Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Captain's Quote of the day

From the looks of it Anil Kumble is not going to be called 'the greatest' or 'the best' during his playing days. If he was not called so today he will surely never be. The news channels used a lot of familiar terms like 'warrior' and 'champion' for Boxing Day's Kumble but neither of those two adjectives emerged. Not even on a day when he showed the calibre of bringing together skill, patience, courage, fight and inspiration at perhaps the biggest moment for his team in the second half of this decade.

So be it. Ah - the quote. Anil was returning a satisfied captain and elated bowler from the MCG greens when the Star Cricket commentary team caught hold of him. From his amazing exploits on a first day pitch against a side that had scored heavily against Murali very recently, the topic of discussion veered to the tactics for the morrow.

Harsha: Is Rahul Dravid going to open?
Anil (smiling): Yes he will.
Harsha: Is he happy about the job?
Anil (still smiling): Ya..Yes he is..(breaks into a hearty laugh)..he does not have a choice!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Boxing Day 2007: A series preview

A lot of talk in the media has been about how India have done well ahead of the crucial Australia tour. Why, the Indian young brigade is seen as ‘talking’ well too! Well I’m only partly impressed. Talking looks good ONLY when it is backed by the doing. Post T20 success the Indian team has not fielded too well in the ODIs or even the Tests.

I hope they prove me wrong but the Indian lot seems incapable of exhibiting top class fitness throughout any match that lasts more than 20 overs an innings. The concentration wavers, the fumbling / dropping reappears, the bowling intensity tails off and the silly calling between batting partners resurfaces in the latter part of ODI innings. The Indians lost the ODI series against Australia 4-2 (could have been 5-2 but for rain) but won convincingly against Pakistan. People were joyous at an improved performance.

‘Improved’? Well we all saw in the Australian series that Indians would drop an early chance from a key Australian batsman and he would then inevitably ensure a 300-plus target for Indians. As expected, Australians would refuse to return the favour of ‘life’ when they fielded. The Indians continued in much the same vein against the touring Pakistanis. The difference: Pakistan would magnanimously allow lives to TWO Indian batsmen.

We can expect these problems to get more glaring in Test matches. However the beauty of Test matches is that it allows you to somewhat make up for lack of one skill through added brilliance in the other. Middle order batting and Kumble’s bowling are the only areas of cricket where Indians can claim to have Test standard fitness. And relentlessness, one may add. That can cover up a bit for a lack of stamina and fitness amongst Indian fast bowlers. But to expect the ageing warhorses of Indian batting to make up for both bowling and fielding lacunae will be like expecting your 70 year old papa to carry you in his arms midway through a 10 mile walk because your legs are aching and his are not.

Just like Sourav’s men four years back the present group too have to bat gallantly right from the opening stand, bowl decently and catch (if not field) relentlessly to fight the Australian team over the length of the series. The fielders must take the responsibility that their bowlers need not have to dismiss the difficult-to-dislodge Haydens and Pontings twice every innings.

The Australians may be a good fielding side. But their main catchers are ageing, and if put under pressure in the latter halves of Test matches they can give Indian batsmen some unexpected lives. The Indian catchers need not return that favour.

The ravine between a 1-2 and a 2-1 can only be bridged by good opening stands and relentless smart catching from India.

From the Australian angle, the success of their batting is certain and only the extent of that success will be decided by the Indians. Their options lie elsewhere - early wickets or hard work. Their bowling line up look more than likely to do the job. But in case they do not, their batsmen will be under extra pressure to perform. And we all know that Australians can handle it all.

For the sake of engrossing cricket we hope that their talented adversaries live up to the expectations in inspirational fashion. And the two sensational keeper batsmen in either side contribute to a glittery New Year in cricket.


For someone whose batting form and consistency has been as unshakeable as a walrus (but I was different..) RD’s story in recent months has surprisingly unfolded like a mysterious episode of an Indian tele-serial written by a guest screenplay writer. Some fear this may even be the last episode.

He has the second highest Test batting average amongst contemporary batsmen. All those stats, though, come to nought when his recent form comes under the scanner. The unthinkable has happened in this period – Rahul Dravid has gone through two consecutive Test series (vs. RSA in RSA and vs. Eng in Eng) without a decent score under his belt. Only once in his career has this occurred – in the last millennium. Worse, it has happened when he was touring. Before India went to South Africa last year Rahul averaged 65 on tours.

His one day form has not helped him either. Add to that his recent catching woes in the slips and selectors were forced to look for fresh faces in ODI’s, especially in the aftermath of a Twenty20 world cup where India, of all teams, highlighted the worth of sharp catches and direct hits. Isn’t it ironic, quite like
Sourav’s case, that the selection panel went ahead and brought in Virender Sehwag as his replacement in the ODI squad? Viru, the same guy that was included in the World Cup squad earlier this year only because Dravid the skipper insisted on it.

And now the irony continues. Dravid, who has easily been the best Test batsman at any of the positions he has batted for India since the turn of the millennium, has been pushed to open for India. And Viru stands by, in case Dravid fails.

Dravid opened in Pakistan two seasons ago when he was also the captain. He got two centuries in the first two Tests but his twin failures in the decisive Karachi clash once again proved that the Indian middle order desperately needs a Dravid-ian launch pad to get that big score in a crucial match. His early dismissal can open the floodgates for the opponents. On that occasion he reverted back to no. 3 in the subsequent matches.

But what now? There is little scope for Dravid’s return to his customary number three slot unless another promotee, the forever-in-the-line-of-fire Laxman, does miserably in that position. You don’t back Laxman to fail against Australia, do you?

The only space visible right now is a mysterious hollow commonly known as the selectors’ collective thought process. Sehwag is not in bankable form and Yuvraj Singh is in one helluva form. Does that make the move to promote Dravid and accommodate Yuvraj partly understandable? That was not the selectors’ plan but the team management’s response to a dilemma. But the fact remains that a suspect Sehwag was picked ahead of an in-form Akash Chopra, that forgotten hero of India’s last visit Down Under. Of course Sehwag can put an end to that question in just one brilliant innings but his selection will still remain a gamble, albeit a successful one.

Perhaps there are no takers for the big lesson taught by Akash and Viru during that tour - we do not need one flashy 150 opening stand out of the 8 innings we got to play against the Aussies; we need 50 plus in 4 or 5 of them. Akash was surely the man for that?

Coming back to the topic, are we seeing Rahul Dravid at the biggest crossroad of his career yet? Who’s writing his script? I’m afraid ‘RD’ has no script ready for him; he has to write one on the napkin-thin paper supplied to him for cleaning up selection messes.

On the 4th of January we will be halfway through the 2nd Test and the story would have taken a shape by that time. I refuse to read too much into the coincidence that 4th January happens to be the death anniversary of the man originally known as RD in India,
Rahul Dev Burman. The RD of cricket is a Rahul too; but I back his career to live through 4th January 2008. Who knows, Rahul Dravid the batsman may have just completed a rebirth by the time he celebrates his 35th birthday on 11th January. If he does I shall not hesitate to rate him as the greatest Test batsman of this decade, ahead of one Mr. Ricky Ponting.

If not, RD is still the best India have got in Tests.

The Don of Dada

Sourav Ganguly played a crucial role in cutting the raw diamond in Yuvraj Singh. Yet when Dada started the Test series against Pakistan last month he was facing the greatest pressure from Yuvraj Singh’s irrepressible form to make way for the young turk. Sourav’s response: a deluge of Don-like big scores. The weakest Pakistan attack? But India were 50-50 against pretty much the same side after the 3rd innings of the 1st Test..that was until Sourav unleashed Dadagiri on the bowlers.

His resurgence since end-2006 is now the stuff of Bengali legend. A section of his fans have even campaigned for the story of Sourav Ganguly to be included in text books. I wonder how it will feel when 40 years down the line I, in presence of an approving wife and daughter, can narrate my eye-witness account of watching Sourav approach his first century at Eden Gardens and …. and having to leave the venue when he was on 85 odd??!!!

The last chapter of that comeback is still getting scripted somewhere above and the most significant part of it will be published in instalments over the next one month.

Hi - I'm back

Well - trying to be back, really. I am still cybernetically challenged at home. But what the hell - Indians are in Australia and I just cannot continue to be a mute bloger anymore. I'll try to make posts off and on. By next month I hope to be more regular.

I hope you remember me, by the way..

