Sachin’s 100th

In the end it was quite appropriate. That the needlessly hyped “false statistic” of Sachin’s 100 100s came about in a match against a supposed minnow, in an inconsequential tournament, which didn’t even help India win the game. The hype surrounding this statistic had become unbearable, both for normal cricket fans and also for Sachin, perhaps. And that could be seen in his batting over the last one year, in England and in Australia. There was a distinct feeling that every time he just kept playing for his century, and not for the team cause, and the only upshot of his “100th 100” is that the monkey is finally off his back and hopefully Sachin can go back to playing normal cricket.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of other milestones round the corner. He now has 49 ODI 100s, so now people will hype up his 50th. And as someone pointed out on facebook yesterday, he has 199 international wickets! Hopefully that means he starts turning his arm over once again, with his lethal spinning leg-breaks and long hops.

The thing with Sachin is that he has always seemed to be statistically minded (irrespective of what he says in his interviews). The mind goes back to Cuttack during World Cup 1996, when he played out two maiden overs against Asif Karim while trying to get to his 100 (against Kenya). Even in recent times, including in 2007 when he got out in the 90s a large number of times, it is noticeable how he suddenly slows down the innings once he gets into the 90s. He gets nervous, starts thinking only about the score, and not about batting normally.

In that sense, it is appropriate that this meaningless statistic of a hundredth hundred came about in a game that India lost, to a supposed minnow. It was a “batting pitch”. As Raina and Dhoni showed in the latter stages of the innings, shotmaking wasn’t particularly tough. And yet, what did Sachin do? Plod at a strike rate of 75 for most of the innings, including in the crucial batting powerplay just so that he could get to his 100. I don’t fault his batting for the first 35 overs. He did what was required to set up a solid foundation, in Kohli’s company. But in the batting powerplay, instead of going for it, the only thing on his mind was the century. Quite unfortunate. And appropriate, as I’ve said a number off times earlier.

Again, I want to emphasize that I’m NOT an anti-Sachintard. I’ve quite enjoyed his batting in the past, and there is no question that he is one of the all-time great cricketers. I’m only against meaningless stat-tardness. And it was this retardation about a meaningless stat that prevented Sachin from giving his best for the last one year.

IPL

It’s day one of the second edition of IPL and I’m already loving it. As has already been said by several people several times on Twitter today, it’s quite fitting that the three best performances of the day have come from Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble. The second match was extremely strong, even from a neutral perspective, and was very refreshing after the batfest that had been the first edition of the IPL.

One major blessing in disguise of moving the tournament to South Africa is the change in conditions – which is likely to lead to better cricket – in the sense of a better contest between bat and ball. Last year’s tournament was a joke in terms of the quality of cricket. There was absolutely nothing in it for the bowlers, and then they put NED after that and made things worse for themselves. Hopefully this promising start will lead to a better effort by bowlers this time round and we’ll have more games like the second one.

I’ve always maintained that the best ODIs are defences of low to moderate scores. The ideal ODI, in my opinion, will have the team batting first making 200-225, taking early wickets and putting pressure on the second team so that it ends up as a tight game (don’t care who wins). Sadly, the pitches they have been making nowadays seem to be creating 300+ games only which is why I’ve stopped watching ODIs.

Coming to the games today, the main mistake that Chennai Super Kings made was with respect to their batting order. A lot of people maintain that they messed up their team selection, and I agree with them – I would definitely have put in Vijay and Balaji instead of Parthiv and Joginder. But even the team that they started off wiht wasn’t too bad, where they messed up was in the chase.

When you are chasing a reasonably moderate total like 166 (equivalent to 250 in ODIs), you don’t need to pinch hit. I know Sri Lanka did that when they won WC96, but I’m more of a fan of Pakistan’s method in WC92 which is to first build a base and then have hitters coming in lower down the order to capitalize. Similarly, chasing 166 with Hayden at one end, what was required was a proper batsman at the other, and Dhoni sent in Flintoff. I think the match might have been sealed there.

It is all about slotting people into the right roles. Having Badrinath and Flintoff in the same team makes sense, but the role for each needs to be well-defined. Badrinath is an excellent “holding batsman” (the same role in which Dravid and Tendulkar excelled in today – and the role that Tendulkar plays in ODIs nowadays) – someone to hold one end up and rotate the strike while batsmen at the other end go for it, but he is incapable of slogging if he comes in with a large required run rate and not much time. And CSK didn’t desperately need to slog when Raina got out – all they needed was some consolidation and for one guy to stay while Hayden accelerated.

Similarly, when you look at Rajasthan’s lineup, you will notice that there are very few “proper batsmen” in the line-up, and a large number of “hitters”. How many people in the Rajasthan XI would you count on batting for you within the first 30 overs of an ODI? I can count Smith, Asnodkar and NK Patel, and maybe Ravindra Jadeja. The rest of the “batsmen” in their lineup (Pathan, Henderson, Mascarenhas) are all essentially hitters. And when conditions are not ideal for hitting, you can come unstuck.

If things continue to go the way they did today, teams will need to re-think their strategies. The slam-bang approach of last year won’t work and they will need to move towards “proper cricket”. Have proper batsmen and proper bowlers and proper keepers rather than having bits and pieces guys, and fill-in guys. Let’s see how things pan out.

I hereby predict that if things continue to go this way, Rajasthan Royals will recall Mohammed Kaif. Also, you might have noticed Uthappa shouting out to Kumble in Kannada about what to bowl (he frequently shouted “kaal muri” which literally translates to “leg break”). And that the Bangalore team has 5 guys from Bangalore – which perhaps enables them to indulge in this kind of “cipher”.