Mumbai Got It Wrong


The 3rd edition of the IPL ended yesterday with the Chennai Super Kings being crowned champions. It was a fitting result for the Super Kings, who have been the most consistent team in the 3 editions, reaching the semi finals on each occasion,  the only team to do so. They also lost the first final by one run to the Rajasthan Royals. With the end of the 3rd edition signally the end of the teams first window together, there will be a fresh auction where the teams will be reshuffled and joined by two new teams, Chennai were rewarded for their results in the first three years. How different it could have been had Munbai got their tactics right.

The Mumbai Indians were the most expensive team at the beginning of the IPL. Bringing in the likes of Tendulkar, Harbajhan Singh, Shaun Pollock, JP Duminy and Dwayne Bravo. The first two editions saw them flatter to deceive and fail to reach the semi’s both times. This year things were different. The balance of the team was perhaps the best of the 8 teams. In Pollard, their expensive new acquisition, they had a powerful all-rounder who could finish games off for them. They sailed through the group stages, easily topping the log, and lead by the magnificent, and ageless, Tendulkar, and the simply brilliant Malinga.  There blend of local and overseas players gave them depth in all area’s, and little weakness. But when it really mattered they came unstuck.

Firstly they had Chennai on the ropes, and then fluffed it, dropping Raina twice on his way to a match winning 50. They allowed Chennai to post a decent score on a wicket that was always going to be harder chasing on. Their biggest mistakes came with their batting line up. When they were chasing 14-16 an over, with 6 overs to go, they should have sent Pollard in. Instead they waited until the 17th over, where his big hitting cameo showed what could have been, and not what was too late. Duminy, who is well capable of clearing the ropes, his brilliant 99* in the Champions League was evident of that, is not a hitter from ball one. He needs an over to play himself in, and coming in when he did he wasnt afforded that. His success in this format has been built around opening the batting, or coming in higher than what he has been doing lately. Last season he was Mumbai’s top run scorer, and that was from the to of the order. Why he wasn’t opening with Tendulkar, or at least coming in at 3 or 4, is something that Mumbai should look at.

The real crime was waiting till the match was all but lost to send Pollard in. It was simply asking too much to expect him to single-handedly win them the match with so few balls left. valiantly he attempted to do just that, but in vain, with a brilliant piece of captaincy by Dhoni, and an excellent 19th over by Morkel, winning the game for Chennai.

So was we move to the next phase of the IPL, with the auction and the reshaping of the teams, it will be interesting to see what happens. The teams have all had 3 years to work things out, and to see which players excel and which don’t. We’ll have to sit back and let it all unfold, but it should be the most interesting window in the IPL to date. For Chennai, they will know that there 3 years have culminated in a win, while Mumbai will now start again, knowing what it takes, and hoping not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

pic from cricinfo


At Last Spurs Rise


Each year I predict that Spurs would be the team to crack the top four, and while many have opined that Arsenal would be the team to lose out at the expense of their North London rivals, I always felt it would be Liverpool losing out. Now finally that looks to be on the cards.

Last season Liverpool pushed United to the title. Much was expected of them this season. Many, admittedly within the camp and their fan base, felt this would be there year. That proved to be far from the truth. What we have seen this season is that Liverpools title challenge last season was a once off surprise and not the dawning of a new period of success. They are a team with not enough quality and over reliant on the little that they do have. While many would suggest that Rafa is a genius, this stems solely from the Champions League success of his first season. A success born from an inherited squad. It’s what has happened since that has been the problem. They have stagnated as a top four club and this seasons decline has been a long time coming. It’s fine to turn up for a couple of big games a season but it’s the 30 odd other games that win you titles.

By contrast Spurs have been on the verge of breaking into the top 4 for years. That they haven’t has been mostly down to their form against the big teams where they have flattered to deceive time and again. Not so now. This last week they have beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea and travel to United on Saturday to try to make it 3 in a row. It’s a remarkable record at the business end of the season. While they have steadily build their squad they have had to compete with the shift in power that has seen Manchester City splash the cash to compete for 4th place. In the penultimate weekend these two will battle it out for what should be a winner takes all 4th place play off.

