Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bails that pass the buck and Sehwag's rebuke for the MoM

I had not yet known blogging when India conquered Adelaide 2003. Now when I have the delicious Jo'burg 2006 inviting me to sink my teeth in, I suffer from a block of sorts! Strangely the block’s not from paucity of words or topics but from excesses of those.

What do I write about? The win? You all know all of it by heart – even the scorecard with the number of balls faced, perhaps.

The inspirational return of Dada that has silenced his detractors (and - ahem - some fans who believe he should have retired) and roused a beleaguered and increasingly unsure team ala Brisbane 2004? But then anything I have to say on that is bound to be the 237th repetition. The one incident about Dada’s effort with the ball that I thought of blogging about while watching the match live on Sunday has been covered by cricinfo's Siddartha Vaidyanathan here.

Sreesanth? He is on your left, right, inside, outside, ruling your sense and nonsense. But people still want more of him. Understandable, after his 8 wkt haul and his ‘Nel biting’ batting. So I guess I have to write about him even at the risk of evoking ‘oh no not again’s.

The first moment I found interesting from fourth day’s play was Shaun Pollock’s dismissal to Anil Kumble. As Polly missed his slog heave on one knee, the straightish delivery went ahead and kissed the top of his leg stump. The right bail felt the jolt and for a split second it thought of getting off its comfortable perch. But the weather out there was way too glorious this day and displaying great reluctance it shoved the off bail (apparently a junior), ordering it to do the needful instead. Thus we happened to see the unusual incident of Shaun’s off bail falling to Kumble’s leg stump hit.

The other one, as I promised, is about Sreesanth. It is the 73rd over (or, maybe 74th). The new ball is understandably not available and Andre Nel is batting. Nel defends a Kumble delivery and the camera view switches to the one behind the right hand batsman. Sehwag, fielding at short mid-off, turns to his left and reprimands the out-of-view point fielder: "Tujhe baat karne ko mana kiya na", which is "Told you not to speak" in Hindi. [The stump mics these days are terrific – bad for lovers of verbal freedom, really – and seem to catch most sounds made within a 7 metre radius.]

I made an assumption as to who that vociferous guy under fire from Sehwag could be. Confirmation came soon - it was the champion sword-wielding horserider from Kerala all right. That incident indicates a hint of worry amongst the team seniors about Sreesanth crossing the line once too often and earning a ban. I see good reason behind it; Sreesanth’s unwarranted reaction after dismissing Amla in the 2nd innings was certainly cause for concern. Like his erstwhile vice captain, the skipper too is a little worried about the extent of the young bowler’s expressiveness:

"He bowled brilliantly for us," said Dravid, when asked specifically about Sreesanth's man-of-the-match display. "Obviously, he's a character, but he needs to be a bit careful. We wouldn't want him to miss a game."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Goodbye, tall fellow

It is true. No more do we get to admire telling blows on bowling figures and bowlers’ confidences as if they were brush strokes from Da Vinci. Damien Martyn has decided to call it a day in the midst of the ongoing Ashes.

Over his stop-start-stopagain-startagain career cricket lovers like us have done much disservice to his calibre by letting him remain in the shadows of many he should have towered above. I intend not to pile it up further by discussing the reasons of his sudden departure. Let us share his glory, for once.

Australian players present and past have
offered glowing tributes to the departing Damien Martyn. The two I liked the most are:

Ian Chappell: "I hope he is remembered fondly. At times he's been a damn good player and I hope that is how Australian cricket remembers him - a damn good player who was easy on the eye."

Ricky Ponting:
"He is one of the world's most unsung players in both forms of the game and I don't think it is really understood how good a player he actually is."

Indeed Ricky. When we look at Damien’s career in retrospect, too many of his great moments have somehow been overshadowed by the glare of another. His phenomenal tour of India in 2004-05 aptly reflects that anomaly.

Despite a lead of 1-0 his team was rather precariously poised at the end of the 3rd day of the 2nd Test and India could well have restored parity with a day to spare. Martyn ensured that the match went into an eventually rain-washed 5th day. That heroic effort with Gillespie ensured a draw. It was the 3rd time in 4 subcontinent Tests that Australia had depended on Martyn for not losing inspite of conceding a 100+ lead. That draw was decisive; it ultimately led to the Aussies’ conquest of their final frontier. And yet after that rain affected 5th day all that we cared to remember were the 3 boundaries Sehwag hit off McGrath to end the 4th evening.

It was much the same with the next match at Nagpur where Indian skipper Sourav sitting out in protest and a home association preparing an ‘away’ pitch made more news than Martyn’s match-winning batting.

In an earlier post I, having nothing better to post obviously, had wondered about Martyn’s physical height. Amit Varma summed it up just right when he observed:

“(W)hen he leans into one of those languid drives of his, he's 10 feet tall. Or more.”

In his glorious cricket, his unassuming manner, his silent achievements and in never scoring a Test double hundred Damien Martyn has ever so often represented the man he succeeded in the Australian side, Mark Waugh. Now Junior must be flashing a ‘been there done that’ smile as Martyn bids an all-too-familiar adieu.

