Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gambhir banned for 1 Test Match

Chris Broad delivered his judgement against Gautam Gambhir today, after delaying it overnight. The Indian opener has been banned for 1 match after he pleaded guilty to a Level 2 charge. It seems to be a reasonable decision by the match referee, who had fined Shane Watson 10% of his match fee for his part in the said incident after the hearing on the 2nd evening of the Delhi Test.

Gautam Gambhir's position becomes even more indefensible, after he claimed that the elbow wasn't deliberate during his press conference. If it wasn't deliberate, then why pleady guilty? Gambhir's history in this matter doesn't help either. His previous encounter with a match referee was for a similar situation involving Shahid Afridi in 2007. The harsher penalty second time around is most probably a result of the fact that this is a repeat offense, and it is hard to see why it is not deserved.

Gambhir clearly revels in getting involved with the opposition, and it doesn't seem to affect his concentration. But he needs to make sure he avoids this kind of gratuitous contact. As a batsman, he is always going to be on the wrong side of the law in these situations.

In this instance, Gambhir had no business running into Watson during his second run. As a batsman he's obliged to run around the bowler in these instances.

Update: The BCCI has indicated that Gambhir will appeal. This is probably an attempt to get the ban converted into a hefty fine. There isn't a good reason for this to happen, especially since Gambhir pleaded guilty. I don't think a guilty plea guarantees any sort of leniency.

Delhi Test, Day 2 - Bat dominates ball

The same Indian batting line up that struggled in vain to reach 300 against Sri Lanka two months ago, has now produced three stellar batting efforts in a row against an Australian attack that is losing teeth by the session. The worrying thing for Australia is that while it was VVS Laxman and Gautam Gambhir who went on to make double hundreds, any of the other 4 batsmen could just as easily have reached a big score. Australia don't seem to have the wood on any of the Indian batsmen.

What remains to be seen in this Test Match now, is whether the Indian bowlers can bowl Australia out twice. The standard 4 sessions rule of thumb applies i think - if Australia are still batting in their first innings at lunch on Day 4, they will have done enough to save this game. If you look at Chennai 2004 and Sydney 2004, this is pretty much what happens. If on the other hand, if you look at the Bangalore Test of 2005-06 against Pakistan, this rule doesn't hold - Shahid Afridi made a ridiculously rapid fifty, and Pakistan had enough time to bowl India out.

It remains to be seen whether Kumble and Mishra bowling together will perform the way Warne and MacGill did - sub-optimally.

What stood out for me over these two days, is the fact that the edge has been so obviously lost in the India - Australia contest. A few years ago, the most compelling cricket, when India were involved, was watching the Indian middle order bat against the opposition bowling. In these games, the most compelling cricket is to be found when India bowl. When Australia are in the field, its amazing how limited Ricky Ponting's options are. None of the Australian pacemen have been able to swing the ball - new or old. As a result, Ponting is very quickly forced into this defensive tactic of bowling at the stumps with two mid-wickets. On good wickets, this is not likely to work. The Australian spin attack is non-existent.

Ponting should look at how Ganguly and Dravid ran the Indian Test team for most of this decade - lots of very conservative, accumulative batting, with an eye for a potential opening to get into a winning position if the opposition batting wobbled at any point.

The Australian batting needs to come into its own before its too late. Day 3 at Delhi is where they must begin their stand.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tendulkar on Gilchrist - loose statements

Sachin Tendulkar has put the matter to rest - in devastating Tendulkaresque fashion. It is the most succinct description of Gilchrist's effort. This comment by Tendulkar should be a footnote on that page in Gilchrist's book in the paperback edition.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Delhi Test Preview

The last time India won two consecutive Test Matches in the same series was against Sri Lanka in 2005. In the last 5 years, India have won more Away Test matches than any team except Australia. However, when it comes to playing at home, England, Australia and South Africa have all been significantly superior.

I cannot recall another Test Match in the last three years, when India have looked stronger. Every aspect of India's game is looking good - the opening combination is the best India have had in living memory, the middle order is making runs (albeit not in the way it once did), the new ball attack looks skilfull and incisive (and better than the Australian attack!), and the spinners have been competent. The wicketkeeping position, for many years a bogey, is now occupied by an astonishingly accomplished cricketer.

The one man who is under severe pressure is Anil Kumble. He didn't bowl well at Bangalore, and Amit Mishra, who took his place at Mohali took a five wicket haul on Test debut, and bowled well in both innings. What adds to the pressure on Kumble, is that Delhi is one of his favorite venues. He has taken more wickets at the Kotla than at any other ground in his career (55 wickets at 15.42 in 6 Tests). In addition to all this, he has to captain the side. The contrast between Dhoni and Kumble was stark at Mohali and Bangalore, this Delhi Test is no routine captaincy assignment for Anil Kumble. He is not in an enviable position. He has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. What a position to be in after 18 years and 600+ Test wickets! 

India are expected to win, because the Australian bowling hasn't threatened, and the Indian bowling has. The Indian new ball attack has been superb - they have taken 21 wickets at 23 in this series so far, the sort of numbers one associated with McGrath and Donald and the West Indians in their hey day. If Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma stay fit, and keep up this form for the next two Tests, India will win this series. 

After nearly two decades as India's bowling mainstay, i wonder what Anil Kumble thinks about his situation today - bowling in an in form attack, possibly as the bowler the opposition would most prefer to face. For make no mistake about it, Anil Kumble has been India's mainstay for the last 18 years. Every 4th Test wicket taken by an Indian bowler in the last 18 years has been taken by Anil Kumble. This is the case even though Anil Kumble has played only 82% of the Test Matches that India have played since his debut (131 out of 159).

I think he should play at Delhi if he is fully fit. I disagree with the idea that Dhoni should replace him, even though, as i have described above, its probably the worst possible position for Anil Kumble to be put in right now. Wicket-taking luck has eluded him this year, and i think things are about to turn around for him.

If Kumble is the big story on the Indian side, it is hard to pinpoint any single player on the Australian side who may be similarly precariously placed. Hayden, Lee and to some extent Michael Clarke are all under pressure for Australia. 

Of these three, Lee's situation seems to be most similar to Kumble's - he too seems to have lost his wicket taking touch. Lee has been the second best wicket taker in Test cricket in the last 12 months (62 wickets at 24), but the wickets at Bangalore and Mohali have not suited him. He has not gotten his reverse swing going to any threatening degree, and i think the great improvement in his bowling in the past few months, is the exact thing which is getting in the way. Lee's recent success has been down to increased accuracy, and the ability to bowl a superb good length on or outside off stump. On wickets which have offered almost nothing, this kind of classic seam bowling is not as effective. I wonder whether it might be better for Lee to set aside his original plan of bowling in the corridor and being patient, and switching to a more traditional fast bowler's ploy - of bowling flat out, hitting the wicket hard, and bowl either full, or very short. This would be more in the mould of Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akthar. The reason i think this might be more suited to Lee, is that he lacks the natural height of a McGrath or a Walsh to bowl that good length and be threatening, especially on these wickets. Lee needs to bowl like an genuine fast bowler, and not like a classical outswing bowler. This should be possible, especially with 5 bowlers available to Ricky Ponting.

