The Premadasa cup

How on earth does a ground manage to come up with a record as lopsided as this one? Forget the win-loss statistics — the real eye-opener is this:

  • They went on to amass a big score; in the same duration, the average runs-per-wicket of 30.71 in the first innings at the Premadasa is higher than any other venue in the country that has hosted more than one ODI.
  • They bowled India out cheaply; the Premadasa has the lowest average runs-per-wicket – 20.97 – in the second innings among all venues in that span of time. (Minimum of eight matches at the venue).

That’s a 10 run differential per wicket between the teams batting first and second at this venue — one hundred runs differential per team on average. Such aberrations take cricket out of the realm of skill, and reduce it to the spin of the coin — and when we talk of ODIs losing their attraction and of the need for reform, the topic that rarely if ever comes up is just how much loaded wickets contribute to the boredom.

Grant a lot of things about India’s performance in the final: Sachin Tendulkar turned the clock back — well, almost — with an artistic performance; as many as three top order batsmen played good knocks around the batting mainstay; Harbhajan Singh rediscovered — one hopes not momentarily — the virtues of flight and loop; two part-time bowlers, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina, bowled 14 overs between them for 50 runs and two wickets…

If I were doing a conventional match report for Rediff, I suspect I’d at the end of the game have written reams about the triumph of will, about how India shrugged aside the record hammering of Friday and came out with all guns blazing, how when the chips were down the veterans aided by the captain set the game up for the bravura finish and how on the chase, despite bowlers and fielders being hampered by dew, the team helmed by its Captain Cool held its collective nerve to triumph over the invincible home team.

It is an easy narrative to construct. And when I made my living writing cricket, it was the narrative that came fluently, automatically, at the conclusion of a game like this.

And yet.

A truer storyline would be that India in the field did its utmost to lose the game, and was foiled by prevailing conditions.

The fielders — Yusuf Pathan and Virat Kohli in particular — dropped sitters. MS Dhoni uncharacteristically [uncharacteristically not because he is the best keeper currently playing, but because his glove skills have visibly improved since his entry into international cricket, and he is now a ‘safe’ keeper] missed a relatively simple stumping off Raina.

The overall standard of ground fielding was ordinary at best, creating such confidence in the opposition that batsmen repeatedly ran singles to short positions on the on and off [at one point during the Kadamby-Kapugedara partnership RP Singh, not the most distinguished in the field on the day, was reduced to fury by a fielding effort that converted a tight one into a cruise for two, with the batsmen even contemplating the possibility of a tight third].

It wasn’t a Cup-winning performance by any yardstick — and yet, despite an in-form Sri Lankan batting lineup that goes way down deep, India won with ease — and for that you have to give the Player of the Match award to the Premadasa curator, who more than any of the 22 players on the field exerted the utmost influence on the outcome.

Hey, India won without its two influential openers [and what I’d have given for the sight of Viru Sehwag in prime form on this track] and its most influential seam bowler, while coming off a layoff — so, glory be. But it is hard to avoid the thought that if the team is to do significantly well in the upcoming Champions’ Trophy, it needs an extended session in the dry docks of a training camp, where the support staff can go to work scraping off the inch-thick rust and getting lethargic arms and legs — and minds — moving again.

In passing, am I the only one who thinks the Sri Lankan bowling card was anomalous, and uncharacteristic of Kumar Sangakkara’s usually assured leadership? Thilan Thushara looked ordinary — and that is being kind — at the start, and yet he got to finish his quota while Nuwan Kulasekhara, who held a good line throughout, bowled two short. Even more inexplicably, Angelo Mathews bowled a mere three overs of tidy seam before being banished into some dark hole in the ground.

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35 thoughts on “The Premadasa cup

  1. Prem,

    I get this feeling that Yousuf Pathan is actually a hit-and-miss T20 player masquerading as an ODI player. He has been given quite a few oppurtunities. Maybe it’s time to give someone else like Abhishek Nayar a few chances? Also, how about trying out people like Sudeep Tyagi for RP Singh? Bench strength is all right, but they should be given the chance to play occasionally. The Australian ODI team has a few match winners and talented players in their ranks who don’t get chances always like James Hopes, Adam Voges, David Hussey etc.

