Friday, May 20, 2005

Yeh Hi Hai Right Choice Baby !! Aha !!

Remember that good old Pepsi jingle before the more ordinary "Yeh Pyaas Hai Badi" and the great "Yeh Dil Maange More" ?? Well that's how I would describe the selection of Greg Chappell for the post of India coach. (For my non-Indian readers, it translates quite simply to "This Truly Is The Right Choice, Baby !"). Out of the 4 shortlisted candidates, his choice was quite obvious; of the others I thought only Waugh and Jones would have been any competition for Chappell. What is a pleasant surprise however, is that the panel of the Gavaskars and Shastris actually made such a sensible, rational decision.

This is the first event in the cricketing world for a long time that has inspired me to blog promptly - What with rather pathetic series going on in the West Indies, a meaningless 30-man squad being declared for the Super Series and nothing else on the horizon !!

Coming back to Greg, I think sooner or later he should get Rahul Dravid as his captain and the two should be able to form a good combination. The Wright-Ganguly combo was one of the best things to have happened to Indian cricket. They built a team from a bunch of talented individuals, developed a professional approach, a strong work ethic and a passion for commitment and excellence. Unfortunately, they were not tactically the most acute.

If tactical acumen is not Greg Chappell's strongest point, I don't know what it is. He is one of the most respected brains in the game and has the ability to think out of the box (asking his brother to bowl underarm off the last ball of an ODI is sufficient evidence of this). True he has talked about commitment, discipline and the usual stuff to the media but I'm sure every other candidate would have talked about that. What distinguishes Chappell and is his unique selling point (besides his greatness as a cricketer which shouldn't really matter) is his tactical brilliance.

He has said that he will not be averse to shufling this "set-in-stone" Indian batting line-up particulary promoting Tendulkar to open in Test matches (something we thought about for so long, but knew would never materialize) although in today's scenario what he would need more than a promotion is a kick-up-the-ass but at least the ideas are there, the innovative thinking is there. Contrast this to what the Ganguly-Wright regime would have thought about this - "We have one of the best batting line-ups in the World and soon they will fire" - sure but do we just keep waiting for that and keep accepting defeat after defeat until that one glorious performance eventually comes ?? No ! Greg is the way to go; he is innovative, courageous, has a hands-on approach and most importantly willing to adapt continuously.

When Ganguly and Wright started off honestly, we could not afford this flexibility. We had to stick to a combination in the process of team-building. They built the foundation from which India could launch into a quest for greatness. I think Chappell is the man to help India take the next step.

Friday, May 13, 2005


Would be a fair word to describe the selection of the 39 players for the 2 World X1 Squads. Not that that is a compliment in any sense. 30 is such a large number that it is difficult to do a really bad job while selecting 30 players. I mean I don't see any point in selecting this probable squad and then trimming it down except to provide some consolation to the players who are eventually going to be left out - it will make them feel - "OK We could not make it to the last 12 but at least we made it to the 30". Why should I bother about making them feel happy ?? In that case one might as well have started off last year with a 100-man probable squad and then trimmed it down to 30 !! Then everyone would have been happy !!! Make no mistake, selecting 25-30 probables is fine when you are selecting a national squad for a camp because it helps the fringe players to get a feel; improve their skills by matching them with the best and demonstrate their abilities to the coach in the training camp or whatever. Here, these 30 players are never going to meet each other. So clearly there is no rational explanation for their nomination than the aforementioned desire to please.

Among those who would feel justfiably disappointed to be left out:
1) Matthew Hoggard - if youngsters like Pathan and Rana Naved could get the nod, I think this genuine swing bowler, one of a species in danger deserved a look-in
2) Yuvraj Singh - for the ODIs? - well, could be a marginal call.
3) Chris Cairns - again for the ODIs? - He's always done well against Australia and is a genuine match-winner.
4) Jacob Oram - a huge talent and had scored a brilliant 100 at Brisbane last October, but maybe his fitness disqualified him ??
5) Mahela Jayawardene and Marwan Atapattu - again both exceptionally talented, and had good tours of Australia last year. Atapattu scored 2 centuries against Australia last year.
6) Shivnarine Chanderpaul ?