The second problem area for Australia has been their spin bowling. Ponting doesn't have much to play with in this department, but his use of Cameron White has been telling. He has tended to use White only as a last resort, often after having tried Michael Clarke first. It almost as though, he feels he can't use his spin bowling options as attacking ones because they're not good enough, but as a defensive, holding options, he favors the occasional finger spinner over the wrist spinner. White, like Watson is a bit of a compromise play - an attempt to shore up the lower order, and still play 5 bowlers. 

Australia missed Stuart Clark at Mohali, and if he is fit, will shore up the bowling attack for the Delhi Test for sure. He has been instrumental to Australia's recent success, and has quietly built up an impressive Test record (82 wickets at 22 in 19 Tests).

Matthew Hayden will make runs at some point, and his method against Zaheer Khan will be interesting to see. Zaheer Khan has had a lot of success against left handed top order players since his return to the Test team in South Africa in 2006. Graeme Smith, Kumar Sangakkara, Andrew Strauss, Alistair Cook, Mathew Hayden and Michael Vandort have all be dismissed multiple times by Zaheer. Quite apart from all the talk from Hayden about being attacking against Zaheer, here's a little nugget which might help him - Opening batsmen who bat at number 1 (i. e. face the first ball) averaged 9.75 against Zaheer in innings where he has dismissed them (16 innings out of 31), while opening batsmen who bat at number 2 (i. e. start at the non-strikers end) averaged 36 against Zaheer in innings where he dismissed them (7 innings out of 31). 

So Zaheer Khan is twice as likely to dismiss the opening batsman who faces up first, than he is to dismiss the opening batsman who faces up second. Hayden has faced the first ball in all four Australian innings in this series so far, and has fallen to Zaheer Khan in the first over twice.

So take the hint Matthew. Let Simon Katich take first strike.

All in all, India go into the Delhi Test as favorites. But beware! The Ferozshah Kotla has been to India, what WACA has been to Australia, and we all know what happened there recently. That the ghost of Sydney has recently been revived by Adam Gilchrist, may just be an omen.

On that note... 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mr. Gilchrist Please Stop Digging

Adam Gilchrist denies that he accused Tendulkar of lying in his book. The Age story that i linked in my previous post is titled "Gilchrist questions Tendulkar's honesty". Only extremely pedantic parsing coupled with partisan love for the former Australian stumper would enable one to see the Australian stumper's point, given the short portions of the book which reveal, in Gilchrist's own words, that he thought Tendulkar's testimony to Judge Hansen was a joke, and that the "The Indians got him (Harbhajan) off the hook when they, of all people, should have been treating the matter of racial vilification with the utmost seriousness."

Harbhajan Singh has fired off his customary verbal rocket. Harbhajan makes the unanswerable point that if Gilchrist really was the exceptionally sporting cricketer that he's made out to be, he wouldn't be engaging in ridiculous appeals (note the Rahul Dravid dismissal on Day 5 of the Sydney Test, as just one example) while wicketkeeping. Seriously, if Gilchrist is to accuse the Indians of bad faith in that Sydney incident, then how about the suggestion that Gilchrist cheated in that appeal against Dravid?

This apart, we had also had to customary phone call from Gilchrist to Tendulkar, where Gilchrist apparently offered the tired old line that he was quoted "out of context". What's bizarre about this, is that it is not just Gilchrist who's saying he called Tendulkar, but Tendulkar also clarifying that yes, a call was made! This is especially rich on Gilchrist's part, since the appearance of this particular excerpt in a story promoting and publicizing the book, during this ongoing series, was obviously no accident.

All in all, the usual charade is being played out.

And so, to all those who have told me since yesterday that they would still go out and buy Adam Gilchrist's book, i can only ask them again, to not buy it. What id recommend in its place, is something that i often do myself - watch these videos of Gilchrist's most fabled innings on youtube - 

122 at Mumbai in 2001 (i think this was his best Test innings)

All in all, given all the cringe inducing back and forth, i suggest we forget about buying Gilchrist's book, and embrace youtube.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Don't buy Adam Gilchrist's autobiography

If you are surprised/dismayed by the title of this post, please read on. I hope you will see my point at the end of it.

Adam Gilchrist has written his autobiography and is using the publicity of Australia's tour of India to ensure a strong release. Excerpts from his autobiography are to appear in weekend newspaper segments such as Good Weekend.

Now, you could argue that Gilchrist is absolutely right to use the increased public interest on account of this cricket tour to promote his book, and i would agree with that. But, when that publicity includes little snippets to the effect that Adam Gilchrist has questioned Sachin Tendulkar's honesty (i cant think of any other single statement that could rival this one as an attention magnet in the cricketing world), then it says more about the celebrated walker, than it does about Tendulkar.

The episode he refers to of course, is the racism row during the Sydney Test match. If Adam Gilchrist thinks Tendulkar was dishonest, then what might he think of his former captain who, with video evidence, was found to have reneged on a gentlemen's agreement he had with Anil Kumble about catches? Or, what might he think about Andrew Symonds, who while he  was undefeated in an innings lengthened by an obvious umpiring error, went before the press and confirmed that the umpire had erred! If this comes down to an issue of character, then i wonder what Gilchrist thinks about his own teammates?

It is not important at this point to revisit the Sydney episode, but one would have to grant the benefit of very little doubt to Adam Gilchrist, if one were to accept that Gilchrist's claim that Tendulkar acted dishonestly was only accidentaly the excerpt from the book which appears in that weekend issue, bang in the middle of Australia's tour of India.

Just consider the irony of Gilchrist's actual position, that the Indians, of all people, "should have been treating the matter of racial vilification with the utmost seriousness", by submitting to an inquiry conducted by a white judge, in a matter against a white team, which would not pass even the most rudimentary test of a competent, serious inquiry, decided by the word of one group against another, and little else by way of evidence! Most observers should view the Indian response as being especially sensitive to the racial aspect of the charge as well as the conduct of the inquiry.

How can Adam Gilchrist possibly write that he believes that Harbhajan Singh was guilty in the Sydney matter when the record, as stated in the Hansen Judgement (Clause 9 on Page 5 of the pdf document) states that
"It was accepted by all counsel that Mr Gilchrist's evidence was to the effect that he did not hear anything and there was no prejudice to Mr. Singh by his absence"
Gilchrist did not appear in the hearing because he was unwell. So, if you put it all together, Adam Gilchrist is asking you and me to believe, that he is sure that Harbhajan Singh was guilty even though he heard nothing himself, and is therefore skeptical of Sachin Tendulkar's testimony in the matter, because Tendulkar in effect testified in favor of Harbhajan Singh's stance. If that makes sense to you, you're welcome to buy the book.

This then is a squalid publicity stunt, seeking to make a few extra bucks of Sachin Tendulkar's famous back. It is unbecoming of the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman in Test history to have done this. Im fairly certain that as a cricket fan i would have bought Gilchrist's book at some point. Now, i will not.

What Gilchrist also demonstrates, in whatever little has been quoted from the book, is a certain tone-deafness about the whole Sydney episode. The faux righteousness about "racism" stems from it. But that is a subject for another day.

