Thursday, September 08, 2005

The life of a fringe professional cricketer and related news

If you talked cricket with me during the early days of India's 2004 tour of Australia, just before the Test matches, you would have heard/seen me argue tooth and nail for Sadagopan Ramesh's inclusion as India's opener. But by the end of the tour, I had to grudgingly agree that the man who took Ramesh's (then) rightful place at the top of the order was the calm eye to the hurricane that was Virendra Sehwag.

As an opener, I still think he did nothing wrong in Australia, though so many people seemed to criticize him. I maintain that as a classical test opener, he did what was required. If you'd look carefully at the series stats and do some minor math, you would find that, on an average per inning, he played just 6 balls lesser than his partner. And the 20 minute difference in duration in their innings can be explained by the fact that the number three batsman was Dravid who'd have probably hogged some of the strike settling in. So essentially what I am trying to say is just this - he managed to hold one end up while Sehwag went bonkers on the other end, while scoring 40 percent of what Sehwag did and staying for the most part of Sehwag's innings. And in no point of time did you hear that Sehwag got bogged down due to his partner's stonewalling (though I'm not sure we will ever hear that statement about Sehwag, ever!).

I usually back a player (or a team), through thick and thin, but in this case what has happened is that I have had to put Ramesh behind me and that has not happened often. And now when this guy is outside the limelight, I want to do something to highlight what he has been doing.

Akash Chopra is currently in England playing for a minor team in Stoke-on-Trent and has been blogging too, if you'd call his columns (hat tip to Prem Panicker) that! By all accounts these are not ghost written and present a rare insight into a cricketer's mind. As the footnote to one of his early posts reads, he writes about life in England for Indian professionals (cricketers, that is), who have for years made the trips to the Old Blighty make some much needed money, something that they'd find hard to come by when not playing in India. And coming as it does from someone on the fringes of selection, the columns make for interesting reads. I have added his column to my browser favorites and though the summer is fast coming to an end, even in England, I think I will still go back and look at the archives to read about what he has been doing these past few months.

On a slightly related note (adding to my twin posts on May 15th and May 21st of this year), it turns out that Rahul Mehra and Shantanu Sharma have filed yesterday (September 7th) with the Delhi High Court, a set of suggestions for the BCCI to implement for improving cricket in India. Originally, this was scheduled to happen on the 25th of May and though it seems to have been delayed, it is certainly welcome progress in the proceedings that were set rolling more than 5 years ago on April 20, 2000! What will now ideally happen that the Delhi High Court will formally instruct the BCCI to react to this statement and inform the court what it intends to do to act on these suggestions. I am watching this situation with interest. If you are interested, you can read the complete text of Rahul Mehra's email to Prem Panicker here.


Chakra Sampath said...

Pity that one has to approach the court for everything..

That apart, this post was an interesting read. Didn't know that Chopra is playing for Stoke on Trent.

Sudipta Chatterjee said...

Umm... I feel that there cannot be ever a team that satisfies everybody. But yes, given the pros and cons, I do think that Sehwag has been a revelation, and that maybe Ramesh was better replaced. BTW, Prem Panicker's blog is indeed a great place for cricket aficianados.

anantha said...

Chakra: Ya, but then, if not for columns like Chopra's, how would you know? In fact, it seems so sad to hear what these talented ppl go through. You hear about cricketers earning money while other sportspersons languish. Accepted that an average cricketer would earn more than what someone as stupendously talented as Kutraleeswaran would have if he had chosen to take up swimming as a career (did you know Kutraleeswaran joined Intel after a M.S here in the US, about a month ago?), but it is not as huge as it is made up to be. Its only the 11 who play for India plus a choice few like Agarkar, who make it regardless of their abilities, make the money. For the rest, even for players like Chopra, it is going to be peanuts. Luckily in places like Chennai, I think its slightly better with corporates like India Cements, The Sanmar group giving cricketers jobs in the off-season and playing them in leagues during the season. So, Chopra's columns should be an eye-opener for a lot of people.

