Sunday, February 28, 2010


The scene: a gynaecologist's waiting room in a hospital pouplar with Indian expats.
A young couple waiting for the doctor along with another girl who appeared to be the husband's sister .
Some pensiveness, nervous smiles and intermittent chatter amongst the three.
At one point the faces of the trio lit up with pure joy and all traces of their earlier restlessness vanish for the next couple of minutes.The wall mounted TV was on 'mute' but there it was the story of the Double Hundred.
Such has been your effect on Indians no matter time and place.
We are fortunate to have you on our side and we ask for nothing more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Statesman

One one side there is the current crop of Indian cricketers - cliche spouting robots, whose responses are a hash of "obviously", "of course", "bowl in right areas" & "played my natural game".
On the other side of the spectrum, you have the unique Virender Sehwag, who talks the way he bats.
There are two other gentlemen, whose remarks need careful introspection and repeated reading. Aakash Chopra is one. The statesman is the other. Read, listen and enjoy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

What I liked about it

Having watched one of the more gripping Day5s in recent times, here are some thoughts.

What I liked:

1. The fact that the win was achieved with 3 bowlers and Viru was biggest takeout for me. What they can do with three, they ought to do with four. The five bowler theory can be buried till Irfan is back in the thick of things.

2. Harbhajan bowling like the ought to do. No, I am not talking about the five-fer. The lines he bowled and the willingness to give the ball air (no doubt taking courage from a 350 run cushion) have redeemed him - partially - for now.

3. Mishra's response to criticism. No chest thumping. No targeted abuse at media men on anyone. Just the wickets of Smith, Kallis and AB. Thank you very much. He had to run to and hug MSD after those wickets, dint he ;-) The confidence MSD seemed to have in him (or was it compulsion) rubbed off on Mishra. The googly came out well on occasions as compared to Nagpur where it went into cold storage.

4. Usual suspects - Viru, SRT and VVS delivering when it mattered. The first two named gents perhaps feeding of the presence of the third. Viru's hundred was initial offensive. Sachin's was an "another day at office" kind of knock. VVS and MSD stuck the knife in when it mattered. While Sachin has the Damocles sword of ODI world cup which he needs to tick off from his list, VVS has no such agenda. He plays for the sheer pleasure. Count the number of 60s and 70s on his stats page and we will know that here is another who could have finished with 25 Test Hundreds today instead of 15.

5. Ishant repaying the faith kept by his captain. It is not to say that he has recovered his bowling mojo. Why, that spell of short pitched stuff to Amla (on which the momentum turned) was grossly overdone with all the menace of my neighbour's cat. But, boy, did he run in and give it everything, like he always did. While Sreesanth may have possibly given more wickets, there is no guarantee that he would have kept his head on such a day. Hence, despite his awful control and the pace that is now in the low - mid 130's , I would say Ishant grew up today and became a man.

6. Lance Klusener and Venkatesh Prasad. There was no jingoism or malice. Just thoughtful comments and good grace. Venky seemed to get over his awe of Sunny Bhai with passage of time. Zulu had a shy smile when he talked up South Africa's chances. Now, if only they could stop saying "We".

What I hated:

1. Harbhajan's horrendous celebratory run and the obnoxious post match comments. Enough has been said and written about this over-rated bowler. He shot off his mouth yet again with a rant that was as tasteless as it was opportunistic. Similarly, the fact that he is playing to the galleries should not distract attention from the fact that he turns in this kind of performances once in a blue moon.

2. The dissing of Mishra in some quarters - stuff like "big boots to fill" and "he will never run through a side". Give him the confidence and the chances. A leg spinner is rare in cricket and we have two guys in Mishra and that young bulldog Piyush Chawla who have shown calibre. And like good Indians and we are too eager to brand and consign them to the dustbin. Ask South Africa how difficult it is to get a classy spinner. Ask Sri Lanka if Mendis Season 2 was as effective. Ask England what a difference Graeme Swann has made. Why are we so bent on self flagellation? Stick with him. He will deliver.

3. Many people pronouncing Badrinath as "not good enough". I know the guy's body language sucks and is a wallflower for most part, but give him the Sri Lanka series and let us see. For all we know, if the nightwatchman had gone ahead of him on Day 2, it could have been his day along with VVS. Did we not see in Nagpur that he has the mettle? Patience, people - he may not make than 15 ball 35 in an IPL quickie, but what little I saw suggests that he is Test class. The fab four did not happen in one day.

4. The obsession with Ranking. Let us see the Ranking for what it is. A status based on the points system that reflects current position. The channels, the commentators and everyone else seemed to go on and on about it.

5. The fact that one person who needed to make the biggest impression in this series made if for the wrong reason - dropping Hashim Amla. Murali Vijay was incessantly talked up by people. He seems 'to belong' unlike Badri, but did not have the bloodymindedness to make it count. He and not Badri was the replacement for RD and it is for that reason that he will rue this series as a missed opportunity.

