Thursday, March 31, 2005

Nose Problems !!!

Here is an extract from Wisden Cricinfo:

Styris also admitted that he used the time off to correct another long-standing problem with his nose. "Basically I've been breathing out of one nostril so they've opened up the airway and it should help with breathing and sleeping."

Interesting, ha ??

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Selectors Strike

I predict India will lose the ODI series 5-1 if not 6-0. That is truly what they deserve. Not only is an irrational and woefully out-of-form Ganguly still captain, but the selectors have refused to be shy the second time after being bitten once. They have been bitten again. I think after the World Cup 2003 and the VB Series 2004, there was one issue that was discussed over and over again and probably should have been made a law. The gist of it is:

Mongia over Laxman ?? Never again.

Unfortunately the selectors have not followed it. Also Ganguly's favourite blue-eyed boy Nehra finds a place over Ajit Agarkar the man who has taken more than 4 timees the number of wickets at a much better average and the legend Anil Kumble has to sit out at the expense of Murali Karthik.

The Blame Game

At the end of the series, Wisden Cricinfo usually gives each player points on 10. Turning the tables around just a little bit here, I am awarding players "blame points" on a scale of 1 to 10.

Gambhir 4
Most inexperienced member of the squad and did nothing wrong except running out Sehwag on the last day.

Sehwag 0
No complaints whatsoever.

Dravid 4
Won the Eden Gardens match with a Dravid special, but failed to come good when the chips were down in Bangalore.

Tendulkar 5
Consistent, but nothing great. Failed in Bangalore like Dravid though he made a fair effort of hanging in there.

Laxman 5
Had few chances, but did not take the one big chance on the last day that he had to make a hero of himself.

Ganguly 9
Terrible with the bat. Pathetic as captain, except on the last day of the Eden Gardens test.

Karthik 1
Did everything that was expected of him and more (but then not too much was expected of him) The 1 is because he couldn't face up to Sami's yorker in Bangalore.

Pathan 6
Made a great effort with the bat to fight it out but was absolutely ordinary with the ball

Kumble 3
Superb in first 2 tests, but came up a cropper in Bangalore with the ball, having said that the others should have stood up some time.

Balaji 4
Started brilliantly in Mohali but tapered off towards the end

Harbhajan 5
Did fairly well despite the external pressures but could not deliver the killer punch

Zaheer 3
Didn't get too many chances at all. Could have done better in Mohali.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Coming Up ....

It is not that I am shying away from India's humbling defeat to Pakistan in Bangalore. It will all come sooner or later in parts ... the castigation, the excuses, the frustration, the suggestions (both genuine and sarcastic), the congratulations and oh yes the bickerings about some individuals !!! Just give me some time ... these birdbrains made me stay up till 6 am in the morning clinging to hope reducing my sleep to a pathetic 4 hours - as a result I had a splitting headache for a while and only now fresh from an afternoon siesta am I back in action !!

"Nipped In The Bud"

was what just done to a potentially great innings by Lou Vincent. Trailing by 91 and 4 down for 35, Vincent and Astke had decided that attack was the only way out and the 2 launched a blistering attack on the Aussies. Vincent had hit 2 sixes with 4 fours in just 33 balls to score 42, when he was Sob Sob RUN OUT. Dammit !!

Since I started writing this post NZ have also lost McCullum, so they are now 2 runs ahead with 4 wickets in hand.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Around The Globe ...

1) He came he saw he hit

This is not some journalist's redundant description of Sehwag's or Afridi's innings in Bangalore, this is what Ricky Ponting did by his own admission in Auckland the other day.

2) No Lara, No Cricket !!!

Here is a passionate view of an ardent cricket-HATER ... vow what kind of a species would that be ??? - well always nice to know a bit about the ones who are located 180 degrees opposite to your ideology - but yeah, he asserts that without Brian Lara, Trinidad and Tobago should boycott the match. Can't say I disagree too strongly.

3) The English fans and co-bloggers are (surprisingly) silent about this !!

Too Hasty ?? Yeah !

I must admit and I'm sure Sehwag would agree, that we were too hasty to brand the Bangalore wicket as a flat drawn-match wicket. Indeed, the match has now been set up nicely with theoretically all 3 results a possibility. The draw however still leads the race by some margin over a Pakistan win.

It is going to be a real tough ask on a pitch which is "progressively deteriorating" and that's the key word here unlike Mohali that played somewhere close to its best on Day 5. I wonder who will put up his hand for India tomorrow. Will Tendulkar choose this stage to make a nice slow 35th hundred ?? Will Laxman carry on his good form in the first innings ?? Will Sehwag break his second innings jinx ?? Will The Wall stand tall again ??

Would it not be ironic (and great) if Ganguly were to see India to safety. An 80 not out batting till the end with 7 or 8 wickets down and he will be hailed as Captain Courageous all over again - the critics will have changed colour with the ease and grace of a chameleon. Knowing the Indian captain, I wouldn't be shocked if he pulled a rabbit out of the hat ?? Remember the 98* in Kandy 2001 when he was going through a similar bad patch ??

Anyway fingers crossed, India should pull off the draw required. (Though a win wouldn't hurt either)

Man Of The Day (Bangalore Day 4: Shahid Afridi)

In a period of 60 minutes, Shahid Afridi wrested control of the match from India. First he ended the crucial last wicket-partnership with a delivery faster than Pathan or Balaji's average ball and 10 minutes later padded up and proceeded to demolish Irfan Pathan and the other Indian bowlers.

Both Yaseer and Younis capitalized on the start to give Pakistan a big lead, but clearly The Pathan from Peshawar was the man of the day.

Can't Bat With The Tail ??

It has been said all over the media today and would no doubt be repeated several times in the future : "VVS Laxman can't bat with the tail." Agreed, that line of thinking has some merit given some of Laxman's recent performances with the tail, in particular the early part of yesterday's play.

What is glossed over is that these tail-enders pretty much threw away their wicket in what Arun Lal would call a "jiffy" before Laxman had a chance to get his eye in. Yes, he was batting 50+ overnight, but it can always be tough to start on a new day. And when he did get that time, he again played some exquisite strokes. Great partnership with Anil Kumble. If India manage to save the match tomorrow, that's where Pakistan will look back to where it all went wrong.

What a costly miss that could yet prove to be by Kamran Akmal !!

Tantalisingly Close ...

There are plenty of people on the verge of landmarks in World Cricket today. McGrath needs 5 wickets to get to 500 (second fast bowler, second Aussie, fourth bowler overall) - he has 1 innings to do it - otherwise he will have to wait till August !!

Harbhajan is on the verge of 200 (sixth Indian). Tendulkar has been on the verge of a World record number of centuries for quite some time now. While no one knows when that is going to happen, another fact curiously overlooked by the media is that he requires now only 5 runs to be the highest run-scorer for India. The odds favour him to get to THAT landmark in this Test don't they ?? Otherwise he too will have to wait till September for that world-conquering Zimbabwe side.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

How Does It Feel To Be ...

Back From The Dead ??

Would be a question not too inappropriate to pose before Stephen Fleming who pulled himself out of a rut of poor scores (in Tests against Australia) with a responsible 60 in Auckland.

Rahul "Marathi" Dravid

I knew he had some Marathi background, but did NOT know that he was completely Marathi until I read this. This makes me even more proud of him !! Note, that he was, is and will always remain my idol regardless of his roots.

Cricketing Nonsense #1

"If it were not for Virender Sehwag's astonishing innings of 201, India would have been in big trouble"

What kind of a nonsense statement is that ?? Made several times over in the media today by a whole spectrum of respected writers. I mean sure, that innings was the essence of India's batting but that came right at the top. It happened. It was a good solid unquestionable truth. What is the point in bringing in the conditionals and trying to compute the posterior probabilities of that event not occuring ???

