Sunday, April 24, 2011

UDRS: Success at last??

For better or for worse, after long ranging debates and mixed reactions the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS), has finally made its way into the big stage after being successfully implied in the just concluded cricket World Cup for the first time. As the matches in the tournament clearly showed, the players have used it successfully to their advantage in almost all the games, thereby achieving the technology’s inherent goal of minimizing umpiring errors as far as possible, and enabling a balanced outcome of matches through its proper use.

The revamped UDRS was first used in tests in 2009 in the Pakistan -New Zealand series in Dunedin and has been used in ODIs only once in the recent Australia-England one-day series. By its usage the UDRS allows each team a maximum of two unsuccessful referrals each, wherein if they are dissatisfied with the on-field umpire’s decision they can make an appeal for a referral. The outcome has been largely successful and players have responded positively to it. The BCCI’s response to it though has been largely negative, as the Indian team’s experience with the technology hasn’t been too fruitful, as most of their ‘referrals’ were turned down. It has to be debated though that the prime reason for it might have been the way in which the Indians used it rather than some faults in the technology. However, after the World Cup things might very well change as in many of the games the Indians got to make good use of it in their favour, especially in some crucial moments in the semi-finals and finals.

Before proceeding further, one thing has to be understood that the UDRS cannot be a foolproof system, i.e. it doesn’t have the capacity to exactly determine the outcome of any decision, especially the LBW ones. The UDRS primarily uses a ball tracking technology, the Hawk-eye, which shows the ball’s trajectory towards the stumps in a visual representation, thereby aiding in giving Leg Before decisions. However, the path that a ball takes depends on lots of related scientific and other external factors, like the bounce on the pitch, seam movement, weather conditions and the like. It is thus not possible for the Hawk-eye to gauge the ball’s movement in a certain manner, it can only predict that. But nevertheless it does manage to give a more than satisfactory representation. The other technology in the UDRS, the very famous, ‘Hot –Spot’, is comparatively much more foolproof with its infra-red transmission of a negative image to validate the umpire’s decision for any snick or bat-pad verdict. However, the viewers didn’t get to see it in this World Cup as the Melbourne based company that supplies ‘Hot Spot’ has backed out of its earlier promise of delivering it by the knockout stages of the tournament. Nevertheless, it still is a huge step ahead in making the game as free of errors as possible, especially in a major tournament like the World Cup.

Controversies have plagued matches in which some rough decisions were given by the umpires, as was seen in the 2008 Sydney Test between India-Australia , where Steve Bucknor had to finally step down after being in the line of fire for making some grave ‘errors’. While it does provide some cushion to the players, it however might become a major cause of embarrassment for the umpires, each time their decision is negated. However, for the progress of the game, it is necessary to use as many technologies as it can to reduce the lapses. One wrong decision, as it has been seen many times can change the complete outcome of the game. Thus the use of UDRS should be welcomed and the umpires too should look at it as something to work in tandem with to further improve the standard of the game.

Trouble in 'Minnow' Land.....

While the much awaited Cricket World Cup concluded with much fanfare, some bad news lurkinground the corner let the steam off for some of the teams. The ICC’s decision last month to bar its associate members from participating in the 2015 World Cup came as massive jolt to the ‘minnows’ of the cricketing world.

The reactions around the cricketing fraternity have been mixed, largely tilting in favour of the ICC’s decision. The issue of the participation of these Associate members has been the topic for debate for quite a while now. Most cricketing brains the world over have in the past questioned the logic of putting up these teams against the top ranked ones on the world stage, as it leads to largely one-sided contests, barring the odd one off upsets and the end result is further humiliation for them and dwindling crowd interests in such games. Thus, when the survival of the One-day game is itself in question the ICC could most certainly do away with games which wouldn’t hold any significance and hardly arouse any interest which is perennial at this juncture to boost the sagging fortunes of the game. It is hardly any surprise then that most, including the current players of top teams, feel that the ICC’s decision is justified. The managements of the associate teams have expectedly voiced their disappointments with the ICC’s decision. It is another matter altogether that their dismal showing, barring Ireland’s performance, in the World tournament has done nothing to side with their concerns and if anything has further aided the judgment. However, their point isn’t completely off the mark as well. If these teams were not to rub shoulders with the Goliaths of the game at the world stage how are we to expect them to develop as serious cricketing nations.