This is the saddest, most demeaning thing Adam Gilchrist could have done to himself. It's one thing to say that X batsman was scared of Y bowler, or that X batsman was really not as good as he was made out to be - that sort of thing makes for juicy copy and is welcome in an autobiography. But to say that X player is not honest - and not about a cricketing matter, is a serious, serious charge. Two great all-rounders once fell out over a ball tampering controversy which erupted over comments made by one about the other in the press. 

I don't think Tendulkar will take this too seriously. But Gilchrist has stooped very very low.

So do think twice before you buy his book.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Mohali Test - India win by 320 runs

India completed their comprehensive rout of Australia before lunch of Day 5, registering their biggest ever Test victory by runs (not counting innings wins) at Mohali today. As far as Test Matches go, it was not the greatest India v Australia contest of all time.

India won a good toss, and from then on, were never really threatened. They had a sub-par batting effort in the first innings, but it didn't hurt them. Thats the most interesting thing about this Test Match - India could have played better, indeed should have as M S Dhoni pointed out in his post match comments. This game should indeed have been Bangalore in reverse. In more difficult batting conditions, the Indian tail added crucial runs on the 3rd and 4th days of the Bangalore Test to ensure that Australia would not have enough time to win. India scored reasonably quickly in their first innings here, leaving themselves with more time to bowl Australia out.

This Test Match is in essence the usual India v Australia contest in reverse. The story of the past decade of India v Australia Test Match contests, has been of India, with their weaker bowling attack, in a continuous struggle to retain parity with Australia, waiting to exploit that little opening to create a winning position. In this game, India had the better bowling attack - both pace and spin, and it was the Australian batsmen who were left trying to bat for parity. Facing the pressure of an Indian total on the board, and more importantly the prospect of another solid Indian batting performance second time around, given the lack of penetration in the Aussie attack, the Australian batsmen failed to fire. On a wicket on which India made 13/783 in 194 overs (almost exactly 4 runs per over), the Australia top order managed three half centuries between them.

Watching Australia in this game has been like watching India for most of this decade. The Australian effort in this game has been called shabby, but i think thats a mistaken view. Ricky Ponting is faced with the same problem that Indian captains for years and years have coped with - a lack of penetration in the bowling attack. Ponting's use of his attack has been interesting as well. He seems reluctant to bowl Cameron White, and only bowls him when he needs to buy a wicket. White is not an attacking bowler for Ponting, he is a filler. With Brett Lee being off color and copping an unfortunate injury to his bowling hand, Ponting had little variety to offer in the pace department. Peter Siddle tried hard, as did Mitchell Johnson, but they had nothing that could be said to be threatening on this flat wicket.

To me, the most telling moment of the Test Match came when Ponting began the fourth days play with Shane Watson, and not with his best bowler - Lee. I dont know why that was, but it seemed to signal that he didnt have much faith in his bowling attack on this wicket - with good reason.

M S Dhoni had a great outing as Test Captain, making a fifty in each innings. He made all the right moves, and his fast bowlers delivered brilliantly for him. He showed a willingness to take a gamble, but more than his tactics, what was more impressive was his unflagging attention to every ball. The suggestion to Amit Mishra to go round the wicket in the last over of the second day against Michael Clarke could not have come about otherwise.

Is it 1998 once more?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Mohali Test - Day 4 - A near perfect day

Having started the day 300 ahead with all 10 second innings wickets in hand, India had a near perfect fourth day at Mohali today. They made 3/214 in 42 overs with the bat, and then took 5 quick Australian wickets in the 46 overs that were possible in the remainder of the day. This included a spell where Australia lost 5 wickets for 9 runs.

The performance of the day came from Ishant Sharma i thought, even though Harbhajan Singh turned the match around by getting both openers in his first over. The great thing about his bowling is that he rarely, if ever drifts down the leg side, inspite of moving the back into the right hander for the most part. He bowled the ball of the day to dismiss Ricky Ponting, and then produced it again to dismiss Shane Watson.

Haddin and Clarke though, have added 83 in 29 overs. In terms of overs, they have played out an entire session. India will have to break through at least once before lunch tomorrow if they are to win comfortably. The history of Mohali shows that its not easy to bowl sides out in the fourth innings. This game should give India food for thought. Kamran Akmal and Abdul Razzaq added 184 for the 7th wicket to save the game for Pakistan on the last day.

India are bowling better than they have in the recent past. With a full day to get 5 Australian wickets, i dare say that the odds are significantly in India's favor.

Cricinfo makes stuff up

Virender Sehwag edged a ball from Mitchell Johnson in the morning session today, but wasn't given out by the Umpire, to the consternation of the Aussies, the commentators, myself and most other observers (including cricinfo's ball by ball commentators) who thought it was palpably out. About an over after that, Cricinfo reported that "I am told that after Sehwag got away with the thick edge, Ponting walked up to him and suggested that he shou[l]d have walked", as the screen shot below shows.

This flippant suggestion probably caused a spate of emails to flood the Cricinfo mailbox, which leads to this statement at lunch time on Cricinfo commentary - "Look we don't know what was said....... ...... Lets all hold fire... " . You can read the whole comment in the screenshot below. It was made at 12.00 noon.

So Cricinfo basically made the earlier comment up. And even after having been forced to rescind, they were unwilling to back off from their reading of the situation! "Clearly Ponting was unhappy.... ". They just said in the previous line that they didnt know what was said!

If this was a serious news item, then the reporter in question would lose his or her job. Nobody knows what Ponting said to Sehwag. Nobody knows what the suggestion was, what the tone was... nothing. Given the events at Sydney earlier this year, it ought to be obvious to even the most boneheaded fool, that misunderstandings can blow up out of all proportion very easily.

Maybe Cricinfo should hold off making insinuations when they don't know what they're talking about, instead of blurting stuff out and then making non-apologies.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

On Amit Mishra

Cricinfo has a fine feature story on Amit Mishra today.

After nearly two decades of watching Anil Kumble threatening to turn his leg break, it is nice to see an orthodox leg-spinner in an attacking role. If only the great man could leave behind his temperament and tireless spirit for his successor... we might have a gem on our hands.

Its been only one innings, but with 300 first class wickets to his name, Mishra has looked the part. There are times when bowlers produce impressive figures, but if you look below the surface you see some soft dismissals or some reckless batting. More than just the wickets, it is the quality of the dismissals which is a great omen for the future.

By the way, is it worth asking BCCI why they didn't have a cap for Mishra? Did we not see the little ceremony the Australians had with Cameron White at Bangalore?

Mohali Test, Day 3 - A winning position

India lead by 300 runs with all second innings wickets intact at the end of the third days play in the Mohali Test match. This is a superb position to be in by any standard, and the undefeated opening stand by Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag has put the game beyond Australia's grasp for all practical purposes. Unless India collapse in a heap tomorrow morning, and leave Australia about 350-375 to chase, it is hard to see how Australia can escape to victory from here. This position gives India the chance to be in a position which any Test team dreams of after batting second - with the opportunity to leave Australia with to potentially insurmountable options - an impossible target for victory, or a over 120 overs to survive.