  2. Prem,
    What do you think of SRT’s batting after reaching his 100? As usual, the media is silent about his strange tactics of scoring 24 runs in 37 balls after getting to his hundred. This, in spite of opting for the batting power play. This might look like a typical SRT basher’s whinge. But, I somehow feel his priorities are not always in line with the team’s.

    • Dude, go suck a lemon. The statement you have made clearly demonstrates your cricketing acumen…. which is nil. If you want bash SRT, get some credible points rather than once which don’t hold water.For you information the final statistic read SRT 138 runs from 133 balls. Oh yeah, that is right, you would love to forget that. How about evolving? i hate to let the world know that you belong to the same species as me.

      • Happy that I got the response I expected. The problem with the majority of Indians is that it is treated as blasphemy if you speak/write anything against SRT. They never bother to analyse it rationally.

        My main point is about how there was no effort to accelerate during the batting power play. Now, in case my friend does not know, it is the batting team which opts for a batting power play. The intent is to score maximum runs with the field restrictions on.

        So, when Dhoni (& presumably SRT) opts for a batting power play, what do you expect a batsman batting on 100 from 92 balls to do? At least a run a ball? It won’t harm the team if he tries to score a boundary or two. And what does he do? He starts playing tuk tuk (cheeky & innovative as per our media). I don’t have the exact stats for the power play phase alone. But, in the next 37 balls he faced after scoring the 100, he scored a grand total of 24 runs. Yes, I deliberately ignore the last 4 balls where he scored 14 runs. Because that hides what went before it.

    • I donno about you — I saw a bloke who is no longer as young as he was, feeling the effects of having played a long, focused innings and, towards the latter part when natural tiredness begins to kick in, finding himself partnered by one of the best runners between wickets in the modern game.

      He cramped prior to getting to his century. Cramp in the back leg, if you have experienced it on a cricket field, hampers almost every movement you make as a batsman, restricts your range, and reduces your effectiveness. Despite which, he ended up with a 100+ per cent strike rate, so we are complaining why?

      To say “this player’s priorities are not always in line with the team’s” is a comment that has made sense to me only in ONE context: when discussing match fixing incidents. Otherwise, I don’t see how a player, any player, who bats to the best of his ability is acting conversely to the team’s interest.

      I’ll tell you of one incident that might help you understand. Remember the Chennai 136 against Pakistan? When doing the match report of that day, I had while praising the 100 said it was irresponsible of Sachin to have looked to hit Saqlain out of the ground, top edged the shot, and gotten out, leading to us losing the game by just 14 runs.

      On the face of it, I was absolutely right — there was at that point in the game no need for that shot; we were within sight of victory, there was time left in plenty, and we could have gotten there through singles even.

      Some weeks later, I bumped into Sachin at a function, and he took me aside and told me, here’s what you don’t know: My back was so bad that morning, the doctors said it was risky to play and advised me not to bat. I wanted to win the game, so I ignored them and batted anyway. By the time I got to my 60s, the pain became so excruciating, my eyes were blurring in pain after every shot, but too many wickets had fallen, so I had to be careful. Finally, it got so bad I thought I would collapse on the pitch itself. So I tried to finish the game before my back packed up completely, mishit the shot because my mobility was impaired, and got out.

      Note, Sachin wasn’t remotely interested in setting the record straight or getting me to take back what I had written. He had chanced on the piece, noted the comment, and when an occasion afforded, he was trying to help me understand, that is all.

      My point is — this thing about “selfish players” has become a mindless meme.

