Monday, December 28, 2020

About time ICC reviewed the entire DRS operation

India's tour of Australia is set to become memorable in more ways than one. Apart from the ups and downs of the players' performance from both sides in the first two Tests, what has been firmly put under the scanner in the Decision Review System of the International Cricket Council applicable to all top level games.
The DRS coming under fire is nothing new. But what is disturbing is the question that it has forced some of the legends of the game to ask.
The contentious business of "umpire's call"!
Indian great Sachin Tendulkar feels the review has been taken in the first place because player(s) were not happy / satisfied with the decision of the on-field umpire. Sticking to the same decision without conclusive proof either way makes a mockery of the entire exercise.
Sounding a similar note is Australian leg-spin legend Shane Warne, who wants to know how the same video can have to two contrasting results depending upon what the on-field umpire felt about it earlier. Warne opines that leg before decisions should be given "out" even if the ball-tracking shows the stumps being only brushed.
That firmly puts the entire ball-tracking business under the scanner. 
From laying the "pitch mat" to running the video through the computer to simulate further movement of the ball (including path as well as height of flight) everything is done by humans who are prone to errors. 
After all, playing out the video replay before the time has elapsed denying India a legitimate review can be brushed aside as human error then it may be worth noting that technology dependent upon human intervention can be anything but fool-proof and beyond reproach.
The powers that be in the ICC need to start brain-storming all over again with the available technology and how best to put it to use. Blindly borrowing technology from other sports hardly helps, even though it may have been tweaked to suit cricket. 
What cricket needs is technology especially developed to cater to the subtle nuances of the game before being pushed into operation.
Before that ICC needs to get sensitised to the pit-falls of the DRS operation Only then can the game move ahead unhindered.
If not, it may be better to stick with neutral umpires, whose services have been dispensed with for this series at least due the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on international travel.
Restoring confidence of players and fans is the responsibility of the people at the top. ICC needs to move and move fast before the public turns away!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Business as usual for BCCI as SC defers hearing to late January 2021

There seems to be absolutely no hurry in the Supreme Court with regards to the Board of Control for Cricket in India which goes about its business as usual with the annual general meeting scheduled to be held on December 24.
BCCI has a filed a slew of seven applications in the SC to amend certain statutes in the new constitution crafted by the court-appointed Justice RM Lodha committee to go into the reforms of the India's national cricket body.
Obviously the member states were forced to fall in line as well even though some sought the SC's indulgence to deal with matters as per their own convenience. But with disbursement of funds being the major bargaining tool, the SC appointed amicus curae managed to get most to fall in line.
The two most important changes sought by the BCCI are Rule 45, which stipulates that any changes to the constitution must be ratified by the court, and the other relates to the length of terms in office along with the mandatory cooling off period.
There's all likelihood of the SC bench keeping the ratification intact, but the tenure and how the terms of office at the state and national levels be not counted consecutively and instead be kept separate from each other would be the BIG one.
The amendment to the terms of office allows the current set of office-bearers, led by BCCI president Sourav Ganguly, two more years at the helm.
Given their performance in the current uncertain and tough times, especially holding an incident-free Indian Premier League off-shore, would definitely strengthen their case. And the way Team India was selected and made to travel together for tour of Australia shows pretty mature planning as players across the formats were able to get over the quarantine and other logistical restrictions as a single unit says a lot about BCCI's approach.
Compared to the reverses suffered by England,who had no option but to abandon their tour of South Africa mid-way, and Pakistan players being served an ultimatum by New Zealand for repeated breach of quarantine restrictions, Team India's off-field journey has been a fairly smooth ride so far.
And even the results in the limited overs games were not too bad. But the sublime capitulation at Adelaide against the pink ball seems to have overshadowed all else. 
The reverse, coupled with the fact that the side has to face Australia in the remaining three Tests without skipper Virat Kohli, can serve as a wake-up call where the youngsters would be expected to stand up to be counted.
In fact, BCCI boss Ganguly would be hoping for nothing less as he himself as captain had gone about revamping the image of Team India being easy pushovers when playing away from home.
But before the action begins in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne, BCCI is, more likely than not, expected to have handed Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah a second term, as the SC bench has directed that the petition be listed for the next hearing not before the third week of January 2021.
The first thing to be decided has nothing to do with cricket per se, but a point of law - can the present two-judge bench hearing the case make changes to the order (constitution) passed by a three-judge bench. 
Only then can BCCI's seven applications be taken up for arguments and final disposal. But since the SC bench has agreed to hear the application, there is no bar on BCCI at the moment about going about its affairs unfettered!s

