Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Fleeting Impressions and Post-Mortems
The year started off interestingly enough, with the Eternal Drama Queens of Cricket presenting you their ultimate production: Sydneygate, Jan '08. More than anything, apart from all the accusations of racism, blackmail, threats, and the vitriol, it was the actual cricket that disappointed me most. Don't get me wrong - I thought Sydney played host to a fantastic Test match that week, but I was reduced to crying tears of bitter disappointment even as a confused Ishant Sharma gazed dazedly at his captain at the other end when he was the last Indian wicket to be dismissed with just five minutes left on the fifth day to be played out for a draw even as the Australians went completely - and undertstandably, in retrospect - berserk in delight. Mixed dangerously with the disappointment was anger and resentment, as the Test had also showcased every kind of blunder an umpire could possibly make on a cricket field, and the team most harmed by this incompetence from Benson and Bucknor was India. Sure, fine, the umpires make mistakes, we get it, but Sydney '08? Was too much to take in one go. Bucknor adjudging Andrew Symonds not out when he had clearly edged Ishant Sharma to Dhoni... I mean, what the hell? It was probably the only time I have ever seen Dhoni stare at the umpire in abject disbelief, and Ishant was left practically doubled over in agony, clutching his hair, and all I wanted to do was go and give the kid a hug. The bottomline was, at the end of the match, I was left feeling utterly cheated, and I suspected, so did many other Indians and that exacerbated every little ramification of whatever happened in that Test. The true extent of the BCCI's financial muscle was exposed, resentment built, Indo-Australian relations were almost irreparably damaged. I thought it was all great entertainment at that time, really, but this statement from Anil Kumble? Hit home in more ways than one: "Only one team out there was playing the spirit of the game. That's all I can say." in that firm, polite voice of his, barely glazing over a simmering anger... the first time I actually stood up and applauded. Kumble handled the fall-out of Sydneygate so well, and the way the team regrouped under him to record an unprecedented win at Perth... it was the absolute high-point of Kumble's captaincy stint. To have gotten his 600th Test wicket in the same game -the wicket being that of Symonds' , ha - was just a sweet bonus. What a man.
And after that was the triangular ODI tournament, and amidst all the furore about senior players being dropped in favour of younger greenhorns, the seemingly inexplicable faith being shown in a woefully out of form Yuvraj Singh, illegal gloves, verbal sending-offs, obnoxious weeds, shadow-boxing, streakers and rugby tackles, India shone through in the end, shored up by the brilliance of their bowlers and Sachin Tendulkar, and a batting line-up that finally managed to click. The finals were won, and the last-ever CB Tri-series trophy to be hosted by Australia was securely in Dhoni's hands, even as his ice-cool demanour was finally broken with a warm, proud smile as he asked the youngest member of his team to lift the trophy first. Talk about proving a point! Here was where we really got a feel of where he planned to take his team as a captain, and it was a portent for great things to come.
Despite all the euphoria however, our inconsistency as a team was once again highlighted as we struggled to draw the home series with South Africa that followed, leaving aside Sehwag's triple-century on a Chennai featherbed. Folding up for 76 on the first morning of the Ahmedabad Test within 20 overs has got to be one of Indian cricket's most humiliating moments.
Still! All was forgotten as soon after that, the IPL started. And everything else ended.
As a spectator, forgetting those two months ain't gonna be easy (not that I want to). Before the player auctions, I was half-considering ignoring the whole thing, faced as I was with the dilemma of whether I ought to support Dhoni's team or the Chennai team, Dhoni and Chennai being two things close to my heart. That was, of course, happily solved by the fact that Dhoni was bought by Chennai for an astronomical sum, but looking back now, I realise now that even if I'd wanted to, I could never have ignored it. The IPL was everywhere. On TV. On the ka-zillion news channels. On billboards. In TV ads. On the radio. In the newspaper. On the internet. My friends' conversations.
Just. Everywhere. It was mind-boggling. And a marketing masterpiece.
I watched and followed, open-mouthed, mind inundated with Twenty20. There was slapgate, there was glamour. There were half-naked cheerleaders, there was delicious controversy. Endless gimmicks. Great music. Horrible commentary. Non-stop advertising. Good-looking comperes (mm). And not to forget, some great cricket as well. Although admittedly, toward the end of the tournament, as a spectator I felt utterly exhausted and was relieved when it finally ended, leaving behind hungry cricket fans even where there were previously none (Nothing more frightening than having my hitherto cricket-phobic mother come with me to watch a match, and admire Adam Gilchrist's batting).
International cricket went inexorably on - the Indian ODI team, overworked in the unforgiving subcontinental summer, reached and lost a couple of finals, the final of the Asia Cup being the more significant of the two, as Ajantha Mendis rent the young batting lineup into pieces with his uber-mysterious spin bowling, announcing his arrival on the world stage as a formidable possible successor to Muralitharan. It was then that Dhoni decided enough was enough, that if the iterinary wasn't loosened, he was going to take matters into his own hands, and took a self-enforced break from the Test series against Sri Lanka, which was eventually lost 2-1 in a series that briefly exacerbated the whole seniors turmoil in Indian cricket, especially considering that the Middle Order collectively failed against the wiles of Muralitharan and Mendis. Dhoni returned for the ODI series, the bowlers shone with preternatural awesomeness, Dhoni almost singlehandedly held the threads of the fraying batting line-up together, the team made most of the little dollops of luck that came their way, and the ODI series was won, with India left a lot to think about.