      • Prem,
        This will be my last post. I don’t want to get into an argument which will not end. In a larger context, this might be an issue with Indian (and Pakistani) in general and not SRT alone. I seriously believe that with the kind of situation we were in it should have been an all out attack during the power play. 8 wks in hand and the opponent on the mat. What more do you want?
        Coming back to the point of cramps, I do agree that could be the reason why he didn’t go all out. I remember an innings by AB deVilliers (forgot the match). He had completely cramped up and then you know what he did? He just started whacking every ball out of sight. It is a win win strategy. If he connects, SA gets more runs. If he gets out, SA gets in a fresh & fit batsman in. I guess we Indians will never have such players.

        Over and out.

        • Arguments are good [though of course you are perfectly valid in stopping one when you wish]. I only have a problem when it descends to name calling.

          While agreeing with your point about the AB innings and even about PPs, I’d make one minor point, with no intention of forcing any pov on anyone. That point is this:

          IMHO, it is not fair to parse an innings, to take bits that support a particular contention and leave out the rest. As for instance, in 37 balls he scored 24 runs. Taken in isolation, bad. But as you point out, he then scored 14 in 4. To leave that out because it “hides what went before it” is one thing; but the same omission could equally be said to have happened because it doesn’t support the thesis — which is not fair.

          The larger question that comes to my mind is this: At this point he already has his century, so if the charge is he is playing for his own reasons and not for the team, what personal reason could he or any batsman have for slowing down *after* the landmark? I can’t see a logical answer to that.

          Anyway — no problem either way, we can agree to disagree without the world coming to an end.

          • There will always be people who will question everything. You cannot convince everyone.

            not so long ago, I felt SRT should retire – because to me it pained to see him playing as a mortal and not in the same vein as he did during his heydays. It was like Viv Richards scoring a 400 ball century on a flat bed. I could not accept such a notion.

            But I think, I have begun to understand the man – maybe a result of me getting old as well and realizing what are the things I can or cannot do today. So long as the team does not make him play the same kind of role that he did in the 90s – i.e. as India’s star batsman who wins every game with his bat – and he is OK with the role that he is playing today, there is no reason why we should criticize him.

            In the final analysis, I think as Dhoni said it was he and Harbhajan who won the game for India that day. I did not see the match but from what I read, it was a calculated innings from SRT and not any of his breath taking assaults that leave the opposition clueless. It was still effective in helping India post a total big enough to defend.

          • I totally agree with Jll. He makes very valid points. It is the team’s interest that matters in any given situation. If the individual player (and let’s forget reputations here) finds himself/herself incapable of being up to it physically or mentally at any point, the selfless way would be to ‘maximise’ what they have left – read as what AB De Villiers resorted to. In this game, Sachin ended up with a better than a run a ball strike rate because his last three scoring shots came off. If they hadnt the picture would not have looked as rosy. I thought the undisputed adage in One-day cricket is “Every ball counts”. Well, it is almost always the Indian team that forgets this and conveniently so – here I am as baffled as Prem in the SRT’s motive for stalling at that point – perhaps he was telling himself that the team benefited more from his staying till the end than from the other hitters coming in. Well, we need to pack our side with more bowlers than batsmen in that case.

            One last point – and I do not mean any offence here, it is a simple observation – is that those who have the chance to interact with these celebrities find it very hard to be critical (for obvious reasons) so I can understand Prem being diplomatic on this subject. Same is true of figures like Harsha Bhogle who was far more objective in his first years as a commentator/columnist than he is today.

            • Dear Sri,

              I know every ball counts, so in that case shall we have it like in baseball where it is three strikes and your out, in cricket’s case we’ll have it as three dot balls and your out. The undisputed adage is indeed make every ball count, that does not imply my good friend that your have to tonk every ball for runs. Even in T20, there are dot balls……

              This is the problem with people who just watch cricket and don’t understand the strategy behind it. As Sun Tzu aplty put it in his book Art of War,”everyone knows what i am doing, but know one knows the strategy behind it.”

              Since everyone is speaking of the AB’s innings and pointing out that he should moved out to give room for a fresh hitter to come in, I draw your attention to the Champions Trophy match between South Africa and India which took place in Sri Lanka. SA were cruising easily towards the target with Gibbs on a rampage. Upon gettin his hundred, he retired to the dressing room due to cramps and SA ended losing a match which they should have won on a canter.

