie Gilchrist formed a fierce new ball pair, supported by Sobers (pace and spin) and Lance Gibbs. Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse and Sobers formed the heart of the batting. In 1966, Sobers beat England single handedly in England, making 722 runs and taking 20 wickets in 5 Tests. From the start of the 1960s to early 1969, in 43 Tests Sobers made 4343 runs at 65.8 and took 144 wickets a 32. Alistair Cook has played nearly a 100 Tests in less than 8 years to put this in some perspective.

In March 1968, Sobers, by then established as the greatest players of his age, and captain of the West Indies, made a sporting declaration against Colin Cowdrey's England at the Queen's Part Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad in an effort the break a stalemate in the 4th Test of a series. West Indies lost by 7 wickets. Sobers was burned in effigy. Earlier in that series he had played one of the most miraculous Test innings of all time. On an underprepared pitch, England batted first and while the going was good, made 376 in 170 overs. The pitch began to crack and John Snow bowled West Indies out for 143. West Indies followed on, and while they did better, they were soon 204/5. The crowd rioted. Sobers had been dropped by Basil d'Oliviera on 7. After the riot stopped, he batted for 6 hours on an impossible pitch and made 113. His partner in a crucial century stand was David Holford. England had been promised an extra sixth day to finish the match to compensate for the time lost due to the riot. They survived by the skin of their teeth ending at 68/8 at the end of play. Sobers had followed his 6 hour century by bowling 17 overs, taking 3/33. In the match after the loss due to the sporting declaration, he combined with Rohan Kanhai in a stand of 250. England were eventually set 308 to win in the final innings. They survived by the skin of their teeth. Alan Knott and last man Jeff Jones (father of Simon) played out the last few overs. West Indies lost their first series in 7 years.

It would prove to be the end of the great West Indian side of the 1960s. Before the end of the decade, Wes Hall and Seymour Nurse retired. Sobers got caught on the wrong side of apartheid politics when he played a double wicket tournament in Rhodesia. He was not invited to play for West Indies when Ian Chappell's Australians toured in 1972-73. Australia won, but Chappell thought it was a hollow win, beating West Indies without Sobers. Sobers would tour England again in 1973 and make 150 at Lord's after being out at a pub very late the night before. He was not out 31 overnight and felt terrible the next morning but batted anyways. He couldn't bear it after he reached his century and asked the Umpire if he could retire hurt. He retired at 6/528 on 132. When Bernard Julien was out for 121 with the score of 7/604, the commentator John Arlott was heard observing "Oh dear, West Indies six hundred and four for seven and here comes Sobers!"

Sobers had the ability, like Lara did, to make big centuries. 11 of his 26 Test hundreds were worth 150 or more. 17 were worth 130 or more. This is all the more remarkable because in the majority of his Test innings, Sobers batted at 5 or 6 in the order. When he retired from Test Cricket, he had made more Test runs than any Test player, and more Test centuries than any player other than Bradman. He made 86 first class centuries, over 28000 first class runs, and took 1043 first class wickets.

Take Jacques Kallis and give him the additional ability to (1) bowl spin and (2) bat like Brian Lara. You are close to Sobers.

Gary Sobers is 77 years old today. 41 years ago, he played an innings which Don Bradman called the greatest exhibition of batting ever in Australia. I leave you with this video courtesy Rob Moody's collection.
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Results Of My DRS Poll

Over the past week, I conducted a poll about DRS on this blog. The poll included two questions. The first asked why DRS exists in cricket. I offered readers three choices to cover the following three possibilities. 
(1) Umpires are incompetent
(2) Umpires are competent, but need help because they can't identify everything with the naked eye.
(3) Umpires are competent, but are also human and make mistakes.

The second question was about marginal decisions. I offered three ideas about these types of decisions:
1. Marginal decisions are decisions to appeals for which both out and not out are equally reasonable.
2. Marginal decisions are very close appeals, but one decision is nonetheless more correct than the other.
3. Marginal decisions are a myth.

This poll is not strictly scientific. Those who voted were among readers of this blog and the friends and twitter followers of several people who were kind enough to share my poll. The poll system did technically make it possible for the same person to vote twice but it was not easy to do so. 

Opinion was divided on what a marginal decision is. There was far more unanimity about the purpose of DRS in cricket. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the overwhelming majority of readers who took the poll rejected the idea that umpires are incompetent.
Sunday, 28 July 2013
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DRS in the ashes

I wrote a guest post over at The Cordon, Cricinfo's weblog for bloggers. I argue that if DRS has a problem, it is the design of the system itself, and not the way people use it as many authors, and even the ICC have recently argued. In the absence of any clarification from the ICC as to what the problem was with the Umpires' work in the LBW appeal against Jonathan Trott at Trent Bridge, I have reconstructed the way DRS would have worked according to the way it is defined, as opposed to the way it is conveyed to us through the filter of TV commentary. I also discuss the consequences for DRS and the future of the system.
Here is my concluding point:
The most damaging consequence of the DRS is off the field. It has now become a point of debate among professional observers of cricket about whether dismissals are determined by the umpire. The idea that the umpire is an expert whose role it is to exercise judgement, and whose judgement is to be respected, is now only superficially true. Time and again, eminently reasonable lbw decisions are reversed for fractions, and as a result are considered clear mistakes. Cricket has lost the ability to appreciate the close decision, the marginal event. It has lost the essential sporting capacity to concede that an event on the field is so close that perhaps a decision in favour of the opposition is reasonable.
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Walking, Reviewing And Retrospective Punishment

I've always said that you could have us hooked up to the best lie detectors on the planet and asked us if we were cheating, and we'd have passed. Not because we were delusional - we knew we were breaking the rules - but because we didn't think of it as cheating. It felt fair to break the rules, because we knew others were too.
- Tyler Hamilton with Daniel Coyle in The Secret Race
The justification for doping in cycling is eerily similar to the justification for not walking in cricket. The two are clearly not equivalent crimes. Doping is not only harmful to the health of the cyclists (even though Michele Ferrari, Lance Armstrong's doctor, once argued in response to this claim that 20 litres of orange juice is also harmful), but it is also explicitly illegal. Not walking is not illegal in cricket. Lying is not illegal in life.



Not walking, like doping, is often presented as a rational choice - as a choice batsmen ought to make. Australians have told us for decades that its up to the umpire to make a decision, so its a mistake to walk. Iain O'Brien tells us of a common refrain in his time with the New Zealand cricket team - If you're not cheating, you're not trying. Kevin Pietersen has told us that batsmen have a right to wait for the umpire's decision. Stuart Broad says nobody walks these days. It is a lethal combination. Have you ever had to resist doing something that was obviously logical, an indicator that you were trying your best, and something that everybody who was anybody did all the time? Who could possibly avoid this? Which Tour de France cyclist in the Armstrong era (and possibly before and since) could make a logical argument against doping, when not doping meant no better than 40th place even if you were at peak fitness?

Why would you not stand your ground and wait for the umpire's decision if doing so was going to increase your chances of benefiting from a wrong umpiring decision? Because thats why batsmen don't walk isn't it. They have no problem with umpiring decisions being wrong as long as they are wrong in their favor. In this, walking is worse than doping. The justification for doping was, at first, to gain an advantage on your rivals. Later, it was to avoid being disadvantaged, since everyone was doing it. The decision batsmen make to stand and wait for a decision, in the hope that the umpire will make a mistake, simply amounts to waiting for a bonus - for a mistake in one's favor.

Standing ground results in fewer correct decisions than walking would.