Sudipta: I still think Ramesh got a raw deal. I would have felt different if they had given Chopra a longer run, but now Chopra is in the same bracket. Whatever man. Thats actually one of the reasons you probably don't find me talking about cricket as much as I used to earlier. Ya, that and the lack of comments for my rants ;)

Filtered Sambhar said...

it's nice that you have hit the nail on the head...

look out for my on this issue soon...

VC said...

I was wondering when you were going to write about cricket. Yov (not to be confused with Yo), don't use lack of comments as an excuse :).
Thanks for the Akash Chopra link - makes for good reading.

Now for the arguements. As much as you feel for Ramesh & Chopra, I don't think their performances were stupendous enough to persist with them. Ramesh, while he had an impressive debut series against Pak (impressive based on numbers and not technique blah blah blah), he never stood out. Agreed Chopra managed to hold off Brett Lee & Gillespie in Aus (don't know how well he would have done if McGrath had played or Australia held their catches). But he flopped big time against them in India.
FYI - I think Ganguly should also be dropped and Agarkar should not even be in an India-B 16.

anantha said...

vc: At the fag end of the day, you have made me think about one of my pet peeves - Selection policies. Let me argue Chopra's case this way. The 10 tests he played for India, coincided with a patch of relative success for India (atleast 8 out of those 10 test matches). I will let this point simmer in your mind and switch to the current Ashes series. Funny thing about this Ashes is that, if not for Simon Jones's injury, England would have fielded the same XI through the 5 test matches, which is a huge reason that a lot of people attribute to England's success lately, i.e. the consistency of selection and patience. So it is POSSIBLE that with the same kind of attitude, India might have gone the England way.
If you would look at Chopra, he averaged almost 32 (against an average first wicket partnership of 65) in his first 13 innings, then had 2 consecutive single digits and was dropped in that convoluted three way selection swapping logic which also involved Yuvraj and Ganguly. Then the team goes on a long break and when Australia comes visiting, he fails in two tests (and when the batsmen did not exactly glorify themselves) and gets dropped for ever. That's what rankles me, the absence of logic when it comes to analyzing a batsman's performance.
As for you bringing McGrath's absence into the equation, by the same yardstick do you think the rest would have played the same way? So, if your answer is going to be a yes, I don't see any reason why the same cannot apply to Chopra, since his technical poweress has never been questioned. As for the dropped catches, I remember catches being dropped off Sehwag (one instance in successive balls, if I remember right). Can't remember Chopra being dropped by the Australian fielders!
To put Chopra's career into perpective, till the end of the Multan test, he had played 7 test matches making 413 runs @ 32. And someone we know to be one of the greatest ever to play this game, had scored 332 runs @ 33 at the same point in his career, gradually developing into someone who has scored 10134 @ 57.25 as we speak! And I think Chopra has the ability to score atleast 50 percent of those 10134 runs!
So, I will still say this, India can be England or Australia if we give players a longer selection run and stop making knee jerk changes of the kind i mentioned, the one involving Yuvraj, Chopra and Ganguly, a move that was clearly stop gap just to make sure Ganguly can play.

Off-topic question for vc: dude, do you comment as "VC" sometimes in other blogs or is that a different person?

Filtered Sambhar: Thanks :)

VC said...

'Selection policies' is everyone's pet peeve.
It all boils down to one thing - do you select based on career avgs or recent form??? I don't think there is a clear cut answer to that. Hence, I cannot say for sure whether dropping Chopra is definitely right or wrong. And since this is just a series with Zim, I shall ignore all selection idiosyncracies, such as including Agarkar.
Comparing him to the other batsmen in the team (the SRTs, Dravids, Yuvrajs etc.), all the others have shown flashes of brilliance (some more consistently than the others), with the numbers to back them up. I haven't seen this from Chopra.
That is precisely why I cannot do a straight compare between 413 in 7 tests @ 32 and 332 @ 33. If Chopra had done something equivalent to getting hit on the nose by a Waqar snorter and then coming back to hit a 50 against an attack with Waqar, Akram & Imran.... or something equivalent to tonking Abdul Qadir for consecutive sixes, then I can compare. I guess I am not as much a numbers guy as you.
That said, based on the series in Aus, which I watched, I still think Chopra may be our best bet as an opening partner for Viru.

