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.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The IPL's greatest triumph !!!!

The Indian Premier League might just have scored its biggest triumph yesterday.

As I followed every twist and turn in the dramatic match between the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals, I felt an ever-increasing surge of adrenaline just sitting at home. And the more I got involved in the match, much to wife's dismay, nothing else happening around me seemed to matter. And when the final act in the shoddy fielding saga of the Mumbai Indians (a saga which started on Saturday against the Daredevils) was played out on the last ball, costing the Mumbai Indians the match and, perhaps deservingly so, a semi-final spot, I recall having more than a tinge of sadness in my heart. Infact, post the match, I was sulking as never before and I would rank yesterday as one of my saddest days as a cricket supporter and spectator. And why, you might ask, given that the IPL is nothing but a circus with lots of money thrown in ? The answer was provided by the Marathi daily Loksatta in today's headline which read 'Mumbai harlich !!' (Mumbai lost !!!). Yes, that was the answer. It was not the Mumbai Indians who lost, it was Mumbai who lost.

Which is why I say that the IPL might have scored its biggest triumph yesterday. It finally managed to install, in its very first season, a sense of city loyalty that is inherently strong and sustaining. In fact, some of it was apparent the other day at the Wankhede when a section of the crowd booed their own countrymen playing for the Kings XI Punjab, prompting Yuvraj to remind the crowd at the post-match presentation that some of them also play for India. As I said before, the shock of yesterday's loss was possibly more than any I have experienced as a Team India supporter. And I am sure that there would be many in Delhi and Chennai who would have rejoiced when Tendulkar was caught and bowled or when Jayasuriya missed that final runout opportunity. Let me be very candid in admitting that my love for my city slightly exceeds my sense of national patriotism, atleast at this point in time (having said that though, I take objection to the name 'Mumbai Indians' itself and feel that the IPL governing council should not have allowed that name). It is quite natural that the sense of belonging and identity increases as the boundaries between you and them are drawn closer to your space. This would explain the strong attachment that you have to your locality first, next the city, then the state and finally the country. Let me add here that all this is relative to the context and when India is playing Australia, it does not matter much to me whether Sachin Tendulkar from Mumbai or Yuvraj Singh from Mohali hits the hundred which takes India to victory. Therefore, in today's context of eight city-based teams/franchises slugging it out against each other, it is quite natural that you will support your city irrespective of who is playing for your side. But what has definitely taken me by surprise is the strength of this devotion that one has for your city. That the IPL has managed to unearth it in its very first season is the triumph that I talk about. This will only increase in the coming years. For now though, I am a true blue Mumbai Indian fan !!!!!!!

Coming back to the cricket, while Mumbai seem down and out, just imagine how utterly romantic it would be if Rohit Sharma of the Deccan Chargers plays a blinder today against Chennai and gives his city the lifeline it so desperately needs to hang on in this tournament !!!! Fantasies of a hopeless supporter, did anyone say ???


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The IPL: Mid-Term Review !!!!

So we have almost reached the half-way mark of the league stage of the IPL circus !!! All over India, people now go back from work and instinctively switch on the television to catch the latest episode of the saga. I think this is precisely why the IPL seems to have succeeded, not that many people had any doubts. As for me, although I was never a fan of the T20 and the IPL concept, I have to admit that it has kept me pretty interested. I still remember the very first match and the first six of the IPL !! McCullum tried to slog the ball over mid-wicket, the bowl took the leading edge and actually went over third man for six. A 'shot' that I had never seen before in about two decades of watching cricket. My first thought on seeing that was: 'I hope the IPL is not all about such shots !!'. Thankfully, it is not. While batsman have definitely dominated (as expected), the bowlers have also had their moments. And if you are an all-time great like McGrath, then you will always produce results, irrespective of the format. So what I have liked the most about the IPL (despite all my initial skepticism) is that it has not always been the bat dominating. The average first innings score has been around 150-170, which would indicate that the bowlers have had some say in proceedings.

Now to talk about the people. Deccan Chargers have been the biggest dissapointments so far. With a lineup that read Gilchrist, Symonds, Laxman, Rohit Sharma, Gibbs and Afridi, they really had no business to be at the bottom of the table. The misery of the Bangalore Royal Challengers is slightly more believable, given that their lineup is slightly better off batting a day and a half to save a game. Mumbai Indians have been severly handicapped by the Master Blaster's absence, but they seem to have put that (and Bhajji's Slapgate) behind them and have bounced back with 2 wins. With Sachin set to be back to face Warne tommorow, they might well turn out to be the team to watch in the 2nd half. The Knight Riders are also slipping badly after starting off well and that would no doubt be a concern for SRK as well as Kolkata's cricket crazy public.