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Life inside a bio-bubble can be a real test for sports-persons

Indian cricket players went into the bio-secure bubble around mid-August to get ready  for the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League played in United Arab Emirates.
Made necessary by the global Covid19 pandemic, the move has indeed helped the world of cricket slowly but surely limp back to some kind of action which looked well nigh impossible not very long ago. 
Team India is in Australia till well into January 2021, while England is visiting South Africa and Pakistan and the West Indies are touring New Zealand.
No sooner are Indian players back home from Down Under that they need to welcome England for a near-full series - 4 Tests, 3 one-day internationals and 5 Twenty20 internationals. As per the announcement by the Board of Control for Cricket in India president Sourav Ganguly, the itinerary was tweaked by mutual consent to replace a Test match with two extra T20s to prepare for the ICC T20 World Cup scheduled later in 2021.
It is more than obvious that no cricket playing nation wants to miss out on the action. So much so that Pakistan players have stayed put in New Zealand despite more than one breach on quarantine norms and nearly 10 players testing positive for the virus. A stern warning from the hosts and reading the riot act by the visiting team management is hoped to bring things under control by the time its their turn to face the Kiwis.
But one things cannot be emphasized enough!
Life inside a bio-secure bubble is tough, to put it mildly. Lack of one-on-one interaction makes people start getting edgy and no amount of phone calls, both audio and video, can replace the feeling of the simple human touch. It's something humans crave for and, though players are together as a team, nerves do begin to fray and sparks can fly at the flimsiest of reasons.
It needs an extremely mature handling on the part of all concerned ... players, support staff,  administrators. 
Cricket is one of the few sports that has seen near full-scale international resumption. 
To some extent football showed the way in Europe but the rest of the globe has been unable to match the precautions needed for successful conduct of games. Formula One did manage to nearly complete their annual calendar without any major disruption but the same can hardly be said for Olympic sports.
With the Tokyo Games looming in July, there is hardly any sporting activity worth a mention. Several sports including boxing, wrestling and track and field have yet to even finalise their qualification processes.
The bio-bubble can, at the very best, be a short-term solution. The isolation begins to take a toll beyond a point and obviously performance takes a severe beating.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

ICC's ODI Super League leaves India as most unwelcome opponents

India makes its debut in the much-touted Super League for one-day internationals against Australia at Sydney. The International Cricket Council has made it the qualifying event for the 50-over 2023 World Cup to be played in India.
The dual purpose of the Super League is to make every ODI count as each game carries 10 points, leaving no room for dead rubbers even if a series is already decided. Abandoned games gain five points for each team with nothing for a loss but if the home teams will denied points of the pitch or outfield is found deficient. Similarly teams will be docked points for slow-over-rates, while tied games will be decided by Super Overs.
The league includes 13 teams of which the top seven along with hosts India qualify directly for the 2023 ICC CWC leaving the remaining five to fight it against second tier teams to make the list of final 10 in the mega event.
The league features nine Test-playing nations - Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies - along with Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Ireland and the Netherlands, who made the grade courtesy of their having won the 2017 ICC World Cricket League Championships .
The Super League was launched on July 30 when England faced Ireland but lost one game out of three and then could win only one out three against the visiting Australians. Even though are at the top of the league table with 30 points out of a possible 60.
The final rankings will be decided on basis of the points earned in 24 ODIs, only three ODIs counted per series of which four each home and away will be designated. It will obviously present struggling teams to pick and choose opponents off whom they feel points can be gained.
Great news indeed for the likes of Ireland and the Netherlands ... no offence meant to either but they are anything but a cricket powerhouse!
Where does that leave India?
As hosts, Team India makes the grade automatically. So no need to look at the points table or qualification race but what, in reality, makes India attractive opponents is the price the TV rights garner for a series in the subcontinent or hosting them. But money matters may have to be put on the back-burner since playing the ICC World Cup is of highest importance for any of the Test-playing boards.
Since the Super League qualifying process, so far, ends March 2022, it remains to be seen how teams organise themselves for the task ahead. Obviously India, being the tough opponents that they are and with no qualifying place to worry about, may hardly be the chosen team to face in the coming 18 months or so in the 50-over format.
The global pandemic has caused the ICC Future Tours Programme into the shredder, leaving all decisions regarding tours and match schedules bilateral. It will not be easy for teams to pick India as their ODI rivals, given the current uncertain scenario. 
And ICC has hardly helped its cause by changing the rules for the Test Championships midway, making boards even more wary of such bombshells!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Challenge to selectors could cost Rohit the entire Australia tour

