Saturday, October 24, 2009

Still the team to beat

For the last few years we are speculating on the decline of Oz from their lofty standards. Much of it is true.

"Australian cricket team is on a downward spiral" - I bet you heard that before. They lost major players in a succession. The other teams were catching up. Their two major contenders for the top position, India and South Africa, were taking turns at putting the once invincible Kangaroos on a frying pan. 2008 was a particularly bad year for them.

This is October 2009. They have beaten South Africa in their own backyard earlier this year. The away Ashes was once again a poor campaign for the 'declining team'. They did excellently in the ODI series against the old foes though. The mid-year struggle returned to haunt them at the T20 World Cup. They fared poorly.

But then they came back and grabbed the ICC Champions' Trophy while the other two major contenders struggled. The just concluded Champions' League T20 Cup at India also had a similar story to unveil. Home teams (Indians) struggled and petered out before semis. South African Cobras were upstaged by dark horses Trinidad & Tobago - oh-so-familar. New South Wales, from Down Under, stole the thunder and ended up at the finishing line.

Australia's Test supremacy is no more a given. There was not an iota of that awe-inspiring dominance of recent past in their Oneday or T20 wins of 2009. Their form has been on a swing ever since the Glenn-Shane combo walked away into their glorious sunset.

Yet they still are the team to beat. Dhoni and his men would have done a world of good to their abysmal limited overs performances of past 3 months if they manage to put up a good show against this team. And he will do well for himself if he can take a few tips on his opposite number Ricky Ponting on how to 'turn tides'. Ricky hasn't quite done it as grandly as that term suggests, but he has done enough to keep the hope afloat for his team and have his mates believing that they are still at the top. That is what you need for your next moment of glory.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Spirited cricket

NDTV were interviewing Lalit Modi and Ravi Shastri on the exciting prospects of Champions' League T20. Rahul Dravid joined in the interview. Though ke kept looking like a fish out of water in the interview aimed at exhorting the newest thing in cricket's entertainment avatar, Rahul came up with the two best quotes of the session.

Rahul reflected back on the way his T2o team Bangalore Royal Challengers (BRC) had come back from being down and out at half way stage to reaching the IPL2 finals. Lalit Modi took this opportunity to pay compliments to Rahul's cricketing abilities in his self-styled vocabulary, mentioning that Bangalore Royal Challengers were such a bad shape at half way stage only because Rahul was away at the time 'having a baby'.

Rahul is good at hiding his spontaneous expressions. We know that from his countless post-defeat press conferences as Indian captain. We could not trace if he pulled back a chuckle at Modi's words but he certainly returned a good line of his own: "Some things are more important than cricket."

A while later, the interviewer asked Rahul about his team owner, liquor baron Dr. Vijay Mallya. There is a background to that question. Ugly incidents followed the bad show of BRC in the inaugural IPL, eventually leading to sacking of Rahul as skipper in IPL2. Rahul again managed to hold back and yet not sound boring. He said a few words which went like: "He wants us to play in the right spirit. Spirit is the key word here."

One of these days, Royal Challengers may just happen to collect the maximum points for gentlemanly conduct on the field in some T20 tourney. That won't be surprising at all with Anil Kumble as the team skipper. As a result we may actually find Dr. Mallya accepting the spirit of cricket award at an ICC awards function.

Far from the dais and away from his candle-lit table at the awards nite, the first BRC skipper would be guffawing away uninhibitedly in front of a wash room mirror even if he might have won nothing.