Thursday, December 29, 2005

Signpost and weathercock: The small matter of sports selection panels

A direction signpost at your neighbourhood road crossing has its purpose. The weathercock mounted atop that public building also has a job to do. Both of these objects are designed to indicate direction and yet their design requirements are so very different.

The signpost needs to communicate the right directions to wayfarers. In order to be effective the post needs to be immovable. It should be strong enough to resist overturning forces from natural elements and human pests. The weathercock shows the direction of the prevalent wind and hence should be free to keep changing its orientation incessantly.

I like to define a good selector as a good signpost that can also be a good weathercock for specific purposes. Selectors of any professional sports team invariably have a tough job on hand. In the face of it, the selection committee should be an immovable signpost in its primary mission: giving direction to that sport by consistently selecting the most eligible players across the country. Sounds easy, till complications appear on the horizon hand-in-hand with this 'eligibility' word.

Eligibility is assessed on two primary considerations: immediate scenario as well as long-term vision. The weathercock approach works best for making short-term assessments like playing conditions, opponent strength and style analysis, not to mention players' fitness, form and availability. The long-term vision, on the other hand, is likely to be derived from a SWOT analysis and is hence comparable to an immovable entity. Signpost stuff.
Often these two essential yet diverse lines of assessment would lead to contrasting inferences and result in a dilemma, quite like those cropping up for the on-field captain during matches. And we are not yet talking about individual differences across the committee.
Sound judgement, integrity and flexibility are the defining attributes of good selection panels across all professional sport. External pressures of non-cricketing nature put their integrity to examination. Flexibility has to come to the fore when solving immediate concerns. Judgement is the keyword when proposed measures are found to be non-aligned to the larger interest.

And - these qualities do not quite add up, they actually multiply. God save the panel that scores a blank in any of these.

Yet after putting their mind through all that stress and big-time crystal gazing, the success or failure of the selected team over a period remains their only report of their performance that reaches the numerous fans of the sport, its principal taxpayers. Thankless indeed.

There is a nation, however, where the sport named cricket has given itself every chance to be found as a thesaurus alternative to 'life'. It is an emotion. Sheer madness that, you may argue, when the nation has so many thousand other vital issues begging for attention. The game somehow touches a raw nerve with the folk there. Emotions keep pouring out from imperishable reserves match after frequent cricket match like bottled up champagne.

People who run the game there are (thought) answerable to a billion people! A lot is at stake, or so it appears to the people who can perceive the lurking dangers of fanatical following. To run such a high-profile administration must require bravery.
Problem with the term bravery is that it depends absolutely on the manner of its usage. Misplaced, it results in autocracy. Precisely the phenomenon occurring with cricket administration of the nation in question. To the administrators there, a 'lot' of green stuff is at stake. And power. With a dash of leverage – exhilarating! Any other investments to be taken care of? Hardly. Who cares if the people who are paying them are investing a lot of emotional capital and precious personal time? They think they can get away with murder of that emotion. Insult to the cricket-awareness of a billion people is not a frightful proposition to them.
To come back and conclude our original point, national selectors are the first set of support staff to the international playing unit and this nation desperately deserved a set that would strive to keep the cricket out of the manipulations of that grotesque administration. Too bad they got a set that came out pathetic at judgement and integrity and comic at flexibility, rather reminiscent of a weathercock rusted to the point of requiring repair after each little gust of wind and also being used as a signpost with the same blurred message painted in all possible directions. And that message reads suspiciously like “To hell with the game”…
[Cross posted at "Amber Kaleidoscope"]

The BCCI & marketing of Test cricket in India

Just put up a blog on the above issue on Different strokes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A day out with a dazzler, and the season of batting gifts

Just finished watching an episode of a new cricket show where they revisited the watershed innings of a fringe player from the outskirts of Delhi named Virender Sehwag. He chose this particular tri-series match against New Zealand in Sri Lanka 2001 to announce his arrival. The Sachin-less Indian skipper Sourav came out to chase the Kiwis’ respectable 260+ with this new all-rounder (haunting term that) in tow who till then had just this one ODI fifty and a batting average of 15 to show for his prowess.
Watching a replay is that much more fun when your favourite players are known to have done well in it. It is a dream come true for you as their success now has the inevitability of a Marvan Atapattu run-out. Sehwag rattled off a 68-ball hundred (as far as I recall) and left the irksome show host gasping for a ‘break’, 82% of Viru's runs coming in boundaries.
When viewed in retrospect an aspect of the match that grabs your attention is the number of boundaries he peppered the on-side fence with. The New Zealanders erred on the leg-stump of this unknown Tendulkar-like entity and had already conceded 10 odd fours through lofted flicks and rasping on-drives even before Stephen Fleming could cry ‘Correction’. The first forcing shot on the off-side, a trademark ‘Viru cut’, was so uncharacteristically late in the innings that it brought up his 50, and he was impartial to all hoardings thereon. [By 'late' I only signified its place in the sequence of boundaries.]
This took me back to Newlands 1997 when Azharuddin, coming in at 58/5 to accompany skipper Sachin in response to South Africa’s 500 plus and playing himself in to a sedate 27 at lunch 3rd day, came out like a man asked to personify Fury by Nelson Mandela over their post-lunch handshake and carted the best fast bowling attack of the time for 12 boundaries in no time. The first 2 mind-blowers were towards his favoured on side fence, followed quite uniquely by a sequence of 10 successive off-side scorchers. It remains the most unparalleled hour of Test Match batting retrievable from recent memory.
The Azhar connection of Sehwag’s knock did not end there though. That 2001 innings of Sehwag remains the 2nd fastest one-day ton by an Indian, behind Azharuddin’s 62-ball one-time fastest 100 in ODI’s. The Black Caps were having a day of self-same colour on both these occasions of one-ton destruction.
Passage of a mere four years makes that little beauty of an innings from Sehwag resemble a step-up transformer in the electrifying career chart of "Najafgarh’s own Tendulkar". Wonder what thoughts would take over an unsuspecting cricket-loving mind 30 years hence when some sports channel of the time helps it revisit the New Year test of Sydney, 1992 (and I am not talking about a double centurion or an unimpressive debutante here). Or the year next (now that is a double centurion I’m referring to).
Or for that matter Boxing Day at Melbourne, 1985 (another unimpressive debutante indeed, this time). This is not too bad a time of the year for batting gifts, apparently.

