Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mera naam hai Bond

The Hindi movie world sure has a soft spot for genuine fast bowlers. Brett Lee is a big favourite with the Indian film Industry (led by Amitabh Bachchan) and so is his old competitor at 100 mph stakes, Shoaib Akhtar.

Methinks Shane Bond's in the same league and, being creakier in fitness than either, may need an alternative career earlier than both. Why he even has a couple of advantages in the tinsel world over his two rivals: he is an ex-policeman like the inimitable Hindi movie star Raaj Kumar, and - surely I did not need to say this - the name is Bond!

Is there nobody in that New Zealand side to drill some common sense into him? Now I get the real background of their unglamorous tag. What's he doing in this country if not knocking at Mumbai's big production houses exploring on-screen assignments for his future career?
Perhaps it is a case of once bitten twice shy; Bond may be fearing more injuries in his new career from those high-risk 'main tera khoon pi jaunga' action scenes. People like Subhash Ghai could come forward and help alleviate his dillemma. The New Zealand paceman could change his mind with a few words of assurance that he will get doubles for his thrills and the dodgy back and leg face no real threat from this new career - other than (ambush clause) the mandatory dances choreographed by Ganesh Acharya for chartbusting Himesh tunes.

CT Awakes: Lara's farewell gift

Some visionary and inspired steps must be taken and specific empowerment made by the concerned management – including the cricket board, the selectors, the coach and the skipper – in their respective areas of administration for players to start responding with improved attitudes and collective success as the West Indians are doing these days. While the others deserve no less a share of the praise, in this post I wish to concentrate on the person who enacts the last mentioned management role on that list. Brian Charles Lara, the West Indian captain.

At some point of time all of us have secretly or publicly, mildly or strongly held Brian Charles Lara to be a reason for a seemingly perennial West Indian decline. Lara was perceived to be 'selfish' and 'a prime cause of disharmony' within the team even in their better days during mid 90's. A few of the stories of hot-headedness and ego hassles were perhaps true while most of the nasty ones were popularised fables.

The early reputation of Lara continued to haunt him into the second half of his career when he recovered from an impeding mid-career leg injury and decided to concentrate more on being at his sincerest in Test matches. And never did he suffer more from this popular misinterpretation of his habitual blunt talking as high-handedness and disinterest than in his 2nd tenure as captain.

Even after the blatant show of indifference from his other teammates in crunch situations it was pretty much Lara the 'flop' captain who always faced the criticism. And like a true captain he kept taking it without looking in other directions. And through all that negative feedback and advancing age he kept popping in a few unknown magic pills that helped him remain the same positive player and instinctively shrewd captain.

Limited resources never limited Lara's vision of where he wanted to lead the team to. Saddled with the most suspect batting order in international cricket since time immemorial, he is still not averse to risking his reputation and credibility in following his gut instincts. His gamble of playing himself at no. 9 at Kuala Lumpur to let his players get some match practice in an inconequential game again showed that quality of his.

I will now bring up the one point where all criticism of Lara invariably starts: his integrity, his oneness with the West Indian cause. In walking off the square before umpires moved to rule him 'out' as also in separating himself from the grind of international cricket temporarily or permanently for mutual benefits, this man has listened to his heart on most occasions and been misunderstood at times in the process.

While his petulant responses to media glare were not the proudest moments of his earlier career, he cannot be faulted now if he starts expecting generous appreciation for his commitment and endurance, virtues that his nature on and off the field hardly seemed compatible with.

A year back he had publicly declared his retirement from ODI's to prolong his Test career and yet, he has now opted to come back from that retirement for a limited period after he was recently honoured with the West Indian Test captaincy for a third time. He did that not to pocket some career-slog-over earnings before retiring for good. As the leader he felt obliged to be part of the process that aimed at the West Indies team doing well in the upcoming home World Cup.