Friday, September 28, 2007

Seam bowling holds the key - once again

Consistency of the Indian bowlers at the pressure moments was the common feature of two hugely different Indian teams doing well in the test series in England as well as in Twenty20 World Championship. [The uncommon feature was, of course, the fielding.] It is not a coincidence that these two countries are easily the happiest hunting grounds for bowlers principally relying on swing for their scalps. In about 24 hours the quartet of Sreesanth, RP Singh, Zaheer Khan and (possibly) Joginder Sharma will face the Australians in hugely different conditions. Yes, the same yellow clad guys that the Indians beat in the semi finals of the T20 tourney, a side apparently having members raring to teach the Indian boys a lesson for getting 'too carried away' with the celebrations!!

We may just witness Dhoni & co administer a lesson on getting carried away in their comments to the Aussies. Or maybe the Indian quickies will discover to their dismay that India is no England (or South africa), that Australians are no Englishmen to allow them counter-reprieves for daily misses and that Fifty50 is no Twenty20 or Tests. The first 3 matches should be great fun - which is a rare thing to expect from the format that is one day cricket.

P.S.: In case you are not aware, I have been so taken in by the possibilities of the T20 format over a bare 10 days that I would rather have it replacing the one day version. Tests and Twenty20 are the logical way to go for the cricket world. However, small mercies in the form of rule changes in ODI's - like allowing a third fielder in the Powerplay overs - may just inject a fresh spark in this format and induce teams to play it more aggressively rather than go through motions for the middle thirty overs of the innings (Now you may be getting the reason behind my belief that T20 is all we need).

Wait and watch we will.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

A shirt that remained

Between Mohammad Kaif at the Lords’ 2002 and Robin Uthappa at the Oval 2007 there can be only one winner – the forgotten fielding man from UP. It was the one of the most perfectly controlled one day innings I have seen from a non-opener beside Miandad ’86, and certainly the best such by an Indian under pressure.

Nearly nothing was left to chance by Kaif that day. He took the right options – the ones with maximum percentages, that is - at the right time and batted for a very long period with just the tail supporting his fight. An edged four through slip cordon was the solitary lucky stroke in his 87 not out. And he did it in an ODI tournament final, the last one that India won. No wonder memories refuse to fade even after passage of half a decade.

Robin’s innings today, though, must be the only one from an Indian batsman in the intervening period that has fully deserved to be compared to that Kaif classic in drama, importance or surprise value. If you look at Robin’s 47 not out dispassionately, it is equivalent of only the 2nd half of Kaif’s innings - but that itself should be good enough by a country mile for the second spot.

As I think a little more of the contexts in the respective cases, I find some more justification in deriving a comparable degree of wondrous joy from the batting of Robin Uthappa today. Kaif was coming to settle into a role – the 7th batsman - by the time the 2002 match happened. Uthappa, on the other hand, was woken out of a three month pleasure trip at the fag end of it and asked to bat at an unknown position in Oval 2007 – number seven. Come fall of fifth wicket, he had to step in the ground on a pair of untried feet with the obviously simple task of notching up over 8½ runs per over for the last 10 overs to keep his team in the hunt for the trophy.

He certainly got generous help from fate for his clever attempt to disturb any bowlers going for yorker length. But those two shots off the admirable young Broad in the last over adequately displayed Uthappa’s mastery over the bowler’s mind and over his own craft.

It is special enough to see two young men (Broad and Uthappa) from opposing sides show nerves of steel in the tightest of finishes they have surely been part of in their fledgling careers. I’d say that alone deserves a standing ovation. There, therefore, must be an even more special way of appreciating if the young man from your side comes up trumps in such a battle of wits. Pardon me for being unimaginative but at this point I seriously cannot think of anything other than another shirt coming off another Indian skipper at another London balcony on another sunny afternoon.

And there was another mad rush by Indian players to the day’s hero when the match ended. A five-year-older and defi-knee-tely slower Yuvraj still managed to reach and hug Robin first……says an uncomfortable lot about the direction our fielding is moving towards.

No wonder Dravid these days has far more goose pimples going into post match conferences of matches he won than he has in the ones he lost. Reason: India have dropped more catches in the three matches they eventually won than in their losses. Do we hear the Indian skipper mumble "We were being generous in victory"?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

When twenty+twenty top teams will compete

Finally we have a decent enough reason to contemplate falling in love with Twenty20. What more do we need than a chance for cricket to be watched and played globally?

Alfred Shaw & Inzi's painting

"Of all his feats, perhaps the most remarkable was accomplished in a match at Lord's in 1875, between Notts and the M. C. C. In the M. C. C.'s second innings he sent down forty-one overs and two balls for seven runs and seven wickets, bowling out, among other batsmen, W. G. Grace, A. W. Ridley, C. F. Buller, and Lord Harris. "

Alfred Shaw, born on this day of 1842, is regarded as one of the top players of 19th century English cricket, perhaps the best spinner in his land at some point of time. If reincarnations are to be believed in, Anil Kumble is most likely to have been him in an earlier birth. Maybe we are witnessing accuracy and diligence spanning across 3 centuries with a little hiatus thrown in....
"When the ground helped him, he broke back a good deal, but he never set much store on a big break, always arguing that the most dangerous ball was the one that did just enough to beat the bat."

"In his book on cricket Mr. Grace says: The great power of his bowling lay in its good length and unvaried precision. He could break both ways, but got more work on the ball from the off; and he was one of the few bowlers who could very quickly cause a batsman to make a mistake if he was too eager to hit. An impatient batsman might make two spanking hits in succession off him, but he would not make a third. Shaw was sure to take his measure and get him in a difficulty. On a good wicket, when batting against him, I did not find it difficult to play the ball; but I had to watch him carefully, and wait patiently before I could score."

BTW just take a look at those three illustrations on the cricinfo page. The photographs show a well trimmed beard on Shaw but the man's portrait is 'Grace'iously hirsute. It indicates a penchant for variety - on part of either the subject or the painter. It also reminds me that some images of old world celebrities that have got etched deep inside us are but distorted pictures of their real appearances.

To tell you the truth I am envious of all those famous folk lucky to be born in pre-photography era. Here in the 21st century, even if I ever become a celeb in the future there's not a chance for me to ensure, by means of a handsome reward to the painter, that posterity sees me sporting abundant hair in my most famous-to-be portrait as a very successful man in his late 50's.

Come to think of it - had photographic technology not yet been invented Inzamam-ul-Haq could have payed a few extra bucks to his personal illustrator & ensured that cricket lovers in 23rd century imagine him with a Grace-ian yarn adorning his chin. Who knows, those future cricket fans could even be associating a slim frame to him....but then somewhere in Pakistan you would surely find a family still living off the fortune their great great great grandfather made from making custom-made paintings of a great player of two archaic forms of cricket.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

D'ya know who bowled out all ten batsmen in an innings...

....and recorded it himself for posterity? Now you know, don't you?

"The year 1864 heralded two major developments in the world of cricket. On the pitch, over-arm bowling was finally legalised; off it, a cricketing institution was born.

John Wisden, the "Little Wonder", was already well-known in cricket circles for his astonishing bowling feats for Sussex - including all ten wickets in an innings, all bowled. Now he turned to publishing to secure an income in retirement. His original Cricketers' Almanack was a slim 112-page volume, one of several similar publications to appear around the same time. Paper-bound and priced at one shilling, it gave details of all the Gentleman v Players fixtures of the preceding season, plus an eclectic array of facts and stats, from the
winners of the Derby and Oaks, to the rules of an obscure game called Knur and Spell."

Historic fun. Quite like reading old first-day-first-show reviews of a movie released years back but still getting a run in theatres!! (I was mentioning Sholay there and not much for favourites) Circa 1864 that "all 10 bowled" feat must have been a fancy effort from John Wisden. You think of it as 'wow'.

Cut to 2007 @ the home of Wisden's good friend the bearded doctor. Imagine someone mentioning Wisden's feat to Indian bowlers any time during the 16 odd starting overs of the 2nd innings of Bristol ODI on 24th August. "So what? That's the only way to get them." The fielding was neither historic nor fun.

Pre-historic? Indeed.

Rolling stock expected to get better tracks

If I remember correctly I had tagged this Siddhartha Vaidyanathan piece, revealing the true magnitude of effort coming from Railways players for annexing THE Ranji Trophy, to an old post on Sanjay Bangar. Perhaps those boys in the pic on that page will now have a silent word of thanks for the organisers of ICL. In addition to the increased match fees and prize money that the BCCI was forced to announce on them players, hopefully they will now get better facilities to do the job, which is where the cricketing impact of ICL begins.

A chunk of credit for that development - in all senses - should go to their big boss, the brilliant Indian Railway Minister Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav, , who masterfully announced a semi-dictatorial decision of letting out Railways cricket infrastructure to the ICL when everyone else pretended to be 1000 miles away from the league. It was a micro revolution of sorts and before long others like West Bengal sports minister Subhash Chakraborty, who is quite smart but less so than Lalu, also saw the double bonus of earning some easy money on rentals along with getting a free maintenance / upgradation of facilities in such venues and immediately declared the cricket stadiums of Bengal as Sports Economic Zones.