This is why the Player Review has largely failed in DRS. Losing teams use it worse than winning teams, reviews are unsuccessful the overwhelming majority of the time (about 1 in 4 reviews was successful in the 2011 World Cup). People argue that this is because players are incompetent when it comes to using reviews. Such an argument assumes that players are disinterested in the outcome of the decision apart from its adherence to the rules. This is palpably not so. Every action that players consider rational suggests that they don't care about the correct decision (according to a disinterested application of the laws of cricket) at all. They care very dearly about the most beneficial decision to their interests.

I don't think walking can be incentivized. What's more, I don't think it should be incentivized. Walking will not survive within an economy of error, it will only survive if it is above price.

The ICC needs to connect walking to reviewing. They should do so in the following way:

1. While batsmen still have reviews in hand, they must be required to walk. They cannot simultaneously have the power to use their knowledge of the laws of cricket to influence decisions and the power to ignore the laws of cricket when it suits them. This should be the case irrespective of whether the fielding side has reviews.

2. The Umpire should be allowed to be the sole judge of what decisions are considered debatable when it comes to determining whether or not a batsman should have walked. If a decision is ruled to be debatable, the batsman should not be penalized. Otherwise, the batsman should be penalized retrospectively.

They should call this the Stuart Broad Law
Gary Sobers 77

Gary Sobers 77

I was about 8 years old. I watched nearly all the cricket they showed on Doordarshan. It was late in the afternoon, and I had just watched Kapil Dev hit the bowling to all parts of the ground with Ravi Chaturvedi describing the ball-by-ball action. It suddenly dawned on me that Kapil could bat and bowl well. Up until then, I knew that in cricket there were batsmen, bowlers, wicket keepers and all rounders. Grown ups would ask, as grown ups do, what type of cricketer I wanted to be. I always said "all-rounder". An all rounder got to do everything. But that day I realized for the first time, that all rounders had to be good at batting and bowling.

That evening, I asked my father if Kapil was the best player of all time. It seemed logical to me. Gavaskar could bat, others could bowl, but Kapil could do both. My father paused, and replied in one word "Sobers.... ". I had never heard the name before. I had not yet discovered my father's cricket books. The second thing he said, in Marathi, was "Sobers used to draw dust out of English outfields". I later discovered that my father's cricket in his days as a club cricketer was a Slazenger Special. He bought it because it was the bat Sobers used. He still has it. I later read Mahiyar Morawalla's hagiography of Sobers (it was titled King of Kings: The Story of Sir Garfield Sobers). Morawalla wrote of "the mellow ringing sound of Gary's Slazenger Special".

From that day onwards, Sobers, who retired many years before I was born, was my first and only cricketing hero. I read everything I could find about him. My father's collection of cricket books had a number of autobiographies. I would eagerly look for opinions about Sobers in these. I was never disappointed.



I didn't understand the bit about "draw dust out of English outfields" immediately. It was, as many of you must have guessed, a reference to the power of Sobers' drives. Sobers loomed large in cricket books. His numbers were impressive. 8032 Test runs in 93 Tests, at an average of nearly 58. 109 Test catches and 235 Test wickets at 34. That average didn't seem impressive to me. But then I read that Sobers could bowl fast, finger spin and wrist spin. He could also catch impossible balls in the slips.

Gary Sobers was something of a prodigy. He made his debut as a 17 year old against England at Sabina Park in early 1954. England were led by Len Hutton in that series, West Indies by Jeff Stollmeyer. Trevor Bailey, who would become Sobers' first Test wicket, bowled West Indies out cheaply in the 1st innings taking 7/34. Hutton then made 205 out of England's 414 all out. The match was drawn thanks to a Clyde Walcott century in the 3rd innings. Sobers made 14 and 26 batting at 9, and took 4 wickets.

The Australians toured in 1955.  They were a strong side. The batting led by Neil Harvey, the bowling by Lindwall, Miller and Richie Benaud. At Barbados, Australians made 668 and West Indies began their reply late on the 2nd day. Sobers had batted at 6 in the first two Tests. Now he was asked to open - a tricky session against the hostility of Lindwall and Miller. He made 43 with 10 fours in about 20 minutes. The Australians knew that a star had arrived. That Barbados Test would become famous for Denis Atkinson and Clairmonte de Pieza's world record 7th wicket stand of 347 after West Indies had been reduced to 6/147 in that 1st innings.

Sobers did not make a Test hundred for nearly 3 years after his debut. His first came in his 18th Test and it was a world record 365 not out against Pakistan at Sabina Park in early 1958. 13 centuries came in his next 28 Tests. These included 132 in the tied Test at Brisbane in late 1960, a 198 against Subash Gupte at Kanpur in the 2nd innings after the great leg spinner had bowled West Indies out of 222 in the first, taking a career best 9/102, and a 226 against Fred Trueman at Barbados.

The 1960s was Sobers' decade. He was at the heart of the strongest Test team of that era. Whatever fires Lloyd's men may have lit in Babylon, Frank Worrell, the first black West Indian captain, built the first world champion West Indies Test team. As a batsman, Sobers was probably better than Viv Richards. From 1962 to 1968, West Indies were undefeated in a Test series. They beat India, England (twice) and Australia. Wes Hall and Charlie Gilchrist formed a fierce new ball pair, supported by Sobers (pace and spin) and Lance Gibbs. Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse and Sobers formed the heart of the batting. In 1966, Sobers beat England single handedly in England, making 722 runs and taking 20 wickets in 5 Tests. From the start of the 1960s to early 1969, in 43 Tests Sobers made 4343 runs at 65.8 and took 144 wickets a 32. Alistair Cook has played nearly a 100 Tests in less than 8 years to put this in some perspective.

In March 1968, Sobers, by then established as the greatest players of his age, and captain of the West Indies, made a sporting declaration against Colin Cowdrey's England at the Queen's Part Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad in an effort the break a stalemate in the 4th Test of a series. West Indies lost by 7 wickets. Sobers was burned in effigy. Earlier in that series he had played one of the most miraculous Test innings of all time. On an underprepared pitch, England batted first and while the going was good, made 376 in 170 overs. The pitch began to crack and John Snow bowled West Indies out for 143. West Indies followed on, and while they did better, they were soon 204/5. The crowd rioted. Sobers had been dropped by Basil d'Oliviera on 7. After the riot stopped, he batted for 6 hours on an impossible pitch and made 113. His partner in a crucial century stand was David Holford. England had been promised an extra sixth day to finish the match to compensate for the time lost due to the riot. They survived by the skin of their teeth ending at 68/8 at the end of play. Sobers had followed his 6 hour century by bowling 17 overs, taking 3/33. In the match after the loss due to the sporting declaration, he combined with Rohan Kanhai in a stand of 250. England were eventually set 308 to win in the final innings. They survived by the skin of their teeth. Alan Knott and last man Jeff Jones (father of Simon) played out the last few overs. West Indies lost their first series in 7 years.

It would prove to be the end of the great West Indian side of the 1960s. Before the end of the decade, Wes Hall and Seymour Nurse retired. Sobers got caught on the wrong side of apartheid politics when he played a double wicket tournament in Rhodesia. He was not invited to play for West Indies when Ian Chappell's Australians toured in 1972-73. Australia won, but Chappell thought it was a hollow win, beating West Indies without Sobers. Sobers would tour England again in 1973 and make 150 at Lord's after being out at a pub very late the night before. He was not out 31 overnight and felt terrible the next morning but batted anyways. He couldn't bear it after he reached his century and asked the Umpire if he could retire hurt. He retired at 6/528 on 132. When Bernard Julien was out for 121 with the score of 7/604, the commentator John Arlott was heard observing "Oh dear, West Indies six hundred and four for seven and here comes Sobers!"

Sobers had the ability, like Lara did, to make big centuries. 11 of his 26 Test hundreds were worth 150 or more. 17 were worth 130 or more. This is all the more remarkable because in the majority of his Test innings, Sobers batted at 5 or 6 in the order. When he retired from Test Cricket, he had made more Test runs than any Test player, and more Test centuries than any player other than Bradman. He made 86 first class centuries, over 28000 first class runs, and took 1043 first class wickets.