There is much talk about tomorrow declaration, and there are plenty of opinions about this. Practically speaking, there are a few things for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to consider, in no particular order -

1. The bowlers need a break
2. He needs to give himself the chance to take the second new ball if necessary (this means asking Australia to bat about 110-120 overs at the very least.
3. He needs to set a target which leaves Australia little realistic chance of going for the win.
4. With just two fast bowlers, he needs to time his declaration so that his new ball pair can bowl for about 18-20 overs (declaring about 45 minutes before Tea time would be ideal from this point of view)
5. He needs to assess the wicket. If its playing well, he may want to declare earlier, which means score faster.
6. This is Australia

For all practical purposes, unless some batsman gets stuck badly (can't get the ball off the square), i expect a declaration between lunch and tea, closer to tea, setting Australia about 450-475 in about 125 - 130 overs or so. A bolder declaration is unnecessary, because if India fail to bowl Australia out in 125 overs, i dont see them winning in any case. If Australia bat for over 130 overs, they will probably reach whatever target they are set in any case.

The sixth and last point is not trivial, because while India have been all over Australia for most of this Test match, the Australian batting line up is still quite formidable. If you have to name the five best batsmen in the world today, Hayden, Ponting and Hussey would feature on most lists. There is also the question of Australia's astonishing record over these past few years.

Having said that, i don't recall Australia have being so thoroughly outplayed for three straight days in a Test Match for a long time. In fact, this is only the third time in the last 10 years that Australia have conceded a first innings lead of 200 runs or more. This has happened once before at Sydney, where Australia scored 474 in their first innings and still conceded a lead of 231. It also happened at Nottingham during the 2005 Ashes, where Australia were bowled out for 218 and conceded a lead of 259. Australia lost at Nottingham after following on. But they still made England sweat (England won by 3 wickets chasing a 4th innings target of 129).

Amit Mishra took 5/71 in the Australian first innings, becoming the second player in this Test Match to cause the camera to search for the Indian selectors. Most people will say its a great problem to have. Now do you see why the selectors have such an impossibly difficult job?

Mishra's is an example of the success of the BCCI policy of fast-tracking promising age-group players into the Ranji Trophy game. He is 25 years old, and has already played 77 first class games and taken 303 first class wickets. He comes to the Indian team as a seasoned leg-spinner, with the promise of 10-12 good years of cricket, if he does well.

India will be disappointed if they don't leave Mohali with a lead in this series.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Kumble on Tendulkar

A view from the top table of accomplishment. 
Money quote:
"Why it's something special is because usually, after being so good at something for so long, your ego tends to tell you, I can do this, play like this. He's not like that. He's got a brilliant mind and changes his game according to the pitch and the situation, at will."
They've been some wonderful years"

Mohali Test, Day 2 - India surge ahead

Match summary:
India 1st innings 469 all out (Ganguly 102, Dhoni 92, Tendulkar 88, Gambhir 67, Johnson 3/85, Siddle 3/114)
Australia 1st innings 4/102 (Hussey 37*, Mishra 2/21)

If the game was evenly poised at the end of day 1, it has moved in India's favor by the end of day 2. Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sourav Ganguly took India past 400 with a 109 run stand for the 7th wicket. Ganguly completed his 16th Test hundred, while Dhoni played his most belligerent Test innings since his earliest effort against Pakistan at Faisalabad. As a batting effort, it was not India's best ever effort, given the unbelievably flat wicket, and the unimaginative bowling attack. Every single Indian batsman got a start (except VVS), but only Ganguly reached a century. It was that sort of innings from India - they never looked in trouble, and they kept throwing it away. The way Ganguly lost his wicket pretty much summed up India's batting display. It seems to me to be one of the curses of having experience - that you can look at a wicket and a bowling attack, and decide to yourself that there isn't that much to threaten your innings. You proceed to play more loosely than usual, and a honest bowling attack keeps chipping away at your wickets. If ever there was a wicket which warranted a 5/580 dec. type of score, it was this Mohali wicket, against this Australian attack.

India have done well with the ball though, with no weak links in their bowling attack so far. Harbhajan Singh, who so obviously hates bowling at left handers, spent much of his early spell bowling darts. And even he, when he did slow it up, got enough purchase to take the edge of Michael Hussey's bat, only to see M S Dhoni drop a sharp catch. It was the only blemish in an otherwise superb day for Dhoni.

Amit Mishra had a promising beginning to his Test Match career, bowling with admirable accuracy and delivering both his leg spinner and his googly with aplomb. Mishra is an experienced bowler in first class cricket (with almost 300 first class wickets), and the preperation showed. His test will come when someone goes after him, but one the advantages of bowling with a good all-round attack, is that the batsmen are constantly under pressure.

Michael Hussey remains the thorn in India's flesh. He seemed to have sized up these wickets and this bowling perfectly, for he never looks hurried and seems to be able to play late off both front and back foot very late. India will have to work out a plan for him soon. Hussey has thrived under the radar so far in his Test career. He is not yet the star batsman in the Australian side - Mathew Hayden and Ricky Ponting remain Australia's two top batsmen. Opposition sides are going to have to focus their attention on Hussey soon. He seems to have no obvious weaknesses, and he is a left hander, something which is inherently problematic for a side like India. But India will have to work out a way to kill the runs against Hussey.

Michael Hussey holds the key to Australia's fortunes in this game, for the first innings is crucial here. If India win the first innings handily, then they will have to flop miserably batting second to lose this game from there. Australia don't have the bowling firepower to bowl a side out in the second innings (at least on paper). Ricky Ponting seems unwilling to use Cameron White, except when he wants to buy a wicket. With Michael Clarke being preferred to White in the bowling order, it does not augur well for Australian leg spinner. Whats more, it also reduces Clarke's effectiveness as a sneaky, surprise, change bowler with a reputation for a golden arm, because Ponting ends up using Clarke as a stock bowler.

But even so, this is Australia. I expect a titanic battle led by Hussey tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tendulkar at 12000

Sachin Tendulkar has featured prominently on this blog, and i must confess that i have always felt the need to argue on his behalf (the presumptuousness of it!!!). I woke up this morning and pulled out a few posts i wrote about Tendulkar. Here are some of these posts - 

He thrills us.

Mohali Test, Day 1 - Missed Opportunities

When Sachin Tendulkar crossed Brian Lara's career aggregate score, play had to be stopped for about 10 minutes for a firecracker show which would make most teenagers in my neighborhood very proud - it was all noise and smoke. Not uncharacteristically (given how the day had gone so far), Tendulkar fell before the end of play.

If Bangalore was a wicket where none of the Indian batsmen felt they could trust the wicket, here at Mohali, they couldn't trust it enough. You just knew that they were all itching to have their say here. Rahul Dravid has not batted more confidently in a Test Match in recent times. Virender Sehwag scored a run a ball 35 without even breaking a sweat or playing a shot in anger. For all the attractive batting, 5/311 is a disappointing return. An early wicket tomorrow and this could look like Melbourne 2003-04 very quickly.