The number of English, and British players, in the Spurs squad must be a factor in their rise. King, Dawson, Jenas, Defoe, Crouch and Bale, supplemented by some foreign flair and experience is a better recipe than Rafa’s bit part foreign mercenaries.It’s meant that there is less time needed for players to adapt and get to grips with both the team and the league. The relatively smaller squad to that of United and Chelsea has meant that they’ve had to persist with the likes of Gomez in goal, who had a nightmare start to his career at Spurs, and Roman Pav has had to remain with them, and is now coming good.

With the right investment, and there is little room for error, they can sustain their push next season. They’ll have to find a blueprint that would take them to the next level and not follow Liverpool path. Next seasons race for 4th, with Spurs, City, Liverpool, Villa and Everton all comepeting promises to be one of the most intense yet.

The Case of Berbatov


Ask  any top footballer and chances are you’ll be told that Dimitar Berbatov is a great footballer. Ask any Spurs fan and they’ll probably tell you he’s a prat (anyone who leaves usually is) but they’ll say he was a world class forward. Ask a United fan and you’ll get differing views. So what do we make of the enigmatic Bulgarian?

As much as United have failed to see the best of him, or anywhere near the best of him, there is little doubt that he is a great forward. But why have United not seen this? In Germany he was impressive. At Spurs he was magical. At United he’s been a 30m flop. And is that the reason? £31m is closer to the exact figure and it made him United’s most expensive player. That comes with a lot of expectation. Expectation is just that – it is not always delivered. At Spurs he formed a dangerous partnership with Robbie Keane. They both left Spurs and have not been as dangerous since. Was the partnership one made in heaven? The stats sure make it look so. They formed the perfect foil, Berbatov the energy conserving, wonderful touch player, with keane the energetic, unorthodox forward. They both like to come deep, but in different ways. keane hurries back, rushing at the defence to regain possession. Berbatov waits in open space and looks to unlock defenses. They both scored goals too.

At United Berbatov arrived when Tevez and Rooney were the front two. Clearly from where the season went Berbatov was bought to play with Rooney and Tevez was moved on. Many United fans use this as the reason for Berbatov’s unpopularity. They would rather have Tevez. Yet Fergie wanted and got Berbatov to play with Rooney.

After a season of bedding in much was expected of Berbatov this year. It hasn’t happened. It’s even got to a stage that United prefer to play with just Rooney upfront and Berbatov sits on the bench. In truth he is not a player in decline, but one who isn’t suited to United. United players are full of energy and work rate. Berbatov isn’t. They style and system is not suited to him and it’s Rooney that is the focal point of play, as it should be. Berbatov was an idea that looked good but just hasn’t worked. What this has meant is that he hasn’t had the game time to be effective or to adapt and fit in with the United way. He starts, sits on the bench for a few weeks, then plays again. He needs to be playing week in and week out, and maybe if he had been United would be seeing a different Berbatov, the Spurs version. But with things so tight at the top, in terms of domestic and Europe, United don’t have the luxury of sticking with a learning player.

So Berbatov may be shipped off, at a loss, next season. Don’t be surprised if wherever he finds himself next season we see goals and energy from the forward. Maybe he’ll still be at United. Maybe he’ll be able to play in their system. Maybe he’ll be a success. Maybe.

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No Uthappa?


, Tendulkar and Raina have probably been the best batsman in the 3rd IPL, with the former two battling it out for the leading run scorers cap, the orange cap. Raina has not been as prolific but oozes class whenever he comes out to bat, and unlike Kallis and Tendulkar, he does not open, something that may have cost him a few runs, and something the Super Kings should really consider. Especially with an aging Hayden misfiring. While they may be the leading run scorers, the most destructive batsman has been Robin Uthappa, Kallis Bangalore Royal Challengers team mate. Yet Uthappa can’t make it into the Indian T20 World Cup squad.

