Archive for December 2011

Day two

December 27, 2011

It’s going almost as per script for India. Again, Hilfenhaus and Pattinson formed a handy partnership and Dhoni was so dumb he brought Ashwin into the attack at least five overs too late. After what I‘d written yesterday, I feel I jinxed Zaheer’s success with the new ball. It was an excellent spell. What it consisted was a cleverly mixed bag of insingers and outswingers. If he can do this so confidently to Haddin and Siddle, there is nothing much he needs to change to the top order batsmen. Somehow, a couple of bad balls and he starts bowling wide outside the wicket to the specialist batsmen. Almost everything was on the money today, and yet, Australia managed 56 runs this morning.

Siddle and Pattinson have faced 99 and 54 balls respectively.  I’ll have a close eye on the number of balls Dhoni faces. In Melbourne and Sydney put together.

When Hilfenhaus came in, it was quite clear he was going to play the big shots. Any decent cricket captain would have brought Ashwin immediately into the attack. And when he was finally given the ball, he did the job quickly. He tossed the ball wide outside off stump to Hilfenhaus, with protection at long on and deep mid wicket. To Lyon, he did something Harbhajan certainly wouldn’t have done. As far as I remember, Harbhajan was only looking for LBWs with the tail, of his quick sliders. After having been swept, Ashwin tossed up a carom ball on a full length, inducing the sweep again but beating Lyon around his pads. That was fine thinking.

Gambhir, understandably, was cautious with the inswingers. He perished to a ball that went away after pitching, and he was found playing away from his body. Hilfenhaus bowled well all through the day. He got great shape with the new ball. To those who think he was one dimensional again, I don’t think there is any better fast bowler apart from Ryan Harris who could have been more successful in Hilfy’s spot. He was regularly beating the bat. Only Tendulkar had the measure of him. Watching a classic outswing bowler with a strong action being outclassed by Tendulkar is one of the best sights you get to see in the game.

More good fortune came India’s way today as Sehwag survived one chance and certainly two half chances. Dravid is still batting because he was castled off a no ball from Siddle. Tendulkar had one loose upper cut and an outside edge go through a perfectly catchable height in the vacant areas of the cordon. But if you’ve decided to bat with such positive intent (and rightly so), it is very difficult to score 70 odd runs with just two such chances to the opposition. That’s how good a batsman Tendulkar still is. He scored at a run a ball almost throughout his knock and one should note the class between Sehwag and Tendulkar, against this attack on a Melbourne pitch which did offer movement after pitching. Dravid started well but he was glued to his crease almost all innings. He’ll be a key tomorrow but he’s highly susceptible to these Siddle and Pattinson in cutters if he’s going to be glued to the crease and offer space between bat and pad.

I cannot think of any other bowler in the world, apart from Steyn, who will steam in and deliver balls on the perfect length and cause trouble to Dravid and Tendulkar after they’ve posted 100 runs together. Incredible stuff from Siddle and Pattinson towards close of play.

Lyon is a quality spinner but unfortunately, at this moment in his career, he has four tests lined up against India! As usual, he did bowl well but Sehwag, Dravid and Tendulkar were too good for him.

Tendulkar’s innings was breathtaking.

The bowling and half of the batting unit have clicked in the first innings of the first test touring Australia. Over to Dravid and Laxman.

From an Aussie perspective, it will be disappointing if India score anything above 400 from here.

 

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Day One at the MCG…

December 26, 2011

I said Marsh and Hussey are the most likely to score runs in this series and both have started with ducks! Marsh with a loose shot and Hussey to an excellent ball which actually didn’t get his edge. I am glad I got a couple of other predictions spot on; the poor bowling to the tail and the pathetic fields set by the Indian captain.

India found a lot of good fortune today. Zaheer was nearly impotent with the new ball. Ishant didn’t find his rhythm early on and Umesh Yadav took some time to settle down. A bowling unit cannot afford too much time to get on the money, against Australia and especially in Melbourne on Boxing day. Better batsmen would have have played chanceless knocks and the bowling team would have soon been hurt psychologically.