None of the Indian wicket could be said to have been due to any extraordinary bowling. Sehwag was caught down the leg side, and at least Australia were trying to aim at his rib-cage as often as possible, so Sehwag at least fell to an intended line of attack. But even that line of attack seemed to be a ruse. There was no short-leg and no leg slip. The intention probably was to keep Sehwag honest by aiming at his rib-cage, and hopefully messing with his footwork outside off stump. Rahul Dravid fell in attempt to hit the cover off the ball. There was a sense of impudent edginess to his play today. It was as if he felt that this was the wicket on which he could have an enjoyable outing again. He played a lot of strokes, but he never looked in any sort of rythm. He seemed to be searching for a gear which he never really found. VVS Laxman fell early, to the sort of freak dismissal that every batsman has to endure from time to time, while a more carefully Tendulkar, who was quite on top of the bowling as he was today, might not have gotten out to that ball towards the end of the day.

Tendulkar's dismissal was especially poorly timed for India. Australia have been able to take the new ball with a nightwatchman at one end and only Dhoni to follow. As far as the match situation goes, id say advantage Australia at this point. If India are still batting at Lunch tomorrow, they will have mitigated that advantage somewhat. But India are going to rely on Harbhajan and Zaheer to get some runs for them tomorrow, and thats never a good situation to be in.

It was a day for milestones as well. The great man is now Test Cricket's most prolific run getter. Here is something i wrote when he complete 18 years as an international cricketer. There seems to be something inherently wrong about quoting oneself, but i think this bears repeating : 
"For 18 years, Tendulkar has remained at the cutting edge of a game that has evolved beyond recognition. While one would want to wish him many more years of cricketing success (out of pure selfishness), it almost seems impolite to demand any more. Instead i will pray that he should never have to get out in the 90's again."
I take back that last part. This business of getting out within sight of a hundred has to stop!!

this has been a moment to savor.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

On Aggression

Being aggressive, is one of the most popularly appealing characteristics that a cricketer can have. Everybody loves (or loves to hate) the "aggressive" batsman, or the "aggressive" bowler. Usually, we conflate being aggressive, with being attacking, to the point where these terms are deemed to be synonymous. This characteristic has been in the news recently. 

Zaheer Khan claimed after the Bangalore Test that the Australians were more defensive than at any other time in his experience. More generally, Ricky Ponting and his fellow Australian batsmen have been attacked by various Indian bloggers (and others as well), for not being attacking enough, because they don't score at 4 an over anymore. In the Waugh heyday, scoring at 4 an over was made out to be something the Steve Waugh can co. were able to do simply because they decided to do it. "They score at 4 an over these days", "They have changed Test Cricket for ever by scoring at 4 an over". Comments like these helped create the myth of the aggressive Waugh batting machine.

In another area, Sourav Ganguly has been seen as a more aggressive captain compared to Rahul Dravid, even though, tactically, Ganguly was much more conservative than Dravid. This suggests that extroverted players are more likely to be seen as being more aggressive than more reserved players. I think this has something to do with the association of aggression with offense. To be aggressive is often about being offensive.

Even so, i think Test Cricket is too sophisticated for these simple notions of aggression. One of the major reasons why Australia were able to be so aggressive in the Waugh years, is because they had the firepower to be aggressive. They had bowlers who bowled opposition line ups out cheaply, and they had a line up of great batsmen, who invariably batted against weaker bowling line ups than their own, and more importantly, usually against low totals, or the promise of low totals from opposition line ups. In short, they could afford to be outwardly aggressive (i.e. on offense) is because they were decidedly better than most opposition line ups.

The great tactical shift that has marked the Australian approach against India (first seen on their 2004-05 tour to India), has been their more cautious approach with both bat and ball. In 2001 in India, Australia essentially tried to blast India out of the water, with attacking fields and attacking batting. It hurt them with the ball, because enough Indian batsmen showed themselves to be good enough to not only break through the aggressive Australian field and take advantage of the boundaries on offer, but also, to make these opportunities count towards large scores. It hurt them with the ball, because Harbhajan Singh was too good for them to get away with an all out attack. Further, he was too good for their middle and lower order, with the result that Australia suffered batting collapses regularly.

The shift in 2004-05 came to a less offensive tactic, of trying to strangle the batsmen, and to accumulate runs rather than blast them. The tone was set by Australia's best batsman in 2004-05 - Damien Martyn. If you look at the Australian approach in 2007-08, there have been natural adjustments which come with the change in personnel. They don't have the batting line up of 2001 or 1999-2000. More importantly, they know they don't have the bowling line up of those years any more. As a result, they are batting more often against larger totals. But this does not make Australia less aggressive in my view. It means that they are not on offense as much as they used to be.

I would suggest that aggression, especially in Test Cricket, has less to do with being on offense, than it does to giving as little away as possible, and not being reckless. Sehwag is an aggressive batsman, but i would argue that in the context of Test Cricket, Ricky Ponting is actually a more aggressive batsman than Sehwag, because even though he scores slower than Sehwag, he's less reckless than Sehwag, and therefore is less likely to fail.

Aggression has to be seen in the context of the existing risk in order for it to be meaningful. Seen this way, i would suggest that there isn't any significant difference between Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid when it came to aggressive captaincy, because Dravid's less defensive tactics were a function of the fact that he had a better bowling attack at his disposal. A great defensive effort can also be seen as being extremely aggressive, where as an "im going to go for my strokes" approach when the side is following on 350 behind on a wearing wicket is probably less aggressive in the context of the situation.

So in a sense, when Zaheer Khan says Australia has been less "aggressive" than at any other time in his experience, he's actually saying that Australia are less on the offensive and spend much more time on defense. He's not saying that they are less interested in winning. This adjustment in Australian strategy is actually indicates that they think Australia v India contests are contests between equals.

Test Cricket does not lend itself to simplistic, sophomoric notions such as aggression. In Test Cricket, playing a great defensive innings can be just as valuable to the pursuit of victory, as a great attacking innings. This series between India and Australia will not be won by the most aggressive side, it will be won by the least reckless side.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why don't they quit?

Michael Atherton looks down from his lofty perch at the dysfunctional mess that is sub-continental cricket, and expresses sympathy with some of his brethren whose misfortune it has been to be lured by the glamour and gold of sub-continental cricket. These teams are un-coachable, says Atherton. They don't really understand how a modern team should work.

What Atherton is piqued by though, actually boils down to this:
"Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly are icons, wealthy and revered beyond measure, and used to playing on their terms or not at all."
He is especially piqued about Sourav Ganguly who just announced his retirement at the end of this series. On Ganguly, Atherton says "This morning, despite not having score a Test hundred for 20 innings, Ganguly prepares to take his place against Australia alongside Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in a middle order that has remained unchanged for a decade"

This is a weak claim. If you peeked under the hood at Michael Atherton's own career as i did, you would find not one, but at least three stretches of at least 20 innings where Atherton did not score a Test hundred. One of those stretches ran for 37 innings in Atherton's case. I did not look further after that.

This is of course beyond the point. Atherton is not the only commentator who has trained an uncharitable eye on the ageing Indian middle order. The five senior Indian super stars (each will have played 100 Tests by the end of this series) have come under intense scrutiny despite reasonably good results. None of them are quite as good as they once were. The commentary has been stunning though. The conventional wisdom about top class Indian players is that they are reluctant to retire because to keep on playing is too lucrative to give up.

This is a stunningly brutal assessment, and it is as specious as it sounds credible because it ignores the basic driving force behind these players success. At this point, after having played competitive first class and Test cricket for at least 10 years each, none of these players have anything to play for other than professional pride. What assessments like the lucre line miss, and fatally so in my opinion, is this primacy of professional pride.

