From Hero to Zero

February 20, 2009

by Aaron Kumar…

When Texan Billionaire Allen Stanford, announced in 2005 that he was going to fund a Caribbean Inter Island Twenty20 tournament, there was real hope that here was a man with the enthusiasm and the finances to give cricket in the Caribbean the shot in the arm that it needed.

In addition to funding the inter island Twenty20 competition, Stanford also stated that he intended to fund and support the game at the grass roots level.

The inaugural Stanford, Twenty20 tournament in 2006, held at the Billionaires very own personal ground in Coolidge Antigua, proved to be a huge success, the tournament was won by Guyana.

In early 2008, Coolidge once again played host to the Stanford Inter Island Twenty20 competition on this occasion it was Trinidad and Tobago who emerged victorious.

Such was the impact the Stanford tournament was having on the Caribbean that the rest of the world were forced to sit up and take notice.

Stanford met with Cricket’s governing body the ICC to explore the possibility of hosting a special match with big money on the line, between his own all star team from the Caribbean and the World Twenty20 Champions, which at the tome was India.

India declined the lucrative invitation because they were not comfortable with the idea of their national side, competing against what was essentially Stanford’s franchise. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa also turned down the opportunity to become millionaires overnight and in the end Stanford found an ally in the ECB (the England and Wales Cricket Board).
The West Indies and England boards, came to an agreement that England would play the Stanford Superstars (which was basically a West Indies team but selected  from who performed the best in Stanford’s own tournament).

Much to the delight of the Caribbean it was the Superstars that won the game, which was billed as Twenty20 for Twenty, as the winning team took home 20 million USD which each player winning one million.

Many felt the whole exercise of a national team like England playing against a franchise for such a large sum of money was crass and vulgar, and Stanford himself was criticised, for his behaviour, (he was seen with the England’s players wives and girlfriends on his lap during one of the games). There could be no denying that Stanford was giving the game publicity, getting it in the front and back pages and this surely had to be for the good of the game.

No one expected what unfolded a couple of days ago, when it emerged that the Stanford group have been behind fraud of a “shocking magnitude”.
The man who was once a hero is now in hiding, his assets have been frozen, many in Antigua are in all sorts of trouble as their investments and fiancés appear to be in serious danger, as do some of the Superstars players, who it is believed were persuaded to invest in some of Stanfords companies.

Stanford’s case is a clear situation of someone going from hero to zero, but the fact of the matter is, a man who two months ago had the people of the Caribbean eating out of his hand, has now thrown the cricketing world into total and utter chaos.

Sweet revenge

February 9, 2009

by Aaron Kumar…

They say in sport the only feeling better than victory is that of revenge, well the West Indies can sure testify to this.

For much of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s the West Indies were the team to beat, it is fair to say that most teams went to the West Indies, for a holiday and to soak up the Caribbean sunshine because they sure weren’t expecting to take home any silverware.

However in the 15 years things have changed, and as the Windies legends of yesteryear retired one by one, we saw a dip in the performances in the men from the Caribbean, to the point where they have become seen more and more as an easy beat.

The West Indies had not lost to England in a Test series the Caribbean for 36 years, so when they were hammered by the English in 2004 3-0 the series got off to the worst possible start when the West Indies were bowled out for just 47 in the opening game, in Jamaica.

That dismal defeat set the tone for England as they went onto defeat the West Indies 4-0 at home before repeating the dose in 2007.

All of this meant that last week when England arrived in the Caribbean, they had a run of 16 Test Matches without taking a loss to the West Indies, this led many in the English media to start talking about the series as merely a warm up for the Ashes (England v Australia) this summer.
While the West Indies have a long way to go to get back to what they once were, they are a talented young side who have shown signs of improvement in the last 18 months so to be dismissed as they were appeared to really fire up Chris Gayle and his team.
The first Test this week was played in Jamaica just like five years ago, England made a decent 318 in their first innings, then West Indies made 392 in theirs but few could have predicted what would happen in England’s second innings, they were rolled out for just 51, the third lowest score in their history.

Gayle had said at the start of the series he hoped his team could turn the tables from 2004, well it has gone the full circle from humiliation in Jamaica 2004 to joyous scenes in Jamaica 2009. There is no doubt that England thought they were in for an easy ride, but now they will do well to avoid yet another series defeat away from home.

Instead of focusing on the Ashes England need to start focusing on the cricket they are playing right here and right now, as it stands Australia hold the Ashes and barring a miracle that will be the way it remains come September.