For Mr. Chakraborty though, there is a third angle yet - he has as massive an axe to grind with the present rulers of Cricket Association of Bengal as he has with BCCI management.

I do not buy nepotism and scams put me off - and yet I will not mind having the ex Bihar CM lead our country for one tenure. He has a rare gift, one that differentiates genius captains from brilliant ones: he sees an advantage where all else sees a handicap. Like all legendary skippers his moves return handsome dividends for his team while furrowing a few brows.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Follow whom?

Rahul Dravid’s decision not to enforce a follow-on allowed England to escape with a draw in the last Test. But it is amazing, the Indian media’s obsessive desire to keep cricket in the centre of a controversy with the current Indian skipper preferably at the wrong end of it. The debate on Rahul Dravid’s non-enforcement of follow-on in the Oval test refuses to die down. It was a national shame, it seems, that the think tank led by the captain inflicted upon a proud cricketing nation.

Excuse me? Are we talking about the same nation that sent that team management on a three month long far-n-away tour without a coach and carrying a grandfatherly manager? The same team that is forced to make a gutsy wicketkeeper play as a Test opener and is lucky to see the gamble come off? The team in which the captain, upon arriving at venues, learns that his duties include assigning room allotments to players with little or no help from people generously sent on a benefit tour of England in the guise of official post holders? The team that has never put forward either a bowling quartet that surprises none when it takes 20 wickets or a set of Test fieldsmen that routinely complete fielding innings without allowing a few important batsmen of the opposition to bat twice?
We can go on, really. Is that the same country where the cricket Board considers its job as done merely by issuing ban threats to an alarming multitude of first class players joining a rebel league and thinks nothing of starting a dialogue to get to the root? Are these players not playing for a board that goes on to call a meeting amidst this Indian Cricket League controversy - only to complete the far more critically relevant job of trying to identify a future replacement for the present Board President a good part of a year ahead of his expiry date?

To call a spade a spade, Rahul Dravid was afraid of even chasing 150 odd in the final innings of the Oval Test. He was not taking a risk – the great Indian last-Test-last-innings ‘chokes’ efficiently led by the man himself in numerous recent home and away series (v-Pak-05, v-Eng-06, v-SA-07) played on his conservative mind. He was being defensive. Rightly so. An amateur, playing against a professional, plays with a clear mind and takes a few risks when he has nothing to lose; however when some of those come off and our amateur friend secures a position of ascendancy he is happy to just ensure that there is no reversal ‘coz the ascendancy is win enough for an amateur playing a professional.

Rahul wasn’t defensive in Trentbridge (2nd Test) at the toss. He had precisely 2½ in-form bowlers in his team (one Zaheer, 0.75 Kumble, 0.75 RP and a wandering spirit by the name of Sreesanth) to take 20 opposition wickets, none a run-through’er and the 1st innings of the 2nd Test was likely to decide it all. Fresh from the ‘glory’ of saving the Lords’ Test Rahul the India-A captain (A for amateur) saw nothing to lose there and backed his two-and-half to try and give their best. Rahul hit a jackpot when they went further and bowled out opposition for less than two hundred. Further, the makeshift opening pair, not expected to last this summer, virtually wiped off the deficit without getting separated. At this point the captain woke up from his daydream and, sensing ascendancy, decided to close out the opponents by not taking any more risks.

We are yet to grasp the extent of Indian fortune there with English batsmen generously helping the Indian bowlers remove them before the latter could get tired and look around for the non-existent backup. Dravid the captain could do with some praise coz’ he decided to field first without still being fully confident of ineptness of the English tail (Prior had a near match winning partnership with KP in the opening test)

Coming back to the follow on, if I had arranged rooms and pairings for players (like Dravid had) and found myself in a scarcely believable position in the series on the fourth morning of the Oval Test, I would gladly opt for any option of closing out any remaining risk of not winning the series even in exchange of my own chance to extend the lead. Throughout the series the Indian seam bowlers punched way above their height inspite of shoddy fielding support to their efforts (the latter led by Rahul himself). Rahul the skipper did not want this miraculously succeeding setup to be tested by the English professionals once too many.

In other words. Rahul played the 14th and 15th days of the series as if he was captaining an amateur cricket team on the verge of giant killing history. And I see no misinterpretation by Rahul there, for all the messages that the Board administrators directly or unwittingly sent to its players in recent times through its handing of the game and its burning issues scream and say ‘we are amateurs’.

In all the gung ho about Rahul’s timid decision making we recall having seen that decision by India on Australia at Sydney 2004. I supported it then, and I support it now. Yes, if this ‘timid’ ploy were to be adopted with the opposition 1-0 up I would have questioned it. That is the time for amateurs to take risks, isn’t it? And I would definitely have questioned it if this team with a lead were a profesional setup.

Interestingly in both the Oval and Sydney matches we might have won notwithstanding the defensive ploy but for fielding lapses. It’s been three and a half years and we still offer crucial let-offs just as merrily. Just as well; learning for mistakes is for professionals, not for teams picked by selectors doing their services on honorary basis.

Now can we stand up and appreciate the Indian players at all levels for what they achieve inspite of these hitches?

PS: I was a bit too harsh there – actually they were semi professionals playing under amateur administration. How else do you explain Rahul Dravid offloading important duties to other senior players and coming out triumphant? For the first time I wish guys like Sachin, Anil and Sourav retire immediately and kick out some of the BCCI ****ers functioning irrespective of place value much like those asterisks. I seriously back our players to do a better and more honest job of ruling Indian cricket any day.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Beaming coyly: Lee is Tendly but is Sree Gang-ly?

"If bowled deliberately there cannot be a more cowardly action on a cricket field; if bowled accidentally it is still potentially lethal. Either way it should incur an immediate one-match ban."

That's an unusually riled up Athers. Mukul Kesavan, in his tongue-in-cheek comparative statement of a post on cricinfo's "Men in White" blog, unveils to his readers that a 'Gimme the name and I'll give ya the rule' persona exists in even as impartial a bloke as Michael Atherton. Apparently the former England skipper had taken a far more lenient stand on Brett Lee's beamer in the Natwest finals 2 years back than the one he has now taken on Sreesanth's head-hunter during the Trentbridge Test last month.

But then who amongst us isn't like that? We all love to extend leeways, pun intended, to our favourites. In harsher terminology they call it nepotism, and people generally offer uncalled-for explanations for those acts [the Slater reference]. At least Athers chose his man well. Brett Lee must be the one player in this world beside Sachin Tendulkar that can induce even his greatest foe to swear about his inability to harbour physical ill will for ANYone at ANY point of time on the field. I, for one, am sure Brett Lee was unwitting.

Lee's sportiness aside, our interest in Mike Atherton's two comments on the beamer issue in the space of 750 days stem as much from the contrasting moods of the pieces as from their remarkably bipolar views. They came from two separate Athertons.

The Athers of 2005 was a big brother ready to trivialise an aspect of cricket that is considered 'dangerously unfair' and was relieved that Lee, a bowler not belonging to the English squad, was not punished for his beamer. The current av-ather, though, rates a largely similar beamer incident as a matter of life and death and is enraged by the inaction of ICC against the bowler. Is it all a matter of 'looking genuinely sorry after bowling it' as Mukul puts it? Is it all about personal liking for glorious individuals as I mentioned above? Or is it an expression of a still-existing white-brown divide? Maybe it is one of them, maybe not.

For there is a 4th possible reason. I remember a few occasions when certain dubious acts of Sachin - a good samaritan - had passed off without a question (his reaction to Rahul's declaration at Multan being the most prominent, in that it even received some support) even as far more frivolous acts of Sachin's then skipper would see observers, commentators and writers come out venting spleen at the latter, country and skin colour irrespective. It was not just the act but the audacity / nonchalance of it that seemd to irk the majority, as if they were unable to digest the gall of this guy who dared to be comfortable in the knowledge that cartloads of people were dying to see him falter.

This guy Sreesanth elicits starkly similar responses in many quarters. Strangely, and familiarly, he is quite okay with all of it. Time will tell if India have unearthed their Backwater Dada.

'Dada's can get under the toughest skins and build a house there.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

31st July: Magic Day

So many Days abound now-a-Days, why not one for magic? I propose 31st July to be christened "Magic Day".

I believe I have enough reason backing my demand. For starters it is the birthday of Harry Potter. That one's contrived, for it is also the birthday of JK Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter's magic.