Exposure is the only way forward for them. And isn’t it a fact that teams like Sri Lanka have come out leaps and bounds from their days of being a ‘minnow’ , to being a serious contender to the coveted World title. It was made possible only by their constant exposure with the best teams since the 1975 World Cup at the international level. Even Bangladesh, once considered a minnow, has improved tremendously over the years and has thus being awarded the Test status. Zimbabwe too was once in the reckoning as a good team, but politics and corruption spelled their doom. Teams like Kenya and Ireland have caused major upsets in previous World Cups. But the fact of the matter is that these ‘upsets’ are few and far between and more often than not, the result is a foregone conclusion.

So, is this the end of the road for these minnows with high ambitions of succeeding at the international level? One way could of course be to continue their participation in the T20 World Cup, that way they get to play top teams and the necessary exposition they require. As has been seen in the previous editions, where Zimbabwe and the Netherlands beat Australia and England respectively, the format allows the teams better opportunities to compete and hence boost their confidence. As for the 50 over competition they could be included in quadrangular tournaments, where the top two of the Associates would face some other top teams. This could be made a yearly affair, where the top teams keep rotating. Also there should be a play-off for the bottom two spots for participation in the top 10 of the World Cup teams, i.e. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh shouldn’t just get to walk in; they should fight it out in qualifiers with the others like Ireland and Netherlands who might very well tip them off to get the position. It remains to be seen how the ICC manages these teams in the future, as their exposure too is perennial for theirs and cricket’s development throughout the globe.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Love Thy Neighbour……. Only if he lets you to!!!

As Misbah-ul-haq was caught by Virat Kohli to bring curtains to Pakistan’s World Cup endeavour, one could see the Pakistani captain, sitting with an almost stunned expression in the dressing room. After the post-match conference however, Afridi had rejuvenated himself and his quirky and positive remarks on Indo-Pak friendship and cricketing ties had won many an Indian heart. A day before the famous semi-final match, stories were carried out in the Indian print media declaring Afridi to be a true lion-heart and a patriot of Pakistan because of his charming and effervescent ways. Social networking sites like Facebook were agog with Indians praising him almost everywhere terming him a ‘true sportsman’ and the likes. He left India as a captain who had lost a match but won millions of hearts. However, things in life never cease to surprise you and the sudden transformation of events in not even a week has left everyone here in India shocked, baffled and if one could say cheated, which I am afraid has somehow always exactly been the case with the whole of Pakistan.

In an interview to a Pakistani news channel Afridi said Indians do not have "large and clean" hearts as Pakistanis. The Pakistan captain also criticized Indian media for its "very negative approach" and it played a "very dirty role in spoiling relations" between two nations. Quite an about turn that from his earlier stance of friendship and mutual respect. (As was expected though, Afridi the very next day said that he was misquoted out of context... Where exactly was the misquotation is hard to understand) Exactly why Mr. Shahid Afridi felt that is anybody’s guess; although one can safely bet it has a lot to do with yet another drubbing against their arch-rivals in a World Cup match.

The media here has been surprisingly sedate in its response to Afridi’s statements, almost as if it’s too scared to react. Quite similar to our Government’s nature, when dealing with Pakistan. That in itself is quite a hypocritical approach given our media’s habit of delving deep into each and every ‘controversial – type’ statements ; one would have definitely expected a more aggressive response especially given the fact that the media too has reasons to be ‘insulted’ directly if you might say that. Surely they could have gone on to scrutinize this issue with their wide array of ‘specialist’s panel’ and try and see reason in those baffling statements.Why exactly they chose not do so is hard to fathom.

