Sunday, March 6, 2011

Two penny thoughts on that Sunday match..

So it is Bengaluru where all the action in the World Cup is currently happening. Over the past few days, we have seen two unforgettable matches been played here. The first resulted in the two teams standing level after the last ball was bowled, not withstanding highs and lows for both teams during the day. And in the second, the underdogs finally had their day in the sun, as an inspired hitting performance by one man catapulted his team to victory. Andrew Strauss and his men would be the only ones with sour memories of the Chinnaswamy stadium because, truth be told, they should have won both games (and with their less than impressive start against South Africa as I write this, their campaign seems to have gone downhill since then). All this begs the question: What will today's game at the Chinnaswamy hold for all of us ??

But before that, some thoughts on the two games. For all the adrenaline pump that Sunday provided, it should escape no one that, save for Sachin's 98th hundred, it was a day to forget for the Indians. And, in my opinion, the second half of the innings was the most perfectly executed chase that I have seen (well, atleast for about 40.2 overs - how it came apart for England in those 9.4 overs, one will never know !!). The numbers from the England innings tell a story. England began the chase needing 6.78 RPO. At the end of 10, 20 and 30 overs, England's run rate was 7.70, 6.60 and 6.53 respectively. So, after taking advantage of the first 10 overs, England always were in the hunt, scoring a boundary almost every alternate over. And it was not a typical high-score chase, that is accompanied by slogs, maniacal six-hitting and a 35-ball 75 by one of the openers. Talking of sixes, England's first hit over the ropes was in the 33rd over, well after they had passed 200 !!. Till then, it was all about perfect timing, choosing the correct balls to hit and finding the gaps to perfection. Of course, your immediate reaction is that it was a toothless attack that India had, backed up by a pedestrian effort in the field. But, to be honest, India did not bowl very badly. Credit must be given to the English batsman, primarily to Andrew Strauss - who will not play a better innings than that - for their planning of the chase. And what should be worrying, and - in fact frightening - to MSD and his team's supporters, is that England never even tried to dominate the bowlers. There was no dancing down the wicket to Chawla, no reverse sweeps to upset the spinner's rhythm. That England were able to score freely without taking risks for almost 40 overs would be more than a cause for concern in the Indian camp. And it is when England broke away from that strategy, by taking the batting powerplay when they needed only 7.5 RPO with eight wickets in hand, that the problems started happening. A perfect chase suddenly turned into a mad slog, best exemplified by Collingwood's atrocious heave across the line. If England does end up underperforming in another World Cup, Strauss will reflect on the moment to take the batting powerplay when it was not needed.

That English innings had that moment of controversy when Bell got a reprieve via the UDRS clause. Watching it live, my first thought was it was quite adjacent. And when Billy ruled in favour of Bell, the first word that I shouted aloud was 'review'. Then came the 2.5m rule that saved Bell, even though Hawk Eye showed that the ball was going to hit about halfway up the middle stump. I only have two things to say about the incident. Firstly, I understand the 2.5m rule as a safegaurd against a technological limitation that the Hawk Eye cannot predict the trajectory of the ball when the distance to the stumps is more than 2.5m. But then, if I understood correctly, that when the distance is more than 2.5m, the on-field umpire's call stays, BUT he has the power to reverse his decision under 'exceptional' circumstances. Well, if a ball that is projected to hit halfway up the middle stump is not 'exceptional', then it boggles my mind as to what might constitute exceptional circumstances ??. Surely, Bowden, after looking at the replays on the big screen, should have mustered the courage to change his original mistake. Apparently, former player-turned umpire Paul Rieffel had done exactly that in similar circumstances during the England-Australia ODI series. Of course, there might be an Indian fan, rather than an unbiased observer, writing this, but then nothing helps the game better than a mistake rectified in time. My other point is regarding the 2.5m rule itself is, what will stop a batsman, especially a tall man like Pietersen, from standing outside his crease (to medium pacers at any rate) and then make a review completely irrelevant ? I am not sure if there is a safeguard against this. One thing for sure is that the skepticism shared by the Indian team and the BCCI would have multiplied manifold after this incident. It will be a long time before the DRS is seen in a bilateral series involving India, which would be a pity.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My World Cup memories down the years... Part 2

After the stunning highs (read quarter final) followed by the depressing lows (semi final) of the 96 WC, the next edition of the tournament was, atleast for me, a more sedate affair. Held in England in May-June 1999, it once again clashed with an examination, this time the sixth semester exams of my engineering course (considered by many to be the toughest semester). So the interest in the tournament was lukewarm. I used to go to college to study during the pre-exam preparatory leave, hence missed quite a few matches. In the initial stages, there was an agonizing defeat against Zimbabwe (which I did watch) where we literally threw away the game. Of course, there was the drama surrounding Sachin and his father's death. But then, he came back with a most emotional century against Kenya. Dada and Dravid then pummeled the Lankans into submission, followed by a great win against the hosts where, once again, our bowlers did a good job defending a small total. As the exams approached nearer, the interest kept growing. But apart from another victory over Pakistan, the men in blue really did not have much on offer in the Super Sixes and bowed out of the tournament. There was, in the end, the epic semi-final between Australia and South Africa, which, strangely, I hardly remember seeing, except THAT final over. Indeed, this is typical of my recollection of the 99 World Cup. Hardly anything to recollect.

When the next World Cup came along (2003 in South Africa), I was in IIM Bangalore during my first year. There it was a completely different atmosphere. There was, of course, no longer the comfort of watching the games from the drawing room couch. But then, watching the games in the common room at the hostel more than made up for it. Surrounded by hordes of friends, the common room had a carnival-like atmosphere. Dada's boys started slowly, losing to Australia but then came back strongly. Of the initial games, I particularly remember the game against England in Durban. Ashish Nehra was the hero that day with his prodigious swing (and I also distinctly remember him being clocked at 145+ kmph, a far cry from today !!). Then came the game against Pakistan at the Centurion (almost 8 years to the day, 1 March 2003). I had gone to a friend's place in Jayanagar. With few others, and with beer and snacks for company, we watched Sachin play one of his most memorable innings. The party continued much after the game. As Dada's boys progressed, there was only one topic of discussion on the campus. And when the day of the final dawned, the excitement reached fever-pitch. The chairs in the common room were taken by 12 noon (for a game starting at 2 pm !!). As the national anthem started before the game, we all (by that time there would have been around 200 people there !!) rose as one. With hands on our hearts, we wished the team all the very best.  Unfortunately, that turned out to be the highest point of the day. As Ponting and Martyn put the attack to the sword, the interest dwindled and it turned out to be the biggest anti-climax. And after Sachin was dismissed in the first over, the common room was virtually empty. Still, in terms of the sheer atmosphere on campus, the 2003 tournament remains my most memorable.
In contrast, the last World Cup in 2007 hardly had any memories. With the unearthly timings being a problem, I watched very few matches. I had a bad feeling before the initial game against Bangladesh (refer  my blog post then) and was proved right. That left Dravid and his men needing to beat Sri Lanka, a match which I thankfully missed as I was on my way to Baroda. On reaching there the following morning. I got the news that the campaign had ended. Thereafter, there was hardly anything to see. And for the first time, I missed even the final (and Gilchrist at his hitting best).

Lets see what memories 2011 CWC leaves me with. So far it has been quite good, especially the game on Sunday (more about that later) and, as I type, Kevin O'Brien from Ireland is playing the most splendid innings, not to mention the fastest WC century. An innings that will be remembered in 2015, 2019...


Saturday, February 19, 2011

My World Cup memories down the years... Part 1

With just a few hours left for the first ball to be bowled in the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, thought it was time for me to jog my memory and rewind to the World Cups that I remember over the past couple of decades....

The first World Cup that I distinctly remember was the 1992 World Cup down under. I would have been in the eight grade then. My only (very faint) memory of the 1987 edition was India beating Australia at Delhi on a festive day (Dasara or Diwali). But coming to the 1992 edition, it was a completely new viewing experience. Held in sunny Australia and New Zealand, broadcast by Channel Nine, first Cup to have coloured clothing and day-night games, the 1992 World Cup had all that a viewer could want (Not to mention, the best format till date !!. Very few boring games). I watched most of the matches at home. And though I was not allowed to bunk school for the sake of cricket, the day-night games meant that I could watch the last couple of hours after coming back from school. And so I watched India beat Pakistan at Sydney (complete with the More-Miandad show of love) in company of relatives at home and then subside meekly in the remaining matches. The classic India-Australia game was on a Sunday, hence could watch the entire match, though it ended in heartbreak with India losing by a run in most of the lethargic running one could ever see. When the final came, I could at last sneak in a half day from school and thus was able to watch the second innings, which of course, included Mushtaq Ahmed having the English batsman in a spin and Wasim Akram nailing the issue with successive jaffas to get Lamb and Lewis. I must confess that I am waiting for four years hence, when the Cup will go back to Australia and (if the ICC has its way) only 10 teams. It should be a fantastic experience, and I am already planning to use that as an excuse for visiting one of my favourite destinations.