31st July is also the birthday of reputed Indian magician, P C Sorcar Junior.

Not enough magic still? Well today is also the birthday, or 'Discovery day', of a country called Trinidad.

Apparently Columbus sighted the land on this day of 1498 AD. 501 significant years later a Wizard Prince from this land would choose to make one glorious March afternoon his own and conjure up arguably the greatest 4th innings batsmanship ever seen in a future ball game that would be worshipped like religion in the land Columbus intended to set foot on - India.

Here's a report from a newspaper from the Wizard's land.

I was fortunate to be in front of live television that night (in India). I remember Windies having lost 8 wickets with 60 runs remaining. That recall was confirmed by cricinfo's ball-by-ball commentary. West Indies were 8 down in the 5th ball of the 101st over, having lost 3 wickets in the previous 14 runs. At that point they were still 60 runs adrift of a win with Curtly Ambrose approaching the crease with a bat and only Courtney Walsh to follow.

Curtly Ambrose with a ball in hand was a perennially intimidating sight for batsmen taking strike. In those twilight years of the giant bowler's career, an Ambrose with a bat in hand was no less frightening a sight for batsmen at the non striker's end. I recall Lara's exceptional strike manipulation during that phase of play. I check up on that with the cricinfo commentary.

I find out that in all 19 overs and 2 balls were bowled by Australia after the fall of 8th wicket till Lara completed the surreal win with a cover driven boundary off Gillespie. In that period the West Indian captain managed to face about 73 balls, i.e. almost 2/3rds of the strike. This against a bowling side consisting of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill.

Gimme a break if you still think that was not enough Magic. A part of me, the blogger you know, is still unable to come to terms with the fact that this last mentioned magician's trade can never be seen again except in replays or in non-recognised national leagues in the East Indies.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Sunny opening, and Sach in trouble

This is cricinfo’s statistical reflection on a much-discussed failing of Tendulkar. Essentially it highlights Tendla's diminishing run return as a Test match progresses and the sheer predictability of his failure in the match 4th innings over the present decade.

Before blurting out a fresh curse for a struggling Sachin let us zoom out a little further on this issue. We need to see the stats with tempered emotions. We have to remember that the 4th innings generally sports a Test match pitch at its slowest – a condition more suited for the openers playing tired fast bowlers with a new ball (no reverse swing) than for middle order bats slotted to play spinners waiting eagerly for their business end.

By the time a number four or five batsman enters the crease in the last innings it gets decidedly more difficult to play the slower men or even the faster ones; by then they are gaining ascendancy bowling with a ragged ball on a bruised playing surface. The list of batsmen with best 4th innings batting averages in that cricinfo link just about confirms the supposition by featuring a multitude of batsmen from the top three, including the modern greats Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting.

The weightages are reversed in the match 1st innings (i.e. the first innings of the team batting 1st). A fresh fast bowler with a new ball on a new turf means openers are having all the problems while middle order guys are relatively happier Why not? They will face slower bowlers with a half-new ball on a settling pitch. The track and the ball lose a bit of hostility by the time they come in. Not the worst time to bat.

So for Sachin fans, here is the flip side. We compared the figures of Sunny and Sachin in the 1st match innings. Result: Sunny averages 42 while Sachin soars at 73. Looks like 1-1, eh?

There is another angle to that study that makes the comparison of two Indian greats even more intriguing: Gavaskar, a master opener, played in the era of great fast bowlers – the ones that made the non-striking end look like a distant dream to batsmen of Sunny's trade in the match first innings. Sachin, a middle order virtuoso, plays in the era of great spinners – the same ones that make a living out of twisting judgements of middle order batsmen in the match 4th innings.

Do we have to pass a verdict on the two greats? Here’s mine in case we have to: as far as performance (read batting average) in sternest conditions is concerned, Sunny’s worst is 41, barely 10 points below his career average. However the corresponding figure is 34 for Sachin – a whole 21 points less than his career return. Consistency-across-a-Test-match, thy name is not Sachin Tendulkar.

The net knowledge gain for us laymen from this exercise can be summed up with a slightly modified version of a famous Mumbai catchline:

“One-two ka 4, four-five ka 1”

In other words, batsmen 1 & 2 are likely to make most runs in innings no. 4 while batsmen 4 & 5 profess their love for innings no. 1.

Note: I still harbour this preference for Sachin playing on for another 4 years in ODI’s and withdrawing from Test matches without any further delay. He may score the odd big score but even his success at the crease is much less value for (i) these days even in his more successful 1st innings he keeps getting out for 60’s and 70’s and (ii) his earlier dominance of bowlers, that was worth a multilication factor of 1.5 to the actual runs scored, is not going to return. For the past year and half he has not done enough in Tests to keep claiming that number four position ahead of a promising (albeit cocky) talent, Yuvraj Singh.

Sachin may be already thinking hard on this. We had discussed this half a year earlier. The current series in England may turn out to be a decider for his Test future. Coming to think of it - can Sachin yet be our Test opener like.........


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Geoffrey, Gayle and a lost talent

Meet Kevin Mitchell, an endangered species - an English sports writer / ex player with some nice words to say about the sub continent's darling Sir Geoffrey Boycott. Okay, make that an English sports writer / ex player with any nice words to say about Boycs.

Sarwan thinks of Gayle's fill-in captaincy as 'outstanding'. Wish I had something to say on this but unfortunately I am completely off cricket these days (this is one helluva long hangover and I am seriously wondering...). It may sound weird but I update myself about the ongoing Indo-England Lord's Test only when someone else puts me to shame by asking for one (the poor guys still think of me as a cricket fanatic).

Wish the selectors and the antagonised WICB were thinking as much about Chris Gayle. Terms like 'Discipline' and 'Pride' - terms that Gayle will be the last person to represent or enforce in a team - are proven failures as motivators with the current West Indian lot. So maybe it is time to change the medicine and go looking for new words.

So how about getting them to win a few through 'Fun' and 'Relaxation' and then - when one day they stop going into matches with 'nothing to lose' - make them gradually aware of their place under the Caribbean Sun? Chris Gayle may not a bad choice if you are willing to let the boys work out their path to redemption. It may not work but that will be no decline.

The other day a Hindi news channel on the telly was covering a young ex-cricketer from Central India who had won every award in U-19 cricket but never got picked to represent his state. The boy left cricket to sustain himself. At present he works at a wheat grinding shop. The reasons for that missing call-up is unknown to him and he thinks 'paaltix' plays a role in the fading of talents like him. Was this the guy? I wish I could recall...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Normal Boring Genius

[This post was compiled nearly four weeks back but somehow I managed to defer pressing the 'publish' button.]

Now we know the guy that stalled Aakash Chopra's nascent international career in 2004. As Aakash confesses, it was
him again.

The other day Cyrus Brocha, TV anchor and arguably 'the original funny man of Indian Television', invited Glenn Donald McGrath to his cricket show on TEN sports. Among other things Pidge rated Lara 'slightly' ahead of Sachin as the best batsman he bowled against. Apparently Lara is the only one who has played him with a commendable degree of assurance over a period of time. Glenn, of course, remembered to add that he got Lara a mere 15 times to end the affair on 'his side'. That must have been humility for he was discussing someone he admired. No wonder batsmen cannot stand his sight or sound.

"People come to me asking for secret of my continued success expecting to learn a magic formula - and go back disappointed when I tell them they have to bowl 99 out of 100 deliveries at 'that' length hitting top of off stump."

"International cricket is all in the mind and it is better to keep things as simple as possible."

It's the unmistakable normal boring genius of Glenn McGrath, a man whose cockiness and foul mouth has always made the prudish side of me root for his rival batsmen, for the other team.

Normal, coz' those two statements and all their variants are done to death by commentating ex-players. An estimated 47.34% of those utterances have come while this tall Australian was in action.

Boring, coz' they are nothing that we would care to spend much time thinking about. We heard that crap long before we became self styled cricket pundits and it was only slightly less boring the first time.

Genius, coz' they are nothing that international bowlers other than this man and Curtly Ambrose have come close to achieving on so many occasions under telling pressure ever since I fell in love with cricket nearly a quarter of a century ago.

No wonder the selfsame bland words, emanating from his lips, sounded like holy mantras even to people that have hoped (against hope) to see him vanquished in his playing days.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Tale of Two Kings

Hi friends! It is quite a while since we had a chat - on matters non-cricketing!

Although I am a thorough Roger Federer admirer for precisely the things that make him and Pistol Pete 'boring', this article disappointed me. Perhaps because it chose only to read the concluding line of Roger Federer's epic battle with Rafael Nadal instead of summarising the once-in-a-generation story that unfolded on Centre court.

