Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Defeat with many fathers......

It is a measure of a Cricket team mired in mediocrity, that should take a contest against the very best to lift their game. Improvement hinges on survival, not on standards set for oneself. For India, this has been the case and it is basically down to the fact that they are not as good as Australia. Playing Australia results in two things:

1. Defeat.
2. An improvement in the defeated teams game.

For India, who are experiencing a version of second season blues, this defeat must surely have many fathers. They did not win and Mohali, and in terms of this individual match, it was down to the fact that nobody produced anything exceptional with either bat or ball. The core ingredients of a good performance were very much there - at least with the bat. The approach was measured, embodied by Sachin Tendulkar, who seemed to have batted with the sole intention of seeing off the new ball. He is no longer as good as he once was, and on this wicket, with an India in form, or with the Tendulkar of yore, we might have seen him going after Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee from the word go..... disturbing their length just by his intent as he did so famously in Nairobi in 2000.

The bowling, by all accounts was terrible. I was afraid that the Indians would try to test the middle of the pitch. Ian Chappell wrote about the use of the short ball in this tournament and warned that India trying this tactic against Australia's batsmen may not be the same as Australia trying it against India's. And so it proved. All the hard earned chips from the batting were squandered in 15 mad overs at the start of the Australian innings. From then on, it was a matter of pulling things back, just like it was against the West Indies.

They say that Victory has many fathers, but Defeat is an Orphan. This has been a defeat with many plusses, and for India to wage a realistic World Cup campaign early next year, this defeat must have many fathers. Chappell must zero in on his World Cup squad - i suspect that hes still looking for 1 batsman (to replace the disappointing Suresh Raina, Hemang Badani must be wondering what he might have achieved had he played as many games as Raina has).

India clearly has an inexperienced team right now. Indeed, the average age of the Indian squad for the Champions Trophy is 25). But experience comes from results like these, because they tell you more about a teams strengths and weaknesses than victories. India batted well yesterday. With Tendulkar failing and Yuvraj unavailable, and error of sending Raina ahead of Irfan, 250 was about as many as they would have got against this line up on any day. The bowling had a bad day.

Quality is a function of the number of bad days that a unit has. Australia are the team they are because they rarely have bad days - batting or bowling. That is what India have to aspire to. It is the sort of quality which it is possible for a team to build within them. Brilliant strokeplay and natural talent is something that is probably God's gift, but the number of bad days are in one's hand. This is never revealed more acutely than when a must win, sudden death game has been lost.

India's subsequent success will depend on how many people apart from the Captain take ownership of this defeat. India are not the best gifted team in the world right now. But to change the question from "
How good are we really?", as is being asked now, to "How can we be the best?", as was being asked last season, when success and India seemed to be firm friends, it will take responsibility - from Chappell and Vengsarkar. This can begin by making the following assertions:

1. Tendulkar is not as good as he once was. Therefore he is no longer the undisputed best batsman in the side. The logic of the best batsman getting the most overs does not therefore hold. India need to take a stand on this, to let it lie is a strategy fraught with danger. A third opening option - Gautam Gambhir would be a good selection.

2. 4 or 5 bowlers is a stand India need to take. If 5 bowlers play, then Powar and Harbhajan have to play, simply because they offer a range of options to the captain. While Irfan the batsman has been used a great deal, Dhoni the batsman has not yet been tapped. If 4 bowlers play, then India need to be sure that Tendulkar will bowl. While Sehwag, Yuvraj and Mongia are excellent part time bowlers, Tendulkar has wicket taking ability.

3. They need a settled batting order. Flexibility worked fine, when the players in the batting order were all new and had not yet settled in as a batting unit.

I would go ahead and present a batting lineup and a squad for the world cup. In batting order it would be

Gautam Gambhir, Virendra Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Rahul Dravid, Mahendra Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Ramesh Powar, Ajit Agarkar, Harbhajan Singh, Munaf Patel

The reserve players would be Kaif, Sreesanth, Mongia, VRV Singh

This is the best Indian squad right now. Part of the problem with flexibility is that after a while it descends into randomness. This is not good for allocation of responsibilities. Tasks get allocated, but not responsibilities.

Food (well... atleast Pav Bhaji, if not Poli Bhaji) for Vengsarkar and co.....!

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dravid's India face their biggest Test yet......

Richie Benaud's criterion for a successful captain, is that he must be lucky to the successful. Most captaincies are defined by results in important games. Rahul Dravid has been Captain of India for more than a year now. In that year, he has achieved a great deal, in both the Test and ODI arena, with his young team (the average age of the Indian side for much of the past year has been under 25). Some important wins have been achieved, some important talent has been identified.