Pakistan's terrorism-induced isolation in world cricket finally came to a head as the Champions Trophy scheduled to be held there was postponed (read: cancelled). India went on to win the Border Gavaskar Trophy after that, decimated England in the ODI series, won the Test series as well via one of the more memorable fourth-innings chases in Chennai, finally ending a mixed year with an anticlimactic Plod.
So? I don't disagree that it was a great year for Indian cricket, apart from the whole falling apart in Sri Lanka part. The reasons for this are manifold: things that previously used to be an uncertainty in Indian cricket are now our greatest strengths - a fantastic pair of opening batsmen, excellent up and coming pacers, a solid wicketkeeper-batsman, and an innovative, aggressive captain. Funnily enough, the previously rock-solid middle order turned out to be a little soft this year, though.
A lot has been written about how India finish the year as the no. 1 team. Uh, I'm not too sure about that. Like Sourav Ganguly said, we've played most of our Test cricket at home this year, and lost the only two overseas series that we did play (Australia and Sri Lanka). We have yet to play an overseas Test with Dhoni at the helm. With the Pakistan tour cancelled, his first overseas challenge will come in the form of a tour of New Zealand. I feel that India will falter there, but will hopefully come out of the experience a better team.
Moving on from India, the end of the year showed up who was truly now the best team in the world: South Africa. Topping off an excellent year with a first-time series win in Australia, with two absolutely phenomenal Test matches throwing up some fantastic names like deVilliers and JP Duminy, has given Graeme Smith plenty of reasons to smile, smile so hard his (non-existent) lips crack. 11 wins out of 14 Tests in the year? That's the freakin definition of phenomenal.
Australia, however, start the year playing the last Test of the series they've already lost - a position they haven't been in in nearly 16 years, 16 years where whole generations of cricketers have come and gone, either to bask in the glory of Australian dominance or to get spanked by it. Sure, Australia is in a tough position, presumably brought about by some mistaken belief in their old unshakable dominance, when clearly, with a retired Gilchrist, Warne, McGrath, an out-of-form Hayden, Lee and Hussey, lack of a proper spinner, a rash of injuries to key players, and the exposure of the limits to Ponting's leadership, they aren't. What surprises me, though, is the reaction of the Australian media. I mean, the death of Australian cricket? Over-reaction much? Sure the team had a tough year and it will be some time before they come close to being the team they once were, but these post-mortems from the Australian media aren't helping matters any. They seem to have firmly perched their rear on the panic button, and while that is admittedly funny and great to enjoy, it ain't pretty. And here I was, thinking only the sensationalist lookit-me-dammit Indian media did that. It is an international malaise, apparently, and somehow, that's not very reassuring. At all.
And the Australian selectors aren't helping matters any. Before the Border Gavaskar Trophy, I had no idea who Trevor Hohns or Andrew Hilditch was - to me the Australian selection board was just an anonymous bunch of suited men who had the most enviable job of typing out and selecting the best players in the world and sit back and watch them win match after match. Now, though? When faced with an actual crisis situation? They run around, completely confused. Australia have gone through a kabillion spinners for the Test team, some of them not even the first-choice spinners for their State sides, they have persisted with out-of-form players in Hayden and Symonds out of some apparent misplaced sentimentality, denying younger players the opportunity to play for the national team (hello, where's Marsh, Jacques, Rogers and the rest?). All this while, the Aussie selectors have had a team that they could put together like a complete jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces fitting perfectly against each other, forming a formidable team that demanded the highest intensity and great feats to be defeated. Now, though? Now, the jigsaw box has been upended, the pieces are all scattered and several are missing, and the selectors are trying to fill in the gaps with misshapen pieces of cardboard and glue.
So. 2009 promises to be a year which would finally decide who takes over from Australia, and my bets are on South Africa, although India seem to have a great chance as well. Exciting stuff. Also looking forward to the Twenty20 season this summer. I've enjoyed all the exhilarating Test cricket, now I think it's high time for some T20 action.
Oh, and because I couldn't help it, here are my 2008 teams of the year:
Gautam Gambhir ( I know, I know, where's Smith? you ask. I say that while he's had a phenomenal year, I prefer to look at the opening combination as a whole rather than the individual batsmen. As a combo, VirunGauti have always been greater than the sum of their parts. A fantastic rocket-propellant at the start of the innings).
Ricky Ponting (Amla just misses out)
Shivnarine Chanderpaul (like, duh)
AB deVilliers (has had a great year with the bat, and is an awesome fielder)
Mahendra Singh Dhoni -wk, capt. (Need I even explain?)
Ishant Sharma (sorry that Johnson had to miss out, but Zaks and Ishi have been so phenomenal, even on tracks least conducive to pace, and are one of the main reasons India has done so well this year)
Ajantha Mendis (all hail this special spinner. He promises even greater things for Sri Lanka in the coming years)
12th man: Hashim Amla
Chris Gayle (br... if I were a bowler, I would be afraid of this combo. Very afraid. )
Gautam Gambhir (highest run-scorer in ODIs this year, and has previously shown the temperament and ability to be a successful number three, as in Australia)
Kevin Pietersen (there's no getting away from this man)
Yuvraj Singh (ah ha ha, after I brainwash him to believe that every opposition he plays against is England)
Mahendra Singh Dhoni - wk, capt.