Warner’s dismissal down the leg side was a Christmas present. And so was the loose shot from Shaun Marsh. A player of his caliber should have capitalized on such a fine batting pitch. Umesh did find some rhythm after lunch and that’s when he started hitting better lengths. Ponting started poorly. His body language is far from great. The only thing holding him is the grit. Ian Chappell pointed out that he has to be prepared to play a lower game (uglier game) and credit to Ponting he’s ready to do that. It’s come to a stage where it’s become a serious mental thing for Ponting, coupled with his errors in balance.  His 62 was mainly because of some poor bowling and he’s still in a deep hole. The ball that got him though, was a ripper.

Ishant bowled an excellent spell after lunch and was more consistent in his line and length than Umesh. I’ve heard Ed Cowan say Ishant was the pick of the bowlers today and I won’t disagree, in spite of all the wickets Yadav has taken. His last spell to Haddin and Siddle was the least threatening, consisting of balls wide outside off stump. But none of the other bowlers could do well to the tail. If there are two things I could tell Fletcher today, they would be bowling strategies to the tail, and field settings. Field settings by MS Dhoni in Sachin Tendulkar’s 184th game, Dravid’s 160th and Laxman’s 131st. Have to feel for these men, when free runs are given away to Peter Siddle, leave alone top order batsmen. And for new batsmen at the crease?  MS Dhoni is such a mice man he’ll allow you as many singles as you want. I thought the number of singles that were given away today was ridiculous.

Micheal Clarke’s was another lucky break for the Indians. Zaheer was running in well, for that spell alone but it was never a wicket taking ball. He did trouble the batsmen with movement with the old ball but Zaheer is overrated because he simply does not have the pace, nor the consistency with the new ball that will fetch him wickets. But for the one good spell with the old ball, he was just any other ordinary bowler. People like Andrew Flintoff and Micheal Vaughan still rate Zaheer high and reckon he’s the one who’ll make the difference for India. Zaheer himself will know what his current capabilities are. He might pick three or four wickets, again with the old ball in Sydney and Adelaide, but he’s perhaps the only one in this eleven to be playing more on reputation than ability.

On Ashwin, I sense he was nervous today. That was the reason for his mixed bag. His length wasn’t consistent and he himself was visibly disappointed. Over time, he did become much more secure with his length but he should fight more for better attacking fields. He is concerned about the men around the bat, but what about long on and long off?  The nervousness was the reason, I believe , for the excessive variations he used today. Far too many balls were rushed in, landed short and were easy pickings for the batsmen. A few wickets, a couple of assuring spells, and he’ll be landing his stock off spinner more regularly again.

Almost forgot to mention Ed Cowan…   He’s more like the opener Australia are in need of. A bit in the Katich mould. He left the balls that deserved to be left, and did the opener’s job exactly how it needs to be done. Hopefully, he shuts the door on Hughes. (I wouldn’t mind Katich coming back at all)

The partnership between Haddin and Siddle isn’t hurting India yet, as three wickets fell for nearly nothing. But it will turn heartbreaking for if Australia can make anything more than 320 tomorrow. Again, a bit of Trent Bridge, as I suspected last evening!

I’d say advantage India, because if getting a team out for around 300 is not good enough, it is the batsmen who will be the major culprits. This track is excellent for batting. And it isn’t swinging as much as it did in Brisbane and Hobart. Of course, no excuses for letting Haddin and Siddle get a 60 odd partnership today.

There were 89 overs bowled in the day, in spite of the long interruption due to rain. Not one came from Kohli, Sehwag or Tendulkar. That’s impressive.

Boxing Day Eve

December 25, 2011

The elevens are fixed. People have called Australia troubled and unsettled, but they’ve named their eleven a day earlier than they’d normally do. India have made it quite clear that Zaheer, Ishant and Umesh will start. Given there are four left handers in Australia’s top six, it’s a no brainer between Ashwin and Ojha. Add to that, a century in the last test he played. The only spot I still have a little doubt on is the No.6 for India. Kohli has done well with a century in the three day game but Rohit has been scoring too, quite heavily since his return from injury. Pattinson and Hilfenhaus generally aren’t bounce-you-out bowlers and Siddle is the one who is most likely to resort to more of short stuff. Considering that, Virat may be given a go. But clearly, when playing bounce becomes a bigger criteria, something that will happen in Perth, Rohit has to edge out Kohli. Personally though, I’ll have Rohit Sharma at No. 6, given his recent weight of performances, the confidence that has come along and his grit of late.