[cross posted at "Different Strokes"]

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Shane-ful googly

Shane Warne, that genius of a leg-spinner, is proving to be a far better exponent of the googly in real life. The googly is half-truth of a delivery, where the leg spinner leads batsmen to believe that the ball would be bowled normally. But at the last moment he subtly alters the release to impart a reverse spin on it. It resembles the hoax of a magician, or an unverifiable statement from a crooked political man. Precisely the imagery invoked by his latest controversial statement expressing disgust for the lack of opportunities for him to pick up cheap wickets unlike ‘some blokes’.
The comment was disguised so as to communicate a loathing for such wickets, but the bitterness of expression betrays an underlying insinuation that he has started wanting them badly in order to stay ahead of all (or maybe one) competition. Forever.
Warne has needlessly raised the issue. Perhaps he craves to lose a few inches of lofty standing. The point was triggered off with intent reminiscent of launching a missile that seeks its designated target and signals the beginning of a war. It must have been as delicious a taunt to the itching tongue of Shane as it was useless to his knowledgeable admirers who check out on such stats for themselves while rating the two - Shane Warne and the intended target of his gibe, Muttiah Muralitharan.

[For rest of the post discussing Warne's fallacy with a brief comparison of Murali's opportunities vis-a-vis Warne's advantages go to ]

Friday, December 23, 2005


Q: Why did Malcolm Speed go to Mars?

A: To spot prospective sponsors for a series between Chandrahas Choudhury's Contemporary Stickers XI versus Zainab Razvi's TAFHCA XI*!

Breaking news: Non-consent from cricket boards across the Earth has forced Mr. Speed & Co. to arrange these matches too on the same planet. As a face-saver he hopes to project these eagerly avoided matches as inter-galactic (the term may soon replace 'International' in ICC) promotion for the game of cricket.

*TAFHCA, for the uninitiated, is The Anti Foolish Hair Cut Association which formulates policies on regulating Martian haircuts in Pakistan and other cricket playing nations.

Have fun with the cric-tattoos in your head

Some rare days when you have no work, play or resources at hand you need to invent pastimes. I can suggest one for you. Ever tried to erase a tattoo?

Throw that knife away, for heaven's sake!

Sit down, calm your thoughts and just try to follow instructions. I was referring to the tattoos etched on your mind. Think of a lofted straight drive off a fast bowler without visualising Sachin Tendulkar hitting them off Mike Kasprowicz at Sharjah 1998. Found it tough? Then play on with the stubborn cric-tattoos inside your head.

Recall some batsman you have seen premeditating a cut to the vacant square third man. Your dare this time will be to blank out the opener who was the player of the series in a World Cup with a 7-year career batting average barely kissing 20 (at the time). The ‘vacant’ was needless there, as Jayasuriya generally prefers hitting them into the stands.

Imagine you are at the crease and a fast delivery rises from a good length and comes into your body, leaving you no option but to attempt the Lara stroke. Stop that name from popping up inside you out of nowhere while your front leg starts folding up to execute the shot.

Apparently this last one even has a bit of history attached to the nomenclature. The original and slightly different version was popularised by Kapil Dev as the ‘Nataraja’ pull named after the posture of Shiva (or ‘Nataraja’), the Hindu deity while performing his 'Tandava’ dance. Run an image search on Nataraja and you can see the lifted leg there to be a lot straighter than Lara’s mirror-image version. Only Jaques Kallis today can claim to be faithful to Kapil’s invention while the West Indian went on to patent his own version of the stroke.

Enough of games on resisting thoughts. Now we do it differently.

“While you have your coloured clothing on play the spinners in your ‘V’ and the faster bowlers everywhere else, all out of the park. And do not forget stepping out.” Identify the batsman who is getting the above ‘thought for the day’ permanently etched on the exhibition board of his cricket coaching camp. [Warning: Referring to him as a mere batsman may invite wrath from his selectors.]

You switched on the television and just saw a batsman in whites creaming a 95 mph good length delivery along the ground for an on-driven four. You have an easier identification job now. A telling crouch at the point of delivery promptly eliminates the upright new Indian skipper Rahul Dravid and leaves only his Australian counterpart to haunt you.