12th man: Stuart Broad
Here's wishing everybody a happy and prosperous New Year 2009.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
I think I may be in cricket heaven
One hand, you have South Africa doing the phoenix act against Australia (and I think I just fell in love with JP Duminy), and right now, looking like they're going to take the series, and take it easily, while on the other hand, you finally have Tamil Nadu pulling their weight against Bengal in the Ranji Super League quarterfinals.
Oh Quirky Deity Who Lords Over Cricketing Fates and Fortunes, stop. I... I don't think I can take much more delight.
... Or maybe I can.
What an AWESOME end to the year this promises to be! *glee*
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Draw-ing the year to a close
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Yum, Test Cricket
Even as I type, Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff are doggedly extending their big stand for the fifth wicket, trying to up the tempo even while Zaheer Khan and co try to strangulate the hitherto impressive run-rate and I keep rolling my eyes and my conscience is hitting me with a white-hot poker to focus on reading for yet another Exam of Doom.
... But. Let's start at the beginning, 'kay?
So Rahul Dravid made hundreds of cricket fans around the world very, very happy by finally notching up a century. I've kind of forgotten what a typical Rahul Dravid century looks like, but experts claim that the 136 he scored was close enough, so I'm happy for him. To pull something like this while going through an extended and particularly horrendous run of poor form, is more than commendable. He and Gambhir (who put on 179 awesome runs himself), got in a mammoth 314 for the second wicket, even though the run-rate was crawl-worthy. The others came in and tried to force the pace, and perished for it - thanks to some tight and wonderful bowling from Flintoff and Swann. Still - ending up with 453 is pretty good, so.
Beginning of the 3rd day, and England start their innings. More like India start their bowling stint - and how! Zaheer Khan has Strauss captured leg before off the very second ball of the day, while Ishant Sharma - off the very first ball of the next over - makes a mess of the middle stump behind a very befuddled Ian Bell. 2/2, the scoreboard read, and I thought I would jump up and start singing (until, of course, I actually did jump up and sing... >.>)
KP and the insanely hot (what? He is!) Alastair Cook got together and through a period of some brilliant, positive batting, had notched up 100-odd runs in no time. To see England go at more than 4 an over while India had crawled at barely 3 in their innings had me disconcerted, I must admit (um, didn't the script usually read the other way round?) but soon we had snagged both Cook and Collingwood and the scoreboard read a precarious 131/4.
Enter Flintoff. I didn't celebrate.
And with good reason.
Still. An entertaining contest, what? India still distinctly on top - unless they get their butts moving and pick up a flurry of wickets, this match is likely to end in a draw. Plus, with all the delays and cuts in overs coming due to fog and the winter and the poor light? A draw's loomin' large.
But. You never know.
In my previous post, to illustrate the vagaries of this wonderful game, I had pointed to South Africa's 1st innings collapse from a good position in their 1st Test against Australia. Now, though? Now, take a look at the scorecard. It goes "South Africa win by 6 wickets" and you are tempted to go "what the hell" right? I was.
Turns out SA chased down 414 with centuries from Smith and deVilliers.
Losing just 4 wickets.
In WACA, Perth.
HA HA. Post-McGrath&Warne is starting to bite Ponting's rear, hard, you may say.
But still. Australia had SA all over the place for so much of the Test. They seemed so sure to win. I'm not sure I'm old enough to bet, but I was willing to put all my meagre pocket-money on it. What did the Saffers do? Why, go and pull of the second-highest run-chase in recorded Test history, that's what.
Coming on the heels of a equally spectacular chase coming in eerily similar circumstances pulled off by India in Chennai, it was just so wonderful to take in. Teams need not worry anymore, huh? You can be crap in the first three days, but you're still good enough to win - and win comfortably, spectacularly.
Now Australia are struggling. The statement brings alarming joy.
What a selection of Tests we've had this year. Quite delicious.
That reminds me of an incident at college the other day. I was talking to somebody about the England-India Tests, before a curious friend overheard and asked me what score I was quoting. I told her, and her face pulled into a spectacularly exaggerated expression of disgust. "Test match?" she said. "Please. I'm not interested if it's not an ODI or T20." I thought of disagreeing, but just shrugged and went away. A couple of hours later she sidled up next to me in class and whispered frantically for the score. Not wasting the opportunity to ram in my point, I refused to tell her ("It's only a Test match like you said, right?"), until she was practically eating out of my hand at the end of the day.
Ha ha ha. RESISTANCE IS FUTILE.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Grind away, boys (or, you know, don't)
So. India wins toss, elects to bat, great. What's not so great? Lord Viru falling for a duck - to Stuart Broad, come on, Viru! - in the second over. Enter the out-of-form (Like I said, understatements) Dravid, and the Indian fan could've been forgiven the moment of pursed lip and furrowed brow.
Gambhir continued in full flow, anyhow - if a little slower than usual - and at the end of the day had notched up yet another Test century. Keep it going, Gambo!