Uthappa has hit the most 6’s, easing past the big hitting, if inconsistent Yusuf Pathan, but more than his ability to clear the boundary, almost at will, has been the consistency at which he is able to find the big shots game in and game out. Hitting ability, and the ability to close of innings and matches this well hasn’t really been seen since Lance Klusner used to do it at his prime for South Africa. Bangalore owe much of their success this season to the batting of Kallis, along with cameo’s from Pieterson, Dravid and Kholi, together with a well balance bowling attack, but the real clincher has been Uthappa. He’s given both chases and setting of totals an impetus that has taken the team to the next level. The ease and distance he’s been able to hit top bowlers and struggling ones alike has been remarkable. Yet he can’t get into the Indian team.

It seems Indian cricket may be suffering from a celebrity culture that takes places away from deserving players. It’s what happens on the field that counts. Tendulkar isn’t in the T20 team, which means that there’s one less batsman for Uthappa to get past. Of those chosen, Dhoni is captain and must play, Sehwag and Gambhir have not fired yet this year but you’d imagine they will start as the openers, Raina would come in next. But are the rest more worthy than Uthappa? Karthik is the reserve keeper and a good batsman, but better than Uthappa, who’s been keeping for the Challengers? Sharma has obvious ability and talent but like Karthik has been out batted by Uthappa. Yusuf Pathan and Jadeja are there as spinning all rounders so Uthappa wouldn’t be up against them. But Yuvraj Singh? He has shown an alarming lack of form and even more horrific lake of motivation this season. He has put the lack of form down to returning from injury, which would perhaps be believable if he hasn’t looked like a sulky teenager having been grounded. He lost the captaincy this year and has looked like he wants out ever since. And he’s been picked ahead of Uthappa? Clearly the celebrity of Yuvraj has been picked ahead of Uthappa.

So what has Uthappa to do to get past the bigger ego’s and reputations in the Indian team? If he’s not going to be picked on this form it’s hard to see him ever being picked. At 24 he still has many years ahead of him. Enough time to move to South Africa and qualify for the Protea’s. We’d have him, even if India won’t.

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Kallis Justified


A few years ago Norman Arendse was in charge of South African cricket. His time in charge was more controversial than successful. Amongst the happenings under hiswatch was the retirement of Charl Langeveld, who refused to be used as a political pawn by Arendse, who has withdrawn Andre Nel from a touring team and replaced him with Langeveld, because he wanted less white players and more players of colour. Heroically Langeveld did not allow this to happen. There was also the occasion, a post match presentation to Shaun Pollock, who had played his final game for the Protea’s and had received a reception fit for the legend of the game that he is, and Arsendse decided to interrupt this goodbye to one of the countries favorite sons, to wish his daughter a happy birthday on live TV. I hope she was as embarrassed as the rest of us.

Perhaps the biggest mess up of his thankfully short stint, yet still too long, in charge of the countries cricket team, was his veto of Jacques Kallis from the first T20 World Cup squad. South Africa, still searching for their first ICC World Cup triumph, were hosting the tournament, and Arendse decided that the best cricketer the country had ever produced was not good enough to play T20 cricket. South Africa
bowed out before the semi finals with just one defeat – how Kallis experience was needed.

In the years that followed, taking us to this point, IPL 2010, Kallis has shown himself to be one of the best T20 players in the world. Currently jostling with the great Tendulkar for the Orange Cap, that worn by the leading run scorer in the IPL,
Kallis has been instrumental in the fortunes of the Bangalore Royal Challengers.  He has played the part of the batsman other look to play around, opening the batting and looking to bat for as long as possible, but has shown enough aggression and wonderful timing to keep the runs ticking over at a very healthy rate. He can field and bowl too.

Many thought in the infancy of T20 cricket that it wasn’t made for Test masters like Kallis. They forgot, or failed to understand that the likes of Kallis and Tendulkar are legends for a reason. They are able to not only adapt to any form of the game,
but to master it. That’s why they are the best. Maybe Arendse is watching, and this time he feels embarrassed. I doubt it though.
But Kallis won’t give him a second thought. He’ll just carry on doing what he was born to do – play cricket brilliantly.

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