Take Jacques Kallis and give him the additional ability to (1) bowl spin and (2) bat like Brian Lara. You are close to Sobers.

Gary Sobers is 77 years old today. 41 years ago, he played an innings which Don Bradman called the greatest exhibition of batting ever in Australia. I leave you with this video courtesy Rob Moody's collection.
Thursday, 25 July 2013
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Dhoni's Dismissal At Wankhede And Some Hope For Reviews

It was a beautiful delivery from Panesar. Dhoni was drawn into the forward prod, the ball took the edge, and  was taken at second slip. The extra bounce meant that the ball looped up to slip. Dhoni saw it all the way into the fielder's hands. The fielder claimed the catch, Dhoni walked off immediately. What we saw suggests that Dhoni was immediately satisfied that the catch was properly completed and correctly claimed.



The ICC's new practice of checking for the legality of the delivery for every dismissal came into play. Once it was determined that Panesar had not overstepped, the review should have ended there. But we were shown additional replays of the catch itself. As usual, two different angles provided two different conclusions about the legality of the catch - both uncertain.

The Umpires saved the situation. Given that Dhoni was satisfied that the catch was complete, it was right that the dismissal stood, despite the uncertainty introduced by the replays. Thankfully, the home commentators did not spoil the situation by commenting endlessly about doubt in the completion of the catch.

Here in lies a hopeful possibility about reviews. The ICC has already introduced a practice of checking for no balls after every dismissal on the field. This could easily be extended to (1) inside edges in LBWs, (2) the presence of absence of an edge in a bat/pad catch. If they want to use the Third Umpire's expertise better, the third umpire should be allow to judge "Umpire's Call" (you know, make an actual "Umpire's Call") in the case of LBWs as well. Every appeal is endlessly litigated in the commentary box anyways - there is no shortage of reviews or simulations.

This would take care of the out decisions.

For Not Out decisions upon appeals, there should be a facility for the Third Umpire to intervene with relevant facts as well.

This would meet all the criteria for taking care of "obvious mistakes" (as the ICC says it was DRS to take care of), while leaving the Umpires in charge. Whats more, this could be done without using predictive ball-tracking, but with the assistance of the tracker that shows the ball from point of release to point of impact.

Maybe, just maybe, the ICC will back their way into a sensible solution.

As Dhoni's dismissal shows though, any sensible, workable system of adjudication must include honest players. Imagine a situation where Dhoni had seen the ball all the way into the hand, and stood his ground, even thought he knew it was cleanly caught. Given inconclusive technology, we would have had a textbook example of controversy.
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Watching Cricket with Test Match Sofa

I rarely listen to commentary when I watch cricket these days. I watch the game on mute, irrespective of who's playing (and hence, who's commentating). Occasionally, I listen if some new commentator is featured. I have found myself turning the volume up whenever I see Rahul Dravid's name on the box. When England play, I also find myself being strangely attracted to Test Match Sofa - the upstart commentary team based in London which streams audio commentary as they watch the game on TV. I listen to them for a few days of a game. I eventually get bored of them, and go back to watching on mute. But I haven't reached a stage with Test Match Sofa yet where I'm not inclined to listen in, at least for a while whenever England are playing. Sometimes, I also participate on twitter with the TMSofa commentary.



TestMatchSofa began in English summer of 2009, with the Ashes. After early teething troubles it became a popular alternative commentary site which is now part of The Cricketer magazine. As many observers have pointed out, the core brilliance of Test Match Sofa is the interactivity that their approach affords. They involve listeners in their commentary through twitter and occasionally email. Many of their regular listeners are probably also regular tweeters. To use the rather odious phrase that these self-styled new-media types enjoy so much - their killer-app is interactivity. The irreverent tone of their commentary, the conspicuously explicit anti-elitism of their troupe - the TMSofa commentary team works hard to live up to the just-one-of-the-guys gasbag caricature of stereotypical English fan (also, stray foreign fans) - is essential to their self-image. Daniel Norcross will hate this reference, but it reminds me of George W. Bush's much touted selling point - that he was a guy people would be comfortable having a beer with. Norcross would probably point out, with some merit, that when it comes to cricket commentary, being a convivial beer and cricket sharing companion is no bad thing.

But what strikes me every time I listen to TMSofa is not how different they are to your run-of-the-mill TV Commentary, but how similar they are. While they have the advantage of not being celebrities, and of being accessible, thanks to twitter, they have the same unevenness in their commentary team which plagues most TV commentary efforts. Their commentators are as likely to get their facts wrong as your average ex-cricketer, they are as likely stray from one-eyed partisanship into one-eyed-alternative-realities. In broad strokes, they appear to have no significant disagreements with the TV commentators approach to explaining the game to the viewer (apart from hating the cliche riddled presentation on TV). They seem to be similarly paralyzed when it comes to talking about LBWs since the advent of DRS, they get into the same exasperating back-and-forths about scoring rates and declarations, and they are similarly quick to denounce Umpires. They tell us the same story about the game.

They leave me on the edge about whether they know its an act, and are aware that they have a basic role in trying to explain the game to their listeners/viewers, or whether they genuinely inhabit all these caricatures. It is not yet clear to me whether they want their listeners to derive pleasure out of thinking about the action - a pleasure which can be greatly enhanced by thoughtful, lively, careful commentary - or if all they want is to is entertain, to produce something which can be consumed without much thought, a little like a soap opera or a sitcom - the sort of thing where abuse and partisanship become ends in themselves. I am unable to say with any degree of confidence whether they are in fact, fair minded lovers of cricket, or whether they are cynical partisan hacks peddling the tabloid English voice (to paraphrase a claim made by the BBC World Service about being the British voice, but trying not to see through a British lens) to audiences around the cricketing world.

Perhaps I am making too much of this. After all, it is merely cricket commentary - a bit of light hearted fun. But if there is anything that recent cricket history has taught us, it is that the commentator, as an entirely unaccountable figure in the cricketing ecosystem (as management/consulting hackery would have it) wields enormous soft power in the game. Umpires have been undermined in the game today by commentators to the point where the preferred system put in place by the ICC (which employs the Umpires) involves players being able to review an Umpire's decision simply because they think it may be wrong (or, as is more likely in practice, because they don't like it). It has led Simon Taufel to wonder whether it is "right that the match official has to make a decision before technology can be used?"

A case in point would be Test Match Sofa's treatment of this incident during the second day's play at the Wankhede stadium (and its general reaction to any Umpiring decision following a loud appeal). It was the 2nd over of the days play, the 92nd of India's innings. James Anderson bowled to Cheteshwar Pujara. Cricinfo recorded it as follows:
91.2 Anderson to Pujara, 1 run, huge shout, and it looked quite close. Length ball, pitches off, goes with the angle, Pujara plays across the line, is hit on the inside of the pad. There was a click as the ball passed the bat. Umpire Dar signals runs. Nick difficult to spot to replays, though. Pujara might have got away with one here
Daniel Norcross, without doubt the most talented and wonderful of the Sofa commentators made each of the following points about this dismissal throughout the day (others made them too, but I refer specifically to his points here):

1. The Umpire thought it was missing leg.
2. The decision was a terrible one.
3. That they (TMSofa) missed the fact that it was given as runs (after it was pointed out to by me and a few others on twitter)
4. That he didn't think there was an inside edge.
5. That there was no way to determine whether or not there was an inside edge, given the absence of the requisite technology (heat signature technology like "hotspot")
6. That it was still a terrible decision.