And Rahul Dravid, contrary to popular expectation, did not get out for a single digit figure, and his paint-drying-on-a-wall journey through the vast realm of double-digit figures continues unchecked. He stands at 63*, Gauti at 106*, while India finished the day at a fairly strong 179/1.
Snark aside, it's great to have Dravid sticking it out there and backing up Gauti. He's made sure his captain's continued faith in him in spite of all the calls for him to be dropped down the order or from the team altogether, has not gone entirely misplaced. That merely reinforces my opinion that he ought to call quits after this Test, however. However, who am I to say anything? It's all upto the man. (On a sidenote, am I the only person who hates the nickname "The Wall"? Dude, it's not nice, it's just insulting and provides too many opportunities for lame puns - the next person who says the "wall is crumbling" gets a brickbat from my direction. Just saying.)
I don't see any of the upcoming days providing 90 overs worth of cricket, but let's see what happens. On the batting front, India look to be well backed-up with Sachin, Laxman, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Bhajji to come, all of them in rollicking form. But then again, as the ongoing match between the Saffers and the Aussies - where the Saffers collapsed from 234/3 to 243/8 - proved, you never know. Or as my grandmother likes to carefully enunciate, "cricket is a game of chance, ma". *grins*
All in all, it's one of those days I'm glad I'm not actually watching the cricket being played, and only catching the odd update and reading the commentary later. It's a great position to be in, but watching Dravid stagnate would've seriously frayed, cut, steamed, boiled, ingested, digested and excreted every last nerve in my body.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Chennai, miracles, and the Team That Can Do Anything
India win, people! By 6 wickets! Tendulkar, 103*! Yuvraj, 85*! Gambhir, 66! Lord Viru, Man of the match! I can barely believe it!
Geez, Gary wasn't kidding when he said he believed that THIS Indian team can do anything.
Chennai - and India - deserved no better.
Poor England, though - to lose this comprehensively after dominating vast tracts of the match... tough luck, KP.
And Andrew Strauss... not many times do you score back to back centuries and have your team lose the Test. My heart goes out for him. Briefly.
Dhoni, though? 4 out of 4! Unbelievable stuff.
We did good on the first day, had crappy days 2 and 3, but really, it was Viru who set the chase up. His blitzkreig in the beginning set the pace, got everybody's tails up. And this time, FINALLY, we get a bunch of batsmen who follow up and finish the chase - rather spectacularly.
Dravid ought to retire next Test.
A great Test match, overall. Nice to have some of the awesomeness at last.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Of the Unexpected and Hope (and sixes)
India have a chance of winning this.
131/1 at the end of day 4, Gauti and Rahul at the crease, 256 runs more to get. A much happier position that what I had envisioned.
Why? Because Virender Sehwag came out, saw and freaking conquered for 83 highly entertaining runs in a high-octane 117 run partnership with his favourite partner, nonchalantly spanking all and sundry (so okay, maybe he didn't have quite as much success with Flintoff) to all ends of the park, sparking remarks about whether he wanted to finish the game that session itself. Some really good things last, fantastic things don't - so this innings finished 17 runs of a century, trapped in front by Swann. But who cares about centuries? Sehwag did exactly what he was supposed to and wanted to do - blaze a path for the others to follow. Let's just hope they do.
India in a position where they could possibly push for a win. Who'd've thunk it.
I briefly balked at seeing Dravid at number three, but I'm going to keep aside all reservations and hope that he comes good, and retires after this series on a high.
I would say more, but I'm swamped, and will possibly more eloquent on Tuesday.
Newsflash of Epic Doom
India need 387 runs to win. In just about 4 sessions. Or more reasonably England need 10 wickets to win. In just about 4 sessions.
We await Lord Viru's Pronouncement of India's Situation in the Match (that is, if he scores 2 or a 200. Former, we try for a draw ((operative word being 'try')) or we go full blast for a win and more than likely get it).
Also? We're fielding only 10 batsmen (Rahul Dravid? What Rahul Dravid?) so check, check. check. Hm. Yeah. Advantage England.
Geez, I hate 2 match Test series.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Same old, same old (except it's not supposed to be)
England, first innings: 316 (Strauss 123, Cook 50, Prior 53)
India, first innings: 241 (Dhoni 53, Harbhajan Singh 40, Tendulkar 37)
England, 2nd innings: 172/3 (Strauss, a cool 67)
England lead by 247 runs.
That? That looks like England is going to win. Last thing I need to see after an already crappy day.
A few months ago, I'd've said, "yeah, well, what's new, let's hope we can save this thing", but now? Not now.
Not in my city.
They ain't gonna lose, to freakin' England, in Chennai.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni? FIX THIS.
... That be all.
Friday, December 12, 2008
The cynical Indian fan sits smug (once again, at last)
Okay, cricket's back, it's great, the general euphoria and gratefulness faded after the first couple of minutes, and it was all back to normal again (for me at least): letting your emotions ride with the ebb and flow of the game (a lot more fun in Test cricket, admittedly), pumping the air in delight with every minor triumph and cursing a blue streak at the TV with every minor failure (what, they never taught you how to field in all of those kazillion cricket academies and camps you went to, you *&#^*^**?)
