Monday, June 26, 2006

Ask You: 02

This is another knock at the doors of my cricket loving friends asking for more. The question would be of purely statistical significance were Australia not the team against which these figures were achieved. The longish question this time has 2 parts:

1) Harbhajan Singh took 2 five wicket hauls against Aussies in the First test of 2004 series in India. This followed the 4 consecutive 5-wicket hauls by him against the same team in the unforgettable last 2 Tests of 2001 series at Kolkata and Chennai. [In between Bhaji played a test in Australia but we are talking home matches.]
Where does this string (of six consecutive 5-fors at home versus Aussies) feature in the list of highest consecutive 5-for innings by a bowler in Test matches between any 2 teams played at any one country?

2) After that six consecutive 5-fors by Bhajji, Anil Kumble went on to take 2 more five fors in the next 2 innings [i.e. 2nd Test at Chennai in 2004 home series versus Australia] against the same team. Surely this string of eight consecutive home 5-fors must be some sort of team record against Aussies, or even against any team?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Wanna test yer CQ?

CQ = Cricketing Quotient

Ankur Nagpal has compiled a fun cricket quiz at Caught Behind. The questions are not exactly TTP type [The Toughest Possible type...] and that makes it fun to try out for all sorts of cricket followers barring, maybe, cricket historians.

Answering is via comment. More answers with interesting takes will make the results more colourful...

TAFHCA and its noble cause

Bad hair styling has always been a necessary evil of both life as well as sport. TAFHCA - The Anti Foolish Hair Cut Association - is trying to do some work on this front. Emphasis is on damage mitigation and rectification, as well as spreading of awareness amongst potential defaulters.
President Zainub Razvi needs to be applauded for her noble efforts to set the ball rolling. While the responses to the work by TAFHCA have been encouraging, the real measure of TAFHCA's achievements is the resistance it faces from some quarters. I am proud to be the Vice President in this inspirational organisation. That demonstrates TAFHCA's sympathetic attitude towards follically challenged (as against tonsured) people unless, of course, they are bent upon causing shockwaves with the 'remainder'.
As part of their regular watchdog activities, TAFHCA has pulled up some Cricketing culprits here while the soccer shockers, growing in geometric progression this World Cup season, have been decried in these lines. [Guess the 'watchdog' metaphor assumed real life proportions in that last mentioned article..]

The truth about Ganguly conspiracy.. that it is orchestrated by Fate herself! I mean, who else do you blame when two people on the fringes of national selection (and losing their standings steadily), each having a world of respect and gratitude for the other, are always finding each other to be the persons to beat in order to strengthen their individual claims to re-selection?

Whenever Sourav Ganguly supporters hope to see a big score against his name it has to be a fast bowler named Zaheer Khan, nurtured mostly by Ganguly himself, that comes back to blistering form and picks up his mentor's wicket very cheaply. It happened at the Duleep trophy finals last year, and it is happening again in distant English counties, thousands of miles away from their home nation.

All this happens while another struggler named Sachin Tendulkar tries to claw his way back to international cricket in the same country and their team, India, are playing in the West Indies....Imagine the looks you would get if you woke up an Indian cricket fan who had fallen asleep Rip-van-Winkle-like after Australia 2003-04 and said that to him! Can have a look at this post and its comments discussing the Ganguly misfortune.

Mr. Anecdote once again: the delicate art of captaincy

During the morning session of 2nd day’s play in the St. Kitts Test Rahul Dravid took the new ball as soon as it was due. Sreesanth, during his short Test career so far, has looked the part of a seamer far more often than not. But there was little doubt that Rahul’s decision to override any inclination to grant extended spells to 750-plus scalps of spin wizardry adorning his ranks was his other fast bowler Munaf Patel, one that India has turned to on a number of occasions during this series and the last.