Always bitten never shy

January 12, 2009

by Aaron Kumar…The legendary cricketer Sir Geoff Boycott once said “to make a mistake once is fair enough but do it twice and that is stupid” well England’s stars batsman Kevin  Pietersen has certainly been making a habit of putting his foot in it.

South African born Pietersen controversially came over to England to ply his trade and made his International debut for his adopted nation in 2004, he has never been one to hold back and he appears to love a bit of a run in with the opposition,  the problem for Pietersen is that while he is a truly world class batsman he does not have the strongest players beside him, therefore his comments are rarely backed up and each time he ends up with egg on his face.

In the summer of 2007 an inexperienced but very talented West Indies team toured England, because of the West Indies youth and exuberance they were always likely to struggle in the Test Series and they duly lost the Test Series 3-0 to England.  However despite the Test Series defeat, the West Indies were expected to be competitive in the One Day Series given the fact that they had a team littered with dynamic shot makers, instead of the acknowledging the fact that the West Indies might provide a stiffer challenge in the three match One day series, Pietersen said “we are going to humiliate them”, those comments gave the West Indies exactly the kind of motivation that they needed, as the visitors rallied from 1-0 down to claim the One Day series 2-1.

Pietersen didn’t learn from these comments in the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup, after Australia lost their opening match Pietersen claimed that England were going to humiliate the World Champions and send them home, however as it turned out Australia crushed England by 10 wickets and their captain Ricky Ponting said “Pietersen had the chance of a lifetime to humiliate us but in the end he is the one who has walked off the park a bit embarrassed”.

In 2008 England won the first ODI against New Zealand prompting Pietersen to claim that England would send New Zealand home with nothing, the result? New Zealand did not lose another game and won the series 3-1.

Most recently, England were touring India and Pietersen was dismissed by part time bowler but world class batsman Yuvraj Singh, Singh put his hands over his head to signal that Pietersen is his bunny, in other words he owns the England batsman, Pietersen responded by saying “Yuvraj is not good enough to call anyone his bunny he is just a pie chucker”.

A pie chucker is an offensive way of say someone isn’t a top level bowler.

Yuvraj responded by saying “I hear that it means a useless bowler, but I have got him out five times, so getting out five times to a useless bowler, is pretty useless batting I would say”.

It is one thing falling out with the opposition but Pietersen is now at loggerheads with the English Cricket Board, he gave them an ultimatum so fire the England coach, and it has resulted in both Pietersen losing the captaincy and Peter Moores being removed as England coach.

Pietersen is England’s star batsman but is making an ultimatum  to your team to get rid of the coach really the way a man of his stature should be behaving? One thing is for sure, for England to be successful they need Pietersen to fire, only time will tell if England as a team and the public will forgive Pietersen for his behavior.

The Full Circle

December 11, 2008

by Aaron Kumar… The First Test Match between the West Indies and New Zealand, kicked off last night, it is being played in New Zealand and the men from the Caribbean will be looking for a much needed series victory at home.

One look at the West Indies, line up and you will see explosive batsmen like Chris Gayle, Ramanaresh Sarwan and the ever reliable Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
However for the last few days, the name on everybody’s lips has been that of Brendon Nash, who is making his debut for the West Indies in this First Test Match.

Nash was born and raised in Western Australia, he had a reasonable career playing State cricket, but never really looked as though he was going to make the Australian team, the closest that he in fact came was a couple of years ago, known for being an outstanding fielder Nash was called onto field for Australia as a substitute.

Looking to bolster his chances of getting into to International Cricket, and for a lifestyle change, Nash decided to move Jamaica, which is where both of his parents were from, indeed Nash’s father was an Olympic swimmer for Jamaica and reached the Semi Finals. While Nash’s mother has always remained a loyal West Indies cricket fan even when the family moved to Australia she would still be a passionate fan of the men in maroon.

Some excellent performances by Nash for Jamaica, saw him called into the West Indies ODI team this summer and he gave a very good account of himself.
Nash’s consistent good form for Jamaica has seen him called into the West Indies Test Match team, to face a New Zealand team that have struggled in 2008. There is probably no better time for Nash to make a Test debut and to really fulfil his dream, of playing and succeeding as an International Cricketer.

When he first arrived in Jamaica, Nash claimed that he felt a little awkward, because he was under the impression that some of the locals, felt that he was taking a youngsters spot but he wants to be seen as an inspiration to the youngsters of his adopted country and to help them through the system.
Time will tell just how successful a career Nash has in top flight Cricket, but one thing is for sure, things really have gone the full circle, from 31 years ago, when Nash’s parents first moved over to Australia.