This went on throughout the days play, reinforced by other Sofa voices. If you already see the obvious logical problems with saying all of these things at the same time about the same decision, then I'm relieved. If not, here's what Norcross effectively said about the decision - "I thought the Umpire thought it was missing leg, but I missed the fact that it was given runs, even though I watch it on a massive TV, with various online scorecards to help, but even if it was given runs, I doubt there was an edge, even though I have no way of say for sure because there's no technology available, and so, despite everything, as I said at the start, it was a terrible decision".

Its something straight out of a Jon Stewart fake news sketch isn't it? And perhaps it is genuinely that. Perhaps Norcross does realize that the Umpires do a difficult job. Perhaps Norcross and Co. do realize that commentary is about explaining what is going on, and perhaps they do get that in Tests where DRS is not in use, it means trying, even if briefly, to try and think through why the Umpire may have made the decision he made, how he might have reached it, and what he might have missed. Perhaps they do possess the self-awareness that would preclude contradictions like the one above.

But if they do, then their constant, relentless badgering of the Umpires is, to this cricket fan's ears, grating. Every time a close decision was reached there was absolutely no effort to explain what happened - only a judgment as to whether the call was right or wrong (usually, if it went against England, it was thought to be wrong). The general reaction after an appeal would be to wait for the replay, if the replay showed anything even remotely close, the question would be along the lines of "Why didn't that idiot Umpire give that?" When Zaheer Khan was sawn off to a bat pad appeal off a Swann special that bounced appreciably, and caught both the flap of the pad and the thigh, there was general derision at the incompetence of Aleem Dar. There was no suggestion that Dar, being human, may have been foxed by the two noises. Instead, there was a lot of hand wringing about how Umpires are always eager to get rid of tailenders ("Its the sort of decision Monty Panesar gets"). That they were being obviously unfair to Dar, and incompetent at commentary - the art of describing events on the field, seemed to be beyond their grasp.

Any listener who happened upon their broadcast could be forgiven for thinking that the ICC finds the most pathetic fool they can find off the street and installs them as Umpires.

Not only is this type of commentary boorish and cruel, it is also, substantively wrong. It demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of the way the game is adjudicated. When I put all this to the members of the Sofa, thanks to their wonderful twitter strategy, Norcross, to his credit, engaged with the point. What he effectively said was that he does not like the idea of the marginal decision - he prefers decisions to be either out, or not out. He suggested that talk of marginality in Umpiring decisions was merely a talking point - something (I paraphrase from here on, I hope, fairly) that amounted to a cop out. He then went on to claim both that he prefers DRS, and that he likes the idea of technology making decisions, and reaching definite conclusions about everything. In Norcross's words "If its shown to be clipping the stumps, it should be out" - a reference to ball tracking.

This betrays a basic misunderstanding of what DRS is. DRS is palpably not a system where technology determines decisions. It is, as the name suggests, a system of Review - technology is used to review decisions - certain types of decisions under specific circumstances in narrowly defined ways, and is asked to verify the Umpire's original decision. These are not talking points. They are facts. And yes, facts about DRS include multiple clauses, none of which are optional.

It is not logically possible to support both DRS (a system which requires an Umpire to make a decision before technology is occasionally used to review it) and the use of technology to make all decisions. Yet, this appears to be Norcross's position.

Be that as it may, the fact is, that DRS is not in use in its conventional form in the India v England series. A far more unconventional and interesting system of review is in use - at least in the case of Out decisions. The legality of the delivery is verified for every dismissal that requires a legal delivery to be bowled. Further, the Umpire Review is still in place for boundary decisions, bump balls and the like, and has been used on multiple occasions.

Given that it is not in use, would it not be reasonable to expect that a commentary team should take this into account, and try and explain what the Umpires are doing when they reach decisions? Would it really be so difficult to acknowledge that a decision was close, and could have reasonably gone either way (This is not a talking point, it is a fact, given the Laws of Cricket which require Umpires to make  judgments about things which do not actually take place, in order to reach decisions)? Does every decision that you don't like have to be read as an umpiring mistake, no, an umpiring blunder? These imagined blunders, taken together, must naturally to the conclusion that the Umpires are blundering idiots. How can they not, if they get so many obviously easy, straightforward decisions wrong everyday?

If Norcross really believes that a system which involves appeals and judgments (which, as per the law, explicitly take preference over the letter of the law - a batsman cannot be given out LBW or caught or run out if the fielding side does not appeal, even if the evidence suggests he is out) can avoid marginal cases, especially given the fact that some judgments are about things which do not actually happen (LBW for example), and that marginal cases are efforts to weasel out of taking a stand, then I'm afraid he does not understand how decision making works in cricket. The thing is, on balance, Norcross's commentary suggests that he does understand cricket really well. Whats more, I agree with him that using technology to make decisions is a plausible way to go. But he is wrong to think that DRS is some kind of intermediate step (or, as he appears to think, that it amounts to technology making decisions).

I suspect that this heavy handed view has to do with the rhetorical demands of the Sofa.

Test Match Sofa is substantively just as partisan as conventional cricket commentary. Unlike the BBC's Test Match Special, not all of Test Match Sofa's commentators achieve a certain basic standard of accurate description. Unlike television commentary, they do not have the authority of Sunil Gavaskar or Rahul Dravid or David Gower.

But the point of this post is that I accept the basic premise of the Sofa - that being an ex-cricketer does not necessarily make one a good commentator. But neither does being boorishly cruel to the Umpires. It says something about TMSofa that they are most pleasant to listen to when they are not talking about cricket. For a Cricket commentary team, this should be troubling.

Yet, I am still more inclined to listen to TMSofa than the television commentary. Partly because of the interactivity, partly because of their non-celebrity, anti-stardom being and partly because they are genuinely funny and some of them (especially Daniel Norcross) are brilliant at describing the ball by ball action. All too often though, they begin to believe in their own partisan performance a little too much. Satire and irreverence works best when it teeters delicately on the edge of self-awareness, and when it is based on a basic foundation of solid competence and basic factual accuracy. This competence does not even have to be ever present. Great observers have convinced their audience that they are competent observers to the extent that when they do take liberties with the facts, their audience is willing to go along.

Perhaps I have been too forthright here. But it is dispiriting to me when the alternative, underground view from left field is also all too often laced with the conventional prejudices of the mainstream broadcast (even if these are admittedly presented far more interestingly). Given the all too clear damage that the mainstream broadcast (and the unaccountable celebrity ex-professional-cricketer-commentator) has done to the game, it is worth pointing this out.
England Win At The Wankhede Stadium: A Review

England Win At The Wankhede Stadium: A Review

Again.

And once again, like in 2006, and nearly every Test Match India has lost since then, we will all probably focus on our chosen culprits, and ignore the real reasons for the defeat in a cricketing sense. They say that sportsmen learn more from defeat than victory. I think it is also true to say that observers of sport learn more about sport when their team loses than when it wins. The observer of sport has an able ally in the Indian captain, who's post match commentary is at least as incisive (if not more) than that of the professional paid commentators.

So if you want to obsess about Tendulkar's form, or Virat Kohli's form, or Yuvraj Singh's form, or listen to general sneering at how India's much touted batting against spin has come up short (yet again, if you wish), then you should stop reading and go elsewhere. Because if you hold that view, then I cannot accept that you understand how cricket works. If you subscribe to the view that the bigger stars must contribute more to wins, then you do not understand how cricket works. If you subscribe to the view that the less experienced players should not be held responsible for what they do, simply because they are less experienced, then you do not understand how cricket works. But since it was a cricket match that was lost, and since, presumably, you have an interest in the cricket match being won (as opposed to some other game in which the biggest stars are the most important players), you might want to continue reading.