Ambling into the local cricket stadium the other Sunday you once left your seat after witnessing a short rising ball being sent lazily and elegantly into the stands in quite an unconventional fashion. C’mon wake up; it was not an English opener playing in Australia and a whole year separates you from a possible repeat trilogy of big Ashes hundreds featuring such strokes in plentiful.

My personal cric-tattoos help me bide time over a lengthy train journey. I have done it for some years now and the good (or bad) news is: these cricketing tattoos are not eternal. Time and loss of memory are often the best erasers. Alternatively it takes a Lara, an Ambrose, a Wasim, a Gilly, a Sanath, an Edgbaston Test, a tied world Cup semi-final or thereabouts. But then they leave their own tattoo on the same slot!

Yuvraj reminded me of this favourite lone-game of mine while sweeping Murali powerfully at Ahmedabad. Guess who patents that slot? Matthew Hayden, unsurprisingly.

Now let us play an advanced game and graduate to assigning cricketing tattoos against common phrases. Ask the only other cricket lover at your office about an instance that defines the essence of ‘what could have been’. I owe you a fortune if you get anything other than ‘Geraint drops Kaspa’ or ‘Klusener hits another boundary off Damien Fleming’. [I actually pinch myself at times to verify one more time that those didn’t happen.]

‘A bad day at office.’ For that one you just cannot beat a loss by 245 runs in an ODI tri-series final on the Sharjah batting beauty. Ask Sourav Ganguly; his team did not even concede 300 to the opposition!

I have got little option but to stop myself from reproducing bowling tattoos in this short space as they are numerous and lengthier in duration. If you ask me to pick one though, I will have a toss-up between Wasim Akram’s double strike in the 1992 World Cup Final and Curtly Ambrose’s unsurvivable beauties to Sachin. Blast me – three centuries of international cricket to pick from and I still had to go back to the same tournament twice!

Every soul with a memory has his set of mental tattoos, cricketing and otherwise. That roughly allows everyone to play this game. It is certain fun involving no props other than the images stamped on your mind by a great player or an unforgettable passage of play or a nail-biting match. Start playing at your next leisure and do not forget the exit sign of my coaching camp: Share your tattoos with the person who taught you the game.

Merry Christmas!

[Cross posted at ]

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Once upon a time in Singapore...

April 7, 1996. It is a gloomy Sri Lankan dressing room, after the newly crowned world champs suffer a shocking defeat to Pakistan in a tri-series final at the Padang Stadium. The newly crowned World champions restricted Pakistan to 215 and came out blazing with their double-barrel opening combo, Kaluvitharana and Jayasuriya. But the middle and lower order caved in and Sri Lanka fell short by a considerable 43 runs.
None of the middle order stalwarts want to face the Lankan skipper Ranatunga. He has been silent at the corner seat like a soon-to-erupt volcano and has eaten only 3 of his staple 5 post-match pizzas.
Kaluvitharana is a free spirit who cares little for anyone's mood. He walks in whistling, fresh after a bath and ready to rub it in. "Really, you middle order guys have been absolutely hopeless here. I give you an opening stand of 70 with Sanath and you just blow it all up like this.." He picks up his neatly packed wicket keeping kit and leaves for the team bus where Jayasuriya is already waiting.
Kalu's quip serves its purpose soon enough. There is an outburst from Arjuna and some of the cricketers hear the filthiest expletives of their lives from their portly skipper who generally reserves them for the tours Down Under. Steam let off, Arjuna comes back to sanity and picks up his kit. The 2 remaining pizzas are neatly rolled up in a napkin and pocketed before he departs.
The others start packing up their coffins. One of them mumbles, "By the way how much did Kalu score out of that 70 run stand?"
ST Jayasuriya c Saeed Anwar b Waqar Younis 76 (28 balls)
RS Kaluwitharana b Aaqib Javed 0 (11 ballls)
Having scored the fastest ODI fifty of all time off 17 balls, Jayasuriya was not out at 66 off 22 balls when Kalu departed with the team score at 70.
Information regarding further events of the day of the Singer Cup final remained within the Sri Lankan camp and was never reported.
[This is an old report which somehow got misplaced during transmission.]
Tailpiece: Jayasuriya reportedly starts recounting this incident at the pavilion during the First Test versus the same opponents at Faisalabad in Oct 2004. But midway through the narration skipper Atapattu, passing by, whispers something into his ears and Jayasuriya never utters another word.
A 101 run stand with Dilhara Fernando served as a reminder which he could not resist. But Dilhara scores a run more than Kalu did, and apparently that makes all the difference. Sri Lanka wins the Test.

[cross posted at ]