That leaves us with the remaining teams, who at this point look most likely to reach the semis. Amon gst them, the Chennai Super Kings have also slipped to consecutive losses recently and seem to be missing Mathew Hayden. MS Dhoni would need to guard against any more slip ups. On the other hand, the Punjab Kings XI have bounced back in style. They look a much better organized team with bowling prowess (Sreesanth, Pathan, Chawla and VRV Singh) as well as batting muscle (Marsh, Yuvraj, Sangakkara, Jaywardene). The Delhi Daredevils also look to be upto the mark in all departments, more so with fantastic pairs of opening batsman (Sehwag-Gambhir) as well opening bowlers (McGrath, Asif). But if I had to pick the best team, it would simply have to be the Rajasthan Royals. And most of the credit should go to Shane Warne. By his leadership, he has transformed one of the weakest teams on paper into a formidable unit, with five wins on the trot. And more importantly, they have unearthed heroes from the most unlikeliest of people. In fact, Warne's captaincy in this tournament has prompted a few, like Ian Chappell, to hail him as the greatest captain Australia never had. Under him, the Rajasthan Royals appear to be the side who have gelled the best and it is showing in their performances.

So what began with a swashbuckling batting performance has changed into a more even contest between batsmen and bowlers. Consequently, the IPL has produced a number of excellent matches. It has held almost an entire nation glued to their TV sets in the summer evenings and has converted, not fully though, many nay-sayers like yours truly. Hopefully the 2nd half of the league, alongwith the semis and finals, will live up to the hype.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Sree and Bhajji Show !!!

In hindsight, one can be very wise and say it was bound to happen. Two of Indian cricket's most outspoken personalities have found themselves in the news once again. The IPL so far has brought some interesting battles: Warne bowling to Gilchrist, Kallis facing up to Pollock, Ishant locking horns with MS Dhoni et al. But never have these 'gentlemen' have let their adrenaline get the better of them (and I don't think anyone can accuse them of playing the IPL with any less intensity than when donning national colours). But when Messrs Sreesanth and Harbhajan Singh were in opposite dressing rooms playing a high profile contest (and under immense pressure since both their teams were yet to register a win), something had to give. And frankly, what happened at the lovely PCA stadium on Friday had left all cricket lovers, not just Indian, feel really ashamed.

In my memory, it is the first recorded instance of a cricketer actually striking a fellow-cricketer. Of course, there have been near-misses before (Raman Lamba chasing Rashid Patel with a bat, that famous Miandad-Lillie spat about 25 years ago, to name a few). But (and I say APPARENTLY, since no television camera seems to have captured Bhajji red-handed), Bhajji seems to have hit bulls-eye in the form of Sreesanth's cheek. That physical action is enough to invite the most severe punishment (not withstanding even his past record). If proved that Bhajji indeed slapped Sreesanth (whatever have been the provocation), then nothing less than a 1-year ban would suffice. Let me just play devil's advocate here (though I am no fan of Bhajji's : couple of months back I had pointed out to his ordinary bowling form). Nobody, not even Sreesanth, has said on camera that Bhajji did slap. So there are no witnesses, atleast on TV (that you can attribute to Mr Lalit Modi immediately putting gag orders on everyone concerned, including probably Preity Zinta ;-) so as to protect the IPL's reputation). Hopefully, things will be much more clearer behind the closed doors of Farookh Engineer's hearing room (and the words 'hearing room' and 'trial' are appearing far too regularly in cricket these days :(). But, just imagine, if the prosecution cannot find even a single witness against Bhajji and he is actually exonarated ???.. I guess he can peacefully retire then, having successfully sued the media and the Kings Punjab XI for millions of dollars !!! Either way, the outcome is not going to be preity... oops.. pretty . Of course, if he is guilty, then as I said, nothing less than a 1-year ban would do. Monday 28th April would see more action off the field than on it !!!

A final word about the other party as well. What I find difficult to comprehend is this: no camera captured Bhajji slapping Sreesanth. Hence, one can assume that the 'crime' happened inside the dressing room. Then did Mr. Santhakumaran Sreesanth come out after the act only to weep in front of full public view ???? Could'nt he have shed his tears in that same dressing room ???? Sounds very odd to me !! What is not odd is that the two principal actors in the latest drama are the ones who almost suit this to the T . It is time both Sree and Harbhajan introspect into their nature and realize that theatrics will only get you so far.

Amit Gokhale

Friday, March 28, 2008

End to all discussion !!!!!

It doesnt matter....

that the guy doesn't have a great technique..
that he can be found out by good wickets on helpful pitches..
that he has an ordinary one-day record..
that he has a poor second-innings record..
that the pitch had about as much life as that on Mars..
that the bowling attack was not the best in the world..

Any man who can score two triple hundreds in a career should be undisputedly regarded as one of the all time greats of the game !!! PERIOD....


Sunday, March 9, 2008

The strange case of Harbhajan Singh !!!