Sad home truths

This post started off as a congratulatory post for the Indian team for a professional display in Kolkata. As I was reviewing some past results, I thought of doing an exercise, just of the heck of it.
A venue-wise list of Tests, ODIs and T20s staged at some major venues in India from 2007 till date.
Test - Australia 2008
Test - England 2008
ODI - Australia 2009
T20 - Sri Lanka 2009
Test - South Africa 2008
Test - England 2008 (Originally Mumbai)
ODI- West Indies 2007
T20 - Yet to host one
Test - Pakistan 2007
Test - South Africa 2010
ODI- Sri Lanka 2007
ODI- Sri Lanka 2009
T20 - Yet to host one
Test - Pakistan 2007
Test - Australia 2008
ODI - Australia 2007
ODI - England 2008
T20 - Yet to host one
Test - Sri Lanka 2009 (Brabourne)
Test - England 2006 (Wankhede)
ODI - 2006 ICC Champions Trophy (Brabourne) One among 3 venues with 5 ODIs
ODI - Australia 2007 (Wankhede)
T20 - Australia 2007
Test - Pakistan 2007
Test - Australia 2008
ODI - Australia 2009
ODI - Sri Lanka 2009
T20 - Yet to host one
OK OK Delhi is not a 'Major' venue in that sense. But that is the fault of the DDCA and not the paying public
Alright, what does the above show us that we already do not know.
The good lawyer, who until 2007 did not even have a passport, became the BCCI President in 2008. And then....
Test - Australia 2008 (Jamtha)
Test - South Africa 2010 (Jamtha)
ODI - West Indies 2007 (VCA)
ODI - Australia 2007 (VCA)
ODI - Australia 2009 (Jamtha)
ODI - Sri Lanka 2009 (Jamtha)
T20 - Sri Lanka 2009 (Jamtha)
I long for the good old '90s when the ODIs went to the Rajkot/Guwahati/Jamshedpur and the three tests were played at Eden, Chepauk and Wankhede.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

We knew it all along Mickey

It is known to all that Mickey Arthur is no longer the South African coach. So, when he bags a player in the Indian line up, it is not likely to be 'psychological warfare' but an honest opinion from a man who was till now an opponent.
Anyway, what Arthur says here and here is public knowledge. Just that the men who matter - Srikkanth, Dhoni, Sachin and Gary Kirsten - choose to play ostrich. Arthur goes on to talk about the need to be honest. Pigs may well be flying.

PS: The Turbanator strikes back , not at Arthur but at the doubting Thomases like me. After all, he is India's No 1 spinner.

PS 2: Ram Mahesh of 'The Hindu' gets him here. I hope this is an indicator of things to come and Bhajji is deservedly kicked out of the team for good

PS 3: The TOI is on it as well. There is some momentum now

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No pain no gain

An innings defeat in this context is not as bad a result as it looks.

While it is true that the selection was questionable on many fronts, it would be unfair to blame the selectors alone for the result.

Three reasons for that:

0. Perhaps THE best spell of fast bowling seen in recent times. Dale Steyn , in days to come would rank alongside Allan Donald for the sheer intensity and impact. He will have ordinary days too, but every now and then he will produce such a series deciding spell. RD and VVS may have been around and the result may still have been no different. No shame in that. With Morkel and Parnell looking the part, South Africa look set to dominate.

1. Although the selection of fringe men lacked the totality that ought to be in a team - Mithun and Tyagi in the squad with neither realistically with a chance of being in the playing XI - the core team (under circumstances) still picked itself and they have played against RSA before. Saha was a questionable selection and the next time we may see him on NEO as a "former test cricketer" but the kid did himself no disgrace in the second innings and can walk with his head held high. Not his fault that he finds himself in the playing XI. Anyway that's what he is supposed to aim at. I can't fool myself that Rohit would have lasted as long as Saha did. In that sense, a major cause for defeat failing of the 2 of 3 main batsmen, Sachin and Gambhir, (As far as I am concerned, the jury is out on Dhoni as a test batsman) when they were needed to dig in.

Similarly, no matter who the fringe picks may have been, the 4 bowlers in the starting XI would have been no different - we have seen enough of MSD to come to that conclusion - save the Mishra - Ojha musical chairs game. It is Ishant and Durby who let the team down after Zak's twin strike. ( Let us cut some slack for Mishra who I must say has been shabbily treated in Dhoni's tenure ). And neither Ishant nor Durby is a fringe-man.

And how are India going to beat their nemesis at home when both the main batsmen and bowlers go AWOL?

2. Poor tactics

There would have been several key phases over 4 days and three innings but I must say here that India played some poor cricket in key moments.