OK, sorry if that was too heavy for some of you - but to put it in simple Sidhuistic terms, "If ifs and ands were pots and pans there would be no tinkers". How can one debate about what would have happened if such a big truth had not existed ?? This is pointless, inane debate. This is fit to be carried out by those mysitcs who do not believe that existence exists. Who do not believe that A is A.

Come to think of it, if Sehwag had scored a duck, we might have been bowled out for 200 !! Again, it could well have been that Dravid and Tendulkar would then have put their heads down more, carved a couple of big innings and we would have been say 300/4. The possibilities are almost uncountably infinte (which is what makes this game the great game it is). For precisely, this reason, it is pointless to keep wondering about what could have happened.

OK. If someone coming in at #7 or so had hit a quickfire hundred with the tail rescuing the team, the usage would be more acceptable. The fact is that a certain situation has occured. One that needs to be reacted to. One that can be reacted to in one of several possible ways. In this context it makes sense to say "If #7 had not scored, so and so would have happened".

But with openers they set the tone of the innings. They create the situation, not react to it. (except perhaps the opposition score). But with Sehwag Im sure he would have played the same way had the score been 170, 270, 370, 470 or even 670. It does not matter to him.

Dear Sourav ...

I have been (still am ?) one of your greatest fans/supporters. I have always backed you when others have pounced upon the earliest opportunity to bash you. A large section of ignorant masses and vengeant experts want you out. I believe that despite not having had a big score your fairly consistent performances of the last year still earn you a place in the side given your past record.

I take pains to point out to friends that this is the only bad series you have had with the bat for a fair while now. I was terribly disappointed with your captaincy against Australia but again respecting your past record, I still supported you as captain.

I concede you were out of you elements in Mohali and made a painful effort to score but were just unable. Then you played an atrocious shot at Kolkata and I passed it off as "one of those things". I was even willing to forgive you for that rather pathetic short innings when India were in some trouble; even giving you the benefit of the doubt : that since you threw your wicket away, it gave a chance for Dinesh and Rahul to put up a great partnership.

After today's dismisal however, I feel that patience is running out. Today was the time when you should have shunned your urge to loft Danish Kaneria; the urge to recapture the glory of old; those skills that you have so clearly lost. Today you needed to stay there to make sure India did now waste another great Sehwag performance. I am saddened by your shot today. There is no Rahul around to cover up for your shoddy performance. You'd better hope that VVS and the tail pull us put of this one; otherwise you might find yourself sharing a series that we should have won after 2 Tests. If that happens I hope you will feel pretty angry at yourself. The critics will get even sharper. The selectors will lose even more sweat, And I ? I will probably still have faith in you. But the patience is being lost with every passing innings.

Man Of The Day (Bangalore Day 3: Virender Sehwag)

For a more detailed acclamation see post below. Keeping aside the aesthetics and the superlatives, 201 off 262 balls of the 379 runs scored by the team. Test match hundred #10. Of which the scores read {309, 201, 195, 173, 164, 155, 147, 132, 105, 102}. A first innings average of 75 - second only to Don Bradman .... blah blah blah

And in the context of this game, the innings that has kept India in this match.

Another Sehwag Post

Excellent article here by Amit Varma on Wisden Cricinfo. In particular note the first para:

"To be great is to be misunderstood," Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, and how we have misunderstood Virender Sehwag. At first we thought he was a one-day utility player; then a good one-day slogger but surely not a Test player; then a Test batsman capable of the occasional belligerent innings, like Krisnamachari Srikkanth, but no more; then an opener as good perhaps as Michael Slater or Herschelle Gibbs, but not in the same class as his team-mates like the Tendulkar-Dravid-Laxman trio. We were mistaken each time.

I can never tire of recounting all the records this man is putting up - also of describing how much he means to this Indian batting lineup. However, I'll leave that to the stats men for now. I'll just go on to say that he is well on his way to achieve the greatness of 3 of his teammates - Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman - probably caught up with Laxman already - but then can that 281 ever be compared ??

Just a week ago Ram here wondered whether Sehwag had been sorted out. Moreover he went on to assert that Sehwag "would fail" in the rest of the series (after Mohali). I hope he has got his answer. How can people even think of "predicting" that someome will fail especially when it comes to a genius like Sehwag ?? I hope the critics are silenced now.

And to think that till today there exist some souls in this World who have the temerity to compare him to Afridi !!! Comparing Sehwag to Afridi is like comparing Aamir Khan to Govinda !!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Marshall And Marshall

Is that Hamish Marshall ? Or his twin brother James ? Who knows ? That will be the question facing the Aussies when the 2 will be batting together in the Auckland Test. Although Mark and Steve Waugh the famous Aussie twins graced the game for so long, Hamish and James are the first ever identical twins to do so. It must be a daunting, perhaps boring task for the opposition bowlers - To keep looking at the same batsman all the time; Even after the strike is changed. Perhaps they will come up with the best solution. Dismiss one of them quickly. However, right now the Marshalls are batting together and have put up a pretty good fight. 34/1 is a great start for NZ against Australia. James has scored 17 off 38 balls and the more accomplished Hamish 14 off 21. Or have they ?? Who is to guarantee that after some mid-pich conference, Hamish did not sneak to the batting end to take strike for James ?? Why not have some twin fun out there ?? Maybe the Aussies have insisted on them wearing ID cards while batting or that one wear a sweater throughout or something like that !!!

With You Mate

I empathize with Stephen Fleming. He is having a bad time of it and when things go bad, they can well really go bad from all sides. From personal experience. I think Fleming is one of the finest captains and ambassdors and batsmen NZ have ever produced - people have got to give him time to get out of this wretched patch rather than burden him with all sorts of advise. Here Martin Crowe puts forward another theory and tries to provide further advise while Fleming tries to counter that.

Give him a break, guys.

Man Of The Day (Day 2: Younis Khan)

He was touted as a "limboo-timboo" vice captain at the start of the series. He had a horror Test in Mohali. Yet Younis has struck and - how !! 267 - the highest ever score by a visiting batsman in India !! I always knew that one new Pakistan batsman would leve India a star - I always figured it would be Asim Kamal - it has turned out to be Younis however. Wisden Cricinfo talks about his innings and the similarity with Dravid's innings in Rawalpindi last year. Younis indeed admires Dravid greatly and thinks of him as a role model. That's the best choice you can make, mate.

Playing For A Draw

I did not see any of the first day's play but figured from the reports that the pitch was a batting featherbed. Today however, the pitch did afford some help to the spinners with Harbhajan Singh getting some sharp turn. This could be a real tester for India's famed batting line-up with the talented Danesh Kaneria and the wily Arshad Khan bowling for the first time with a huge score to back them up. This is exactly what happens when you "make pitches for a draw". Clearly, if India had batted first, they would have been in a similar position as Pakistan find themselves in. That must have been the thinking - we have the lead let's make a pitch where we can't possibly lose - guess what, we are going to be under real pressure to save this match from here on.

Rahul, Saurav and VVS have a combined average of less than 45 at this venue, so SRT will have an oportunity to make a real difference to the fortunes of the team here by scoring a big one. This is the kind of situation where his recent liking for big slow hundreds might actually work to the advantage of the team. Then again - it might not - his 94 in Mohali was so painful it almost had a negative impact on the side. That was when India was trying to get in the ascendancy however.

When India were faced with 510 against South Africa in Kanpur earlier this year on a similarly pathetic batsman-friendly wicket, they responded pretty well with 466 - although it was the efforts of Sehwag mainly that helped them - and guess what his was a typical free-stroking innings - not a painful one. SRT scored 3 runs in some 20-odd balls. That time however South Africa had scored painfully slowly, so that a draw was very easy to obtain.

In Adelaide 2003, when faced with a similar total, (ah that grand grand test match !!) We actually managed to pull off a win thanks to the super efforts of Dravid and Laxman - SRT scored 1 - but then again Australia had scored too fast for their own good giving us enough time to win.