Contrary to Dravid’s plan Sarwan took Munaf apart during that spell with the new cherry. The hammering included 6 boundaries in six balls off one seven ball over. Rahul kept standing in the slips all through that over without once approaching the amused-looking bowler. Instead the skipper preferred an alternate show of solidarity, by giving Munaf another over from that end, and a change of ends thereafter. Munaf promptly got back his lost plot to Dravid’s relief, dismissing a centurion and a 32-time centurion in quick succession.

All of it set up an interesting session review by the experts’ panel during lunch break. Three gentlemen duly appeared wearing the right smiles at the right hour. They were Desmond Haynes, Ian Chappell and anchorman Sanjay Manjrekar. Expectedly the reactions centred on the skipper, the bowler and that one over. Those included question marks on Dravid’s non-reaction in changing field placements after the first few balls of that over as well as his non-communication with Munaf, while generous praise also flowed Dravid’s way for his silent show of faith in continuing the quick bowler even as another expensive over came from him after that massacre.

The discussion up to this point made something clear: like cricket followers, most commentators and ex-cricketers believe that there is only ONE way of doing a thing – their way. I recalled when Ganguly used to walk up to the bowler and bombard him with advices galore. On days that method refused to work, Dada came across as the perfect irritating pest overdoing his leadership and making his bowler look like a mindless idiot.
Now that his successor Dravid exhibits a contrasting approach and prefers to do most of his discussions with bowlers away from the public eye, the ‘inaction’ of it once again gets to us. ‘He is just a new bowler and needed a talk up at the time.’ And why do we react like that? Because neither Ganguly's overtalking nor Dravid's sitting back complies with the way WE think it right to handle the situation!
Perhaps both of the skippers discussed could do better at the times mentioned, and maybe they had some good things to learn from each other. There is another point, though, that we miss. ‘We’, in this case, are the game’s followers, commentators and (surprise) ex-cricketers that would not make great skippers. Fortunately the panel had at least one ex-cricketer today that could demonstrate the missing point in his inimitably anecdotal style: essentially that the methods employed in such situations need not be one and the same for all skippers and all bowlers.

“Well there are a few different ways to do it [a skipper reacting to a situation when a bowler messes it up]. Maybe Dravid wanted to let the young bowler do his stuff and then chat with him during the luncheon interval saying ‘Hey I think there were some lessons you could learn from that’.”

Pardon me that inability to quote Ian Chappell in toto but his opening words were along those lines. As is his wont, Chappell then went on to illustrate his observation by narrating one of those famous little incidents of his from the past when his WMD#1 Dennis Lillee decided to blast Alvin Kallicharan off with a plethora of short balls and got adequately hammered in the process.

“I was inclined to walk up to him in the ground but then thought of letting him go through it all by himself at the time. I went to him later and just said, ‘Hey mate, next time you think of throwing the kitchen sink at anyone would you kindly bother to mention it to me so that I can set fields accordingly?”

Again I may be alzheimering out Ian’s exact words but the above words represent them without twisting their message beyond recognition. Without ever negating his co-commentators’ observations on the specific case in point the tactful man and able commentator in Ian Chappell could effortlessly make it clear that skippers need to weigh their options while handling such situations and the choice is best made in view of its possible impact on the person in question. In the end captaincy is not about handling machines but humans.

Even a viewer who had never seen or heard of the three wise gentlemen on show could have told which one made a grand team leader in his glory days.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ask whom?

With Steven Lynch enjoying continued success in assigning his bottomless trash-can to take care of my finest email questions I can only ask my reader friends to help me out with this:

Steven Harmison had figures of 10-2-31-3 in the 2nd ODI his team played against Sri Lanka yesterday. He achieved that bowling in a 50-over innings of 319 runs. I do not recall better figures by a bowler in an ODI innings that big. Please let me know when you spot someone who has bowled better than Harmison in a 300-plus one day innings.

[Publishing responders' names in this blog is the only affordable appreciation, I'm afraid...]

On second thoughts, how about firing a quiz question every week in this space? Sounds interesting - except that I must know the answer then!

