Monday, November 29, 2004

It's Sehwag ... Again !

I hope those that happen to look at my blogs, do not form of me an impression of a parrot who keeps repeating stuff; because honestly, Virender Sehwag has left me with no other choice. After his 164 at Kanpur that was like a diamond in a heap of coal, he has followed it up with an equally belligerent and entertaining innings of 82 and if his past records are any indication this is likely to be another big hundred. There have been batsmen more consistent than him and there have been those more attacking perhaps; but it is quite impossible to remember a modern day player who combined the two as magnificently as Sehwag has. Unfortunately, I started watching cricket just after Sir Vivian Richards quit; but people who have seen him in action tell me that Sehwag is in his mold, as far as destructive ability is concerned, at any rate.

I feel that Sehwag is playing not only against South Africa but also proving a point against his own team. Every other batsman in this series has treated batting as a burden and run-scoring as a shady act that needs to be done quietly and secretively, not so Sehwag. He is playing the game in the way it should be played.

Dileep Premachandran minces no words as he describes South Africa's approach to batting on this tour while heaping praise on Sehwag in the process. Seems like South Africa's batting tactics are catching on pretty fast. First, the Indians (barring Sehwag) returned the favor and today even the great Aussies (Langer, Hayden, Martyn and Ponting) scored at just about 2.5 per over inspite of having a mammoth lead.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Cricket Blossoms In Eden Gardens

Finally ... a day of good competitive enthralling cricket in the India South Africa Series.

At the end of the day, both teams should be reasonably satisfied with their efforts. Pathan and Zaheer were the big plus points for India; Pathan in particular - bowling with superb swing, a forgotten art these days. Kallis underlined his quality with a well-deserved century - how South Africa struggle with their batting with a man of such abundant class in its centre is a mystery to me - (although, to be honest, India have 4-5 quality batsmen and still struggle ever so often) - and Ganguly put up a much improved performance as skipper. As for Kumble he will have to wait a bit longer for his moment of glory.

Elsewhere, in a meaningless but closer than expected contest, England beat Zimbabwe by 5 wickets to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

And the Aussie juggernaut rolls on as they take complete control of the Test Match against New Zealand at Adelaide

Saturday, November 27, 2004

...Let My Country Awake !!!

Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). The City Of Joy. The City of the great Rabindranath Tagore. Of Satyajit Ray and Amartya Sen. Of Jagmohan Dalmiya and Sourav Ganguly. And of course, home to the most beautiful and magnificent cricket ground in the World - The Eden Gardens.

Of course, there will be dissenting voices from the Brtitish bigwigs with their "Lord's as the spiritual home of cricket" mantra and the Aussies who will go gaga over the sheer size and grandeur of the MCG - but, for me, the manner in which a hundred thousand people cheer the first ball of a Test at Eden is a phenomenon unmatched anywhere else in the World. There is no city more passionate about cricket than Kolkata. In fact, the Eden Gardens crowd, in the middle of which you wouldn't hear a volcano erupt if India were doing well but would hear the tiniest of pins drop if they had just lost a wicket, contributes to almost half of its charm - the other being given by the magnificence of the stadium, the lush outfield and the sporting wicket.

Yes - unlike some of the crap served up by recent venues in India, I expect that the Eden Gardens wicket will be a really sporting one. There have been so many great matches and memories associated with this ground: - here I saw Azhar singlehandedly demoralise England with the most delicate 182 in 1993, here I saw the same Azhar hit Lance Klusener for 5 successive boundaries in a most destructive century in a losing cause against SA in 1996, then the same Azhar return with a magnificent 165* as his team thrashed Australia in 1998. Here I saw Shoaib Akhtar bowl 2 of the most unforgettable deliveries in Test Match cricket bowling out batsmen of the calibre of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar; and then controversially running out the Master Blaster much to the horror and anger of the crowd in 1999. And most importantly, here was played the greatest innings in modern times in the greatest Test Match of the greatest series - the unparalleled 281 by VVS Laxman (with able support from Dravid and Harbhajan) to script the most incredible of all victories to leave Steve Waugh's world-conquering Aussies stunned in 2001.

