Behind the face of cricket umpires

I have to hand it over to our friend Jonathan for this excellent post on the much debated issues related to umpires in cricket. Jonathan’s take on the increasing emphasis of specific umpires on some incidents taking the brunt of all the scrutiny by the fans and the media is well put out and the case of the extent of the workload, umpires like Asad Rauf and Simon Taufel have to endure, is an eye opener, as hardly any have looked into their direction and understand what goes behind their work. There are more dimensions to the topic in his article, which is a very nice read.

Come play with us – Bangkok to Chiang Mai

To continue my perspective on that topic, it is unfortunately not the fault of the fan for this plight but rather the umpires and their governing system themselves that choose to hide that face.

How much information is actually being given out to the fans, the biggest stakeholder of the game on what goes behind this system. Unfortunately very little.

We do know that supposedly every April, a review happens. After a gap of many years, two new umpires were inducted into the elite panel. But what actually goes on still remains one of the many eternal boardroom mysteries that none wants to disclose much about. There is indeed a distinct real possibility that there has not been much inroads in the quality of umpires being churned out by the respective member boards but considering at the same time, there is not much information being shared on the systems in place and their actual workings and findings, you just have to take everything as a pinch of salt.

Either this is a rather old fashioned veil of secrecy, which reminds me of the days 10 years back in my career, watching annoying mac operators on the job in the advertising industry, desperately using only keyboard commands with their hands blocking the view of what keys are actually being pressed, in their ridiculous quest for safeguarding their trade and keep their value in the market going or indeed there is a genuine apathy by the administrators on matters relating to umpiring.

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India’s hunt for consistency

It is also time for India to look beyond Harbhajan singh as it has been many years now and problems in bowling consistency never seem to end. He did jig with the bat which was vital but it is time to give Murali YotYiam, Piyush Chawla, Ramesh Powar etc. a decent run.

Rahul Dravid fought hard to get back into some kind of form. He improved as the series progressed but there is definitely something missing. With this fractured hand, I couldn’t help watching him distributing a stump to his mates to get it signed before the match got over and I get the feeling that he is going to call it quits sooner than expected. I hope I am wrong here but I feel it is weighing on Dravid’s mind.

Kumble was superb with his bowling as usual, fought with the bat and led the side well. He could improve on his field placements, other than that everything about him seemed quite right.

There was a great contest in this series and it also was sour considering the contest was robbed in one particular match and all the inconsistencies of the match referees on meting out dissent decisions and that horrible incident on racial abuse. That incident should have been diffused in 5 minutes and instead turned out to be a clash of two big, powerful, egoistic cricketing boards, both of them unwillingly to back down and admit mistakes and it is all snowballing into something ugly for the times to come.

Until then, let us enjoy the peace and the glorious cricket that was displayed. Congratulations Australia for wining this series… undisputed champions. India perhaps showed the world that the gap isn’t too much now with the Australian team and the rest but there is a gap big enough to clearly differentiate between remaining number 1 and the rest to play the catch up game. However, the core of this Indian team is getting old and it is not much time longer before they all hang the boots. Therefore it is time now to start the test team transition gradually to the younger fitter lot…. Gradually of course! That’s the catch otherwise all will be lost.

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A great series amidst Hollywood

Before the start of this series, my expectations on the performance of the Indian team would have been a series draw and sadly however hard you try to not read the score line, it shows Australia wins. So am I disappointed with the fabulous 5 ageing Indian batsmen and the young bowlers… not really? If things were sane in that fateful second test match, the score line would have been dramatically different but at the end of the day, you accept results as they are. India fought well to yet again compete hard with the Aussies and they were closer to a win than what they ever the last time around.

To start with who said test or cricket in general was dying… The Australian crowd proved a good example of what enjoying a cricket match actually means which is a far cry in India considering it is only when the Indian national team plays, there is stunningly full occupancy. Domestic matches would simply mean relatives of players desperately trying to get into the national team cheering them and nothing more. Whereas, how the Aussie public enjoy their local matches should put all so called pundits who claim that cricket is a religion in India to absolute shame.

Coming back to the series, it was brilliant with two teams stretching themselves out playing as hard as they can but the Hollywood style racial scandal was sour and a bunch of umpires possibly disgruntled with their employees used the wrong series to finger their opponents. The stakes were very high and nobody was in any mood to put up with disgruntled employees creating a racket as though they had to get back to them on reasons I would rather not want waste time on.