Friday, December 16, 2005

Chronicle: Thus spake Chief Selector

“Run aggregates and averages are not everything,” I keyed in indignantly, “They have to be seen in perspective. Think of the opposition that conceded them and the lack of assurance with which they were earned.” It was the day’s typical quota of e-argument amongst us college friends on Sourav Ganguly’s exclusion from Indian cricket team for the Sri Lanka ODI series a month or so back.
Midway through this heated free-for-all the discussion veered away from the initial point of contention - whether Ganguly deserved to be dropped – to a related secondary one. Whether Ganguly remained the same player of yesteryear. Rather disappointingly for the cricket-warrior in me, all parties simultaneously accepted that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and left it at that. “A silent and typing-weary acceptance of my point there,” I chuckled.
The above-mentioned selection may have had its share of dark secrets, primarily regarding the non-selection of Sourav Ganguly. The allegations at that time were largely unsubstantiated and based on conspiracy theory. Also the apparently ‘daredevil’ selectors deserved some benefit of doubt in view of the lighter moments generated during that phase and the support Sourav still enjoyed from the ruling BCCI supremo. That was an interesting first reel of what would essentially end as a sordid saga this week.
The contradictory quotes from the BCCI selection committee chairperson Mr. Kiran More were a drop-dead giveaway to ongoing backend manoeuvres. The remarks were so transparent, so to speak, that one could straightaway name the person behind the decision he would be uttering like a programmable android. Let us chronicle ‘Thus spake Chief Selector’ in a comprehensible sequence.
Following his non-appearance in the challenger trophy citing injury, Sourav Ganguly was kept out of the 1st two internationals of the 7 match Indo-SL ODI series on fitness grounds, which seemed a right decision at the time. My desktop keys started getting busy around this time. “More Power to the selection committee,” I thought aloud through my e-mails contracting an Australian bad habit with little premonition that the two words would come back to haunt an entire cricket-crazy population.
Then came team selection for next three ODI’s, and the committee was apparently forced by the team performance to keep a ‘great player’, held in ‘tremendous regard’ by them, out of the next three matches because ‘the youngsters were doing a good job’. ‘He is fit but does not figure in the team at the moment.’ The argument intensified in our e-forum now and the mercury started rising.
The rebuff to 'Gangs' for the last 2 ODI’s and South Africa series had a distinct chill about it. Expression of ‘regard’ this time was limited to a one-line ‘we haven’t ruled anyone out.’ Supporters of the unnameable player were as much upset with the omission as its spiteful communication,. Emotional Kolkatans, as could be expected, went overboard while demonstrating it at that heaven on earth also known as The Eden Gardens.
Meanwhile we kept on exchanging fire amongst ourselves whenever work provided some private space and typing time. “Why single him out from so many non-performers?” shouted the first mail as I logged on to my PC over the morning cuppa. “So what? The others are off colour but look at Ganguly’s game; it will take me some serious convincing to believe that our Dada can come back. An abruptly early exit is the destiny of all batsmen who live by the hand and eye.”
“Shameless Dravid!” challenged another one. Nothing doing. “Stop blaming Dravid for not returning the ‘favour extended’ by Ganguly in retaining him as a keeper 3 years back. Ganguly did the right thing for India by retaining Rahul who was just approaching his peak; and Rahul is returning the favour to India as Ganguly is over the hill.” I think I was seriously clocking a career-best 40+ words per minute then. 3 long replies were over by the time biscuits arrived. Painful ones - all of them. NOT the biscuits but the replies. For I admired Ganguly almost as much as their Dada-defending addressees.
Then came the selection for the Tests with Sri Lanka. News flashes are prone to spreading like wild fire, especially when they feature one who has been flirting with them all along. “Sourav has been picked for the tests,” someone yelled behind my cubicle. Rather incompletely as I would know later. On went the TV sets across a nation of one billion for a glimpse of the evening news.
A few minutes of the post-selection press conference footage worked like a potion for my strife-torn heart, and all pain was instantly replaced by bubbles of humour. Justification for selection? “We thought we'll use him as a batting all-rounder in the team.” Ever heard of a zanier one-liner in cricket?
An in-form Zaheer Khan, ‘Khan saheb’ to Dada, was nominated to pay in full for this selection. Simple reasoning, actually. “We consider Ganguly as an allrounder, that's why Zaheer Khan has missed out.” Thanks for the enlightenment Sir. Pulling of power (the modified spelling was yet to come) strings had thus ensured that the slapstick section of the entertainment package got off to a flier. Too bad it could not be sustained.
Came the BCCI elections, change of guard at the top, chopping and changing of selection panel, retention of chief selector, change of spelling and the first Test versus Sri Lanka, in that order. In retrospect the stage was probably set at Chennai for the curtain to be brought down on the batting all-rounder. Rain played spoilsport and the scene of action shifted to our national capital for the second Test.
Only God knows how many high fives were exchanged and poignant calls were made from the Kotla’s VIP enclosure to some vanquished BCCI executives when Sourav ended a third consecutive innings short of a fifty. The match was won, the team looked happy and the skipper was heard mentioning Sourav, who produced an average but dedicated effort on either outing, as one of the architects of the win at the press conference.
Circumstances suggest that the final act of Sourav Ganguly was known as such only to producers and managers of the show. If no proof of that exists then I would just say that I cannot imagine Dravid being party to this, not yet. It was possibly designed as a ‘surprise’ for all, even some of the main performers. Maybe they expected one and all to appreciate it as a pleasantly touching one. As the team management left the stage, these knowing men walked in with a collective nonchalance that might have prompted a few scribes to type ‘same squad for 3rd test’ even before our chief selector took his seat.
The one change in the squad was duly announced. The vision that jolted me out of the trance was of me having to answer tomorrow's mails from my friends. Big surprise revealed, they now went on to revel leaving a parting thought for the zapped audience: "We did not want Sourav at No. 6 because Yuvraj will play there. He has been consistent and we want to give him more opportunities. It's not done to have Sourav in the squad and not have him in the playing eleven. We are also keeping the future in mind." Luckily the heart was spared a mention there.
Thanks for the fabulous show, gentlemen, all round. The batting all-rounder left without a bowl in his last act. Naturally, as an unexpected blaze of glory with the red cherry akin to his 3-wicket burst in the Duleep trophy final could have burnt the hanging curtains and spoilt the big surprise. Such possible glitches were thankfully foreseen and worked around with charateristic panache.
The circus part was fine and cocky. The gags and laughs flowing from the effortless Chief Selector could sometimes ensure a roll on the mat. Real concerns, though, have surfaced at the end. With that grievous injury to a diminishing but one-time great performer, the audiences have come to know that there are a few untrained carnivores with bare fangs let loose out there.
I am all for animals – don’t worry about that. But this is not your regular circus, and nor are these normal carnivores. For all we know they may be attempting an ambush on a widely-loved pet of a billion people known as Indian cricket; I HAD to draw that archaic analogy. If so many have been able to survive all that happened in Indian cricket recently including this piece, then surely I can expect a reprieve for my allegory.
So will somebody please inform the wildlife officials? Will the other trapped performers in the ring PLEASE CRY OUT, as their existence depends on it?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Dear Yuvraj Singh haters, my old friends