Ah ... the past ... coming back to the not so rosy present - this will be the first time I won't be seeing an Eden Gardens Test match live :-( ... but there are some important points to prove here ... mostly for the Indian captain and the hometown boy, Sourav Ganguly. I have been a most ardent supporter of him and his captaincy for the last 4 years but an equally vocal critic over the past 6 months. Matter of fact, I was hoping he would not be able to play this match for the sake of the team. Hoewever, now that he is playing, I hope he is reborn at his home ground as the positive and determined captain we had all come to admire so much.

Much to look forward to for Anil Kumble as well - just 5 wickets to become India's leading wicket-taker - amazing bowler - Ill write a complete tribute to him in a later post - but he could have asked for no better venue to achieve this feat. The response that he will receive from this magnificent sport-loving crowd, he will trasure forever.

For Team India as a whole, let us hope that the Eden Gardens factor brings in a new zest - after all we only play matches here once in 2 years (a crying shame - a result of the stupid quota system - unlike in Australia and England - where they honor their traditional venues with regular matches) - to try and recapture the passion they showed Down Under last year and in Pakistan this year.

To sign off I will borrow a line from the great Tagore in one of his most famous poems - and modify it slightly to say - ... In The Garden Of Eden, My Father, Let My Country Awake !!!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Team Supreme ??

The Super Series "The Best vs The Rest" is less than a year away.
A week is a long time in cricket; but we can safely assume that Australia are going to be the best team then and hence start to build a side that can take on the Aussies. Of course, this will be subjected to several modifications; but as of today this is what my team would look like:

Inzamam (c)
Sangakarra (wk)

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Cricket Please !!!

Unfortunately, side issues and ugly ones at that, are obscuring the world of cricket at the moment.

Of course, the sordid Zimbabwe affair continues to haunt the game. Here is what Des Wilson, former chairman of the ECB's corporate affairs, says in The Guardian, one of the organizations that was most surprisingly allowed in by Mugabe. Now, it turns out that everyone has been allowed access.

Sadder, at least from a purely cricketing point of view, is the contract crisis in the Caribbean. The West Indies are one of my favorite teams and it is really disappointing that just when they were looking at better times -- what with the Champions Trophy victory and the appointment of Bennett King as coach -- this crisis should crop up. Hopefully, it is resolved soon just as the crisis in India was in 2002.

And the perennial chucking controversy is alive and kicking as well as Amit Verma provides some very interesting insights here.

In the midst of all this mire, at the cost of sounding repetitive, I once again thank Sehwag for the simplicity and unadulterated joy he brings to the game. This article by Sambit Bal is excellent. It makes some attempts to understand the incredible phenomenon that is Sehwag and would be of great interest to non-Indian fans, who do not know him as closely as we do.

Finally, isn't there a Test match starting in Adelaide today? Great! Something to take us back to pure and simple cricket!!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A Most Forgettable Test Match

The Kanpur Test had, for me, ended on the first day itself, so it was a great relief that such a soporific display of Test Match Cricket was finally brought to an end.

The pitch was terrible; the less said about it the better. And there are people who say the Mumbai wicket was really bad: well take your pick, I'd take Mumbai over Kanpur any day.

South Africa played with a negative mindset no doubt; but India did no better; they had some chance to show some innovation and make the match interesting but flatly refused.

Hopefully, Kolkata will provide a sporting wicket as it always has and even 2 teams who are not too keen on winning will be forced to play some positive cricket.

Again, I wholeheartedly thank Sehwag for providing the saving grace in this utterly forgettable piece of Test Match Cricket

The Zimbabwe Affair

This affair has not interested me too much personally and hence I have given it very little thought; but looking at the extreme passion with which the English fans feel about it, I am compelled to give it consideration.

What is interesting is the drama created by the media over this issue; it is almost like following a thriller approaching its climax; just look at the way Wisden Cricinfo covers it: Within the space of a couple of hours they have 3 different headlines: 1) Is Ban On Journalists sufficient for Pullout ? 2) Mani hints at England Pullout 3) England cancel flight to Zimbabwe. What next ?