I would also ask you to try to reminisce Mohali 2003 against NZ, a match that tried to kill us (it is impossible to believe that someone could create a wicket like that just for the sake of creating it) when NZ humiliated us by enforcing a follow-on and almost pulled it off !! Again Sehwag 100, VVS 104* and 86*.

So there are instances when various batsmen have done the job in recent times.

Today Pakistan have scored at just the right rate. This match could go to the wire (and by that mean to decide whether we draw or lose). Sehwag has already made his intentions clear !! That's the spirit Veeru !!

Man Proposes... (And All That)

At the start of yesterday, if there was one thing the Indian cricket fan in me would have wished for, it would have been Inzamam falling early. It did not happen. He went on to score a 184*.

At the start of today, if there was one thing the cricket fan in me wished for, it would have been to see him get to a well-deserved 200. And surprise surprise - he goes first ball. Well the second thing I would have wished for is for that irritating Younis Khan to go early. He is still batting merrily on 175.

Great ball first up by Balaji though. He is bowling real well this series, completely overshadowing the more celebrated Irfan Pathan.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Man Of The Day (Bangalore Day 1: Inzamam)

How does one describe the innings played by Inzi today ?? Does one need to describe it at all ?? I have already used all the epithets to describe his batting in an earlier post, so I'll sum it up in just 1 word. Genius. Maybe 2. Pure Genius.

If you associate Brian Lara with the flow, Dravid with precision, Laxman with elegance, Tendulkar with pure skill, Sehwag with the punch, the one thing you can associate with Inzy's batting is his ease. On his day, he can make batting look easier than anyone.

He truly belongs up there with the modern giants of batsmanship.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Finale In The IT City

The series moves to Bangalore - the city of gardens and the IT Capital of the country. Bangalore hasn't been a happy hunting ground for India in recent years. The last victory here came way back in 1995 against NZ - that btw as a piece of trivia, was the first Test telecast by ESPN in India. A year before that Kapil Dev equalled Sir Richard Hadlee's world record at this venue in India's innings win over Sri Lanka.

Since then India have lost a close game to Australia in 1998, a not-so-close game in 2004 and have suffered a shameful defeat against the South Africans in 2000 (Azhar's last match, last hundred in last innings etc.). For the sake of trivia, the debut of Mohammad Kaif. There was a rain-affected draw against England in 2001 where India were on the backfoot most of the time courtest the Hussain-Giles legstump tactics.

This time India will be hoping to end the unsuccessful streak. They should start great favourites again now after their crushing victory at the Eden. The stars of the show, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble will be playing in front of their home-crowd and will be eager to put up another great performance. While Tendulkar has scored 1 hundred here at an average of 62, Rahul has scored a paltry 127 runs at 18 with a highest score of 60. He will be eager to rectify that.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Rain Rain

Just as the tsunami caused devastation across continents on Boxing Day, the rain Gods today seemed to have struck across the Southern Hemishpere destroying trivial matters such as cricket matches in thier wake.

From Wellington, NZ to Pretoria, RSA it was the same story.

The Aussies were the worst hit. Not only did their women have to share a point with England in the World Cup, the guys had to be content with a draw in Wellington.

Monday, March 21, 2005

What A Start !!!

In the 3rd over of NZ's second innings on the last day of the rain-affected Wellington Test Glenn McGrath has struck on his fourth and sixth deliveries to send NZ reeling at 2 down for 3. They still need to bat out another 80 overs to save the Test and their brightest hope Hamish Marshall and skipper Stephen Fleming are back in the pavillion !!

Cricketing Non-Cliches #1: The Kolkata Effect

I am starting this series as a complement to that of the Cricketing Cliches by Amit Varma on India Uncut. These are the ones coined in modern times, and have not been going on since eternity like the ones Amit talks about. Some of these have been coined by me and accepted by a fair following of my friends, others I have picked up from here and there.

The Kolkata Effect: Originally used to describe the phenomenon in which captains all over the World, particularly Australians drastically reduced the frequency of enforcing follow-ons as a result of a reverse suffered by Steve Waugh's all-conquering side at the hands of a once-in-a-lifetime 281 by VVS Laxman at this venue.

Usage: Despite trailing by over 200 runs in consecutive matches against the West Indies and England in 2002, India were not asked to follow on; as a direct consequence of The Kolkata Effect.

In recent days, it is also used to describe the phenomenon in which touring teams suddenly capitulate at Kolkata for reasons more mysterious than the evident cricketing ones. It is widely believed that Kolkata is a very lucky venue for India and the unparalleled Kolkata crowd often creates an atmosphere that foreign teams find difficult to handle.

Usage: The pitch might not be deteriorating as fast as I expected, but the Kolkata effect could yet help India pull off a victory on the final day.

Congratulations To The Newly Weds !!

Gone In 60 Seconds

I logged in to write about Craig McMillan the one who had such a promising start to his Test career. Till today I can recall the 6 he hit off Shane Warne at the MCG in his debut test clearing the long boundary with consummate ease. Today however he finds himself barely hanging on to his place in the team thanks to a series of injuries. Today however he hit Warne for another super six straight back and just as I was going to write celebrating that hit, he is now dismissed. According to Cricinfo:

69.6 Warne to McMillan, OUT: from round the wicket, pitches on leg stump
and spins away, McMillan tries to play a sweep shot, misses it and
ball hits the off stump

New Zealand 201/8, Partnership of 17
CD McMillan b Warne 20 (34b 2x4 1x6)

New Zealand in further trouble

Cricketing Cliches

Regular reader of Amit Varma's India Uncut would already have heard about the series of Cricketing Cliches and the way he explicitly mentions them before use. Hugely interesting and entertaining stuff, but is it anything more than that ?? Is he trying to imply that one should try NOT to use these ?? I'm not sure but it would be a hell of a difficult task.

For eg. How else would you describe the innings by Dinesh Karthik on Day 4 of the Kolkata Test other than "one of character" ?? A gutsy performance - another cliche (?) but surely it was more than that.

Cricketing cliches will continue to be used for as long as the game goes on. What needs to stop however is people like Ravi Shastri who keep hammering inane obvious questions after every match at the poor captains. Yesterday I felt so sorry for Inzy - the poor man has suffered a heavy defeat, he's down and tired, he can't speak a word of English and is mumbling something, his facial expression pleading "Please leave me alone". And what does our great Shastri do ?? I need hardly mention - "Bad luck Inzy. Where do you think it all went wrong. What was the turning point of the match ? What are the positives you will take out of this game ... " - the standard set of questions whose answers every kid in in every alley of India or Pakistan knows.

Another Collapse On The Cards ??

As I write New Zealand are on their way to another familiar thrashing at the hands of Australia. With rain washing out large portions of the game, I had hope that NZ might save this one, but Ponting had stated clearly that 300 overs would be enough to force a result in the game without any innovative declarations. And he seems correct. In 203 overs so far NZ trail Australia by 386 runs with 3 first innings wickets in hand. 43 overs today and 98 tomorrow even accounting for a total washout in the first session would give Aussies another 120 overs to take 13 wickets. Should be plenty. Unless one of the NZ player puts his hand up to play an innings full of character.

Man Of The Day (Day 5: Anil Kumble)

Quite obvious isn't it ? I thought also deserved the Man Of The Match Award for a superb demo of an ideal 5th day decent track bowling performance. This was no minefield, nor was it the Kolkata effect. It was just the skill and determination of one man. No not one man. One glorious Champion. I'm sure there will continue to be critics of his bowling forever but there can be no doubt he is the greatest bowler India has ever produced and probably our greatest match-winner.

But the Man Of The Match went to Rahul Dravid and I'm not complaining. How can you when a man has scored 2 100s in the same game each very important and very dissimilar ...

In the last Test Kamran Akmal who was the Man Of the Last Day won the MOM. This time it was RS Dravid who was the Man of Day One. Of course, he narrowly missed out on Days 3 and 4 as well, so indeed it was no surprise. Clearly, while in the first Test the one who had the lat laugh took the cake, here it was the one who laid the foundation.

