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..