Well, this is the third test of the Aussie summer. I have one observation, which makes me feel there is a huge element of fortune involved. On a week where thunderstorms are predicted, the Sun plays hide and seek, at least on three days. In the Brisbane test in the first week of this month, Australia had all the good fortune. The Sun stayed behind the clouds when Pattinson and Siddle were running in, and just when the Kiwis folded up, the Sun came out. Generally, post lunch sessions were bright periods but you never know, post tea sessions could be mixed bags. Morning sessions were always favouring bowlers and both teams should strictly make it a point to see off the first sessions. Only Sehwag and Warner are entitled runs in the morning.

Australia have made fine selections. Cowan was the only opener with tons of recent first class runs and thankfully, Phil Hughes has been replaced. Watson is still injured and that could be a blessing for Australia. He hasn’t played too much cricket recently and Warner is very high on confidence. His body language in the Big Bash league showed he’s in prime cricketing form. Marsh is too good to be out of this team. Ponting has been given a long, long rope, considering his ‘presence in the team’. This is clearly his last chance. I’d pick Ashwin to trouble Ponting the most, given his susceptibility to off spin.

Hussey is simply being tagged along with Ponting for no valid reason. Yes, he’s not made big runs recently but he is not making technical blunders that Ponting continues to make. My top two Aussie batsmen to watch out for in this series would be Hussey and Marsh.

 Hilfenhaus is a class act. His captain in Tasmania has assured that he’s using the crease better. Even in case, the ball doesn’t swing much, he has an excellent short ball to trouble the Indians. I remember he was the only threat when Australia played tests in Mohali and Bangalore, in their latest visit to India.

On current form alone, Pattinson is the biggest threat. I would call this a relentless bowling attack, very close in quality to Anderson, Broad, Bresnan and Tremlett. India will need much more sunshine than what they got in England. Although Nathan Lyon should offer some respite, I’ll look forward to Gambhir vs Lyon. That should be a classic.

Coming to India, Gambhir and Dravid have to bat out all the gloomy periods. I’d imagine Gambhir is highly susceptible to this particular attack. All of Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Pattinson bring the ball towards Gambhir’s pads and he’s a huge candidate for bowled and LBW. He should be very cautious about his drive towards mid wicket.  Dhoni has very candidly admitted he’s not too strong technically. He’s due for some serious contribution in test matches, as both batsman and captain. I’ll pray there is no repeat of his moves in England this year. Because having your bowlers fit is just a pre-requisite. It serves no cause if there are going to be poor fields and horrendous bowling changes. Zaheer has let India down on quite a few occasions now. Personally, I still think he’s overrated. This is another chance for him to make a lasting name, but I believe Ishant and Umesh will pose more problems to Australia.

Another key in this series will be finishing off a tail quickly. Siddle and Pattinson are handy tail enders. Haddin is a crazy test batsman and will keep giving chances. It will be heart breaking if there is a repeat of Trent Bridge, ’11. Pacers should continue to bowl full and bowl normal to the tail enders. Ashwin should be on from one end, as he is most likely to get them, and keep them tight.

Here’s hoping the thunderstorms stay away.

Time to welcome back WILLIAM MORRIS BILL LAWRY!!!

 

From promising to disappointing

December 11, 2011

 

These are extremely frustrating times for fans of the New Zealand cricket team. I used the words ‘promising position’ last evening and the Kiwis showed why one can never bank on them converting promising positions to winning ones.

Kane Williamson looked in great touch yesterday and wanted to start off from where he had left it overnight. He perished in the third ball of the day, trying to force a drive without getting to the pitch of the ball. This seems to be his only streaky area.

Ross Taylor and Dean Brownlie looked to survive the demons of the first couple of hours but couldn’t manage doing it. Australia had a major issue in having no bowler to sustain the pressure that Siddle and Pattinson created. Therefore, Siddle was given an extended first spell, and after the first hour when Siddle had to be rested, Pattinson immediately came back for a second spell. Both Taylor and Brownie looked comfortable against Starc. Starc tried bowling around the wickets and it never really threatened the batsmen. Neither could he beat the bat from over the wickets.