What is really encouraging from India's point of view is that 6 different players so far have won the Day - Balaji, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Karthik, Kumble - so clearly the whole team is contributing.

Paradise In The Garden Of Eden Again

India have found paradise in Eden Gardens again with a crushing 195-run victory over Pakistan. This is the fifth time since I started watching cricket that they have attained this joy - England in 1993, Australia in 1998 and 2001 and South Africa in 2004 prior to this. Like most of those past occasions, Anil Kumble did the trick again. Another super super effort from India's greatest bowler.

Also the fact that Harbhajan picked up only 4 wickets in the match should not go against him for the partnership between the spin twins was quite superb. And a good effort by Balaji too - few crucial aggressive spells. Ganguly's captaincy for a change was quite impressive.

India have the advantage going into Bangalore. They would do well to avoid complacency however.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Man Of The Day (Day 4: Dinesh Karthik)

It is indeed cruel that an innings as classy as Rahul's 135 couldn't earn him Man Of The Day on either day but you have got to hand it over to the youngster today. Just for a moment today when The Maestro appeared a bit rattled after Ganguly and Laxman's departure in the face of a hostile spell from Sami, Karthik showed the maturity to absorb the pressure and put away the bad balls with panache to build a mammoth, parhaps match-winning partnership and in fact helped Dravid regain his composure.

Indians have dominated the match on 3 of the 4 days and hence should deservedly go on to win this one.

UPDATE: Talking about wicket-keepers, the Legend Of Adam Gilchrist has indeed completed the century I was mentioning earlier in typical style - a boundary second ball after lunch

Man Of The Day (Day 3 : Sachin Tendulkar)

I was almost tempted to give it to - you guessed it, not Rahul Dravid who also played superbly btw - but that criminal Steve Bucknor. But then I thought how long we keep glorifying evil just because it is all-powerful ?? In the end that which is good, true, pure will (and should) always triumph over the bad, the evil, the ugly - and hence Tendulkar not Bucknor is my Man Of The Day.

I really should have put in more of my own stuff on his innings - which was quite superb from what I hear - getting close to Tendulkar of the old - but for lack of time now I will just direct you here. Excellent article.

The Legend, The Criminal, The Maestro, The Prodigy, The Very Very Special

It's been a long time since I have had plenty of time to put in a post - so here goes. Let me start off today not with the rivetting India Pakistan battle at the Eden Gardens but with (the one who will be a legend of the game) Adam Gilchrist. As if his back-to-the wall run-a-ball century in the first Test at Christchurch was not oppressive enough on the hapless Kiwis, he has at the time of writing (or blogging) scored a magnificent 96 not out off just 84 balls with 13 fours and 4 sixes !!! This will be his 15th Test hundred. Keep going Gilly !!!

Coming back now to The Battle Of The Eden, the past 2 days have been dominated by the Steve Bucknor incident. If it was up to me, I would kill this guy - I think I have had enough with him - I tried to not take him seriously, pass him off as a joke and in general ignore the excuse for a human being that he is - but I have run out of my patience now. Criminals such as him must be dealt with the harshest penalty. The Tabloid (?) Of India has come up with a brilliant idea of providing its readers with a platform to write hate-mail to Bucknor. Click here - you might just find mine in the list somewhere. If there are any other such opporunities to contribute like signature campaigns etc. please let me know.

Of course, on the bright side The Eden has also played host to a most magnificent performance by the Maestro - scoring a 100 in both innings of this all-important Test match. The second innings 100 was perhaps not as fluent and clean as the first; but more important in the context given that India were in some strife at 156/4 with VVS retired hurt. One shot in particular stands out - the flick of Danesh Kaneria to mid-wicket when he was bowling round the wicket. It was a good length ball, pitched in the rough and turned the orthodox leg-break way. With plenty of poise and time to play it Rahul rocked back onto the backfoot, played it against the spin quite to perfection. I dont remember who the commentators were (not that it matters) they had the sense to mention that this was indeed an exhibition of batsmanship of the highest quality against leg-spin by a master performer and we were indeed priveliged to bear witness.And although, he was too tired to hit out fluently he ensured he saw the team into a commanding position before he departed. It would be tragic if this grand effort is not rewarded with a victory and I pray that India pull if off tomorrow with an inspired performance.

Of course, how can one write about the day's play yesterday and not mention the magnificent contribution of the youngster Dinesh Karthik ?? I was a bit doubtful about him before based on reports read but yesterday was the first time I saw him bat and he seems a fine fine player with good technique, attitude and a fair array of strokes. I see a big future for him. Selectors (esp. Kiran More who according to reports is eager to get Parthiv back as soon as possible) note the selfless manner in which he played - he could have easily gone into first gear to get to what would have been an extremely well-deserved 100. Also, in the same breath, note another brave and selfless performance by the favourite whipping boy - VVS Laxman. he could have easily asked to be given rest after his pretty serious injury but not only did he go out there knowing fully well that a failure would put him in grave danger but also played the selfless knock that was needed in that situation. I never expected to see a second ultra-exquisite shot on the same day (after Dravid's aforementioned boundary) but VVS did with a massive inside out six off Kaneria (again bowling in the rough). That was the shot Tendulkar almost pateneted against Warne 7 years ago and it was indeed fitting and a great gesture that SRT stood up to applaud that particular hit from VVS. I know the Kaifs and Yuvrajs are out there eager - but they will have to wait for just a bit longer. You cannot dismiss Very Very Special Laxman just like that.

Also worth special mention are Karthik's reverse sweep and 3 super sixes by Irfan Pathan, a few lusty blows by Kumble, a good aggressive bodyline spell by Sami and one of the most horrible short innings by Ganguly.

When I paid 25$ as my contrribution for the India-Pak series package this evening, for a second I wondered if it would be worth it - not because I was worried about the quality of cricket but because I wasn't sure if I would find inspiration to stay up at night all the time to watch these matches. That one shot by Dravid ensured that the money was well-spent. The 6 by Laxman ensured that even if I didnt see another ball in the whole series, it was worth it.

Some things are priceless (or Very Very Special). For everything else there is Mastercard, isn't there ??

Friday, March 18, 2005

Man Of The Day (Kolkata Days 1 and 2)

People I am a bit late on the ball in this particular Test match as you might have realized. Surprising since it is spring break. But the many things that I am doing - viz searching for a means of livelihood, playing badminton, trying to discover myself, aiming to get a driver's license in addition to staying awake to follow the match is kind of taking its toll on me. Hence this post comes to you from a very sleepy me. Before I doze off, I'll just update my Man Of The Day Series posts.

Thankfully, it is a pretty easy job. The batting beauty that this wicket has turned out to be, the batsmen have unlike me rarely been late on the ball (except poor Ganguly and Laxman). Clearly Rahul Dravid was the Man Of Day 1 and the 2 Y's of Pakistan share the honour on Day 2.

The Jewel In The Crown

Rahul Dravid's innings at Kolkata on March 16, 2005 was quite magnificent. India at the time of writing find themselves in a critical situation and may well go on to lose this match, so maybe this particular 100 will not find a place in the league of the 233, 148, 180, 270 etc. But in terms of sheer quality of strokeplay this was an innings of the highest class. After the great man's phenomenal exploits in Australia 2003 and Pakistan 2004, he seemed just a shade off-colour at the start of the season although he still scored pretty heavily. But the home series against Australia and South Africa saw an inexplicably tentative, uncertain Dravid. Today however, he was his usual crisp, clean and correct self.

The first indication came with his very first boundary off Abdul Razzaq, an delectable cover drive of a delivery only fractionally overpitched. Like hundreds of times earlier, the left foot came forward, knee bent and bat stroked the ball to the boundary with such immaculate precision that one could find poetry in prose. If that shot was pure class, the boundary of Danesh Kaneria's last over before lunch was something more - it was a statement of intent. Kaneria had more or less kept all Indian batsmen (except perhaps Sehwag) honest so far and was largely responsible for initiating the Mohali fightback which was a 2-step process of strangulation and escape. That shot clearly sent the signal that India were determined to attack Kaneria (attack - a word that had suddenly vanished from the team's dictionary for a period of 5 days) besides being executed to perfection.