It’s a batsman’s game

December 1, 2008

By Aaron Kumar…

Over the last few weeks I have been exploring ways that the powers that be can make alterations in order to make the game of cricket more enjoyable and accessible to the masses.

On this occasion however, instead of suggesting a change of any kind, I would like to applaud the new batting power play rule that the International Cricket Council (ICC) have recently introduced to the game.

The power play is generally seen as the best chances for batsmen to score quick runs, there is a 30 yard circle and during the power play only two men are allowed outside the circle making it very easy to hit the ball over the top for either four or six.

Up until 2005 these fielding restrictions were in play for the first 15 overs of the innings, in other words the first 90 balls out of 300.

However three years ago the term ‘Power Play’ was introduced, the first ten overs with the fielding restrictions are now mandatory, this is known as power play one. Power play two and three each were only five overs and could be taken whenever the fielding captain decided.

Just a couple of weeks a slight change was made to the Power play rule, so that now, the batting team can call for the third Power play. I have to say that this idea is a fantastic one, it keeps the fielding captain on his toes, and makes it very tough to know which bowler to bowl when and it makes for some compelling viewing.

Imagine a situation where a team needed 80 to win from the last 30 balls, that’s usually very  difficult but if as a batting team you had a power play up your sleeve, and then had two huge hitters out in the middle the game would be well and truly up for grabs.

I have said before that Twenty20 cricket is the only form of the game that can compete with, North American sports its faced paced, frenetic, has lots of action and is lots of fun. Test Cricket has a place for the purists but to be honest watching five days of cricket and not seeing many big hits is going to be much of a turn on for those not yet familiar with this great game.

Cricket seems to me appealing more and more to the masses and as long as it is entertaining and fun this will continue to be the case after all these guys are entertainers, so please lets have much more of the big hitting and the towering sixes, and much less of the bat for ten hours and score two runs, not mentioning any names!

Back on track

November 24, 2008

By Aaron Kumar… After a difficult few weeks in India, the Aussies bounced back in emphatic style yesterday, crushing their local rivals New Zealand, by 149 runs, to win the first Test Match in Brisbane by 149 runs.
Many pundits were writing off Australia and expressing the belief that the number one team in the world were all washed up, after their 2-0 series defeat in India earlier this month. Sure Australia have lost some legendary players due to retirement in the last 18 months, the likes of Glenn Mcgrath, Adam Gilchrist and of course Shane Warne. But in truth this Australian outfit is still littered with world class players and would still wipe the floor with practically any other team in world cricket.
I find the idea of suggesting that Australia are a failing team, in the immediate aftermath of such a series very unfair and disrespectful to India, let us not forget that Australia have been by far and away the best team in the world for the last 15 years but yet they have only beaten India in India once in the last 35 years. In addition to this India have a very good blend of youth and experience and have been posting some very impressive results in the last few months, beating England in England, drawing with South Africa, and coming so close to defeating Australia in their own back yard before doing just that two weeks ago.

English fans were quick to suggest that Australia were ripe for the taking following their recent Test defeat, of course England and Australia are massive rivals in cricket so a bit of banter is to be expected but the English genuinely seemed to believe that this was the beginning of the end of the Australia, two weeks on England have played the first four One Day internationals in a seven match series against India, and the English find themselves 4-0 down so perhaps rather than slamming the Aussies we should be praising a passionate hard working team who seem set to top the world rankings very soon.
Any sport needs a great rivalry Federer dominated men’s tennis in an unprecedented fashion for four years and while the guy is a genius the game needs the likes of Nadal and Djokovic to make the game more exciting for the fans and to give the greats a better legacy when they call it a day. The same applies to Australia, make no mistake they are still a formidable outfit they have just found a team that can match them and on a given day beat them. However until the Aussies start losing to other teams, they are still at the top of the tree along with India.
The only concern for Australia is Andrew Symonds, the dangerous all rounder, had been left out the team for disciplinary reasons, but made his comeback in the first Test against New Zealand, however the latest is that he was involved in a pub brawl following Australia’s victory, I hope that this is cleared up and that Symonds tried to walk away as he claimed, the man has too much talent and it would be tragic to see it wasted, world cricket needs him.

The easiest Million Dollars ever made

November 12, 2008 Aaron Kumar… A few weeks ago I wrote about the Twenty20 game that was set to take place in Antigua on November 1st, between England and the Stanford Superstars, which was billed as Twenty20 for 20 because the winning team would be awarded $20 Million USD (one Million USD per player) while the losing team would go home with nothing.

All the talk was about how England would be too strong for the Superstars. I never thought this would be the case. The Superstars were training in Antigua for six weeks prior to the game, six days a week 12 hours a day, hard work such as this, more often than not pays off.