Currently though, the team seems to be going through classic second season blues. Ideas are not working, players are not delivering, confidence is down. All in all, team India is not a winning team at the moment. Apart from the return of Sachin Tendulkar and the superb disciplined display of skill and control by Harbhajan Singh and Munaf Patel, India have nothing much going for them. The Captain himself, by his standards has not enjoyed the best period in terms of runs. Since the start of the West Indies ODI series, Indias batsmen have achieved 1 ODI century between them - Tendulkar's 141 against the West Indies.

To make matter worse, the Test they have set themselves is possibly the most difficult one in cricket today - to play Australia in a must win game on a Mohali wicket which has been a fast bowlers dream in this tournament. In the last 2 games played here, Shaun Pollock, Makhaya Ntini, Shane Bond, Umar Gul and Iftikar Rao Anjum have taken 18/236 in 65.3 overs. If a Test Match had seen 18 wickets fall in 65 overs, there might have been questions about the quality of the wicket. 3 out of the last 4 innings on this wicket have been worth less than 225 runs, the last one being Pakistan's 89 all out. Runs have come as well, Sri Lanka made over 300, Bangladesh replied with 265 and New Zealand made 274 here in the Champions trophy.

I just wonder what Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Mitchell Johnson, Adam Gilchrist, Mathew Hayden, Ricky Ponting, Mike Hussey and Andy Symonds make of all this.

But most importantly, i wonder what Sachin Tendulkar makes of all that he has seen since he returned to the Indian side. In 2005-06, Tendulkar, dogged by injury watched Rahul Dravid's India win match after match, chalking up a world record 17 consecutive successful run chase. He has returned to find the fearless winners of 2005-06, to be a shadow of their erstwhile selves - racked by doubt, starving for runs, increasingly sapped by the elusive nature of success. He sees before him an Australian side in a not dissimilar situation - in spite of their ODI success, Ponting is far from being a popular well-regarded leader. With a titanic Ashes battle looming, defeat in this game will not sit well with the Australian Cricket fraternity. Ponting's own batting form, which is threatening to assume 2001 proportions, is another worry.

This game is crying for someone to rise above the contest, and champion a victorious effort for his side. Tendulkar is familiar with this idea. Has been for at least a dozen years now. Whats more, i am pretty certain that he is keen to make some runs against this Australian attack. The sight of Glenn McGrath at the end of his bowling mark should fire Tendulkar up. In Malaysia, their battles have lacked the professional antagonism of yore.

It is time for Tendulkar, for the umpteenth time, to lead India out of a hole. I see nobody else with the ability to put to it past the Australians. There has been nobody in the past 10 years who has done this. In 23 runs chases which Tendulkar has played in vs Australia, India have won 15, and Tendulkar averages 75 in those run chases.

Over to Sachin Tendulkar then....

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Friday, October 27, 2006

The Recreational Vehicle in Swades - Symbolism or Error?

Yuhi Chala Chal Sathi
Dekho Na song from Swades

Watch these two scenes from Swades. The Recreational Vehicle that Shah Rukh drives in Dekho Na is a right hand drive recreational vehicle. In the other song (Yuhi Chala Chal Sathi), the RV alternates between being a right hand drive and a left hand drive. Each of these shots, where the RV alternates has a shot of the wheel, from the respective side before it.

On the face of it, such an error would be very difficult to make - it would require 2 RV's, or some video editing involving mirror of some of the shots. The RV is a right hand drive.

The only other explanation is that this is some subtle symbolism about the USA and India..... Shah Rukh Khan and India. Such symbolism would seem to be contrived, especially in the context of the rest of the film, which is full of some very penetrative metaphors.

Food for thought then.......

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

India inflict sudden death upon themselves...

West Indies beat India by 3 wickets, with 2 balls to spare at Ahmedabad to qualify for the semi-finals stage of the Champions trophy for the 3rd time in 5 editions. India have made the Semi-final twice before, and just to give you an idea of the mountain that looms before them, if they are to make the semi-final summit, the last time India beat Australia was at Brisbane in January 2004. Since then there have been 5 consecutive defeats. But wait... it gets worse, the last time India beat Australia chasing was in 1998 in Sharjah, when it would be fair to say that it was Sachin Tendulkar who beat Australia, inspite of the the rest of the Indian batting. Looking back before that, India's wins over Australia in ODI cricket came from Tendulkar's blade.

Indeed, in India's wins over Australia, chasing runs, Tendulkar averages a phenomenal 75.00 in 15 games. So, for the umpteenth time, India, a nation of a billion, tatters and all (to use a brilliant phrase from one of Times of India's columnists), will look to the pint sized champion as he walks out to open the Indian innings at Mohali. Even in todays multi-talented, multi-faceted, successful Indian squad, when it comes to Australia, this is an inescapable truth.