And just in case there were still doubts, Afridi's first ball after lunch was disposed to the extra cover fence. And then (I admit I have only read about this) his 100 was brought up by 2 consecutive fours - one a typical cover drive; the second a flick just wide of mid-on. The second shot was significant - generations of Indian batsmen would have played it squarer and flashier to the mid-wicket. Not Dravid. The perfectionist that he is (and sometimes he gets lashed for that) he played it the text-book way, less flashy yet such a joy to behold. As I had said earlier, Dravid's batting is like Mathematics - precise, yet beautiful.

Lot of praise for Dravid in the last couple of days in the blogosphere - here and here and on Wisden Cricinfo here. Osman Samiuddin while lamenting lack of batting resources of Pakistan envies and applauds those of India - while going on to add that the single most important of these is Rahul Dravid - The Jewel In The Crown

Shiqwa Bhi Tumse ... Tumse Shikayat ...

Par Ye Bhi "Sach" Hai ...
You have made us proud !!

10000 Runs Under The Sun

Congratulations on your landmark.
For one day, I will completely stop cribbing about your batting and bask in your glory.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Ganguly Beware !!

I am warning Sourav Ganguly passionately - do not go with this stupid idea of playing a 3+1 attack again. I hope what he told the journalists yesterday was indeed just an act of gamesmanship (as he has done in the past) and that when it comes down to the game he will go in with the best attack which includes both Kumble and Harbhajan.

Also, I am telling Sachin Tendulkar in a language we know he understands (and some of you will understand):

"Tya Danesh Kaneria la 2 chhaparavar takoon tivtiv banda kar na !!! Kashala zadavar chadhvoon thevtos ??? He ata pichik pichik pachkal cricket baas zala."

Remind us of the player who had destroyed another leg-spinner 7 years ago.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Greatest Stage On World Cricket Is Set ...

What should India do if they win the toss tomorrow at the Eden Gardens ?? Common wisdom suggests that going in with 2 spinners they should bat and put the pressure on with a pile of runs. I would go the other way here. Somehow, this team has very rarely managed that well. The only instances I can think of are Multan and Headingley and once against the West Indies in Mumbai.

So I would suggest go in with the 2+2 attack, Ganguly should bowl seam-up and try to get them out for a similar score as we did in Mohali in the first innings. Then pile the pressure. Similar to what we did against Australia in 1998 where all the top 6 crossed 60 and India scored a huge 633 runs in less than 2 days ( note the speed) DO NOT BAT LIKE WE DID IN MOHALI OR LIKE WE DID AGAINST SOUTH AFRICA LAST YEAR (It was quite lucky we won that South Africa series despite our poor batting mainly because that South African team was really weak and also due to Harbhajan's brilliance on the final day of the series.)

Ever since John Wright took over, India have always done better bowling first. Look at the stats:

Bowling first : 27 matches, 13 wins, 4 losses, 10 draws
Batting first : 21 matches, 5 wins, 9 losses, 7 draws

Even at the Eden Gardens, when we fielded first against Australia and South Africa we won in recent times while we could only draw (thank to 2 huge unentertaining 100s by Tendulkar and Laxman) against the West Indies. Also before Ganguly we had beaten Australia fielding first as well in 1998; although against Pakistan in the much-maligned ATC game, we lost (although we started off pretty well). Which raises an important point - Pakistan have never lost to India at the Eden Gardens - they have drawn 3 and won that (in)famous game in 1999. In fact they have never even lost to India even in an ODI at this venue. Their only loss came to Sri Lanka in the final of the Independence Cup in 1997.

But still all things considered we should field. Will Laxman return to the golden form at the venue where he authored an indelible chapter in the history of the game ?? With no Shoaib to uproot the stumps of Dravid and Tendulkar (or to controversially run him out) will the game have the same intensity ?? Will Harbhajan deliver on his favourite turf again ?? Will India find paradise in the garden of Eden or will Pakistan spoil their party once more ??

One thing is for sure, the Indians must be warned : this wicket is not going to let them get out with a draw like Mohali. If they play to their potential they will win; if not THEY WILL LOSE.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Turbanator SOS

The Turbanator has gotta come back in the team for the Kolkata Test to deliver a punch to this side. Not only with his bowling which has been proven several times over but also his attitude. Besides his record at Eden is quite astonishing. While his career figires of 189 wickets at 28 are pretty good for a young spinner, at this the greatest ground in the World he has taken 29 wickets in 4 matches at a superb average of 19. If you omit the first of those (against Pakistan when he was yet to firmly establish himself) he has taken 27 wickets in 3 matches at 17 with a 5-wkt haul, a 6-wkt haul and two 7-wkt hauls !!!

What's more he played almost as big a role as Laxman in the famous 2001 Test in tilting the series on its head (this included a hat-trick) and was also Man Of The Match in the last match played here against South Africa.

Either Zaheer Khan or Pathan has to sit out. I would normally go with Pathan in the side because I think he provides more shock value; but he seems like he's carrying a bit of a niggle so it could go either way really.

Shattering A Myth

The events of Day 3 of the Mohali Test once again put into the spotlight Tendulkar's controversial approach to batting and I thought instead of just sitting around cursing it,let's do some analysis. What has changed in the past 2 years ?? Is it just a perception that we are having or is there some truth in that ??

So I did. Since World Cup 2003 (that is the period since when he has started boring his fans most of the time) he has a strike rate of 52.37 in Test match cricket. But wait - the ICC homepage shows that his career strike rate is 54.35 which means it has gone down only by about 2 runs per 100 balls in this period. (Earlier it was 54.70). While these figures may bear witness to his own assertion that he is still scoring at the same rate but in a different fashion, it also throws up a new question - with such a modest strike rate, was he ever a very attacking batsman at all ??

Gilchrist of course leads the list with Kapil Dev and Sehwag occupying 3rd and 4th places. Notable names above Tendulkar in the list are Jayasuriya, Lara, Graeme Smith among others (These are batsmen who have scored a reasonable number of runs). Even among Indians, Tendulkar is nowhere near the top of that list. Besides Kapil and Sehwag, I think Sandeep Patil, Srikkanth and Mohammad Azharuddin are higher than him. And when we are talking Mohammad Azharuddin, we are talking a pretty long career and lots of runs.

So is Tendulkar the God we all make him out to be ?? Should he not be more in the league of the Allan Borders and the Geoff Boycotts rather than the Viv Richards and the Brian Laras ??

By his own admission he has changed his style of play while still maintaining his strike rate. So eveidently, earlier he was a great shot-maker, a boundary hitter I mean; but who played out a lot of dot balls in between. Now he is a great singles machine. But great entertainer ?? Nah. A complete great batsman ?? Nah.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Tendulkar Shell (My Contribution To Cricket Terminology)

I have decided to call the phenomenon in which a batsman slips into lower gear so astonishingly smoothly as Tendulkar as **The Tendulkar shell**. This is because he is the one batsman who I think can switch into his shell instantaneously as his innings will testify ... a superb 50 off 80 balls ... and then what happens ... we all know ... want to talk about it ?? Nah we're tired ... let's just say he went into Tendulkar's shell. There you have it !!! Adam's apple, Writer's Block, Parkinson's Disease and now Tendulkar's shell !!! However he hasn't shown the ability so far to come out of it so quickly. So let us say that the poor fellow finds himself in a situation similar to Abhimanyu in the Mahabharata War - where he could enter into the Chakravyuha but not out of it - the result can be pretty disastrous as we know.

As I write this article I am overwrought with several emotions. Or should I say several thoughts are on my mind because I believe emotions are not always the right way to go about matters.