While the men from the Caribbean were training hard, with their eyes on the prize, England only arrived in Antigua one week before the game as though it was some kind of beach Cricket contest, rather than the most lucrative sporting encounter of all time.

The game itself was something of a damp squib; this always appeared likely after England struggled to beat Trinidad in their warm up encounter. However the line from the English camp was that such a tough encounter would make them more dangerous ahead of the big game.

After winning the toss and electing to bat first, England were bowled out for just 99, in any form of cricket, for a whole team to fail to get 100 is disgraceful and even more so in a game of this magnitude.

While the Superstars understandably had some nervous moments initially when chasing the 100 they needed for victory, once captain Chris Gayle and Andre Fletcher got their eyes in, there was only going to be one winner as the Superstars cruised home by ten wickets with 47 balls to spare.

Four of the Superstars players including Ramanaresh Sarwan and Shivanrine Chanderpaul, did not even need to bat or bowl making this surely the easiest million dollars they will ever make!

As for England, well they were full of excuses, their captain Kevin Pieterson claiming that his team weren’t as focused on Cricket, and that the Superstars needed the money more.

Such comments do not do England any favors, whatever anyone’s financial status, nobody is going to pass up the chance to win a million dollars for three hours work or even less as it was for the Superstars.

The Superstars have shown that, hard work determination and belief pays off. For England it is back to the drawing board, although perhaps they need a new drawing board as well they were bowled out for 98 yesterday against the Mumbai Presidents 11 in India, a team made up mostly of amateur club players.

Making strides forward

November 4, 2008

By Aaron Kumar… Last week I looked at the concept of having a bowl out in cricket, and explained why I felt that while the sport has certainly been making great strides in terms of appealing to the masses, and increasing it’s popularity worldwide, nuances such as the bowl out run the risk of making a great game, into a farce.

Having established that a bowl out really isn’t the way to decide a tied game, what is the right option? Explosive Indian batsman Robin Uthappa once said that there should be no bowl outs in Cricket if it’s a tie the result should just go down in the book as a tie.

While I have nothing but respect for Uthappa as a cricketer, on his day he can take any bowling attack apart, and could well go on to become a great of the one day game, I can’t help but feel that for there to be no result at the end of a hard fought contest is letting down both players and fans. One of the main reasons people in North America don’t embrace Test cricket, which lasts five days, is that a game which lasts that long can still be a draw! With this in mind I do believe we need to find a logical solution to deciding the winner of a tied game.

The ICC have mentioned the idea of a one over a side shoot out, now surely this makes more sense than a bowl out? The idea being that the two teams which have reached the stalemate play a shortened game of six ball in each innings. This seems like a perfectly feasible idea to me, we would probably see specialist One over batsmen emerge. Just imagine Mahendra Singh Dhoni one of the world’s most destructive batsmen from India facing, Brett Lee the fastest bowler in the world, in a one over shoot out! Sure there would be an element of luck involved but that would make for compelling viewing while rewarding high skill practises.

In years gone by a tied game was resolved by quite simply declaring the team who has lost fewer wickets the winner. I am glad that this system is no longer enforced, quite simply because it rewards negative cricket. Don’t play any aggressive shots, preserve your wicket and win the game! That is exactly what we are trying to move away from and while the method is still used in some domestic competitions, it has no place as far as I am concerned in the International game.

Another way to decide a tied Twenty20 or One Day game, would perhaps be to declare the team that has hit the most sixes with victory. While this method sounds appealing because it rewards a positive and aggressive brand of cricket, I can’t help but feel that because the result would be decided by the way of a count back, rather than on the field, we would once again be short changing fans at the game and around the world.

Without doubt, the one over a side contest seems to be the best way to decide a tied contest as far I can see, but what do you think? Would this be an exciting climax or too much of a lottery? Would love to hear your views on this issue and anything else that’s cricket! Next week I will be looking at other ways in which cricket can move forward as it continues its bid to become one of the biggest sports in the world.

Bowled out

October 21, 2008

By Aaron Kumar… Last week I looked at the money that is now coming into Cricket, because of Twenty20 Cricket. The sport has hit the big time, players are becoming millionaires over night! Cricket is finally being seen as a cool sport to play and watch and not some dull game from a previous century.

One thing I am not is a purist, however after seeing some of the recent events I have to ask myself is this really Cricket?