Either Siddle or Pattinson were bowling from one of the ends, all through the first session. So, had Williamson and Taylor survived their initial spells, they could have had huge run scoring opportunities coming out of Starc, Lyon and Hussey. But the problem was that both Siddle and Pattinson were too good to get through. At the same time, these Aussie bowlers were fortunate enough to find the edges, unlike Martin, Boult and Southee who, in spite of bowling in good areas, never found the edge when Australia came out to bat.

What could have easily been a lead of 300 plus, was restricted to 240. And, only Boult and Southee helped it 240. Otherwise, run scoring was so difficult all through the first session that when keeper Young was leg before to Siddle, the lead was just 204. Bracewell was at the crease, with Southee, Boult and Martin left. From an overnight score of 139 for 3, the visitors were bundled out for 226, in little over two and a half hours. Credit to Micheal Clarke for persisting with Siddle and Pattinson all morning. And credit to both the bowlers for utilizing the conditions to the fullest.

Phil Hughes has lived to fight tomorrow. There was a long spell of rain after tea and this could be a blessing for New Zealand. The sun has hardly come out in the first session at Hobart. If there is a concentrated effort to keep bowling in the corridor tomorrow morning, there is no reason why they can’t pick up wickets. I thought some extra effort was lacking today.

Ross Taylor resorted to more defensive fields as edges and mistimed shots went for boundaries. I think giving Taylor the captaincy ahead of McCullum is one of the first mistakes in the John Buchanan era. Vettori’s presence was missed in the fourth innings and he’ll probably be missed tomorrow as well, more for his ideas than for his spin bowling.

169 runs. 10 wickets. Anyone fancy a Kiwi win?

The greenest I’ve ever seen.

December 10, 2011

The biggest worry for me at the end of the first day was the Sun coming out early on day two. In Brisbane, Australia were lucky with the overhead conditions. Here, fortunately for New Zealand, overhead conditions were favourable early on, especially after the rain and early close on the previous evening, and they made the most of it.

Chris Martin has hit fantastic form and he would look to take all the confidence to the tests against South Africa. His natural deliveries going away from the left handers, have accounted for all the three top order southpaws.  Ricky Ponting walked as soon as the ball hit his pads, even before Nigel Llong raised his finger.

New Zealand have unearthed a superb prospect in Trent Boult and he straight away looks a long term candidate. I now think they have overestimated Doug Bracewell’s abilities. Boult was able to sustain the pressure Martin and Southee exerted and this was something that never happened in Brisbane. Bracewell took some confidence from his spell to Micheal Clarke in the first test and he produced another decent effort today. I don’t think they’ll leave out Vettori, given his batting performances, on wickets like these but even if they had made up the ‘hamstring issues’, four seamers worked out perfectly today. Iain O Brien pointed out that there is a pressure to pick wickets that comes along with such seaming and overcast conditions. Bowlers from both teams have delivered the goods. If New Zealand’s top order is bad, Australia’s has serious issues as well. They were pathetic today.

Although it was refreshing to watch a contest where ball dominated bat, there was the feeling that there is almost no batsman left out to fight and survive such paceman-friendly conditions. I would like to see how Kraigg Brathwaite goes in these conditions.

There was some loose bowling to Pattinson and Siddle, which narrowed New Zealand’s lead. Bowlers’ getting distracted to the tail has become a very common phenomenon and this is a mental issue where the coaches can help.

Another major help for the visitors was the fact that the Sun came out in time for their second innings. McCullum and Guptill still couldn’t survive the new ball. This has been a miserable series for Martin Guptill and I hope they don’t drop him for the tests ahead. The pitches in New Zealand for the tests ahead will be much more placid and he’s too good to be out of this team. Ryder was stumped to Micheal Hussey down the leg side and these are dismissals a test batsman cannot afford, more so, when the team badly needs a big knock from you.

Kane Williamson was all class today. He’s got out caught behind only once out of three dismissals in this series. The other two were pretty unfortunate dismissals. He showed a lot of intent and took the attack to Peter Siddle. He played terrific shots of both front and back foot, and his balance was awesome. Ross Taylor survived the early play-and-miss and he improved through the course of his stay. Both of them have put New Zealand in a very promising position. I will be praying for sunlight early in the morning tomorrow.

For those who couldn’t watch the action, Ian Chappell has called this Bellerive pitch ‘the darkest I’ve ever seen’.  ‘Not the greenest but the darkest’.

To my eyes, it is almost as green as the square and if this is not the greenest, wonder how today’s batsmen would have handled the greener ones Ian has seen.