By contrast the 1996 edition came at difficult times. After all, I was in the midst of my Standard XII board exams !!! Which meant of course, studying became difficult, not to mention the interruptions due to the screaming from the neighbours place. But even in the midst of all this, I still remember a few matches. The India-Australia game in Mumbai (the first game under lights at the Wankhede) was one I saw mostly fully (we were in the pre-exam study leave days), although the result was not a pleasing one. Then, of course, came the India-Pakistan quarter-final. It was a Saturday and we had finished our Physics paper and rushed home, just in time for the start. The holiday next day meant that one could afford to watch most of the game, which I dutifully did. And when India won the match, the whole building erupted in celebrations, which lasted way into the night. I managed to do well on Monday in the exams and felt that the team just needed to show up in two games to win the World Cup... which then brings me to my most vivid WC memory. The semi-final against Sri Lanka. I finished my Chemistry II paper and went to my friends place, determined to put all thoughts of cricket aside and concentrate on the next exam (Botany). As the first two Lankan wickets fell in the opening exchanges, the Botany text book was put aside and we were hooked to the TV sets. But as Aravinda and the rest prospered. we thankfully managed to get a couple of hours of study. But even then, I felt 251 was not enough and I rushed home during the break all set to see Sachin and the rest overhaul the challenge (book in hand, of course :)). What happened, of course, needs no recollection. Suffices to say that not only was the evening spoiled, my chances of cracking the Botany paper were ruined. After the game, I stayed up till 3 am, though the time was spent in brooding over the result and then being taken over by chilling fear as to the consequences on my educational career. I turned up at the Botany paper almost like a zombie (with only a couple of hours of sleep) and duly messed it up (and with it, probably the faint hopes I nursed of becoming a doctor !!). It was by far the World Cup match I remember most. Thereafter, of course, there was no joy in the 1996 World Cup, though I was watched Sri Lanka's day of glory the following Sunday over vada-paos.

Tune in for part 2 and the subsequent memories...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The contenders: England

England arrive for the 2011 edition of the World Cup on the back of one of their best years recently. It started with them finally winning a world title when they bagged the T20 trophy in the West Indies. That was followed by a typically successful home season, with Bangladesh and Pakistan beaten with ease in the test matches and 3-2 scorelines over Pakistan and Australia in the Natwest series. Then came the biggest moment of all: drubbing Australia in the Ashes in their own den. So it ought to be a very confident English team that turns up for the World Cup. But stacked against them are the odds. The tag of perennial underachievers at the World Cup (unlike the South Africans, they haven't got to a stage where they can throw it away !!) is likely to weigh on them. The recent 1-6 hammering at the hand of the Aussies reinforces the fact that England are yet to be a very good one-day team, even after four decades. And finally, they come to the sub-continent, which has often been a harsh place for them. The last ODI series against India in 2008 saw them on the wrong end of a 0-5 scoreline (before an early trip home after the Mumbai attacks). Also working against them would be the IPL factor. Hardly any of their side have played in the IPL and hence would have little recent knowledge, forget form, on Indian conditions. So we have a determined and much improved English side against the demons of history. Will they rise above all of that and add a second world title in under a year ?

World Cup Record: Mixed.. Played 59, Won 36. But in the last three editions, their record is nothing to shout home about.

Starting XI: Strauss, Prior, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Collingwood,  Bopara/Yardy, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Bresnan/Shahzad

The calming influence of Strauss is vital for England's chances of putting up, or chasing, huge scores. A vastly improved ODI player (average 34, SR 80), he would be the anchor at one end around which the likes of Trott, Pietersen and Bell flourish. An in-form Collingwood is also neccessary for English hopes. They also bat deep with Broad and Swann coming in at No.8 and 9. In the bowling, Swann would hold the key while Anderson would be hoping for some reverse swing of the flat tracks. But overall, the English bowling attack will not have anyone quaking in their boots. Having said all this, the man who would probably have the biggest influence on their fortunes would be their 12th man: Andy Flower !! Over the past couple of years, he has gained the respect of players and formed a great partnership with Strauss. Given his awesome record in India, it would be interesting to see how he guides his largely inexperienced team on the biggest stage of em all.

Key Games:  Their match against the hosts (now at Bangalore) would be crucial in determining their early form and attitude. The positive for England is that both their crunch games (against West Indies and South Africa) are at Chennai, that pitch, if it plays to form, might interest Messrs Anderson, Bresnan and Broad. They can start having the idli-sambars right from now. Possible quarter final opponents would be the mercurial Pakistan or the formidable Sri Lanka, where they would need to play out of their skins. 

Final Word: England arrive as outside of the favourites, which is probably how Flower and Strauss would want to have it. Important for them would be to master the conditions (indeed, 'embrace' the conditions as Harsha Bhogle put it). The title is not hopelessly beyond the English, but a semi-final spot would be a fair outcome. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The contenders: Bangladesh

Of course, the first thought that would come to your mind is: Why is the writer counting Bangladesh amongst the contenders ??. While no one, least of all the Bangladeshi fan, imagines Shakib Al Hasan lifting the trophy on the 2nd of April, I have this suspicion that Bangladesh might actually go quite far in this tournament. Since their entry into the event in 1999, the Bangladeshis had been merely making up the numbers. An odd victory apart (Pakistan in 1999 and India in 2007), they have not really gone as far as they would have liked to. In 2007, it was only because of the weird format (4 teams of 4 groups), that they got into the Super Eights. But this time, things might be different. Firstly, they are playing all their games at home. On the slow n low pitches, and in front of their boisterous home crowd, they can be quite a handful even for the top sides. And remember, in this World Cup, fringe teams like Bangladesh only need to upset the applecart once (assuming they win against the non-test playing nations) to gain entry into the quarter finals. And from then, of course, it is anyone's game. In addition, they are a vastly improved side since four years back. Under Shakib Al Hasan, the side has shown an ability to constantly hold the top teams in check. Has Bangladesh's time finally come ?

World Cup Record: Not very inspiring. Played 20, Won 5. But they will not get a better opportunity than this to improve that.

Likely XI: Tamim Iqbal, Imrul Kayes, Shahriar Nafees, Junaid Siddique, Md Ashraful, Shakib Al Hasan, Mushfiqur Raheem, Naeem Islam, Abdur Razzaq, Shaiful Islam, Rubel Hossain

The key players to watch would be Tamim Iqbal and the captain. Tamim has established himself as a dasher at the top and his audacious, and generally very good, shots up front have often given Bangladesh the early impetus. And in Shakib Al Hasan, they have an inspirational leader. One who contributes with both bat and ball (2834 runs at average of 35, 129 wickets at economy of only 4.25), he would hold the key to their fortunes. Not to mention the way he marshalls his troops and helps them absorb the pressure that can so easily turn your foe.

Key Games: The tournament opener against India promises to be a block-buster, not least because of what happened in the Carribbean in 2007. Indians would be thirsty for revenge, and the Bangladeshis would be just as pumped up to repeat the dose in front of a packed and partisan crowd. If Bangladesh can repeat the feat, it will set the tournament alight, not to mention a couple of riots in India !!. But even if they go down to India, what is heartening for Bangladesh is that the other two sub-continental sides are in the other group. That leaves England, South Africa and West Indies, none of whom are at home on the turning pitches in Bangladesh. I expect Al-Hasan and his men to win one (if not two) of these three matches. If Ireland and Netherlands can be negotiated comfortably, Bangladesh would find themselves in the quarters. There, of course, they would probably run into Australia. And in knock-out matches, of course, who knows what can happen on that day ?

Final Word: I would be watching their progress with keen interest. It may be that this World Cup might be Bangladesh team's coming-of-age tournament. I expect them in the quarters and they will give their opponent there a run for their money.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The contenders: Australia

We begin the assessment of the main contenders in alphabetical order, which means that the first squad is of the three-time defending champs. The Aussies are also, probably, the team that has been most under the hammer in recent times, much to the delight of cricket-lovers around the world. Their recent slump, atleast in the test arena, has been well-documented, but when you look at a 11-0 record in each of the last two WC's, you simply cannot argue with the pedigree of a champion side. They might have lost two Ashes series (not to mention four of their all-time greats) since the last WC, but they would simply have to be pencilled in as one of the three most likely to feature at the Wankhede in early April. And, worringly for the opposition teams, they seem to have put the Ashes defeat behind them, if their 6-1 hammering of England is any indication.

World Cup Record: Simply stunning. Played 69, Won 51 !!. And as mentioned before, the last match they lost was in the 1999 edition.

Likely XI: Watson, Haddin, Ponting, Clarke, M Hussey, D Hussey, White, M Johnson, Lee, Hauritz, Tait

Their biggest power-players are at the top of the order, and on Shane Watson rests a lot of their hopes in the knock-out games. One of the preimer all-rounders in the limited overs game, Watson has run into great form against England, and the Aussies would be hoping he carries it to the WC. Add to that his experience of playing in the IPL , which means that Watson should have no problems adjusting his game to the sub-continental conditions. But under the scanner would be their returning captain. After a lengthy rest, he might just have refreshed himself mentally and would be raring to go. And with his splendid record at the World Cup (1537 runs at average of 48), Ricky Ponting would be the player to watch. In the bowling department, probably seen as the weaker link of the unit (isnt it the case with most teams ?) the successful return of Brett Lee would have considerably boosted Aussie hopes. If he can maintain his current form and be injury-free, and if Tait and Johnson can maintain their control, the Aussies have probably one of the best bowling units of the tournament. With Johnson batting at No. 8 and Clarke, David Hussey and White contributing 12-15 overs every game, they have extremely good balance. Finally, there is the IPL factor. Most of their side has played, and excelled in, the IPL and hence would be able to master the conditions better than most (remember that the last IPL was held around the same time in India last year).