So finally, the saga Down Under has come to a close. And after a summer in which the off-field action matched the action on the field, the Men in Blue have returned not only with the CB Series trophy in their kitty, but also with their heads held high. True to their fickle loyalty, the fans have treated them as though they were the jawaans coming back from the front (which I admit, is not entierly far-fetched given what has happened over the past 3 months). And one man in particular, must be feeling on top of the world. For Harbhajan Singh, it would seem that he has finally had the last laugh in his battle against the Aussie players, media and the public in general. To top it all, it was poetic justice that he claimed the wicket of Symonds in both the finals in addition to claiming Hayden in the first final and running him out in the second. Indeed, for the 27 year old Sardar, the Australian tour of 2007-08 has been as much about off-the-field incidents as much as on-the-field exploits. He has had the support of the entire nation during the Sydney-gate controversy and then again, during the last stages of the tour during the 'weed' saga. His captains, his team-mates, the Indian press and the country at large were firmly behind him and in the end, it would seem he has won the war.

But if he were to closely examine his performances not only on his tour but also over the past couple of years, Bhajji would realize that it is all well to be aggressive on the field, have mock fist fights with your team-mate and to indulge in a war of words with the opposition. But the base on which all that is built is the batting, bowling or fielding performance of the concerned individual. And that is where Bhajji would seem to have a problem. All the happenings over the past 3 months have, in fact, diverted public attention away from the fact that India's premier off-spinner is losing his way in Test cricket. Apart from the two CB series finals, his bowling on the tour was but a shadow of 2001. To put some numbers in, Bhajji's last 10 test matches (since March 2006) have seen him take only 35 wickets at an average of 40.20 !!!! (See the stats here). Even these figures are propped by a spell of 5-13 at Jamaica in 2006 in which his victims were Messrs Dwayne Bravo, Ramdin, Pedro Collins, Sarwan and Ganga. Take that spell out and the average shoots to 46.4 !!. Clearly, these are unacceptable figures by any standards. His ODI figures are not to better either, though I admit he is a better bowler in the 50 over format. In the last 2 years, 54 ODIs have bought him only 51 wickets at an average of 39.47 (compared to a career average of 33.51) The economy also is slightly higher than his career rate. When was the last time that Bhajji ran through the middle-order of the opposition ? One would struggle to remember. And let it not be mistaken that his performance has been affected because of the off-field incidents, since the waning of his bowling prowess started even before all these controversies started. To put in plainly, Harbhajan Singh, on pure form, does not deserve his place in the Test side. And that is especially worrying for India since their Test captain and leading spinner is close to retirement (in fact I worry that Dhoni's continuing success might put pressure on the selectors to make him the Test captain sooner that they would like to, thus virtually pushing Kumble to retirement). And if Kumble were to retire at some point next year, and if Bhajji's bowling form continues to be the way it is, India would have huge problems in test matches. Suitable successors need to be unearthed as soon as possible. In fact, I would play a Piyush Chawla or a Pragyan Ojha along with Kumble for the test s against South Africa just to test out the spin bowling cupboard.

As for Bhajji, he would do well to reflect on his bowling performance rather than continue with his verbal volleys even after the tour has ended. Aggression without being backed by performances looks pretty much silly.


Friday, February 29, 2008

The 'Art' of Batting, Bowling, Fielding and ...... ???

For a long time now, humble spectators like me have believed that the wonderful game of cricket was all about batting, bowling and fielding. Indeed, these three disciplines were called 'art' and the cricketers who mastered them were rightfully known as artists. We used to called GR Vishwanath an artist because of his impeccable late cuts and square drives. Similarly we called Shane Warne an artist because of the wonderful control he exhibited over that most difficult art of wrist spin bowling. But now, we are told, there are also some other arts that every school kid must learn if he has to be a top international cricketer. And one of them is the 'art' of sledging. And this amazing discovery of a new art form comes from no less a person than the captain of the Indian cricket team. As much as I have liked his on-field captaincy in the ongoing CB series, that comment from Mahender Singh Dhoni left me shocked and cold.

Almost immediately and inevitably, the media was full of debate on whether sledging has a place in international cricket or not. One faction called for the ICC to immediately ban sledging in any form. The other party argued that 'sledging' made for a more interesting game and without it, players would just be going about their business in much the same way as robots do. In order to make sense of all this and to give MS Dhoni a fair trial, I looked at the online Oxford Dictionary for the meaning of the word 'sledging / to sledge'. Ironically, one meaning of the word 'sledge' takes us back to Santa Claus and his sledge (vehicle) driven by Rudolph the reindeer. It reminds us of a time when we were all children, innocent and free from any aminosity towards each other. The other definition, staggeringly, is refered only to in cricket and it means ' offensive remarks made by a fielder to a batsman in order to break their concentration' (read it here). Do we interpret that to mean that sledging is prevalant only in cricket and not in other sports ?? So the dictionary definition states that 'to sledge' neccessarily means to make offensive remarks at somebody else. While it is too much to expect any cricket captain to know the dictionary definition of any word, we do expect him to be careful about his remarks. And if the Indian captain wants us to believe that to make 'offensive remarks' is an 'art form' which all youngsters should learn, then I have to reconsider my support to his team. Mind you, I do not subscribe to the view that cricketers should walk on the field with duct tape on their mouths and thoughts. Some emotion is perfectly acceptable, indeed required, on the field. Frustration and disgust at playing a wrong shot or bowling a full toss, dissapointment and dissent at being given a bad decision is not bad at all, since it shows your committment on the field of play. But to direct that frustration against an opposing team member is simply not on. And when it escalates into a war of words even off the field, then the umpires and ICC should act quickly.

