Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Taken At The Flood ...

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
-- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act 4, scene 2, lines 272-5

Floods are a common occurence in Bangladesh. On the day when one of the most devastating natural disasters struck South and South East Asia, Bangladesh luckily escaped the killer floods. However they were struck by a flood that could give a new lease of life, to their to-date poor cricket team.

For the last year or so, Bangladesh have been flattering to deceive. The superb effort to come so close to beating Pakistan in Multan was followed by a crushing loss to England at home. They took the lead and held the West Indies under pressure for much of the first test to salvage a draw only to go on to lose the next 5 Tests by an innings.

But, throughout, Dave Whatmore the coach remained calm and asked the fans for more patience. There were plenty who tore their hair in despair and gave up. But for those who did show the patience, this could be the time to reap the rewards. It is ironic that a result which provided defeat to India should provide me with so much joy. However, it is a triumph for the spirit of Bangladesh's cricketers and fans and a triumph for the game of cricket. Hopefully, Whatmore, Bashar and Co. take this tide at the flood to go on to achieve big things - a series win against Zimbabwe would be the ideal start.

Bangladesh's greatest advantage is that almost all of their team is under 23 !!! With the exception of the old warhorses Rafique, Bashar, Mahmud and Mashud, this is a bunch of highly talented 19-year olds and twenty-somethings with big ambitions, a will to succed and a lack of the inferiority complex their earlier generation possessed.

I can see Mohammed Ashraful being Bangladesh's first super-star; leading the side in a few years time and being a source of inspiration to youngsters who might not be as gifted as him but possess the same attitude and spirit. I can see Mashrafe Mortaza (if he stays fit) go on to make an incisive bowling combination with the wily Tapash Baisya in 5 years time. Then again, who is to say that Bangladesh won't flatter to deceive again ?? What I hope is that the authorities trust Dav Whatmore, as good a coach as any, and that the players back him to make Bangladesh a force to reckon with.

On Boxing Day 2004, they certainly were one. India, a superb team in the longer version of the game, but an extremely ordinary ODI side found that out very clearly. It does not mater that India rested a great many of their top players. Bangladesh played like men possessed and deserved wvery plaudit they will get for the result. And hopefully, this result will be free of the stigma associated with their only other win over a Test playing nation (against Pakistan in 1999)

A Contest on The Cards ??

For the second Test running Pakistan have started out with some fight. Unfortunately, at Perth, it lasted much too briefly - and ended in a most pathetic and heartless surrender. Hopefully, things will be different here in Melbourne. Of course, as long as Adam Gilchrist is in the equation, Pakistan won't be able to breathe easy at all.

Surprisingly, Shoaib Akhtar has stayed fit and bowled well 2 games in a row !!! Good for him and Pakistan. And Yousouf Youhana and Younis Khan finally showed the class we had expected. The big guns, Hayden and Ponting continue to struggle.

Here's looking forward to a contest !!!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Going Nowhere

The India Bangladesh game at Chittagong yesterday epitomised the boredom that ODI cricket brings these days. But for some good swing bowling early in the day by Bangladesh, there was very little to interest the mind. Admittedly, Dravid and Kaif played well but there was such a set pattern to the game that it will be impossible to distinguish from thousands of other similar ones soon.

For India, there were hardly any gains. If Sriram and Dhoni were to be tested why were they sent so low down the order ? Moreover, isn't there sufficient evidence already that Sriram does not have it in him to make it at this level ? Why did Tendulkar and Ganguly open if the idea was to give youngsters a chance ? Could they not resist the temptation to add to their tally of runs and centuries ? What they did achieve, perhaps with poetic justice, was nothing but more damage to their coveted figures and reputations.

The men who came out on top were Kaif and of course Dravid. Yuvraj Singh's catch was the saving grace of the match. It was superb. I remember a couple of other similar catches taken by him earlier and hence is difficult to label it as his greatest but it was right up there with the best.

Bangladesh were in the game for a reasonable amount of time: first, whe India were tottering at 45/3 until the Dravid Kaif partnership got going. Even then at 205/7 with 3 overs to go Bangladesh stood a chance but Pathan and Agarkar took it away with some lusty blows. When batting Bangladesh looked good at 100/3 and 140 odd for 4 but then threw away their wickets to Sriram of all people !!!!

Joginder Sharma impressed by hitting his first ball for a 4 and bowled a tight spell; however I do not think he will get a permanent spot in this side. He is too much of a "bits and pieces" player for that. His first spell was extremeley economical but was exposed at the death when Mashud took to him.