13th Dec, 2005

First I would like you to take a look at a few figures:
79*, 0*, 103, 4*, 53, 49 - aggregate 288, average 96.

Of course this is a sequence of scores handpicked by me to showcase a purple patch. The selection could hardly be any more partisan. But a search for the last six scores of Yuvraj Singh in ODI's will give you the source.

I profess this nice productive sequence to be a best ever for the left hander and sure enough you think of good fortune more than fulfilment of age-old potential. This betters a previous-best string of 69, 139 and 47 recorded in the Aus-Zim-Ind VB series 2 years back. Genuinely moderate achievement this, considering he has played over 5 years of international cricket principally as a specialist batsman.

I can sense you turn your back on me with a dismissive shrug no sooner than I observe that the current string features a rare solo masterpiece, one that conjured up a fighting and rather unimaginable 249/9 from a paltry 35/5.

Indeed there is no reason to award any extra points on his fielding which, sure as daylight, has already earned this inconsistent package named Yuvraj Singh some valuable 'last opportunities' in the Indian XI. A return of 4 run-outs (including 3 direct hits) over the last 3 one-day series, however, narrates a whole new story you would hate to listen. Essentially that the erstwhile sharp catcher of the point region is metamorphosing into a complete fielding great.

Dear sceptic, a mention of any of the above to your ilk may be the surest way to make them speak at length about the devious ways adopted to showcase a purple patch, or allot undeserving extra points where none is due. Twisting truth can be as easy as coming in to bat in a Test match with a healthy lead on board, some would snigger.

Sri Lanka are a decent Test bowling attack under the conditions prevailing at the Kotla. The restraint and fluency that Yuvraj simultaneously exhibited during his relaxed innings of 77* indicates that the early promise shown during his ICC trophy debut against Australia in 2000 has borne belated fruit. And yet those very runs would struggle to earn an appreciation from you for being 'scratchily accumulated fair weather stuff'.

The purpose is not to start an argument, friends. Being an old mate I just wanted to warn you that the new Yuvraj is here - looming large in front of you, ready to suck you in as he has done to me over the last couple of months. I was unsuspecting, you need not be.

Did I utter 'belated' there? His biological clock struck 24.00 yesterday as he remained unbeaten at stumps. Today happened to be the dawn of Yuvraj Singh by elementary laws of nature; it was time.

Over the past 5 years many of us had cursed Yuvraj's skipper for sticking by him. Planted, nurtured, watered and protected adoringly by the former leaseholder of Team India estate, Yuvraj Singh today is among the most valuable saplings in the orchard of skipper Rahul Dravid.

And I do not care if you have stopped listening. I parted ways with the group a month back.

[cross posted at]

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The value of leading

I just made an e-prediction to a friend of mine regarding the ongoing Indo-SL test series. A look at the internet scorecard on the 1st day of the Delhi Test after a few overs prompted these words:

"We are going to be the better side in this 2 test series - comprehensively so. Look for a big total this innings.
In the absence of his deputy Rahul is opening - something he always had the ability to do but was distinctly reluctant whenever he had to do it. He understands the value of leading a national side - and that should be enough to get his talented team going."

The Wall's decision inspired this irresistible urge in me to put my head in the line of fire first up - by pasting a gut-felt prediction on a blog!

The fast bowler's ideal delivery

Twelve summers ago I had a fairly animated discussion on a fast bowler’s ideal delivery with Gogol, the kid brother of a friend and a perennial favourite of mine. ‘The magic ball’ had to be defined.

We went on to answer the call of cricket fanaticism and did the job ourselves. Me-cricket-expert caps firmly in place, we chose a few of the best prototypes, deliberated on them and finally passed a judgement that the world must have been waiting for.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if the debate were to be re-opened today between the two of us. There's a bit of hidden truth about that episode; time to come clean. I had tried to contrive that decision, though the foul-play was not eventually needed.

Back then the honour went to – take a breath now - “one that is delivered at decent pace close to the stumps, lands the inner edge of the ball in line with the outer edge of the off-stump - at a length likely to hit the stumps 2/3rd height from bottom - and moves away just enough to take the outside edge of the front-footed batsman’s perfectly offered defensive bat”. The men behind the stumps would complete the remaining formality. No one should survive that, we opined, unless good fortune prevents the nick.