Hayden’s nemesis

Mathew Hayden proved to be the nemesis yet again and positively endorses the fact that he ain’t human but an android possibly built by the Pope to kill the evil and all-powerful money making Indian cricket empire, if I could call it one. He was truly outstanding and after watching him for so many years, I still can’t figure out any chinks in the armor and so is the whole cricketing world.

Lee deserved to get the man-of-the-series, in what was the best and most consistently brilliant spells of fast bowling seen in a long time. I felt Akhtar’s destruction of New Zealand was the best individual match spell… This series, Lee was scintillating through out. I can’t say the same about Shaun Tait who continues to remain mediocre and hopefully, somebody will wake me up and show me when he finally consistently performs rather than receiving Hollywood style trailers after trailers on him but no real action.

Stuart Clarke was great but would want to forget the last match. I think rather than Johnson, he should take the new ball as Johnson wastes it by bowling too wide. Johnson has the pace required to create a dangerous reverse swing and logically, they need to switch.

Hogg kind of started well and lost the plot. I had hopes on him and now think it is time for Australia’s number 3 spinner… Bryce Mcgain to be given a shot.

Symonds took very opportunity and made it count and played a considerable part for this series victory. Ponting was all at sea, though he did a Dravid in the last match.

The Indians would have a lot more to take away from this tour and also end up in the same dreaded position they were with regard to the opening pair. Sehwag earned his comeback with his crucial set of knocks but it is time to send Jaffer back to drawing board to work on his technique. The biggest positive for India was on the bowling front where in spite of their best fast bowler, Zaheer Khan down in the dumps with an injury, he was hardly missed with R.P Singh who continues to improve and Ishanth Sharma being a good find, has brought a lot to cheer about. Pathan made his comeback but that surely cannot be a surprise considering he has some genuine talent.

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Australia trashed strung-out

Day 5 and there was no Alexi Laiho doing a swan song for Australia with a draw… Zaheer mopped them up in pretty quick time. Johnson might have done a ‘dizzy’ but couldn’t. Australia was truly trashed.

I am deeply disappointed with the way Australia played. It is the not the first time Australia has lost a test match and nor will be the last, but I have never seen an Australian team stop short of literally playing the fiddle… no spirit, no fight… so un-Australian. Hell, even in that Perth test when they were going down, there was a fight… a fight which makes Australia such a respected team.

I have respected Ricky Ponting for his captaincy and his aggression in trying to win from any situation. I never believed that he was ‘merely’ a captain who was blessed with a ‘great team’. Some of the statements and actions which have come out from him now reflect a man who doesn’t have faith in this team, almost reinforcing that ‘yes’, am useless without those ’star’ bowlers.

Ricky, you don’t have a shitty team… they are still the best out there in the world. Sure, Lee was a huge let-down but you ought to back your best bowler, not piss him off, as though Hussey could save Australia with the ball.

Is it rocket science to understand that the two Indian openers are the key to subduing India? You watched it unfold in Bangalore and nearly pulled it off. And what did you do in this test match? Spread the field… like 11 giant Australian nipples that screamed “Milk me, Milk me”.

By far, Lee might have been ordinary but you certainly did not give the best chance to your bowlers in picking wickets. And you won’t win a match like this… you never have by the way in this fashion.

There is so much being spoken about the reverse swing. Let’s be honest, the Australians have never been great exponents of reverse swing. Surely, they did not win a series the last time around with reverse swing, so why the panic in their camp?

For the Indians, I am pleased to see Amit Mishra do well in his debut. Sure, the mainstream media will be all over him… they will speak to his family, his unborn kids and rave. For a change, read through some of our blogs in this network and see the faith we have time and again, relentlessly put on you… you made us proud. To be honest, in the first innings, I thought he bowled below par with too many dolly half trackers being offered, but he got a fiver with some great deliveries. In the second innings, it was as good as I have seen him bowl in the domestic matches, but he was not that successful.

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Dhawan’s Dream Debut

When the third day of the third day started MS Dhoni must have thought they will run through the Australian tailenders. But it didn’t turn out that way as Steve Smith batted beautifully with Mitchell Starc for the 8th wicket adding 97 runs before Smith dragged his foot a bit too far and gave Ojha his second wicket. Starc then went on to add 51 valuable runs with Nathan Lyon. He fell one short of a well-deserved century; probably the nervous nineties got the better of him. Australian innings finally ended at 408. They will be mighty pleased to reach cross 400 after the failure of the middle order even when they got a century opening partnership.