Right now, the national team is facing a crisis of sorts. I wrote during their victorious phase that even though India were winning, we did not seem to have a settled first team. With 2 non-performing batting assets - Raina and Sehwag, and one mercurial all-rounder - Pathan, India desperately need some champagne cricket from some of their individual match winners. A team effort is unlikely to be enough. They need some one to play a great innings or some one to get 4-5 cheap wickets.

Over to Mohali.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Zealand qualify for the last 4 in Fleming's match........

In his record 194th match as captain of New Zealand, Stephen Fleming lead New Zealand to a 51 run victory over Pakistan at Mohali. This is New Zealand's 4th consecutive victory over Pakistan. It is not for nothing that they rank 3rd in my ODI Rankings. They have beaten South Africa and Pakistan in this tournament.

Effectively, South Africa v Pakistan is now a winner takes all, sudden death match. New Zealand with 2 wins have already qualified. Given the way Group B games have gone, only 2 teams in Group B can end up with 2 wins - New Zealand, and one out of South Africa and Pakistan.

In Group A, it is a different story. India could beat the West Indies today and still not qualify if West Indies beat England and Australia beat India. If England lose to the West Indies, then Group A is likely to be decided based on net run rates, so winning by a significant margin will be important.

Im having a particularly difficult time with my predictions..... i didn't think New Zealand would beat Pakistan, but they have. I hope im wrong about Group A as well :)

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

South Africa win.... Sri Lanka on a prayer....

So much for predictions. Before the tournament began, i felt that Sri Lanka would be the team to beat. So did Harsha Bhogle. Two defeats later, Sri Lanka along with England are on the verge of elimination. Englands only chance of qualification is for India to win all three games and for England to beat West Indies and somehow emerge with the best net run rate. Sri Lanka's position is now similar. They need to pray that the only unbeaten team in their group - Pakistan wins all three matches and Sri Lanka beat New Zealand and emerge with the best net runrate.

After the well timed 2 day break, the tournament has now moved on to the business end. The people who designed the schedule for this tournament have to be congratulated. They have designed it with a keen understanding of how the stakes develop in a round robin format. With atleast 3 teams still in with a realistic chance of making in to the semifinals from each group, and with the 4th team having a slim chance, the tournament is set up perfectly.

The low scores in the tournament so far have been a matter of much discussion. I think there has been a combination of factors which has resulted in low scoring contests. For one, its still early season in India, and the wickets have not really settled down, especially in North and Western India where the monsoon has just ended. Most teams seem to have come with the expectation that they will make 300 without too much effort on Indian wickets, irrespective of how they play. Most of the wickets have fallen due to the batsmen trying to do too much.

So we enter the last 10 days of the tournament with India, West Indies, Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand all having 1 win each under their belt. Even though i have been proved wrong before, i will stick my neck out and make another prediction:

The following teams swill qualify for the semifinals:

West Indies
Australia
Pakistan
South Africa

:)

Now theres a reverse woof if there ever was one....



Saturday, October 21, 2006

Australia keep the group alive.....

England are on the verge of elimination from the Champions trophy. The only remote chance they have of qualifying is as follows:

1. India wins all 3 matches
2. England beat West Indies.

This will result in England, West Indies and Australia staying on 1 win each, with India having won 3 games. I suppose it will then come down to run rates. In such an event, Englands low totals against India and Australia will count against it.

The much touted Ashes contest ended in a damp squib, with the lack of depth in the English batting, and their indecisive use of Andrew Flintoff being shown up, as England were bundled out for 169. They will doubtless blame the wicket, however i would point out that once Kevin Pietersen was dismissed by Mitchell Johnson with some good pacy bowling - softening Pietersen up with the short ball and then getting him with the wider, fuller sucker ball, the English batting order was looking at 1 specialist batsman - Collingwood. It was no surprise that he remained not out scoring almost a run a ball.

Flintoff was wasted at number 4 in the batting order. If there is 1 slot in ODI cricket which has always remained the domain of the specialist batsman, it is the number 4 slot. England would have been better served by using Flintoff as an opener, and letting Ian Bell play in his normal middle order slot at number 4.

England will doubtless try to distance itself from the "pre-ashes skirmish" commentary (which both sides were very much part of before the game). Everyone will agree that this is one contest in the Champions Trophy which has gone as per the formbook.

The next big games in the tournament, apart from India v West Indies of course are South Africa v Sri Lanka and South Africa v Pakistan. Group B is looking like an evenly balanced group, with any of the 4 sides being good enough to make the knockout stage.

In group A, barring a miracle, the contest for the knockout stage is between India, West Indies and Australia. India v West Indies suddenly becomes a very important game. The winner qualifies for the semi-finals. If West Indies win, then India will be left with the difficult task for playing a must win game against Australia for the semi-finals place.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

England v Australia in the Pink City.....