Key Games: Being in the relatively easier of the two groups means that the Aussies really need not worry too much about the group games. Their game against Sri Lanka (March 5th at the Premadasa) should decide the group topper. If the Aussies do top, they can expect probably the West Indies or Bangladesh at Mirpur on March 23, which again should be an easy game.

Final words: They might not be intimidating as at the previous two editions, but you underestimate a champion side at your own peril. If the baggy green is missing in the semi-finals, I would consider it a big upset.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

CWC 2011 is here...

So we are just over two weeks from the start of the quadrennial show piece event in cricket and no better excuse to (once again) revitalize this blog !!!. When something happens once every four years, there is always a sense of anticipation and excitement preceding it, so what if the event is likely to consist of about a month of mostly mundane matches (I am not sure how many Delhiites would fill up the Kotla on the 7th of March to see Canada and Kenya battle it out). So if we, as spectators, are feeling even more than an iota of excitement, one can imagine what the players must be going through as they prepare to fly into the subcontinent. Indeed, for a Sachin or a Kallis, both giants across generations, it will be their final chance to feel a WC trophy in their hands. It is nothing short of a tragedy that one of them has to resign himself to a CV without a World Cup win on it.

So as we countdown to the Cup, this arm-chair expert will bring to you his analysis of the top eight contenders. However, to make predictions based on any kind of analysis is hazardous, since the format of the Cup has ensured that most, if not all, of these eight would have fairly smooth sailing till the quarters. And then, of course, all it takes are few bad overs, one bad shot or a costly fielding lapse (hopefully not an umpiring error) to end the World Cup dream !!. This is my biggest grouse against the World Cup. In that respect, the 1992 World Cup was the best format. Nine teams played each other with the semi-finals to follow. Even if you needed to have 14 teams, a better way would have been to straightaway have the semi-finals. With only two slots out of seven, it would have ensured that the two best teams over a period of a month, deservedly, got into the semis. This time, one can almost visualize Australia battling Bangladesh/West Indies (the only debatable QF slot), Sri Lanka taking on England, Pakistan v South Africa and India meeting New Zealand. And then, its all equal. Especially since there are no clear and overwhelming favourites. Hopefully, there will be that one team that will dominate the league stages and then, turn on the heat at the correct moments in the knock-out, leading all the way to the trophy at the Wankhede on the 2nd of April.

Be that as it may be, in subsequent posts, we take a look at the teams.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

One for the umpires...

It would be an understatement to say that the umpire's job has become tougher over the past decade and a half. Long gone are the days when the umpires could easily and quickly make their decisions (one has to see the earlier English umpires, the speed at which they either raised their fingers or declined the appeal was amazing). Now of course the men in white deliberate in their minds before taking a decision, ever aware that technology has virtually taken over their role, their slightest mistake cruelly exposed before the eyes of demanding fans. And if the batsman in question is a Tendulkar or a Sehwag, then the umpire is made the villian of the piece.

No wonder then, that the job of the umpire is similar to housekeeping, It comes into focus only when there is a speck on the floor or the flower vase is dropped. A spotlessly clean room is hardly noticed, let alone appreciated. So when there is an instance of an umpire making brilliant judgement consistenly over a test match, then it deserves to be applauded. Aleem Dar's umpiring in the first Ashes test at the Gabba belonged to that category. A series of excellent decisions, that survived the scrutiny of the UDRS, firmly establised Aleem as one of the two best umpires of the day (along with Simon Taufel). For me, Aleem's moment of glory came at the very first ball of England's second hit. Consider the situation of the game then: England were 221 behind on the first innings, and came out to bat with just an uncomfortable hour to go on the third day. The very first ball, Strauss padded up to a fairly straight delivery from Peter Siddle. I was watching on TV and my first reaction was that Australia had got off to the dream start. But Aleem was unmoved. The Aussies refered the decisions, and the replays showed that the ball was going a couple of inches above the stumps. Aleem Dar was one of the very few who picked that up. Had he, like most other umpires -especially the ones who do not like batsman padding up - given that out, I doubt that Strauss would have referred (though as captain you have that luxury of not having to consult many other people). And with 0 for 1 with 221 behind, its possible that the test match, and maybe the series, would have taken a very different turn. If England reclaim the Ashes with a series victory, they would do well to reflect on this moment as one of the game-changing ones. And they would need to thank a good umpire for his excellent judgement. 
Here's to you Aleem Dar, and all other umpires who have done a great job earlier !!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Let the Ashes begin...

In a few hours from now, either of Messrs Aleem Dar and Billy Doctrove will utter that four-letter word: ‘PLAY’ and with it, the action will begin. The reams of newsprint and hours of air-time spent in the months leading up to the event will no longer count. All that will matter is the performance on the field as the two oldest test-playing nations take the field in another edition of the oldest rivalry of them all. Bring on the Ashes.

And it promises to be an exciting one. The consensus view that seems to be emerging is that, while the Aussies might not be there for the taking, England certainly should be fancying their chances. For one, they are encountering a unsettled and confused unit (refer my last post) while the English themselves have known, for months now, the eleven that will take the field at the Gabba. And man-to-man they certainly match, if not score over, the men in Baggy Green. After all, they have probably the best spinner in the world today in their ranks, their captain has shown a pleasant inclination to lead from the front and they have chosen a new-ball attack carefully to suit Aussie conditions. But to believe that England can win even when not at their best is naïve. You can only beat Australia by playing at your very best. Very rarely do the Aussies hand over games on a platter through poor cricket. And this is where Strauss needs to seize the pivotal movements. A large part of the outcome of this series hinges on Strauss’ captaincy. Whether it be that inspired bowling change or the unusual field placement, the Ashes are going to be a test of Strauss’ tactical acumen and quick thinking. After all, not many English captains are expected to win in Australia (unless of course, you ask the British media !). Also on the radar would be Strauss’s ability to bring the best out of Kevin Pietersen. If Strauss and KP fire consistently through the five matches, England would be assured in batting.

And what about his opposing number ? Ricky Ponting has, justly so, garnered a fair share of criticism over the past few months. The 0-2 reversal in India and squandering of winning opportunities against the Lankans did not help. Ponting, of course, is aware that not only his captaincy, but his place, is on the line this series. A third Ashes loss as captain would be too much for the Australian public to swallow and there is no former captain in an Australian XI. Hence, Ponting would lose both the captaincy as well as his place, not withstanding his pedigree as a batsman, should England retain the Ashes.

So while there are twenty two who decide the outcome of the game, it is the face-off between the two captains that is the most captivating side-show of the Ashes. So let it begin tomorrow. I cannot wait to switch on to Channel Nine and their high quality of coverage, listening to Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell and the rest and soaking in the pleasures of (hopefully) high quality cricket.

May the best team win !!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Kiwi resilience and Aussie (crisis of) confidence...

The past week has been interesting, not least because of Test match cricket played at three different places across the world. In the Emirates, Pakistan and South Africa played out for a draw in the First Test, but not before the Pakistanis gave a good account for themselves in the fourth innings (so much so that Misbah-Ul-Haq, their latest captain, actually termed the result as equivalent to a win !!). The star there, in that innings, was of course, their comeback king Younis Khan with a fluent century. Though the Proteas were never in danger of losing, the strong Pakistan rearguard action means the second test would be interesting to watch. Over in Galle, the West Indies surprised most observers (including, perhaps, themselves) by asking Sri Lanka to follow-on on home soil (the last time it happened was in 1983 !!). There, it was the Gayle-force that did Sri Lanka in the first couple of days. Quite simply the most nonchalant and flamboyant cricketer around today, Gayle joined a select band of batsman who have scored two triple hundreds in Tests. And it lent further credence to the theory that the batsman most likely to break Lara's 400s would be a free-stroking dare-devil like Sehwag or Gayle rather than their technically accomplished, infinitely patient peers.

However, the big match of the week was the second test between India and New Zealand, which saw test cricket return to Hyderabad after 22 years. And again, it was a case of the Indians failing to drive home the advantage on the fourth and fifth days at home. This allowed New Zealand to post a strong second-innings total and to leave Hyderabad with a moral victory under their belts. Given that they had also reduce India to 15-5 on the fourth evening at Ahmedabad, it no longer looks a battle between No. 1 and No. 8. Indeed, should India not be able to win at Nagpur, it would be regarded as a series victory for the Kiwis. And to add, it would prove invaluable practice on Indian tracks ahead of the World Cup in February. After the hammering at the hands of the Bangladeshis, Vettori and his men have bounced back very well, showing that New Zealand, with their strong work ethic that more than makes up for their limited talent, should never be taken lightly.