Put on paper, it reads like a balloonful of hot air. However there is well-preserved footage of what the delivery could be like. It is stored up here - a mental recording of the greatest over personally seen, a memory that can colour judgement permanently.

(The post goes on to recount a magic Curtly Ambrose over to Sachin Tendulkar. It can be read at

Friday, December 09, 2005

Shoaib: Fast bowling icon

Fast bowlers....they are like the reflective eyes of a predating carnivore crossing your nocturnal highway in the distance. They declare themselves unabashed, as if the rest of the team is selected to support them. They ask for attention like a newborn placed in a damp cradle. They charge in, they rant, they sulk, they go over the top, they exult as if there is no tomorrow – and they expect to be loved for it!
These hot-headed guys, blessed with pace generating mechanism running on fuel supplied from a colossal ego, can be as terrible to the thin-skinned folk in the dressing room as they are abominable to the opposition players quivering at the crease.
Simply put, they like to play king and, insufferably for some victims, are often allowed that. Rightly so, to be fair (or unfair – who cares!). For they often have what others only fantasise of having – an ability to strike like the king cobra; when the victim knows it is generally too late. None does any of these better than Shoaib Akhtar though.
(Rest of the post, that deals with Shoaib's exploits, can be read at )

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Indian cricket and the unforgiving Chennai clouds

"Rain robs Chennai of another match...." goes the headline about the washed out 3rd ODI between India and South Africa. Another? Eyebrows go up while accessing the memory chip above it. It always is a fun exercise to try and recall such references before clicking the detailed report. When was the last match rained out in Chennai? The data came pretty soon. It was that match. No more did I have the heart to click on and read the report.

Of course this ODI was ANOTHER match, after that washed out 5th day of our 2nd Test vs. Australia last year. Once again I am getting that sinking feeling….and I must pour it out today.

When Harsha Bhogle asked Martin Crowe about his 299 in Test matches, Crowe narrated the long story in short and finally added that he routinely spends a few minutes of each day thinking of that missing run. Just as I do about that missing day from the chapter of Indian cricket. THAT washed out 5th day of our 2nd Test vs. Australia in 2004. A match extended to 5th day by the great efforts of Damien Martyn and Gillespie who made India pay for their 4th day morning session lapses, the match which saw Anil Kumble maintain his dominance over Australian batsmen, the one where Veeru scored an epic 1st innings 150 and ended the 4th day (when India had just started their 4th inings chase of 229) by despatching Mcgrath for 3 boundaries in the last over of the day....
1st innings Aus 235, 71.3 ov.
2nd innings Ind 376, 134.3 ov.
3rd innings Aus 369, 133.5 ov.
4th innings Ind 19/0, 3 ov.
(game drawn)

The match had to be abandoned without any play on 5th day owing to non-stop downpour. That fateful day is more than a year behind us and yet the entire impact of that damp, damp downpour may well be learnt only in the future. So many little and big possibilities, small and tall dreams went down the gutter with those drops. Every one of them glistens more than the other in the glow of ‘what could have been’ on hindsight.

The washout was the only way that a draw could have resulted in that match. India could have lost, but more importantly India could have won. For the Indian cricket follower, that 5th day probably was the point when the series result was sealed by fate in favour of the visitors long before the writing actually became clear. It is not in every Test that Australia gets into a tight corner. It eventually meant India had lost their best chance of squaring their biggest Test series in a long time to come, and were never given another chance by the champs to put their ‘final frontier’ dream under siege.

For Virender Sehwag it has been business like usual in the intervening one year. His Test match average has continued looking healthy as the person himself, as has the yawning gap between Viru’s 1st and 2nd innings averages. It doesn’t pay to weigh yourself down with (more) hindsight, but I am yet to find anyone who assures me that a 4th innings Indian win in that Test crafted by the ominous-looking Viru would have done nothing to change his 2nd innings woes.

Mohammad Kaif, who stood up to be counted as a man among the boys in that series, might have got just reward for the bloody-minded determination he showed while batting with severe cramps to stretch the 1st innings lead.

And for Sourav Ganguly the skipper, it meant all this and possibly a lot more. Something within me tells me that since that Sydney test in Jan 2004 where we failed to enforce an unprecedented series win Down Under, Sourav had made a personal pledge not to concede the Border-Gavaskar trophy to the Australians. (Ganguly, in a recent TV interview, mentioned that particular failure to enforce a win as one of his principal career disappointments, and that lend further weight to the view.) He could not win in their backyard in his only away series as a skipper, and he would not concede them a series at home either.

It was a noble goal, one that was as important to him as it was for any person who wanted to take Indian cricket forward. He realistically had just this one home series to defend to see his secret dream come true. Fulfilment of his dream would have left few parallels of him and his team anywhere in world cricket. It was not to be achieved there at Chennai.

However as the Indian skipper, Ganguly needed to forget this rain-affected match and charge onto the field with his boys in the next game determined to pull one back. He also had Sachin returning in the team in the 3rd Test, which was inspiring for the team (because it always is). The Australians simply had to be given a befitting fight before they achieved the final frontier. Instead he got involved in the ‘fast-pitch’ controversy engendered by dirty zonal backbiting during the next match at Nagpur and even refused to play the match citing injury. If ever there was an ‘imaginary’ injury and a poor protest this was it. It broke the camel’s back, that same camel that was nurtured by Sourav over 4 painstaking years.