England have played Australia in India twice before - once in that famous World Cup final in 1987, and then during the Nehru Cup in 1989-90. That era, from 1987-1992 marked the hey day of English ODI cricket. Since then, England have been in steady decline in ODI cricket - their inherent advantage of having well developed domestic ODI tournaments and consequently experienced professional ODI cricketers have been significantly nullified by the evolution of the international ODI game. It would not be remiss to point out that their interest in ODI cricket has also been in consistent decline from that point on. England were the first team in the world to have seperate ODI an Test Match captains, and this has served over the years to ensure that "specialists" never got a look in in the ODI side, with the result that English teams often got outclassed in international cricket. Bits and pieces journeymen, however experienced, could not counter the relentless quality of international heavy weights.

Australia on the other hand, have gone from strength to strength - are the undisputed Champions of the World today, having made the last 3 World Cup Finals and won 2 of them.

England meet Australia in the Pink City of Jaipur today in a sudden death match - the loser of this game, is for all intents and purposes eliminated from the Champions Trophy. There is a significant sub-text to this game, or so they say, given the much anticipated Ashes series in Australia this year. This is in itself quite interesting, because the anticipation can be put down to the realistic possibility of an even contest in an Ashes series in Australia for the first time in 10 years. In 2002-03, Australia won the first 3 Test Matches playing 10 days of Test cricket, in 1998-99, it was a similar story, as it was in 2001 in England. The last time England won the first Test of an Ashes series was in 1997. After this long run of non-contests, we suddenly have an Ashes series, which is also a contest to decide the number 1 Test team in the world (it is not - Australia are too far ahead even if England win the Ashes. England winning the Ashes would merely signal Australian decline, not their removal from the number 1 slot)

The relationship between todays contest in Jaipur and the Ashes later this year, is at best tenous. England have been a poor ODI side for the best part of 12 months now, and the Australian ODI side, given their perennial obscession with experimentation and quest for the right combination, is a far cry from their brilliant Test team, which is not only settled, but is oozing with genuine class. Most importantly, Justin Langer and Shane Warne - two vital cogs in the Australian Test match machine will not be playing the Jaipur game (even though both would walk into the English ODI side today).

Even so, it is to be expected that the relationship and "impact" of todays game on the Ashes will be discussed to death by the distinguished panel consisting of Navjot Singh Sidhu, Charur Sharma and Mandira Bedi (her presence is an absolute mystery to me). Whether this group is infact capable of discussing anything is still an open question, but one can grant them the benefit of the doubt for the moment. With Andrew Flintoff not bowling in todays game, this game is at best a One Day International between Australia A and England A-. To consider that this will have any impact on the Ashes is to miss the whole point of One Day Cricket and the sudden death encounter. It is also a shrill reminder of the absolute disregard for the present tournament.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Formbook is ignored..... the tournament is wide open...

The Champions Trophy has finally come to life after a series of one-sided demolition jobs which seemed to get over in the blink of an eye. The formbook, and reputations have been thrown out of the window, and the favourites have been dealt some serious blows. If we consider the fact that the format of this tournament suggests that a team can afford at the most 1 defeat in the group stage if it wants to win the tournament, then Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka are all facing sudden death situations now. If we consider the formbook, and take into account other factors such as reputation, venue etc. one would have expected India, Australia, South Africa and Sri Lanka to make the last 4. 3 of these teams have lost their first game, and the other has managed to win, without looking convincing during their batting innings.

The Brabourne stadium has given us a 450 run game, hopefully putting complaints about the Brabourne wicket to rest. I envy the Mumbai spectators, who watched Lara make 71 and Gilchrist make 92 on the same day. You couldnt ask for a better treat of left handed batting in a days play.

The rankings after West Indies beat Australia are as follows:

Australia 0.599
South Africa 0.584
New Zealand 0.562
India 0.533
Sri Lanka 0.507
West Indies 0.495
Pakistan 0.478
England 0.433
Zimbabwe 0.310

The way Zimbabwe are going, im going to have to include Bangladesh in this rating very soon.

The Champions Trophy is well and truly underway though. Pakistan came through adversity superbly to win against the in form Sri Lankans. This is the 5-6th time in the last 2 years that Sri Lanka have been unable to defend 250+ with Murali in their ranks, after going 5 years without losing a game after making 250+ batting first, with Murali to defend their total for them. Teams are beginning to sort Murali out - atleast to the point where they are able to deny him wickets.

Predicting the Semi-finalists from here on, is a risky exercise.... which is how it should be in a great tournament.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

India beat England, but is Sehwag going the Ganguly way?