This was beginning of what can be called a leather hunt day for the Australians as Shikhar Dhawan emulated his idol – Virender Sehwag displaying no signs of nerves and punished the depleted Aussie attack for the entire day and blasted his way to a Ton of just 85 deliveries – Fastest by a debutant. His batting style matched his attitude. He has that swagger in him which only Sir Viv Richards demonstrated on the field. Shikhar Dhawan must be really proud of this achievement knowing the fact that none of the most fearsome batsmen of this decade could do what he did. And these fearsome batsmen include the like of Tendulkar, Lara, Sehwag, Gilchrist, Ponting to name a few. When he walked off the field he gave his moustache a twirl may be it was intended for Boon and Hughes who used to intimidate their opponents. Before this all started when Shikhar Dhawan was yet to open his account was given a reprieve when Mitchell Starc accidently dropped the ball on the stumps with Dhawan out of the crease following up.

Every debutant must have dreamt of a century but for sure no one would have dreamt of what he did after that. He kept toying away with the field and ended with an unbeaten 185 from 168 balls. He was brilliant through the off side piercing the field no matter how many fielders Michael Clarke employed in that region. What was most admirable was that he didn’t hit a single shot in the air till he got to his century. He got as many as 33 boundaries. During all this Murali Vijay quietly reached to 85 playing the idle fold for Dhawan. He too must be eyeing back to back centuries against Australia. Indians must be hoping that both these players continue this way on the fourth day so that they can force a win over Australia. Australian on the other hand must be thinking of getting Dhawan out early and then dry up the runs. Atleast they will be able to get away with a draw. Few Achievements by Dhawan till now (185 not out)

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Performers of the IPL

A truck load of matches in the IPL have gone by and due to the length of the format, it is still tough to establish a clear cut team that would probably win the tournament. Such as been the swinging fortunes of this format.

As far as players of the tournament goes, two guys stand out well with their consistent performances.

Gautam Gambhir, the orange cap and highest run maker of the tournament has been slowly but surely staking his claim for virtually all formats of the game for the Indian team. There is enough to show how this guy can adapt and be quite consistent.

And the other one has been Shane Watson, the utility all-rounder, who is also “hoping”..i.e ‘james hoping’ to make it to the Australian side. Watson immediately draws a parallel to Ian harvey from the ICL… similar kind of utility cricketer with truck loads of talent. Their style and performances for their respective side are almost identical in terms of sheer value.

So far, the quality behind the Australian players in the tournament has a clear, distinct division from the likes of the Indian domestic players. The difference I see is not in skill… in terms of skill, it may be fair to say they are quite evenly matched. But in terms of sheer mental application, the ability to not get overawed and apply common sense to the match situation, the Australians have taken it to another level and that is with due credit to an excellent domestic structure in their country.

My favourite player in this tournament is Shaun Marsh. What a visual treat… a sheer delight watching him bat. Am blown away by his composure, grace and shot selection. With the exception of Mark Waugh, it has been quite a while to see any Australian batsmen who are graceful and elegant in their batting. There are many great and highly effective players in the last few decades but none with grace. This guy is gonna make it big time at the international stage and a visual delight for every cricket fan in the world is in the offering. Apparently, he has been called up for the Windies tour and these are good signs to come for Australia.

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Balaji’s efforts

Special mention need to be showered on Lakshmipathy Balaji. I was moved to watch him come back and simply bowl a ball in his first match. That by itself was a remarkable achievement for someone with such a serious injury. Perhaps the fiver was life’s way of rewarding good people. I do not know how Balaji can work and figure himself into the scheme of things for India. The magnitude of his injury is devastating and it is not funny having nuts, bolts and wires all knotted up inside your body. He definitely is in no position to bowl in a regular domestic match and would still require a long time of healing and sheer hardwork from this lad. But he has remarkably come this far, hopefully we all will be behind him when he well and truly comes back into action.

On a serious note, some of the experts have remodeled his action due to his injury. However, am concerned that the current open chested action which he has remodeled on, will actually cause him more damage to his lower back. I do hope as he regains strength on his back, he may be able to change his action as the current one does not look feasible to me. His wrist position was always good and he has retained that but there is a clear mismatch between his bowling action and the wrist, as though they are working totally uncoordinated and independent of each other.