Test Cricket is about not making mistakes. There is such parity in terms of talent in the top teams, that it is invariably the team which makes the fewest mistakes that wins. Australia embodied this basic fact about cricket. Yes, they had the explosive genius of Adam Gilchrist to pull them out of trouble - he did so about 6-7 times in his 9 year career. But the overwhelming majority of their Test wins came because they had bowlers who did not make very many mistakes. When they didn't have those bowlers, they struggled - as they did against India in 2003-04. Brad Williams, Andy Bichel, Brett Lee and Stuart MacGill bowled far too many bad balls for Australia to force any sort of pressure.

This is a nutshell is what Test Cricket is about. The bowler at the top of his run up decides a team's destiny.

But lets get back to the point about mistakes, now that we have brought the bowler into the picture. What are the types of things that are recognized readily as mistakes?

1. Dropped catches
2. Missed stumpings
3. Misfields - result in extra runs, the turning over of the strike etc.
4. Batsman playing a bad shot.
5. Batsmen making a bad error of judgment outside off stump

These are typically understood to be mistakes. But what of the following:
6. Bowler not bowling to his field.
7. Bowler dropping it short, or overpitching, thereby conceding free hits.
8. Bowler not being consistent, because he does (6) and (7) repeatedly, there by forcing the captain to set a field for bad bowling.

If you count the number of times mistakes (1) to (5) are made in a Test, and then count the number of times mistakes (6) and (7) are made, then you will find that (6) and (7) outnumber (1)-(5) by an entire order of magnitude. Making mistakes results in batsmen getting dismissed (unless the fielder also makes a mistake, like dropping a catch). Catches are dropped a handful of times. Yet, both of these are mistakes involving reaction - batsmen and fielders are reacting to something. These mistakes are easy to notice, and they happen relatively rarely. Batsmen, by definition, play an overwhelming percentage of deliveries bowled at them without making a mistake.

The bowler on the other hand, is the only player on the cricket field who gets to initiate a play, who has nearly complete autonomy as to whether or not he makes a mistake.

R Ashwin bowled 42 overs and 3 balls in England's innings, conceded 145 runs and took 2 wickets. Of those 42 overs, there were probably 2 or 3 in which he bowled all 6 balls exactly where he wanted. Most of the time, Ashwin could not bowl an error free over.

The same goes for Harbhajan Singh, but to a lesser extent. Harbhajan bowled 7 of his 21 overs at Pietersen, while Ashwin bowled 7 out of his 42 overs at Pietersen. Ashwin also conceded 15 more runs to KP, while he only bowled three more balls. Ashwin was able to control Cook's scoring far more readily. This, I suspect, was mainly because Cook batted very patiently at the start of his innings, and didn't open out until well after KP was at the wicket. KP took runs off 30 out of 46 balls that Ashwin bowled at him, while he took runs off 17 out of 43 balls that Harbhajan bowled at him.

Against Cook, their performance was comparable. Ashwin bowled marginally better, mainly because he bowled at Cook earlier in Cook's innings when the England opener was getting his eye in and not yet willing to sweep or drive overpitched deliveries.

The facts stubbornly suggest that Harbhajan Singh bowled better than Ashwin at the Wankhede, even though he bowled only half the overs that Ashwin bowled.









But that is not saying much, because by any reasonable standard of Test Match spin bowling, Harbhajan's was a modest performance. He was far off his best (unlike Ashwin, who was not far off his demonstrated best - he was about as good as he usually is).

These two off spinners bowled 63 out of 121 overs in England's first innings and conceded 4/219 in those 63 overs. Whats more, they didn't get those wickets until the 87th over of England's innings (when Cook was out to Ashwin).

So if we agree that Test Matches are won by the team that makes the fewest mistakes, then it follows that India made more mistakes than England did. But who in the Indian side made the most number of mistakes? The answer to that has to be the bowlers. Among the bowlers, it has to be the off spinners. Among the off spinners, it has to be R Ashwin, who rarely managed an over without a bad ball in it.

But this is the cricketing explanation. Far more comforting, and far more palatable to the angry supporter of India's team would be the idea that the batting was terrible. It wasn't based on what I saw - no Indian batsman did anything stupid (For an example of doing something stupid, see the dismissals of Ian Bell in England's first innings at Ahmedabad, and Kevin Pietersen in the 2nd innings at Ahmedabad).

So, you are welcome to the completely wrong view that India lost because of the batting. If you believe that, you are also likely to be the kind of person who thinks that "They should have scored more runs" is an analytical point.

It would be unfair, however, to ignore all the things that England did well. Mahendra Singh Dhoni made the essential point about this Test Match in his post match comments. He said Monty Panesar was the difference. But he, unlike most of the vacuous, substance-free commentary that passes for analysis, actually made a factual claim. He said Panesar was able to bowl faster through the air and still get purchase off the wicket. He said India's spinners tried to bowl fast and extract the same kind of turn, but couldn't. Neither, the evidence suggests, could Graeme Swann. Cricinfo provides speed pitch maps of each bowler in a Test. They are revealing:







Dhoni's analysis, which he probably made just by watching the game from the dressing room and batting against Panesar, was absolutely right.

Panesar is a remarkably strong spinner. He's untiring and amazingly focused. He had a phenomenal outing at the Wankhede because he found a very good pace for the pitch, and whats more, was able to bowl it over after over after over.

This basic truth about Test Cricket is what makes its continued existence essential to our age. It is a game in which success depends on doing the same good, correct thing diligently ball after ball after ball. It is not a game for a genius, nor is it one for the 30 minute flash in the pan. To be a true genius in this sport, you need to be like Pietersen or Lara - you need to be able to play brilliantly for hours. Genius is rare, and it alone can beat diligence and a professional commitment to not making mistakes.

I do think that some Indian batsmen are in trouble. For example, if India are going to seek turning wickets, then they should also seek out batsmen who are specifically good at playing on turning tracks. Yuvraj Singh, given that we have seen him play for a decade now, is not one of these batsmen. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli clearly are. Sachin Tendulkar is nearing the end of his career. It would be preferable if this end came sooner rather than later. For a longer discussion of his batting problems, see this post. But even if the batting isn't as good as it used to be, it still made 500 at Ahmedabad, and 327 (about 20-25 above par on this Wankhede pitch) at Bombay, and it chased 260 in the 4th innings two months ago.

The Wankhede Test was lost when KP and Cook were allowed to blast a double century stand in 52 overs. This was partially due to KP's genius, but it was genius abetted by an inability to bowl a disciplined line and length. I don't blame Dhoni for his tactics as some have because he had no choice but to set defensive fields given that this bowlers couldn't bowl a consistent line and length.

The biggest problem is in the bowling. It should be obvious that having one sub-par batsman out of six is worse than having 2 sub-par bowlers out of 4. It is simply the case currently, that R Ashwin is not good enough to be a specialist Test Match spinner. I wrote this in my series preview, and I also wrote this after India's win against New Zealand at Bangalore.

This was a fine wicket, and Dhoni was right to support playing on wickets like these. 300 was a par first innings score. It was a wicket which rewarded good bowling and punished bad bowling. Batting was not a lottery, but could be made difficult by high quality bowling, and easy by bad bowling. It was not a 413 wicket. Whats more, it was the sort of wicket on which, given good bowling, a 100 run lead would be pure gold. And so it proved to be.

But lets blame the batsmen and give the bowlers a pass because they are "new" or "inexperienced". (Never mind that the middle order, save Tendulkar, is quite inexperienced). Unfortunately cricket does not work that way.

