The final verdict?

In the midst of the mass heartburn last month about the future of ODIs, the more sober voices in the commentariat

The Mystery of the Missing Audience/Courtesy Cricinfo

The Mystery of the Missing Audience/Courtesy Cricinfo

suggested that perhaps it is necessary to wait until the end of the Champions’ Trophy to render a final verdict on the format.

What happened was, the jury left the box and didn’t bother to show up to render its verdict — check out the three men and a dog watching as Shane Watson launches his assault on the target.

None of the usual reasons apply. This was a world-level tournament, not the kind of senseless, overlong bilateral series that prompted the heartburn in the first place. The format was short and crisp — too short, some felt when India, with a record of one win, one loss and one no-result, was dumped at the preliminary hurdle.

There was considerable skill on display — sporadic display, admittedly — ditto grit. There was a fair share of tight encounters, chiefly the one between Pakistan and Australia with India’s fate at stake. And the final was no slog fest, but a real contest between bat and ball in conditions that helped the bowlers.

In sum, there was every single thing we keep asking for, and criticizing the ODI format for lacking — and yet, there were no spectators.

Time now to worry? To move beyond the knee-jerk reform proposals [reduce the format to 40 overs; split the game into four innings]? To admit, finally, that the problem is only partly with the structure of the one day game, and that any lasting solution will need to begin with the international schedule itself?

While on that, the reason advanced for the absence of spectators is that the final ‘happened’ to take place on a Monday. How did that ‘happen’? Because in drawing up the tournament schedule, the ICC felt the need to allow for the overlong seven-game bilateral series between England and Australia, and schedule time for the two teams to land in South Africa and get in a measure of acclimatization. Net net? Very few people watched that bilateral series — and even fewer watched Australia retain one of two global titles on offer in this form of the game.

I’ve been banging on [Don’t you get tired of saying this, a reader was moved to ask the last time I brought this up] about the ICC’s need to stop dicking around with knee-jerk ‘solutions’, to admit to itself that it has through inept scheduling run the game into the ground, and to start the process of reform with the calendar itself. [While on that, Peter Hanlon in The Age is already lamenting a lackluster Australian summer]. So I’ll stop this exercise in ‘I told you so’ right here — and wait to see what the reform merchants and their mouthpieces come up with in the coming days.

Nothing substantive, possibly — there is always the Champions League to distract ourselves with. And then the ‘Revenge Series’ or ‘Champion of Champions’ series or however the hypemeisters plan to bill a seven game odyssey between India and Australia.

Outside of two brilliant opening bursts, by Lee and Siddle for Australia and Bond and Mills for the Kiwis, I didn’t watch enough of the game to comment. So I’ll leave you with two good pieces by Sambit Bal: on how South Africa’s templated tactics are a large part of the reason for its sub-optimal performance, and how Australia’s sustained success is largely rooted in its ability to find within its ranks men who will rise to any occasion.

Champions atrophy

Apologies to a friend for stealing the subject line of a common email thread on the subject of India and its premature exit from the Champions’ Trophy — what to do, it is so peculiarly apt.

On that thread, some of the friends brought up the question of the fairness, or lack thereof, of a tournament where a top team exits at the preliminary level because of one match gone west. Sambit Bal also suggests in his column that questions could be asked about such a format.

I’m sorry, but why? The Champions Trophy format is neither new, nor a secret — in fact, one of the best things about it is its crisp, short nature and limited field as opposed to the World Cup which, in the immortal words of one commentator, is “still probably going on in the Caribbean some place.”

Try these names on for size: Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Kenya. Those four teams are ranked full members at ICC’s ODI top table; in other words, in the eyes of the ICC they are the equal — in terms of rights, if not quality — to the eight teams that played the CT in South Africa, and they have good reason to be aggrieved that they have been kept from the tournament.

One of the few good things the ICC has done in recent times is to limit the field, and thus ensure a minimum of dud matches in a crisper, more viewer-friendly format. All participating teams knew, going in, that it was about winning two out of three in the first phase; if they had done their due diligence, they would have known, too, that there was always the possibility of rain spoiling someone’s party.