Are there still people in his homeland and across the cricket playing world that feel Mr. Brian Charles Lara did not put in enough efforts for contributing to the sport that gave him everything? Perhaps it is time that the others, who I believe are a growing majority, simply ask them to shut up and revel in the slow and steady transformation that their old champion is leaving back for his still-admired team. It was obvious from Sarwan's display of leaqdership skills in today's match that Lara has seen a capable successor in Sarwan and is quietly grooming him to take over the mantle smoothly.

Even with its many flaws, Lara's team appears to be finally congealing into a unit that is prepared to kill to win. They look destined to traverse deep into the business end of CT and WC. Irrespective of a West Indian win in either tournament, Lara deserves a healthy round of applause for his immeasurable contribution towards resurrection of the West Indies as a one day side that manages to arouse that feeling in us once again.

The West Indian Test side will certainly not regain even part of its former glory during his playing days but one can expect the Prince to be around in some other capacity in later years to guide the boys towards that vision.

The CT does not sleep anymore

Jerome Taylor, the most promising young fast bowler outside of the 2 Ashes playing nations, goes back a few steps from the crease to bowl his last delivery. Australia need 12 runs to win off one delivery against West Indies, and the young-man-with-a-glacier-inside realised he just needed to ensure this one to be the last for the evening.

He achieves that goal by bowling Trevor Chappellesque slow medium off a few steps. [I ask Greg about it and he confessed that Taylor's delivery has bounced infinitely higher than Trevor's.] In leading his team to an improbable win Taylor makes a statement as poignant as that last delivery is unexpected of any genuine quick bowler, least of all a Caribbean one. Essentially that he would rather be part of a painstakingly improving team of proud contributors than get sucked into the familiar "image trap" that lies ever so near his newly achieved place in a game that still worships its fast bowlers and reserves instant stardom for them. [No prizes for guessing who I am referring to..]
The ICC Champions' Trophy race is suddenly getting very hot as an expected consequence of the first 4 group league matches producing 3 upsets (2 mini and one major). There can be only one better way to get those disgruntled cricket lovers around the globe glued back to their TV sets than a cricket tournament that throws up upsets: a cricket tournament yielding closely fought medium scoring upsets. Precisely the description
befitting yesternight's
Pak chase and today's Windian heroics..
I have made 2 posts on CT matches in the past couple of days: The Eng-v-Ind and SL-v-Pak matches. Instead of delaying the inevitable I hereby declare this current post on the Aus-WI thriller as a kick-off post on Pavilion View to launch the "CT Awakes" series that will cover ICC Champions' Trophy 2006 events.

Did I mention the Aus-v-WI result to be an upset? To be honest I felt sort of odd saying that. I checked up on a few statistics and they all supported that odd feeling. Inspite of their continued batting fragility this West Indian lot is arguably the most competitive side we have seen from those islands since the turn of the millenium. That was not good enough, I reckon. Okay then: They are amongst the most competitive teams today, period.

The Australians are having their own one day batting woes of late as are the CT hosts, India. They were the two best batting sides in ODI's even a few months back but their batting form has dipped significantly since they began running into the West Indians every now and then.

It would be both unfair and foolish to ascribe that likeness in batting decline of the two higher-ranked, smoothly chugging teams after facing Lara's men to coincidence and / or slow pitches. If you so wish, you are allowed to dismiss India's (remaining) claims to formidability on grounds of inconsistency. But the all-conquering cricketers from Australia give you no such leeway and a good show against them must be a reflection of cricketing ability. Ask Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman. We can take another example.
Dwayne Bravo was an unknown threat when Yuvraj Singh and his teammates struggled against the Trinidadian's slower yorkers in the Caribbean a few months back. But after Kuala Lumpur and Brabourne you realise that for all the support staff at their disposal a middle order like Australia's is yet to find an answer to Bravo and his mates on slow-low pitches. With a World-Cup-ful of slow and low tracks around the corner, that translates to a longer duration of 'slower' rule by Caribbean medium pacers than most reckoned.
Let us assess the West Indians in light of their recent performances against the Killer Kangaroos.