Yeah, so day 1 was pretty awesome for us, aside from the whole England piling on a 100+ opening stand thing, with Strauss scoring an admittedly classy century. 229/5 in 90 overs makes for dubious reading, particularly on a batsman's paradise like Chennai is supposed to be. It made for alarming reading (for the English obviously) on the morning of day 2 - as Freddie left, making it 229/6. Mm, delicious.
But Matt Prior (there can be no words for how much I dislike this man. None.) and the lower order ensured England finished with 316 on board, and surely after being 160-odd for 2 at one stage, it was a disappointing total to land up with - to say the least. The "odd ball was doing the odd thing" (I swear to God, cricket and its inane cliches) but Chepauk still looked a good batting wicket, and the last time India had batted there, they'd scored more than 600 runs, and Sehwag had hit 319 of them in an innings that has me smile and jump even now. Aside from the major blot of the woefully out-of-form Rahul Dravid, the rest of the lineup was coming in riding some excellent form, and with a lot to prove.
England could not be underestimated, Freddie, Harmison, Swann, blah, blah, blah, but India still held all of the cards at that moment. I skipped my lunch break to catch the live commentary, just in time to be told that England had been dismissed, and Viru and Gauti were striding out to the crease. I remember smiling and daring to speculate on the possibilities of 100 run leads and its consequences.
Before you know it, India were 37/3. What in the world, you may ask. You are justified in asking so, and I would say that VirunGauti finally reached that innings, where they simply had to fail, to even out the mojo that had them churning out successful start after successful start for so many games. But the middle order got the memo, right? They could pick things up, right? Things were still under control, right?
Dravid got out for 3. Rahul, please go. That's enough. I'm asking politely here.
Debutant spinner-boy Graeme Swann got both Gauti and Rahul in his first over in international cricket, and all I could say was guys, seriously. First Mendis, then Krejza, now Swann? I want the Indian batsmen to write an imposition: 100 times, "I am NOT the best player of spin in the world. I will NOT underestimate another debutant spinner, part-time spinner, or any player with even a rudimentary capacity to wrap his fingers around the cricket ball and spin it." and stick it to their lockers so that they can have a good, long look at it everyday.
Long, I know. Will be extra painful. How else will they learn.
Tendulkar and Laxman stitched things together for a while with a half-century partnership, before (for god's sake) Panesar struck, getting Laxman caught off his own bowling. (I know, Monty took a catch. No wonder it's not raining) The very next over, Flintoff gets Tendulkar. I was talking over the phone to my mother at that time, an eye on the live commentary, and for a few moments I broke off whatever I was saying, gaping at the laptop screen saying 102/5 (just like that, just like that), mouth opening and closing like some landed fish. I think some vague keening, disbelieving groan must've made its way out of my mouth at that time, 'cos my mother was suddenly asking if I'd hurt myself - why the hell was I sounding like that.
Disbelief soon gave out to anger, and I kept cursing as Dhoni made his way out way, way sooner than he had expected to. Yuvraj was present at the other end, and suddenly the sight of "Current partnership: Yuvraj, Dhoni" seemed comforting. How many times had these two worked magic in combination in ODIs before? If there were ever two blokes to really get the team back on track, it was these two. Yuvraj had already hit a boundary within minutes of his coming to the crease, so I allowed myself to be partially comforted. Plus, this was Yuvraj's Big Chance to mark out a Permanent Position in the Indian Test team. Make sure Ganguly wasn't missed much.
But damn, did we miss Dada or what!
Yuvi and Dhoni chugged along for sometime, but Flintoff was bowling one of his inspired spells again. He attempted to work over both Dhoni and Yuvraj, and finally succeeded with the southpaw, having Yuvi nick one to second slip off Harmison, and the score stood at a precarious (I like understatements, 'kay?) 137/6.
Enter Bhajji, who hits a flurry of fours. Score at stumps on day 2 is 155/6, India 161 runs behind. Dhoni (24*) and Bhajji (13*) at the crease.
Not a great position to be in, yeah? In fact, a position so far from great, they'd need satellite phones to communicate, but you know, India always tended to overkill.
You know, I'd always thought of myself as one of those delightful "cynical Indian cricket fans" (better than the cocky ones anyday, trust me), and the series of successful games we'd been having recently bred that bit of paranoia in me, that little voice that told me that we were riding the crest of a wave that was going to crash soon. What happens when VirunGauti fail? What happens when Zaks and Ishu can't work their reverse-swing mojo? When Mishra's wrong 'uns stop surprising batsmen? When Dhoni's instincts backfire? A fielding change gone awry, an unnecessary shuffle of the attack? Won't India lose, and lose badly? Or was this team made of sterner stuff?
All these days, the cynics hadn't got much evidence to show on their plate - until now. See? they say, acid dripping down their lips, dribbling on their chins. A proper 5 man bowling attack and we flounder. Surely the Australian win was more a case of Australia losing than India winning? The team's in transition, the team is out of practice, the players' minds are cluttered, India cannot possibly stake a claim to no. 1 spot at this rate, Indian cricket is going nowhere and the bloody apocalypse is upon us.
Yep, they're sitting smug, all right.