About the OT question - if you can click on 'VC' and see my profile page, then me.

anantha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
anantha said...

vc: I am not a numbers guy either and some of the conclusions that I drew up from those very numbers I quote up there, seem to be shady. True, I mean, comparing Chopra with a SRT is stupidity, but I think my point was that Chopra was a long way off from actually proving whether that he was cut out, but he was deserving! And with 30 plus average after half a dozen test matches is not all that bad, certainly not enough to be dropped after a twin failure. Actually instead of SRT, mebbe I should have remembered Attapattu (the poster boy for similar issues, actually!).
Guy makes his debut in 1990, and over a period of 3 to 4 years, gets to the crease 6 times with a highest score of, get this, 1 run! Does not play for 2 years after that and comes back in 96-97 and hangs around for half a dozen test matches in a row with a highest score of 29 (and a overall average of 10)before hitting pay dirt with a century against India. Hasn't turned back ever since. His tally of double hundreds is bettered only by Bradman (12), Lara and Hammond (7 each). I think Attapattu and Chopra are a much better comparison. Techinically sound batsmen and get this, Attapattu is known to be a shaky starter, which Chopra does not seem to be!
Really, what we did to Chopra completely turns conventional logic upside down. Since in any good Test team that you see, to balance a hard hitting batsman, there is always another in the other end whose job is to turn the strike over to the other end (the Langer/Hayden duo of sometime ago, Greenidge/Haynes etc.). And I would think that a big knock was there around the corner for Chotra to pick up, but we dropped him for all the wrong reasons and continued to keep him out after making up one, thus denying him the chance!
And my quoting numbers is is due to the fact that everyone and my father has "reasons" for dropping the likes of Chopra ("failure to convert starts"???) and Ramesh ("lack of footwork"???), but its never quantitative!
And as for your career average vs. current form, I think we gotta get a optimum mix of quality and quantity. But as the basics of DOE (design of experiments) say, the number of replications should be sufficiently high to let the system go into steady state and only then a judgement about the state of the system would be valid and I honestly think that Chopra's career did not reach the steady state and the selectors made a Type I error!

Nilu said...

It has been long since I actually followed cricket seriously. But I did follow when Chopra and Ramesh were playing.

Regarding Chopra, you have given a blind pass for his technique based on numbers. This is just unacceptable. My argument against him is this : he simply does not have the range of strokes that one expects out an opener in the Test level. The proof of this is the fact that he simply goes nowhere after scoring 40 -odd. When the ball is new and the field in really close in(even by test standards), Chopra manages to get by on his good days.

The moment the opposing captain decides he has had enough of Chopra nudging into those wide open spaces and just has a couple of places plugged - Chopra is clueless. Yeah, clueless.

And eventually his frustration gets the better of him and he gets out. This is in his 40's on his good days. As a fan, I expect a player who got a good start to have enough strokes in the book to build on starts - it makes no sense to have someone so limited to open the innings.

Chopra simply cannot play through the line of the ball -even on good wickets. That is enough reason to drop him.

Disclaimer: The above argument does not mean am looking for a Yuvraj Singh to replace him. I think Yuvraj as a Test opener is two steps back.

Filtered Sambhar said...

i am sorry anti my pc is down with some problem and that's where i have the post i was talking about, give me some more time i will resolve it,hope that article brings some light about the cricket(ers) scene in india..

anantha said...