Since they crashed to 0-4 in the midst of a 7-match ODI series back home immediately after the 2003 World Cup, the West Indians have been regrouping themselves and proving to be a constant thorn in the flesh of the world's most awe-inspiring ODI team.
The Calypso boyz won the last three matches of that 2003 series on the trot, and since then they have returned a respectable won-2-lost-4-noresult-1 scoreline playing against the Aussies over 3 separate tournaments in 3 countries. That summarises to 5-4-1 (Win-Loss-NoResult) in their last 10 ODI's versus Ponting's men since 25th May 2003 till date.

Corresponding figures (Win-Loss-NoResult) for other major teams in their last 10 games against the Australians:

South Africa: 5-5-0
England: 2-7-1
India: 1-7-2
New Zealand: 2-8-0
Pakistan: 1-8-1
Sri Lanka: 3-7-0

Surprise, surprise! So the 'struggling' West Indians have won as many games against Australia in their last 10 encounters as the 3 sub-continent majors put together and compare rather favourably with the famously Aussie-baiting South Africans.

It is high time that credit goes where it is long overdue. That Jerome Taylor last delivery was an outcome of a process of rebuilding techniques, attitudes and minds. The next post of 'CT Awakes' series shall be dealing with a man integral to that rebuilding process.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

And then it strikes him

Let us go 20 years down the line. It is year 2026. You just got introduced to FutureFan, an average new age cricket lover of the time in a cricket playing country outside the subcontinent. You are pushed by this young fella that jabbers incessantly on cricket. You want to have some fun and test the cricket acumen of this cocky youngster.
You take leave for a minute and come back with a printout of the scorecard of a Pak-v-SL ICCCT match played on the 17th of October 2006. You have erased a lot of information from it, including team names, player names, championship and year of contest. Then you hand it over to FutureFan and ask him to identify the international team that won this contest. He needs to get it right at one go, without any external help. In all likelihood he will think hard on the tampered scorecard from a not-so-famous oldie and reply in the negative.

You share your first cryptic clue at this point: Key bowlers of the winning team were sent back 2 days ahead of this match due to some reasons while their formidable opponents came into this match in prime form, with a 10 match winning streak under the belt. There's a steep chance that your examinee will start thinking of a few teams by this time. He would not take a name at this point though.

You supply the 2nd clue: The captain of this team, who was also their best batsman, was prevented from taking part of the tournament due to some other reasons and there was a major controversy just ahead of this tournament even regarding the new captain. FutureFan will start thinking on those lines but drama outside the cricket pitch was never this guy's cup of tea. He is still blank.

It's time for the 3rd and last clue: This particular match happened at a time when the team was in the midst of a seemingly endless lookout for decent openers and decent catchers.

Furrow-browed FutureFan now stares at you with indignation. 'I can't get you old man. You say that coming into this match the team was plagued with off-field problems, had no openers or catchers worth their salt, were hamstrung in bowling and impaired in batting.....are we bloody talking about the winning team or what? And how the hell do you expect me to identify the team from that set of crap?'

You just smile in reply. And then, then it strikes him. FutureFan enquires sheepishly: 'It must be Pakistan, wasn't it?'

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


We love Sunny Gavaskar. If only he could weed out a few yawning draws from his resume....

We love everything about Sachin and Kapil. Wait wait, but 'everything' includes captaincy....

Everyone misses Vishy's class and beauty. No one misses his fielding though.

We love Dada's aggression in driving spinners and rival skippers to madness but we may not reach out for our wallets if asked to bet for his work ethic.

We love Dravid's work ethic and determination but is he calling the shots when it matters?

Through a brief but informative piece I recently came to learn more about the only - I repeat ONLY - international cricketer in the subcontinent's cricketing history who combined typical cricketing abilities of an Asian cricketer with the no-quarters-given-or-taken work ethic of an European, an elusive combination many foreign coaches in these parts are breaking their heads to achieve. Read on.