Bangladesh are improving but not quite there yet - I hope they put up a better show at Dhaka and then go on to beat Zimbabwe later. India are going nowhere.

A Handyman

Australia are using Simon Katich as a handyman. First, when Ponting was out injured during the India series they made him bat at #3. He did a fine job there but was promptly dropped once Ponting and Lehmann were both fit. So much for reaping rewards. Now with Justin Langer injured, Katich is all set to open. He does deserve better, but this is the Aussie way and damn successful it has been !!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ganguly Proclaims ...

India have been as poor in ODIs this year as they have been good in the Tests. The 3 match ODI series against Bangladesh will provide with very little to gain and plenty to lose. On the one hand, a 3-0 victory is only to be expected and will not restore any confidence or credibility to the poor record they have suffered, but a single defeat, however unlikely, would be devastating.

To add to all this, Ganguly has publicly announced that all newcomers would play all matches and the seniors would be rotated. Pray what was the need for this ? By "this" I mean the proclamation; the intent is fine. Now, if, God forbid, India happen to lose the first game, will Ganguly stay true to this or will he show the "courage" to go back on his word ? The whole point is that Ganguly sometimes does make some rather unnecessary statements.

This series really doesnt excite me at all - the only thing I am looking forward to is Mohammad Ashraful's batting. I must mention: I had no time to write about his heroics in the last Test but he is an amazing talent and potentially the first superstar for Bangladesh.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Who's Your Favourite Team ?

Well I saw this really interesting discussion on Corridor of Uncertainty that talked about favourite cricket teams - and I coouldn't but help thinking what my list would be like.
This would be entirely, as of today, and can undergo several changes:

8. South Africa: This team was really good until not long ago; but now they play really boring cricket - Kallis and Smith are class players but they really don't excite me so much these days.

7. New Zealand: This team is often talked about a lot as one that makes great use of limited resources - well, dammit - they are a pretty ordinary side !!! They are great only when Cairns or Oram is on fire - (unfortunately Bond is perenially injured)

6. Pakistan: Again, up until recently they had some superbly talented players; they still have a couple - Inzamam definitely, but they don't seem to have that aura that Wasim and Waqar provided earlier.

5. Sri Lanka: A lot of people slam Sri Lanka as a boring side; but I feel they are no more boring than the above 3. Though there is no Aravinda Desilva, Jayawardene and Sangakarra are both beautifully attractive and talented players and Jayasuriya can still destroy attacks.

4. Australia: They are perfection. However, that is exactly what puts them at #4 and not higher. Shane Warne is a master, Gilchrist superb, Clarke, Ponting, Hayden, McGrath all great - but that little Mark Waugh factor seems missing just a little bit.

3. England: Unlike some of the other teams, England are in much better shape now than any time recently. They have genuine class in Harmisson, Flintoff and Vaughan; Thorpe is quite a lovely player as well and they are finally putting together good performances as a team.

2. West Indies: This is the biggest shocker - stats will show that they are not a good team at all (at least at the Test level) Also the flamboyant, attractive style of yesteryears has waned a bit - but the sheer magnificence of Brian Lara ensures this position for his side. There is no one in the World who can come anywhere near as far as quality of strokeplay is concerned. Also, Ramnaresh Sarwan is a really lovely player too

1. India: This is a no-brainer. Even if India had the dullest team in the World, they would still rank #1 on this list. However, they have a team that can play beautiful (and at times World class) cricket - Sehwag, Dravid, Sachin, Sourav, Laxman - wow that is some lineup !!! And there is young Irfan Pathan who has brought back to the game the art of swing. And who can forget the spin twins, Kumble and Harbhajan ??

Well beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder - of course, beauty does not always guarantee quality hence the table is somewhat different from the ICC Championship. Well would like to hear your thoughts on this issue.

May the Games Begin ...

Looking forward to the big series starting tomorrow - England v South Africa. If one were to go by the quality of the side alone, England should win - but South Africa have a great record at home - they haven't lost to anyone but Australia and have had only 1 drawn series against Pakistan. This coupled with England's renewed vulnerability to commit suicide as was evident in the warm-up match might just make this a really tense struggle.

I'm pretty sure England's batting will hold the key; the bowlers will do a fine job. Harmisson, Flintoff, Hoggard and Jones took all the honours in the Caribbean; but we need to remember the crucial role that was played by the extremely dependable middle order of Butcher, Hussain and Thorpe. Thorpe and Butcher will have to find their touch. Trescothick is always likely to struggle overseas.