              There is this opinion floating around that players play for themselves and not for the betterment of the team. This might be the case on a very few rare occassions (like a player making his debut or knowing that he has only one more chance to keep himself in the team), but what is the point of a player playing for himself every time when his team is losing? A player can’t demand high match fees nor can he switch between teams. That is, we are playing for a country and not for a club where there is more incentive to highlight one’s performance at the expense of the club in the hope of attracting the attention of a better club. (Now this can happen with the IPL)

              One last point, commentators/columnist are never objective as we live in an era where we would like to read the opinions of others rather than a stale analysis. You can like them, you can hate them, but we can’t live without them.

              • I had decided not to comment on this post again. But, I have to reply to this particular ‘strategy that no one knows about’.

                My friend Karthik refuses to understand that I am talking about the batting power play. It has been more or less universally accepted that when to opt for the batting power play is one of the most strategically important decision that a batting team takes. And to my knowledge, the only reason to take the batting power play is to score the maximum runs possible.

                So, let me try to get this. The batting team takes a strategic decision to opt for batting power play. Then, suddenly the batsmen decides not to go for shots. I agree with you. This is one strategy that has left me totally confused.

            • One quick comment, Sri — back in the day when I used to interact with cricketers, I was still critical where I felt the need to be. In that time, with reason, I have criticized Sachin, Rahul, Anil, Sourav and others.

              It’s been four years and more since I stopped doing cricket for Rediff or anyone else; nowadays I don’t go out of my way to interact with anyone, and don’t care particularly whether someone talks to me or no — so what I say happens to be what I think, and not diplomatic nonsense because I need to stay in someone’s good books.

              Just saying.

  3. I think we are being unfair to Tendulkar -as usual- and the great innings he played. Consider this, what if Tendulakr scored a zero and India folded for 230’s which Srilanka scored easily to win the final. Would we be then even talking about it? + this was a brand new pitch so past stats does not mean anything at all in this context except for some romanticised version of Predasa stadium.

    • Why “unfair to Tendulkar as usual”, in a country that has deified him?

      In a match report, I would have spoken of Tendulkar’s innings, among other things. This is a blog post, to cover ground already covered in other forums is merely tedious, so I left all that alone and looked at the anomalies in the game.

      With ref the pitch, “brand new pitch” means very little — a ground has a character that is derived from its soil composition and other factors, and “brand new pitches” tend to mimic the older ones. For instance, Perth traditionally has fast wickets — which is not to say they have been playing on that one pitch for the last century. They typically have a “brand new pitch” for each major game, yet the general character remains the same. Ditto with the Premadasa — since it was a new wicket, it didn’t keep as low as the one on Friday, but in other ways it stayed very true to type.

  4. One thing which is worrying is the performance of Ishant Sharma…he seems a shadow of the bowler he was in Australia…pace is down quite a few notches…fervently hope he doesn’t go the Pathan way..for losing him will be a huge loss for Indian cricket. Any reason Prem that u can find for his rudderless performance?

    • Nothing technical that I could notice at this distance, but then there rarely is in such cases — if there were a glaring technical flaw, it would be obvious to all, and very early.

      I suspect he is suffering from a syndrome common to a lot of our younger players. When they come in they are fresh, and their tricks are new, and a fire burns in their belly. After a year or so, they are solidly stuck in the grind, the mental edge goes off a bit, and suddenly they seem a shadow of themselves.

      All players go through this. The trick for Ishant, as it was for Zaheer in his time, would be to find his second wind — and that is more mental than physical. I suspect it would have helped him enormously, at this point in his career, to be bowling with Zak at the other end. But at just the time when he is coping with his own mental fog, he finds himself rudderless, and that is IMHO impacting on his performance.

      If he is good, and I think he is, he will snap out of this, find his second wind, learn new tricks to augment the ones he has showcased and everyone knows about, and then settle down for the long haul. The better ones do just that; the lesser ones fade away.