You would know better if you watched the match live. That news outline forgets to emphasize that virtually nothing separated the two protagonists. And that that tiniest of gaps was unthinkably in favour of the 'outsider'. The report reminded me of the celebration of Goran's emotional W-win in 2001, a heart warming event that sadly allowed for little mention of a lion-hearted Pat Rafter. Lion-hearted less for his stomach for a dogfight and more for the generosity he showed in words and deeds for his endearing rival after the classic was over. Such is sports coverage these days but such are sportsmen down the years.

Back to Sunday. I was silly enough to get busy with silly chores and miss this special event until late in the 4th set. But what was that for a fifth set!!! For the first time in a modern sport we have two Donald Bradmen at the same point of time instead of one, two players exhibiting sustained ability, versatility and temperament, not to mention results, that can put them distinctly ahead of other competition for an appreciable stretch of time. It reminded us of the Becker-Edberg classics in 3 successive Wimbledon finals of the 80's - but then Ivan Lendl used to be King in those days.

Federer was playing some elevated tennis even in the 4th set but seldom have his offerings on grass looked as pale in comparison to what came back from the other side of the tape. Serving was about the only thing Fed did better than Rafa. By the final set the defending champ had realised that he had to serve his way out of trouble and decided to gamble on putting pressure on it even on crucial, match deciding points.

Not for nothing has the Swiss gentleman won 11 Grand Finals finals and his superb serving under pressure has always played a part in it but never before on grass could he, a player of near-flawless faculties in most other aspects of shot making, be forced to believe that booming a few high-risk aces were his only resort. In his post match talk Federer himself was the first one to accept the great favour he needed and received from Lady Luck to get even with Bjorn Borg.

And such wonderful sportsmen those two guys are. Rafa showed no nerves under pressure and fought with gritted teeth and yet displayed a little lesson for grumpy sportsmen by taking the defeat sportingly. He flashed his disarming smile upon being told of the certainty of his triumph at Centre court in the coming years and acknowledged the supremacy of Fed on this particular occasion as befits a person assured of his own abilities and performance.

Fed, on the other hand, has seen enough in the last two finals to know that this 21 year old Spaniard is perhaps more certain to make the finals at his backyard next year than even him. He expressed relief at being lucky with his serves and extracting a win, with a clear hint that the pattern of last 5 years may not be a feature of coming Wimbledons if the young Nadal, armed 'with many more years', keeps on answering to the call of his talent.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

KP's excellent Test stats

"The second season is usually considered to be the toughest for an international batsman: opposing teams build up a database on his strengths and weaknesses, allowing bowlers to come back armed with plenty of strategies to ensure that the honeymoon period gives way more uncomfortable and harsher truths. With Pietersen, however, the reverse has been true: after averaging 44.93 in eight Tests in 2005, he scored 53.72 per innings in 14 Tests in 2006, while 2007 has been a veritable bounty so far - two hundreds, including a double, and an average of 86.20 in three Tests."

How a team's inconsistency can shadow an individual player's consistent brilliance. But for S Rajesh's
numerical revelation some of us were missing out on Kevin Pietersen's continued success against all top bowlers in the world since his debut. English supporters may argue that their team have not done too badly over this period but have hardly returned the Test results expected of a bowling side of their potential.

A few more years of this and Pietersen may find it difficult to retain his chirp. Some day when his team struggles yet again even as he sizzles he may feel the need to talk to an inversely dispositioned man with similar batting traits who faced the same predicament for over a decade in his marathon career - Sachin Tendulkar. I'm sure 'The Buddha of Cricket' can offer valuable insight on how he went about it without losing focus.

And just in case the paradox gets any longer than that, KP would do well to store the number of Brain Lara.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The man who blew it

Greg Blewett was a batsman of calibre and grace. One look at him trading his stuff and you would nod in appreciation of sighting a quality player armed with an unmistakably Australian batsmanship . Not cementing a place in the Australian team is an understandable regret for him as he quits first class cricket. It was not unfair though, because his performances wavered too badly to displace any of the players to sport baggy green for long periods over the past decade.

The abiding memory of this man must be his partnership with Steve Waugh in the 1st Test against Springboks at their backyard in 1996-97. The best fast bowling attack of the world were denied a wicket over a whole day's play. It was wonderous for Indian fans to see a young player score that series-defining double hundred at Jo'burg against a team that all but gobbled us up in our first test there, the Boxing Day Test of the preceding series a couple of months back. [For the record, India were all out for 100 and 66 in that match. That 66, however, had a memorable side gain for India - it highlighted the abilities of a fledgling Wall that remained unbeaten on 27 in the rout with all other batsmen returning single digits.]

In some ways Greg Blewett was quite like Stewart Law. Both appeared on the international cene during the late 90's when Aussies were steadily gaining ascendancy in both forms of the game. Both had a lot of obvious ability of the eye pleasing variety. Both were part time bowlers of the partnership breaking kind. And both failed to achieve the heights they looked like reaching when they started out.

It matters little though. Greg Blewett feels he has done his best, and that is all that he could do.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Best Batsman in Bangla

"I had confidence in Mashrafe [Mortaza]. To me, he is the best batsman in the team.." - Shahadat Hossain.

Exactly what I wondered about for a moment as I learnt of Mortaza's 4th day heroics against Indian bowlers. Since he made those head turning 30 odd runs to upset New Zealand in a World Cup warm up match Mashrafe Mortaza has shown more than decent batting ability whenever his team has needed it. His knack of knocking a furious cameo under pressure is the stuff of a genuine all rounder in his early days. While his methods will keep him miles away from the "Mr. Dependable" tag, his talent at belting leather makes itself obvious in innings after audacious innings.

I'm waiting for the day when Mashrafe is going to pull his team over the line against a big team in an actual ODI. Life will never be the same again for the young man as he will then be a star. Make no mistake, he is already a very good bowler. In his subcontinent though nothing succeeds like batting and ODIs.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Return of the jaded


I hope you still remember me. I can list a few reasons that have been keeping me away from regular blogging over the past month. Some of them are foolproof but I hate to lie to you so I must confess that the biggest reason is unfortunately a continuing lack of urge.

I am a quintessential blogger in the sense I just cannot make a post unless I feel like. For some mysterious reason I am totally blank in the mind at present. I cannot pinpoint the reason. It may have resulted from a sudden upping of ante on the job front, or from travelling distractions and family commitments for most of the past month. It may even be the brand new camcorder that is taking a lot of my spare time. More likely, the mind is still recuperating from the twin shock of Brian Lara's departure and Indian World Cup debacle.

Whatever be the reason, the end result is that no words or images fleet across when I think of making a cricket post. I do not remember a single instance over the past 2 years of blogging when "the bloggers' fog" has clouded my thoughts for such an extended duration.

So all that I can serve up is the link to a nice new blog I just found. It makes for good reading for cricket lovers, especially in India. Chances are you will like some of the posts in it.

Of all the posts I surfed through in that blog the part I loved most was a four line verse that whistles off an impassioned post in celebration of the return of Amit Bajaj's idol Sourav Ganguly to the Indian Test squad last December.

"...One man arrived to stop the kill,
With a bat of wood and a heart of steel."

Priceless. I wish these lines to kindle the hearth of a bankrupt blogger.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Every doc says she's sick and yet....

BCCI woke up like Kumbhkarn in the Ramayana (too late, that is) and declared they would be taking drastic steps. Soon they realised that they perhaps had already taken one of them by promising to act tough even before they had a plan in place. They subsequently called for suggestions to restructure Indian cricket from ex India skippers and asked them to meet. It was a second drastic step because till that date ex-skippers were a breed that got remembered only for medal distributions at jubilee celebrations of various state cricket boards and for filling up vacant NCA Director posts (the latter even had an elementary cut off criteria of 400 + Test wickets or 10000+ Test runs).

The invitations to ex-captains of Indian Cricket Team were official upon hindsight, because the ex-skips actually acted on it (the NCA issue need not be brought up again in this context). They met and solemnly came up with a few logical yet not-too-rare points. This post is not an exploration on the action points coming out of that meeting. Rather we take a look at some of the opinions that spontaneously came across in response to the distress signal that the invitation to skippers sent ever so silently to many who either love Indian cricket or love to think about it.

[For all you know that not-fully-cured infection of ABCD - Acute BCCI-ian Cyber Diarrhoea for the uninitiated - may have resurfaced at an appropriate time. In simple non-medical words, an invitation email for 'f1 Indian Cricket' may have customarily got leaked and ended up in mailboxes of an interesting cross section of cricket folk across the world.A decade or two will surely pass before that cyber disorder issue comes up on the BCCI uncles' list of 'drastic steps needed' areas.]