Think for a moment what it must be like to be Tendulkar or Kumble, and be painfully aware that you can no longer play like you could about 5-8 years ago. Take it from me, there is nobody who is more critical of Sachin Tendulkar, than Sachin Tendulkar himself. It is the reason he has the record he has. Especially in the case of Tendulkar and Kumble, the self-criticism is evident in the evolution of their respective games. Only the most selfless student of batsmanship could have made the studious shifts that Tendulkar is able to make in his approach, both in the long term and in the short term, from game to game and opposition to opposition. Anil Kumble's leg spin bowling has evolved noticeably during his career. He is a far cry today from the bowler he was in 1990 or even 1999. This shifts don't occur as a matter of course.

Where do the selectors come into the picture? This notion that top players make "deals" with the selectors, is not as absurd as it sounds. It is grounded in basic mutual respect - the player in question is respectful of the selectors role, while the selectors are obviously respectful of someone who has been a top class player for a long time. Once you get past the heated commentary and the occasional quasi-sharp exchange, you will realise that it is an important part of the Selectors job to keep an eye on the top players, as much as it is to keep an eye on the fringe players. It is my contention that it would be simply wrong if the selectors were to treat a Ganguly or a Dravid like they might treat a Kaif. This is not out of any quaint notion of respect for the great player, but simply from the point of view of the nature of the selectors job (to select the strongest possible team, developing and maintaining productive players is central).

Ultimately, it remains the decision of the selectors - to indicate to the players as to where they stand in the larger scheme of things. Sourav Ganguly's decision to retire was his own. The selectors made their point by dropping him for the Irani Trophy game. He was not dropped from the Test team, but he took the hint. That is how a mature selection process works, and irrespective of all the peripheral commentary and claims surrounding the Ganguly situation, this remains the basic fact of the selectorial handling of Sourav Ganguly. His alleged comments to Bengali newspapers are just another worthy anecdote in the legend of Sourav Ganguly, just as the criticism he recieved in Australia for his canny handling of the light situation on the 5th evening at Bangalore is part of the Gangulean chronicles. The folklore about life and times of Sourav Ganguly would be poorer and less interesting without these anecdotes. But let that not be confused with the fact of his retirement.

Anil Kumble finds himself in a particularly tedious spot - he's just had a bad game as captain, in what he announced would be his last game at his home ground. He's in a tough spot - in that he's not fully fit, has sustained an injury during the Bangalore Test, is probably not bowling as well as he would like, and on the one hand faces the serious task of leading India in a Test Match in four days time, on the other knows that he's probably not the best choice for the spinners slot,  or even that India could possibly need to play 3 pace men, and that Harbhajan Singh has been bowling better than him. It is the worst possible position for a captain to be in.

While commentators like Atherton are interested in friends and enemies and talk glibly about cosy arrangements with selectors, what it ultimately comes down to, for Anil Kumble and his ilk, is professional pride, the same thing that has made them the players they have become. The reason selectors are more accomodating of the great players if you like, is that they understand and respect the nature of this pride.

Everything else, especially when it is as unsubstantiated as most of the commentary on this subject is,  is just sour noise.

Bangalore Test, Day 5 - Inconclusive

The Bangalore Test is the classic Draw result. No claim of parity is necessary at the end of the game. A simple "inconclusive" result suffices.

Both sides tried to tenaciously build and maintain their advantage over the past five days. Australia won the toss and had the best use of a challenging wicket. They set about building a score methodically against some high class Test Match bowling from the hosts. The Indian spinners lacked penetration in the first innings, but the Australians were never allowed to run away with the game. A scoring rate under three an over in the first innings is testimony to the tight contest. When India batted, the Australians used a similarly defensive, attritional approach. They succeeded in overcoming the Indian top order, but, just as the Pakistan lower order, shepherded by Misbah Ul Haq had done against India in the 2007 Bangalore Test Match, first Ganguly, and later Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan ensured that 205 runs were added by the last five wickets, taking India to 360 - 70 adrift on the first innings. More importantly, India had denied Australia both in terms of time and runs.

When Australia batted in the third innings, they did so on a wearing wicket, against an Indian side buoyed by its lower than expected first innings deficit. Crucially, Australia lost Hayden early, and from then on, it was a struggle to score runs. India were fighting hard over every remaining over of the game, and were on the brink of breaking through, having reduced Australia to 5/128, when two of Australia's new faces - wicketkeeper Brad Haddin and all rounder Shane Watson combined to produce the second-most crucial stand of the game. By the end of Day 4, Australia were back to where they had been for most of the game - safely, yet only marginally ahead, with their opponents having only an outside chance of winning.

The pattern continued into the fifth day. Australia declared early in the day, leaving India 299 to win in 83 overs. Many may consider this a conservative declaration, but i think it was actually fairly bold. I don't think Ponting factored in the weather, because it is very hard, if not impossible to estimate how much play would be lost due to the weather. It was an important insight into Ponting's reading of the wicket. As i see it, the declaration seemed to suggest that this was a slow wicket, where scoring was difficult, but survival was possible.

Once again, India had done just enough to deny Australia a simple, risk-free declaration. But as they went in to bat, India must have felt the dark shadow of Sydney. At 2/24, with Dravid and Sehwag gone, that shadow must have seemed even more ominous. But the batsmen did their job. Gautam Gambhir occupied the crease for 26 overs, Sourav Ganguly did so for 21, Sachin Tendulkar did for 44 overs, while VVS Laxman was at the wicket for the last 46 overs of play. When play was called off, it looked like Ganguly and Laxman could survive for much longer if required.

It was a historic game in many ways. For Sourav Ganguly and Anil Kumble, this was their last appearance at the KSCA ground. Both must have special attachments to this ground. For Kumble it is his home ground, while for Ganguly, it was the place where he cemented his comeback with that magnificient 239 against Pakistan last year. Brett Lee and Stuart Clark are a far cry from anything Pakistan could field in that Bangalore Test, but Ganguly will take away fond memories of this ground.

For the visitors it was a good first Test Match. The only worries, if any, would be Brad Haddin's wicketkeeping. The Australian wicketkeeper logged a dubious record in this game, that of the most byes conceded by an Australian wicketkeeper in a Test Match. By contrast, Mahendra Singh Dhoni conceded only 13 byes, a minor miracle considering the treacherously variable bounce. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey reaffirmed their place as the worlds foremost number three and number four batsmen in today's Test Cricket by scoring characteristically professional centuries to set up the game for Australia. Brett Lee and Stuart Clark were their usual accomplished selves. Mitchell Johnson seemed to revell in the variable bounce, and was threatening in almost all his spells. Cameron White had an unexceptional Test debut.

For the hosts, Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma bowled skillfully, and lost nothing in comparison to their more accomplished new ball counterparts. Harbhajan Singh was not at his best, but seemed to bowl better in the second innings when there was more purchase off the wicket. 7 different Indian batsmen (including five of the top 6) made scores between 40-60 in this Test Match, a statistic which Gary Kirsten which view with mixed feelings.