So, hey, we lost one game, and it turned out the loss was fatal — yeah, well, tough. Suck it up.

Harsha in course of a recent chat made this argument: Within India, there is an economic ecosystem vested in India’s continued success — a group that comprises the BCCI, the players and support staff, the associations, the advertisers, the broadcasters, and even news channels whose talking-head shows rely heavily on cricket and controversy, often twinned naturally or through artful surgery.

Therefore, Harsha said, there is an inordinate focus on the next game, the next tournament, as opposed to taking the long range view. It doesn’t, he pointed out, matter what happens a year from now — what matters is that we do well in the next outing, to keep the hype machine running. And so when we pick teams, we pay lip service to long term vision, to rotation and the need to rest key players, and pick the team that will, in our opinion, give us best returns in the game tomorrow.

He was referring among other things to the reversal of the youth policy and the return of Rahul Dravid to the mix [and no, this piece is not intended to lay the blame for India’s premature exit on Rahul]. And he is bang on the money — the BCCI and those equally invested in the cricket economy operate purely on short term logic unmindful, likely even unaware, that they are defeating themselves in the process.

Never mind the rain — despite MS Dhoni’s words, anyone who was watching the India-Australia game would have said that when the rains came down, the Aussies were odds on to win.  Sure, we might have pulled off a brilliant chase — but ‘might’ and Rs 3 will get you a cutting chai.

Consider instead the game against Pakistan, and India’s bowling effort against Australia. Pundits, the press, and even the captain have pointed, very rightly, at the lines and lengths our bowlers used as the root cause of the malaise. By the time the bowlers got their radar working, it was way too late.

So, why? Why didn’t international players get it? IMHO, a large part of the reason lies in our preparation — a point I bored everyone with while the whateveritis cup was being played for in Sri Lanka. Why did we play that triangular in conditions that were the exact antithesis of the one we would confront in the world tournament? Because the BCCI had a deal. Its hype machine cleverly sold the cup as India’s push for world domination — but the fact is, we played the triangular because the BCCI saw money to be made, not directly in that tournament but in the reciprocal Lankan tour that was part of the deal.

On Lankan pitches, you pitch up if you want to get driven to the dry cleaners — the optimal length is a shade short. We got it right, so did Lanka. The Kiwis, who by nature and inclination bowl fuller and quicker, got it wrong, and exited early — but look where they are now, and look where Sri Lanka and India is. [Consider, also, that England and Australia recently went through seven pointless one day games — but at least they were played in conditions where the fuller length was mandatory, and thus had little or no adjustment to make in SA. On the other hand the South Africans, who know these conditions best, were rusty, coming off a long lay off — and rust manifests first in the shorter length, as Wayne Parnell can tell you; to bowl fuller you need to be in a really good rhythm].

The damage is done, and India now has the dubious record of prematurely exiting three of the last four world level tournaments, to the considerable consternation of the BCCI, the advertisers, broadcasters, media, et cetera.

Lesson learnt? Likely not — but it should be. The next world level competition is a year and a half down the line — the time between now and then is packed with a heap of pointless bilateral ODIs [Oh I know — India and Australia are playing for revenge, for the world number one title, or whatever else the hypemeisters dream up].

There’s two ways we can go from here: Treat each game and each meaningless cup as an end in itself, as Harsha pointed out is the nature of the beast, or treat the interregnum as the ideal preparation for the World Cup, which will be played on home soil.

If you take the latter view, then the result of the Australia-India series and all the other cups and saucers to follow shouldn’t matter — those games are ideally used, initially, to experiment with fresh talent and to rehabilitate those who have recently lost their way, and closer to the WC, to home in on the best squad, and to work on fine tuning their skill sets and moving them towards peak form.

The right way to go is obvious. Unfortunately, it is equally obvious that our administration will go in the exact opposite direction — so I’ll save this particular post someplace; that will save me the effort of writing it out all over again at the end of the WC.

