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...