Of the ones I think lucky to be in there include
1) Irfan Pathan - no questions about his talent and potential but he has yet to establish himself firmly, is also suffering from injuries and bad form
2) Rana Naved - superb series in India - but just that - again yet to establish himself. I would have picked Hoggard over either of these
3) Kevin Pietersen - same arguement applies - great last series but nothing more
4) Shoab Malik - I fail to see where he really is going to fit in

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Ultimate Deja vu

July 13, 2002:
A monsoon evening in Pune - my birthplace and the place where I spent the first near-22 years of my life.
The occasion:
The Natwest series final - India vs England - a match that would later come to be recognized as one of the greatest matches of all times. For the moment though, it is just another final - the 9th (or 10th) in a row that India are choking. After a routine hammering in the field, in which they allow the opponents to score 325, India are given a good start by captain Ganguly and Sehwag but as usual there is a collapse and as usual Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar fails on the big occasion. As usual, a hero-worshipping nation switches off it's TV sets as one and go out to watch the movies. The story of how Mohammad Kaif's family switched off the TV just as thier son walked in and went out to see Devdas is stuff of legend. I take the middle ground - although I keep the TV on I lose hope and promptly fall off to sleep on the sofa. By the time I wake up Yuvraj and Kaif are still going and India need 80-odd to win in 70-odd balls - what happens next is written in golden letters in the history of Indian cricket.

May 08, 2005:
A spring evening in Iowa City - the place where I have spent the better part of the last 2 years of my life.
The Occasion:
It has been gloomy all day and only now has the sun threatened to make a cameo appearance. I have an exam in 3 days time and am graduating in under a week. There is a whole future out there waiting to be explored - but for the moment I'm just bored of studying as usual and need something to relax my mind with.
Out comes the DVD from the messy interiors of my drawer - the DVD of the same aforementioned, now-immortal game of cricket. This time however I enjoy every run England score and even every look of anguish on the faces of the Indian fielders. Hindsight is a wonderful gift. Once again, I marvel at the big shots played by Ganguly and tear my hand as to how the same person who can look so royal at times also look so pedestrian so often these days ?? I smirk with contempt and disdain and quiet satisfaction at the atrocious shot Tendulkar plays to get clean bowled off the bowling of that great English spinner Ashley Giles - and then, would you believe it - on my bed in the hall, I doze off again. Sunday evenings do that to me sometimes - but the sheer timing is amazing - if you thought that was all, there is more to come, once again when I wake up India need 80-0dd to win off 70-balls. And once again I cheer as Mohammad Kaif takes India to victory. What a Deja-vu !!!

Anyway, I should take a moment here to mention that I am not a completely idiotic sleeper gloating over what I have missed in my sleep - I have of course watched that amazing partnership several times over !!!

Suddenly, I begin to pine for another glorious sunny day at Lord's, hosting another memorable game of cricket - a game in which one does not have to feel contempt for every run the batsman scores or pity every time the bowler is taken for runs (as was the case in the recent India Pakistan series) - a game in which Ganguly is the Lord not a beggar hunting for every run that can come his way and overall a game in which India shows the desire and guts to pull off a great chase (all ingredients missing recently)

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Early To Rise, Early To Set ??

What is common to Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar and Shaun Peter Pollock ?? Both came onto the scene with a bang. Both shone in the limelight for their respective teams. Both were the most consistent, reliable performers for a number of years. Both were automatic choices for any kind of World X1 anyone ever thought of assembling and both dominated the cricket ratings.

Today both continue to be integreal members of their side - but no longer seem indispensable. From India, you hardly notice a couple of frowns when Tendulkar misses matches all so often due to injuries whereas earlier it would seem a national crisis. South Africa too as they demonstrated in the West Indies can do very well without Pollock. Not that these 2 are no longer very good players; they are - perhaps even great still - but they no longer inspire the fear in the heart of the opponent.

Perhaps these prodigies who achieve so much at a young age do have a limited span and hence are settling into their sunset relatively early. Contrast this with someone like Anil Kumble who also started out young, but did not have a smooth ride as these - he had to fight it out most of the while - as a result his ambition is still burning as high as ever and he is enjoying the high noon of his career.

The Coach

As predicted in my last post, Dean Jones has not been shortlisted for the position of coach by the wise men of Indian cricket. The short list includes:

Mohinder Amarnath
Greg Chappell
Tom Moody
Sandip Patil

I don't think Mohinder will make it. He is too nice a guy to be able to win over the others. His coaching resume is also limited in comparison and honestly, I don't see him being able to command Team India.

