Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Cricket reporting made easy

Take a 5th day match report of Mumbai Test and perform the following precise operations:

Find 'Mumbai Test', replace with 'Delhi ODI'.

Find 'Dravid at the toss', replace with 'Flintoff at the toss'.

Find 'Yuvraj Singh', check for phrase 'bad match', replace with 'Owais Shah'.

Find 'Shaun Udal', replace with 'Harbhajan Singh'.

Find 'India after lunch break', replace with 'England after Pietersen'.

Find 'Dhoni's skier', replace with 'Blackwell's sweep'.

Find 'Flintoff at the post-match', replace with 'Dravid at the post match'.

Find 'chants of brick back Sourav' - but do not replace it.

Your Delhi ODI match report is almost ready! Easy stuff.
[cross posted at Different strokes]

Clearing the ropes from an armchair

"Hell! He had just this one over to play and it would be tea."

Viewed from outside the boundary ropes, cricket can often be an easy game to play. Everything the players attempt on the field is but child's play to the majority of us watching from the stands, peeping at the internet scorecard, and gazing at the idiot box. We have seen ex-players failing the temptation to step into this armchair-critic mode.

"C'mon pal, you simply cannot afford to have such an ordinary yorker at this level."

England are 23/2 chasing India's 203 in the 1st ODI. How's this one for the barmy army to boo their dismissed batsmen?

"Sure your coach tells you a thousand times that Pathan swings one way, but you still have to gift him your wicket through another left-handed nick or right-handed lbw."

A bit too long for the regular couch-potato's liking, I guess.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Crawl into my cricinfo parlour...

Different Strokes, that is. Some nice n' interesting posts are happening there of late. If you love cricket, chances are you will enjoy them. Hope to see you there.

A forgotten duel, and anecdotelessness of ex-players

Javagal Srinath. Nasser Hussain. Names that may perhaps induce some cricket lovers from England and India to sift through their memory bank for glimpses of the 1996 series between India and England, the one that launched Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid in Test cricket amongst four other rookies.
None will vote for this series if it were to compete for the ‘greatest ever’ tag. Nevertheless it featured some memorable moments of attritional cricket. Most of it happened in the decisive 1st Test of the series through a duel between Hussain and Srinath. Hussain was on a comeback and showed no inclination to let go of his chance to book a long run in the England side. Srinath approached his peak as a fast bowler.
When the Indian batsmen capitulated in the 1st innings, Srinath guided the total past 200 with a useful lower order 50. More importantly, he followed it up with probing spells in tandem with the impressive Prasad. Most English batsmen struggled against the Indian seamers, particularly Srinath and his mix of inswingers and straight ones.
Hussain came in early and found himself separating Srinath from an English collapse. The gangly Bangalorean saw his chance and greeted Hussain with his full bag of tricks. Ball engaged bat in a fascinating contest till a leg side caught behind decision went against Srinath with the Hussain innings still at a nascent stage.
How fortunes can turn on such little things; thereon Hussain stepped up a level or two while Srinath, bowling admirably right through the 3 matches and beating numerous edges without quite running through the opposition ever, was doomed to take his place in the hierarchy of unluckiest bowlers ever to bowl in a Test series. Hussain encashed his slice of fortune to score a century that won England the match and series. Some Indian players chose not to applaud Hussain’s feat as he raised his bat. He could hardly care less, finishing the three-Test series with 2 Man of the Match awards and sealing a permanent place in the England side.
Rahul Dravid, who made his debut in the following match, has now played his 100th Test. Ten years is a long time in international cricket these days and the above episode from the playing days of two former cricketers must now be deemed part of rusty dusty imagery from days gone by. The mind picks up a duster as the erstwhile combatants join forces in the ongoing India versus England series with the objective of entertaining TV audiences from the commentators’ corner.
Here’s hoping that Hussain and Srinath, and all their ex-player mates seeking a career in live commentary, pick up theirs and divulge their recollections of such experiences to the viewers. Majority of the ex-player commentators including the two protagonists speak too much of what happens in the middle and narrate too little of what we wish we could.
Why is your new act so bereft of memoirs from your old one, dear ex-player? It certainly need not be. You were there when that dressing room prank was played, when that bowler had to be separated from the batsman, that umpire sent it upstairs, that run-out turned the match, that one man took it away from them, that team proved far greater than the sum of its parts, or your co-commentator made his debut. What are these but capital gains from your playing days?
Making use of these 'earnings' with a good sense of timing may need some learning at 'nets', quite like trademark shots and killer deliveries. Do it for the sake of everyone and the game. Relate a rib-tickling incident to help make a sluggish passage of play more bearable. Or quote your brilliant skipper of those days to explain the situation that may develop soon.
We can promise you that all shall love it, even the blokes (very few of them, really) that always groaned when you were summoned to execute your part in a match. The satisfaction of still adding your bit to the game from outside the arena will all be yours, which is not too insignificant.
These anecdotes, rather than some inane redundancies so many of you take pride in dishing out, are hidden aces that you hold over some of your articulate competitors who never played the game at the highest grade. Show them, win some hearts.
[cross posted at Different Strokes]