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has announced that neither batsman Rohit Sharma nor paceman Ishant Sharma will be available for the first two Test matches in Australia. About time Rohit reflected upon how things came to such a pass, especially since the five wise men of the BCCI selection kept making changes to the Indian squad till they boarded the chartered flight to Sydney.
Rohit seems to have been irked by several issues and least of them happen to be anything to his personal fitness or form. A shoo-in in both the 50- and 20-over formats, the opener was not picked in either squad due to his hamstring injury that forced him to miss several games in the Indian Premier League 2020 for his title-winning Mumbai franchise.
But no sooner were the Team India squads announced, Rohit was back on the field as if to cock-a-snook at the selection committee and its explanation for not considering the Mumbai batsman for the tour Down Under.
The move does not seem to have gone down well with the powers-that-be since last minute chopping and changing was done to all three squads, Rohit's name only figured in the Test outfit where his place in the final playing eleven can be at best be said to be tenuous.
On the flip side was the case of Bengal wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha, who sat out several key game for his Hyderabad franchise due to a severe groin strain but still found himself boarding the plane for Australia. 
There was always the back-up glove-man in Rishabh Pant, who incidentally must sit out the limited overs games but Sanju Samson was added as reserve keeper for the 20-over internationals as cover for vice-captain K L Rahul.
There is definitely more than meets the eye and rumblings of dissent are clear as Team India kick-off the action with the one-day internationals.
Further fuel was added to the fire by skipper Virat Kohli's decision to return home after the Adelaide for the birth of his first child. With Ajinkya Rahane has already been named vice-captain for the Test series but there need to be a deputy to him as well once he steps to take full charge, of which now there remains little doubt.
Rohit was reportedly offered the sop but he is said to have turned it down, not wiling to play second fiddle to Rahane.
The team management's suggestion to retain Shreyas Iyer could prove to be a further blow to Rohit chances of playing the last two Tests since his fortnight-long mandatory quarantine plus acclimatisation needs to be factored in before he can be available for national duty.
After all there is a doubt over the scheduled start of the 2021's first Grand Slam tennis event as well since players' demand for similar relaxation as the Indian cricketers was flatly turned down by the Victorian health authorities. The reason was that Team India had already been in a bio-bubble in the United Arab Emirates before taking the chartered, not commercial, flight to Australia.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Weekend deadline looms for Rohit, Ishant before Adelaide Test