In retrospect, he uncharacteristically allowed this damp Chennai day to wash out a lot of resolve from his psyche. When the skipper is waiting for disaster to happen, it leaves his side no hope of squaring a series against a top team.

India were struggling from the start of that season, but those looked more like jitters than tremors. After the loss to Australia, the team lost motivation and simply went through the motions. Even the subsequent reasonable results achieved by the team in the longer version spoke more of the intrinsic strength of the team than any inspired cricket played. There was no alarming downward spiral, neither was an upswing round the corner. Little flair was on display barring Viru, and the team had no joy to offer. Indian cricket appeared to have gone back by 5 years during this period.

It’s a thought that saddens my heart every time I think of that day. It is absolutely silly to blame a few hours of rain in a single city for the present state of Indian cricket and the failing surely lies with the individuals concerned (and the melancholic fatalists like me) that the day may be thought to have counted for so much. But..

..One missing rainy day would not have cost Chennai too much, I believe.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Cricket quotes, 2005

Quotes, 2005
(quotes courtesy:

Mr. Humility:

"It took us so long to win a Test ourselves, and I don't feel qualified to make a statement on their cricket"
Stephen Fleming remembers New Zealand cricket's dark ages when asked to comment on the current Zimbabwe side

After apparitions, Aussies court superstitions..

"Guys were being made to stay in the same seat so they didn't cause the fall of another wicket. You could dash to the toilet between overs but you had to be back in place before the next ball."
Michael Slater reveals what went on - or, rather, what didn't - in the Australian dressing room during the last stages of the Old Trafford Test

....and irritation...

"I really get annoyed with this reverse swing term. It's either an outswinger or an inswinger, isn't it?"
Former Australian captain Ian Chappell refuses to get to grips with reverse swing

Not all viewers are overjoyed by the zip-zap-zoom of this Ashes 2005:

"We were brought up watching opening batsmen score nine before lunch. If Geoffrey Boycott flashed at a ball outside off stump in the first over of a Test match, questions were asked in Parliament. If he flashed at two, the ravens abandoned the Tower of London."
Brian Viner writes about the frenetic pace of the current Ashes series and wonders what happened to Test cricket as he knew it

Shane knows that LIFE 'finds a way', while wondering whether the same is applicable to other things rhyming:
"Find a way to get back in to the game, find a way to build a partnership, find a way to bowling partnerships, find a way to catch a ball, find a way to stop it. "
Shane Warne feels that "finding a way" should be the Aussies' slogan as they prepare for the Trent Bridge Test

Down Under they are finding more reasons for the unforeseen embarassment in the Ashes than they have scored runs. Blame it on *.*:
"Our blokes could go back and play the rest of the Test countries over the next two or three years and still average 55, and they'd do that standing on their head, because there is no other decent attack"
Kim Hughes blames the poor bowling attacks around the world for Australia's ineptness against the pace of England

But some Aussies remain as impolite as ever - hard to believe that the speaker nearly cost Australia the epic 1999 WC semi-final by dropping Klusener in the penultimate over:
"England are playing pretty well, but I'm just not sure they know how to win yet"
Former Australian medium-pacer Paul Reiffel zeroes in on the problem

A handful of Brits are no less mouth-shooters when the subject of discussion is one of the eternal enemy:
"Jason Gillespie is a 30-year-old in a 36-year-old body"
Former England captain Bob Willis fires away

You can hardly blame these fans though...
"Most teams, you know, only the next player to bat puts pads on. With Zimbabwe, everyone puts pads on."
A Zimbabwe supporter half-jokingly comments on his national team

And then there are the customer-oriented broadcast companies who think nothing of eating hats:
"We felt it would better suit smoother scheduling for our customers if we switched matches." Carol Wong, a spokeswoman for telecom company PCCW in Hong Kong, explains the rationale behind the decision to cut short the final moments of the Edgbaston Test to switch to the epic between Zimbabwe and New Zealand at Harare

Customer service is not exclusive territory of broadcasters - some can be pretty 'unitary' in their approach and make things real customised for 'appealing' men...
"Freddie is a big unit and likes to get very animated when he is appealing, which puts extra duress on the crotch area of his trousers."
Andrew Flintoff's trouser manufacturer explains why the big man needs a reinforced crotch
Pigeon finally lets out his mysterious method of success in the excitement of getting 500 (wickets, I meant):
"I just try to bore the batsmen out. It's pretty simple stuff but the complicated thing is to keep it simple"
Glenn McGrath reveals his formula, after marching into the exclusive 500 club
Did that sound easy? Listen to this and you'll know that 600 is a 'pizza'walk compared to 500:
"My diet is still pizzas, chips, toasted cheese sandwiches and milkshakes. I have the occasional six-week burst where I stick to fruit and cereal: it bloody kills me."
Shane Warne on the not-so-secret ingredients to his success
Failures can be easy to take when you have a caring family:
"He said he feels rather honoured to have jokes made about him. It's quite funny really. For us it's hard to hear - he's not the worst-ever English wicketkeeper, he's my brother."
Geraint Jones's sister Mari Vines wonders what all the fuss is about
Not all cricketers though are (f)ready to let family into the game...or the name:
"I did call him Freddie once, but he said: 'No, you can't call me Freddie. I'm Andrew to you'." Rachel Flintoff on life in the Flintoff household