Day 2, Kallis batted himself into a rut allright, but India would have realised the pressure on him. I could not see a concerted attack on him - like Durby to Ponting in the second innings in Bangalore 08. True that Kallis still managed to get himself out and true also that Ponting got away on that occasion, but by and large, Kallis was allowed to play his own game. There were not enough men crowding the bat and talking about Jason Gillespie.

Much has been said about Sehwag's brain fade in both the innings. The first innings was, naturally, more crucial. Another 50 runs between him and Badri and South Africa would have been on the run. Contrary to what Shastri and others may say, Viru is truly a thinking cricketer and is not credited enough for his smarts. Hence, his modes of dismissal are galling.

Another point which is being made in the popular sphere is about the lines Paul Harris bowled and how it tied down the batsmen. I beg to differ.

Such lines can be combated. Sehwag showed how to play Ashley Giles and VVS showed how to deal with Shane Warne (Warne is 10 times the Giles and Harris put together. Why I include him in the comparison is essentially because he too bowled into the leg stump rough and turned the ball across the right handers).

Seasoned batsmen would do well to draw on their experience. Remember Cape Town 2007 - Paul Harris - Lord Harris, AFTER Wasim Jaffer got a first innings 100 and India had posted 400 and there was talks of an "Indian type wicket" for the decider. This is not new. Many left arm spinners - from Don Anurasri to Ashley Giles - have tried this with varying effectiveness . Long story short - I found the approach of Sachin and Vijay perplexing on Day 3.

True, India had lost their IInd innings star Gambhir and Sehwag who strikes fear in all bowlers no matter the match situation. But Murali Vijay was judging the line well and looked comfortable and had raced to 22 off 21 balls faced. Heck, he even drew VVS comparisons from Danny Morrison. India's score at that point was 52/2 off 10 with 13 overs to go with Vijay on 22(24) and Sachin 7 (14). 3 an over from there on (which is a given for Tests) would have taken them close to 100 and assuming no wickets fell, they would have been better off. No one knows what the morrow would bring, but at least, they could go in with the feeling that they had made a fist of it. But, hey wait, we are trying to save a test match. India contrived to end with 66/2 off 23 at stumps Day 3 - Vijay 27(68) and Sachin 15(48). Harris was bowling in the rough, but 12 runs in 7 overs were flattering figures. What it meant was Graeme Smith was not made to think and was allowed to dictate terms. After the drinks break, Vijay had made 5(44) and Sachin 8 (34). I do not know if Harris and Jaques Kallis were as threatening. It was 'deja vu all over again' since they did not take the chance of converting a key moment to their advantage.

Pundits will point out that this is a Test match we are trying to save. Pundits will also point out that in a test match of multiple sessions, this may not have saved India in the final analysis. Agreed on both counts, but it is never a good idea to dig oneself into a hole. By padding and rumping deliveries when singles could have been attempted at the very least, India lost the momentum they had going for them, despite South Africa's vice-like grip on the test. And this was the only session apart from the middle session during the Viru-Badri partnership when Indian batsmen had something going for them.

Sachin, despite the even 100 must take some of the blame. He must have been the one to take the initiative in that session. The Master can change gears at will and get out of the hole, but not the guy at the other end. In that sense, I was disappointed with Vijay for squandering the start he got after the first innings failure. Here is a batsman who looks the part, exudes a certain calm about himself (tangentially I like the look of little Umar Akmal - he too projects an air of calm, in the midst of madness) . He seems to have the ingredients to develop into a class player but at the moment seems to lack a certain bloody-mindedness that should come when competing to get into the Indian side.

He must get a 100 soon, or he will be quickly forgotten and the next 19 year old in the line will leapfrog over him. And its a matter of time before he would be branded and shelved, a move which noted writer Suresh Menon called a "classic Indian gambit" . Ask Jaffer, Aakash Chopra, Hemang Badani and Kaif why they are not in the reckoning. Why, ask VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid why they are not in the ODI scheme of things. Ask Badri why despite being India material he never is spoken about as a possible ODI middle order bat. To the wise men, it is the 100's that count. Even if they come against Hong Kong in an ODI in Karachi. That, to their infinite wisdom, would indicate a thoroughbred. Vijay had everything going for him. He failed in the first innings in which just about everyone else did. He got a fluent start in the second innings which no one else did. Yet, he made a mess of it. He must buck up for his own sake and for the sake Indian cricket. Vijay must also take the blame for dropping Amla and thereby the Test. For, by now we all have been told what a different bowler Durby would have been after a wicket early in his spell.

I do not see how India can level the series unless they win the toss and bat and make a huge score and manage to get Smith and Kallis early both times. That seems too much of an ask. But don't get me wrong, this is the way forward. This pain in a series or two could be the right way forward provided the wise do not miss the wood for the trees. What the wise men did not dare to do in Bangladesh, providence did here and for two newcomers, the intense scrutiny may yet do a world of good, if they take the right steps hereon.