PS: We’re looking to close the week’s edition of India Abroad today, a day ahead of deadline, to sneak a rare three-day weekend; blogging, hence, likely to be erratic at best, more likely non-existent, for the rest of the day.

The Calculus of Hype

“Millions of Indians will lustily cheer every wicket taken by the Men in Green and go into raptures of delight whenever a Pakistani batsman hits a boundary.”

Yeah, right.

That’s Partho Bhaduri on the front page, no less, of the Times of India. And reading that made me realize, not for the first time, what suckers we in the media are for the obvious narrative. India’s fate depends on Pakistan!! Ooo — the delicious irony of it all, happening just days after India had played its first cricket match with the Land of Lashkar after 26/11.

Shashi Tharoor, the Twitter-minister, posted about this last evening; Partho and his mates have peppered the print media with riffs on this theme; the TV channels are getting nicely warmed up as I write this… and yet, have we done full justice to the tremendous potential [Excuse the emphatic itals in this post, please — too much Dan Brown lately] of this story?

And then there’s the conspiracy angle. Will Pakistan want India in the final? Younis Khan says so, but can we trust him, can we take his word for it and hope that Pakistan will pull out all the stops? Isn’t it more likely that Pakistan — who, as we all know, we can never really trust — will play just below par in order to do the dirty on India? Imagine what a laugh they will have in the dressing room after they’ve contrived to lose to Australia, knowing that the old enemy, still engaged in its own game against  the West Indies, now has to go through the motions knowing that its last remaining hope has been scuppered!

Oh for a Subhash Ghai, a Sunny Deol, to do full justice to such a compelling storyline. What drama! What conflict!

What crap.

Item one, the outcome of the Pakistan-Australia game does not hinge entirely — or even remotely — on whether Pakistan wants India to progress or no. The Aussies under Ponting have, thanks largely to England, rediscovered a large part of their mojo; there are signs that the arrogant self-belief that characterized the team in its pomp is gradually coming back. More to the point, the Aussies are playing very good one day cricket just now; the skipper is back in form and that fact alone makes a tremendous difference to a team that only lacked for its one surviving member of the fabled world champion outfit to lead the way.

Around him, the various bits and pieces are slotting nicely into place to a point where they are not missing Michael Clarke all that much; Mitchell Johnson cementing his place as a high quality all-rounder gives them that additional edge;  and if Nathan Bracken’s absence hurts the bowling lineup, Brett Lee is getting more into the groove with each outing. Plus, Australia is at its most dangerous when it is winning consistently.

Whether it fiddles with its lineup or not, Pakistan will have its hands full with the opposition in the game slated to begin early this afternoon — to suggest that the outcome merely hinges on whether Younis and his men want to do India down is ridiculous. The team is playing more than decent cricket, but the catch with Pakistan is that spectacular explosion and sudden implosion are two sides of a very thin coin [while on which, what fun if Pakistan actually implodes today — television talking heads can live off that for the remainder of the tournament].

Beyond all of that is the fact that India has not, in this tournament, had the look of champions — or even of a team deserving to be in the top four. The batting has been patchy, the bowling has oscillated between the good and the wild, the fielding standards are a disgrace, and MS Dhoni is gradually finding out that an ability to keep his cool is a virtue that cannot paper over every crack.

It had to happen — this after all is the Indian cricket team, and it is therefore axiomatic that any rise in fortunes will be swiftly followed by a precipitous decline. Thanks either to a beneficial alignment of the planets or a fortuitous alignment of various talents and form or both, Dhoni hasn’t felt real pressure since taking over the captaincy — but that time had to come. He is still the best bet for captain, and not merely in the short term — and if you take a long term view, it is good that his thinking is being tested now, rather than a lot closer to the next World Cup.