..but only a few must think of more innovative ways to welcome new entrants to the family than Strauss:
"[Kevin Pietersen's] only real weakness he has shown so far in his England career is an ability to come up with some ridiculously stupid comments, which has added great value to the dressing room."
Andrew Strauss speaks for the nation

It's pretty hard to walk the talk - or even talk the walk:
"I wouldn't nick it."
Adam Gilchrist's response to whether he would walk if Australia were two short of victory in the final Test with one wicket at hand

Boycs on the origin of Twenty20:
"We can get a man on the moon, yet we can't find a white cricket ball that lasts 80 overs."
Geoff Boycott shoots from the hip during the annual Cowdrey Lecture
Pre-Ashes talk:

An Aussie or two somehow saw it coming....
"This England attack is a really nasty mob - and they mean business."
Rodney Hogg, another Australian hardman, on the current England side

...amidst a pigeon - er, legion of old-world kangaroos:
"We find it both amusing and amazing how they always talk it up with about 12 months to go, telling everyone that they've finally got the team to beat us."
Glenn McGrath remarks on the unsurprisingly enormous hype before the Ashes
"England talk themselves up every time and obviously they've got a bit better this year but our side's still proven."
Tennis star Lleyton Hewitt backs his Aussie mates to bounce back

We also have an Englishman who still doesn't know if he was right or wrong to predict....
"I think England will win a Test. My concern is Australia will probably win two."
Geoffrey Boycott reveals his deepest fears

A typical Aussie response to the Pommie bouncers flying fast and furious since their B'desh loss:
"One day we'll lose the Ashes and it will be as horrific as waking up after a night on the drink in a room full of images of Camilla Parker Bowles."
Sydney's Daily Telegraph hits out at the 'gloating pommies' who have been rubbing it in since the Bangladesh defeat
And the English skipper issues a certificate on his 'big'gest weapon:
"Yes, Freddie's got a big wrist. He's got a big everything ..."Michael Vaughan laughs off speculation about Andrew Flintoff's bowling action
..while skipper-before-last conjures up the advice for seven ages:
"I played seven Ashes series against Australia and lost all seven but before every one of them I always went in with the attitude, `We can win this.' "
Alec Stewart's opinion on the right attitude to take on Australia
That's the spirit, Alec - times do change for the better. And we'll have an Aussie vouch for that -
"When I first started they put the beers on ice. Now they put the players on ice."
Former Australia international Darren Lehmann remarks on how Australia's pre-match preparations have improved over the years
And to finish with in the sub-continent,

Some Sri Lankans really meant it when they said they missed Lara - Murali excluded:
"My disappointment at not seeing Lara this time is bigger than an elephant."
Percy Abeysekera, the most well-known Sri Lankan fan, is not overjoyed with the West Indies team currently touring his country
and Shahid's 'Cain'y understatement...
"At times, even two brothers can have a little fight."
Shahid Afridi's take on his dressing-room clash with Younis Khan at Barbados

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The best of those four supermen

The 70's and 80's saw a wonderful quartet of all-rounders emerging from four countries: Ian Botham of England, Imran Khan of Pakistan, Richard Hadlee of New Zealand and Kapil Dev of India. Endless comparisons have been made to rate these four and and it won't surprise anyone if all 24 permutations possible are found to have been circulated in the intervening two decades. However many contemporary players of the time have shown a tendency to cast their votes in favour of 'Beefy' Botham as the best of the four. The biggest supporter of Botham's cause is his friend and rival Viv Richards.

The stats, however show a different picture. Recently Mr. John Stern of cricinfo has published a relevant set of stats in his regular olumn for cricinfo. An inspection of the stats reveals that not only was Imran Khan significantly better than Botham in terms of Test career bowling and batting averages, the Pakistani was also was an outstanding performer (more with the ball and slightly less with the bat) against the best Test team of their times - the West Indies. This is something that may set Botham behind Imran Khan in the greatness stakes, as Botham was a lesser player both with bat and ball against the Windies.

And we are not yet talking of the poles-apart contributions of the two all-rounders to their respective teams as captains - or a World cup win. The one thing that sets Botham apart from Imran and all other all-rounders of his time is his tally of centuries. He scored 14 in all. Here Imran pales in comparison; his meagre 6 centuries in 88 Tests betray his inability to convert big fifties into tons. Some stats are given below:

Batting comparison of the 4 all-rounders

Batsman Overall, v WI
Ian Botham 5200 runs @ 33.54, 792 runs @ 21.40
Kapil Dev 5248 runs @ 31.05, 1079 runs @ 30.82
Richard Hadlee 3124 runs @ 27.16, 389 runs @ 32.41
Imran Khan 3807 runs @ 37.69, 775 runs @ 27.67

Bowling comparison of the 4 all-rounders

Bowler Overall, v WI

Ian Botham 383 wkts @ 28.40, 61 wkts @ 35.18
Kapil Dev 434 wkts @ 29.64, 89 wkts @ 24.89
Richard Hadlee 431 wkts @ 22.29, 51 wkts @ 22.03
Imran Khan 362 wkts @ 22.81, 80 wkts @ 21.18

Test Career stats of Botham & Imran

Mat Runs HS BatAv 100 50 W BB BowlAv 5w Ct
Botham 102 5200 208 33.54 14 22 383 8/34 28.40 27 120
Imran 88 3807 136 37.69 6 18 362 /58 22.81 23 28