 Of course, no discussion these days excludes the Ashes. And in the run up to the first test at the Gabba next week, the Aussie selectors announced a team of 17 for the Gabba !!!! It left me dumbstruck. I have never, ever, heard of a home team announce a squad of 17 for a single game. And I am not sure whom it helped, if any.  The ostensible reason given in the press is that to cover for injuries and to keep everyone, including the seniors, on their toes If so, surely a private word from the selectors and captain to the fringe players would have helped. Announcing a squad bigger than the entire touring party surely would not have given a Marcus North or a Xavier Doherty any comfort or confidence, For a team that used to announce its final XI a day before the match (so that the 12th person could be released to play domestic cricket), this has been quite a fall. And it betrays a lack of confidence in a shaken Aussie setup after their losses in India and against Sri Lanka.  England has never had conditions so much in their favour even before the first ball is bowled. They better capatilize, else they have no one else to blame.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

TESTing times ahead...

As a supporter of the Indian cricket team and a fan of the five-day game, the last three weeks could not have gone any better. A 2-0 win (or 'brownwash' as it has been called in some sections of the media) over the former numero uno side was something not many people would have thought of at the start of the series. And mind you, this was without employing the time-tested Indian victory formula: win the toss, bat first, declare around tea on the second afternoon at 600-5 and then let the spinners do the rest. Indeed, Dhoni lost both tosses (taking his unbroken tally to 10) and had to contend with tricky 4th innings chases on both occassions. In Mohali, a very very special innings did the trick in a heart-stopping finale, while at Bangalore, a debutant announced himself on the stage with a matured and composed knock (and credit must be given to Dhoni for sending Pujara at No. 3). All in all, a victory well-deserved and the No. 1 ranking looks set to stay for some more time to come.

But if the victory in Australia was heart-warming, it is what is coming up over the next 12 months or so that is truly mouth-watering if you are, as mentioned before, a test match lover. India play three tests in South Africa this December, followed by four in England next June and four more against the Aussies in their own backyard next summer. Eleven tests in demanding conditions and in places (atleast SAF and Australia) where India has not done well traditionally. This is not too say that England would be pushovers by any stretch of the imagination. But if South Africa and England are overcome, maybe Dhoni can call the tour to Australia next December as the 'final frontier' !! What a grand-stand finish would that be !! But to cut down on the castle-building, it is going to be one big test of Dhoni's boys on whether they can handle their No. 1 ranking and come back with their reputations enhanced. 

All this makes the forthcoming series against New Zealand the perfect appetizer. Although it is generally accepted that team India should not have much trouble against the Kiwis, it would be a great opportunity for Kirsten & Dhoni to build the team for the post-SRT,RD,VVS era (similar to my earlier post where I talked about using the next 12 ODIs to build the WC team). In fact, it might also not be a bad idea to rest each one of them in a game and create that additional middle-order position. Who knows, someone like a Pujara or a Ajinkya Rahane can capatilize on, getting a good bench in place. In this context, what is also heartening is the BCCI decision to send some team members early to South Africa. It will immensely benefit, for example, Suresh Raina (on his first major test match tour) to play a  first-class game in South Africa instead of playing the ODI's against New Zealand. With warm-up matches already belonging to a past era, this is the next best thing one can ask for. For some of the young bowlers too, it will be a good learning experience, for it is essential (and not widely appreciated) that bowlers also get some time to adjust to the bounce and lengths of foreign pitches. So an Ishant Sharma would be better off bowling in match conditions in Jo'burg or Cape Town instead of getting collared for 70 runs in 10 overs at Chennai by Messrs McCullum and Ross Taylor.

So starting November 4, the next 15-odd months promise to be one of the most crucial periods in recent memory. The stalwarts will silently ride into the sunset (its hard to imagine Dravid or VVS lasting beyond the start of 2012, with SRT you never know ;-)) but will the younger generation be ready to take over the torch from them ? Only time will tell, and I, for one, cannot wait.


PS: My playing XI for the Ahmedabad test: Sehwag, Gambhir, Pujara, Tendulkar, VVS, Raina, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Zaheer, Ishant and Amit Mishra  (Dravid rested)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let the countdown begin..

Its the 19th of October today. In exactly four months time, the World Cup will kick off with the co-hosts India and Bangladesh locking horns. And as the buildup to the big event starts, its that part of the countdown wherein each team starts focusing on the big event and the think-tank uses the matches leading up to the World Cup as opportunities to fine-tune their squads and develop new strategies. The Men in Blue have 12 one-dayers before the opening match of the World Cup (2 v/s Australia and five each against New Zealand and South Africa) and it is imperative that Messrs Srikanth, Kirsten and Dhoni use every match in getting all the remaining pieces right. And as far as India are concerned, following ought to be their main priorities:

a. Having the original prince in the side: That Yuvraj Singh is an integral member of the ODI team is beyond much of a doubt. Along with Tendulkar and Sehwag, he is the engine of the batting and by inference, the team too. But lately, the trouble has been getting the right Yuvi on the park. Hopefully, the test match snub (he is now further down the pecking order below Pujara and looks unlikely to make it to South Africa with the test team) will not rub off on his ODI form, where he remains, alongwith his handy left-arm spin, an important asset. And, of course, his fitness will be under watch. A good regimen under Kirsten's watchful gaze would help.

b. Getting the bench strength in place: The problem with the team is not really the playing eleven. Most of the team (Sachin, Sehwag, Gambhir, Raina, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Harbhajan, Zaheer) select themselves, but its the remaining places and the bench-strength that can make all the difference. So it is upto Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ashish Nehra, Abhimanyu Mithun, Sreesanth and Ravichandra Ashwin etc. to put their hands up. I am particularly interested in Ashwin and would be keenly watching how he goes against the Kiwis and in South Africa.

c. Getting 15 overs from part-timers: Given that we have not yet found Kapil Paaji's replacement (but boy, do we persist at searching !!), it becomes absolutely imperative that Sehwag, Yuvraj and Raina cover for 15 overs (10 of the fifth + 5 assuming one of the frontliners has an off-day). So in the 12 matches, I would love to atleast two of them (if not all three) getting 3-4 overs in every game. That allows an extra batsman at No. 7 (with Dhoni at 6), which suddenly makes the side good on paper.

And last but not the least, as we all now....

d. Being more than competitive in the field: All of the above will come to nought if we dish out rubbish on the field. In my opinion, the fielding is going to decide India's fate in the World Cup. So it goes without saying that topmost priority needs to be accorded to it. Giving away 10-15 runs to limited mobility is simply not going to acceptable in the big event. So if it means that we have to look beyond people like Nehra and maybe even Zaheer, then so be it. These 12 games will give us that opportunity.

It is in the above aspects that the next four months leading up to the World Cup and going to be keenly watched. And if past experience is anything to go by, am sure Gary Kirsten and MSD have already got their minds together.


Friday, November 6, 2009

The heart wept yesterday....

The heart wept yesterday. Not for our country, but for our hero. And unless it was out of sheer exhaustion, I doubt if Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar would have slept yesterday. He is a fiercely private person and in his own private world yesterday night, I suspect he would have reflected on a lost opportunity and maybe, silently shed a tear or two.

Being Sachin Tendulkar would be many times more difficult that all of us can imagine. The man cannot step outside his home for fear of being mobbed by millions of his devotees. And yet, amongst those millions, there is an extremely tiny minority of churlish fans who hold that ultimate grudge against him: he does not perform in high-pressure run chases and take his side to victory. No matter what the statistics might say, this has always been held against the maestro, just like a one-inch long scratch in a corner of a Van Gogh masterpiece. And while Sachin is above all this and hardly needs to respond to any of this mindless chatter, he would certainly have been aware of this (so-called) missing jewel in his crown. And yesterday it all seemed to be finally coming together. The man was batting in a different zone and was well on his way to taking India to what would have been the second highest successful chase in ODI history (behind only that incredible 437 chased by South Africa). And the icing on the cake was that Sachin was well on his way to becoming the first man to score an ODI double-hundred (atleast until Jadeja hit those couple of boundaries). And can you imagine what a fairly-tale ending it would have been ? India 351/6, Sachin 201 not out !!!. In an instant, he would have risen another level in the stratosphere, much above all of us mortals, including the churlish minority. In an instant, he would be permanently abolished any lingering doubts held by anyone about his batting greatness even that the age of 36. In fact, had he been of the emotional variety or of the Sunny Gavaskar school of thought, he would have had half-a-mind to announce his immediate retirement !!!. And while all and sundry readily acknowledged that the 175 was one of the greatest innings of all-time, there is little doubt that 201 not out would have made it THE greatest of all time.

Alas, it was not meant to be that way. And that ill-fated paddle sweep has made its way into cricketing folklore, ranking up there with Gatting's reverse sweep. Only that Gatting's folly impacted the World Cup, while the paddle sweep has meant that a legend, a batting God would still need to live with that finger pointing towards him. Yesterday was one of the great tragedies of sport. Which is why the heart wept yesterday..... :(

~ Amit

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What now for Team India ??