Mercifully, there is about Dhoni a touch of ‘if you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs’, as exemplified by this media interaction where the bulk of the questions appear to be about Pakistan. The money quote:

“Pakistan will not play their XI thinking if they win, India will qualify,” he said. “Whatever they need to experiment they will do because they have qualified, they will look at the future. They might try out their reserves. It depends on them, what they want to get out of the game. I don’t think they will consider that if they win and if we win comfortably against the West Indies, India will qualify. I don’t think that will be an issue.”

‘Pragmatic’ is the best way to be for the Indian captain today — focus on the game, use it as an opportunity to begin treating the symptoms of decline, and the heck with whether you make the last four or no.

Given the players that form part of the squad, there are no tweaks India can make to its lineup that can substantially alter its fortunes — the best possible XI seems to be the one that took the field against Australia. Change, hopefully, will be in the attitude — there has been more than a touch of the defensive about the side in these last two games, and that is not a mental makeup guaranteed to get you very far.

Of the many things Dhoni said in his press conference, there is one bit I disagree with:

The likes of Ishant and RP Singh were also well down on pace, but according to Dhoni, that wasn’t as much of a concern as their erratic line and length. “It’s not about bowling 140 or 145-plus,” he said. “At the end of the day, you have to bowl the right line and length to the batsman. If you see the South African bowlers, they were among the quickest in the tournament but they were also fetched for runs. That means it is not about the pace, it is about where you are bowling and what field you have got. So I don’t think pace is the only criteria, it is line and length, the swing and the movement that you can get.”

I seriously hope that is not what he is telling Ishant [and yes, I believe he is a serious talent, and hope he gets his game back on track soon] — because the two things are not mutually exclusive. It is about bowling the right length and line, yes, but if you can bring pace to the package, so much the better. The South African example is not well taken, because it largely is about Wayne Parnell who, not to put too fine a point on it, bowled crap. Crap at some pace yes, but still crap.

The antidote to that is not to drop the pace down by 10-15 ticks, because all that does is make you a medium paced trundler. A fast bowler’s rhythm is different from a medium pacer’s — things fall into place when he is running in fluidly with the intent to bowl as quick as he is capable of. Tell him to slow down, and the natural rhythm is automatically disrupted, control is lost, and rubbish results.

For all the hype, India has nothing really to lose in this game — so I’d seriously hope Dhoni goes into the Wanderers and slips the leash on not just Ishant, but the team as a whole. If there is one change I would make in the unit that has played thus far in this tournament, it is to do away with its defensive, almost apologetic, mindset and to get out there buzzing with testosterone that might have come from last night’s nookie, but which I hope comes more from a realization that even absent Viru, Zak and Yuvi, the team still has enough skill to play good cricket.

A good game today likely won’t get India into the semis — that is miracle territory. But a great game at the Wanderers will reverse a collective mindset that is increasingly unsure, tentative, and if that is the only outcome of today’s game, I’ll still take it, and smile.

PS: Anyone watched the New Zealand-England game yesterday? There was for me one moment worth noting, and it came at 66/0 at the end of the first ten overs of the Kiwi chase. England, battered into submission by McCullum and Guptill, was clearly looking forward to the end of the mandatory power play overs so Strauss could spread the field and give his bowlers a bit of elbow room to try and rein things in. Kiwi vice-captain McCullum promptly called for the batting PP — brilliant, I thought. Too many captains in too many games use the power plays by rote where, ideally, it should be used as an unexpected weapon to disrupt the opposition’s game plan.

One of these days, someone will hopefully look at a sizeable sample of the last ten overs of matches in the pre-powerplay era, and contrast that with a similar sized sample of games where the PP was taken in the last ten overs, and tell me why it makes sense to hold the batting power play for the death, when teams with wickets in hand go hell for leather in any case.

PPS: Besides two games to follow, I’m trying to get the edition done a day earlier than schedule. Busy, hence, and likely to be largely absent from here. Random match thoughts, as always, here.

Back where we came from

When I read the headline ‘Kumar Sangakkara apoplectic about fielding’, I wondered for a moment why the Sri Lankan captain was taking India’s shambolic effort so much to heart.