Anyways coming back to the point, if MS Dhoni really meant what he said and if we are going to see his team indulge in all sorts of on-field chatter (there again, humorous chatter is fine, the umpire must know where to draw the line if the players are not mature enough), then I believe he has got off even more lightly than Mathew Hayden has. Sadly, in the midst of all the jingoism of 'big bad Aussies' vs Us, we (including the BCCI) have completely overlooked a potentially serious comment made by our own captain and he has gone scot-free.

Oh and there are 2-3 cricket matches yet to be played before this tour finally ends. I only hope that they pass of peacefully !!!!


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Coming this summer, the biggest circus of them all !!!!

So its official now. The game of cricket, certainly the 44 day circus called the Indian Premier League, can be safely classified in the category of 'Sports Entertainment', alongwith with the likes of WWE. Each cricketer has been valuated, just as equity research houses throughout the world value stocks. The difference, of course, is that the cricketers valuation is lacking any fundamental analysis (and some would say, also lacking rhyme or reason). But today, every cricketer worth his salt has a price tag attached to him and is avaliable for being bought and sold, just like any stock, commodity, toothbrush and toilet paper. Most of the reactions to the auction last week have been extreme. Some have lamented the 'death of cricket' while others have written that 'it was pathetic to see Rahul Dravid sitting besides Vijay Mallya like his secretary'. The best quote comes from Andrew Webster in the Sydney Morning Herald and it goes '"While a cricketer's value can be determined by a salivating squillionaire, a man's worth can only be determined by his actions," . After all this outburst, the stage now will shift to the grounds where the eight franchises (note that I refuse to call them 'teams' because this motley formation is an insult to that word since I cannot see, for example, any common objective being shared by Brett Lee and Sreesanth while playing for Chandigarh) will 'do battle' against each other. But I am terribly sceptical about the level of competition that will be on display. The reasons are many:
1. At 44 days, the tournament is too long a la the World Cup last year. Each franchisee playing 14 games is a bit too much. And even though they will be playing at night, it can be terribly hot and sweaty during summer evenings here.
2. So many games can also bring in spectator fatigue which in turn can affect the players' level of intensity.
3. But most importantly, is there going to be any pride for which they will be playing for. A large of part of sports thrives on pride (whether it be local, state or national) and the emotions arising out of that pride is what drives true sportsman more than being employed for a million dollars by an industrialist/Bollywood superstar to do a job. In the absence of this pride, how will this galaxy of stars motivate themselves ? We all remember the terrible cricket dished out by the ICC World XI in the super series a few years back.

To add to this, what about the spectators ? The onus of the success of the IPL (and other leagues of its ilk) depends on the support by the fans, both in terms of attendances as well as television eyeballs). But the majority of spectators in India watch the game only because of national pride which is why reactions are so extremely good or extremely bad. Now I live in Mumbai but will I support the Mumbai franchisee ? Atleast I have my talisman player in 'my' franchisee but what about someone living in Chennai ? Will he support the Chennai franchisee and the likes of Dhoni and Hayden ? On what grounds should he ? As of today, there is not even a single local player in that franchisee. To make matters worse, a Rohit Sharma is playing for Hyderabad. Now if he is playing against the Mumbai franchisee at the Wankhede and is leading a run chase, do i egg him on or pray for his dismissal ? A point also made by Kunal Pradhan in the Indian Express. The least that they could have done is to remove the cities from this whole mess and called them simply "Reliance Industries XI" or "King Khan's Superstars" or "Priety Zinta's Heroes" !!!. Spectators are going to find it hard to support their franchisee. and It is all going to be quite confusing. But inspite of all this, and inspite of the fact that I am not a great fan of this whole concept, I find it unlikely that the IPL circus will fail. Alas !!


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Stats and the 'truth' !!!

For all of those with a keen interest in cricket, and especially of cricket facts and figures, the blog 'It Figures' on Cricinfo (link here) offers more than just food for thought. For those who have not yet checked it out, I suggest you stop reading further and click on the above link. An excellent blog by some of the most famed cricket-lovers (and number-crunchers !!).