Anil Kumble had a poor game by any standards. He remarked after the game that the Bangalore wicket has changed over the years and is no longer the spiteful turner which gave Danish Kaneria and Shahid Afridi to fashion an unlikely victory on the last day in 2005. But it is also true that Kumble himself has lost some of his nip in the last 12 months or so.

All in all, it was a terrific Test Match, which both sides approached with tremendous seriousness and respect for their opponent. Australia have indicated that they are willing to play according to their limitations. This makes them a tougher opponent in my view, and it is to Ricky Ponting's credit that his team made such good use of winning the toss.

Bangalore showed us that Shane Warne is irrepleacable. Soon it will be India's turn to learn that lesson. But before that happens, they owe their captain a series victory.

The Mohali Test has much to offer.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A new blog

Announcing Games People Play. This is intended as a record of all things non-cricketing.

Bangalore Test, Day 4 - Too close to call

The first four days of this Bangalore Test have in essence been a microcosm of India - Australia contests in this decade. Australia have been generally ahead, but India have clung to them tenaciously, on some occasions by the sheer force of their batting, at others (such as this Bangalore Test) by some spirited tail end batting and tight bowling.

As it stands on Day 4, one is tempted to say that too much cricket remains to be played in this game for a result to be possible. But consider this for a moment - at the end of the 4th day's play at Sydney, Australia were 213 ahead with 6 wickets in hand. This is a game were runs have been harder to come by than at Sydney, and Australia are further ahead in this game right now than they were at this same stage in the Sydney Test. Further, India's first 5 wickets in their first innings here at Bangalore, fell in less than 50 overs.

India were doing well until Haddin and Watson joined in their quickfire 65 run stand. This has probably ensured that Australia it is the Indians who will sleep light on the fourth evening. At 5/128, with 17 overs to play in the day, India might have felt that they had a fighting chance of bowling Australia out before the end of play.

Tomorrow morning, if there isn't a dramatic collapse, we will see yet another episode of that favorite pastime of TV Commentators - discussing declarations. There will doubtless be those who will go forth and suggest that Ponting ought to declare overnight! There are those who will want Ponting to wait for the lead to reach 300 before he declares. There are others who will argue that the name Sehwag is probably worth an extra 30 runs in Ricky Ponting's calculations. All this speculation is probably happening as i write.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that a draw is the most likely result. The generally cautious rate of scoring in this game would support such a conclusion. I have an uneasy feeling though, that one of the these sides will successfully force the issue tomorrow. The visitors are probably favorites right now, but i suspect the rub of the green is due India's way tomorrow.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Bangalore Test, Day 3 - India survive, but only just

After conceding 430 in the first innings, one felt that India would need to bat about 4 sessions in order to ensure some sort of parity on the first innings. At 8/313, it doesn't look like they will bat 4 full sessions (120 overs), what with Kumble and Zaheer Khan at the wicket, but given that India are still batting at the end of Day 3, it would seem as though India have averted conceding a calamitous first innings lead. When Sourav Ganguly fell after having averted the follow on to make it 7/232, India were still 198 behind with about 7 session to play and three wickets in hand.

My optimism at this point may stem from the knowledge that at the end of the day, the situation is not quite as bad as it might have been, but given factors like the rain and a wicket which is not at all conducive to quick scoring, the match is currently poised such that India could actually win it. A result is almost a certainty at this stage. The peculiar (and entirely logical, if you consider the two paced, uneven nature of the wicket) thing about the Indian innings, is that India's best periods with the bat have coincided with the new ball. Australia are still ahead in the game though, and will have won the first innings decisively unless Zaheer Khan, Anil Kumble and Ishant Sharma can drag India to a score which is within about 40-50 runs of the Australian first innings score.

The dismissals of the Indian batsmen will disappoint Gary Kirsten. Both Dravid and Ganguly fell after some kind of break in play - for Dravid it was reaching 50, for Ganguly it was getting something in his eye, within sight of a 50. Sehwag played an exasperating stroke, while Tendulkar fell to an embarassing trap. Sehwag, Dravid and Ganguly reached 40, and none of them made it count. Harbhajan Singh has kept India in the game with his irreverant display, but he cannot be expected to make up for specialist batsmen.

Australia are ahead in this game at this moment. They will seek to take control in the third innings. India though, have a low enough first innings deficit right now to realistically set up a sub 300 4th innings  run chase (right now they will have to bowl Australia out for about 180, something which is not out of the question, especially if the pacemen do well, and the spinners get more purchase).

Day 4 will decide India's fate in the Bangalore Test.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bangalore Test, Day 2 - Hussey channels Waugh

Resuming at 4/254 overnight, Australia added 6/176 on the second day to be bowled out for 430 in the first innings of the Bangalore Test on Day 2. Michael Hussey performed in Waughlike manner, accumulating an impressive 146, making the most of the early reprieve granted to him by Mahendra Singh Dhoni. I cannot help thinking back to that bat pad chance off Simon Katich in Harbhajan Singh's first over yesterday, for with an early wicket, Harbhajan might have had a completely different innings.

Lets take nothing away from Michael Hussey though. If Hussey really is the batting machine that he is made out to be, then he must be the classiest, most elegant machine ever designed. His cover drive is a thing of beauty, and what stood out was his supreme touch, which enabled him to time the ball so well on this slow wicket. He has had a phenomenal beginning to his Test career, and as a left hander is well suited to making a mountain of runs against India. In this series, his importance cannot be overstated, for both Kumble and Harbhajan Singh hate bowling at left handers, and in Harbhajan's case end up bowling poorly simply because they are bowling at left handers.

I have long gotten the impression, especially in the case of Harbhajan Singh, that he is very mindful of what kind of wicket he's bowling on. So if he is convinced that a particular wicket is slow and will not offer too much turn or bounce, he is loathe to attack, especially to left handers, and seems to settle into this restrictive line and length. Yet, in such instances, its not really a planned tactic against a given batsman (such as his method against Kumar Sangakkara of deliberately bowling slightly wide of off stump from over the wicket in an attempt to dictate the tempo of Sangakkara's innings), it is simply lacklustre bowling.

Anil Kumble is probably a more skillful bowler today than he was 10 years ago, in that he has more variations and can use flight and pace really well. What he has lost, is his unbelievable accuracy from 10 years ago. Part of the reason for this is that he tends to bowl slower nowadays, trying to turn the ball (thereby offering more scoring opportunities), but part of the reason is that he has aged.

And so, i looked at the score card after Australia were bowled out, and saw something that i never thought i would see from an Indian bowling attack. The spinners together, took 1/233 in 84 overs. The two fast bowlers, on a dead, flat wicket, took 9/168 in 60 overs. When you consider the fact that Anil Kumble alone tended to outbowl India's fast bowlers in overseas Test matches until a couple of years ago, this statistic is plainly amazing.

There was a consistent threat about Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma's bowling, and both of them rarely bowled a delivery which was not carefully deliberated. This is easily India's best ever fast bowling pair in the last 60 years (if Kapil had the advantage of a partner like today's Zaheer Khan or today's Ishant, i wonder what record he might have ended up with!).

It also means however, that Lee, Clark, Johnson and Watson will have to be watched. I won't be surprised if Lee sacrifices a yard or so in pace and bowls more like Gillespie did in 2001 than like a tear away pace man attacking the stumps all the time. The challenge against Clark will begin with the old ball.

