Mar 20, 2011

Paper Tigers

So, fellow and I have been watching all World Cup matches. Coupla days back, we witnessed a thrilling contest between Windies and England. Fellow wanted the Poms to lose - his reasons being a combination of a general anti-colonial hangover and a cricket-specific provocation. I wanted Englad to win for 3 reasons: I generally like everything British, thought England had done more to liven up the first phase of the WC than all other teams combined, and I did NOT want Bangladesh to go through. The last reason was the strongest. In this post, I shall explain why (and perhaps vent a bit :P)

4 years back, an Indian team boasting a reasonably good lineup on paper, but led(?) by a constipated-looking Dravid and managed(?) by Greg Chappell, had been knocked out of the first round of the CWC, mainly because they lost to Bangladesh. It was an unusually bad day for India, and an unusually good one for Bangladesh.

Now, I wouldn't mind the Bangladesh fans reveling in this result and making the odd 'we-got-one-up-on-ya' comment against the Indians, as long as they remained somewhat graceful (cant expect much more from 'em) in doing so. But they went way, way over the top. 'Bangladesh have arrived', they declared. 'We have more talent than India'. 'India is a team of paper tigers, on the wane'. 'This was a peak into the future and India should get used to this'. And so on...

It was more than annoying. I mean - if the Aussies said things like that after thrashing India 6-1 or similar in an ODI series, you had no choice but to swallow it like a bitter pill because - well - they were right! But Bangladesh?! They just had the one good day. And the record was set straight a month later when a second-string Indian team went to Bangladesh and won the ODI series 2-0 and the Tests 1-0. In fact, in 22 ODI encounters between the two sides, BD have won only twice! Yet, at every juncture, BD fans kept referring to the 2007 CWC match as proof that BD was somehow better than India. When Tamim Iqbal went unbid at the IPL 4 auction - BD fans were outraged. Again, they wanted to remind all Indians of his knock in the CWC 2007. All this just shows how little they understand cricket. Winning once in every 11 attempts does not translate into superiority. And in the IPL, only 4 foreign players can be part of the playing 11 in any match. In the past, teams had wasted loads of money on players like KP and Afridi and Mendis. Not that they're bad players, but having 10 foreigners in the squad - like most teams did - when only 4 get to play any one match, is lousy investment strategy. This time around, there were ~400 foreign players available in the auction, for 100 'spots' in squads, and probably 50-60 'playing XI' spots. People like Brian Lara and Mathew Hayden didn't make the cut. Anyone with half a brain would've realized that Tamim never was going to make the cut. Again, this is not so much a comment on his talent, but the reality of the market.

On the eve of this World Cup, BD fans were convinced their team was going to beat India in the inaugural match. They wanted Windies, Eng, SA to 'beware the tigers'. They were sure of making the QFs, and were discussing possible team selections and strategies to go further. Some even harbored dreams of winning the World Cup. I do not deny that their team is a talented bunch - but they are many, many years away from translating the talent into consistent results and being counted as one of the top teams. So, all their 'tiger talk' today just sounds ludicrous and pisses me off. If the world cup has proven something, it is that BD ARE the real 'paper tigers'.

Now, I've also heard the refrain that Indian fans also talk up their players and chances all the time. Yes, we do. But in India's case, the talk is backed by performance. Sehwag and Tamim might both be players in a similar mould - and both might fail regularly - but Sehwag been around for a decade and in this time he has amassed close to 8,000 ODI runs, and has won matches regularly against quality opposition. Tamim hasn't had the same success. Indian fans also wanted India to win all the time in the 80's and 90's, but didn't really expect it to happen on foreign soil or against top teams regularly. When it did happen - we treated it like it was - a very pleasant surprise. Now, we expect them to win all the time and in all conditions - because this team has proven that it can. The rankings show it. Recent series results show it. And individual records also back it up. We've earned the right.

In the case of Bangladesh, however, expectations and attitude are badly out of sync with performance. Their fans expected to make it into the later stages of the World cup, and maybe even win it. Really? On what basis? They say they've had nearly 50% win ratio in recent years. But lets look at the quality of these results. They won a series in Windies when the top 30 WI players were on strike against their board. So, they were really playing a third-choice WI team. Is beating them a big achievement? I don't think so. And honestly, outside of Bangladesh, nobody does. They beat Zimbabwe in another series. Umm - ok. What's the big deal again? They blanked out New Zealand in a home series. Nice. But Lanka and India ALSO blanked out NZ in series just before and just after that. NZ is no great side, and obviously struggled in the sub-continent. Did Bangladesh win many matches against top sides like India, SA, Aus, Lanka?... No, not at all. In fact, they'd even lost to Ireland a couple of times between the World Cups.

Yet, the Bangladeshis talked like they belonged in the big boys club. It was annoying. They hand't earned the right. Still I thought they deserved a chance to prove themselves and decided to reserve judgment until after the World Cup. Now I can pass it. They suck. And their fans should just shut the hell up till that changes.

Yesterday, Athar Ali Khan sounded frustrated when commentating on the BD-SA match. 'We beat Ire and Ned, and also Eng. We have three wins - that should've been enough to secure a QF berth'. Sorry, it isn't. Let's examine the results. They conceded 370-odd and lost by 80+ runs to India. They got crushed for less than 100 runs by both SA and WI. Of there three wins, only the one against Netherlands was convincing. Ireland had bowled them out for ~200 and would have won from that situation more than half the times. England had them at some 160-8 chasing 220, and really should've won that game, too. To Bangladesh's credit - they ended up winning those games and their opponents didn't. That reflects in the fact that they finished with a flattering 6 points, and had a chance of qualifying for the Q/Fs. But did they deserve any more? Definitely not. England had two credible results - the 338-run tie against India and a win against SA. Windies clinically beat the 3 minnows (yes, I'm counting BD in here) and competed well against Eng. Both these teams deserved to qualify ahead of BD.

Here's some more stats. At the end of the league stage, BD have a Net Run Rate of -1.3. Of all 14 teams, only Canada, Kenya, and Netherlands have worse NRR. If Eng had lost to WI, BD would've qualified - and would've been the ONLY team in the Q/Fs that had NOT beaten any of the other teams in the Q/F in the league phase. And all this despite playing all their matches at home, in tailor-made conditions, with frenetic crowd support, and only one other sub-continent team in their group.

Now that BD is out of the CWC, their fans have been almost-eerily silent in the digital universe. I hope this means what it seems to - they've had a reality check. Hopefully, going forward, their attitude and expectations will align itself with their teams performance. Sure, they have some exciting young talents in their ranks - and both the players and the fans seem more passionate about the game than anyone else - India included. But they still have a lot to learn - they need to keep their feet on the ground and earn their stripes - before they started shooting off their mouths again. Prove yourselves our equals on the field over a considerable period of time. Then, we will talk as equals.

No comments:

Post a Comment