More than anything else, it brings out the dichotomy between figures and judgement i.e. statistics hide more than they reveal. Of particular interest is the latest post on the blog, which talks about the most 'consistent' bowlers in test cricket history. Now, putting a quantitative measure of the word 'consistent' is itself daunting. Statistically, consistent would mean a distribution in which maximum no. of points are near the median. Translated into cricketing terms, it would imply a batsman who mostly has scores close to his test average (and who is therefore deemed more consistent than, say, a guy who averages about the same but is more of the '100-5-2-150-5' variety). When it comes to bowlers, things are not that simple. So what the writer of the blog has done is to come up with a measure of bowling consistency. What it implies (read the blog to understand it fully) is that a bowler who most often gets a wicket in an average spell (7 overs for a medium-pacer and 11 overs for a spinner) is more consistent than a bowler who bowls 3 wicket-less spells and then gains a bucketful of scalps in his next spell (even though, both the guys end up with similar bowling averages). It is certainly quite interesting and has invited a host of comments from readers (ranging from appreciative to dismissive and a few downright silly - mostly from readers whose favourites could not find a high-enough position on that list).

All in all, a quite brilliant blog in that it exposes us to how our judgement on who the best is might change when subjected to science.

May the blog live long !!!


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Young Guns start off well !!!!

We are now half-way through the tri-series in Australia and for all the fans that were optimistic, or even apprehensive, about how the 'Gen-Next' of Indian cricket would perform, the news has largely been good. The team has performed admirably on most counts and though it is way too early to use phrases like 'best Indian team in last decade', 'genuine contenders for the next World Cup' etc, it cannot be denied that this team has displayed enough to suggest that better days lie ahead. I would not read much into yesterday's loss against the Lankans. A rain-shortened always tends to favour the side batting second, especially on a good batting track and with a good batting lineup. And after the veteran of the side turned the clock back in one memorable over from Sreesanth and pocketed 23 runs, there was always going to be one result thereafter. Having said that though, Dhoni probably missed a trick in not selecting an extra bowler especially when the toss happened after the rain delay. Picking 7 batsmen for a 29 over match is always an overkill. Robin Utthapa must be wondering what is he doing in Australia.

But coming back to the series overall, it has been quite an impressive performance. Though the first two games could not be completed, one can safely say that in neither of those games did the rain rescue India. Against the Aussies, with the way our bowling went just before the last shower, the result could have gone either way. In the second game, India would have fancied their chances after scoring 267 in their innings. But it was the win against Australia on Sunday that would have given their supports much joy. And two of the heroes of that day have been real revelations. Messrs Ishant and Rohit have more in common than their surname. Both are young, talented but more importantly, eager to learn. In many ways, Ishant Sharma reminds one of Srinath in his early days. Tall and thin with a similar high-arm action, both have made their names on a tour to Australia (Srinath in 1991-92). But where Ishant scores is his pace. I was pleasantly shocked to see an Indian clock 147kph more than once during the test series. And even during yesterday's match, the ball to Dilshan (in Ishant's first over) hit the bat rather than the other way around. Srinath used to do that in his youth (though at slightly lesser pace). Like Srinath, Ishant has the priceless ability of bringing the ball back to right-handers through the air, but straightening after pitching. Thats what got Ponting out, both at the WACA and the MCG. Ishant needs to watch out for his no-balls, it might hurt him at a crucial time. But, lets not heap too much praise on the young lad at such an early stage in his career. His moves hereafter will be closely watched.

On the other hand, Rohit Sharma has shown a good temperament in his last two knocks, especially in a tight run-chase against the World champions. He seems to have most of the shots in the book in addition to a decent technique. And though Ian Chappell may have gone slightly overboard in proclaiming him as India's No 4 bat after Sachin, it is clear that the 20-year old has a bright future ahead of him. Another heartening feature of our performance has been the running between the wickets. In recent matches, I can be fairly sure that we have gained 10-15 runs just because of the fast legs on the field. It may lead to a seemingly stupid run-out once in a while, but over the long run it will pay good dividends.

On the debit side though is the form of Yuvraj Singh. Clearly, whether it is because of injury or some 'other' factor, he is hardly looking the player that he was during the T20 World Cup. And it was particulary shocking to see him fielding at mid off instead of the usual backward point. Clearly, something is seriously wrong there and India needs a fit and hungry Yuvi. And we need to give some chances quickly to young Piyush Chawla. Kumble's journey into the sunset might be just a few test matches way and we only need to look at Australia's plight to realize what the loss of a champion bowler can do to your team. If Chawla is seen as the next best bet after Anil, then it is vitally important that he be given as many chances as possible, even partnering the captain in the upcoming test series against South Africa. Similarly, Suresh Raina also deserves a chance. He has played some good knocks in the domestic season and is stil one of our best fielders. And dont forget, he is only 22.

But the fact that players like Raina and Chawla cannot find places, tells us something about the depth of the side. Give this side a year or so and they hopefully will start delivering the results. For now, one can only say 'so far so good'.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A cricketing colossus goes into the sunset !!!!