I'm not a cynic, however, how much ever I'd like to think otherwise. I'm just as much of a hopeless optimist, deep inside. Dhoni is still there, an in-form Bhajji is still there, there's been a night to put the day behind them and start afresh tomorrow, and build and build and build and still somehow win the match. Dhoni ain't gonna give up, not with his team. If there is a chance to win, they're going to go for it. Again a test for his leadership. Plus he's the "mama". Chennai's new adopted son. Don't let us down, now, MS, or I'll be going "Enga Area ulla varadhey" (I'm being churlish, yeah, suck it up)
Let's see what happens, though. It's been an interesting Test match, and KP had the first day in the entire tour where he could look back upon the day's cricket and smile in satisfaction - and anticipation. We're gonna get a result, surely, and that's great.
Hang in there, MS, and Bhaj!!
(Plus, what is this I hear about Dhoni and dinner dates and Lakshmi Rai? Mahi, you surely deserve better! *dissolves into uncontrollable sobs*)
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A moment of sobriety
This be tough times, for me personally, and for the world in general. Obviously cricket has not been spared.
I refer to the atrocities that happened in Mumbai over a week ago, their ramifications on everything and cricket. Being in Chennai, where a cyclone-induced rainstorm around the same time as the Mumbai attacks moored all residents at home with no electricity and telephone for large tracts of time, I was largely cut off from what was happening. In fact, the internet connections and mobile phone signals went down in my college hostel, so I had almost no way of knowing what was happening outside the confines of the campus, other than the times I could get contrasting snippets of information from my classmates travelling from the city. It was a scary period - and I thought I would tear my hair out. Finally the rain ceased and I could go home and it was with horror that I updated myself on all that had happened. I've never been to Mumbai, as such, but the city's such a symbol and to have such prominent places infiltrated and torn asunder with so much human loss had my gut clench.
What in the world is happening.
Could Chennai be subjected to something like that in the future? Lord, no.
Thoughts eventually turned to cricket, and I couldn't have agreed more with the decision to cancel the last 2 ODIs in the 7 match series. It might've prevented us from drubbing the English 7-0, but hello? Cricket not high on the list of priorities at that time. I was fairly sure that the Test series would be cancelled as well - whatever the lure of money, already subcontinent-phobic players would jump at the excuse to avoid the tour and risk their lives further - but some typical BCCI-an wrangling managed to get the tour back on track. That said, I sincerely applaud the English players' decision - whatever be the motivation - to come back and play the two Tests, as compared to say, the Australians, who even on the best of days describe India as a war-zone to get through in one piece.
The venues have been changed, and Chennai will host the first Test. Unfortunately I can't attend the match, but I'm happy that we're hosting some international cricket. The players apparently are ensconced in uber-security arrangements, but hopefully when they take the field, cricket will once again take centre-stage, and people can enjoy a well-contested match, even among all the fear and chaos. KP and Dhoni have already come out with the right words and gestures, and all that remains is for the cricket to start, and to gauge crowd reactions and the mood and the situation. India will probably not become a Pakistan-esque cricket pariah, but international players are going to feel a trifle nervous before stepping onto Indian shores. Or maybe not for long. Let's see.
Of course, talk about Chennai and cricket is never complete without a word on the weather. We're well into our monsoon, and another cyclone threat - albeit a weakened one - over the next few days could mean a truncated game and another disappointment. It's been sunny over the last 36 hours - but that doesn't mean anything, 'cos all you need to trigger rain in Chennai even in the middle of one of our tortuous summers, is to schedule an international match. I'm sounding bitter? Check out the records for yourselves.
India enter the match as obvious favourites, but you never know. Minds are addled, the situation ain't quite the same, and England have always been a better Test side than an ODI one. It could shape out to be an interesting series, but my prediction is India'll take it 1-0.
It's these kind of horrors that forces a moment of sobriety in all of us, I guess. Introspection, reassessment, a press for unity. Hopefully cricket - and the world, in general - will be better for it.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Is this a sudden need for publicity, is this a way to satiate their burning frustration at getting trampled by India, has this been happening all the time before and I just didn't notice, or is it that the Australian cricketers have finally cracked, or what.
'Cos I? Just can't understand the sudden flurry of books and quote-hangers coming from Down Under.
First it was Gilchrist, then it was Roy, then it was Hayden with one of his gems, and now Ricky Ponting with a surely 'insightful' Captain's Diary 2008.
Or maybe it's just a rush to vindicate their stand in the whole Sydney Jan '08 affair.
To show that the Australians were only missing the halos around their heads, and the Indians their pitchforks and horns.
How else can you explain this and this?
There's so much vitriol flying around in thin, corroding innocent guises, and it's just sick.
Maybe it's like Harbhajan put it (fantastically, I might add): The Australians were so busy poring over what new sensational secret they could reveal in their 23464th 'book' that they forgot to prepare for the series.
And Ricky? Next time you talk about MS and co. being suited only for Twenty20, check this out:
Twenty20: ICC Twenty20 World Cup
ODI: CB Series 2008
Tests: Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2008
My my, that's three on three!
There's so much more I could say, but people both in and out of the blogosphere with better, more delicious methods of expression have said it all.