As I continue to ponder, I face just 1 big question: Why England ? Australia played there without any qualms ... What is so special about England ... Why do they want to take on the morality issue here on their own?? I welcome the views from English fans on this one.

My take on this is that the publicity and hype generated by this tour could in the long run only improve the situation ... At least cricket fans from 9 other nations know what is happening in Zimbabwe; I'm sure there are dictatorial regimes in other countries of Africa and the World that we know nothing about ... Just like the common man say in a non-cricketing country like the US would not know about Zimbabwe

Finally, I think that Zimbabwe is such an insignificant cricketing nation, they hardly provide any value to the game: it is better if England just go about their business; beat them 5-0 and forget it. If Zimbabwe were a top cricket team like Australia or even average like India, I wonder how much more complicated the issue would be... Of course, the conditions in Zimbabwe would hardly allow the team to be a competitive one.

And now I shall go back to more interesting cricketing issues ...

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Veeru, I Salute Thee !

Virender Sehwag is unique. His brand of batting is unparalleled in Test Match Cricket and there probably never has been one like him in the modern game.

When Sehwag was promoted up to open the innings at Lord's in 2002, it was damned as a move bound to fail. After all, so many middle-order Indian batsmen had failed as openers, Laxman being the most striking example. As it turned out, it was one of Ganguly's most brilliant moves as captain (a rare occurence these days). Greats like Geoffrey Boycott said that Veeru had no footwork and no brain; although they had to admit that he had an amazing skill and brilliant hand-eye co-ordination.

The "brainless and techniqueless" Sehwag averages almost 54 after 28 Tests scoring 8 hundreds. Numbers that would rank alongwith the best, if not the best. Nobody, not even Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid had similar statistics at this stage of their career. But what is amazing is that he has a strike rate of 70+ -- the kind of rate most players would be happy with in a limited-overs game !!! And most of those runs have come through beautiful punches through covers, superb straight drives and fantastic flicks through mid-wicket. After all, not for nothing was he called the next Tendulkar at the start of his career. Today, thankfully there is no such comparison - he is now an original superstar and an icon for millions.

He is as different to the original Little Master, Sunil Gavaskar, as chalk is from cheese. Yet the two share several common things - favorite cold-drinks, staure (in physique at least) - and he might well go on to be one of India's greatest openers along with Sunny.

All The Best To Veeru and hope he keeps lighting up the dullest of matches with his strokeplay

Monday, November 22, 2004

Are You "Gambhir" ??

Gautam Gambhir's last name translates to "serious". After his innings yesterday I wonder if indeed he is a serious option for the second opener's slot for India in Test Match Cricket in the long run.

Admittedly, he was patchy to start off with; but unlike his predecessor Akash Chopra he has so many shots in the book and a natural aggression that could compensate for the lack of stolidness and patience Chopra possessed. After all, if you can outscore Virender Sehwag, no matter what the pitch, you have got to have some ability.

I hope Gambhir does develop into a long-term opening prospect and not flatter to deceive like those before him. We tried blockers like Chopra, Bangar, Das, Dasgupta and Gandhi as well as flashers like Ramesh and Jaffer. Many of these showed promise, but none really delivered. But, we could unearth a Sehwag to fill in 1 spot ... what are the odds on Gambhir filling the other ??
Ha !
Finally I have it ... a Cricket Blog of my own !
Over the past few weeks, I have been searching for cricket blogs to analyze for a project in my Web Mining class. I was surprised to find so few quality blogs. Of course there were the really good ones by S. Rajesh on Wisden Cricinfo and Ryan Patrick on Carribean Cricket as well as this new one called Corridor of Uncertainty ... but as compared to other sports like Football the number was really tiny.

I hope I will enjoy my foray into the World of Blogs and interact with some of the best bloggers who love the game. To start off ... Anil Kumble has already taken #430 ... Way to go Anil !