Update: S Jagadish has come up with a fantastic detailed response to this query (see comment) and completely bowled me over. I am going to post my queries to my friends here henceforth, no need to Ask Anyone!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


He was the quintessential bits and pieces man - a lower middle order power wielder with the bat who could roll his arm over adequately and field like there was no tomorrow. If I were to name one man from the large pool of India's international cricketers who received less recognition than they deserved for their efforts (if not substantial contributions) then it must be Ravindra Ramnarain Singh or 'Robin'. Although he played a few one-dayers for India unsuccessfully in the late eighties, people identify him more as a late-90's player because he was drafted into the side for good only during the tri-nation Titan Cup in 1996, a tournament that India miraculously won beating two great sides.

Robin was 33 years young at the time and only Azharuddin in the side was older than him. 4 years and many ice-nerved finishing acts later, Robin was dropped after an ICC trophy campaign that gave Indian supporters hope and Sourav Ganguly's nascent leadership some more time. He was perhaps still the fittest person in that squad, rivalled on that count only by an 18 year old debutante named Yuvraj Singh.

Robin struggled during that 2000 ICC trophy tournament and in all fairness he did not have the backup of steady performances to see him through the extended lean trot. He was perhaps nearing the end of his international career as a player and the decision to discard him seemed logical. Robin refused to take his omission as a natural consequence though and held it as a manouevre by the team management, if reports are to be believed.

Those were speculations; after all it is rare for an omitted ex-cricketer to be enquired if he is upset and get flashed on the headlines unless you are an ex-captain that died in harness. Part of reports about his disenchantment seemed to be true during the sponsorship row before 2002 ICC trophy when some key international players almost did not go to Sri Lanka. Robin at that time responded positively to the Board's request to get prepared as cover instead of 'showing solidarity with the senior team and refusing'.

But fruitless emotions are no good preventing someone like Robin Singh from being a contributor to the team cause. After a hiatus he was back to his destined duty as a valuable worker bee in the hive of Indian cricket. This time Robin found a role to play beyond the playing arena and assumed charge as the coach of Indian A team. He continues in that capacity to this date and true to form, he does his duties with acceptable end results.

Robin must get overshadowed by other bigger fish in his new trade, once again. I mean, no one was ever heard referring to Robin as the 'guru' of A-team or his wards as members of 'Team Robin'! But malice is never a constituent of people in his mould.
This piece about Trescothick could easily be reworded to describe this invaluable Caribbean import of Indian cricket during his playing days. Men such as these think nothing of never getting worshipped like some more fortunate mates for doing their best. They are prepared to smile through hardworking days that lead to obscurity of backpages, all for the crime of not being flashy.

For the moment, the man is in action and has a purpose that is greatly relevant to cricket in his beloved adopted country, and from what we know of him that is all that he cares about in this world.

An Ashes of words

Nasser Hussain finds that cricket is more pro these days. Bobby Simpson disagrees - on no less than 17 counts!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Soccer musings: some new 'home' favourites

Let's talk football, for a change. Just finished watching the Brazil versus Australia World Cup group league match. I am one of those once-in-4-years soccer fans who put on their soccer caps precisely around the World Cup season and vow to devote more of themselves into the game, only to forget all about the resolution once the Cup is handed over to the champs.

I've been doing this for six soccer world cups now.
1986 was the first one that I followed with any intensity, and my heart went out to the West Germans who pulled back from two down in the final only to lose 3-2. I continued to support the tenacious unit into Italia 1990.

By the time Lothar Matthaeus held the Cup aloft though, I was already searching for a new identity. Tenacity was fine and recpectable even then but the 2nd round match against Holland took its toll on a fan that was not prepared to see sports and winning tactics going to that horrid extent of planning a red card for key players in the opposition.