All I can add is, wow. The Australians? Inscrutable in victory and defeat.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Feet-in-mouth, and last-over thriller thingamajigs
It'd be easy to say, 'woah, what a case of foot-in-mouth right there', but in Hayden's case, no. It just doesn't seem to be... enough.
Feet with the smelly socks on, maybe? Or is there something caught between his toes he wants to pry out by his teeth? Because, seriously, this:
Often we find ourselves waiting with hands on hips for someone to face up or
someone on the sight board to move away or some of those little frustrations
happening with third world countries.
Wow, geez, Haydos, awesome work there.
It's not so much the reference to India as a 'third world country' that bothers me (thought it initially irked me too), or the not-so-subtle whining about the facilities and the hold-ups and the weather (because, seriously? how many times have we heard that excuse? Plus, let's face it, some of it's true). It's just... Hayden's utter and complete LACK of a sense of diplomacy, propriety, or grace. It just makes it so easy to label him a 'sore loser' here, as several people have already done.
Already, just seven months ago, in a similar moments of socks-in-mouthedness, he had called Harbhajan 'an obnoxious little weed' (which I secretly agreed with) and mocked Ishant Sharma, ridiculed a freakin' nineteen year old, and invited him onto a boxing ring with him among other things, on live public radio.
He came out of that - somehow - his reputation permanently scarred, and himself open to endless lines of ridicule that range from 'weeds' to shadow-boxing by the bowler once he got him out.
And then, he comes up with this, as if that weren't enough. I'm sure you mean well, Haydos, but for a grizzled veteran like you, all of 37 years old, with so much India-experience and knowledge of how sensitive people can be here (most recent reminder being monkeygate, Jan '08), you ought to have had some inkling about how badly your 'third world' comment could be taken over here. Which is: pretty freakin' badly.
So yeah, Matt, I'm gonna call you a sore loser. With yellowed socks in his mouth. Or toenails. Ew.
The whole situation is given a brilliant perspective here: http://tcwj.blogspot.com/2008/11/i-am-proud-to-belong-to-third-world.html
Plus, Haydos?Next time you come to India to play the IPL and the Champions League and the kazillion other Twenty20 leagues and earn millions of dollars, don't think you can win us over again with the interviews and the cooking shows and the broad smiles and the "oh, I love India! So exotic" spiel. You play for Chennai Super Kings, and I hate to hate anybody on that team, because I adore it, 'kay? 'Kay.
So I don't hate you. But seriously, talk about biting the hand that feeds you...
While beginning this post, the third match of the ODI series between West Indies and Pakistan was in its final moments. Pakistan had virtually won the series, leading 2-0, but the Windies seemed hell-bent on making it 2-1 for the record books. Which is, great. Yeah.
So WI was 205/6 at the end of the 42nd over when I started typing, chasing 274 to win. Required rate wasn't really that challenging, Chris Gayle still there, just completed yet another one-day ton. He took apart the over-rated (imo) Ifthikar Anjum in the 43rd for 19 runs, including 2 massive sixes, and the Windies could afford to smile a bit.
Well, not really.
Next over, Gul (who is MADE OF AWESOME) comes barelling in and removes Gayle and score's at 232/7.
Then a couple of overs later, Gul strikes again - and again - and the score's 240/9.
Only one possible result from there, right?
Sohail Tanvir finished the final formalities and Windies? 242 all out, losing by 31 runs.
See? The proverbial match pendulum, witnessed within the space of typing out (half of) a blog post. *grins stupidly*
Third match in a freakin' row that they lost from a winning position. The series is 3-0, yeah, but that could've been so easily in favour of the Windies, but I guess that'll happen only when the team begins to show that it ISN'T made entirely of Chris Gayle and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
I mean, the last over in the first ODI? Gayle century, 20 runs required off the last over for Pak, Taylor, their best bowler bowling, freakin' Kamran Akmal on strike, you'd think the Windies have the match sewn-up tight, but no. Akmal hits TWO SIXES and the other runs and Pakistan won. Second ODI? Bowled out Pak for just 232, Chanderpaul hits a century, and what happens? Pakistan won. Third ODI? Chris Gayle scores century, hits the rampage mode at the right time and the target looks well within sight, and what happens? Pakistan won.
Seriously. The Windies don't even deserve the 'Chokers' tag. Pathetic.
But still, we get the last-over thriller thingamajigs, a thin layer of temporary balm is spread over the much-hurt and ostracised Pakistani cricket lover, as their national team finally gets some international cricket and the sweet taste of hard-earned victory, so all's okay.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Yuvraj the Inexplicable (except, you know, not really)
(which ha ha, I missed out on blogging upon, cos apparently medical school, cricket and blogs don't mix that well) is titled "Take a bow, Ricky Ponting", because the general sentiment now seems to be "Bow out, Ricky Ponting" (only as captain o'course - before I get waylaid by a pack of wild kangaroos).