Weather permitting, there is a lot of cricket to be played in this game and all four results are very much possible.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Umpire Exchange Program

This is a noteworthy move i think. BCCI and CSA (Cricket South Africa) have organised an umpires exchange program for first class umpires. This is part of BCCI's move to improve the standard of umpiring in India. India does not contribute a single umpire to the ICC Test Match panel.

Hat tip to Homer

Bangalore Test - Day 1 - Ponting marks his turf

The Bangalore Test Match got underway today, and it is always heartening to note the anticipation for Test Cricket that one finds in places as diverse as status messages on Instant Messenger programs, to casual conversations with distant acquaintances. 

The chips fell Ricky Ponting's way on Day 1 on the Bangalore Test Match, as he won the toss and decided to bat first on a slow, low, boring, Bangalore wicket. Variety in Test Match pitches is always welcome though, and both sides had to adjust their game. 

The second lucky break Ponting had was from Asad Rauf who ruled Matthew Hayden Out caught at the wicket. Replays showed that there was contact between bat and pad, and that there may have been contact between bat and ball (yet another example of technology being useless). Hayden didn't seem to mind the decision, and the fact that he reflexively looked back as he completed his stroke suggests that an edge might have registered in his own mind. This allowed Ponting to come in to bat early in the day and face most of the new ball spell, something which he is used to doing as one of the great number 3 batsmen of all time. He had a few close calls against Ishant Sharma, especially one where he shouldered arms to one which nipped back from outside off stump. Ponting's footwork was decisive and quick today and even in that close LBW appeal, i think the umpire ultimately made the right decision.

By the time the spinners came on, the Australian captain had the measure of the wicket, and on a first day wicket where the ball didn't turn very much, Ponting proceeded to produce a workmanlike 34th Test Century. He is one of the most astonishing batsmen of his era, and it is quite likely that it will be Ponting and not Tendulkar who will hold all the major batting records in Test Cricket in 5 years time.

The Indian bowling was about as good as it might have been, though one cannot help but wonder what the Anil Kumble of 2004 might have done here. 0/84 on a day 1 wicket is not unusual for a spinner, but it is unusual for Anil Kumble.

The pivotal moment of the day came in Harbhajan Singh's 1st over if you ask me. Gautam Gambhir at short leg stood atleast two yards too deep. He was fielding to a left hander batting against an off-spinner - and a very good off spinner at that, one not likely to bowl a long hop every over. That bat pad catch should have been a cinch, and the home team should have had better judgement of pace of the Bangalore wicket in placing their short leg. A wicket there might have changed the complexion of the day, for it would have meant that Harbhajan and Kumble would have had a new batsman to bowl to. It would have also given Harbhajan Singh an early breakthrough.

All in all, it has been a solid day for the visitors. Australia have batted conservatively, and never during the day was there any menace about their batting. Michael Clarke's wicket at the end of the day may turn out to be significant. India have gotten past the specialist batsmen at one end. Australia have three more batsmen who may be termed all-rounders though, and they will have their work cut out for them in the morning session tomorrow.

Today was Ponting's day.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Ponting admits he claimed incomplete catches at Sydney 2008

Virender Sehwag has succeeded where the mighty Indian press pack (except this one) hasn't, with some characteristically blunt words about India's experiences down under last season. Specifically, Sehwag pointed out that India would have won that spiteful Sydney Test, had the Australians not dishonestly claimed catches of "half-volleys".

The Najafgarh Nugget's charge seems to have hit home, given Ponting's response: 

"That's fairly insulting (to say we claimed catches that weren't), especially in the first innings, I didn't claim a catch because I wasn't 100 per cent sure,"

Now, with a little bit of parsing (and some imagination), it is possible to read that Ponting quote as "I may have claimed catches in the 2nd innings even though i wasn't 100 per cent sure". It's probably not a fair reading, but since the Australian captain has cut such a sorry figure on the matter of claiming catches and keeping catching agreements, and doesn't seem to realize it, it is probably at worst an uncharitable reading of Ponting's quasi-faux pas.

Remember this?

That one of the best batsmen of the modern era should be reduced to this, is sad. 

For his part, Sehwag has shown once again that he never cheats himself when he swings. He has just made his own life very interesting in this series. I don't think Brett Lee and co. take too kindly to their captain being basically called a cheat by the opposition opening batsman.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Dada Distraction

Sourav Ganguly announced this morning that he would retire from Test Cricket at the end of this Australian tour. This news comes at the worst possible time for India, and yet it has Sourav Ganguly's signature stamped all over it. It is hard not to see immediate parallels between Steve Waugh's announcement just before India's 2003-04 tour of Australia. The tour quickly became one long farewell tour for Waugh, and some have suggested that this hurt Australia.

Sourav Ganguly has been an exasperating figure. He is probably India's best left handed batsman ever, and yet, for almost half of his Test Match career, was basically carried by the Indian batting line up. He averaged 34 with the bat in Test Cricket as captain against the other 7 top Test playing nations (basically, in Test matches not featuring Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). He was invariably involved in taking brilliant catches, and making clutch stops in high pressure situations in ODI games, and yet, the rest of the time was less than adequate as a fielder. He was an aggressive figure, who was also a fairly conservative tactician. He was a great fighter, who also allegedly feigned injury against Australia at Nagpur.

And yet, he was an endearing figure. His was a polarizing presence, but he was always squarely in India's corner. He was exactly the sort of captain India needed after the disastrous depths of the match-fixing scandal. Apart from his brilliant batting as a One Day International opening batsman in the first half of his career, Ganguly's greatest contribution was his ability harness some talent (which he was lucky to have, thanks to a reasonable group of selectors), and get India's cricket watching public to believe in its cricket team again. That is going to be his singular legacy.

The announcement of his departure has been characteristically ham handed. There was no reason to announce this right now. It seems to have come about as an afterthought, what with the "One last thing lads" preamble. It was an important announcement. Ganguly has had an fine career and the announcement should have been made properly and formally, not as a "oh and by the way" appendage. From the point of view of the India - Australia series, it could not have come at the worse time, two days before the series begins, virtually tying the selectors hands for the rest of the series.

The proper way for Ganguly to have announced his retirement, one worthy of a player of his stature, would have been to announce it on the eve of the Nagpur Test match, with the Chairman of Selectors by his side in a full fledged press conference. That would have been the serious, well thought out way of doing it. Ganguly leaves himself open to criticism that he made this adhoc announcement to avoid being dropped in case he doesn't perform in the first two Tests.

For his sake, and for India's sake, i hope he makes lots of runs in this series. With Australia's bowling being what it is, he wont have a better chance to improve his record against Australia at home (383 runs at 27.35 with a highest of 66).

A more substantive appreciation of Sourav Ganguly is most certainly in order, but that will have to wait until he actually retires. For now, all i will hope for is that Sourav Ganguly's final Test series does not end up like Steve Waugh's final Test series - a valedictory tour full of missteps. I hope Ganguly gets rousing ovations in all the four Test Matches, but i hope he won't feel slighted if the applause is not quite on the Steve Waugh scale.

This announcement right now is a mistake in my view. It is also typical Sourav Ganguly.