In his last 100 ODI games for India, Virender Sehwag has made 17 scores in excess of 50, and only 2 in excess of 100. Contrast this with his first 58 games, where he made 13 scores in excess of 50, with 5 of these being hundreds. Even allowing for "I'll continue to play my natural game", it is clear that Sehwag's run output has been in decline. It almost seems as though he goes through prolonged troughs, after which he makes a few scores, only to return to his troughs. This is in start contrast to his Test scores, where his run output as opener is well above anyones wildest dreams.

One wonders whether "learning" is part of Sehwags natural game. He seems to find newer ways of getting out and throwing away easy confidence building runs. It was almost poetic that John Wright was on commentary when Sehwag played his outlandish waft at a very wide delivery from the wayward Harmison.

It would be very sad that the cloak of confidence that Sehwag wears, is not infact a sign of denial and disregard of reality, that marked the beginning of the end for Ganguly.

India on the other hand seem to learn with every game. The immaculate line and length of the pacemen which built up the pressure which eventually resulted in England's batsmen self-destructing is becoming a happy habit. I believe that the nature of leadership defines the mould of a team. In Indias pace attack, Munaf Patel is fast emerging as a leader, and his special emphasis on line and length.

A 4 wicket win may seem unimpressive, and indeed it might have been better, but in a knockout tournament, a win is worth its weight in gold. India need to build atleast 4 different teams to win the tournament, and they have beaten 1.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Rahul Dravid - One year at the helm......

On October 14 2005, Rahul Dravid was appointed Captain of the Indian ODI side. Its been exactly 1 year. 2 triangular series and 6 bilateral series later, Rahul Dravid has emerged with a 19-11 record in 32 games. This includes the most successful season in Indias ODI cricket history (17-5 in 2005-06 season). He has cast the side in his own image, and Ganguly's era remains but a distant memory.

The influence of Chappell in the experimentation and flexibility that has been so characteristic of the Indian success in the last year has been much discussed. However, we would do well to remember that before Chappell, and before strategy became the big talking point in cricketing circles, it was Dravid who was the embodiment of flexibility in the national team. He batted at 6, at 4, at 3, he kept wickets, he bowled off spin, he was specialist slip fielder. He personfied the flexible attitude that is the teams mantra today. He is probably the biggest reason for the success of such a mantra.

Every team is cast in the mould of its Captain. That is probably the sign of a successful captain. It is also probably why someone like Sachin Tendulkar or Ian Botham never mastered the art of captaincy. Ganguly's team was by temper much like Ganguly - passionate, brash, hugely talented, individualistic - the starkly visible event that was the huddle was symptomatic of these realities. Lloyds West Indians were like Lloyd - ruthlessly professional, proud - they exuded sheer power. Richards's West Indians built on what Lloyd achieved, but tended unlike Lloyd's team to attempt impossible brilliance, often to their own chagrin. Imran was similarly successful - a uniter and a leader who could lead by deeds as well as by words.

Rahul Dravid is the undisputed Captain of India today. His team will do well to emerge in his mould - tough, deliberate, erudite, professional, yet Sportsmen, always.

India are lucky to have him leading their ranks.

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cricket and Conversation

I am currently reading Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian, in which he has presented India as a country with a rich argumentative tradition, which in his view is central to the understanding of the culture of India. He has presented a view of the Bhagwad Gita, as being the conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna, and not as Lord Krishna's sermon to Arjuna, pointing out that in the 2000 or 2500 or so years that the story of the Mahabharata has been told, the sermon has retained its inherently conversational nature. Have you not heard the Arjunaah uwachah and Bhagwaanaah uwachah "quotations" of this event? Arjuna's moral dilemma about vaging war on his own kinsmen is a valid one, and even though Lord Krishna's point of view won the day, Sen points out that Arjuna's argument has persisted through the ages.

I will now seek to extend this paradigm of argumentation or conversation to Cricket :)

Cricket in my view is inherently a conversation - between bowler and batsman, between batsman and the fielding side. Every delivery is a development of cricketing conversation. Not all conversations are as profound or as intense as the celebrated one in the Gita. Some are fairly mundane. The pitch isnt always queered, and the context isnt always as loaded as the awe inspiring image that builds up in ones mind when thinking about the super warrior General and his charioteer (a God in disguise, no less.... ) discussing morality and Dharma with countless men, all armed to the teeth staring each other down in the background....

In most cases, Cricketing conversation amounts to a decent off spinner, delivering good honest offbreaks on a goodish length outside offstump, turning in to off, and the batsman responding with respectful straight bat, making sure that the conversation continues in the same vein. If the spinner is Shane Warne, then the conversation is not quite so simple. Warne's greatness lies in the fact that his intention is to never have a decent, respectful conversation. To back this competitive instinct, he has the ability to articulate himself in a way which ensures that most of his conversations end on his terms. If the batsman is Tendulkar or Viv Richards or Lara, its pretty much the same story.