He's our first and foremost one. Colonel Cottari Kanakaiya Nayudu, CK in short.

And if this was not enough, his captaincy - in the colonial days when English folk were 'mai baap' - could make even Sourav Ganguly's stuff look like mother care. No wonder India placed a strong claim for Test status mainly through his efforts.

How I miss everything about him.

Update (31-Aug-10): This must be the most long delayed update I have ever written to a blogpost. Could not help it. I was reading a special Amit Varma post @ India Uncut on Indian chess and its cult figure Vishwanathan Anand, 'The man with the Maruti 800'. The last paragraph of that piece took me back to CK Nayudu.

Who knows, one of them* may even win the World Championship someday. But it won’t be as big a deal as this. Anand is special.
* modern Indian chess players whose chess upbringing, as per Amit, has a much narrower gap with westerners compared to the hopeless scenario at the time when Anand learnt his chess

Earlier in this post I had brought up some chinks in the legends of some other great Indian cricketers in order to elevate CK's standing. But somehow I still could not precisely bring out what CK actually meant to Indian cricket in my eyes.

Amit gives me a chance to make up for that failing nearly 4 years after writing the post. I can now refer to his post and state with clarity what I set out to say in that post:

Sachin, Sunny, Kapil and the other cricketing greats named earlier in this post were world champs worth their weight in gold. But then all of them learnt their 'chess' availing facilities similar to the modern Indian chess players. CK was 'Anand'.

Tail piece: The last analogy may be debated. "CK was Dibyendu Baruah at most - Lala was Anand" and so on!! I close my argument here, others are free to continue.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dirty Harry can't find his sixth bullet

This article made for nice reading. Ian Chappell finds interesting similarities of the top six men that matter in each of the major Champions' Trophy sides with the six bullets loaded in chambers of a 'six shooter' revolver. I thought the old fella's pretty much on the bull's eye or thereabouts. Except for the part on Indian bowling and batting, that is.

Chappelli has this to say about Indian bowling:
"...the West Indies, South Africa, England and India all fall a bit short in bowling class but the hosts can raise themselves into the first group if Pathan is firing on all cylinders."

The Indian bowling department is shaping up coolly and admirably for the battle on hand and the war coming up. Over the last three or four series we have seen two of Agarkar, Harbhajan and Munaf taking turns at the 'the miser and the mauler' duties in all matches irrespective of Pathan's bowling form which still remains important to Indian fortunes as Chappell senior underlines repeatedly in that piece.

However the following part of his observations reads more like high hope than any immediate possibility with every passing day:
"India with Virender Sehwag in form and opening would be formidable."
Barely six months after making the world sit up to a booming cresendo of consecutive batting explosions last season India are suddenly in desperate want of another century maker to support Tendulkar in the batting department. All three potential candidates - Dravid, Yuvraj, and Sehwag - are inexplicably looking quite a distance from that vacant role at present. For confirmation of this willow worry we only need to look at Indian batting scorecards for the last 10 ODI's.

Sehwag, in particular, is a major cause of shivers. Never an owner of a brilliant defence or deft footwork on the crease, today he appears to have lost a chunk of even the modest lot of the basics that he started off with. He looks determined that he does not want anything in the name of a basic batting technique to come in his way. He would be well advised by his supporters inside the camp to look where that 'way' ends.
They can perhaps persuade Sehwag to re-assess all the aspects of his game that got him here - at this apex level - in the first place. Too much of his present batting performances depends upon the bowling errors he is allowed and he looks a fidgety batsman whenever top bowlers bowl to a plan against him. As far as my memory goes, an attacking game was never EVERYTHING that Virender Sehwag had in 2001 when he scored his debut Test century in South Africa.
India have a trigger-happy wicketkeeper, a serviceable all rounder (Pathan), the two war-painted bowlers and one bazooka of a batsman. That fills up five chambers. Rival gunmen are already firing shots in our backyard. The English ones nearly broke into the building today. India's missing bullet rolled under the cot quite a long while back. Someone please retrieve it NOW....