Sandip Patil, to be fair, has done a great job with Kenya and has worked his way up hence is a deserving candidate. But again, I'm not sure he is entirely free of the biases that haunt Indian cricket. However, I wouldn't mind him being given a go.

Tom Moody may have done a great job at Worcestershire but handling an international team - altogether different - especially since almost all players of this team have accomplished more than Moody ever did.

No such issues with Greg Chappell - he was a great batsman - and also seems to be a hard task-master. He seems to have done a good job with South Australia as coach as well - so, well the only thing that worries me is his proximity to Ganguly. While it is great that a captain and coach get on well - Indian cricket needs Ganguly to change his approach, perhaps play a different role. SOurav meanwhile seems quite happy to let things drift as they are. I hope Greg does not agree with him on this issue. I hope he makes Ganguly realize the need for change instead. If that can be done, I would vote for Greg Chappell out of these 4.

However, he is extremely expensive - so the BCCI might just think twice about him - that leaves Patil in with a chance

Friday, May 06, 2005

Of Selectors

Though selection in India has undergone a vast improvement in the last few years, there will always remain problems so long as the selctors are doing an honorary job on a regional basis. And now there is this funnily constituted selection commitee for the selection of the coach !! The commitee comprises of -

SK Nair - BCCI seceretary and convenor of the commitee
Mahendra - BCCI President
Dalmiya - Of Course !!
Gavaskar - Second highest run-scorer for India
Shastri - The Worst Commentator ever
Venkat - India's greatest umpire

Other than Venkat, the other names on the list do not inspire me with confidence. We all know what is going to be top of the agenda of Nair, Mahendra and Dalmiya. It is going to be money, power, perhaps the welfare of Ganguly in Dalmiya's case but certainly not the best interests of the team.

And Gavaskar and Shastri are the most eleigible yes-men of the 2 liabilities of the Indian team - Sachin Tendulkar and SOurav Ganguly - so what these 2 men will look for in the candidate is nothing other than the willingness to protect the interests of these players - for e.g. Dean Jones had suggested in a recent interview that the Indian batting should be flexible in ODIs allowing Yuvraj and Kaif to go up the order at times and that Tendulkar should not always open.

Is it difficult to imagine the reaction of Gavaskar and Shastri to such a "sacriligeous" suggestion - "After all these years and after scoring so many hundreds at the top of the order ... how can one even think of putting him down ... blah blah blah "

You get what I mean - these 2 will be always ready to take indirect shots at the youngsters however - "Sometimes the India cap is given too early ... and it is not valued enough ... and some players after their success in the U-19 World Cup perhaps got the cap too easily ..." and all that rubbish

Most Influential Men And All That

Cricket Australia has come up with the idea of nominating Sir Donald Bradman and Kerry Packer as the 2 most influential figures in Australian cricket in the century ... or something like that ... or whatever. No complaints about the choice of people but why this obsession over nominations ?? It is not as if they are going to be given some award or something like that. Just something to get people to start talking I suppose. Just to be in the limelight and keep telling people we exist and are doing something.

I can cocneive the BCCI propmtly coming up with its own nominees soon - I tend to think they are likely to be Sachin Tendulkar, Jagmohan Dalmiya, Marc Mascarenhas, Kapil Dev and the like don't you ???

On the other hand, do you really care ??

Dear Wavell ...

Why Oh Why did you have to do something stupid to get yourself into this mess ?? That too on the 5th day of a "friendly" match ?? I do not know what Graeme did to anger you; assuming he did say something that angered you, you should have realised that by doing something like this you would be the one to suffer. Was there any chance that an ICC match referee would have the nerves to take action against a South African captain, assuming he was guilty ?? Not a chance.

The Truth

Here is what Inzamam-ul-Haq has to say about the omission of Shoaib Akhtar from the Pakistan squad for the Caribbean tour - what I tend to believe is truth. And that makes me so happy. Not only has Inzamam developed confidence as a leader to make, or at least influence decisions such as leaving his "spearhead" out of the side and Bob Woolmer given full power to handle the players according to his own rational judgement, but the skipper is also now courageous enough to speak his mind in the press. This is the sign of a well-functioning establishment that has the best interests of the team at heart.