More than any other sport i have seen, Cricket resembles conversation - in all its hues, with different personalities, each with his own quirks taking part. They respond differently in different innings (conversations), depending on the context, the opposition and the audience. We, the viewers, are also the readers and listeners of the these conversations. In my view, it is as listeners and readers, that the essence of the sport is revealed. Mere viewing brings in just the spectacle - the entertainment.

Have you ever wondered why Glenn McGrath, the very epitome of deliberate accuracy, would spend an entire morning bowling outside Sachin Tendulkars off stump? Have you ever wondered why Tendulkar in response would spend that entire morning studiously ignoring McGrath? To be able to view this, and more importantly to be able to read and listen to the cricketing conversation between highly skilled sportsmen is what makes watching Cricket so rewarding.

It is also why one tends to prefer Test Cricket over One Day Cricket. It is almost as though Test Cricket is real life, while One Day Cricket is but a caricaturization of that life.

The contest in cricket then is about giving a good account of oneself in cricketing conversation. Winning and Losing are inevitable.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

How about some Gandhigiri from Bombay's Cricket Fans.....

The Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai is one of the venues for the ICC Champions Trophy to be held in Mumbai. However, in the light of the terrible bomb attacks in Mumbai this monsoon, for which the investigating agency claims to have conclusively established who was responsible. In view of this, the Shiv Sena's intention of not allowing Pakistan to play in Bombay just 3 months after such an attack may find many sympathisers.

As a Cricket fan, i sincerely believe that sport is capable of healing rifts and building character. However, in this instance, i believe that Pakistan playing in Mumbai would be insensitive, not due to any political reasons (indeed i do not claim to understand the high Politics of the India - Pakistan situation, neither do i have any preference amongst the right, the left or the shifty centre in Indias politics today), but simply out of respect for the victims, whos families lives have been shattered. (The
Indian Express has been publishing biographical stories of each of the blast victims on their front page. They have reached the 83rd victim so far. Do read those.)

Heres an alternative idea. The
only possibility of Pakistan playing in Bombay is if they make the final. Everyone who intends to watch the final of the Champions Trophy at the CCI on the 5th of November, should buy the tickets (if they already have tickets, thats even better), so that on paper it remains a full house. If Pakistan don't make it to the final, they can go and enjoy a great ODI final. If the results of the investigation still stand on the day of the final, and if Pakistan do make it to the final, those who have bought the tickets, should stay at home.

I cannot think of a better way for the citizens of Bombay to show some concern and regard for the events of the 11th of July and the subsequent outcome of the investigation. Imagine the impact of Pakistan playing a final in front of a near empty stadium... if India play Pakistan in the final, an empty stadium will be even more powerful as a statement from Mumbais cricket fan.

Further, it will serve as a counterpoint to the usual violent strategy of damaging the pitch, or damaging the stadium, or engaging in random violence, just to project anger and disagreement. This achieves nothing, it just incites anger and frustration and a loss of valuable property.

All it will cost is 1 ticket. Corporate Houses could do this easily.....

The purpose of the protest is to point out the insensitivity of entertaining the Pakistan Cricket Team in Mumbai this November in light of recent events. It has no broader goal of making a point to Pakistan or influencing India-Pakistan relations or anything. As i said at the beginning, this is not a political proposition, but a humane one, from the city towards its unfortunate victims. It will be a response which it will be impossible for anybody to ignore.

I have great admiration for the extremely gifted Pakistan cricket team, but in view of their own troubles with Mr. Hair and Mr. Doctrove (I disagree with their response, again from a purely cricketing point of view. Their response was the equivalent in cricketing terms of the violent, disruptive protests all too common in India), i hope they will understand. Even though i greatly admire their cricket, i would not like them to play in Bombay at this point in time and would request them to not play here. If the investigating agency turns out to be wrong in their resolution of the case (i merely consider this because it is theoretically possible), then we will owe the Pakistan Cricket team an apology. However, if the purpose of the action is clearly stated, then it will be easier to address any ill will it may cause in the event of the current proof being questioned.

It would be the perfect Cricketing response. It would also be genuinely funny. :)

That was Munnas point wasn't it?

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Home of Cricket in India...

International Cricket returns to the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, the home of Cricket in India. Thanks to Google Maps, im able to describe to you today, an area which has been my home away from home for almost 9 years. I went to college near the Victoria Terminus, and i worked in offices at Churchgate after that. It was, for some one like me, a haven of sorts.

The Azad, Cross and Oval Maidans are public parks, with cricket pitches built on them. They are the home of schools cricket, university cricket, the Times Shield and other local tournaments. The Gymkhanas on Marine drive also host a lot of matches. The big games - grand finals etc. are hosted by the Brabourne Stadium or the Wankhede Stadium. The former is the cricket stadium of the Cricket Club of India, the pioneering cricketing institution in India.