Covid19 pandemic makes tough demands on people around the globe. So how can cricket be any different!
Rohit Sharma and Ishant Sharma are both engaged in a race against time to regain fitness and join Team India in Australia before the Adelaide Test which is scheduled for a December 17 start.
It's a tough timeline for all concerned.
Team India coach Ravi Shastri in a media interaction has categorically stated that November 26 is the last day that players must reach Australia in order to be considered for selection. That accounts for the mandatory 14-day quarantine that all visitors face Down Under and figure in India's second and last three-day practice game starting December 11.
With no commercial flights in operation between India and Australia yet, the players have no choice but to travel via the United Arab Emirates, adding a good eight hours to the journey.
Counting back further, to reach Australia by November 26, players must leave the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru by Tuesday since airlines are operating a severely curtailed schedule on the domestic circuit as well. 
That gives the duo barely two days to prove their fitness and gain the nod to join Team India soonest.
More likely a miss rather than a hit, since the squad already in Australia is hardly lacking in resources. 
The pace battery appears fit and raring to go with a full complement blending youth and experience with plenty of zip!
So is the Test batting line-up with Cheteshwar Pujara slotted at three, followed by skipper Virat Kohli, vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane at four and five. That leaves only the number six spot up for grabs since Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul virtually walk away with the opening positions with Shubhman Gill and Prithvi Shaw looking on.
Plenty of work for Rohit, who is expected to bolster the Test middle order, may not be too keen on hitting the ground running since it could cost him dear if his performance fails to live up to expectations. 
Moreover, he is also in a possible leadership tussle as far as white-ball cricket is concerned and also a certainty for Team India in the limited overs formats. Unfortunate that he has had to miss all the six outings against the Australians. 
Wriddhiman Saha, the chosen number one Test wicket-keeper, has all but cemented his place for Adelaide by figuring in the intra-squad games over the past weekend. That's how keen Team India was for the stumper to be be part of plans that he accompanied the squad on the chartered fight from Dubai itself two days after the conclusion of the Indian Premier League 2020 even though the Bengal glove-man had failed to take to the field for his Hyderabad franchise in the knock-out games.
No such luxury for Rohit, or for that matter Ishant, and both were sent back home to NCA. Rohit did miss a few Mumbai games but was very much on the field to lead his side to back-to-back IPL titles but seemingly did not do enough to convince the five wise men of the selection committee.
As things stand, it appears that only once Kohli returns home after the Adelaide Test will Rohit become available for selection.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Sharp Messi reaction signals more trouble at Camp Nou

The Catalans are suffering and how! Barcelona are currently lying eighth the La Liga table, a full nine points behind the leaders with two games in hand.
Enough time to cover the gap in the Spanish football league, given the long season ahead. But the same cannot be said about their super-star striker Lionel Messi, whose sharp reactions during the media interaction following his return from international duty for Argentina signals that the player has anything but got over the transfer saga fiasco of the summer
Messi wanted out from the only club he has turned out for professionally but then Barcelona  president Josep Maria Bartomeu enforced clauses in the contract, later upheld by La Liga as well, to keep the Argentine at Camp Nou. 
One of the primary reasons that the striker was not willing to stay on at the Catalan club was his not so warm relationship with Bartomeu himself. Since neither man kept the hostility a secret, Bartomeu finally had to resign from the post he had held since 2014. 
Messi, meanwhile, has shown a fair bit annoyance with the team and present set-up, prompting a public rejoinder from the coach Ronald Koeman that all was well in the Barcelona dressing room.
The Argentine's reaction to his not so easy partnership with French forward Antoine Griezmann, who replaced Brazilian Neymar at Barcelona, has been the talk of town not just in Spain but the world over. 
After all, as things stand, Messi can leave Barcelona for free at the end of the current season. Obviously, plenty of top clubs across Europe would be ready to break their banks to get the star to sign on the dotted line.
It's hardly a secret that Messi wants to renew his partnership with former Barcelona player and coach Pep Guardiola, who has only last week extended his stay at Manchester City for another three years. The former English Premier League champions do have deep pockets and are an obvious destination for the unsettled Argentine forward.
Interim Barcelona president Carles Tusquets, who took over following Bartomeu's resignation, has his task cut out. And his options are pretty limited since Messi staying on at Camp Nou may not be one of them. Hence to make the best of a bad deal, Barcelona may yet make some money if they can agree to a deal with City and Guardiola during the mid-season transfer window.
Easier said than done since City owners are expected to not pay for someone they are going to get for free at season-end.
Messi and Barcelona both appear to have begun the countdown.