I think it is a fact that the present Indian batting, in its present form, will win almost every time on a result pitch (like Wankhede) given 4 quality bowlers, but that even a substantially better Indian batting (say one in which every player from 1-7 averages 50 and is in good form) will win very little on any kind of wicket if India's bowling performs the way it did at Wankhede.
Ricky Ponting Retires From Test Cricket

Ricky Ponting Retires From Test Cricket

On this blog, I have had an ambivalent relationship with the great Australian batsman and captain. The most successful cricketer in the history of Test Cricket has featured on this blog as the guy who initiated and made a catching agreement with Anil Kumble and then broke it, as the guy who threw an elbow at 18 year old Mohammad Amir and got away with it, and in general, as a guy who stuck up for his team no matter how egregious the circumstances. I have also defended him in a couple of battles with Umpires and Referees. Ponting retires as one of the great players of the game, but also as one of its most combative, partisan characters.



In a team sport, this is a compliment.

Ponting's Test career, which brought Australia 13366 runs (I hope a farewell century at Perth will follow) over 17 years and 167 Tests, rose to Headleyesque (if not Bradmanesque) heights after modest beginnings in the 1990s. Ponting promised plenty in those early years, but did not produce the big scores at Test level. After making 96 on debut against Sri Lanka at Perth, Ponting made his first Test hundred at Leeds during the 1997 Ashes. Australia had bowled England out for 172, but then found themselves in trouble at 50/4. Ponting, batting at number 6, shared a 268 run stand with Mathew Elliot and set up an innings victory. He made 127 - his highest Test score until his break out season in 1999-00, when he made 197 against Pakistan at Perth. In many ways, Ponting's rise from being a highly talented Test quality batsman to the Australian run machine he eventually became coincided perfectly with Australia's rise from being Mark Taylor's high quality team to being Steve Waugh's all conquering team.

From the start of that 1999 home series against Pakistan to the end of the 2006-07 Ashes, Ponting played 83 Tests, scored 7738 runs at 65.02, with 29 Test hundreds. Australia won 64 of those 83 Tests. As a period of sustained success, this will probably never been matched. He was the dominant batsman in  Australian and World cricket in this period.



Ponting's Test career can be broken into three phases - A formative phase from his debut to the start of the 1999-00 season, a dominant phase from the start of 1999-00 to the end of the 2006-07 season, and a final phase from the start of the 2007-08 season till his retirement. In this final phase, Ponting's record is more modest, 3998 runs at 40.79 in 57 Tests with 8 centuries. He made a century in each innings of a Test three times, against West Indies at Brisbane in 2005, against South Africa twice in 2006. In what were possibly his greatest 12 months in the Test match game, from December 1, 2005 to November 30, 2006, he made 1310 runs in 9 Tests, with 7 centuries.
While it is less pervasive these days (due to shorter series), series aggregates were considered an important statistic in Test cricket. Bradman's series aggregate record of 974 in 5 Tests in England in 1930 still stands. Wally Hammond made 905 in the 1928-29 Ashes. Mark Taylor has had the next best series - 839 runs the 1989 Ashes in England, in 6 Tests and 11 innings. In 6 Tests against South Africa (home and away) in 2005-06, Ponting made 863 runs with 5 centuries. As a performance against a single opponent in a single season, it has been bettered only by Bradman and Hammond.
These figures reflect Ponting's quality and more importantly, his obsession with making big scores. As he observed towards the end of his career, that was all he cared about when he was starting out - to bat all day, for days if necessary.
Ponting had two problem areas in his play. They prevented him from matching Tendulkar's record (a record the great Indian is guaranteed to keep) of averaging at least 40 against every Test playing nation, and in every Test playing nation. The first is his problem with spin bowling in India. In the midst of that miraculous second phase of his career, Ponting toured India in 2000-01, and made 17 runs in 5 innings. He struggled against Harbhajan Singh and the close-in fielders. In his first 14 innings in India (1996-2004), Ponting made 172 runs, and reached 50 once. In his last 11 (2008-2010), he made 490 runs and reached a century twice, and 50 five times. Interestingly, he averaged 50 in Sri Lanka in Tests featuring Muralitharan between 1999-2004. Ponting eventually conquered his problem against spin bowling in India.
His second technical problem arose late in the final phase of his career. It was one of his great strengths which became a liability. In 2009, Ponting was dismissed 12 times playing the pull in international cricket.
These problems humanize this most Australian of cricketers in my view. At his best (and it was a long sustained phase of excellence), Ponting made run making look not merely easy, but inevitable. Anybody watching him play would have been forgiven for believing that the ball could not but hit the middle of the bat. Ponting was the master of every shot in book and played his shots at every opportunity. Interestingly enough, he rarely played the reverse sweep or the switch hit. Later in his career he used the paddle sweep more frequently, but that, at least to me, seemed to me to be the extent of cute innovation in his batsmanship.
It is difficult to imagine an Australian team without Ricky Ponting. His struggles in India caused more schadenfreude than any other contemporary cricketer, as did his struggles in the Ashes (he led Australia in three losing Ashes series). He reserved his greatest performances for India and England, even though these two opponents tested him more than any other side. Even his worst critics in India and England will admit that he was a great adversary and a truly great batsman.
The number 3 position, it is said, is occupied by the best player in a team. Ponting was unquestionably that. For many of those years, he was also the best batsman in the world. With him, the last of the Waugh's great Aust
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DRS: The Ryobi Cup Episode


The latest episode in the history of DRS prompts this year end review of the controversial system that is used in some international cricket. While the discussion of DRS has improved substantially over the last 18 months, Umpiring mistakes in non-DRS series still commonly invite calls for the use of DRS specifically, not for technological assistance in general.



An alternative system of review was tried out in Australia in the Ryobi Cup. The playing conditions (found here, see Appendix 8)

Third Umpire Intervention
(a) In addition to the above, the third umpire may intervene and stop play to allow the investigation of any out or not out decision (“the original decision”) where, based on all available evidence, it appears to the third umpire that the original decision may have been  incorrect and/or warrants such investigation. The intervention shall be communicated to the on-field umpires as soon as possible but must be done before the next delivery becomes live or the outgoing batsman has left the field of play. The on-field umpire will signal that an intervention is in progress by holding both arms extended and crossed above his head and will either suspend play or request that the outgoing batsman remain on the field of play pending further communication from the third umpire in accordance with (d) below. 
The system was scrapped midway through the tournament after multiple players and coaches were dissatisfied with it . The former wicketkeeper and current South Australia coach Darren Berry made some good points about the drawbacks of this system. In his review he advocated scrapping this system and made the following points.

1. Players are slow in leaving the field when given out in the hope that a review will save them.
2. Some of the TV Umpire's decisions seem arbitrary. He cites the specific instance of one game in which "[s]ome batsmen who were, on replay, in fact out lbw were not reviewed, then, out of the blue, Queensland batsman Peter Forrest was given not out lbw by the field umpire only then to be reviewed and overturned by the third umpire."
3. Berry points out a ridiculous situation caused by the broadcasters. "If a strong appeal worthy of decision review occurs on ball six of the over and the broadcaster is due to take an advert then no replay is sent and the decision is not reviewed. This makes a mockery of a system that is endeavouring to correct mistakes. How is ball six no less important than ball two of an over? It's unavoidable we are told, but is unacceptable as a match could be decided or at least strongly influenced due to this situation."

The former ICC Umpire, and current ICC Umpire Performance and Training Manager Simon Taufel made some points on his recent podcast with Subash that are relevant to this discussion:

"The first is, in these days, the third umpire in a full technology series, arguably, the better umpires need to be on the third umpires’ box. That is where you can’t afford to make mistakes. It is an incredibly challenging job umpiring role these days because not only must you be familiar with the technology and how to use it, but you should also be able to interpret it, apply it and also support your on-field umpires with over-rates and other forms of decisions and manage the match from your off-field position."
He continues:

"There is over rate, ball counting, overs per bowler, code of conduct, front-foot no balls, run outs, stumping, hit-wickets, the DRS decisions, player challenges. It is incredibly challenging role. And on top of that you have to be a master of communication. You keep working with different directors, knowing where the different camera angles and replays are, and get the best footage possible for making the right decision possible, rather than just to take what you get. It is a real challenging role these days."