For now let’s just try and dissect the moronic statements made by the Pakistani captain in little more detail. His first comment: "In my opinion, if I have to tell the truth, they (Indians) will never have hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis. I don't think they have the large and clean hearts that Allah has given us," Not for once do I remember any Indian player, leave alone the captain of the national side making these kind of comments..We all know how religious our players are too but do we ever hear things as “Jai Hanuman” or “Krishna Bhagwan sabse accha hai” or other such idiotic things. The other part of his statement which I find even more offending is the one where he says “hearts like Muslims and Pakistanis”, again showing his idiocy to the core. To say Muslims and Pakistanis as one is quite demeaning and one would really like to remind Afridi bhai once more that the amount of Muslims cheering for India in our country with the Indian tricolor etched on their faces are perhaps far more in number than the whole of Pakistan taken together. Statements like these only bring a bad taste to the already soured relations, especially when sporting personalities bring religion into cricket.

His second statement criticizes the Indian media’s “negative” attitude towards Pakistan’s team and he also holds the Indian media responsible for further spoiling the relations between the true countries.. Right... It is true that the Indian media does tend to go overboard at most times, but it also is quite responsible in its own way and moreover for the match in question Shahid Afridi had got more than favourable reports all over the print media on the eve of the match lauding him for his jovial and friendly nature. How exactly Mr. Afridi felt this ‘negative approach’ beats the normal senses. I guess he was referring to the comments he made on Sachin Tendulkar of them not letting Sachin get to his century. The media might have gone into overdrive with this comment, but the question that begs to be asked is what exactly was the need to make such a statement in the first place? Umar Gul too had gone on to say that he would target the Indian top order, its another matter though that his bowling figures at the end of the match showed quite a contrast.. Compare this with the Indian camp, no tall claims no bizarre statements, just going about their work calmly. Mr. Afridi didn’t help his cause by obviously trying to create some pressure on the Indian camp, by those rather foolish statements and the fact that it backfired perhaps made him sour enough to go on with his outlandish remarks.
It would perhaps do no good to delve into these comments any further. As far as I am concerned, following Indo-Pak cricket for some time now, these comments neither come as a surprise and neither do they hurt my sentiments, so to speak. This has always been the case with Pakistan; they make insulting statements against us, and yet have somehow managed to get away without, any long lasting damage. The IPL snub to the Pakistani players brought out the worst in them , with many of the senior ones like Abdul Razzaq going in to say it was a ”saazish” against the “aavaam” of Pakistan. Moreover, I seriously doubt that if Ajay Jadeja for example had behaved with a Pakistani bowler the way Aamir Sohail had with Venkatesh Prasad in the ‘96 Quarterfinal, he would ever have been allowed entry into Pakistan. Fact of the matter is their ex-players quite comfortably mint money in India with their media stints and “expert advice”, while any such similar behaviour from the opposite side is unheard of. This kind of ‘appreciative’ behaviour has always been the case with Pakistan, and yet it is somehow always India who seems to be creating the trouble.

If one were to look at the larger issue India seems to paying for its docile and lukewarm response to Pakistan as a nation. Its eagerness to extend the hand of friendship with a neighbour that doesn’t want to be befriended is rather frustrating. The thunderous applause that was followed after Shahid Afridi made those comments to the news channel clearly states their approval of his thoughts. And yet, goodwill gestures from our side never seem to end, like the recent one of inviting the Pakistani PM to watch the Indo-Pak semi-final clash... Yet, we are well aware of the manner in which Pakistan has carried out its endless ‘promises’ to look into terror suspects and numerous other instances where they have been well known to be hurting us in a planned manner. It really needs no debating. But one thing that is hard to accept is India’s anxiety in extending the hand of friendship. What saddens me is that our country has no dearth of intellectuals who leave no stone upturned with their “Aman Ki aasha” amd “dosti ka paigaam”. A few songs and tall words will not change the situation. The hatred that simmers in the hearts across the border cannot be doused by some bold lyrics and a few trains. Although it is true that dialogue is the way forward to end complicated issues, but you can’t talk to a person who refuses to see reason, and who keeps stabbing you on the back while making false promises. It really is time that our administration gets a little sterner, and tries and forgets the “dosti yaari” bit. After all you can’t try and love someone who wouldn’t let you love him...