Walking to work from Victoria Terminus to Churchgate was truly enjoyable, watching cricket in all its hues. I have seen Wasim Jaffer stroke a silken coverdrive at the Cross Maidan, and i have seen plenty of agricultural heaves, fielding gaffes - you name it. It is a wonderful cricketing ethos which persists on the Maidans. Mid On in one game often finds himself next to second slip from another. Boundary hits, especially the hard hit ones (the kind Sachin Tendulkar is reputed to have been capable of at age 15), often travel unhindered across the maidans, and often end up 300 yards away from the batting end, traversing pitches, pedestrians, fielders, kids, thick grass, bare ground - it is a wonder that reverse swing was not invented on these maidans!

Vinod Kambli is reputed to have hit sixes into the sea from the Gymkhanas along Marine Drive. The first test match hosted by India was played at the Bombay Gymkhana, which is located on the southern side of the Azad Maidan - easily recognized on Google Maps; it is decidedly greener than the rest of the maidan. The famed triangulars, quadrangulars and pentangulars, so vividly described by Ram Guha in his magnificient social history of Indian Cricket, were played here. The Palvankars rose as a great symbol against caste prejudices on these very maidans. Baloo Palwankar was a great left arm spinner, while his younger brother Vitthal was a superb all round cricketer. Vitthal's unforgettable remark to inspire his ace spin bowler (who was also an expert classical singer) on the final morning of a quadrangular final "Ata Bhairavi suru karuya" (Bhairavi is a specific type of composition in Hindustani Classical Music which is recited as the finale of a musical performance), which means "Lets start the Bhairavi now" happened at the Bombay Gymkhana. The spinner (i think his name was Joshi) had not had a good outing in the first innings of the game, but proceeded to bowl out the opposition in the 4th innings with a stirring spell.

Across the pathway from the Bombay Gymkhana on the western side is the Sassanian Club Pavilion. This pavilion, like most others is a small wooden hut, which serves as a change room for players. The Elf Vengsarkar Oval is situated at the northern end of the Oval Maidan, also easily distinguished from the rest of the maidan by its well maintained green cover. I have watched age group selection trials here as well as Harris Shield finals. I have also watched the cream of Bombay cricket play here in a Times Shield A division match. I was walking by as Ajit Agarkar, then a wiry young bowler, with deceptive pace off the wicket who had just made his name in international cricket tested Vinod Kambli with a couple of short ones and followed it up with a wider fuller delivery, which Kambli duly edged to second slip, where it was brilliantly caught by Surendra Bhave, a Maharashtra batting machine who averaged 58 over a decade of first class cricket.

My greatest cricket watching memory however comes from the 1993 Hero Cup tournament. The Brabourne Stadium hosted the West Indies vs South Africa game. Allan Donald, Curtley Ambrose, Fanie de Villiers, Desmond Haynes, Brian Lara, Richie Richardson and Daryll Cullinan were the star attraction. Jonty Rhodes stole the show however, with 5 unbelievable catches to add to his typically gutsy 40 runs. Each catch was better than the previous one and he seemed capable of catching and stopping anything that was even remotely in his domain. Rhodes fielded at Cover Point for the fast men, but when Pat Symcox came on, he moved to mid-wicket. South Africa won by 41 runs, mainly because Rhodes's brilliance nipped every potentially decent innings in the bud. His victims that day were Brian Lara, Desmond Haynes, Phil Simmons, Jimmy Adams and Anderson Cummins, who threatened briefly to score a match winning cameo. I remember being dismayed that the lashing square cut for four was cheered with as much gusto as the airy fairy edge to third man. It is one of the sad things about watching international cricket in India - very few people are actually interested in the details of the Cricket that is played. Everyone is interesting in having a good time and i suppose one cannot really complain about that.

Watching domestic games, or tour matches is a different story. Fewer people come to watch, and as a result, everyone actually watches the Cricket that is played. I have watched the visiting Australians of 1998 and 2001 play Mumbai (Ranji champions at the time) in their warm up games. The Australians lost in 1998 and nearly lost in 2001. One of the great things about the Brabourne stadium is that one can find a seat directly behind the bowlers arm, without paying extra money. The North stand of the Brabourne Stadium is the best seat to watch Cricket. I remember watching Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie bowl in 2001. In 1998, there was only 1 story. Sachin Tendulkar hammered the Australians to make 204 in less than 5 hours at better than a run a ball. Bombay made 400 in about 78 overs, Shane Warne was hammered for over a 100 runs in his 16 overs, and Bombay went on win by an innings. Bombay played for India in that game, ruthlessly attacking Warne. Tendulkar of course has the last word about that innings. He merely observed that Warne had not bowled round the wicket to him or any of the other batsmen in that tour game. He expected this to happen in the Test Matches. The rest is history.

