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.