Every once in a couple of generations, comes a sportsman who is so different from the rest that he sets new benchmarks for the rest that ply his trade. Talking specifically about cricket, such champions can be counted on the fingers. All batsman, however great, come a distant second when compared to the Don. Hardly any all-rounder is mentioned in the same breath as Sir Gary Sobers. When it comes to leg-spin bowling, Shane Warne is widely regarded to be the best that ever was. And when it comes to the clan of wicketkeeper-batsmen, you need to look no further than Adam Gilchrist. Which is why his retirement holds so much significance for international, let alone Australian, cricket.

In fact, if you think about it, the phrase 'wicketkeeper-batsman' is a relatively new one in cricket. And Adam Gilchrist can perhaps lay a legitimate claim to be its inventor. Before he burst on the scene in the late 90s, a wicketkeeper was looked upon as not much more than just that, a wicket keeper. A batting average in the late 20s was perfectly acceptable, along with the ability to hang around with a top order batsmen. Some wicketkeepers had a couple of exceptional days in their careers where they made centuries. But that was an honourable exception. And how things have changed !!! Today, a choice between two glovesmen inevitably comes down to who is better with the bat in hand. And in fact, quite often, the better wicket keeper loses out. Blame that on Adam Gilchrist. Today a keeper is not good enough if he only contributes 30s and 40s. He needs to have the ability of scoring 70s and 80s, and even a hundred, on a frequent basis. All because of the man who changed the way the world looked at wicket-keeping forever. Which is why I stick my neck out to say that Adam Gilchrist was one-in-every-two-generations cricketer.

I hardly need to repeat the figures. What is more important is the way that Gilchrist turned matches on their head. In his second test match, Australia were set 369 to win by Pakistan at Hobart. At 126 for 5, things looked bleak. Enter Gilchrist to slam an undefeated 148 of 163 balls (against Akram, Waqar, Shoaib and Saqlain no less !!) and lead the Aussies to a 4 wicket win, a win so improbable that it gave the team the belief to go for another 14 consecutive wins. At Mumbai in 2001 (on a turning track), Bhajji was wreaking havoc and Australia were 99 for 5. The man walks in and slams 122 off 112 balls, the Aussies completing a 10 wicket win on the 4th day. At the Wanderers in 2002, he walked in the relative comfort of 293 for 5, but still clubbed 204 off 213 balls, taking his team to 652 for 7 and an innings+360 runs win. If the South Africans thought it was Gilchrist at his best, they were mistaken. In the next test, Australia were 185 for 6 but managed 382, because of one man and his innings of 138 off 108 balls. There are numerous such examples. But let no one mistake Gilchrist only as one of the most explosive batsman of all time. In his primary role of a wicket-keeper, he was quite good as well. Standing up to Warne and McGill, and standing back to the pace of Lee, and succeeding most of the times, is no mean achievement. He might not be the greatest wicket-keeper of all time, but as a package, he was irresistible. And, not to forget, in a team with a reputation of being the bad boys of cricket, he stood out with his hard-but-fair approach.

He was one of the cornerstones in both the 16-test-win run achieved by the Australians. His contribution was no less than that of McGrath, Warne, Ponting or Hayden. Which is why it would be interesting to see how Australia handle his departure. Warne's absence is already showing quite alarmingly if you are an Aussie fan. It is also proving hard to replace McGrath. But Gilchrist's absence could hurt them even more. Brad Haddin is talked about as being as good a batsmen as Gilly, and if it is anywhere close to the truth, bowlers around the world might as well give up. But even if someone becomes the second Adam Gilchrist, we will always cherish the original !!!

Thanks for the memories Gilly !!!


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

India's 'could-have-been' man !!!

So finally, Messrs Vengsarkar and Co have unveiled, or so it seems, the vision of Indian cricket's future (atleast in the ODIs). The golden oldies have been sidelined and in come the young blood. I am no big fan of Ganguly, but I confess to have been surprised by his exclusion. But on second thoughts, one can see the selectors rationale and I only hope that the by-now-mandatory-kolkata-outcry will die down and hopefully, these events will not affect our team in Adelaide.

But, amidst all this clamour for youth, there will be one man contemplating his now-fragile future as an Indian cricketer. Although he is no longer young, having turned 30 last month, he was till recently, a virtual certainty for the Indian ODI team. He certainly does not fail the selector's new criteria (throwing, running between the wickets et al). In fact, he is still considered to be one of the best outfielders we have. But when he ponders over his exclusion (especially for a tour where he was a success last time around), Ajit Bhalchandra Agarkar might do well to reflect on a career that was but, more importantly, that could have been.