A note on the controversies in this tournament:

Coming to the Royal sloshers sore loser maestro, Mr. Mallya himself and all the pot shots he is digging at Dravid. Even though some of these events are not at all nice, perhaps Rahul Dravid thoroughly deserved it. As a fan aptly quoted “Rahul Dravid tried to prove a point to the world. Unfortunately, he used someone else’s money for that and that is not nice”. Accountability seems to have been the mantra now and interestingly this fan who is also a share holder of the UB group, summed it up beautifully. What Mallya did or is doing is not nice but then nor his Dravid. I somehow am losing my respect for him, as it all seem to be evident that he perhaps needs to see a shrink.

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A boring commonwealth series

Let’s face it… this series is as boring as “santa barbera” and also as long and no hot babes or good wine. For teams like India and Sri Lanka, it was the test for checking out the new crop as part of the rebuilding process and for the other, a good tour to assess how well their rebuilding process have developed so far. To start with, I really pity the Indian team, as I don’t quite recollect ever them playing so many matches on the trot… and it is a really long season. Starting from the SA, England series to the twenty-20 world cup and all way to the Auss at home and away… the schedule is way too maddening even for a cricket fan. On top of it, there is this IPL buzz.

Rain had spoiled the contest in the early parts of the series which brings us to the question of whether the organizers were aware that these rains were generally expected during this time of the year or was it as freakish as George Bush dancing silly to African beats. If it was freakish, then we could watch George Bush during the rain intervals but if they were aware, the organizers should be forced to play ‘spin the bottle’ with Dennis Rodman and a bootleg DVD of the same released.

Coming to the Sri Lankan team which just got kayoed out of the tournament by India, it is hard to imagine that this is the side which was recently a world cup finalist and also considered a good one day side. I was particularly keen to watch on how much they have progressed since they started their rebuilding quite sometime back and feel they have to make some decisions to change people at the opening both with the ball and bat. Jayasuriya, a warrior that he truly is, has definitely slowed down and old enough to read bed time stories of his exploits to his children or maybe even his grandchildren. Hints of his destructive power were evident in this series but he has lost his consistency and is in danger of loosing fast his good batting average figures. Sri Lankan muppets had apparently pulled the plug on him yet again for the future one-day matches and is about the right time for him to bid adieu, take a tour of India and wallop some U19 bowler in the IPL. The point is that they need to think of changing both the opening pairs which is critical, as none seem to be doing well. Tharanga was given ample opportunities and squandered. Many others didn’t do anything worth even remembering their names.

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Clark and Haddin’s wisdom

The wisdom of Australia’s approach to the second innings was ridiculous. Sure, you can’t block for a draw and the best chance of playing out those sessions was in being positive. But their brand of positive cricket was the twenty-20 style of hitting out… when you normally can’t last 20 overs in that fashion, did you actually believe you can survive 140 overs that way? Jeez.

Australia could have saved this one if they had remained positive like Clarke and Haddin and not overdo that positivity.

There are two more tests… they nearly had Bangalore and now they lost this one. The next two are absolute flat-bedders that traditionally spin viciously. Australia can draw the series but if this test is an indication of the strategies and mind-set of the team, then it is going to be difficult.

Mathew Hayden and Andrew Symonds have been the single biggest difference when playing with India. Symonds is out and Hayden may well find the much needed inspiration. It was a pity to see Jacques injured and somewhere in the outback is Shaun Marsh lost amid some strange selection policies.

Peter Siddle bowled decently but there is Doug Bollinger who has been the better performer sitting in the cold. Strange considering he was in the recent ‘A’ tour and did quite well. To say that there is not a single spinner in the ranks is puzzling and perhaps a reflection of how unfair the criticism meted out to the likes of Hogg have gone in emptying the treasury rather prematurely.

Anil Kumble will be back in the next test… the team selection to include the champion will be troubled. The approach to the next two games will be predictably different to this one. Dhoni looks a different player when he is the captain, almost as if he deliberately throws his wicket when he is not at the helm. India look tougher with Dhoni at the helm.

The biggest plus that came out for me with Dhoni on the captaincy was making Harbhajan bowl that off-stump line and he was vicious. How some of us bloggers have been screaming this out! Rocket-science huh? 300 was not to be, but he will in this series.

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