Here's a nice triplet of instances. Old Indian cricketer (& incisive cric blogger) V Ramnarayan, old Indian foe Allan Border [that constitutes another ABCD: Allan Border's Cricket Discussion] and old Indian friend John Wright have all come out with their perceptions of the do's and don'ts facing Indian cricket. These pieces are all roadmaps for Indian cricket circa 2007 with a surprising similarity of style. The likeness of presentation is all the more striking as they are coming from three dissimilar people separated in time, space and upbringing.

These articles, read over the past week or so, evoke a deep sadness in me. Those pieces incite a feeling that my dear IC is in the ICU and a set of three doctors, doctors that we think are pretty dependable and without malice towards the patient, are dropping in uninvited from various corners of the world to offer their take on the drastic steps needed to resuscitate the ailing patient. All of this happens while the officially appointed internal medics mull over an action plan to get their patient out of the precarious position.

The unison in opinion that these docs have with each other and with the internal medics is desperately bad news for all ears aching like mine to pick up the smallest bit of good news on this patient for quite some time now.

Sometimes you have to smile to yourself when no one else allows you to. So until the day there is reason for genuine rejoice I take delight to imagine what this sick patient can do to her craft if her vigour, even in this condition, is what the world still seeks to draw from.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Innovation XI

Chanced upon a different kind of one day XI on Will Luke's 'The Corridor'. It is not the best XI or the most successful XI. It is a Dream Team of XI guys that have contributed the most towards alteration of the international one day game for the better.

Across the decades since 1971 when the first official one day international match was played, each of these pioneers left a new taste to savour in the shorter version of the game with a distinctively unique and effective approach to his individual role.

Thus ends a cheaply peddled World Cup..

..when I am down to writing a blog post away from live television even as the final stages of a game no less than a Cricket World Cup final is being played out.

Scene 1: A damp morning awaits the World Cup Final. Play starts in the morning after a 2½ hour delay. The match is reduced to 38 overs a side even before a ball is bowled.

Scene 2: Chasing Australia's mammoth total of 281, Sanath Jayasuriya falls into the vicious trap of Duckworth Lewis. He eyes the rain clouds and senses that a rain interuption, possibly the last one, is round the corner. He desires to keep his team ahead. In trying to manufacture an ugly across-the-line swipe off the last ball of a Michael Clarke over he surrenders his wicket and sets Sri Lanka further back on the D/L chart after the loss of third wicket.

Scene 3: The 5th ball of the 25th over is bowled. Fairly dense droplets of rain are pouring for quite a while now. The pitch is getting mucky and the outfield / bowling run up gets more dangerous by the minute. However the batsmen Chamara Silva and skipper Jayawardene do not budge as that could mean the last of their team's hopes to win the cherished title. Umpires Steve Bucknor and Aleem Dar had hesitated on forcing a pause of play under the exceptional circumstances but now they decide enough is enough and call out for the covers.

Scene 4: The play resumes soon with two overs missing from the over quota available to Sri Lanka and the target reduced to 269. For the last few overs a couple of new-to-the-crease batsmen of a brave team making a valiant attempt to chase a steep target against the world's best side in the biggest and most watched cricket match of all have had the small additional worry of looking at the skies after every delivery as well as the 'parallel' scoreboard of M/s D/L for playing to two different game plans at the same time. One game plan is to win the game over the full distance, the other to stay ahead if rain interrupts the match.

All of this is actually taking place even though the tournament rules provide for a reserve day for EACH of the matches of the tournament. Unbelievable! When I first heard of the extra day during the group league matches I failed to appreciate the cricketing logic behind curtailing rain affected matches by more than 10 overs at any time earlier than the 2nd day. I still cannot reckon just how they could allow a final to be played under that same set of rules.

Perhaps remaining true to their ever-greedy selves that owe allegiance only to the telemedia & their sponsors, an all important group of entities that naturally want the matches to end on scheduled days, the rulemakers of International Cricket Council have decreed that:

(i) the reserve day is to be used "only if we have a match with any unfinished innings of less than 20 overs" for any of the sides; and that
(ii) the match starts afresh on the next day instead of the simple matter of completing an interrupted but full 50 over match over two separate days.

And who on earth would prefer that sort of painfully obnoxious enforcement of the word "one day" in "One Day Internationals" in exchange of a proper game of cricket? Who would refuse to even spare the Big Final that crap? Of course the self styled 'keepers of the game', the International Cricket Council.

As indicated in the previous mid-match post I had reckoned Sri Lanka to be overwhelmed by the concession of 30 odd extra runs to sublime big hitting skills of the Aussie wicketkeeper, runs that Adam Gilchrist had no business getting against a bowling side as good as the Lankans, runs that turned a potential nail biter into an expectedly one-sided affair barring an improbable 2nd miracle. However the speculation about the final margin - a fair one - is destined to remain just that as Sri Lanka, who unlike Australia had to suffer mid-innings downpours and consequently let a few crucial mid overs go by while they were helplessly torn between the two game plans, have been as badly hit by the ICC's rule makers as by that blinder from Adam Gilchrist.

Shame on you, ICC. Can you not just do us cricket lovers a favour by disappearing from the face of cricket? The game cannot seriously go on any worse by itself than it is doing at present under your central regime.

Update: These excerpts from cricinfo's text commentary sums the sad end to the people's World Cup aptly. Read on:

6.12pm The light's been offered and Sri Lanka have taken it - meaning Australia have won the World Cup again. They certainly deserve it and are huddling in celebration. A bit of a damp squib of an ending, which is of course fitting.

Now what's this? Aleem Dar is having a word with Australia, telling them they can't yet celebrate. Officially this match isn't over. You couldn't make it up. You don't have to.

And the farce continues! Now the stands for the ceremony have been brought on... and are off again, as the umpires shoo them away. My word.

6.17pm It's what is traditionally known as night. It is so dark but the umpires are now saying the match will continue. Heads should roll for this. The man is out putting the 30-yard circles back out. He needs a torch to do so. The batsmen are heading out to the middle accompanied by a guide dog.

6.30pm Congratulations to Australia who were the best team from the first match and maintained their relentlessly high standard throughout. Sri Lanka gave them a game but on the day came up just short.

There's a certain irony that cricket's four-yearly showcase ended in farce ... Australia, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and millions of spectators deserved more but given what has gone before today, it was almost inevitable. You can spin it all you like, this tournament has not done the game any favours and people at the top, if they had any decency, would be contemplating their futures. But we all know that won't happen.

[cross posted on Desicritics]

Adam Gilchrist's Green Mile

We are into the lunch break of the 2007 Cricket World Cup final. Even if the break were to be of 10 hours instead of ten minutes I would be groping for words to describe that innings. I have decided that I will rather let this collage of images from various points of the Gilchrist innings. These can narrate what transpired till the 31st over of the Australian innings of The Final better than words ever would.

10.2 (ov): The first powerplay is over. Sri Lanka have restricted the Aussies to a rather low 1st Powerplay score of 47 in a 38-overs-a-side winner takes all encounter. Dilhara Fernando smiles ruefully as he failed a collect a very low c&b chance from Adam Craig Gilchrist, then batting on 31. The next three balls disappear for 4, 4 & 6.

22.2 (ov): Malinga bowls an inswinging near-yorker (outswinging for Gilly) that pitches on leg-n-middle and threatens to split the gap between bat and pad through late movement to hit off stump until Gilly, already predetermined for a big hit, still manages to make a little adjustment to middle the ball for a straight four over the bowler’s head. An international batsman on another day or even another international batsman on this day would be mighty pleased just to survive that one. [cricinfo text commentary: “Where did that come from?”]

30.3 (ov): Adam Gilchrist skies a riser from Dilhara and Chamara Silva take the catch at mid on. Gilchrist departs for 149 off 104 balls. It makes the incident from 10.2 the turning point of the match.

If you are about to write off the Sri Lankan bowlers for having conceded 281 in 38 overs think again. A mere 109 runs were scored off the 129 balls faced by other Australian batsmen. That is very good against this batting side in a 38 over match. Add an Andrew Symonds coming in at the slog and scoring just 2 boundaries in nearly eight overs of stay and you’ll think that the Australians finally met their match. It all, however, came to nought because Gilly rattled up 149 runs from the 104 deliveries he faced.

Just how special was it? I reckon that return of 149 to be at least 30 runs more than what any Australian batsman in prime form (including Gilchrist himself, perhaps) could have recorded against this bowling. Gilchrist hit no less than 8 sixes and 13 fours and yet so many of the shots went in and around the ‘V’.

From whatever we know of the man, Adam Gilchrist will be speculating hard during the lunch break on announcing his ODI retirement today in the event of Australia pocketing their third successive World Cup title.

