Friday, 7 September 2012

The case for a First-class IPL

There are many things to dislike about the IPL: the rampant commercialism, the corruption, the excess, not to mention Danny Morrison. There is however one good idea underlying it. That’s the way that it brings together all the best players in the world, scatters them throughout ten teams, and pits them against each other, regardless of national or regional allegiance.

If you take out the ‘Indian’ part of the name; making it a truly international tournament, remove any player restrictions bar a salary cap, and change the formant, you could have something special. Imagine a global first class tournament, mixing players from every cricket nation. You could have venues across all ten of the Test playing nations, all the great grounds in the world, from Eden Gardens to Lords.

This has been mooted before, by the American Marxist cricket write Mike Marqusee, in an essay named “Nations for Sale.” It’s a prescient piece of writing, almost predicting the IPL. My idea is basically copied from his idea, as he writes:
If I had my way, I’d ban nations from sporting competitions. I’d like to see cricket’s big matches contested by city based clubs, as in football (Bombay v Manchester, Bangalore v Melbourne, Lahore v Cape Town). And, as in football, I’d like to see these city based clubs incorporating players from all over the world. Critics of big time Premier league football will throw their hands up in horror, but remember that it is the unbridled power of commerce that has poisoned the Premier League, not the admixture of nationalities. In cricket, as we have seen, that power inflates the importance of national success or failure. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could undercut it by choosing other types of identities?
These identities can still become poisonous, as club football shows, but I’d argue that it wouldn’t change the essentially generous nature of cricket support. True, you do have fierce rivalries (India v Pakistan, England v Australia, Yorkshire v Lancashire) which can spill over into something poisonous. That doesn’t mean, however, that the support isn’t generally good natured. In what other sport do you generally applaud good play from both teams?

The main difference between Marqusee’s idea and mine is the fact that he envisions this replacing the international sporting arena as it is now, whereas I see it as adding to the cricket world as it is now. Practical issues stand in the way of this happening though; there just isn’t the time for the competition unless you spread it over enough time to stop dead the acceleration of interest. Nobody’s going to follow a competition that takes place in small and sporadic intervals, possibly unless you make it a straight knockout format.

That’s part of the compromise option, which may be the only viable one. For this, the example is the Champions League T20. How about a Club World Championship, based on a knockout format, between the winners of all the first class leagues (or for format convenience’s sake, the top eight Test nation’s leagues). Just think, this year you could have a quarter final draw featuring Rajasthan v Lancashire, Queensland v Northern Districts, Pakistan International Airlines v Titans, Colts Cricket Club v Jamaica. I don’t know about you, but the prospect of that has got me salivating. Put a month window in the schedule and let’s get it on.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Why don’t England have part time spin options?

Today’s ODI against South Africa showcased where they and most other international teams have an advantage over England: part time spin bowlers. The combination of the part time spin of Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy and Dean Elgar picked up 2-39 off 10 overs. That’s a full bowler’s worth of overs at a decent run rate, and two wickets, from three players who were not in any way picked for their bowling.

Most other ODI and T20 teams in the world have this sort of thing. Pakistan are the masters of this, in their T20 team against Australia today, in addition to two specialist spinners they had the part time spinner turned front liner Mohammed Hafeez, and the serviceable off-spin of Shoaib Malik. Australia only picked one frontline spinner in Xavier Doherty, but behind that had Cameron White bowling leggies, off spin from David Hussey and Glenn Maxwell

There also a surprising amount of aggresive openers who bowl off-spin for some reason, the aforementioned Hafeez, Gayle, Dilshan, Sehwag. England don’t have one of those, although if Joe Root gets the vacant openers spot in Tests he bowls some useful off-spin.

At the moment England have Tredwell bowling frontline spin in their ODI team in place of the rested Swann and Patel as something between part time and front line. That’s it though, and there is the problem England might come across in the World T20 in Sri Lanka. Other teams may go in with one or two frontline spinners, but back that up with a bevy of batting all-rounders bowling spin, and part time spinners. England’s squad contains three players who bowl any kind of spin - two specialists and an all-rounder - Graeme Swann, Samit Patel, and Danny Briggs, not a part time spinner in sight.

If Kevin Pietersen had been involved he would have taken that number to four, but compared to every other team’s part timers, he is more of a bowler of flighty filth, rather than of accurate strangulation. Compare that to Pakistan’s squad, which have five frontline or regular part-time bowlers, plus two very occasional leg-spinners. Those five, who are all likely to bowl if they play, and will all be useful. Even New Zealand have five possible spin options, making England look pretty light on the spin front.

That could be a factor which loses the tournament for England. It seems unlikely that the England seamers will have a huge amount of success; Bresnan and Broad are out of form and the pitches are unlikely to be to Steven Finn’s liking. It’s unfortunate that England lack these part time spinners, but it’s hardly surprising, skiddy medium pace of the sort practiced by the likes of Ravi Bopara is more usefully in English conditions. Will this hole in the English attack prevent them winning in Sri Lanka? Very possibly.