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The smaller but deeper worries

There was a time when 600 plus runs in an innings were a norm in Indian domestic first class matches. As much as a reflection on the pitches, it was also an indication of a cultural imbalance: India produced far more quality batsmen than quality bowlers. The just concluded 2006 Irani trophy match missed the services of many top cricketers in the country, all of whom are busy preparing for upcoming Champions' trophy.

Consequently the UP vs. ROI clash literally ended up as a contest of the reserves. The outcome, specifically the 2½ day finish, hints at a specific area of concern regarding the future of domestic long duration games: that old imbalance is showing signs of getting reversed, and an equilibrium is not necessarily the likely destination of that reversal.

The ideal state to achieve would be a balance between bat and ball. At present though while the bowling stock is improving since the bygone years, the batting reserves are getting pitifully thin on quality. Pratyush Khaitan highlights this area in his Irani trophy review
here. The trend is supported by the dwindling fortunes of our senior squad in Test matches over last couple of years. If the improvement in bowling means we can think of going into a Test match armed with the confidence of taking the 20 opposition wickets, we will still need runs on the board to compete.

Well, we always knew this vacuum as a distinct possibility for the international side once those 3 greats born within a year of each other and another barely 2 years younger than them sealed all the available middle order slots for better part of a decade with the BCCI going to sleep on the back of brilliant performances from the famous four with no proper plan of succession in place. [I know what you are thinking: Had Sourav Ganguly received better treatment and a decent exit route, I would have believed that Ganguly's ouster was indeed part of a succession plan.] Players like them are difficult to replace, and it is understandable that the process will take some time.

But a similar void at the first class level is a far bigger worry. Who do we replace Sachin or Dravid with when it is time to move on? For that matter, are we developing enough ready substitutes for even the fledgling Yuvis, Kaifs or Rainas in the event of their non-success at the Test level? Hope we are headed the Australian way (who bounced back from a temporary mid-80's trough by identifying the need to plan, develop and select with a vision) rather than the West Indian one (still smarting from loss of great players thru the 80's and 90's, with no plan on the horizon as yet).

It must be said that Greg Chappell the national coach can take some credit for the BCCI waking up to a need to have good bowlers for producing consistent results. It remains to be seen if Greg takes the same pains for the willow wielders of the future.

P.S. I just heard Greg's closest ex-competitor for the post Mohinder Amarnath howling in laughter after reading that last line and calling me a joker. Fair enough; try staying sober after reading
this scorecard from a Ranji final he played in nearly 25 years back - lack of runs was hardly the problem there. Those were the days folks...

Monday, October 09, 2006

A thought on Mufambisi

There's a saying in some language: every person has a replica in this world. You may have heard of that. There's another saying that you never heard of: even though you love a game, some matches can be so bad that you fail to live through them. I do not know the speaker of the first quote but you know who said the second.
The first time I saw Zimbabwe opener Tafadzwa Mufambisi was in the 6th over of today's non-match. He played a ball from Ian Bradshaw in a familiar fashion.
I was already expecting the match to be one-sided (just like you, and those fellows chattering behind your back, and the person who got a verbal pasting from you last week, and your grandma). The words 'precious' and 'few' often go hand in hand and today as a cricket viewer I was feeling like a shining million year old piece of carbon by the time 6th over started. I know you understand how rare a feeling that must be in this cricket mad country...
With the best interests of cricket at heart I tried a novel way to internally generate interest in the contest; an important ICC event like this should not lose valuable audience this early in the tournament. "I'll try handing out a quick rating on the form and quality of this guy taking strike from the first shot I see," I thought. After the shot: "....I think he will be good attacking player with decisive footwork, while his defensive technique needs work."
While West Indian bowler Ian Bradshaw returned back to his mark, this Zim opener's game (that is, whatever I boast to have seen of it in all of one ball) continued to half-remind me of another young player. However I could not pinpoint who that was. Both showed decisive and fluent forward footwork and natural stroking ability with the bat while the defence needed a few more layers. So which player was young Mufambisi a replica of?
Fortunately I did not have to rack my brains for too long - the answer came in the next (or was it next-to-next) ball when Mufambisi cut Bradshaw to point and an alert fielder swooped down on it in a flash. Dwayne Bravo it was indeed.
Unfortunately that was the end of my new one-ball game of replica hunting; I was forced to switch channels soon with a heavy heart as proceedings became increasingly insufferable.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"It won't leave much for the highlights film"