Amit Mishra - It is tough to perform and maintain a stoic calm when you know you are not wanted by the skipper although the first choice spinner is a proven non-performer. But Mishra would do well to pick up the 'soft' skills. Strong body language, for one. Get rid of the hangdog look. (Popular blogger Straight Point makes a very straight point here) One thing Durby does is that he gives the impression that he is doing more than he actually is. MSD also does this in a subtle way. At the crease, he gives the impression of control even when things are not in control. No point in losing the battle before you actually lose it. Two - make it count with the bat. Again look at Durby and Zak. We know Steyn is an exceptional bowler, but surrendering your wicket and getting a pair in the process will certainly harm your chances of making the starting XI. We are not talking about his core skills - legspin. With more experience, he will have the confidence for variations and also to control the turn. No point beating the bat by a foot. Beating it by an inch is better.

After years and years of being in the periphery, Badri finally got a chance in the format of the game that was said to be his stronger suit (I for one believe he can be an excellent ODI/T20 player as well). Nerves and anxiety notwithstanding he gave a good account of himself in the first innings. Like Vijay, however, he shot himself in the foot in the nothing to lose 2nd innings. A fighting 60 or 70 may have strengthened his claims when UV eventually returns. As things stand, if he makes the starting XI in Kolkatta, that may well be his lifeline for after this match the calendar says IPL, ICCT20, WC 2011 and nothing else. Given his pedigree,I back him to give a decent account yet again, however I can also see UV sauntering in as Badri fades silently into obscurity.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Expert

More than the Indian bowling, more than the lopsided team selection which left the captain hamstrung on the morning of the Test, I was appalled something that I saw on NEO TV.
This something was about 5'2" tall and churlish and totally devoid of cricketing common sense.
RK of NEO TV may not be Harsha Bhogle, the darling of cricketers and ex-cricketers, but when he wishes you a good morning and addresses you by the accepted honorific "Sunny Bhai", the least you can do, Mr Gavaskar, is respond in kind. Mr Gavaskar deigned not to greet the presenter, nor Venkatesh Prasad.
Now Venkatesh Prasad may not be from Mumbai, or scored 10,000 Test runs. I doubt if he has scored even a 100th of that, but on the first morning of a Test, you could have put up the facade of the gentleman that you never were, Mr Gavaskar.
Contrast this with Daryll Cullinan's warm " Good morning Zulu. Great to hear your voice."
End of day's play. During the cursory summing up of the day's events. Prasad throws this to both Mr Gavaskar and Cullinan - "What do you think the Indian bowlers could have done differently?" . Mr Gavaskar looks at Cullinan and says "How many test wickets have you got?" Some humour that!
The point is Mr Gavaskar did not have an answer, when he is paid to be the expert. He came out with "India started the post lunch session with Sehwag but should have done so with Zaheer." While it is a valid point, Prasad's question was more on tactical lines than pointed at a specific instance. Like for example, the spinners could have made Kallis drive on the offside than allowing him to tuck them off his legs all day. Something to that effect, but Mr Gavaskar having played cricket (and politics) for donkeys years is not a bowler, although he was a Test captain. So he would not know.
And on team selection, he came up with this absolute gem.
"India went with a bowler short in this match." Ladies and gentlemen, India is playing without both RD and VVS for the first time in a decade and some and Mr Gavaskar would have cut down the batting even shorter, against the worlds best pace attack. And who would he have included? "Someone like Yuvraj" who is a good enough bowler. Indeed, Yuvraj was unfit and you have Badri in his place. So how could you include Yuvraj? And pray throw some more light Mr Gavaskar, who is this "someone like Yuvraj?"Bring him to Dhoni tomorrow morning.
This answer is wrong on two counts. One, obviously there is no one who fits the bill in the immediate reckoning who would take his place. Two, India have traditionally played the 7+ 4 formula. So how can Mr Gavaskar expect them to go one batsman short in this instance of all occasions.
Anil Kumble and Aakash Chopra talk a lot of sense. Perhaps it is time to replace some who have been living on past reputation.
No Bhajji, I am not talking about you here.

On being No 1

Neo Cricket's RK called him "an architect" of India's No 1 Test Team status.

RK later went on to ask something like, Brabourne Stadium, historic venue, historic moment, etc how did you feel? Duh!!!

He likes Gary Kirsten because he never shouted at the boys.

RK asks him whether you pick on opponent batsmen ala McGrath. He talks about 2001 series and says Steve Waugh. What about recent series ? Rubel Hossain perhaps.

Whoever made this joker the mascot of Indian cricket.

A hearty laugh to begin my Saturday...