  5. I have a fundamental question. What was Virat Kohli doing at point while Yuvi, arguably the best fielder by a mile, was at mid on/off?

    • Yuvi has gotten slow in the recent past, mate. Even at his very best, while he was a spectacular fielder at point, there was a lot of grandstanding that disguised a less than perfect body balance [compare him for instance with the likes of AB de Villiers standing in the same position, see how they move and you’ll see what I mean]. Now, he is fatter, he is not as low to the ground as he used to be, and is way below his own standards, never mind being the best in the team. That would be Raina or Rohit — both have high standards and on a day they are feeling good about themselves, they are outstanding.

      One of the problems with this team is they don’t really delight in fielding — it is more of a chore for them. I was recalling the last IPL — remember how Herschelle Gibbs and Rohit Sharma for instance formed a point-cover partnership? When the ball went to one of them, the other would run up to applaud a great save; through the tournament, they were showing off for one another [an indelible memory is from this one game, where Gibbs made an outstanding stop, jumped to his feet and pointed a triumphant finger at Rohit; a little later, Rohit stopped a ball he had no business even reaching, and immediately leapt up and pointed at Herschelle, who ran towards him for a hug], and in the process lifted each other’s standards.

      You see the great fielding sides enjoying each other’s performances — and great fielding *is* a performance. We kind of do it because it needs to be done, like math homework, but there seems to be little delight in the process. So we end up being competent on our best days, and ordinary on other days.

  6. The fielding was pathetic. I have a theory that India can never be a good fielding side. Fielding is a selfless act and the egos that our guys carry, fielding would never be as important to them. The glory (and endorsements and fan following) is always in batting and bowling so why bother with throwing my body around?

    BTW, was I the only one surprised by the number of our boys sporting paunches?

    • Paunches made me think of this story Andrew Kokinos once told me. Apparently the mother of a player — he wouldn’t name the player, even though we were having an off record conversation over a few beers — called him up during the off season and screamed at him. She had been preparing her son’s favorite foods so he could indulge in the off season, and said son showed her his dietary prescription from the team management, and she was outraged. What are you doing to my son, she yelled at Kokinos — apparently she feared the poor boy would waste away without mother’s home cooking.

  7. The brighter note though is that the captain seems to be aware that he was lucky to be on the winning side.

    From Cricinfo;

    “You’ve got to learn from your mistakes. We made quite a few today and as a team we didn’t field well,” he said. “Thanks to characters in the side, we ended up on the winning side. It’s very special to us. We are winning here after a long time. If you are the second best team, you can’t make these kind of mistakes.”

    • Yeah, MSD didn’t look none too pleased at various times in the field, and has a habit of speaking what’s on his mind, rather than what’s PC.

      • True. Post-match interview with MSD was actually one of the highlights of y’day’s match.

        Arun Lal: So alls well that ends well?
        MSD: No, not really.

        Good to finally hear someone calling spade a spade.

        • The best thing about MSD for me is how level-headed he is. I can’t think of many wins that he has greeted with over the top euphoria. Most times, his remarks are on the lines of yeah we won, but our batsmen/bowlers need to shape up in this or the other department. I’d put this ability to see a game/result for what it really is as one of the main reasons for his run of successes. A more dedicated team, and he could likely work wonders.

          • Agree! I remember he once said that making money (and maximizing that) should not be the criteria that cricketers should look for. If you play international cricket consistently for 4-5 years, you would have made all the money you need for a couple of generations. Anything more than that will only be a bonus.

            So the aim should be to maximize your potential to play as long as you can for the Indian team. And the rest will automatically be taken care of.

            How true! but then, I do not think any of his team members will agree with his assessment. They would rather make the maximum out of now, live the best now and worry about tomorrow later. With that attitude, it will be difficult to look at victories in balance and try iron out the flaws. If he said anything, the team may retort back saying “hey, we still won!”

          • Dhoni has the knack for saying the right things. Its fine to talk about “improving” or “working on the right areas” but that has to translate into reality or else its just a cliche.