Love the way John Stern sums up a growing need to recreate fast bowling magic.

Going through this list of interesting cricket facts on 123India cricket, the one I loved the most was:

Kapil Dev`s only break of one Test in his 131 Test career came after 65 Tests.

So the poor old all-rounder was only trying to bring about a little symmetry in a long career during his unproductive twilight years. Tch, tch....on hindsight it was unjust on my part (and by a few likewise dirty minded folks I know) to misread that act as a hankering for Richard Hadlee's world record 431 wicket tally. No fire in hell will be too bad for us unduly heartbroken admirers of the man....

But thanks to Warne and Murali, these days we find it hard to digest that such a miniscule record actually existed as recently as 1994!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Sanjay Bangar

Some cricketers have all the luck.

They get extra chances, extra facilities, extra media attention, extra fan following and the utterly forgettable resultant - extra sponsorship deals.

You can bet that dour and gritty ex-India player and Railways all-rounder Sanjay Bangar never got to play those extraaa shots. He is your regular no-nonsense bits-and-pieces guy, born to do everyday jobs of far less national importance than making people flock to stadia just to watch him play.

So what kind of jobs do the Bangars do? Leading an unfancied Railways side to Ranji trophy triumph, for example. Or setting little big examples of solidarity that help alleviate perennial woes of his railway mates making do with a non-existent support system. And helping bind his bunch of men-on-wheels together to make this team perform wondrously better than the sum of its parts.

Unfortunately the options of extra chances, extra facilities and extra attention fly extra quick out through of the window when a blue collar guy enters the scene. That brings us to another question: what does a Bangar get back for his contributions? Let us explore.

A Test batting average of 47.85 at home. Hmm, that is a steady start. That figure is 18 points more than his overall Test average, something he can mention to his grandchildren with a 'been there done that' nod. Pity Bangar the bowler could never back it up and remained wicketless in his six home Tests, or he could be a rather handy all-round horse for the Indian course. Let’s see what more we have in the Bangar baggage of collections.

OMG, he is the guy with the most unforgettable ‘only fifty-plus Test score on foreign soil’ on earth! Wow, wonder how this most temporary of openers had the audacity to partner Dravid in exorcising the resident evil ‘genie of away losses’ out of its permanent abode, the Team India bottle, on that crucial first day of the 2002 Headingley Test.

It seems he did have some luck in making himself a name.

“Aw c’mon, look at the stinking ODI stats of this all-rounder…”

Truth hits you hard and snaps you back to reality with a batting avg of 13.84 and bowling avg of 54.85. That batting average is a full two points less than Agarkar’s! I’m afraid the fairytale has ended and we have no more knots to unravel inside Bangar's backpack…he will now have to walk away into the horizon clasping his pedestrian record close to heart. Sadly the bag is all empty now. But at least Bangar has been guaranteed of some applause along his exit route after showing off those extraa bits of his.

Hold on a second, what of that only ODI fifty of his in 15 matches? Scoring 57 off 41 balls at five down with 96-to-win in a fifty-over–match enroute an overhaul of West Indies ‘ 325 in India was surely no joke. There there, even his only 50-plus knock in ODI’s threw a punch worth remembering. Dravid was again the partner watching from the other end.