For South Africa, the biggest problem is going to be their negative mindset of playing for a draw. If they play in the same "run-scoring as a last resort" manner as they did in India, Harmisson and Flintoff are likely to destroy them. South Africa need to be positive - the way they were in the Hansie Cronje era - for this I think they will severely miss Herschelle Gibbs. Smith and Kallis should be the mainstays of the batting lineup and I expect Zander de Bruyn to play a much bigger role. I think a promotion for him in the batting lineup wouldn't be a bad idea.

Can't wait for this one to start.

Aussies in Trouble !!!

Australia are in trouble at 91/5 !!! (Post Lunch Day 1)
I know it won't last long and probably Gilchrist will smash another 100 soon - and Pakistan will be bowled out for 90 and stuff like that - but it is great to see some sort of fight from Pakistan.
Shoaib and Sami have actually delivered, not just been paper tigers.
I wonder how long they can sustain it.
Meanwhile Hayden and Ponting continue their "reasonably poor run" of form

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Sachin Tendulkar makes his way in my squad for the Super Series replacing Inzamam courtesy his 34th Test hundred. Brian Lara will now be captain.

The England South Africa series promises to be a classic - but with South Africa not looking to win Test matches these days, will England commit suicide like they did in the warm-up game ??

Meanwhile Pakistan look set to be walloped in the first Test against Australia. Simply because their top 3 is just not good enough to take on the Aussies in Perth. Neither is the #6 solid. It will all come down to Inzy and Youhana, I feel

Will Brett Lee get a go at the WACA ? Or will the Aussies stick with the ever-reliable Michael Kasprowicz ?

Sunday, December 12, 2004

435 and 34

It is fitting that Tendulkar and Kumble have achieved such significant milestones within 2 days of each other, as the 2 are the seniormost members of the side. Congratulations to both of them and hope they go on to achieve greater success.

There is a lot I would like to say about both. In fact, there is so much that I am at a loss as to where I should begin. Let me be honest. I am not the greatest fan of Tendulkar, definitely not the Tendulkar of the last 5 years. However, when statistics stand tall like a mountain it is difficult not to acknowledge them: hence I salute his achievement.

It is pretty much the other way round with Kumble. Up until recently, I was not the biggest fan of him. But his performances in the last 2 years or so have changed all that. The way he has fought back to become the leading spinner once again is amazing. Kumble is a true champion. Unlike Sachin, his success is something all of us can aspire to emulate.

In a nation obsessed with batting, once again Tendulkar's achievement stole the limelight like it has done over the last 15 years when the 2 have performed in parallel. In fact, Kumble has been a much bigger match-winner, but never the superstar. There was no reason for it to be different here. Although I was hoping there would be a little more appreciation this time, like Gavaskar was there for Tendulkar. True, Kapil Dev did send in his congratulatory messages when Kumble equalled his record, but there was hardly a whisper here when he went past it. I completely expected the loquacious Bishen Singh Bedi to keep mum; the jealous and grumpy old grouch that he is: but I expected the others like Prasanna, Chandrashekhar and Venkat to come out and give Kumble the recognition as India's greatest ever bowler that he has so well-deserved.

Maybe it so happens that the equalizer is often more dramatic than the winner. Remember when Kapil equalled Hadlee at Bangalore there was such a celebration, but when he crossed him at Ahmedabad, it was a much more muted affair. When Sachin scored his 17th ODI hundred, it was a grand occasion at the Premadasa, but his 18th was pretty low-key; I doubt however that his 35th hundred (if it comes against Pakistan, in particular) will be low-key.

I wanted to provide links to some of the best articles that celebrate these achievements; but there are too many so I just suggest you visit http://www.cricinfo.com and follow them up

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Bangladesh are a poor Test team. There can be no two ways about that. However, they do have a couple of players of genuine talent amidst them. Mohammad Ashraful is one of course. His century against Sri Lanka at the age of 16 is stuff of legend. Although statistics tell a different story, he is undeniably a notch higher than any other Bangladesh player where quality of strokes and technique is concerned.

But here I want to focus on another very talented Bangladeshi: Mashrafe Mortaza. He is a bowler with decent pace and can trouble the best of the batsmen, as Rahul Dravid will readily testify. He bowled quite superbly yesterday and gave all Indian batsmen, Tendulkar included, a really tough time.

One to look for in the future.
Looks like England are not going to have it all their way after all. In the warmup match against South Africa A at Potchefstroom, they were bowled out for 225 !! Only Andy Strauss fired with some help from Geraint Jones and the tail.

All Good Things ...

