Wednesday, November 09, 2005

20-20 - I don't think so.

Back in the 70's, when Test Cricket was the only kind played, it wouldn't have taken a genius to come up with the one-day version. With sports getting sucked into the business and entertainment age, Cricket had to catch up sooner or later.

I still love the long version, though. Test Cricket offers the perfect balance between offense and defense, and also its called such for a reason. Only the superior talents survive the drill. Its a game of skill-both finesse and power, its a test of endurance and most of all its a mind game. Only the serious fan can get the intricacies, much like Baseball except that the endurance factor is tested within the game and not built into a long season. I digress.

The big disadvantage though, is that it is not easy to market it. To survive in a sport-business, presentation is key. That's what brings in the corporate bigwigs and the fringe fans. "You don't sell the Steak, you sell the Sizzle". The evolution of ODI's was a no-brainer.

But now, the new buzz word is 20-20. I've seen a couple of these games myself, and call me "old-school", but sorry! I'm not buying this one. The way it exists today, there is absolutely no balance. Its like someone came out of the blue and created a batsman dominated gala that is force-fitted into a 3 hour schedule to suit the go-go corporate life-style of the modern day society.

That is not sport. It is a celebrity showcase. Sure, its fun to see sixes and fours rain, but who's beating who here? The game is supposed to be batsmen vs bowlers, not batsmen vs batsmen.

I partially agree 3-4 hours might be ideal for a sport, but unless such a short version variant can offer the excitement and challenge of a perfectly balanced competition, ODI is the present and future of popular Cricket.

One dimensional sports can get quite boring. You don't watch 3 hours of high jump, do ya?, or would you be enjoying a tennis match where 80% of the serves are aces? or for that matter, Texans vs Niners. All right, I think I made my point.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Cricket World Series?

If you are of the opinion that too much too soon would take the charm away, please! Save it.

Cricket is one of the few sports in the world where we have to wait 4 years before crowning a world champion. Frankly, it stinks. If you are even considering arguing that the luster would be slightly lost if it was a yearly event, take a look at American sports. Superbowl is played every year and so are the NBA, MLB and NHL championships. You can't argue that a ring is the most valuable possession of athletes, owners and fans alike and it just doesn't make sense that it takes away a little something because you get a chance every year.

At least with Soccer & Rugby, each country has leagues that are played at the highest level with the best players. Local Cricket leagues do exist. But the difference is that they are played simultaneously along with the international version, hence making it impossible for the best available players to match up against each other. And I will not blame the fans for not following the Ranji trophy and the likes with fervor because the quality of Cricket isn't the best. They are merely the farm system that feeds the big leagues.

Being an international sport, some might argue that the logistics would make it difficult to set up an elaborate yearly event that spans a dozen countries. If the International Olympic Committee can organize a Super-Mega sports festival every 4 years, ICC should be able to pull something together each year. It can't be impossible.

7 of the 8 teams (barring England) have mild Cricketing conditions in December, right? Its summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and the Subcontinent is moderate too. End of the calendar year also! It all seems to fit ;)

Individual countries can still continue their international yearly schedule, and when December rolls around, the top 8 teams will be invited to the playoffs! In fact it doesn't have to be a quick 3 and out, knock-out tournament. 3 weeks should be plenty good time to set up some round-robin games and then play the semis and finals. Don't tell me that there is too much Cricket already!

This way there is a definite goal each year. Revenue will flow through the roof, and it opens up more opportunities for the entire cricketing community to come together often. Not just that, when you say that you haven't won a championship in 20 years, it doesn't mean in just 5 tries!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pitching by committee

Is it more difficult for a hitter to adapt to a pitcher or the vice-versa? By pure statistics it can be proven that pitchers are more successful in the beginning of the game, and hitters get more acclimatized during their 2nd and 3rd AB’s. In the 2005 regular season, batters averaged 0.220 in their 1st AB, 0.275 the 2nd time around, and .290 in the 3rd. This curve is clearly indicative of the fact that the hitters have seen more pitches during the game and are more familiar with the pitcher as the game progresses. Another stat that supports this is that player’s average at least 10-20 points lower in the 7th inning or later, when typically teams employ pitching changes.

Game Plan: Say good-bye to 5 day rotation, starting pitchers, specialist middle relief and closers. 12 pitchers in the roster should all be available to pitch any day, at any time. It is pitching by committee. The idea is to have the hitter face a new pitcher every time they come to the plate, unless of course it can be justified to hold on to the current pitcher given the history of the head-to-head match up between the batter and the pitcher.

There is no robust record of the pitchers getting better as the game progresses. Even the great Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling are phenomenal with era’s under 2.00 in first 5 innings as opposed to their 4.00+ era’s after the 6th inning. Take an average pitcher, say a Jarrod Washburn. His era with batters first time up is 2.5 and it goes up to 3.5, 4.5, and 5.2 each subsequent time around in the line up.

Of course, there are pitchers like Barry Zito and Jaime Moyer who are definitely better as the game progresses. Bottom-line is that the manager must be able to make the judgment on how and when to utilize his pitchers. To help the cause and make use of the basis in this argument, make most, if not all pitchers available on any given day and run a pitching by committee.

There is a lot to debate, I understand. Maybe I'll follow it up with a different post. But chew on this for a while..