USA 1994 started with a clean slate for me, still searching for a 'home team'. The group league phase ended and my search was still on. Then that July 4 match happened. USA was expected to be a soft opposition in the second round for favourites Brazil. But the home team advantage and a few good players meant they were a tougher unit to beat then than they appear here at Germany 2006. Add to it the fact that the match was played on their Independence day.

I loved the way Brazil overcame their 1 man deficit [of left wing back Leonardo] to win the match cleanly. The weaknesses of their 1986 team of more talented craftsmen were getting mitigated with more of their players gaining European exposure. More importantly, the unit looked willing to grit their teeth at critical moments and sweat out the difficult minutes patiently and unitedly. I decided to place my emotional bets on this team. The team did not disappoint me, although the goalless final did.

1998, and I kicked off with my old favourites Brazil. The Nigerian team and their refreshing soccer got me hooked as well. However it was a great joy to watch a struggling yet dazzling Holland beat some steep odds and come up with the goods as the tournament wore on. The man orchestrating all of it was none other than the person who stole my heart after nearly stopping it in the unforgettable Holland-Brazil 1994 quarter final tie, Dennis Bergkamp.

I experienced a 'QF-to-QF' fulfilment of sorts, a lot like today's 'World-Cup-to-World-Cup' warrantee offers declared for televisions, when Dennis stayed on till the last minute against Argentina in that dogfight of a France 1998 quarter final and scored a wonderful late decider after dribbling two defenders off a long Overmars cross into the opposition box. My admiration for the man and the team was complete at this point, and Holland was my new home team.

Imagine my identity crisis in the ensuing semi final that saw Brazil clashing with Holland! After some heartburn I decided to make Holland my 1st preference. They were unlucky and lost in the penalty shootout to a Brazil side that kept losing steam as the tournament climaxed. Till this day I believe that a thrilling final in the 1974 Beckenbauer-Cryuf mould was the only outcome possible had Holland moved to the finals, and Holland could have made France pay for their strikers' profligacy over an entire tourmanent.

Japan 2002 was a strange World Cup in that upsets started taking their toll pretty early. France, Argentina and Italy were out even before the players' boots had warmed up and Ronaldinho's brilliance ensured the same fate for England in quarter finals. The only big European country that hung on to their reputation, and far exceeded the popular expectation by doing that, were Germany.

Brazil, on the other hand, looked more Brazilian than the previous two cups, a fact endorsed by the brand of football they displayed in a memorable last league match against Costa Rica [5-2]. I was back supporting Brazil, and they again kept my head high by winning the Cup far more convincingly than in USA 1994.

A point of time just before Poland's 1st match in Germany must rank as the sweetest moment for me in 2006 World Cup viewing long after the Cup is won. For that is when I came to know that Ebi Smolarek was indeed the
son of a Smolarek all of West Bengal knows from the 1984 Nehru Gold Cup tournament held in Kolkata. It featured Poland, Hungary, Romania, China, Argentina and India. I felt amazed at the fact that I had indeed travelled the equivalent of a generation length on the road called sports viewing!

My old flames Brazil and Holland continue to own soft spots down inside me. This year I have earned two new home teams for myself - Ivory Coast and Australia.
Ivory Coast reminded me of Nigeria of 1998 and Cameroon of 1990 and their Didier Drogba is simply a reminder of Zidane's 1998 incarnation. However this team was significantly less fortunate than the African teams mentioned above in first drawing the pool of death and then having less luck in the opposition's half than their opponents had in theirs.
The Australia-Japan group league match gave me the other new home team. There was a touch of Steve Waugh and that 1999 cricket world Cup semi final in Australia's first win ever at the Soccer showpiece.

As Brazil remained lacklustre for most of their league tie versus Australia I found myself swaying with emotions that were more Aussie than Samba. The late second goal in that 2-0 result for Brazil did not have much of an impact as the match was more or less decided by then, but the wish to see Australia into the next round was far outweighing a willingness to egg on the South American stylists to a few late goals that would redeem them from the low flight they have had till date. Against another team I would have wanted Brazil to net at least another goal but not today.