I watched Tendulkar make 233 not out out of 490 against Tamil Nadu in a Ranji Trophy semi final at the Wankhede Stadium. Bombay were about 430/9 and needed a first innings lead (TN had 485 on the board). Abey Kuruvilla was the last man, and stayed with Tendulkar without contributing a single run, as Tendulkar made the remaining 60 runs in about 7-8 overs.

India will not play at the Brabourne stadium unless they qualify for the final in this years Champions Trophy. But you can be sure that all the cricket that is played will be discussed with a fine tooth comb by the cricket community that inhabits the surrounding maidans. I wait with great anticipation for the next great batsman from the Bombay batting dynasty to emerge from these maidans. These grounds have been the cradle of Indian cricket for over a 100 years and for Indias Cricket to prosper, their welfare is paramount.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Champions Trophy preview.....

The ICC Champions Trophy gets underway this weekend in India. With the revised format for this years tournament, we will get to see a a series of very good contests. Two groups have been formed -

India, Australia, England, Qualifier

Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, Qualifier

The qualifiers will be 2 teams out of West Indies, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, who will play a qualifying tournament in the first week of the tournament. India and England kick off Champions Trophy at Jaipur on the 15th. With the tournament being played at 4 venues - Mumbai, Jaipur, Mohali and Ahmedabad, it promises to be a compact, high quality competition. The winning team will have to win atleast 5 out of 6 matches against top quality opposition. Victories against minnows count for nothing here unlike the World Cup.

If i were to pick one team to do well in the Champions Trophy - and go on and win it, i would pick Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka have been doing well in ODI cricket since Mahela Jayawardene became captain, and beat England 5-0 in England in July. Furthermore, they will head into the main round robin contest, having already had a good feel for the conditions and having gone through the qualifying stages against decent opposition (and i expect them to qualify easily). The opposition they will face - England, Australia and India, or South Africa, Pakistan and New Zealand, are all either coming in cold, or facing a recent downturn in form. Australia and India do not have a settled first choice combination, New Zealand are coming in cold, Pakistan have just come off 2 consecutive losses to England, and have a third choice captain now, thanks to Younis Khans decision to withdraw from captaincy. The South Africans are probably the best ODI team in the world at the moment, but they are coming off a 2 month break followed by a 3 match ODI series against Zimbabwe in South Africa - not what you would call the most testing preperation.

So Sri Lanka look good. Im backing them to win the Champions Trophy in Mumbai on the 5th of November.

I wonder what will happen if Pakistan are scheduled to play a game in Mumbai at some stage of the tournament. If there are protests against Pakistan playing in India, given the recent evidence, there might be sufficient public support for these protests.

I am not very hopeful of India's chances, however given the Tendulkar factor, the nature of the tournament and home advantage, India might find themselves in the last 4, and from there on, it is a matter of overcome that infamous final's jinx.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

The greatest cricket fan in the world.....

Dharamvir, a young polio stricken boy from a small town in Madhya Pradesh, took a 36 hour train journey to Chennai to watch the Challenger Series.

Thanks to Cricinfo and Anand Vasu for publishing this story....

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Oval Test Match..... what really happened during the inquiry?

Simon Hughes on Cricinfo
Boycott on the controversy

Ranjan Madugalle did not conclude that Pakistan did not tamper the ball during the Oval Test Match. He merely concluded that there wasnt enough evidence to conclusively prove that the damage to the ball was caused by ball tampering and not by natural wear and tear.

Now, Simon Hughes, an expert witness for Inzamam Ul Haq during the enquiry, suggests that he had his doubts about the ball. His point seems to be - "Whats wrong with a bit of cheating, it just makes things more interesting".

That is besides the point.

A large motive behind the ICC's actions has been to defuse tensions. That is why the ICC did not invite expert witnesses to counter Geoffrey Boycott. They could have lined up anybody they wanted to counter Boycott's opinion - former Umpires, other elite panel umpires, current referees, past referees, past cricketing greats.

However, they didn't. I suspect it was because they wanted to end the issue - the defuse the controversy. That in itself is a very brave and farsighted position to take. This is because - this is not the last time Pakistan or any other team will have allegedly tampered the ball. There will be other occasions with much better evidence.

As it happens, Madugalle has made his points brilliantly in a precisely worded statement. Pakistan however, continue with their pre-inquiry gloating.

The point here is not to malign Pakistan. They are the one cricket team apart from Australia that i would pay money to watch. The point here is to keep the facts of the matter in focus, as against the perception created by Pakistan. They have sought to play this out in the public arena. It is a cricketing problem, and their attitude has been quite contemptible in my view.

If Rahul Dravid had walked out, and if BCCI had made the same kind of noises, ending in Dravid getting a 4 match ban, i would have wanted the resignations of Chappell and the BCCI chief.