We missed a caught and bowled because the bowler stayed back and preferred to take it on the bounce rather than dive forward and try to make a catch out of it. We missed a catch at point when the ball lobbed off the shoulder of the bat because the fielder there reacted late, and then froze. We missed a run out because the bowler — who, incidentally, has made a habit of this throughout his career — took up position between the ball and the stumps. And all of that happened in the first six overs — after which it only got worse.

With Indian cricket, you can never tell how, and when, it happens — but it is axiomatic that just when matters seem to be looking up in one particular department, there is a precipitous slide that leaves us back where we started from, or even further behind.

The need to up fielding standards was the initial argument for jettisoning the veterans and getting youngsters in, and for a brief while it looked like the team was improving. Suddenly — and damned if you can put a finger on the how and the when — the team is if anything worse in the field than it was during the early part of this decade.

On date, there are at least four fielders you need to hide – and then there’s Virat Kohli, who oscillates between brilliant stops and shambolic muffs. Hide? Scratch that — hell, at one point Ashish Nehra [whose chronic inability to bend beyond 15 degrees makes you want to wheel him into the nearest operating theater and surgically remove the stick up his ass] was stationed at point; the graceful way he turned as a ball drifted past him, and ambled along in its wake, made you forget the pain of the runs he was giving away and laugh at the old-world amateurishness of it all.

There are a couple of statements those who write on cricket get a lot. One is ‘It’s easy to say…’. The other is, ‘If it were so simple, don’t you think the captain/coach/team would have seen it?’. I’ve had my share of these, and I’ve never known how to answer. Still, consider this:

The safest thing for a batsman to do on a cricket field is to play the defensive push with the straight bat, correct? A batsman resorts to this when the ball is good and he can see no opportunity to score? And when you play that stroke the ball goes, depending on the line, to mid off or mid on? Granting all that, why do we invariably station our mid off and mid on halfway to the boundary, so that every single time the batsman plays the safest of shots, he is guaranteed a single? [Compounding that is the fact that spinners work best when luring the batsmen to try and go over the top; bring the fielder in and the tactic is on, push him out, and you remove one of the main weapons of the attacking spinner.]

Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey scored 132 runs between them. That included 60 dot balls — and 76 singles, besides 7 twos. 25 of those singles were scored through mid off [16] and mid on [9]. That is 25 runs added to the total for free during that phase of the game when the bowling side looks to check the scoring; 25 times the batsman turned the strike over and forced the bowler to work on a different player. [By way of contrast, Pakistan is not the most electric of fielding sides, yet India managed just 98 singles in its innings of 248 the other day].

We don’t take them when we bat; we give them away with generous prodigality when we field — in other words, we get it coming and going. And for me, it is deja vu all over again: it was simple when we talked of this in 2002; it is simple now, so how come the team doesn’t collectively get it? You tell me.

India is on the verge of getting knocked out of the Champions’ Trophy, barring a fairly improbable concatenation of circumstances — and on current form, that is a fair result. The team, minus the explosive threat of Virender Sehwag at the top and Yuvraj in the middle [for all his recent sins, I’ll add Rohit Sharma to the list of players we are missing], plus the calming influence of Zaheer Khan with the new ball, is looking a shadow of itself; it certainly is nowhere close to champion material.

It might seem a cop out to blame all of it on singles — but IMHO, the runs we leak in the field and the runs we don’t make with the bat are contributing immensely to the deterioration of the bowling effort. Harbhajan and Ishant are admittedly shadows of their best selves and clearly have work to do, most of it in the space between their ears.

Bajji for instance needs to remind himself that it is the job of the part-time spinner, not the attacking spearhead, to spear the ball down on indeterminate length; his brief is to bowl the attacking lines, to look for wickets. [While on Bajji, the team needs to get over this ‘seniority’ hang up and start picking players for form, not for how many years he has been part of the side — this business of automatically picking Bajji as the first spinner is past its use-by date. Amit Mishra impresses whenever he gets to bowl; so does Pragyan Ojha. Yet both these bowlers are reduced to sitting on the sidelines during their best years, simply because someone carved on a stone somewhere that if we play one spinner that has to be Bajji, form or no form].