Steve Harmisson is the best thing to have happened to cricket in recent times - A genuine fast bowler of the highest quality and superb control over line and length. In my opinion, far superior to the much-hyped Shoaib Akhtar and definitely, Brett Lee. England will be relying on him heavily for the South Africa series and most importantly, the Ashes. But the whole world should be supporting him as he tries to launch what should be the most serious attack against the gerat Australian batting lineup in recent times. Although Harbhajan might have a word to say about that. I can't wait for the fascinating battle that will ensue when Australia take on the Rest of the World next year. However, like all good fast bowlers, he has to really guard against injuries and I seriously hope he is utilized with utmost care by Michael Vaughan. In Harmisson's case the other problem, however, is that Cricket is not his #1 priority in life as he says here, and hence, the question arises whether indeed he can go on to be the next Curtley Ambrose as his run-up, bowling action and accuracy promises.

Talking of good things, New Zealand's affable opener Mark Richardson has retired. He was never a very attractive batsman, and honestly, I sometimes I hated him for the way he irritated our bowlers. But he was a thorough professional, and I wish him all the best in life. The one very good point he makes in this article is how he was burnt out by the intensity of international cricket. In particular, the lack of side matches on tours is really taking its toll on players, something that needs to be changed.

Even as recently, as 8 years ago, a tour of England was a complete summer with all experiences to be enjoyed, with a lot of matches against the counties and it was so interesting to see the pitches change as the summer progressed. Not so any more. Sad.

And talking about more good things there is Irfan Pathan - just as Harmisson has revived the tradition of genuine hostile accurate fast bowling, Pathan has done the same in the swing department after the void left by Wasim Akram's retirement. He swung the ball superbly against Bangladesh yesterday and mark my words, though he does not have the figures to back him as yet, he is destined to dominate World Cricket in the next few years along with Harmisson.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

By an innings and 931 runs ...

Have a look at this.

And This One Tops All ...

"I tend to think that cricket is the greatest thing that God ever created on earth - certainly greater than sex, although sex isn't too bad either"
- Harold Pinter (English playwright, b.1930)

Found on Corridor of Uncertainty


"It might be as much fun as watching Roger Federer play Lisa Raymond"
- Sambit Bal, on the prospects of watching the India-Bangladesh series

"Zimbabwe are as much a Test nation as Somalia are a superpower"
-Sambit Bal again in this article on Wisden Cricinfo

Monday, December 06, 2004

Superb Article. An absolute must read. It honors all of India's great batsmen in a most concise yet complete manner.Link

Happy Birthday Freddie

Happy Birthday to Andrew Flintoff, one of the most entertaining and destructive match-winners in the game !!!

Also to Sean Ervine, the extremely talented Zimbabwean whose career was cruelly destroyed just when he was starting to blossom as an all-rounder.

Batsmen versus Bowlers

The Aussies have complained to the ICC about the Mumbai wicket. As much as I am a great fan of Australia and the way they play their cricket, I cannot support this decision. I do not intend to imply here that the Aussies are whining because they lost the Test. Far from it. They had expressed reservations before the third day at which point they were in the driver's seat. James Sutherland also says that pitches should reflect local conditions; again very correct. Agreed. We do not complain about the bounce at Perth either.

What I object to is the following: "It's more that we should all recognize that we are not only in the sport industry, but also in the entertainment industry, and there is a need to provide the best possible conditions for Test Match Cricket to be played in." I'm sure he means "the best possible conditions for batting". If not, he should explain whether he thinks that tumbling of wickets is not entertaining for the true lover of Test Match Cricket. For the lay fan, it is all about runs - boundaries and sixes, but for the connoiseurs we would like to occasionally have a pitch that tests the batsmen to the fullest. And if they come out with flying colours, like Tendulkar and Laxman did in Mumbai, that is, indeed, great entertainment.

I will ask the following question: If 40 wickets falling in 2 days in not acceptable, why is only 25 wickets falling in 5 days with 1774 runs scored acceptable ? This is exactly what happened in the Sydney Test in January (Note that I am not whining because India clearly dominated that Test Match). Clearly shows that bowlers are treated as second class citizens. Isn't the humiliation that they suffer in ODI cricket enough ? Shouldn't they get some assistance sometimes in the longer form of the game ?

It is not a question of nationality. Neither is it of the losing team complaining. It is a question of batsmen versus bowlers.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Too Special For The One Day Game ??