Firstly I am frustrated, dejected, disappointed, angry at the result of the Mohali Test Match. Because we had an upper hand for a long time. Because we could have and should have won it. But most importantly because of the way we gave it up - and this is not hindsight - as my earlier posts will testify. I think I (and others) have already mentioned in sufficent detail about the how the Tendulkar shell suddenly took away all the momentum that Sehwag and Balaji had helped build. Hence rather than going into more detailed analysis of that I just have a simple suggestion - I suggest Tendulkar, Ganguly and Laxman kick each other in their ass in a round robin fashion or better still let each one kick the other two - let there be 6 ass-kicks !!!

Having said that I also feel that rationally we did not deserve to win this Test match the way we played and that Pakistan drawing it was not only a well-deserved result for them but also poetic justice. Because if India had bowled out Pakistan quickly on the final day and romped home to an 8 wicket win, the pathetic effort of Day 3 would have been easily forgotten. It should not be. It should be talked about to such an extent that the 3 players should be shamed into improvement. And if John Wright has endorsed this strategy, maybe it is a good thing that he is indeed leaving. Please John - you have been so great for this team for 5 years - leave on a high note, not on a sour one. Tell these guys to go out and play their natural game and destroy that villainous shell.

Not all blame however can be placed at the feet of these 3 souls - it is a fact that the bowling lacked peneteration on the final day - but that can always happen with India - the Mohali pitch is also a real irritant !! Tell me which other pitch in the World starts out as a sporting one gets better for batting as the game progresses and keeps getting better right till the end ??? It is completely unacceptable that a pitch play at its best on Day 5 - No surprise that 4 of the last 5 matches here have been drawn - but maybe I am reading too much in this.

Of course, last but not least, I really appreciate and applaud the Pakistan lower order - Kamal, Razzaq and Akmal - magnificent effort to save the Test - and of course Inzy with a superb knock under pressure - for me the best innings of the Test quality-wise (that's right ! better than Akmal or Sehwag)

I still think India will start slight favourites for Kolkata 60-40 maybe. But my friends who had predicted a comfortable series victory for India should hopefully now be convinced that that isn't going to happen.

There need to be some low-level and high-level changes for the Kolkata Test. At the lower level, either Zaheer and Pathan have got to sit out for Harbhajan - Harbhajan's record at Eden is superb, and I think he could have made a difference here this morning just like he helped us beat SA on Day 5 at Eden last year. Besides both Pathan and Zaheer were ordinary to say the least.

At a much higher-level the team needs a change of attitude. It needs to put away this Tendulkar-shell for good. And play positively from ball 1 to ball last.

Man Of The Day And The Match - Kamran Akmal

Excellent effort by the young Pakistan keeper to help his team save the match - although comments such as "the second-best wicket-keeper batsman in the World" which I read somewhere in today's news are a bit premature. Why are we so excited about the "World's second best" thing anyway ??? India are aiming to be the World's second best team, Akmal is being touted as the World's second best keeper - is it that the whole World has given up on even the effort to be the best ??? That we are trying to find consolation in second best things !!

Anyway coming back to this match, the man of the day on Day 5 was indeed the Man Of The Match. Fair enough, I think. The man who made the most difference to the outcome of the game got it. It would be interesting to study if this kind of pattern follows in the rest of the series. Also 3 Pakistanis were Men Of The Day on the last 3 days while the 2 Indians took the honour on the first 2. Clearly reflects the pattern in which the Test flowed - which brings us back to that crucial turning point on Day 3 - when Tendulkar and the others through some brainwave decided to enter the by now famous "Tendulkar shell"

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Man Of The Day - Inzamam

Me not feeling too well today so jut making this short and to the point. Super super innings - probably the best of the match so far - although India still retain the advantage they held after Day 3.

Btw a piece of information, Inzamam's grandfather was the Pir in a small place called Hansi on the road from Chandigarh to Hisar before Inzy's father moved to Pakistan and Inzy wants to visit his ancestral home after the Test

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Impressive ...

The way New Zealand have fought gamely to put up a decent total against Australia is indeed impressive. This was a side that was expected to be blown away. However Cumming (how funny a name is that ?!?!) batted really well and this guy Marshall I think he is a bit special - looks like a genuinely talented long-term prospect for New Zealand. To score a 100 under pressure and at a fair clip against such an attack speaks volumes of his ability.

I think the Aussies are still favourites even if New Zealand get 400. If they get 450+, then the Kiwis will stand some chance of at least drawing the game. Thankfully, Astle seems in good nick and if McCullum can support him, that may yet happen. With no Oram the tail seems pretty long - of course Vettori is still there !!!

Hmm ... for the first time Gillespie's place in the side really looks to be under threat now - I'm sure Lee will be in unless the Dazzler really dazzles in a big way in the second innings

It needs to be said again ... and again ... oh yes and again

Sehwag gave India a brilliant start and was my Man Of The Day yesterday and today although that honour went to Danish Kaneria, it is imperative I highlight Sehwag's performance again. True to his word, he did not give it away after scoring a 100, instead he made sure it was a big one. Looking at the pedestrian batting that followed, those extra 70 runs were so vital. An year ago Sehwag was on the fringes of being included in the same bracket as the Fab 4, but today I think it would be unfair to put him along with them - to call them the Famous Five. (or the 5 Pandavas if you like). He is on a pedestal all by himself. Like a burning flame in the dull evening.

The General's Visit

The President of Pakistan is invited to India on a "friendly" visit. He will most probably be watching the Kolkata game - hope that the match is not played out in front of empty stands like it was last time !!!

Man Of The Day - Danish Kaneria

Clearly, the honour goes to this leg-spinner from Pakistan. He bowled 32 overs on the trot and although he has only 1 wicket to show for his efforts, the way he bowled and contained the vaunted Indian line-up was superb. It provided Pakistan with some outside hope of saving the match.

Besides, he also should have got Tendulkar on 8 - I had predicted that Tendulkar would score 8 in this innings - and although Tendulkar went on to score 94, I don't think it was a particularly great innnings at all. He started quite well, went on to score 50 off just 80 balls, he slowed down terribly in the second part - and with Ganguly all at sea, India lost all momentum. I don't know whether he was just eager to get to his record, or he has lost the abitlity to play a sustained brilliant innings or what, but it was simply not good enough. And note, that I am not singling out him here - lest the blind fans of the man pounce upon me with their heavy artillery - I think all 4 Indian batsmen were guilty of slow scoring to some degree or other. However, in the case of Dravid at least Sehwag was batting positively at the other end and Ganguly was downright incompetent.

If this trend continues, we might well have to look to include Yuvraj in the side in the not too distant future - because with one aggressor at the top of the order, we should have another at the bottom. Sadly, even VVS seems to be playing a restrained game these days.

This is the fourth time this has happened this season - after Chennai against Australia and Kanpur and Kolkata against South Africa. Sehwag giving the team a top start and then the Fab 4 wasting it by playing pretty ordinary cricket. S. Rajesh on Widesn Cricinfo highlights in explicit detail here how India's rate slows on Sehwag's departure.

Btw we can and should still win this match - but that is no justification for this sort of negative and unambitious batting. Clearly, the game plan seems to be to take a big lead - maybe 300 but I doubt it will be possible now that only the bowlers are left to support Laxman.

PS: In his quotes at the end of the day Sehwag says that the team plan was to play out the whole day to take a big lead. Well, blast the plan then - it has clearly not worked and it is not a very good plan at all.

Man Of The Day

I have this new idea - at the end of each day, I will nominate the Man Of The Day. This should be a really interesting exercise to find out who had the maximum influence in the series.

Day 1: Laxmipathy Balaji (although some might argue for Asim Kamal ... but naah)
Day 2: Virender Sehwag (is there any doubt ?)

Although a lot of time has been lost due to rain, I hope that we are able to make up most of it and if Sehwag plays a big innings (he has said he wants to bat all day tomorrow), we can score 450-500 and put Pakistan in by the end of the day.