My vote is on a ‘yes’. And so it should be.

Quote of the day: Adam Gilchrist hit his seventh six off the first ball of Sanath’s 27th over and took a single off the next ball. Ricky Ponting played out two dot balls and then another one. Michael Holding observed: “That’s a nice ploy by Sri Lankans, to keep Ricky Ponting on strike. You never thought you would ever hear it, did you?”

[cross posted on Desicritics]

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cricinfo's Magnificent Six

What do you do when the Biggest Cricket Match in four years starts off 2½ hours late? Regale yourself with gems from cricinfo text commentary. Today the Cream of Cricinfo are doing the star turn at live text commentary and already they are off to a better start than the match itself:

8.30am Good morning and welcome to our coverage of the ninth World Cup final. Teams, toss and all that stuff to follow shortly. We have all our commentary team in action today, so it will be a mix of me, Martin Williamson, Sriram Veera, Will Luke, George Binnoy, Jenny Thompson and Siddhartha Vaidyanathan. If this was a group stage match we would outnumber the crowd.

The delay is apparently no good for the ICC either. The tele channels have found the easiest and most acceptable way of biding the intervening time.

10.20am Sadly for the ICC, the delay is giving several TV stations the chance to savage the format of the competition. And they are really piling in. Back at the ground, the crowd are being pretty patient. Lots of beach-balls bouncing around the Aussie contingent. They are probably seeking asylum from the Gabba fun police.

47 days were clearly not enough. If you are an avid reader of the hugely popular blog The Corridor run by Will Luke you will learn today about the reason behind its McGrathesque, restrictive (or economical) name:

11.10am "I don't like cricket," sings Jenny. " I really hate it." Not quite what 10CC (or the ICC) had in mind, but she has a point. We have eaten the entire day's biscuit supply already. The covers, meanwhile, are as stuck in place as Will's hand in his pocket when it comes to buying a drink. "I'm not tight," objects Will, before admitting that he has not bought anyone a beer since Sri Lanka last held the World Cup.

I'm expecting more from the Sexy Six at cricinfo's commentary box all along.

The Final Match-up

Since waking in the morning I wanted to carry out a stats study of the three best bowlers and four best batsmen from each of the finalists to guess what to expect from the World Cup final. The match is going to start in a few minutes from now (7 pm IST) and I finally get the time to do it. The cricinfo folks have done some job on Australia-Sri Lanka encounters from the past. Their study firmly reiterates that Sri Lankans have a dismal record against Australians, particularly so in the World Cup.

But then so much has changed in the last year or two. We have a Sri Lanka that has played exceedingly well outside Sri Lanka for one year now, one that has the best depth and width in bowling resources. Equally we have an Australian side that has shown over the last 11 matches that their batsmen can go the extra yards and even dwarf their already lofty standards to cover up for any perceived weakness in bowling.

I have a simple plan for comparative measurement of bowling and batting strengths of the two sides. We sample them from their last 15 matches. Since 70% of those have been played in the World Cup, the current form of these players gets adequately reflected in this sample. At the same time the temporary troughs and exceptional circumstances facing a few players (e.g. Mike Hussey never got a decent opportunity to express himself this Cup) get slightly evened out by extending the sample a few games prior to the World Cup.

The prime criteria of judgement for bowlers is, as always, wickets. Runs, for batsmen. However to get a fairer picture of the player performances we would modify the wicket tallies of bowlers with a factor inversely proportional to their economy rates. For the batsmen we will modify the run aggregates with the factor of their batting strike rates. So here are the basic rules:

Bowling: We take the top three bowlers of one side. We divide the wickets taken by each in the last 15 matches with his economy rate (expressed in ratio of six – i.e. an economy rate of five will be 0.833 and so on) for the period and add the resulting modified figures for the three. We do the same for the other side and compare them.

Batting: We take the top three batsmen of one side. We multiply the runs made by each in the last 15 matches with his CAREER strike rate on date (expressed in ratio of hundred – i.e. a strike rate of 80 will be 0.8 and so on) and add the resulting modified figures for the four. We do the same for the other side and compare them.

[Filtered strike rates of players for recent matches are not readily available. We are therefore forced to make do with career strike rates]

We are not taking up a fielding comparison. In pre world cup previews I rated these two as comparable fielding sides and their performances from the world Cup indicate as much.

SL – bowling

Lasith Malinga: 28wkts @ 5.17 ~ 32.5
Chaminda Vaas: 23 wkts @ 3.35 ~ 41.2
M Muralitharan: 31 wkts @ 3.80 ~ 48.9
Total: 122.6

Aus – bowling

Glenn McGrath: 29 wkts @ 4.57 ~ 38.1
Nathan Bracken: 22 wkts @ 4.11 ~ 32.1
Shaun Tait*: 28 wkts @ 5.47 ~ 30.7
Total: 100.9

[*played only 14 matches so far]

Bowling Strength Analysis: The Sri Lankans are holding a slight edge there, 21.5% precisely. The Aussies do have an in-form left arm slow bowler (Brad Hogg) as their 4th bowler but Sri Lanka are equal to it. Their crisis man is Sanath Jayasuriya of the left arm slow-medium-fast variety.


SL – batting

Sanath Jayasuriya: 500 runs @ 90.73 ~ 454
Mahela Jayawardene: 570 runs @ 76.07 ~ 434
Chamara Silva: 501 @ 72.70 ~ 364
Kumara Sangakkara: 419 @ 74.3 ~ 311
Total: 1563

Aus – batting

Matthew Hayden: 927 runs @ 78.6 ~ 729
Ricky Ponting: 850 runs @ 80.24 ~ 682
Andrew Symonds: 340 runs @ 92.23 ~ 314
Adam Gilchrist: 371 runs @ 96.12 ~ 357
Total: 2082

Batting Strength Analysis: Aussies hold a 33.2% edge there. This value is significantly more than the 21.5% deficit in the boeling analysis. Also these figures do not take into account the increased batting strike rates exhibited by Hayden and Ponting in the present tournament in comparison to their overall strike rates, or else the batting would have looked even more of a mismatch.


If the number crunching is beginning to put you off then just dwell on this: Mike Hussey is no more amongst the top four Australian batsmen for being reduced to an unknown quantity in WC’07. However Sangakkara, also going thru a dip of form (and having no excuses of exceptional circumstances like Hussey) since the Super Eights, still qualifies amongst the top four SL players.

Sri Lanka will need one last World Cup ton from the blade of Sanath Jayasuriya to bridge that gap. For all the wizardry of Murali, he has only ten overs to bowl and Australian batsmen are quite unlike Indians and New Zealanders in that they know it.

1) Huzaifa, for correcting me merely two days back that the final happens to be on the 28th of April and NOT 29th
2) The rain in Barbados, for letting me complete the post without missing the match!

[cross posted on Desicritics]

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Big Swim - Where My Heart Still Goes On

Disclaimer: All characters in the story are fictional. Any similarity with anyone living or dead is purely coincidental.


April 24, 2007: It is the 43rd day of our trip. An amazing cool day awaits me on the breezy deck of the cruiser. It is an irresistible combination, always provoking a liberating sensation in the midst of the sea. You feel on top of the world, another world.

Let me introduce myself first.

On second thoughts I do not matter here. Let's say I'm a lot like The Anci.. OK, it is the third millenium so it is proper to say that I am like Jack Dawson of Titanic the movie minus his Rose. I had my Rose too but..

I walk ahead and stand near the tip where the railings from both sides of deck meet. This place floods me with memories. My Rose used to stand on this railing with both hands stretched out like wings and eyes closed, dreaming of flying like a proud albatross. A childlike joy dripped from her countenance when she emulated Titanic's Rose or the albatross - I'll never know - and I loved her for it. Fifty feet below where I stand, the cruiser is cutting through the cold seawater at a leisurely pace. It is following four guys that are swimming in the ocean for an ever-nearing destination ahead. Those guys are Oz, Kwi, LionL and SpBok, in descending order of their ranking positions in the quadrennial Big Swim.

The guys are participating in a month-and-half long swimming challenge of several rounds spread across seven seas. The Final Destination is now just five days ahead. I am holding the pre-trip prediction sheet where 90 days ago I jotted down four prospective winners from the starting lot. My heart still wants to take one last look at the piece of paper before jettisoning it with other redundant paraphernalia into the milky turbulent trail of the four valiant swimmers that is being continously devoured by our dogged vessel like a never-ending noodle.