VVS Laxman is not at all happy about being "rested" for the ODI series against Bangladesh. And justifiably so. Laxman has always been the favourite sacrificial lamb when it comes to ODIs. This is absolutely preposterous. Why, the man has scored 4 centuries in ODIs this year !!! 3 of them were match-winning efforts and the fourth match was lost in the last over !!! Also these were big matches, 2 against Australia in the VB series, 1 in the decider against Pakistan and 1 against Zimbabwe when India were 3 down for 4 or something like that. And it is not as if he is playing particularly worse than any other batsman this season. Why just in the last match he scored a superb 43 off 44 balls !!!

One of the rumoured reasons for the hesitation over Laxman in ODIs is his fielding: well, since when did fielding become a criterion in Indian cricket ? If so how do the likes of Nehra come anywhere near the squad ?

Also, reports indicate that Anil Kumble was also not very keen on being rested. Come on, guys, do not treat the great man with such indignity. It is true that it would be better for Kumble to concentrate on Tests rather than ODIs at this stage; but that decision should be made voluntarily, not enforced upon him. If he wants to play, he is definitely good enough and merits a place in the side.

Selecting a player like Sridharan Sriram over VVS Laxman is like selecting an ugly duckling over a royal swan. Mediocrity over Excellence. It is a shame.

Maybe like the royal swan, Laxman is just too good for the ODI game where class is not always the basic requirement, unlike in Test match cricket. Maybe ODI cricket does not deserve people like him.

Aussies LOSE !!!

New Zealand have beaten Australia in the opening match of the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy. With this, the Aussies have lost 2 matches in a row !! The last time this happened was over a year ago in the West Indies when they lost the last 3 matches of the series but those were all dead rubbers. The last time Australia lost 2 live matches in a row was in 2002 against Pakistan. Just a flash in the pan or is the Empire beginning to crumble ?? Meanwhile, the Kiwis have now lost only 2 of their last 21 games ...

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Very Very Special

Wisden Asia Cricket just released the list of top 25 innings ever played by Indians in Test Match Cricket. Obviously, the top spot was a no-brainer. Very Very Special Laxman's 281 was an overwhelming winner winning more than double the number of points than the second best, which was Rahul Dravid's 233 at Adelaide, by itself, an absolutely majestic performance. Surprisingly Laxman's other grand efforts like the 148 at Adelaide and 178 at Sydney do not feature in the top 25. Sydney, admittedly ended in a draw but the sheer quality of strokeplay in that innings should have borne some weight. Considering that several innings in lost causes have been included, that particular innings deserved mention.

4 of Dravid's masterpieces feature in the top 20, 3 of them in the top 13. Sehwag's 309 is up there, as are Vishwanath's greatest innings. 3 of Gavaskar's innings feature in the top 10; Tendulkar has 3 in the list; 2 of which were losing efforts. Azharuddin's magnificent 121 at Lord's finds a mention right at the bottom; but so many of his great ventures at Eden Gardens do not find favour at all - (what about the brilliant 182 against England ? what about the 3 centuries in 4 matches against South Africa in 1996-97 ? )

All in all, a fairly good list with the top few items quite obvious; but plenty to contemplate towards the middle and bottom

Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna ...

10 years ago, Sanjay Manjrekar released an album, Restday in which he sung the favorites of the top Indian cricketers of the day - Azharuddin, Tendulkar, Srinath and Kumble. Kumble's number was titled 'Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna' which translates to 'Never say Good-Bye'. Today as Kumble celebrates a monumental landmark in his career and Indian cricket history, it seems appropriate to remember these words in the light of the calls "pundits" were making for his good-bye just a year ago. Kumble has enjoyed probably the best year in his career and looks good to serve India as a match-winning bowler for a few seasons to come at least. Harsha Bhogle has his say about how Kumble has transformed his twilight into high noon.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Paradise in Eden Gardens

Finally, a much awaited series win at home !!!
Congratulations to Team India !
To Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble and Virender Sehwag in particular !!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Kumble 434*

M.Ntini c. Dravid b. Kumble 12(19)
At Eden Gardens, Kolkata
On Dec 2, 2004

With that Kumble is the joint highest wicket-taker for India along with Kapil Dev.
Congratulations Anil. You are undoubtedly the greatest bowler India has ever produced. Period.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

When was the last time a top batsman averaged less than 12 over a period of 6 tests and 9 innings ?

Sachin Tendulkar since his "Wonderful" innings of 194* at Multan :

2 vs Pak Lahore
8 vs Pak Lahore
1 vs Pak Rawalpindi
8 vs Aus Nagpur
2 vs Aus Nagpur
5 vs Aus Mumbai
55 vs Aus Mumbai
3 vs SA Kanpur
20 vs SA Kolkata

104 runs at an average of 11.6

Let the bat do the talking ?? ... OK, I keep my mouth shut.