Filtered Sambhar: Oh ok.. Will see it when u post it :)

Nilu: I am not making a decision. All I am saying is 10 matches is not enough to decide if he is good or bad. And I am all for NOT disturbing a winning combo or atleast a successful combo that India was (am talking about the whole 11). Now you will never know! And I am willing to take bets on how long Gambhir is going to open as well (would be happy if proved wrong)!
He simply does not have the range of strokes that one expects out an opener in the Test level. - Could it be that he was just doing what was asked? I mean, cut down on those strokes and get Sehwag to the batting end? You might be right, but then what i am saying is possible as well. And I remember Wright saying the same thing too about him holding one end up.

Nilu said...

Dei Anantha,
You can instruct an opener to cut down on strokes initially. Please tell who in their right mind would expect an opener to cut down on strokes when the score is 100/0?

And there is a difference between cutting down and rank absence of those strokes in the repertoire - it is easy to identify when a batsman is just not able to play through the line. Chopra falls in that class.

And yes, a batsman on good form being unable to play through the line is enough indication - does not matter how many tests he played. Especially when the wicket is true.

But I have one reason to hold on to him - he is one hell of a fwd short leg guy.

anantha said...

Nilu: What was Sehwag doing at 100/0? Doing the same thing that he does at 0/0. And by everybody's admission, Sehwag goes for his strokes come what may. So going by that yardstick, with Sehwag on the other side, why would you fault Chopra for cutting down, when the risk of an wicket falling at the other end is high all the time?

Nilu said...

Correction : Chopra is not cutting down. He is incapable.

And he does not "hold" his wicket by cutting down, the same risks exist. Just that his scoring dries up, which means it is a matter of time.

anantha said...

Kannu, there is no evidence either way. Again, I reiterate, not saying he was the best, but we never got a chance to find out and there were some signs!

Nilu said...

What signs?

When he is in good form and not able to hit through the line on a true wicket - that is it.

Filtered Sambhar said...

i was just going through this interesting post the other day and wanted definetly to write a post on this issue, but just couldn't due to some pc problems.sorry anti for the delay but hope this is an intro into the personal view of a professional!

I have much to write so don't know where or what to start with..anyways there has to be a beginning!
i am involved in the sports industry (as you can call it) since i was eleven years old. Since then i must say i have seen inuramarable number of sportsmen & women. Okey let me start up with giving a introduction about myself. My entry into the world of sports started when i secured my admissions into Santhome high school in the eight standard, so for people who know about madras cricket, this is or atleast was the best school cricket team which produced cricketers from S.Ramesh to Sridharan Sriram. I went on to get the cricketer of the year award from santhome & tnca when i played junior cricket for tamilnadu.The day i received the award i set my foot outside Madras since my dad had got transferred to the now Silicon Valley of India. i didn't have any other option other than sticking to my parents since i didn't have anu siblings & was too young to live alone, atleast that's what they thought.

the silicon valley had it's arms wide open and accepted me as their own. I went on to play junior cricket for them for five years and sometimes against tamil nadu, with friends i had started my cricket with . My first year in college, i represented the university & the south zone university and bagged the man of the finals award in the only time bangalore university won the university tournament against osmania university. till date i have played three years of university, captained it once, captained my college & bangalore city team and was also awarded the college cricketer of the year twice & sportsman of the year once.bangalore university physical education director has recommended me for a gold medal for excellence in sports & academics to the bangalore university. i was fortunate by not alone passing out from the best sports college in india but also happened to be the sports secretary conducting an international sports fest with dhanraj pillay as the chief guest. the college have students like pankaj advani, shikha tandon, rohan boppana, anup sridhar, abhishek bakshi, robin uthappa, etc...just wanted to write these not to express something about me rather to tell that i have been through this!

india is one billion up. atleast eleven million of them play cricket (shorter side) & out of which atleast one million wanting to play for india. i was one in a million, so was every indian cricketer before they made it into the eleven. everybody starts off like that, the passion drives them crazy to start up & after that once the sense of career comes the passion does exists but no longer to the extent of what it used to be when you were young. if you take the cricket geography of india it was primarily divided into five zones but now is divided into elite & plate. out of these places the hub exists in madras,bombay,calcutta & delhi in 'thriving' order.Like anti pointed out there are lot of companies which have taken up teams and are encouraging players to play for them. apart from these corporates there are the railways, ongc, ioc, banks, etc to top that to offer support.