Given that Sanjay Bangar played so few matches for India and did not exactly set the stage on fire in those, it is unusual that we remember almost every notable performance he put up in India colours. Some people have all the luck indeed. Perhaps they deserve no less.

A few extraa claps for Sanjay Bangar please.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Psychos

"Who writes your scripts?" asked Graham Gooch to Ian Botham once. Well, who writes theirs?

Update: I bet you thought you would not see greater drama than that. Ha ha - now watch the sequel!

These are moments when you feel Pakistan cricket administration is indeed a virtual world inside the 'Matrix' as against the real world where all the cricket is being played, watched and loved. From the same perspective this latest episode was its 'Reloaded' (Younis) and 'Revolutions' (Youhana) sequels rolled in one.
Apologies for that misnomer of a post title.

How do we keep THEM?

Amidst stars old and new, shining and falling, promising and delivering, the performance of wicketkeepers of each of the three “India”s participating in this year’s Challengers’ trophy provoked a thought . How do we keep them?

Parthiv Patel first. We have seen his gloved journey from youthful brilliance to loss of lustre to losing the entire plot as a specialist keeper. All through that though he has showed impressive improvement in every outing with the bat. Aged 16, he saved a crucial away Test match on debut. Then on he kept building on his nudges and pushes to emerge as a dependable lower middle order bat who could score fluently either side of the wicket and, importantly, would not cower in adverse situations. He shone with the bat in his two Challenger matches this year (just as he did last year). His latest performances could have helped him pose serious threat for almost any keeper playing in the national side. But unfortunately it isn’t ‘any keeper’ that he is up against.

Parthiv’s continued rotten form with the gloves in 2004 brought us to Dinesh Karthik. In his 1st ODI he effected a fantastic airborne stumping [while falling away from the stumps] to tilt a low scoring close match in favour of India and thereafter most things that he and the other keepers in India (Dhoni included) have done could only cement the belief that Dinesh is arguably the best amongst Indian glovemen who can bat decently. Like Parthiv he does not cower in pressure situations either and demonstrated his qualities in front of the stumps in the 2005 Test series against Pakistan. And like Parthiv he’s only 21. Dinesh shone with the bat too in this Challenger trophy. But just like his predecessor (again) his efforts are also certain to go unrewarded.

When Dinesh Karthik got relieved from national duties he did not need to lose form with either bat or glove to get replaced by Mahendra Singh Dhoni in a one day squad. That would be true for any wicketkeeper in the history of one day internationals barring Adam Gilchrist. Dhoni proved just that point during the just-concluded 2006 Challenger series. Essentially Indian selectors are left with no choice but to refute the claims of a good keeper-batsman, Dinesh, and a decent batsman-keeper, Parthiv, for both ODI and Test selections because of the irresistible package that is MSD. And that may be a bit of a tragedy in the making.

There is little doubt in my mind that sooner or later Dhoni is going to become a full fledged middle order batsman in Tests and maybe even in the ODI’s at a more advanced age. In other words Dhoni will do a Dravid when he reaches thirty. [He should, if you ask me.] The role change may come due to a change in his batting temperament, or due to declining glovework in the face of added batting responsibity with increasing seniority, or both. That will open up a possibility of Karthik or Patel - even both - getting national call-up(s) for the specialist keeper’s role in Tests and / or one dayers half a decade hence. But can they keep themselves in the hunt for that long a period? Are they single minded enough to survive the guaranteed snub of the intervening years?

Indian cricket is notorious for letting young and promising cricketers lose heart and focus after their first brushes with failure. Out of a batch of 5 or 6 promising young cricketers inducted into the national cricket team in the mid 80’s only Azharuddin made it into the 90’s. It was the same with another batch of rookies in early 90’s of which only one Sourav Ganguly had the heart and the luck to make a grand comeback half a decade later.