Apart from the big three, Agarkar's is the name that has evoked the most debate amongst cricket fans. Lets get the numbers out of the way. If you had come from Mars (with some knowledge of cricket, of course) and someone gave you the statistics of Indian bowlers, then you would have seen that Agarkar's bowling average and strike rate are better than Zaheer Khan, RP Singh, Sreesanth, Munaf Patel (only Pathan compares well with him on these parameters). And of course, he bats and fields well than all of the above-mentioned bowlers except Pathan. Then, why on earth (no pun intended :)), you might well ask, is he being left out ??? The answer probably lies in the fact is that the Indian cricket fans, the selectrors included, have run out of patience with him. And that, in turn, is because even his worst detractors know that he had the potential to offer a lot to Indian cricket than what we has given us. And though I am still an Agarkar supporter, I feel he has contributed to his own decline. For one, not a lot of thought was put into his bowling. The misplaced tendency to bowl short and aggressive, in a manner not suited to his stature, paid him rich dividends in his early days. But soon, it was found out by top batsmen and thereafter, an Agarkar short delivery was promptly cut through point or pulled in front of square. Then there is also that terrible disease of bowling a boundary ball after four good deliveries in an over. When he has bowled within himself and looked to swing the ball, he has done well for himself.

But just as it takes two to tango, somewhere he has also not got his full due. His batting, for example. During the Chappell-Dravid regime in 2005/06, all and sundry were tried at the No 3 position, but somehow, Agarkar never got a chance up at the top. Keep in mind, that in the 4 innings that he has batted at No 3, he has scored 182 runs (including the career best 95 no.). Pathan grabbed that opportunity and has never looked back since, atleast when it comes to batting. Maybe, just maybe, success batting at No 3 would have rubbed on his bowling as well. He was well worth trying out at No 3, given that he is a good timer of the ball and not afraid to go over the top in the Powerplays (and can hit some clean sixes as well). Also, the insane comparisions with Kapil Dev did not help either.

But, all might not be lost as yet. While he might be 30, he still seems fit enough to compete with the young guys. And if only he can clear his mind and find his way back, he might well script another successful comeback story.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

A victory to savour !!!!!!

'Ek Aur Karega ?' will definitely go down as the most famous question in Indian Cricket History. It was a question that, to my mind, changed the course of the test match and just maybe, will change the course this Indian team takes. Had this question not been put, an Australian win might have become a real possibility. Ponting had done well to survive that torrid working-over from Ishant (albeit with a slice of luck) and a different bowler coming in would have released the pressure off him and we all know what a great batsman he is once on song. With a strong line-up to follow, Australia would have well fancied their chances. And one thing is for sure: If the Aussies had won this match, their aura of invincibility would have increased manifold, other teams would have resigned themselves to the contest of the best No 2 team, and world cricket would have been in further danger.

This is of course, not to say, that India won simply because of that twist of fate. Indeed, the above question would have become irrelevant had Ponting been given out leg before previously in his innings. This victory, and I have no doubt that it would rate as the best overseas victory for Indian cricket (possibly alongwith Port Of Spain 1971 and definitely better than Adelaide 2003), has been achieved because the Men in Blue simply outplayed the Aussies in most contests. An inexpeirenced opening pair (how Hayden was missed in the second knock !!) was put under pressure by a trio of medium pacers whom everyone expected to finish second best to Lee, Clark et al. In fact, I admit that I did not think Pathan was good enough to be part of a 4 bowler attack (he is ideal as the 5th bowler and No 7), but I am happy to have been proved wrong. All the hoopla about the Perth track being 'red-hot' was rendered useless, the bowler who played only to take advantage of the track went wicketless (again proving that only raw pace has never bothered anyone). And India's batsman chipped in with useful contributions all the way through. Aided by brisk efforts by Sehwag at the top (how we missed him at the MCG !!), the middle-order did a great job building on that momentum. Dravid and Sachin ensured that we put in a decent score in the 1st innings, while Laxman held together the innings second time around (with great support from Dhoni). And of course, there was the skipper himself, getting to yet another milestone in a glorious career. He will no doubt remember wicket no 600, more so because of the result.

And I also dont believe in the theory that this win is poetic justice, after looking at what happened in Sdnyey. Sure, the Indians have done an excellent job in lifting themselves up after the events of the past week and came back hard at the Australians, but to say that this win was simply meant to be is to undermine the efforts put in by the boys, as well as the fact that it was a thrilling match. The only time poetic justice was delivered was with Andrew Symonds. An outside edge went unnoticed in Sdnyey and granted him a life, while an inside edge to pad off the same bat also went unnoticed at Perth only this time, he was at the wrong end of an umpiring error. What goes around, as they say, comes around. But apart from that, the umpiring errors evened out and thank goodness for that !!!!

A great win by a team full of self-belief, lead by an astute cricket veteran, backed by high performing seniors and talented and fearless juniors !!!

Congratulations Team India and all the very best for the future !!!!


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Blunders Down Under !!!!