why cricket, what's with the game, why everybody wants to play cricket & why everybody wants to play it as a career? have we addressed these questions in india, the answer is a big 'no'. we like the game, all of us do, infact we love the games the same way as the nba 'i love this game' style, just that we don't express it like that way. leaving all these apart why do we take the game as our career because you love it alone bulls***, it's because you see these cricketers who are the glam dolls of the advertising world. Nobody looks at what it took to get there but since they are there their life is so public that people like my uncle who doesn't know a crap about the game comment on how rahul had to play that delivery. so even in that money comes into the picture. the average age of any cricketer is 35 years, very few play beyond that age. since the players are so focused to take cricket as their career the educational life is just discarted half way down the lane so they cannot get jobs on their qualifications as a person to get employed by some good companies. So what they do for a living after their body doesn't take it anymore. That's where the importantance of making hay while sunshines comes into picture.depending upon their credentials they take up offers to play counties or club cricket like what chopra has done, he is just one of themany examples though. And once they are finished they get into coaching or sports related line depending on their apptitude for that again.

but let me tell you one thing. not everyone makes money. it's like a funel and the filterd lot make the most use of it. so what do the rest of them do about their living? well if there are intelligent enough they take up other professions very early and play the game for the fun of it. otherwise end up with a normal job getting caught in no mans land since their failure as a cricketer & human being will not take them anywhere..

imagine the pressure as a cricketer, it's enormous when you are carrying the weight of the whole nation on your shoulders. They are expected to perform every single time they go out on the middle. So for us if not one yuvraj there may be some one else who will replace him but for yuvraj himself it's just him and no one else because it's his career. Mera bharath mahan always plays on your mind regardless of whichever team you are playing for eg state, club, college,etc since you always want to win.

why other sports people don't get equally paid?
we all know the answer for this question..
let me derive at that this way..
the most popular sports are cricket & tennis and these professionals get paid a lot since the people watch only these sports. being persons who ourselves are involved in business at some point of time have to have this knowledge about these before questioning why don't they also get equally paid. People flock towards fame & so does advertisers. If I ask you now do anyone know who is Robinson (not robin singh)? if at all also how many people can connect him with what he is & what sport he plays? I have seen him play & he is such an awesome player. Anyways he is the Indian Basketball captain. We live in US where basketball is such a craze yet we don't know who are our players. So again all the other sports we can get the funnel example, as a matter of fact all walks of life can be connected to the funnel example. It's more to do with lot of extra terrestrial factors (refer dark side). The only way we can improve that situation is by ourselves recognising other sports & encouraging it. It's the only way out according to me since it eventually boils down to audience. Since sports is more to do with entertainment than a serious affair, so we so what we like to see.

let me now address the openers issue of ramesh & chopra. there is a huge amount of pressure when represent a country of one billion people not in terms of performance alone but also in terms of pressures related to selectors for their choices. When selecting they just have faith in someone & select him. If he comes good their gamble worked otherwise the selector is drowned, so even they are in the same position as they have such vast options. let me explain to you candidly how the selection policy goes since i myself was involved in one. first the captain is asked to give the team list if he is selected before hand. ok apart from the basics, about ten players out of fifteen select themselves by their perfromance like viru,sachin,rahul,etc, there are options of another ten out of which they have to select three. After that is over the remaining two spots are all about which board is stronger or who's (god)father is more powerfull? This is the basic policy in which any team is selected any where.So when it comes any selection there would be this push & pull, you cannot stop it.

seems like i have addressed most of the problems, just in case i am also in pursuit of writing a post on career & cricket, it will come up soon, any clarifications?

will also write my view of all the other comments soon.

Filtered Sambhar said...

i wanted to put this up here before it get's into my blog, in a hurry please leave your comments anti.
probably will clarify lot other things in the future post's..

excuse me this time since i have to leave..

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