The four names were noted down in large fonts and fourth one was later touched up in a loving red hue. A sprinkling of gold from the morning sun today makes that name look nearly as beautiful as the person herself. I had backed Oz, Green, LionL and my Rose, in that order of ranking, to remain in the hunt when the final week began. Green inexplicably got off at the first port and the other, the love of my life, sank into the depths soon thereafter. But Kwi and SpBok, two of the next three on my rating charts, managed to stay on board. (I had rated Kwi and Windz joint 5th and SpBok 7th.)

Immune to logic, I pick up the pen and circle off the two lost names on the sheet to write Kwi and SpBok above them with a strange introspection. I peep across the sheet at the four moving images challenging the wavy sea in the distance. SpBok was the crowd favourite to win the challenge at the outset. I dedicate a silent round of applause to him for doing better than I thought but his swim (so far) has been more of the seasick guy from my predictions than the prospective champ he was made out to be. Not too many people around would argue that SpBok would have been following the Big Swim on his bedroom telly this weekend if even one of Green and Rose could have stayed on for a half-decent duration instead of letting two valiant but inexperienced prize fighters called Bong and Irlos take their places in 11 of the 24 Swims in the Super Round. If..

The caressing breeze stops abruptly. Logic intervenes along with the smell of rotten fish being thrown out from the deck. My Trance of Lost Romance is broken. Soothsayer designates are not permitted any 'if's. All that reasoning and ranking counts for nothing when two of the four contestants you had backed to be swimming into the last week are out and down by Day 10 of 48. No droplets of mercy for my dead prophecy ever welled up as all the talk of 'two bad days' went around the deck. The format was circulated well ahead of the swim and I laid my bets knowing full well of the rules, the scheduled face-offs and their pitfalls.

There goes my prediction sheet into the ocean. It gets wet rather quickly and sinks. The blue embraces the red Rose and takes her home. I repent not making a boat or swan out of it like childhood days. It could have floated a while longer in the ocean and sung a final song before going down.

April 25, 2007: LionL has eliminated Kwi in the one-on-one challenge last night. The bout between Oz and SpBok is scheduled for tonight. Only one of the two winners gets to complete the swim in the swim-to-finish thereafter. In four days we'll know who gets to stand on the railing with both hands stretched out like my Rose when the ship reaches the Final Destination cheered by admiring onlookers.

The winner will no doubt have earned the applause by dint of stamina, bravado, hard work and good luck. However by then the faithful cruiser ship would have done enough to get a fair share of the applause because strangely the journey has been tougher for the lifeless ship than the living, breathing, struggling and retiring contestants in this edition of The Big Swim.

[Cross posted on Desicritics]

Monday, April 23, 2007

That's all folks - no more Lara!

You are on a week long all-expenses-paid trip to the Hawaiian islands. You wake up on the 5th morning at Honolulu only to get a message from your sponsors that your trip is aborted with immediate effect.

Or, you move out of town for five days to attend a wedding at a remote area. You come back in town and learn that the one cricketer you hated to miss even for a single game has played his last in all forms of the sport.

The former is more shocking, if only because you did not see it coming. But then it only takes a few curses and a smooth passage back home to a happy family to forget all about it. Try emptying the gallons of regret oozing from a fan’s heart when the rarest batsman - a combo version of the greatest and the most attractive in at least three decades of cricket - bids adieu without so much as giving the fan a chance to stand up and applaud his idol when he departs for the last time.

The only time I saw him from the stands of a cricket ground was way back in 1994 in a tri series final at Eden Gardens. He scored something like a blob in it. But no one can take away the memory of those few hours of live cricket watching till the wee hours inside a hotel room 1000+ miles away from home when he scored that 153 not out to win the third test against Australia in 1999. It felt unbelievable then, and it still is hard work to believe that someone – even Brian Charles Lara - actually scripted a win in those circumstances.

This is a farewell post, but one where I am going to quote someone else’s words all along. It’s not as if I am unwilling to write one of mine but fortunately Rahul Bhattacharya has already given his masterly words in
this cricinfo piece published ahead of Lara's last match to most of the clumsily compiled points you would have found in an 'original' post of mine. Most exactly similar to my thoughts is this one:

I also came across a short note on the message boards of minutes after the understated announcement of retirement. "My hero since I was a very young boy. I've followed his career since de afro days at Fatima. Missed classes to watch him bat. This is a sad day for me."

It is for me too, because Lara's batsmanship was the greatest pleasure I derived out of cricket in the last two decades along with the bowling of Wasim Akram and I could have watched the game if they alone played it in the field.

That Rahul piece has so many gems on offer that I cannot resist quoting them here.

On Lara’s relatively lesser success in one day cricket:

He bows out now in a one-day match but it was not his preferred stage. Though his magical wrists, his intuition for gaps, his talent at going aerial were all suited to one-day cricket, not so the scale. The canvas was too small. Lara was of odysseys. He liked to get in, bat one, two days, score two, three, four hundred runs. Before such calibre, the limitations of one-day cricket were too petty.

On Lara’s brilliant backlift:

Having been unlucky in that way, it is from a one-day match that I have the best memories of watching Lara live. This was in Trinidad last year. The position was carefully determined so as to find the most unfettered view of that great big glittering backlift and wind-up. We settled somewhere between wide long-off and extra cover. Till he closed the issue with triumphant sixes off Harbhajan Singh, he played an innings of hard grit. So it was an hour or two of watching him size it up and really it was all I wanted to watch.

There comes a point in the Lara wind-up when all the game seems frozen. He is bent climatically at the knees, bat, as the cliché' has it, raised like a guillotine, eyes trained down the pitch and, surely, given his knack for reading of spin and swing, at the bowler's wrist. Insofar as the life of a cricket stroke goes, this is the fatal moment, the hairline between death, glory and a day at the office.

It is perhaps not normal to think of cricket shots in those terms. Yet nobody could make the spectator more alive to these possibilities. Nobody could pack so much drama, meaning in every shot of cricket. Consequently nobody could so illuminate the point that this is a sport of such independent events, of an infinite number of worlds. Nobody, for better or for worse, could so strongly confirm that this here is the ultimate individual sport played by a team.

On ‘the’ 153 not out:

Five years ago after a fair chase I did a satisfying interview with him. He told me a little story behind the 153 not out against Australia, perhaps his defining work in a career full of defining works. You remember the scenario, pay dispute, 0-5 in South Africa, 51 all out in the first Test, and then the brilliant double hundred to level the series before the classic Test at Bridgetown. A school friend, Nicholas Gomez, had presented him a Michael Jordan book. In it Jordan had spoken about his visualisation techniques. "I remember calling Gomez at six o'clock in the morning, the last morning of the Test match, and we went about planning this innings against the best team in the world." This was Lara's focus upon arousal, and if it deserted him he always found it back, and in the waxing and waning there was something reassuringly cyclical as it was frustrating.

On Lara’s Lara:

Nobody twinkled his feet so and angled his blade so and keep hitting gaps like Lara, an intuition sharpened in childhood when he arranged pots as fielders to practise. In 2003 a man at deep midwicket was taken out and put beside another behind point. This comes from Adam Gilchrist in The Australian a couple of seasons ago. "Mistake," hissed Lara. Next ball Lara lofted to midwicket for six. Gilchrist taunted Lara to take on the two men behind point instead. Lara strung it between them for four. Next ball was straighter, Lara backed away and strung it through again. Best remain silent now, Gilchrist then decided. This was to demonstrate precision of his skill. But I particularly liked "mistake". 'You don't know what I can do?' was the strut. That is the Lara motif.

And finally this:

Nobody made the game look better and few ever played it better. So look hard on Saturday because we may not see the likes of this again and if we do we can think back to Lara and smile.

I personally thank Rahul Bhattacharya for doing this article on his idol and mine. It befits a most special cricketer. I feel no need to add any more to what he has already said except that I was denied that chance to look hard at this incomprehensible creature on Saturday. It is as if Lara ran me out.

Cricket lovers from some future era will be thankful that television technology had made reasonable progress by the time Brian Charles Lara came to the scene. For this man is far, far beyond the scope of explanation through the numbers he leaves back against his name. Batsmen unworthy of comparison to him in genius have left (and will continue to leave) better figures of career achievement. Brian Lara is virtually the sole cricketer that makes the stats-happy person in me feel ashamed of even existing.

If anyone is still interested in having a peek at Lara's story in numbers here’s a
statistical career summary of Lara. Rahul finds the man in his figures:

Lara batted with sensual beauty and gluttonous appetite. To watch him move into position was to already understand the possibilities of this game. To study his figures was to marvel the scope of his conception. He made the most runs in an over, an innings, a career. Anything anyone did he did bigger.

It's all over folks. Now maybe we can stop bickering over what Prince Charles Lara of the Brian name could have been off the field and revel in the legacy of all that he chose to unravel on it.