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Gold Rush

A young fast bowler (YFB) enters an interview hall. YOS, off-spinning mate from his state team, crosses him at the door. Some batsmen are seen exchanging heated words with security personnel at the gate. A banner outside the hall reads "Recruitment of bowlers for Indian Test team". A few good men (FGM) are waiting. They stop shaking their heads and face him.
FGM-1: I must say that you look impressive, boy. Tell us what you can do for the team.
YFB: (clears throat) Good morning gentlemen. I came across your newspaper ad for this walk-in. Sir I am a fast bowler. After working up a rhythm I bowl at a pace that batsmen do not relish. I own a deceptive slower, a kicking-off-good-length bouncer and an accurate yorker. I mix all of these weapons sparingly and generally stick to an off stump line.
FGM-2: Anything more?
YFB: I am pretty quick in the outfield and all my skippers will tell you I am a safe catcher. And I am in fine form this first class season.
FGM-3: But can you bat?
YFB: I'm afraid I am not too good at it.
FGM-3: Thanks. You may leave now.
YFB walks away, but turns back at the door. Eagerness drips from his countenance.
[What happens next? Continue reading this post at Different Strokes]

'Even contest' grounds

Australia score 434 in fifty overs at Johannesburg and South Africa hunt them down with a wicket and a delivery to spare. Thrilling indeed - because they made a match of it as the script progressed, because none dared guess the result till it came.
Sri Lanka struggle to 130 all out against Pakistan at the Premadasa in the 2nd ODI and then hit back to have their opponents at 82/6. They made a match of it too.
We all loved the matches - the 872 one, and the 264 one too. Yet so few will put their hands up if asked to say a few words in praise of the groundsmen of those pitches. "It was not a fair pitch", the common refrain. These people, the groundsmen, have the only job on the ground that is more thankless than the wicketkeeper's.
What is a fair pitch? Limiting the scope of discussion to a one-day match, curators prepare one-day pitches for both teams to play on them for just one day. The surface may be a spinners delight, a paceman's dream or a batsman's paradise, as their administrators legitimately or otherwise want it to be. They just follow the orders. The weather and local factors also play a big part in their craft just as the ambient moisture does to Hoggard's. Their main duty to the one-day sport then is merely ensuring that the surface, of whatever nature, plays more or less the same for that one day. In other words, play fair.
Yet in the event of a one-sided result the pitches are sometimes blamed by players and coaches even after those have played evenly for the designated duration. And seldom will anyone from the home association care to defend their groundsmen.
ICC has proposed a new pitch monitoring process for international venues. One hopes the process works with the positive philosophy of helping preparation of fair pitches as we discussed above, rather than one that narrows its scope down to witch-hunting. A process to curb undue pre-match requests by home captains / administrators to excessively alter the nature of a pitch on the eve of a match is worth exploring though.
Inclusion of the curator in the post match conference may not be a bad idea. Poor batting or bowling will then be tougher to defend. Conversely the curator shall feel like being part of the process that is responsible for ensuring that either team gets the same conditions.
Anything to see an evenly contested cricket match....
[cross posted at Different Strokes]

Friday, March 17, 2006

Celebrating "The Innings"….