So in the end, the miracle did not happen !!. Australia squeaked home with two wickets and thus marched into the Champions Trophy semi-finals and in doing so, dashed the hopes of millions across India. Not that the hopes would have been too great, since an honest Indian fan will admit that India got out of jail on Monday, saved by the thunderstorm that hit Centurion. Therefore, Indian fans had no real business wanting Pakistan to win. Our team was clearly not amongst the top four teams in this competition and hence are on their way back.

And once they do come back, Dhoni and co. have some thinking to do. Hopefully, they would not walk into a more-than-neccessary adverse reaction. The team at an overall level are still amongst the top four teams in world cricket and they were missing three of their main ODI players. But the fact remains that for the second time in four months, India have failed to qualify for the last four in a major ICC event. Shades of South Africa anyone ? Hope not !!!

Two questions will be uppermost on the minds of Dhoni and the selectors when they meet to select the team for the next (meaningless ?) ODI assignment - 7 ODI's against Australia starting October 25th. The first would be the vexed question of what to do know with Rahul Dravid ??? He was recalled after seeing the young brigade jumping like a cat on a hot tin roof in the T20 World Cup, in the expectation that pitches in South Africa would be similar in nature. Instead, what we encountered were slow turners, first in Sri Lanka (expectedly) and then in Centurion (not so expectedly). And our man has managed returns of 14, 47, 39, 76 and 4. Not bad at all, though some people can still be harsh on him in saying that the 76 could have been scored slightly quickly. But now the question begs, what next with him ? Do we again push him back in the ODI wilderness (especially once Sehwag and Yuvraj are back) or keep him until he calls it a day on his own terms. It seems that the former is the more distinct possibility. I guess when the throw hit the stumps directly some time back (in the game against the Windies), Rahul Dravid himself realized that he had ran himself out of the Indian ODI squad. And that would be a sad end to the ODI career of one of India's best servants.

The other question is that of the pace bowling. Ashish Nehra apart, the rest looked plain ordinary in South Africa. Zaheer was, of course, missed but the form of Ishant Sharma is worrying. His honeymoon is clearly over and, given his limited batting and fielding ability, some time away from the ODI team might do him a world of good. With RP Singh also struggling, the pace bowling cupboard looks bare again. Sreesanth must be seeing the Indian team recall closer than ever. When it comes to spin bowling, things are not that better either. We need to develop an alternative to Harbhajan, and the ODI version might be the best place to start. Mishra performed creditably in the Australia game, but we need others to step in. Piyush Chawla faded away after some promise, but the boy has age on his side and must be persisted with. Ditto with Pragyan Ojha. Its time that Bhajji is rotated along with the other spinners in the ODIs and T20. And of course, our search for that successor to Kapil Dev continues !!! First Agarkar, then Irfan Pathan and now Yusuf Pathan. But like a mirage, that dream keeps running away from us.

So it is quite a task for the selectors. And just to put myself in their boots, here is my 14 member squad for the Australia series (assuming Yuvraj and Zaheer not fit till then):

Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar (to be replaced by Yuvraj when fit), Suresh Raina, VIrat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, S Badrinath, MS Dhoni (C and WK), Abhishek Nayar, Ashish Nehra, S Sreesanth, Praveen Kumar, Amit Mishra, Pragyan Ojha

Of course, performances in the Challenger Trophy starting October 8th can change the above !!



Monday, September 28, 2009

Drama galore in the Rainbow nation..!!

So the Champions Trophy is a week old and before you know it, it will be over as well !!!. In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of the CT in preserving the 50-over game. On the evidence of the eight matches so far, it has certainly been successful in doing so. And maybe there is a lesson there for the ICC. Short tournaments (involving only the best teams in the world) being held regularly (maybe every year) might be the next big thing. In fact, it was widely believed that this would be the last CT. I guess that is no longer certain now. Who knows, the ICC might just schedule one next year !!!.

And the cricket in South Africa has been of quite a decent standard. The results have been nothing short of shocking. The hosts have, yet again, been found wanting in a home event. The team that was virtually written off before the tournament started as a second string side have performed quite creditably. And another team that lost six of seven games in the last fortnight has suddenly become the team to beat. Maybe this is England's best chance of bagging its first ever ICC ODI title. The fate of the other two favourites, India and Australia hangs in the balance, with both of them facing off in a virtual QF later today. All in all, no one can be certain who will be holding aloff the trophy come next Monday at the Centurion. And that is just what the doctor ordered for the fifty over game.

To add to the exciting cricket has been the drama. The latest incident being Strauss's refusal to allow his opposite number, Graeme Smith, a runner during the late stages of Smith's epic 141 yesterday. While many have lambasted Strauss (no doubt taken in by the high emotion surrounding Smith's heroic effort), I am on Strauss's side. This incident also brings into focus the particulary thorny issue of having a runner in the first place. The reason I agree with Strauss is that cramps do not constitute an injury. Wikipedia defines cramps as 'unpleasant, often painful sensations caused by contractions or over-shortening of muscles.. and excessive dehydration'. Hence cramps are the natural side effects of spending hours on the fields, first fielding and then batting for virtually the entire innings. Therefore a runner should not be allowed for pure cramps. Much as I salute the effort of the South African captain, I do not agree with a runner to be given to him. And the on-field umpires have the final say in the matter, not the fielding captain. Hence it is time that the on-field umpires arrive at a general consensus on when should a runner be allowed (in my book, it should be only in the case of leg injury sustained during the course of play (hence, I am not sure if, earlier in the day, Ryder should have been allowed a runner as well - It seemed he came into the game with the hamstring problem).

Nevertheless, the CT is gearing for an exciting finale !! Hope the last few matches give us an even better spectacle and make this fortnight a time to remember !!.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

The test of the ODI format !!

A new season has begun for the Men in Blue (now-a-days just a few days rest is enough to distinguish between two seasons !!) and they start off, like they seem to do quite often, by playing ODI's in Sri Lanka. And playing day-night matches at the Premadasa means that the most important moment of the match happens before the first ball is bowled !! Have some decent spinners in your side and call right at the toss, and you have done more than your bit :). Then back your batsmen to score 300 and only an outrageously good batting performance by the opposition (or some really poor bowling) will get them home. Yesterday, Dhoni was on the receiving end at the toss, maybe he needs to practice tossing the coin more than batting or wicket-keeping before the final tommorow.

After that, Dhoni and boys go to South Africa for the Champions Trophy. On most occasions, this would have been the show piece event of the year (and I am so glad that it will be telecast on ESPN Star, with Harsha and gang in tow). But with the ICC T20 World Cup and the Ashes having just concluded, the tournament has been relegated to the back stage. To add to that is the raging debate about the existence of ODI's itself. The fifty over game finds itself squeezed on both sides. Above it is that purest of forms of cricket, the five-day game. The connoisseurs delight, Test match cricket will always live on since it is highly regarded by both the players and administrators alike. And with contests like the Ashes and Indo-Australia still delivering rivetting cricket, it is still a economically viable proposition, atleast in some parts of the world. Below the ODI format is that brash young upstart, the T20 format. In a little over six years since the first such international game was played, it has taken the world by storm. So much so that we are seeing the unique spectacle (possibly unparalleled in any other sport) of World Cup tournaments in successive years (April-May 2010 will see the teams gathering in the Carribbean for another few weeks of slam-bang cricket). The blockbuster that brings in the moolah, it is inevitable that T20 will soon overrun the ODI format, both in terms of its prominence and popularity. So with both the other formats squeezing it out of the spectator's imagination, where does ODI cricket go from here ?

The events in South Africa from Sept 22 to October 5 will go a long way in providing the answer. ODI cricket, in fact cricket in general, badly needs a good Champions Trophy. And the format could not have been better. Only eight of the best teams (disregarding the plight of the West Indies), only 15 matches, no Super-6's or Super-8s and the whole tournament done and dusted in under two weeks !! It promises action for the entire duration of the event, unlike the 2007 World Cup where most matches of the early round were an exercise in futility. I for one, cannot wait for the long weekend starting September 26th, with India taking on Pakistan that day and then the Aussies two days later (on Dassera day !!)*. It is going to nothing short of a treat !!. But a word of caution. Irrespective of how the Champions Trophy pans out, the ICC urgently needs to bring some innovation to the game. To be fair to them, they have tried quite a lot. The Super-Sub rule, though excellent in theory, was badly executed (the super-sub should have been named after the toss). Now there are still more changes being thought of. Two innings of 25 overs each is the latest and Ian Chappell also mentions a few more in his article on Cricinfo. The ICC needs to implement the best ideas in a better manner in order to revive spectator interest in the 50 over format.

Till then, lets hope that we see some really good cricket in South Africa and may the best team win !!


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Some good lessons to be learned !!

Back again on this blog after two months !!! And two months of non-stop T20 cricket, first with the IPL and now with the World T20. And for MS Dhoni, life seems to have changed quite a bit in these last two months. In mid-April, he returned with the Indian team with a test series victory after 41 years. He was being hailed in the media as the best Indian captain ever (starting with the 2007 World T20 victory, the CB Series truimph in Australia followed by ODI series victories in Sri Lanka, test series wins against Australia, England and New Zealand). But as Indian hopes in the World T20 faded (in tandem with the mid-summer days sun setting on London on Sunday), there were already calls for his head !! How things change !!!!