This is one of those areas where the national selectors need to step in with a vision and decisive action plan for the future, a future that does not end with their respective tenures. They need to share that vision with the zonal cricket bodies and selection committees. They need to talk to the young aspirants and explain to them the vital role planned for them in the future provided they stay focussed.
A Colonel has been posted on the warfront and he knows that his job is far beyond everyday paperwork.
Keep the keepers focussed, Colonel. We will need them.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The men with a knockout punch

When the going gets tough the tough get going, they say. What can be tougher in one day cricket than a knockout match? The next knockout match perhaps.....and so on till we have the final. George Binoy of cricinfo lists some stats here that can help separate men from boys in ODI's.
It's a pity that the Test matches do not have knockouts; spanning over five days, those would have been the sternest tests of sporting character one can think of.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

I C C-rious connotations

There was a sense of rejoice in learning that Inzamam-ul-Haq got a light rap on the knuckles by ICC for ‘bringing the game to disrepute’ but was cleared of the big bad charge of ball tamperin. I reckoned both decisions to be….proper. [‘correct’ is not an option, is it?]

My happiness had more reasons than just an agreement with the verdict. The incident has evoked unanimous support from the bowlers’ community for their fellow swingers, a phenomenon I always love to see. The ‘rejoice’ was complete when I imagined the impact of this ‘not out’ decision on high-handed umpiring. Never saw footage of the actual incident at The Oval but the outcome of that affair added to a growing feeling that of late some umpires are getting a few free rides too many in a game that is so strict on its players.

But even in celebration of such rare moments of triumph you can trust the ICC to dish out half cooked broth. The withdrawal of Hair from ICC trophy is one such faux pas; not so much the actual decision to withdraw the controversial umpire but the ridiculously roundabout way of announcing it. However ICC Chief Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle’s adjudication on the ball tampering charge announced during his press conference is perhaps a far more resonant botch. In the conclusive paragraph he says:

“Given that the physical state of the ball did not justify a conclusion that a fielder had altered its condition, and neither of the umpires had seen a fielder tampering with the ball, there was no breach of Law 42.3. The course of action which I would have expected from umpires concerned that there may be ball-tampering would have been for the Umpires to draw Mr ul-Haq's attention to the marks and to tell him that they intended to keep a close eye on the ball after each over.”

While the second line of that all-important paragraph was designed as a brief guideline for umpires to act upon future incidents, I have serious objections with the first line and the distorting effect it has on the second line. That last bit of “there was no breach of law 42.3” could have been worded otherwise. It could go like “there is no conclusive proof that law 42.3 was breached.” As you read the paragraph in totality you’ll find a marked alteration come about in the sense with that little change of words.
In the brouhaha of coming out with the right verdict ICC have missed spelling out a little but crucial message for players and umpires alike: that the Pakistan team are being let off for want of evidence in support of the charge – nothing more, nothing less. At present that first line makes the second line look less of a guideline and more of a cold instruction from ICC for the umpires alone. ‘Do this and do no further,’ seems to be the underlying message.

The statement from Madugalle can only serve to unduly undermine the authority and inclination of an umpire to interfere with suspected ball tampering. Irrespective of the validity of the present charge, the verdict unwittingly discourages umpires from looking for ‘rape’ of the ball unless the ‘rape’ is extensive enough to be proven. If that means allowing the requisite ‘rape’ to happen in front of their eyes then so be it.

Is that the intended essence of ICC’s seminal “note of caution” for its umpires? Then they better be prepared that lesser mortals than Hair (you can’t help having that one regard for him) will pretend looking the other way when a ball tampering incident actually happens on the field. I’m sure none of us would love that.

Maybe I’m reading too much into Madugalle’s choice of words. Let’s hope the umpires do not.
Update: It seems some other people are also harbouring similar thoughts about the outcome of ball tampering controversy. Cricinfo Pakistan's Osman Samiuddin ponders:
Should the law perhaps make it necessary for an umpire to spot at least one individual or one act of tampering before taking action, as Dickie Bird said immediately after the hearing?
Update 2: Jagadish expresses his apprehensions about the verdict.

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