The ICC has made much of the fact that DRS has minimized dissent. I have argued previously that in fact it has legitimized dissent. It may well require some necessary heavy handedness on the part of Cricket authorities in Australia to put the genie back in the bottle. Players have gotten used to questioning the Umpire's decision. In the case of the Ryobi cup, there was player dissatisfaction even though the correct decisions were made.

Based on the criticisms offered by Darren Berry and Chris Hartley, the system devised for the Ryobi Cup seems to have been insufficiently worked out. Replays have to be guaranteed equally for every single ball. That problem by itself, is arguably reason enough to not only discontinue the system, but also to prohibit whoever it was who devised the system from being involved in designing the next version. Putting a system in place where every ball is not equally covered is plainly negligent.

It is far from clear that the Umpire review approach is a failure. The deepest problem seems to me to be about not interrupting the flow of the game.

At this moment in the history of DRS, each of the following points is a fact:

1. There is broad agreement that the technology should be able to correct obviously wrong decisions.
2. The Player Review has resulted in players reviewing decisions they don't like, as opposed to decisions that they think are obviously wrong. With the result that 80% of reviews are LBWs, and a similar percent are unsuccessful.
3. The extent to which events on the field can be conclusively judged using technology depends on the extent to which the technology is available. For example, it is very difficult to judge a thin inside edge on a replay alone in the absence of heat signature technology. The ICC has tried ti mitigate this by mandating that a certain minimum standard of technology should be available in an international match.
4. Even with readily available technology, some umpiring decisions cannot be conclusively reviewed.
5. The DRS Umpire Review, Player Review and the Ryobi Cup style review, all require the third Umpire to review multiple events, and make their job as demanding as that of the Umpire at the bowling end.

Here are some suggestions about the Umpire Review

If the Umpire Review approach has to be used, then it must involve clear definitions of (a) An "obvious" error, and (b) What constitutes dissent. The problem is one of time. The first replay from the broadcaster is probably not always the most useful one. The job of the editor of the broadcast becomes a very important one.

Umpire Taufel said in his interview that he does not watch batsmen or bowlers, he just watches the ball, the bat and the pads. Perhaps one of the ways to solve the problem would be to give the TV Umpire a separate editor and a separate customized feed, which can cut out the frills - give him the speed and efficiency of the command line over the frills of the GUI, to use a computing analogy. But Umpire Taufel's essential point - that an Umpire watches cricket very differently from the viewers, makes it clear that cameras dedicated to Umpiring must do so too. This could perhaps involve a live infra-red camera (with only the requisite delay that is required to process the heat signatures, say 3-4 seconds). Given Umpire Reviews, perhaps two TV Umpires should be in place, each working on alternative overs. This will help Umpires watch every ball carefully.

On the question of the obvious error, I think the question needs to be turned around. Players need to accept that given the way the LBW law is defined, there will always be appeals where the Out as well as the Not Out decision are both reasonable. As a result, if a marginal one is reversed sometimes, but not reversed on others, then that is still reasonable. As long as the players are confident that the Umpire is not doing it because he dislikes a particular team or player, it should be not be a problem.

The dissent rule is the simplest thing to implement. Unless a player is asked to stop by the Umpire at the bowling end, he must start walking off the pitch if he is given out on the field. Any failure to do so must constitute dissent. Any appearance of hesitation, or any effort to turn back and look around at a replay or the Umpires must constitute dissent. And this dissent should immediately invite a 1 match ban. Furthermore, in this specific instance, the Match Referee should be permitted to bring the charge and rule on it during the hearing.

Finally, the policy used by the BCCI of not showing replays on the ground while a review is in progress should be adopted universally. Once a decision is made, it should be displayed clearly as one of the following:

1. Decision on the field conclusively confirmed.
2. Decision on the field conclusively reversed.
3. Decision on the field could not be conclusively reviewed.

What is needed is for a rigorously designed system to be given a fair run. While Cricket Australia's experiment in the Ryobi Cup was admirable, the same cannot be said of either its design or implementation.
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Dhoni's Diagnosis Is Wrong

I hesitate to say the Indian Captain is wrong, but in his appraisal of the Eden Gardens ODI, he ignores the main reason India lost - they conceded 140 in the first 23 overs of the match to two modest batsmen (this was not Gilchrist and Hayden) who were not taking chances too many chances. Even Dhoni's view, at length, is as follows, and contains within it contradictions that he ought to be asked about:

"The bowlers brought us back into the game," Dhoni said. "The spinners in the second half of the first innings bowled well and the faster bowlers made most of the bounce available off the pitch. But when we went into bat, we lost too many wickets."
"Initially there was something for fast bowlers, then it became flat, but there was something for the spinners. There was turn in the first as well as second innings, but after 25th over the ball started doing a bit for the faster bowlers, even with the old ball. So there was everything for everyone. There were runs for batsmen too. It was a good ODI wicket."
Dhoni also conceded that the team was finding it difficult to win matches with part-time bowlers in view of the amended ODI rules which stipulate five fielders inside the circle for full 50 overs.
"We are used to play with part-timers. Now it's difficult for part-timers to bowl with five players inside the circle. If there's dew, then you don't get turn as well. With the new rules, you've to assess whether six batsmen are enough or seven."
"What we're looking at is somebody who can fill in the gap -- a genuine allrounder to bring in the balance in the side. Lower-order contribution is also very important especially when you're chasing."
The bowler, as I keep saying, gets to start each play. The batsman can only play what is bowled at him. On a wicket which was two paced, bowling a good tight line and length, which would force the batsmen to hit on the up, would have cut down the scoring substantially.

At Kolkata, it was not the part timers who were the problem. It was the new ball bowlers. They conceded 140 in the first 23 overs of the match. If, as Dhoni says, there was something for the fast bowlers (this was something India expected, they chose to field after all), then surely two obvious points emerge:

1. The first 11 overs bowled by the fast bowlers went for 71 runs.
2. The three fast bowlers between them bowled only 11 of the first 15 overs.

Reading the review of the match, and Dhoni's comment on it, one could be forgiven for believing either that (a) The first half of India's bowling innings didn't actually happen, or (b) That because they bowled Ok in the 2nd half, and Pakistan imploded on a slowing wicket, the runs Pakistan made in the first half of their innings were no longer being counted in the match!

Chasing 250, or 5 an over, is no mean task, especially on a pitch where hitting on the rise is difficult. Both Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh fell to mistimed shots, Sehwag got a good ball, Kohli was plainly unlucky and Raina was stumped off a good ball. What these figures don't show is how much better Pakistan's new ball bowlers bowled compared to India's.

Dhoni did not blame the batsmen. There is a difference between explaining why a particular game panned out the way it did, and saying who was responsible for the defeat. Ironically, Dhoni's part timers (and Ashwin) bowled better than his new ball bowlers.

Ashoke Dinda and Bhuveneshwar Kumar conceded 1/103 in 16 overs between them. Pakistan lost 9/109 in the last 26 overs of their innings. Pakistan's new ball bowlers conceded 3/85 in 19 overs between them. Ishant Sharma and Umar Gul more or less cancelled each others performance out, while R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were easily out bowled by Mohammad Hafeez and Saeed Ajmal. This may have something to do with the fact that Hafeez and Ajmal got to bowl behind their fast bowlers. While Pakistan's new ball pair added 141, the next best stand in the match was 42.

MS Dhoni is clearly still learning how to cope with the new fielding and powerplay restrictions. This was also a factor in India's defeat.