Canada is an emerging cricket nation, and in last weeks quadrangular Twenty20 series in Toronto, the hosts did well to give, cricketing giants, Pakistan and Sri Lanka both highly competitive matches. Nevertheless the Canadian’s would have had high hopes of derailing Zimbabwe, but to Zimbabwe’s credit they managed to pick up two runs off the last ball to secure a tie with Canada.
Scores level, so surely this means that both teams get equal points and move on to the next game? Well not quite! A Twenty20 game now has to have a result! And therefore the game was decided on a bowl out!

Each team had to nominate three players to run up and bowl to a set of stumps with no batsman in the way!
I can understand how in Soccer you would have a penalty shoot out to decide a game, because the skills of both parties are being tested but a bowl out in cricket? A quality bowler is often not the man a captain will nominate because he is least likely to hit the stumps! Not only does this make bowl outs a lottery, it makes them a sheer waste of time.

In the Twenty20 World Cup last year, arch rivals India and Pakistan were involved in a tied game in the group stages of the competition. While Pakistan’s captain Shoaib Malik nominated three specialist bowlers for the bowl out two of whom are capable of bowling at speeds of over 85 mph, India’s skipper MS Dhoni nominated three slow bowlers out of which only one was a specialist.
At the time people were wandering just what Dhoni was thinking but he got his tactics spot, on as India hit the stumps three times while Pakistan missed all three.

So why did a team which nominated specialist bowlers miss, while a team which had three slow bowlers, one of whom doesn’t even bowl for his country, hit the stumps, its quite simple really, Pakistan’s pace bowlers are used to taking long long run ups creating awesome pace and making batsman scared! But here all they needed to do was hit the stumps, not rough anyone up! But from habit the Pakistani bowlers still took the run up and tried to bowl at pace but as a result they didn’t have any accuracy! India’s “bowlers” by contrast just rolled their arm over slow as possible but aimed for and hit the bulls eye.

That’s my take on bowl outs they are fun to look at and something that gets us talking for a while after. But should we really be using these to decide games?
Next week I will look at other ways we can make the game interesting without making it farcical like the bowl out! In the mean time it would be great to hear your views on the bowl out or anything else that’s cricket!

Who Wants to be a millionaire?

October 1, 2008 Aaron Kumar… Cricket set to hit the big time

Antigua, November 1st will see the biggest pay out for a one off sporting event, (in the history of world sport). The sport in question, is not Basketball, nor NFL or Soccer, but indeed Cricket. Each member of the victorious team, in the final game of the Stanford Super series, stands to make $1 million.

Texan Billionaire, Alan Stanford is the man sponsoring this unprecedented event,  Stanford has sponsored
the Caribbean official domestic Twenty20 tournament for the last two years.

Twenty20 cricket is the newest version of the game, it is also the shortest form of the game and has so far proved to be a huge hit with fans and players alike, it has also seen many people take an interest in the game who previously wouldn’t have done so.

The purists love their Test Match cricket. This is the oldest form, of the game and lasts for five days but there is no guarantee of a result at the end of it. Whenever I have been in North America and talked to people about Test Cricket, they can’t see the point in a game which lasts five days that could well be a stalemate.

In truth, if Cricket is going to compete with some of the worlds major sports and get more exposure across the globe, then Twenty20 is the way forward. Stanford has recognised this, the American has stated, that he believes Twenty20 cricket has the potential to become the biggest sport in the world.

Earlier this year Twenty20 cricket prospered in India, with the Indian Premier League, (IPL). The six week league saw some of the worlds best players signed up to different franchises in what was a spectacular event. Of the major cricketing nations, the only country not to have its stars on display was England, as the England and Wales Cricket board did not want it’s players to take part, despite several England players publicly expressing an interest in the lucrative league.

It appears that the ECB therefore agreed to the Stanford Super series as a means of making sure the England players still earn good amounts of money and to stop them from playing in the IPL.Whether this is what materialises only time will tell.

There will be five warm up games in the Stanford Super series, culminating in the Twenty million dollar match, between England and the Stanford All stars.The All Stars squad has been chosen based on  the performances of the West Indian players in the Stanford Twenty20 domestic league.

The date is set, the squad has been named but is paying 11 members of a winning team (essentially three hours work) one million dollars each, really the way to go? Of course the players aren’t going to complain, if we are honest none of us would if presented with such an opportunity.

But what happens if a player spills a catch and costs his team the big prize?  What happens if a guy scores a record breaking hundred and is still on the losing side? But perhaps the point that should be of the biggest concern, what happens if a player scores zero and doesn’t bowl, therefore making no contribution to the game at all, but their team still wins? Has that player truthfully earned One million dollars?

These are exciting times for International cricket, the above questions plus many more should be answered when England face the Stanford All Stars in Antigua. The biggest question of all however is Who really wants to be a millionaire?

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