This is a story we all know but yet I love to narrate again and again; you may get tired of hearing it but I don't see myself relenting. Let's go back by 10 years. To be exact.
A little bit of backdrop will not do the story any harm. Sri Lanka, a team that was expected to lose to all others barring Zimbabwe till 1994, start a steep upward curve the following year. This curve probably starts taking shape when Sri Lanka tour Pakistan for a 3 Test series in 1995. They lose the first test to a strong Pakistan side - and shock everyone when they come back to win the other two Tests and clinch the series: a first-ever for any three-match series.
More warning signs for the unheeding cricketing world come during the Sharjah tournament in October 1995. In a league match they chase 333 made by a respectable West Indian side (Lara 169) valiantly and lose by a mere 4 runs. This, even after Sri Lanka are reduced to 103 for 5 with all their stars gone. They make a thrilling match of it through lower order support to a never-say-die century by the most unfancied Tillekaratna. The Lankans subsequently beat the same side in the finals.
Next they visit the new unofficial Test champions Australia and lose the Test series 3-0 to no one's surprise...but three events occur during that series that change things forever for this team. I can recall this episode in some detail as cricket-watching was all that I was doing at the time.
1) Jayasuriya scores his 1st ever Test century in the 3rd Test - against the Aussies at their backyard; and for the 1st time believes that he is a Batsman & not the bits-and-pieces part-timer he believed himself to be for seven international seasons.
2) Arjuna takes up a fight with the Australian umpires regarding Murali and faces some harrassment on and off the field. Characteristically he keeps giving some back in kind. In the 2nd final of the ODI series he even feigns injury and brings out the team's fastest pair of legs Sanath as his runner - to severe objection of Taylor and his teammates.
In effect, his non-compliance to Australia's on-field pressure tactics inspires the team to haul their chins up and meet the adversary in the eye. However in the process the Sri Lankans develop a silent hostility towards the Aussies, which is to be aggravated by the Aussies' decision not to play their WC'96 league match scheduled in Sri Lanka.
3) The ODI tri-series Down Under unfolds as an eventful one. The Sri Lankans were struggling with the form of their opener Mahanama and their wicketkeeper, 5-down bat Kaluwitharana. Midway through the series the team management swaps their positions in a desperate move, one that will take them to the series finals via 3 wins in 3 consecutive league matches. It is a decision - more correctly a brainwave - that will have a never-before effect on all forms of the game.
The post-1996 trend of teams scoring quick runs even under pressure, and the general Aussie way of playing cricket of late is the direct fallout of a philosophy expounded to the cricket world by Sri Lanka through their cup winning effort: when in doubt, attack (as someone put it nicely).
Back to March 17 1996. Sri Lanka have stormed into the WC finals unbeaten, thanks to Kalu, Jayasuriya, Aravinda, Vaas, Murali and Dharmasena. Casualties of underestimating this unit lay by the wayside - most notable of them India, who did not learn their lesson even after losing a league match convincingly and were casual enough to let their hair down after only the 1st over of a World Cup semi. [Not that the unsuspecting Indian players can be blamed too much - they saw the back of their main tormentor of the league match Sanath and his opening partner before people took their stadium seats.]
This all-important day of the Finals belongs to just one of the brave little islanders. Australia bat 1st in the WC final and threaten to run away at around the half-way stage (132/1). The Sri Lankans field and bowl brilliantly,in that order, to pull them back and peg the total to threshold of competitiveness (241/7). Aravinda is instrumental in this restrictive effort - he picks up three wickets and bags some good catches too. That effort however does not serve even as a half-decent foresight of the stuff he was about to unleash.
The Sri Lankan innings stutters off the blocks as they lose their gladiators Sanath and Kalu by the team score of 23. 'Mad Max' de Silva walks in at one-drop. He puts together a crucial stand with Gurusinghe before Guru departs for 65. The team score is 148 and in comes the Himalaya-cool Ranatunga.
A most unforgettable display of classical batsmanship follows, exceeded in thrill only by Inzy's blazing 60 of 37 balls against NZ in the 1992 WC semis. Aravinda has played top-flight cricket for 19 years but seldom must he have looked as perfect a batsman as he does during this partnership with his captain.
This innings is not as frantic in pace as Aravinda's own semi-final resurrection work against India. His dominance of the bowling though is complete. If his semi-final blast hit India like a stealth bomber, this one had the inevitability of the Sun illuminating the horizon at dawn. No risks are taken and yet Aravinda makes McGrath and Warne look like innocuous triers. In one over of Warne the bowler is driven for a straight four thru mid-off. Masterclass is still not over and the 5'3" genius then paints a mirror image of the shot in the very next Warne over through mid-on. Only VVS Laxman at work in Eden Gardens 2001 and Nathan Astle scoring his record breaking Test double ton have since etched as prominent images.
An Australian team walking in a daze much before the actual end of play is the rarest sight of all, but the whole world saw it today. Aravinda de Silva chose the greatest cricket match in the history of his country to levitate to another stratum and play The Innings we all dream about. 10 years ago, The Innings is about to begin soon...The Sun rises at the dawn of Sri Lankan cricket and I don't want to miss it even in the dreams.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The man who scored more than half the runs chasing in that epic Sunday match....

....was the man who finished it off, Mark Boucher! He scored 225 undefeated runs for South Africa.
Amazed? No one should be, as Boucher it was that convinced Gibbs to mend his ways and come back to himself and South Africa on a grim 2000 evening. The shadowy clouds have since cleared away and the sun is rising once again upon Gibbs' career. The effortless batsman has 175 reasons to smile now, and perhaps a little poignant 'thank you' to return.