So why did the Kolkata ODI turn out the way it did? Here are the reasons in descending order of importance:

1. India's new ball pair bowled poorly.
2. India's captain is still tactically coming to terms with the new rules.
3. India's batsmen struggled to force the pace on a two paced track against some tight Pakistan bowling.
4. Pakistan's bowling is superior and deeper than India's.
5. Luck. Kohli's dismissal and a couple of early edges that went through a wide third slip - on another day, Kohli might have got a boundary and Hafeez might have been out, and it may well have been a competitive game.

When Dhoni says that the "bowlers brought us back into the game", he neglects to point out that the bowlers bowled India out of the game in the first place. Whats more, they did so after being entrusted with the task for bowling India into a position of control by their captain, who won the toss and chose to field.
ICC, BCCI Do Not Understand Draws

ICC, BCCI Do Not Understand Draws

Teams play to win. They play to get the better of their opponents and end up ahead. They play to defeat their opponents. In Cricket, there is a subtlety to this endeavor which is not found in many other sports. This is the notion of a Draw.



Unlike in other sports, in Cricket, a Draw does not mean parity. It merely means that a definite conclusion was not reached. This is a distinction that is lost even on the ICC's official rankings method. Not only is the distinction lost, its insignificance is reflected by the fact that the basic rule about how a Draw is measured as opposed to a Win is not even available on the ICC's website. According to wikipedia, 1 point is awarded for a Test win, and 1/2 point for a Draw. An additional point is available for a series win. A recent presentation by David Kendix, the ICC's official statistician does not even mention what happens in case of a draw in Tests. The FAQ is silent on this point as well.

To assume parity, and divide 1 point equally between two teams in the event of a Draw in a Test Match, is plainly wrong.

The Draw is misunderstood in other ways as well. The Ranji Trophy tournaments has three knock out matches - Quarter Finals, Semi Finals and a Final. This, in a tournament of 4 day games. It is no surprise that teams like Mumbai approach the knock out match as they do. In the ongoing Ranji quarter final against Baroda at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai have now batted for 2 full days and reached 6/524. They are playing, first for the first innings lead, with the outright win being an after thought. Why wouldn't they? The first innings lead will mean that they reach the semi finals of the Ranji Trophy.

If the ICC does not understand the Draw because they conflate inconclusiveness with parity, then the BCCI does not understand the Draw, because they draw conclusions from a result which is designed to avoid them. The whole point of an inconclusive result is that there is no winner and no loser. Yes, one team almost certainly was closer to victory or defeat than the other. But this is not reason enough to effectively declare one team the winner on the first innings lead, even if you impose a requirement that both innings have to be completed in order for a result to be possible. After all, the Ranji Trophy is not a single innings tournament is it?

Instead of wasting the whole of January on playing 4 quarter finals, 2 semi finals and 1 final, it would be better to reduce the number of Ranji Trophy groups to 2 - one with 14 teams and the other with 13, and play 4 extra rounds of league matches. This would give players more first class experience, it would provide more games for India players to return to if they need some match play to test their fitness and form after an injury or illness, and, it would get rid of this ridiculous obsession with batting and put the onus on the bowlers for once. The way to win Test Matches is by having high quality bowlers, just as the way to produce high quality batsmen is have quality bowlers bowling on good pitches.

If further incentives have to be offered for teams to play for a result - to provide incentives for a team to declare at 450/5 instead of plodding along to 550 all out, perhaps the Draw ought to be penalized marginally more than a Loss as I have proposed earlier. There are several ways to do this.

1. The Bonus Points Approach (BPA): In this approach, apart from a baseline of points for specific results (say 5 for a win, 2 for a draw and 0 for a loss), 10 points (to be divided proportionally between teams) are available for in a loss, while 5 points (to be divided proportionally between teams) are available for a draw.

2. The Raw Points Approach (RPA): In this, the Raw Points accumulated by a team, and those conceded by a team would be calculated, and these would be simple difference between the two at the end of the season would determine the ranking. The larger the difference, the higher the ranking.

Here is an illustration of these two approaches using 5 match scenarios. The formulas in parenthesis in the "Category" column refer to the Sr. No of the row mentioned in the first column.


If the Ranji Trophy league were to be expanding, with the final and the other knock out rounds being eliminated, either of these systems would be useful for determining a winner of the Ranji Trophy. In Test Cricket, either of these systems would work as well, using the ICC's system of weighting matches - matches in the 2 most recent years are given highest weightage, while matches in the 2 years before these, are weighted at 50 percent.

The examples in the above table are designed to compare different approaches to a 4 innings match

Match 1 is an example of a bold approach by Team A - a declaration at 450/5 - a lead of 150, risking sizable 4th innings chase, but making a result more likely by moving the match along. Team A wins in this scenario chasing 176 in the 4th innings.

Match 2 is a more conservative approach from Team A. A longer, bigger first innings (2nd match innings), followed by a follow on and shorter 4th innings run chase. The team uses up all its resources in the first innings and builds a lead of 225. As you will see, even the best case scenario - a 10 wicket win for Team A chasing 101, does not improve its BPA or RPA scores (line 25 and 27 respectively).

The approach in Match 1 makes the outcome of the type seen in Match 3 more likely. In this instance, Team A bats 2nd, declares 150 ahead, and then gets set a target of 175 in the 4th innings. You can imagine a team doing this if it is willing to improve its chances of scoring an outright win by risking defeat. Team A survives and avoids defeats by 2 wickets in the 4th innings, finishing 50 short of the target.

The approach in Match 2 makes the outcome of the type seein in Match 4 more likely. Team A runs out of time because it played the 1st innings more conservatively. Set 101 to win in perhaps an hour on a 5th evening pitch, it has to settle for a draw. If you compare the Draws in Match 3 and 4, bolder approach in Match 3 (even in the worst case scenario), is not penalized that much more than the more conservative approach in match Match 4.

Match 5 is the worst case scenario for Team A's bold approach. They end up losing by 25 runs.

But consider the arithmetic here. This arithmetic is why I prefer the Raw Points Approach (RPA) slightly more to the Bonus Points Approach (BPA, which is a compromise between the current system and one that only measures performance). Both these approaches mean that there is something to play for on every single ball - there is no incentive for the game to meander along, simple because the benefits of winning are so much higher than the benefits of a draw. In BPA, a win is worth about 3 Draws (wins will typically accrue somewhere between 11 and 13 points, while draws will accrue somewhere between 4 and 5 points). In the RPA, it is worth about 7-8 Draws if you turn an advantageous match situation into a win, and about 4-5 Draws if you lose trying to turn an advantageous match situation into a win.

The RPA incentivizes chasing outright wins better than the BPA. But the BPA would still be a massive improvement, both in the Ranji Trophy and in the ICC Test Championship.

The current system, by allowing teams to "win" based on a first innings lead, tamper with the contest between bat and ball, by turning cricket into a contest between the bat and the clock, and the ball and the clock. This, as I have shown in this post, is because both BCCI and ICC (in this instance) misunderstand that nature of a draw. Contrary to the conventional criticism of the Ranji Trophy, which is that teams don't play to win, they do play to win. The problem is that they are allowed to "win" without actually winning.

If you think this system is complicated, think about the fact that it is entirely contained, from raw match scores to final outcomes, in that single table. Anybody who can add, subtract, multiply and divide, will be able to use this system. It has one added virtue - it is not easy to game, as it is difficult to predict exactly how many points a team will end up with based on that team's performance alone. So it is not a case of - "If you score 400 runs you get so many points". It is a case of "if you score 400/5 you will get so many points if some other things also happen, but if you score 400/9 you will get a significantly different number of points if some other things also happen". The only given is that at any given point in a game, chasing an outright victory guarantees the most beneficial points distribution for any team.