But I have been pleasantly surprised to see the T20 game develop over the past two months. In South Africa, against all expectations, we saw the spinners coming into their own on the late-season slow tracks there. A species of cricketers thought to be cannon-fodder for the rampaging willow-wielders suddenly became a potent weapon. Even part-timers like Jean Paul Duminy began to bowl 4 overs in most games, keeping the runs in check and taking important wickets. Now, on fresher wickets in England, it is raw pace and aggression that has become important. And the Indians, quite plainly, have been found out.

So the first important lesson for the Men in Blue is that raw pace (accurately directed, of course, else Brett Lee would not have suffered so much in the Gayle-storm) will always remain a weapon in any form of the game. Make no mistake, more than anything else, it was the surprise that both West Indies and England threw up in the form of chest high balls that did India in. Our top order, already missing a prolific cutter and puller in Sehwag, simply did not have the practice and experience in handling such pace and fell easy prey. So it is back to the drawing board for Raina, Rohit and co. and one hopes that Gary Kirsten, with all his experience and skill in handling opening bowlers, will fix up that lacunae soon.

Another important lesson to be learnt is in the team selection itself. In the last two games the bench strength was: Ojha, Karthik, Praveen Kumar and Irfan Pathan. None of them a top-middle order batsman. After Sehwag was ruled out, it suddenly turned out that the Indians had not selected a back-up batsmen in their squad of 15 !!!.. And even then, the selectors had no one to turn to and finally settled for Karthik based on this IPL performance. So quite clearly, there is room for one or two young, pure batsman in the T20 team. As for Ravindra Jadeja, one felt sorry watching him bat at Lords. Evidently, the 'pace attacks' one faces in the IPL are no comparison to international bowling. But I do hope he returns after this scarring a better cricketer and man.

So a lot for the team to think to when the put their feet up after a week or so (after playing a set of irrelevant ODI's in the Windies !!). And hope to see them return in the coming season, a better team. One setback, after all, should not undo the good work of the past eighteen months or so.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Indians in Kiwiland: Job well done !!!

So the Men in Blue are back from Kiwiland (and already in South Africa for the second edition of what is arguably cricket's biggest party today !!). And Dhoni and his boys can look back at the 45 odd days in New Zealand with some satisfaction. While much was made of the fact that it was India's first series win there in 41 years, it should be remembered that the Indians were expected to win the series anyways. So to that extent, 1-0 in the end was not a suprising result by any means.
However, that is not to take away from the neat manner in which the Indians went about their job, particularly in the Test matches. And in doing so, they have taken yet another significant step in their quest of becoming an all-round side. And for the Indians, the story of the series was, of course, Gautam Gambhir. From being just one of the good young players in the side, he became an integral member of the Test squad during the course of his twin hundreds. And he is possibly India's best player over all the three forms of the game combined. A certainty in the XI in any format. Most importantly, his match-saving effort at Napier showed his temperament in the longest form of the game, prompting Sehwag to rate him as the best Indian opener since Gavaskar. Given the musical chairs we used to play with the openers during the 90s (remember Vikram Rathour, SS Das, Sadagopan Ramesh, Devang Gandhi ??), Sehwag's assessment has probably more meat to it. Another important factor was Harbhajan's good showing in the Tests. In his first overseas tour as the premier spinner, he performed creditably, not just throttling the runs but also picking crucial wickets (am sure he would have been delighted to see the pitches that were on offer !!). With Zaheer also close to his best and Ishant being steady, the bowling attack served India pretty well. The third seamer was, of course, the weak link. Munaf Patel emerged with hardly anything to his credit and you can be sure that the likes of RP Singh, Sreesanth, Balaji et al will be breathing down his neck. An even bigger dissapointment was Yuvraj Singh. Here he was, given three tests on batsmen-friendly conditions overseas to cement his place in the middle-order, and he managed to blow it up. Like Munaf, his performance (or lack of it) might have escaped notice because of the splendid efforts of his senior batsmen, but there is no mistaking the fact that the middle-order cupboard after the Dravid and Sachin era looks a little barren. It is time for the next wave of great Indian batsmen to stand up !!!.. But will we find them ????.
All in all, a more than creditable showing against a side that was competent at best and on pitches that simply did not resemble the traditional New Zealand pitches. But a series win is a series win, and the Indians will take it. Later this year, they will tour South Africa is what would definitely be their biggest challenge, but till then, the Indian fan can sit assured that his team is poised to take on the best in the world, anywhere in the world !!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

BCCI's dadagiri !!!!...

Over the past week or so, the BCCI's latest acts of dadagiri on two fronts (the IPL scheduling dilemma and their insistence on disallowing anyone smelling of ICL to come anywhere close to them and their players) are nothing short of disgraceful. In the latter case, the NZ media has very rightly taken the BCCI to task, something that the NZ Cricket Board cannot do for fear of offending the hand that feeds it. But by 'requesting' that Craig McMillan not be allowed to do commentary on Sky Sports during the test series (because of his ICL links), the BCCI surely have overshot their limits. Not sure what gives them the right to decide who should be working with a private TV channel, that too in a foreign land ? But as the saying goes: 'absolute power corrupts absolutely'. Once you have the power of money backing you, everything seems within your kingdom !!.

If this incident leaves a bad taste in the mouth, then the way the BCCI (and the IPL council and Mr. Modi in particular) is standing up to the government is nothing short of shocking. Of course, the terror attacks in Lahore precipitated this chain of events, since both parties knew of each other's schedules much before March 3rd. To be sure, the government should have raised the security concerns involved in having the IPL and elections simultaneously much before the Lahore attacks. Now it is being seen as having lost its nerve in the wake of what happened in Lahore, much to the delight of the barbarians behind all these acts of violence. But on the other hand, the way the IPL council is defiant on its stand of continuing with the IPL is not funny. Quite how Mr. Modi can proclaim that 'players security is our responsibility from the minute they land in India to the minute they leave', when the very agencies that he depends on to provide security are not willing to take any chances, is beyond comprehension. It is quite like declaring 'I am the safest in the world' when your body-guard is carrying a kid's toy gun. To add insult to injury, the BCCI's knowledgable badshaahs are now linking the IPL to national pride !!!!!. I admit I cannot take that any longer (though I have nothing against the IPL enjoyed the first season every bit) and having seen the drama for more than a week now, I seriously wish the Home Ministry should simply put its foot down and withdraw from providing security to the IPL. Once that is done, the IPL will be as good as dead, since even if Mr. Modi buys the services of the best private agencies using his dollars, they would simply not be equipped to handle terror attacks. And if the IPL is indeed dead (atleast for this year), I would not be shedding tears since the arrogance of a power-drunk cricket board cannot and should not be allowed to come in the way of national security.

This would also teach a good lesson to the 'travelling goons' of the BCCI !!!!


Monday, March 9, 2009

Much gloom but some hope !!!...

This would pretty much sum up the week, and most of the last month, for most international bowlers. The past month or so has seen the odds so much stacked against them that you could forgive them for refusing to show up for warm-ups on the morning of the match. The recent Pakistan-Sri Lanka series (tragically aborted) provided as much activity as one can see in a glass of soda left open since yesterday. Over in the Carribbean, the last three games have been played on wickets which were so devoid of any life that had timeless tests been played in this day and age, this series would have continued almost till the start of the English summer !!. Teams have regularly got 600+ in their first innings only to see their opposition trump them to that score. Such matches used to be dime-a-dozen in the Ranji Trophy till some time back (when matches used to be decided on 1st innings lead if drawn: this led to one memorable match between Delhi and Karnataka in 1981 or so when one team scored 700 in the 1st innings but the other team got to that score late on the 5th day and hence won !!!). But to see such matches at test match level is sorely dissapointing. Surely the curators can do better than that. And if the pitch is OK, short boundaries make matters equally worse. Yesterday, at Christchurch, 726 runs were scored in an otherwise thrilling match. But the area of the playing field had as much a role to play in the run-fest as did pathetic bowling (I hardly saw a slower ball bowled throughout the day).

But amongst all the dark clouds was the proverbial silver lining in the form of Mitchell Johnson's opening spell at Durban. Now Durban is one of the few grounds remaining that still holds some hope for the bowlers. And while I did not see the spell, to have two of world's premier batsmen injured is quite a feat !!. This spell further establishes Johnson's credentials as an exciting talent. Add to that his near-hundred in Johannesburg, and he seems to have the 'x-factor' in him !!. No wonder Ponting and his men are on top in that series...


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Challenge in Kiwiland !!

I return to my blog after a gap of nearly two months. Not much has happened for Team India in the interim. The cancellation of the Pakistan tour opened up a gap in the calendar which was promptly filled in by the 10-day trip to Sri Lanka (and it was really heartening to see an additional test scheduled in New Zealand rather than a couple of extra one-dayers !!). To their credit, the Men in Blue played really well. The batting looked in great shape, the bowling was sharp and incisive (Ojha is proving to be a capable backup in the ODIs) and MS Dhoni seems to be more in control of things with each passing day. Off the field also, the past couple of months have been relatively quiet, except for the IPL gathering momentum with the second auction.