I am sure Pakistan will benefit greatly from the abscence of Shoaib Akhtar as they did on the tour to India.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

More On The Antigua Wicket

"A Stereotype Of Road Construction Throughout The Caribbean" is how Tony Cozier would like it to be described. In this article in the Barbados Nation he goes on to say "After five days traffic, there was not the semblance of a pothole. The same cannot be said of many highways in the region."

I would also like to describe it in the following alternate ways:
1. A panacea for the West Indies to avoid whitewashes (coming in the past 2 years they were 0-3 down and 0-2 down this year)
2. A platform for batsmen to record their highest individual scores (it will be interesting to see if there is any other ground in the World that has more highest scores scored than this one - for goodness sake if Ajay Ratra can score a 100 !!)
3. A comic relief for cricketers in the midst of a stressful activity
4. A playfield for wicket-keepers who are wannabe bowlers

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

What A Farce

As expected on the pathetic wicket at Antigua, test match cricket continues to be a farce. 9 of the South Africans have bowled so far and seems like Gibbs and Boucher will complete the quota soon. In 2002, India had also bowled all 11 bowlers. The only thing that is making this Test match interesting is some of the snippets on the commentary on Cricinfo:

Boucher to bowl, and yes he does take the hat off, remembers to
give the umpire his sunglasses
Has never even bowled in a first class match
Even measured out a run-up

232.6 Prince to Bravo, no run, another change, defends down the pitch
232.5 Prince to Bravo, no run, defends to the off
232.4 Prince to Bravo, no run, major change, defends to the off
232.3 Prince to Bravo, no run, defends to the on side
232.2 Prince to Bravo, no run, defends to the on side
232.1 Prince to Bravo, no run, defends to the on side

Can anyone out there gives us any indication what the point is of
this Test continuing, apart from that the ICC says it must

And while the "experts" were so eager and quick to lambast the wicket in Mumbai last year which produced a fantastically entertaining 2-day Test, they will sit quietly now and keep applauding the eight hundreds that have been scored. Really !!!

Sunday, May 01, 2005

From Good To Great

Chris Gayle is on a rampage - the man has scored 162 in even time as I write - which makes me tear my hair in despair as to why it has to come to this every time - the series lost and the pride almost irrecoverably lost before these talented young West Indians fire.

Yes, as much as I try to deny it, the similarity is uncanny. All through the 90s Sachin Tendulkar used to fight vain losing battles for India - that time too there were "good" players like Dravid and Ganguly and Laxman around. What was required was to take the next step to greatness. In due course Dravid did, and the other two flirted around it.

This is exactly what is happening with the West Indies right now. Lara is virtually single-handedly trying to ward off the enemy !! There can be no doubt about the talent that both Gayle and Sarwan possess - varying talent I might add - for young players, remember they are only 25 and 24, their averages of 37 and 41 are also fairly decent. Unfortunately they cant afford the luxury of time to attain greatness. They need to do so now while Brian Lara is still around otherwise it will be the end of West Indies cricket as we know it and it will be too late for them to exhibit their works.

Chucking Resolved ??

The question marks are in place still because this is such a haunting issue that it is always prudent to be cautious. Many efforts have been made to resolve this issue - most well-intentioned, like the biomechanical tests which concluded that the 15 degrees rule should come into effect, Muttaiah Muralitharan's arm-in-cast experiment and such. But as long as the Bedis of this World have their right to speech and the Broads their right to - well, referee - a position which is a complete waste of time, the issue will never really die down.

But what matters most is not what these souls think - what matters is whether my independent thought process convinces me of the validity of the ICC ruling. To this end, I tried out what Matthew Engel in his editorial notes in the Wisden Cricketer's Almanac suggested:

"Sit in the bath and strectch your arm straight ahead of you. Then raise your forearm until the elbow is at right angles, as if flexing your biceps, Popeye-style. Then go back halfway between the positions: that's 45 degrees. Then reduce that angle by a further two-thirds: that's 15 degrees. Can you tell if your arm's straight or not ? Then imagine yourdelf wearing a long-sleeved shirt running in to bowl at full-pace, and tell me if someone can judge a 15-degree arm movement from square leg. ICC has got this one right."

I am convinced. Try it out for yourself.