And likewise, Ishant Sharma needs to remind himself that he is a fast bowler, not a medium paced trundler — and therefore, even if he only gets to come on first change and finds a defensive field set for him, his best bet still is to charge in and let it slip as fast as he can. That return to his basic skill set — and not sex — will give him the testosterone high he is clearly lacking just now.

That said, the worst thing that can happen to bowlers is to find runs flowing off defensive pushes to good deliveries, because they then are forced to try different things. A bowler works best when he can find a tight containing line as the stock option; he can then use it to probe the batsman, and use the variation to work him out. The way we are in the field, the stock ball is a free single; this forces the bowler to constantly vary, and in the one day format with its non-existent margin for error, that is a prescription for disaster.

All of this is why I don’t think India’s problem is one of team balance; it is not about four bowlers or five. It is far more basic than that — and basic problems demand a return to basics as the solution.

Random thoughts on a lazy Monday

‘Lazy Monday’ is such a luxury, no? 🙂 Happy Dussera all — in a few hours from now, India will look to slay the Australian Ravan to keep its hopes alive… okay enough already with the festive metaphors.

We seem to have a positive genius for finding ‘solutions’ to problems that don’t address the problem. Take for instance the case of the number three in the Indian batting lineup.

‘India can’t play the short ball,’ someone said; the cry got amplified and the selectors promptly picked Rahul Dravid to “step into the breach”.

Which breach? This is the 50-over format. A bowler can send down one short ball per over, max. And that is the huge bogey forcing us to rethink our batting strategy? [A corollary problem with our publicly voiced fears is that it has given the opposition a handy fright mask to scare us with — vide Mitchell Johnson’s comments here].

While on that, memo to writers of cricket reports:  “holding one end up” is not an absolute, but a qualified, good — it works only if something constructive is happening at the other end.

It is not fashionable to question Dravid’s inclusion in the side, or at the least his batting position, after he top scored in the failed chase against Pakistan — but while watching the game, it was hard to escape the thought that his taking root at one end [literally, since he was for long stretches unable to place the single and turn the strike over] was turning the screws on Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina in succession. We picked a player to solve a non-existent problem, and in doing that appear to have created other, more crucial problems.

The tragedy is the problem was predictable [Harsha for instance said as much in a chat some three weeks earlier], hence avoidable.

Here, on the basis of what we saw in the India-Pak game, is a list of things I’d like to see today:

First, the team in batting order: Tendulkar, Gambhir, Raina, Kohli, Dhoni [any higher, and he tends to go into a shell in the name of controlling the chase], Dravid [this low down, you take away from his mind all thoughts of defense, and give him the space to return to the finisher role which is the only time he has excelled in the one day squad],  Pathan, Bajji, Amit Mishra, Ishant, Ashish. With the proviso that if we get a good start, I’d like to see Pathan floated to the number three position with the brief of producing a momentum-providing flurry of big hitting.

Pathan clearly lacks the confidence to finish games — an act that is not merely about hitting the cover off the ball. Free him of the pressure of having to calculate the later stages of a chase and let him free higher up with an uncluttered brief, and you likely will get the best out of the bloke. Plus, Pathan coming in early will force the bowling side to delay its Power Play, where with Dravid at three they will tend to take it between 10-15.

While on power plays, I’d like to see India take its batting PP somewhere between the 20th and 35th overs. A batting lineup without Yuvraj in the middle lacks the batting muscle to delay its batting PP right to the end — deploying it in the middle ensures that qualified batsmen can use those five overs to provide a boost just at that point when the game is drifting into a holding pattern; the additional plus is that it disrupts the bowling side’s option of sneaking in some non-regular overs and thus saving top bowlers for the death.