Its been nearly 72 hours since that dramatic Sunday when all hell broke loose down under. Thankfully, things are getting back to normal. The tour continues, so we have a match in Perth (where the worry I have is that the Aussies will trample all over us, aided by the famous Perth wicket and then people will wonder what the whole fuss was all about) and the teams (atleast the captain) seem to be on talking terms again. But the relief that things will return to normal should not overshadow the fact that what happened during those 5 days (and the night afterwards) has serious implications for cricket in general. In fact I feel there are three distinct issues that took place during the Sydney test, each one of them so serious that, had it even occured in isolation, would have proved quite damaging to cricket's reputation in world sports. The fact that ALL three of them happened in the same match explains the volcano of emotions that swept the nation. Hence, all three issues deserve a seperate hearing.

Issue # 1

The substandard officiating in the match

By now, reams of newsprint and hours of TV time have been spent on this, so I will not flog a dead horse further. Would like to make one point though: As human beings, we all get things wrong sometimes, just that this match did not see wrong decisions even out for both sides and when the side that has suffered the most loses so heart-breakingly there are bound to be extreme reactions (I can assure you the reactions would have slightly tempered had, say, Kumble and Dhoni batted out those overs). But what worries me more about the umpiring is that, in recent times, the officals have shown blatant ignorance of the game's laws (World Cup final anyone ?) or logical thinking. For e.g. in case of Ganguly, if both umpires are not sure whether the catch carried (as it was then) it should have either been refferred to the third umpire or the batsman should have been given benefit of the doubt. How can one ever trust the players on the ground in this ? (Pre-series agreement or not) Surely, Messrs Bucknor and Benson should have known better. So the ICC has a serious issue on hand: to improve the standard of world umpiring in quick time. Currently, the elite panel of umpires is really elite: only 8 members, of which one (Mr Hair) is no longer officiating and another (Mr. Bucknor) who will no longer enjoy the trust of the players irrespective of which game he officiates. (The best of them is an Australian and hence cannot officiate in Australia). So it needs to have more in that club. But the question is: are there umpires good enough to join the elite group ??. At least in India, the answer is no. The signs for cricket are not good indeed.
The ICC has also set a dangerous precedent by removing Bucknor from the next test. You bet that there will be games as worse as the Sdnyey test as far as the standard of umpiring is concerned. So does it mean that the ICC will start changing umpires after every badly officiated match ?

Issue # 2

The whole racisim row

Probably the most serious and the saddest of them all. At first, it reminded me of an incident in my childhood. I must have been in the 5th standard or so. While playing with a guy a year younger than me, I inadvertently let a cuss word escape my mouth. He promptly reported the incident to my mother, who then gave me more than a earful. What I am trying to get at is this: not everything that is spoken on the field deserve to be reported, especially if no one apart from the two parties has heard or seen anything. In most cases, you cannot give justice based on one man's word against another. Hard evidence needs to follow. Given this, Bhajji has certainly been convicted without a fair trial and the appeal against the verdict was certainly required. But here again, to hold the entire tour to ransom based on two demands was not on, in my book. When writers in other countries argue about how India is taking undue advantage of the situation given its power in world cricket, there are not entirely misplaced. Finally better sense has prevailed and the tour goes on.

Also, another dangerous precedent has been set: the ICC might need to appoint a battery of lawyers and judge along with the match referee for each match, especially if all teams decide to report everything that has been said on the field. And in due course of time, we will have microphones attached to every player on the field. And what about abuse from the dressing room ??? So have mics there too !!.

Issue # 3

General player conduct on the field

In addition to sledging and racist comments, this also includes general conduct on the field as well as the yardsticks applied by the players to various situations. Here, quite a few instances come to mind. Ponting's continued insistence (in the press conference) that he had held a clean catch off Dhoni was shocking to say the least. In fact, it is interesting to note that he himself bought up the word 'integrity' during the press conference. Most of the journalists would not have thought of it till then. The Aussie captain also proved himself to be a 'master' at judging the legitimacy of dubious catches couple of hours earlier, during the Ganguly dismissal. How we could have been so confident so as to raise the dreaded finger when even TV replies were inconclusive, we would never know. Then there was Adam Gilchrist. Normally renowned to one of the fairer players in the Aussie side, he is the one who is known to walk after edging without waiting for the umpire's verdict. But still, his was the most vociferous appeal when Dravid thrust his pad out while facing that delivery. He would not have been more than 2 meters away from Dravid and he surely would have quite clearly seen that the ball was miles away from Dravid's bat or glove. Yet, you turn your throat sore in appealing. Now, I dont expect cricketers to be saints, but trying to spread a saint-like image while conveniently indulging in double-standard does nothing but expose you as a person (Witness Ponting saying: "If you have to question my integrity, then you just have to look at the first innings when I didnt claim the catch at slip"). But after seeing the Ponting in the 1st innings vs the 2nd innings, we do question his integrity. After all, in such cases, a man with conveniently changing morals is worse than a man with no morals at all.

So, a lot has happened over the past 72 hours, and lets hope all the affected parties: the players, ICC, the cricket boards and world cricket in general, takes the right lessons out of it.