            Then again I don’t like the “perfection” that past Australian teams built their reputation on. Sure its disappointing that young blokes like Yusuf / Yuvi / Kohli fluff easy chances, but it adds an element of surprise. The match was in the balance till the end…which added interest. However, you won’t wanna take it too like the Pakistan team. Glorious highs on one day, spontaneous combustion the next!

            • Trouble was earlier that we didn’t even recognize something was not right — we crowed over wins, and when we lost found external things to blame.

              So a leader who will point at flaws internally even during a moment of triumph is a start — a good one.

              I agree that has to translate into reality, but then there’s the old chestnut about leading a horse to water. You can for instance talk to Yuvraj, tell him if he only improved his general fitness levels a bit and spent a modicum of the time he spends on partying on actually working on some of his weaker skill areas, he could become a phenomenon. But how the hell do you get the guy to do it?

            • yeah with Yuvi its a case of self-discipline. he has to realise it himself and do something abt it…patently unlikely.

              can you think of any other team which has so many mavericks? individuals who can win matches single handedly but are not exactly always consistent. they have their own personal style and a “establishment be damned” attitude. viru, bhajji, yuvi and dhoni to a certain extent. i guess the challenge is to strike the right balance between this group of improvisers and seniors like sachin, gauti and dravid providing the ballast.

              this is where the current australian team is struggling…not enough flair. the problem with picking only dependable players is that they are predictably average.

  8. Prem, I thought yesterday the pitch played pretty good, and IMO the pitch played a very very less role than what the other pitch on saturday did. On saturday the ball was keeping low several times and Matthews seemed to enjoy that and harvested a rich haul of wickets.

    Having seen saturday’s match, I was thinking that India would win in a canter by 100+ runs at least. However what I did see was some (mostly) skillful and thinking bowling by our spinners and some mindless outside-the-off-with-width bowling from our seamers (no swing or seam as was the case on Saturday with Sri Lankan bowling).

    Is the difference down to more skillful bowling by Sri Lankan bowlers well tuned to the conditions @ night? And when they had to bowl in the day their bag of tricks just didn’t work?

    And the fielding. Wow.. It did look like the Indian fielders had turned back the clock, to the 80’s and 90’s.! It looked like when Australia & SAF generally used to steal singles by tonking it to the side of our fielders and taking ones and twos at will. The more things change, the more they are the same.. Whether its tendulkar or Indian fielding.! 🙂

    • The pitch “played good” in the relative sense that the odd ball didn’t scoot along the ground — but if you look at how the ball was coming on, you start noticing that in this aspect, it deteriorates after about 70 or so overs into the game. Trouble with that kind of thing is, the ball coming on nicely at the start means the side batting first is able to whack it around [hence my reference to Viru], which results in huge totals, and the side batting second just doesn’t get the pace on the ball to hit through in similar fashion. You expect *some* slowing down on most pitches other than the truly hard ones, but even when it is on its best behavior the Premadasa is too heavily weighted to the team batting first.

      You could have reversed this outcome had SL won the toss. An added plus for the Lankans is not that their bowlers are more tuned to the conditions, but that their fielding is expert. Once the ball stops coming on, the best bet for a batting side chasing a big one is to keep working the ball around, disrupt the bowlers’ lines with quick singles, and cash in on the resulting lapses in line and length. You saw that yesterday with India. The Lankans though — if you think back to Friday’s game — invariably bring their infielders right in, several paces inside the 30-yard circle with at least one short fielder in front of the wicket, often two, and keep you from taking those singles. We on the other hand stay on the circle, don’t move in with the bowler, prefer to wait for the ball to come to the fielder rather than attacking it with the shot, and give away runs with startling prodigality.

      IMHO, that one factor makes all the difference.

  9. In fact Thushara was bowling well at the death, good yorkers, except for an over when Yuvi hit that six. Kulashekara got to bowl the last over, but with his reduced pace and good length bowling, easy to hit I think

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