12th March, 2006: while I was travelling

5.00 pm IST: Channel surfing was never so much fun. Kumble was taking the English middle order on a ride at Mohali on one button and the Australian captain was batting like some eye-candy Terminator at Johannesburg on another. Found time to message my friend Samir about the folly of Smith referring to Ponting's Aussies as 'chokers' in press. Little need of charging such rivals up on the eve of a decider, I opined.
5:30 pm IST: Australia have crossed 400 and are still going strong. I thought of postponing the imminent 3-hour evening journey back to Haldia (my workplace) and stay back at Kolkata. "Great batting is sure to continue in the South African chase dear; don't miss it" - the Johannesburg pitch enticed with a smile. But what of the very early wake up tomorrow?
5:50 IST: Channel surfing is over, and so is an hour-long dilemma. It is stumps at Mohali with the scales tilting for India. The South Africans lose an early wicket (Dippenaar) shortly after they come out to pretend chasing Australia's 434, or so I fatefully think of the early developments. "No use wasting a night's sleep over a no-contest," I reconsider stoically over the replay of Dippenaar's dismissal and set out on my journey. Hope I can forgive myself this indiscretion some day earlier than Martin Crowe exorcises his 299.
7:15 pm IST: I'm well on my way to Haldia when I get an sms from Samir. "Now that is what I call a chase." I text him asking for an explanation. Instinct tells me of my terrible mistake. Confirmation comes soon in the form of a phone call. South Africa are 180+ at nine runs an over, skipper leading the charge with one-drop Gibbs. As if that is not enough, he has to end the call with "You are really missing SOMETHING here."
I spend the next 2½ plus hours on frantic calls and impatient messages to / from my friends Samir, Sandeepan and Abhijit. …"smithy's dsmssed"….
"193 reqd off 143 balls, Gibbs 130"....
"182 in 22 overs, Gibbs 136"….
"My goodness Angshu, they need just 164 more off 21 overs – it's less than 8! Khatarnaak (deadly) batting by Gibbs"…..
"284/3 in 30.5, gibbs 161".
Nearly miss the station where I get down to resume the rest of my journey. Just have enough time at the changeover to rush into a nearest electronics shop and get a glimpse of the television. 100 needed off 60 balls, 5 wkts - sorry, wickets remaining.
"it's a sort-of-normal diffclt chase, not bynd ths team if Kemp gets in" I simply have to play the self-assigned cricket specialist's role on the 2nd leg of my journey even while on board a moving vehicle. The connectivity plays truant for a while and then, "48 off 30 balls with 4 wickets in hand, Kemp gone just now. Hey wait, it was 77 off 42 at one stage". Turning around for empathy I find myself looking at a bunch of serenely oblivious people in that public transport. No one….NO ONE is aware of the amazing developments in Johannesburg. At that moment I feel one with with Patrick Swayze's 'Ghost'. Agony and an air of helplessness are my travel companions and those two shoot up with the excitement whenever I receive another update from my friends. The despair is absolute as I brought it upon myself.
09:50 pm, IST: The cellphone was my intergalactic link from this other world. Hell, what's wrong with the darned connection again...Luckily the calls started pouring in again. It was time for live commentary till the end. …."van der Wath has just played the innings of his life and SA need 12 off 11 balls, 3 wickets in hand. Wait, make it two wickets and 10 balls."…"7 runs off 6 balls. The Aussies are delaying the proceedings shamelessly."…."another wicket falls. 3 off 2 with last wicket. Brett Lee is now starting his run-up…eeub seore aeuuk..."
That jumbling up of sound signified that another 'poor connectivity' zone was approaching. A few minutes later, confirmation came that the record was indeed broken twice in a day. Peace prevailed on the record-happy mind thereafter.
10:15 pm, IST: Match over, now there is ample time for a few comments. This time I was on the receiving end. Sample this sixer from a luckless friend who learnt of this incredible match and its outcome from….me! "Wl ths b the turning point 4 world cric & 4 australia & sa? Gibbs has done a javed miandad on aus!" By now the net was apparently getting splashed with the breaking news. "I was reading the e-reports and they still cnt believe it!'
As the journey draws to a close I remember that English county match from 2002 that had similar back-to-back mammoths scored in the same day. It is amazing how unthinkable can become inevitable once the blocks are removed and thinking becomes uncluttered.
When it came to giving that great World Cup 1999 semi-final clash (and I missed most of it....travelling) a real run for money in the 'greatest one-day match ever' poll it had to be another ODI involving same two sides. Another world cup comes up in a year – already waiting for that clash even as Ponting refuses to take a share away from Gibbs' hour of glory.
I will not be travelling that day.
[cross posted at Different Strokes]