NZ staring down the barrel

December 3, 2011

There were seven hours of play today and the test now lies firmly with the hosts. The Gabba continues to remain their fort.

New Zealand have only themselves to blame. They did manage to keep the pressure for two and a half hours before lunch. Two wickets fell and only a hundred runs were scored. Australia still trailed by 40 runs with Haddin and Clarke batting. Both are chancy batsmen and both kept on playing that way. It is in situations like these that captains should never lose the initiative, keep attacking, and make statements to the opposition. I know Taylor had only around two and a half bowlers at his disposal but the body language and the energy levels of the fielding unit were discouraging after lunch. As soon as New Zealand’s total was surpassed, they seemed as though they had conceded a 300 run lead.

Micheal Clarke’s energy levels never dropped. He already had a life yesterday and lady luck stayed with him today as Reece Young and Jesse Ryder put down chances that weren’t straightforward but ones that you would back yourself to take at this level. His shot making was magnificent and runs came at a brisk pace. He is susceptible to a line just outside off stump and he made a conscious effort to leave balls there.

Earlier, Ricky Ponting was dismissed leg before by a typical in coming Chris Martin delivery. Ponting played across and completely missed the line of the ball. As pointed out by, I think, Micheal Slater, his issues are more mind-related. And Clarke’s performances are generally energy-related. It was a good opportunity for Micheal Hussey to score big and bat New Zealand out of the game. He succumbed to a bat-pad off Vettori, pushing forward in defense. Southee and Martin were the main bowlers in the first session with Vettori keeping things tight.

Post lunch, New Zealand needed a good long spell from their fourth bowler and Doug Bracewell actually delivered. Clearly, there were instructions from his captain as to what areas he needed to bowl and he did respond well. Clarke was beaten regularly. An inside edge swung very late, just before Young’s gloves and the chance went a begging. A little wide one was slashed and the ball travelled quickly to Ryder, who spilled the chance at third slip. Haddin, as ever, wasn’t timing the ball early in his innings. He should have been attacked more. The Kiwis should have sent across a message that they were just a wicket away from finishing the innings and starting to build their own lead. Instead, they almost went through the motions.

I couldn’t believe Doug Bracewell was given the second new ball ahead of Southee, at a time Southee could have finished the Aussie lower order. Yes, Bracewell did bowl well before that but Southee was fresh after lunch!

Clarke holed out to deep square leg after tea and Siddle was quickly undone by a brilliant Vettori over. The lead was only fifty by then. Enough pressure wasn’t exerted on Pattinson and Starc and both of them gave Haddin a lot of support for his assault. From Australia’s perspective, Pattinson and Starc can certainly spend some time batting and aren’t complete jokers. But NZ couldn’t even ensure the tailenders’ retaining most of the strike.

This is turning out to be yet another game where NZ have been close but haven’t clinched the game at the key moments. They faced half an hour of chin music from Pattinson and Siddle and in the last half an hour of the day, and lost McCullum. Pattinson looked outstanding with the new ball and looked like picking a wicket every other delivery. Martin Guptill was found fishing from start to finish. He’s still alive though and should realize that the only way New Zealand can save the game is by playing positive cricket. Excessive defense won’t help the cause tomorrow and this line up isn’t good at it either.

Keeper Reece Young was struck hard on the nose by a Vettori delivery that bounced extravagantly. He started bleeding instantaneously. He went away and had ten stitches on the outer lip along with two inside. Brendon McCullum was very much available and it would have been so easy to cool off and return for the second innings. But the man was back on the field, as quickly as he could. Salute him for the spirit he showed today.

Vettori, Ponting and bad light..

December 2, 2011

Conditions in the morning were flatter than those on day one and batting became a much easier art. Pattinson and Starc looked slightly different bowlers but they obviously have enough skill to remain test class bowlers. Vettori and Brownlie continued to prosper and runs came quickly. Bowling teams around the world devise various strategies for various batsmen but they have certainly not realized what kind of a force Vettori can be with the bat. There doesn’t seem to be a specific plan for him and time has come for all opponents to plan and prepare for smart knocks like these. One of the ideas would be to keep bowling a full length on middle and leg (with protection) because he keeps shuffling, and scores a lot through square leg. He makes a mockery of off stump and outside off stump lines by picking those balls early and pulling them to square leg.