In the last series against South Africa, every time Sehwag gave India a flying start the middle order procrastinated to lose all the momentum. Hope that doesn't happen. I think the Kolkata Test was in a similar state at the end of Day 2 although there was no rain - it was an extremely slow batting performance by South Africa.

First Things First ....

Virender Sehwag has a habit of doing damage - and doing it early. Quite famously, he averages 67.70 in the first innings (as compared to 51.73 overall and 24.22 in the second innings). More shockingly, note that prior to this Test 2099 of his 2535 Test runs have come in the first innings - that makes a whopping 82.8% - vow I'd like to know if there is any one with a more extreme number than that !!!

But more importantly as I read somewhere on Wisden Cricinfo (I can't find it now) he has scored 937 runs at 93.7 in the first innings of a series !!!! His scores in the first innings of a series have been:

105 v SA at Bloomfontein (Series Lost 1-0)
Was banned for the first Test against England at home and dropped for the first Test against Zimbabwe at home
84 v Eng at Lord's (Series Drawn 1-1)
147 v WI at Mumbai (Series Won 2-0)
2 v NZ at Wellington (Series Lost 2-0)
29 v NZ at Ahmedabad (Series Drawn 0-0)
45 v Aus at Brisbane (Series Drawn 1-1)
309 v Pak at Multan (Series Won 2-1)
39 v Aus at Bangalore (Series Lost 2-1)
164 v SA at Kanpur (Series Won 1-0)
13 v Ban at Dhaka (Series Won 2-0)

Whenever he has scored a hundred India has gone on to win the series (except the first one). So let's hope he goes on to make a big one tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Eating Humble Pie

It is not very often that I have to eat humble pie with respect to my judgement of cricketers. Laxmipathy Balaji, the Man With The Big White Smile has forced me to do so twice however, in the last 2 seasons. First, I along with a large majority of cricketing pundits had written him off as another Harvinder Singh, a medium-pacer who would be found out miserably at the international level. His performance against the West Indies in a couple of ODIs in 2002 would back me on my call then. But somehow he was persisted with. He came up better in the Test series against NZ yet ended up picking 1 wicket in 2 matches at an exorbitant average. Despite this he was selected for Australia. But the emergence of Pathan and the reemergence of Agarkar (one of several) further strengthened my hypothesis about Balaji not having it in him to hold a place in the side.

However, injuries to Zaheer and Nehra (a routine affair) meant Balaji got a chance in the VB Series Down Under. Amidst questions from all quarters (yours truly and Geoffrey Boycott being the notable ones) Balaji performed superbly. He was instrumental in helping India to a monumental win in Brisbane and bowled consistently throughout the series in which Agarkar and Nehra were hammered. Then came the Pakistan tour. Surrounded by a plethora of superstars - Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman, Kumble, Sehwag and young turks like Pathan and Yuvraj, it was Balaji that endeared himself most to the Pakistan crowds (mostly - hordes of giggling teenage girls) His most powerful weapon ? You guessed it !! That Big White Smile. But Balaji delivered more than that. He took 11 wickets in the 3 Tests in a telling contribution to India's biggest ever series victory since I can remember.

But like the rest of the team, he started the 2004-05 season rustily. He was terrible in the Asia Cup where he couldn't put a ball in place and while he seemed to get back into his groove for the series in Holland and England; he suffered a terrible injury - that kept him out for 6 months. In hindsight, Balaji could have made a big difference to India's chances in the ICC Trophy and the Australia series.

Coming back to today, I strongly advocated going in with the proven Harbhajan. But Ganguly put his faith in Bala and I am glad that he has proven me wrong yet again. Ganguly's hunches do not always come correct ( mostly when they involve one Ashish Nehra) but this time it certainly worked. Well done Laxmipathy Balaji !!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Mother Of All Battles

The battle lines have been drawn. The conches have been blown. The teams will go into battle in a few hours time in the grounds of the grand palace that is the PCA Stadium in Mohali. Hopefully, the crowds will flock in thousands to support this mother of all contests.

Last year while there was a historic, almost revolutionary display of warmth and hospitality by the Pakistani fans towards the Indian team they only supported the ODI series with much passion - not so much the Tests. I hope it is different this time around.

The first Test, first day, first session of a series is always crucial but this one will be especially huge because of the nature of the Mohali wicket. It could do 1 of three things:

1. If indeed there is a tinge of green and the pacemen can exploit it, it could decide the fate of the match very fast indeed. India were bowled out for 83 within a session or so against NZ in 1999.

2. On the other hand in the same Test it flattened into an absolute belter later with India coming close to victory (would you believe it ?) but settling for a draw in the end. It has also seen 2 other very dull draws in recent years.

3. It could assist the spinners like it did in 2001 - and by assist I mean provide additional bounce not slow low turn.

If either team (India in particular) can take advantage of this, they will sail through the series. If on the other hand it peters out to a draw, Pakistan would be very happy going into Kolkata.

Normally people bat unless they are sure of bowling out the opposition in 200; but here my gut feeling tells me that India should stick Pakistan in first if they win the toss. Might be a good toss to lose actually.

Fingers crossed. May the games begin

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Bindra's Wishlist

Really nice article this by Amit Varma on Wisden Cricinfo. Some of the points made provoke thought:

1. This one is obvious and indubitable:

"Bindra's Wishlist: One – Break out of the honorary system
The BCCI is run by honorary office bearers, who have day jobs that keep them busy, and Bindra would like to see it professionalised. "Set up a board of directors, hire full-time executives, led by a CEO, who are accountable, and the system will run beautifully.""

2. This one I agree with completely:

"Bindra's Wishlist: Two – The BCCI should start a TV Channel
"India is the hub of world cricket," says Bindra, "and we should exploit that. Why sell the TV rights if we can exploit them ourselves? We should start a TV channel. And I have a blueprint for how it would run."

3. This is the one that appeals to me the most:
"Bindra's Wishlist: Three – Promote domestic cricket"

It is so easy to crib about the lack of quality of domestic cricket. Often times we are wrong. For eg. I was far more interested in the Duleep Trophy game last week than the pathetic demolition of NZ by Australia. The batting of VVS Laxman in the 2000 Ranji Trophy was of such sublime quality that it forced the selectors to reconsider him (a rare achievement in India).

The sentence below is a sad reality:
"I find it ridiculous that people in India watch US college basketball on TV – college basketball, mind you – and don't watch the Ranji Trophy final."

4. This idea also I full endorse. For eg. Wouldn't it be great to have Mumbai United led by Ponting and featuring Tendulkar, Lara and Gilchrist take on the Bangalore United led by Dravid and featuring Kumble, McGrath and Hayden ???

Bindra's Wishlist: Four – Start an international league
"We should start a league like the European soccer leagues," says Bindra. "Build it around cities or states, and a fierce local following will develop. Invite international players. With the audiences in India, it can reach the level of European soccer.

"It can be bigger than international cricket."

5, 6 and 7 talk about merchandising, having adequate spectator facilities and beating Cricinfo by starting our own website (about time it is done) - I am available BCCI if you are looking for a developer at a very fair price !!!

So Far So Good

Inzamam ul Haq is very pleased about his grand birthday celebrations in Dharamshala. The Pakistani team loved the hospitality of the locals and Inzy goes on to say that it more than made up for the "poor weather and logistical problems" in Dharamshala. So far, everything is fine. The only sad part seems to be the lack of hype for this series. Maybe it is a good thing. It might just turn out to be a grand series when people seem to show so little interest in it.
While the main talking point ahead of the first Test between New Zealand Australia is the selection of the third pace bowler, I am also keenly interested in who they are going to open with should Hayden be deemed unfit. Will they go for Katich (who they have talked of in that role in the past and whom they treat more like a handyman to fill in any vacant spot) or will it be Hussey (whom they have retained specifically as cover for Hayden and of whom Trevor Hohns thinks very highly) or will it be Brad Hodge ?