The news out of Centurion is that India is set to go into the game against Australia with five bowlers, “putting the onus” on its batting lineup. I’m a huge fan of playing five regular bowlers more often than not, but IMHO this batting lineup without Sehwag and Yuvraj is not the sort of form where it can absorb the added pressure.

Besides, Sambit Bal has a point when he says spin, not pace, will be the ideal weapon against Australia — more so as the wickets thus far have shown a tendency to aid spin more than pace/seam. Three seamers are an unaffordable luxury for this game, and in any case RP Singh in his current form is more handicap than help [his presence means India is forced to waste Ishant Sharma in the first change position where ideally he should be bowling with the new ball].

I’d like to see Ishant open with Nehra; Bajji to come in first change [with his head screwed on right], and for India to use Raina [not using Raina was among the glaring errors in India’s first game} and Yusuf in brief bursts at one end while Bajji rotates in the attacking role with Amit Mishra at the other.

One final item in my wish list for the day: during the middle overs, when spin is being used, I’d like to see the fielders within the ring come right in to where they can stop singles. Throughout their partnership, Yusuf and Malik routinely stroked pressure-free singles to point, cover, mid off, mid on, midwicket and square leg, though most or all those fielders were in the ring.

There has to be a definite point to where you place a fielder — he is there either to stop singles, or defend the boundaries. A fielder on the edge of the circle does neither — the fours come through the gaps anyway, and there are too many easy singles on offer. Block the singles with a tighter, closer ring and force the batsmen to take risks going over their heads, would be the final item on my wish list.

A win against an Australia on form and on a winning streak would be close to miraculous, more so for an India missing three of its key players. A more likely result would be India’s premature exit from the Champions’ Trophy — but what the hell, it is Dussera, time to slay demons. 🙂

For the duration of the game, will be on Twitter. See you there — and back here tomorrow.

Cricket clips

I like quiet Fridays. Production of India Abroad is a time-consuming process, and major events cricketing or otherwise tend to be a distraction — to edit copy or blog? No such problems today, with all quiet on the cricket front. Early morning browsing threw up only two commentary pieces worth your while.

In a column that revisits his earlier argument that the verdict on the Champions’ Trophy and by extension on the future of one-day internationals can be delivered only after this edition of the tournament is over, the part that caught my attention was the afterthought:

I hope though that when the men in blue take the field, attention will be focussed on their performance rather on the content of a privately circulated note which is actually far more thought provoking in the segments that are unlikely to have made it past news editors. So now our young sports reporters have to grapple with conjuring stories on whether having sex on tour is good or bad. Their canvas seems to get broader every day! Time to redo the syllabus in media schools!

What made it into print is clearly the ‘highlights’ package with the question of sex dominating for obvious reasons, but somewhere out there is the full text and judging by Harsha’s throwaway line, it promises to make interesting reading. Hopefully, some time soon.

Elsewhere, Mike Atherton has a couple of interesting points in his piece on the one day game. First, his definition of the problem:

The 50-over game, though, is suffering from more than administrative myopia; it is suffering an existential crisis that was probably inevitable in the wake of Twenty20. Sandwiched between the longest and shortest forms of the game, it neither appeases the traditionalists nor does what it was originally designed to do — to entertain and titillate — now that Twenty20 can do those things much better. Its sole purpose is financial.

And then, his solution — not more regulation, but less:

The answer, surely, is to deregulate, so that the game becomes more like it was intended to be and therefore less predictable and less formulaic. If captains could place their fielders where they wanted to, rather than where regulations dictate, there is a chance they might start to think again and a chance that one side’s tactics might differ significantly from another’s. If a captain could bowl his best bowler for more than the stipulated ten overs, there is a chance that he would and that attacking cricket played by the best players would become more a feature of a one-day match. Powerplays dictate the pace of the game to batsmen; do without them and watch batsmen take the initiative again.

In other late breaking news, Gary Kirsten says he had no idea of the sex dossier, and dumps the onus on Paddy Upton. Revised demand from Rajan Zed expected momentarily.