Now, Team India finds itself deep in the Southern Hemisphere in a land that not many of them have experienced, let alone played cricket in. The battle against New Zealand (that starts in just over a couple of hours) carries more significance than a normal series. This will be a good test of a largely inexperienced Indian side as they progress in their quest to being the top team in the world in all forms of the game. And while they have improved their overseas showing with each tour (to the point that they are actually being termed favourites to clinch this series), New Zealand presents completely different challenges and is one place the Indians have traditionally struggled to make an impact . Part of the problem, of course, is that these two teams do not meet each other with the same frequency as say India-Australia or India-Sri Lanka. The last time we visited there led to an experience we would rather forget. And while we are unlikely to encounter the same conditions now (Mark Richardson notes wryly in his column on Cricinfo that the NZ Board is now aware of who feeds it ;), playing and winning in New Zealand still remains a challenge. Cold and windy conditions, small but irregular grounds and of course, lack of match practice all pose significant hurdles. And while the hosts do not boast of any bonafide superstar in their ranks (they traditionally have never), the team consists of a set of more than competent individuals, led by an intelligent and stable captain in Daniel Vettori. And like most teams, they are a different kettle of fish on home soil. So the Indians would be tested, more so in the test matches where the likes of Yuvraj (provided he gets a middle order berth) and Gambhir will have to be at their best to counter the moving ball and the cold conditions. The others, of course, are more experienced but with Dravid and Laxman not having the best of times lately, batting might still turn out as India's weak link. A lot will depend, as usual, on Sehwag and Sachin. The bowling of course looks fit and raring to go. Zaheer and Ishant have formed a potent opening attack and Balaji, Munaf and newcomer Dhawal Kulkarni capable of providing more than adequate backup (though I would have liked to see someone like Sreesanth or RP Singh in the team).

But before the test matches are the T20 and ODIs (which is a good thing for the Indians). There the variability is much less and thus the Men in Blue should prevail over the Kiwis. All in all though, it promises to be an exciting series and if the Indians can emerge on top, they would not only have conquered their 'last frontier' but also can lay claim, unquestionably, of being one of the top two sides in the world.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The passing of the baton !!!!!

An extraordinary year ends with an extra-ordinary event as far as cricket is concerned !!!!!. At 2.06pm local time on the penultimate day of the year, the Aussies lose a test series at home for the first time in 16 years. The demise of a great player or team is always hard to watch. And while the dethroning of the Aussies may not cause the same sense of sadness in opposition fans as that when the Caribbean greats of the 80s were toppled in 1995 (by the Australians themselves), there is still a tinge of disappointment at seeing Ricky Ponting and his men made to look so ordinary.

This, of course, should not detract from a great performance from the Proteas. For all the strides that the Indian team has taken this year, the South Africans have been the team to beat (they have not lost any of their last 10 series now !!!!). The triumph at the MCG caps off a remarkable year for South African cricket and for Graeme Smith in particular (who incidentally, has made himself a kind of a specialist in fourth innings run-chases). Remember they had come to India in the sweltering heat of April and had drawn the series there (in which the hosts were bowled out for 76 on the first morning). Then they won in England and now storming the fortress Down Under (especially at the MCG where the Australians had won their last nine tests). And while they may not quite dominate world cricket the way the Baggy Green did , they will certainly be a force to reckon with for some years to come, what with young talent like de Villiers, Duminy, Steyn and Morkel around.

And what about their opponents ?? As they officially surrender the crown, it might be the start of another transition phase. Of course, by no means will they suffer the kind of alarming and sorry decline the West Indies did post 1995, but the days of dominating teams at home would be a thing of the past. (I guess the British press would already be dreaming of the Ashes coming back ;-)). But from an immediate viewpoint, there are definitely big-time problems. Hayden seems set to be the latest of the stalwarts to walk into the sunset. There will be questions asked regarding Ponting's captaincy (not just this series but right from Sydney-gate 2008) and if he were to lose his job, then the Aussies are not exactly known for having former captains playing in the XI. And Lee has hardly looked threatening last few months. The only bright spots in an otherwise disastrous year for the Australians have been Katich, Haddin and Johnson. So clearly, places are up for grabs as they begin their process of rebuilding.

So as we set foot into 2009, the cricketing playing field appears a lot more level than it has been for quite some time !! Hope this leads to a great year ahead...


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My Sehwag theory !!!

After his audacious (there is no better adjective) innings at Chennai that set India on course for a historic win (and even though I am a Sachin fan and his long-awaited fourth-innings winning century was special, I did not doubt one bit as to who the man of the match was), I have confirmed my little Sehwag theory which I had held for some time now.

As per this thought, I believe that when the opposition bowler begins his run-up, the Nawab of Najafgarh is transported into another world. And along with him are transported only two other things, the ball (of course) and his instinct. Nothing else is present there, neither the crowd, the stadium, the pitch nor his own team-mates, the fielders.. no, not even the bowler !!!!.. Absolutely nothing else... In this world, he faces up to a ball which is delivered from behind a white screen. Therefore he has no clue as to who is delivering it from behind that screen (OK, at best he knows which way its going to turn or if the 'bowler' is delivering from 15 paces or 5). Similarly he is also playing on a snow-white surface, hence he doesn't any pre-conceived notions of how the ball is going to turn or bounce once it hits that surface. Then we come to the most important thing. At that point of time, in that faraway world , his brain does not have any memory cells. Therefore, he does not remember his own score, his team score, how many runs are required to win, whether its the last ball before lunch, whether he was dropped of the previous delivery etc etc. He has total amnesia. This allows him to do things which even the best genuises of this world cannot do, like going to a double-hundred with a six. Of course, this also enables him to do things which the most ordinary batsman in this world would not do, like getting trapped in front without moving his feet and getting out to an 'ugly' hoick when the team needs him to stay in the middle. He has only the instinct and the basic knowledge of how to wield a cricket bat.

So now imagine this scene in the faraway world: Sehwag is playing on a white surface and facing up to a ball delivered to him from behind a white screen. There is no living being around him. No wicket-keeper, no fielders, no crowd and no team-mates. He just sees the ball coming to him and when its within striking distance, that instinct takes over instantenously. If the ball is to be hit, he simply goes for it and hits it as hard as he can. Or in some cases, he also carresses the ball with the greatest of finesse. Only after he has played the ball does he get transported back to the earthly world. And then, of course, he might find that the ball has gone for a six over third-man, or edged behind the keeper or dragged back on the stumps. If he survives the delivery, then the same act is repeated all over again !!! Go to the faraway world, face up to a delivery from behind a white screen with no-one around and then purely rely on your instinct.

Seems simple isnt it !!!!...:-))


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Absolutely hiralious !!!

Below is genuinely funny piece regarding the dearth of spin bowling options in the Australian team. Reading this was wonderful in light of what is otherwise happening around us !!!


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Change in the world order !!!!

So finally, the much-awaited and much-hyped Indo-Aussie clash for the Border-Gavaskar trophy is over with (and even before the dust has settled on that contest, the Indians are back on the road taking on the English - such is modern day cricket !!). And, looking back in hindsight - which is always such a great thing - the most ardent of Indian supporters can even dare say that the series was a cakewalk for the home team. Let us not kid ourselves on that count. True, the Indians looked the better team throughout (except for the first 3 days in Bangalore) and neither of the two wins were even close. But in the end it was a well-fought and therefore, well-deserved victory.

This victory has no doubt had grave ramifications in world cricket. Now, even the most die-hard of Australian supporters are admitting that their decade-old dominance has come to a close. Not that the Aussies will slip into the decline that the Windies found themselves in after 1995 (their domestic structure is too strong for that), but the days when they simply bulldozed the opposition are now past. Now even the baggy green will have to earn every bit of its victory. Talks of the 'empire crumbling' are already doing the rounds, and, as is customary, even the English are talking about retaining the Ashes the coming summer. But, as they say, never underestimate a tiger when it is injured and hurt. And injured and hurt no doubt the Aussies are. Otherwise, I cannot think of any other reason behind Hayden's unfortunate and uncalled for comments. To blame sight-screen movements for poor over rates is beyond comprehension. The comment has inadvertently exposed the Aussie frustration which happens to every sportsman and every team who is now forced to toil hard after a prolonged period of dominance.

Coming back to the series, one of the key sessions in the series was the post-tea session on the 3rd day in Bangalore. Along with the subsequent heroics of Gambhir, Sehwag, Sachin, Laxman et al, India also has to thank, in no small measure, the partnership between Bhajji and Zaheer that day. The 'fab four' had flattered to deceive, and had not that partnership flourished, India would certainly have lost the first test and, given our penchant (or lack of it) in bouncing back after early losses, it would meant kissing the BG trophy good bye in Bangalore itself. The other key reason was, of course, the absence of a certain blond leggie. Forget him, even his impostor would have done better instead of Messrs White and Krejza (while the latter is a decent bowler, most of his 12 victims came because of the opposition underestimating him). To add to that, the pace attack proved ineffective, which meant that Gambhir and Sehwag provided India with excellent starts in almost every innings. This sure seems an opening combination as good as Hayden-Langer or Greenidge-Haynes.