I would go for Hussey since he was kept specifically as cover for Matty and also I think Katich deserves a permanent fixed spot at #6.

Meanwhile I'd still support Kasprowicz over Lee in the squad any day

Why The Whole Show ??

The crisis in West Indian cricket is as funny as it is sad. It is sad to see that a team which has given us so much joy over the years is imploding and the last of its potential saviours are been shown the door over sponsorship issues. Funny, because all the parties seem to think that they can get along without the other. How long can this show go on ?? It is evident that the Board will not function in the long run unless it has the best available players playing and these players on the other hand cannot possibly benefit from not participating in international games.

Brian Lara has already said on Wisden Cricinfo today that the current situation is a lose-lose one and only through talks and compromises can it be turned into a win-win. He clearly emphasised that the possibility of a win-lose solution did not exist. If he has realised this, why is the Board not taking the cue ??

Every time in the recent past that such a situation has occured a last minute compromise has been reached. (Which reminds me an excellent article by Harsha Bhogle on Cricinfo on "The Last Minute" - long time since I read a Harsha article) Take for example, the Indian contracts controversy in 2002 and the West Indian controversy last year. Why do people insist on repeating the wrong procedures followed in the past ? Why fight it out and put up a show if you know that you have to come to the discussion table in the end ??

Lara, Sarwan and Gayle between them aggregate over 16000 Test runs and 38 centuries. West Indies cannot pretend that they can do away with these resources. If they try to, there is going to be one more team that needs to be shown the door along with Zimbabwe.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Inzamam The Most Popular Pakistan Cricketer In India

A recent poll on Times Of India indicates that Inzamam by some margin is the most popular Paksitani cricketer in India from amongst the current lot. So much for the stupid theory about Shoaib Akhtar being the darling of the crowds. Shoaib is a vain individual who loves only himself and is loved by very few besides himself. It takes years of dedicated service combined with talent to earn complete respect and admiration as Inzamam has; not long hair, film-star looks and an occasional match-winning performance when "in the mood".

Is There Anything That Needs To Be Said ??

About the complete hideousness that is the "Test" Match in Cape Town ???
Image courtesy Flickr Photos and via The Corridor Of Uncertainty

The Danger Man

I nominate Abdul Razzaq to be the danger man for India in this series. Already, by top-scoring in the warmup game, he has proved that he is much more likely to give the Indian bowlers a headache than the inexperienced top order (Inzamam excepted). In fact, I was surprised he had such a poor series last season at home. I think he will be fully intent on making up for it. Though he hasn't ever troubled India in Test Match Cricket, he has played some destructive roles with both bat and ball in the shorter version. In one particular patch in 1999-2000, he had dismissed and outthought Tendulkar on quite a few occasions.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Whole Point ???

I did say in an earlier post that it is important that the weather play fair so that the warm-up match in Dharamshala go smoothly; but on second thoughts - really how important is this match ??? Is there any point having a warm-up match at all ?? We all know what the result is going to be - the team batting first would score 330 odd and declare overnight or possibly early next day. The team batting second would either get a 50-odd run lead or concede one and the third innings will be played out drably.

Isn't that the way all warm-up matches go; particularly those played in India ?? Would it not make sense in the very least to at least make this a 4-day affair to add some sort of competitive spirit ?? Maybe, for foreign teams, such games provide some sort of value - but for the Board President's X1 it would mean very little if anything at all. For all the fringe players - Kaif, Jadhav, Venugopal Rao a big score is not going to open the door in the Test team at all. When the next foreign team comes to tour these are going to form the core of the President's team again.

Teams like Australia (New Zealand really, Australia wouldn't need it) might use such games to get used to the conditions but for Pakistan there is nothing much to get used to either. Yeah - Inzy and co. would be glad to have some runs under their belt going into the first Test - but nothing more than that. My point: Not much value in such a match. In fact I would be happier if this stupid Board X1 concept is done away with and foreign teams are given warm-up matches against the Ranji/Duleep winners or something like that. At least that first-class side looks a team and not just a group of hopeful individuals !!!

The ideal scenario would be what used to happen in England until a few years ago - lots of first class games - more days of side games than international stuff - boy ! wasn't that an experience ?? The way the wickets changed with the progress of the summer, the way players who would start off disastrously regain their form over the months to shine at the Oval at the end of the tour - ah those good old days when cricket was played in such leisure !

Anyway back to today's rushed and miniature pocket-sized tours and looking forward to the rehersal in Dharamshala !!!

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

At Least Now ...

Fleming should follow his own gut feeling (and one overwhelmingly supported by me) and put McCullum at the top of the batting order given that Nathan Astle is out injured. After a fourth successive humiliating massive defeat surely it is worth the experimentation rather than giong with stuff like the Cannings and the Cummings and whatever other rubbish New Zealand have on offer.

Why Oh Why is Chris Cairns, by far the most influential bowler and the most likely batsman to turn a game around is bowling second change and batting 5 down is another completely baffling mystery.

Any clues anyone ??

Kaif ? Yuvraj ? Yuvraj ? Kaif ?

At the time of the Australia series last October, I had vehemently backed Yuvraj Singh over Mohammad Kaif in the Test team. Depite the so-called "poor" performances of Yuvraj I had maintained that class was permanent and in the Test arena a class player like Yuvraj was always the better long-term option. However Kaif got the nod then and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He played a crucial innings in Chennai and provided lone resistance in the You-Know-Which game.

So one would expect that these performances would be rewarded with continued selection in the squad. Not so when the Indian selectors are in charge. They have duly picked Yuvraj over Kaif this time as if a place in the Test squad is some sort of goodie to be shared around. For God's sake - show some consistency people ! Dropping Yuvraj then was wrong given his good performances against Pakistan last year. And picking him now in place of Kaif is again wrong after Kaif's performances against Australia. Almost certainly (and I would hope so) both Kaif and Yuvraj will form the ballast of the Indian middle-order in a few years' time. Until then it is necessary to stick with one and show consistency with that decision.

Have they suddenly remembered Yuvraj's good performances in Pakistan last year ? Or have they been impressed by his superb run in domestic cricket this season ? Or have they finally realised that class is permanent ? Or have they succumbed to Ganguly's insistence ? One will never know.

Finally, taking a look at the possible playing X1 for the Mohali Test - I think the top 10 pick themselves - the only point of discussion would be whether to play a 3+1 attack or a 2+2 one ?? If it is a 3+1 attack Nehra should be the third seamer given his recent performances. If it is a 2+2, obviously Harbhajan would play. Much depends on the surface and the day - but unless there is something drastic I would go with 2+2 in keeping with the spirit of playing the 4 best bowlers.

Cricket in Dharamshala !!!

It is a great idea to play cricket in a location as exotic and as beautiful as Dharamshala. Unfortunately it means that you have to be at the mercy of the weather which can be quite harsh here at times.

The idea was to play the game at a venue which would not oppress the players with excess heat. In March in India that is a solid idea. However this season there has been a burst of late winter weather particularly in the North what with 15-year record snowfall in Kashmir; and if I read correctly, there might actually be a little bit of snowfall in Dharamshala as well to go with the rain.

A real shame because a good warm up match is absolutely essential in crucial series' such as this what with the number of side games so drastically reduced in recent times. Let us keep our fingers crossed and hope that the Lords ensure enough fair weather for the match to proceed.

Top Players In Duleep Trophy

7 of the 14 Indian players named in the Test Squad are playing in the Duleep Trophy Games starting today (incidentally all 7 are playing in the same game - 5 for The North and 2 for The South) and that can only be good signs. Finally the players are beginning to value domestic cricket and play with pride for their zonal teams as the Aussies do.

The absentees are Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble - I suppose they could be excused - they are certainties in any Indian Test lineup and would look to have a little break before the Tests start. After all, they did play in the last game against the West.