A few other articles on the classy Australian batsman’s enchanting strokeplay, his statistics and his best innings can be found here, here and here.
Update: Saw a nice comment from a cricinfo reader on Gideon Haigh’s charming post on Martyn:

(T)he song "return to innocence" by enigma is what best captures (D)amien (M)artyn walking to the crease, unfurling those beautiful strokes irrespective of whether australia were in front or behind and making getting out look like an injustice.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Aussies need to forget India2001 and Ashes2005

We know that Ponting's men don't care a hoot about most adversities that can confront cricketing teams. Playing fast bowlers in South Africa and defeating the hosts 3-0, bowling out Indians twice in India, crushing Pakistan at Sharjah, conceding large 1st innings leads match after match in the subcontinent before inevitably winning or drawing them, not losing a one day match when scores were tied with four balls still to be bowled by them - you name a horror and these baggy greeners have conquered it. And yet they are found to be straining when it comes to forgetting a couple of rare occasions when they failed to get the better of an inspired opposition.

Since the turn of the millennium the Australians have been less than superhuman precisely twice :- India2001 and Ashes2005. When I saw the Australian playing eleven for the Adelaide Test in the morning today and found Glenn McGrath's name in it, I was instantly reminded of the second one.

Cricinfo's Andrew Miller had done a great service to his country's chances of retaining the urn by bluffing the world, and importantly the Aussie think tank, by disguising this eerie premonition as a match preview:

For 24 more hours at least, the parallels remain. By tomorrow evening, we should have a better idea of how "Ashes: The Sequel" is panning out. Will Australia's bowlers, lacking the services of Glenn McGrath through a foot injury, be put to the sword on a flat batting track by England's rampant batsmen? Or will Ricky Ponting's Australians demonstrate, once and for all, that the result in 2005 really was a "blip on the radar"?

Yes, it's the Edgbaston scenario all over again. For the second series running, Australia have an opportunity to crush the hype and expectation almost before the contest has begun. A correct call at the toss, and a chance to take first use of another blameless Adelaide batting track, would go some way to doing just that. But should Andrew Flintoff get his call right this time (not even this evening's freakish thunderstorm will persuade Ponting to repeat his error of 2005) and England's batsmen respond accordingly, there could yet be some mileage in the 2006-07 edition.

It is quite possible for McGrath to have gained full fitness over the time that passed between Andrew's article and the selection of Australian playing XI this morning. I just felt though that perhaps the Australian selectors taken Andrew's tongue-in-cheek views on the uncanny similarities in preludes to the two 2nd Tests a little more seriously than did even the Barmy Army.

The wise men were apparently thinking of wishful ways to prevent recurrence of that bad dream from 2005, rather than concentrating on winning the second Test at hand, when they picked a dubiously fit 36 year old bowler for a critically important 5-day match. At the end of 1st day's play that feeling only tends to get stronger.

Make no mistake, McGrath can very well nullify these doubts and manage to perform well in the match. He can regain his familiar oppressive touch right from tomorrow morning - or even in England's second essay. That, however, would not prove in any way that his inclusion in this Test was an unnecessary risk taken by a bowling side with as good a reserve bench as any.

Since the Eden Test of the 2001 series in India (again a 2nd Test) Australian captains have stubbornly refused to make their rivals follow on, however large their lead may be. The Gabba Test was a case in point. They refused to shut England out of the game by enforcing the follow on inspite of having taken a 450-odd lead and having fresh bowlers after England's tiny 1st innings of 157. Tsk tsk.....perhaps we should remind those forgetful Dad's Armymen that back when they were in their early 30's, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid had overwhelmed a 270 run lead to create a winning situation and not a 470!

In not making opponents follow on irrespective of situations, as also in today's inexplicable inclusion of a successful-in1st-Test-but-injured/unfit McGrath in the 2nd Test, maybe the Australians are finally showing their chinks like other mortals. It just may so happen that while revelling in tough situations they still manage to get a little overwhelmed deep down in the rarest of rare cases when fate takes the rival's side (Eden 2001 and Edgbaston 2005 certainly fit that description).

But wait - so would you and I! Oh what a relief, they are human after all. Too bad for their opponents that those chinks (read normal behaviour patterns) are found in aspects that are way too secondary in terms of cricketing relevance.

Think of it from another angle and you'll see the ill effects of losing too less here - the losses tend to scar you that much more! Maybe the Australians should lose just a little more.

Tailpiece: You are advised to stop here if you are an Australian supporter superstitious enough to agree with your team in those decisions criticised above.

Speaking of premonitions and superstitions, I had once painstakingly drafted a mysterious 'K-sound theory' based on a pattern emerging from Aussie defeats. If you have the heart and the time you can catch up on it here.

At the moment the Australians are once again running into two stumbing blocks early in Ashes 2006-07: Kollingwood and Kevin. Make that three - Kallous in McGrath's heel.