Welcome home, Australia. I have admired your cricket in its early 1990's ugliness and loved it in turn-of-the-millenium ethereal form, and now I cannot but admire your never-say-die football.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Catch me if you can!

This post on Caught Behind acted like a lid opener to a pressure can inside me that can keep on talking about catching and fielding. So off I go and make not one or two or three but a SEVEN-post series on Indian catching and everything that I could think of about it. They are scheduled to be posted one-a-day on cricinfo, and this is the first of them.

Update [23/12/2006]: The full series is out now! The sequel posts: # 2,3,4,5,6 & 7. [Seventh one's on wicketkeeping]

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mirror mirror on the wall, who'z the most elegant thrower of all?

The other day I sent this interesting excerpt from cricinfo to my friend Samir:

"David Gower was certainly not in the same league as any of the others on this list - indeed, it could be argued that he was one of the worst bowlers ever to have been unleashed on Test cricket. Nevertheless, he became the eighth person - and second Englishman - to be no-balled for throwing in a Test. He had few complaints. With New Zealand needing one to win in the second Test at Trent Bridge in 1986, Gower came on and openly threw his first ball which Martin Crowe smacked for four to end the game. But Ken Palmer at square leg called a no-ball, and so Gower ended with the figures 0-0-4-0."
Howlarious as the incident was, its narration also earned this subtle note of appreciation from Samir:
"(I) liked the word "unleashed" - imagine using it to describe someone like Gower!"
Reminded me of a particular chap, a Chappell actually, who also had the opportunity to bowl a particular kind of delivery just once in his career.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Some more impressive stuff on Ajit Agarkar

4 wickets per innings is now an official ODI stat in cricket circles, as 5 wickets in 10 overs are justly considered too high an ask for a bowler, comparable to 6 or 7 wickets in a Test innings. Now here's another piece of information which shows how our prejudices can make us ignore facts that have happened right in front of us.

While I hate his propensity to bowl this compulsory four ball every over [till he struck the recent sublime patch, that is], I like to be counted as a supporter of Ajit Agarkar in ODI's and I have noticed that his strike rate (wicket taking ability) is not too inferior in comparison to Irfan Pathan in the shorter version. Not so long ago I had blogged about him here.
However even while following his stuttering career right since his phenomenal debut phase I never realised that his one day career graph was shaping up THIS well, at least in terms of 4-wicket hauls taken in his 164 match career [see pic]. Dread to imagine how he must then fare in the rating charts of people who shout for his omission.....

I mean, everybody else on that list is saluted as a top performer but no such luck for poor Ajit! Interestingly though, his conversion of 4-fors to 5-fors is pretty dismal! "There, there - I knew there was a catch in this"..;)

On a different note, it is time that a similar yardstick re-appraisal exercise is undertaken for lower order one day batsmen. How about making 40 runs a landmark for poor souls batting lower than number 5 in ODI's?
[stats courtesy: cricinfo "List"]

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Caught behind

Ankur Nagpal has started this new superblog exclusively on cricket. It has a catchy name: Caught Behind. Bold, isn't it? It is fun to visit the blog for interesting articles, humour and reviews on cricketing matters from a variety of cricket bloggers. I am happy to be one of them.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The dreaded 6 - 6 - 6 strikes...

.....a couple of hours after the clock strikes midnight, Indian Standard time. The 'Ominous' Dhoni unleashes three successive sixers off rookie West indian chinaman bowler Dave Mohammed. However back in the West Indies it must have felt a bit premature, it being the afternoon session being played on the 5th of June.

Even horror, it seems, prefers to arrive at its own sweet and, importantly, national time....

Afterthought:Dhoni's score after the triple hit hadanother two sixes in it - 69.

When in Sehwagland do as Sehwag does

So during my Delhi trip I ate too much, refused to move around, and made this post.