Now where do India go from here ?? They must guard themselves against any complacency against the English. And of course, they now need to starting filling the shoes of the stalwarts of the previous generation. The first test will immediately be when either of Rohit Sharma or Raina or maybe even Yuvraj gets Ganguly's place in December. And for all his successes against the Australians, Amit Mishra should know that he has miles to go to even catch the shadow of the great man he replaces. All the right signs are there, it is just a matter of putting them together and sustaining it.

So many congratulations to the Indian team on its victory !!!!..

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A new dawn ????

As I clear the dust (so to speak, of course !!) that has gathered on my cricket blog, and start to write a post after 3 months, the Indian team would be also be looking to clear their whites and start a new season (in today's parlance, a month's break is enough to signify the change-over between seasons !!).

But the upcoming series against Australia signifies more than just the start of a new season. But before we come to that, a word about the series itself. There is much to feel happy about the Indo-Aussie clash. Firstly, for the connoisseurs, it is a throw-back to the tours of times long gone by, which used to feature only test matches without any pyjamas or chaddis (as T20 is sometimes disparagingly called) around. So it will be only about 5 day Test cricket for the next month and a half, and one-day specialists will be temporarily relegated to the background. Secondly of course, is the keen balance between the two teams and the recent history they have shared. That in itself would pretty much gaurantee a close and hard-fought series. So the combination of an old-fashonied 'tests-only' series and the fact that India v Australia is currently THE rivalry in world cricket, means that a cricket follower, no matter where in the world he is, would not want to miss any of the action(a 5th Test in Mumbai would have been even more fantastic !!!).

But as far as Indian cricket is concerned, as mentioned, this is more than just a marquee series. It is, indeed, the harbinger of times to come. This series will decide the shape that Indian cricket takes over the next few years. Already, the obituaries of the "Fab Four" have been written (as has been the story of the great man's career, not many seem to care about Kumble's impending departure and how his shoes are going to be filled). In fact ,one of the four legs of the chair has been cut (and the fact that it happened without more than a murmur in Kolkata suggests that even his loyalists have begun to accept that the end has come for Ganguly). Laxman and Dravid will be on trial throughout the series and while Tendulkar can still write his own retirement date, his supporters are beginning to show more than a whiff of restlessness. Infact, I did not find it amusing that he chose to skip the Irani Trophy game and then, in less than a week, be fit for an important test series. Clearly, the end of a golden era of Indian batting seems near, and I say this NOT on the basis of the performance in Sri Lanka.

The more important questions are: who will be ready to take over the baton from Sachin, Dravid and co. One might immediately point out that there seem to be none who can come close to the Fab Four as far as test cricket is concerned. But the other side of the coin is that, simply put, we have not consistenlty tried any middle-order bat in Tests for quite a few years now (with the exception of Yuvraj). Hence, we do not have sufficient evidence to pass judgement on the test capabilities of a Rohit Sharma or a Suresh Raina. The coming series (or atleast the contests against England and Pakistan later in the season) would provide an ideal opportunity to start grooming atleast a couple of guys who can take over from the old guard. Ganguly's exclusion has already created a place in the XI and should any of the other three be sorted out by Lee and co., then we would need two young batsmen to successfully fill the breach. And the sooner we unearth those two gentlemen, the smoother the transition would be. To add to the mixture, we now have a new selection committee at the helm. And if Srikkanth's method of selecting is anywhere close to his method of playing, then we are in for quite a ride over the next few months.

So hope you are gearing yourself up for one heck of a series !!! I sure I am....


Monday, June 23, 2008

An exciting new debate !!! (Part 2)

Firstly, let me disclose at the very beginning that the reason to split this post into 2 parts is not because I did any earth-shattering thinking in the interim !!! :).. It is just because I wanted a gap between the two posts, a single post would have been like a saas-bahu serial that refuses to end. But having said that, there is a strong case to sit back, clear your head of most biases both for and against KP's 'switch-hit' and then present a balanced viewpoint. So, as mentioned in the previous post, here are my two cents in the form of responses to some oft-seen comments:

1. "Reverse sweep has been in the game for long, so whats new about this ?" :

Well, there is a world of difference. In the case of reverse sweep, the batsman does not change his grip or stance. This is a very important point. Hence, the field to which the bowler had originally bowled remains in play. The reverse sweep, much like Sachin's lift over the slips or the Mareiller scoop, is another shot in the armoury of good batsmen to upset the bowlers rythm. To equate it with switch-hitting is far-fetched.

2. "The bowler does not indicate whether he is bowling a slow ball or bouncer, so why should the batsmen declare his stance ??"

I almost gulped when I read this. What kind of comparison between the batsman's stance and the type of ball bowled ??? A more apt comparison would be the bowler announcing that he is bowling a bouncer and the batsman indicating that he is going to hook. So imagine someone like David Shepherd announcing before a ball, "Ladies and Gentlemen, here is Mr. Brett Lee bowling a bouncer while Mr. Tendulkar will try and hook it. All the best to both !!!!" Surely, I would not pay to watch such cricket.

Put it another way, another apt comparison would be the bowler suddenly switching from right-arm to left-arm during his run-up. That is one very important point most people seem to be missing. 'Switching and batting' is easier, relatively speaking, for batsmen. It is almost impossible for the bowler to 'switch and bowl' . The only near example that I can recall is Debashish Mohanty, who delivered with both hands in the same motion. It would be disconcerting for the batsmen facing him to not know which hand the bowl is being delivered from. So why should be the batsmen be allowed to change from left-handed to right-handed when the bowler is about to deliver the ball ??.

All this might indicate that I am dead against the switch-hit. Not at all !! Firstly, it is quite difficult to play, with only the somewhat ambidextrous being able to play that well. The downside of the shot is huge, Even if the batsmen does not pay with his wicket, he is almost certain to look like a fool if he mis-attempts something like that. So I believe that the shot would not be that frequent as thought by some of the administrators. But if someone can play and get away with that kind of shot regularly, it is most welcome !! But if someone is game to try that, then I advocate a more level playing field for the bowlers. By this I mean, leg before wickets and wides should be adjudicated by taking into account the batsmen's original stance since the bowler is bowling to that. Finally, one should also take into account that a good bowler who consistently bowls to his field will always get good returns. Where switch-hitting, if at all it is used, might help is lessen the degree of negative bowling that we see today. For example, a left-arm spinner or leg spinner bowling outside the right-hander's leg stump might suddenly be startled to see the batsmen suddenly turn into a left-hander, thereby freeing his legs out of the way and then using the natural drift of the ball to hoik it over (right-handers) extra cover for six (in any case, there will not be many fielders on the right hander's off-side). That would be some shot to see and would definitely make the bowler think twice before going negative again. On the other hand, a good agressive bowler bowling to a plan will always get the batsmen out, left-handed or right-handed.

So while such shots are extremely difficult to execute and will be used sparingly, if at all, it is in the game's best interests to encourage such innovation but at the same time, safeguard the bowler's interest. A good and innovative batsman facing up to an intelligent bowler is always a good sight.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An exciting new debate !!! (Part 1)

These really are exciting times in the game of cricket !!!!. Firstly, we had the IPL revolution that not only took the cricketing world by storm (atleast in the country with the most influence, money and TV audiences) but actually forced the administrators, former and current players as well as the spectators to ponder the future of the other formats of the game. Test cricket was deemed to be in danger according to many (which in my opinion, is an entirely misplaced notion). Now that the fear has receeded (thanks to a couple of good Test matches subsequently, more notably the Windies attempt to get 475 at Bridgetown), it is time for a fresh new issue to confront all those linked to the game. And thankfully, this has got nothing to do with franchises and dollars or with throwing and umpiring. It has got to do with one batsman's outstanding little stunt (and I use the word with the nicest of intentions) of switching his stance in the middle of the bowler's run up and ending up a mirror image his initial stance. And if that was not enough, he managed to clout a couple of sixes with this new stance of his. Clearly, Kevin Pietersen has given the cricket world a lot to chew on.

Predictably, the reactions have been varied. Read Mike Atherton in the Times, Mike Holding and Richard Hadlee giving the bowler's viewpoint (and apparently, Mikey said that while it requires a lot of nerve and skill to break a lock and steal some jewellery, it doesn't make the act right !!). And here are opinions from some other former cricketers. The comments made by some of the viewers are also quite interesting. Some, leaving no doubt as to whose side they are on, have commented that if the bowlers are not required to reveal if they are bowling a slower ball, bouncer or yorker, then there is no case for a batsmen to disclose whether he would be batting left-handed or right-handed for a particular Another point in favour of batsmen is that since reverse sweeps et al have been part of the game for some time now (as Mike Gatting would readily testify) so there should not be much fuss on this either. From the bowlers corner, the point being made is that since it is impossible for the bowler to switch from right-arm to left-arm during the delivery stride, then the batsman should also not be allowed to change his stance either. But above all, there has widespread admiration of the 'genuis' shown by Pietersen (I suspect the reactions would have been completely different had he been bowled on that delivery and probably this debate would not have arisen).

But now that it has arisen, it is something sensible that we cricket fans. So let me also introspect over it and come back with my two cents worth opinion in the follow-up post.