Clarke and his men looked clueless till Vettori himself had a brain-snap, when on 96. He had just scored a boundary and certainly wanted to get his hundred in quick time. He had timed the drive to long off well and there was no single on offer. Hussey’s direct hit ended an innings of sheer brilliance, and one which would have taken New Zealand to 350 and more. Peter Siddle was just too good for Reece Young. He was caught on the corridor, edging to first slip. Doug Bracewell was the next man in. He never looked convincing and edged Nathan Lyon to slip. And Ross Taylor’s statements are quickly going to the drain.  Tim Southee played a handy little cameo and helped the total near 300.

Nathan Lyon finished with four wickets and although three of them were tail enders, it was an excellent effort from someone who has never played here. I wonder if not having played at the Gabba actually helped him because Australia generally play four quicks here! Peter Siddle was in good form and Australia will be needing him to fire in the second innings as conditions are likely to get flatter.

 

When it comes to bowling and fielding, world cricket has few teams more efficient than New Zealand. Warner and Hughes had five minutes to negotiate before lunch. Vettori squeezed in one tight over quickly, and they got another over to have a go at the openers before lunch. Southee’s first ball was short, swinging in towards the left handed Warner. The direction and the bounce were perfect. Warner didn’t have time to drop his gloves and the Kiwis had a breakthrough in four minutes.

Chris Martin is more effective to the left handers because he has a natural delivery that goes away from them. Phil Hughes got an edge to one such delivery and Martin Guptill completed a fine catch at gully, diving low to his right. Khawaja and Ponting steadied the ship after the two early wickets. Both of them played to the merit of the ball. Ponting looked to score on every opportunity. The Channel Nine team did pick two or three occasions where his technique looked short of the mark. On one, the head was a yard away from the line of the ball while defending. Too much of his body weight was falling towards cover-point and he was clearly falling over. The encouraging thing for all his fans is that the boundary shots are still coming freely. But surely, he is not as high on confidence as, may be, on determination.

Ponting wanted a single on the very first ball after tea, a single which gave an indication that he wanted to get off strike as soon as possible at the start of the new session. South Africa is the only other team that would have managed to pull off a run out on this occasion. Kane Williamson pounced on the ball, picked it up cleanly and an underarm throw on the dive proved curtains for Usman Khawaja. I am sure more senior batsmen at the other end would have refused the single, because this wasn’t good running but an effort to get to the non striker’s end after a 20 minute break.

That run out sparked off a period where New Zealand exerted pressure on the batsmen, after Khawaja and Ponting had calmed things down. Southee got great shape and maintained good line outside off. Chris Martin bowled a spell of inswingers  at an awkward length that troubled Ponting.  The short leg for Martin was surprisingly absent and on one occasion, he survived a bat pad. The close in fielder did come a few overs later but he should have been there since the beginning. I did wonder if Brendon McCullum should have been given the job now and Taylor a couple of more seasons’ time. McCullum is proactive and is very much involved in the affairs, but as captain, his on-field decisions would be made earlier!

Micheal Clarke looked all class as he arrived. One moment of indecision nearly cost him his wicket. He half- left a ball which eventually took his bottom edge and hit the stumps. But Doug Bracewell had overstepped. I can’t remember any major chance apart from this. Vettori bowled well with his variations but he would be more useful with some turn on this pitch. I don’t know how much effort is being put in to impart turn on the ball as over the years, he’s been picking wickets only with his variations. On the whole, Ponting and Clarke had a relatively easy time as there were only two and a half bowlers, effectively. Martin was easily negotiable and Vettori and Southee were the real pressure bowlers. I will certainly try Trent Boult in place of Bracewell, at Hobart.

First session tomorrow is big. Two early wickets will bring in Haddin and the long tail. Remember, there is no Johnson around this time. If there is bright sunshine in the morning, these two and Hussey could make quick runs and New Zealand could be under pressure in the third innings. Southee holds the key.

There was some debate regarding umpires not having to offer light to the batsmen, and having to take their own call. Mark Taylor said that was absolutely fine as it would only bring in more consistency and reduce controversy. The only thing the umpires should do is, carry on with play under light that is practically free of any danger to the players, instead of simply referring to a value on the light meters and taking decisions.  As simple as that.