I took whatever limited opportunities I could find to fangirl the Indian team however - 2-0 win against the Aussies, and we, well, trounced them. Yeah, roll that round your tongue. A little exotic, yes? But delicious all the same. Along the way, Kumble retired, Ganguly played his last Test, Dhoni took over as full-time captain, Krejza had the Most Unbelievable Debut Ever (dude, that afternoon session on day 4 in Nagpur had me close to hyperventilating for a moment or two, and when he took eight wickets on day 2, all I could do for a few minutes was blink dazedly and repeat slowly, much to the annoyance of my friends, "Eight wickets. Eight."), Gambhir the Rude Midget elbowed Shane Watson the Harassed Angel, Ponting chose to reveal his Boneheaded Self at the only moment when his team looked like they could win anything at all, and Dhoni nearly made my heart explode with love for his captaincy, uber-cool batting and his penchant for Lovely Little Symbolic Gestures - right from carrying Kumble on his shoulders after his retirement in the Kotla Test, to handing one of the stumps to Ganguly at the end of the Mohali Massacre, asking Ganguly to captain the team in the last few minutes of his international career, to requesting Kumble to receive the Border-Gavaskar Trophy along with him at the end of the last Test. So. Much. Love.
... Anyway. That be the backstory now, as we play England in a seven-match ODI series. England, delightfully fresh from theit Antigua Stanford Humiliation proceeded to rub salt in their wound in a way only the English (occasionally the Indians, but then again, not really) can, by capitulating to a second string MCA XI in a most embarassing fashion. KP, for all the Fresh Hope that he brought to the side after leading his team to an unexpected trouncing of the Saffers in his first ever assignment as captain, could only dip his head into his (sexy tattooed) arms and then declare it was a practice match, and that the real evaluation of his side ought to come after they played an international match.
Well, India and England 'clashed' at Rajkot in the first match of the seven-match series today, and KP? The first set of results are out. And they ain't lookin' good.
Yeah, trounced by 158 runs. What's that blue stuff along with the yellow one underneath the Indians' shoes, you ask? Oh, that's England, dontcha know.
A large part of the huge margin owes itself to the Magnificence of Inexplicable Yuvraj. Let me make no bones about the fact that I utterly loathe this man, but boy, when he lets his bat talk like he did today, all you can do is pick your dislocated jaw up from the floor! This guy, for all the irritation his personality causes me, once again proved to the world that he is bursting to the seams with incredible batting talent. Why he is Inexplicable, of course, is the eternal gripe that even after eight freakin' years in the national squad, he's never been able to make a place for himself in Tests, or even ensured a rock-solid consistency in the shorter formats. His form graphs dip to hideous (in Australia and Sri Lanka earlier this year) and then rise to glorious peaks just as suddenly (like TODAY, dammit).
But if there is something consistent about him, though, is the wonderful dynamic he shares with his captain. He and Dhoni put up yet another 100 run partnership today in double-quick time, and he always seems to play his best these days with Dhoni at the other end.
Talking of dynamic partnerships, Viru and Gauti proved themselves to be the most reliable rocket-propellant in international cricket once again, getting us off to a brisk but solid start. Raina and Rohit also look to be in good form, and Dhoni seems to be carrying forward his excellent form from the Tests, so batting-wise, India's smokin'.
England came out to chase 388 (aw come on, that's easy, as the Saffers will tell you - or maybe not), and quickly slipped to 40-0dd for 4. Yeowch.
KP flexed his muscles for a quick half-century, and Bopara and Broad indulged in some heavy-duty slogging toward the end, but England finally folded up for 229 in the 38th over, losing by 158 runs.
Of course, a stellar effort from the Indian bowlers, but one wonders if the England innings ought to have been finished a whole lot faster. Too many overs from the part-timers (indeed, Sehwag and Yusuf proved to be extremely prolifigate) at a time when India really ought to have gone for the kill - like when England were 70-odd for 5, perhaps? Did Dhoni miss a trick there? Or was it because of limited options? Or did he have something else in mind? Same thing happened a couple of times in Sri Lanka, too. Maybe he didn't want to strain Zaks - after all, expensive part-timers or no, they were going to win the match, and win it comfortably. Bhajji proving to be ineffective (relatively) also messed things up a bit.
For England, well, miserable as the results must seem, they'll take the tiniest bit of heart from KP's form, and Broad's and Bopara's clean hitting, and for India's history of complacency following BIG wins, like this one.
So, England, go ahead clutch at the straws, get your act together, and give us a better contest next ODI!
(... and DO NOT make me regret saying that...)
I wish I could've watched today's match (Yuvraj on song is always a treat to watch), but college and the fact that I am several kilometres away from the nearest TV, made me resort solely to Internet commentary. Not too bad, but following cricket on the 'net can make you mad, with all the opinions and the vitriol and the nonsense that is interspersed by good, solid analyses.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Day 1: Take a bow, Ricky Ponting!
Australia 254/4 at the end of day 1, Hayden 0, Katich 66, Ponting 123, Hussey 46*, Clarke 11, Watson 0*; Z Khan 2 for 39, I Sharma 1 for 49, H Singh 1 for 71.
After all the waiting and the hype, yeah, we got a full day of cricket. It was a day that mostly belonged to the Aussies - particularly Ricky Ponting - and they're now nicely placed for a big score, provided India's seamers - who're bowling wonderfully with the new ball - don't disrupt their plans with a few quick wickets tomorrow. Interestingly poised.
It was a day that had a weird up and down quality to it, plenty of seriously dramatic flares interspersed with some pretty monotonous cricket. I watched as much as I could, but you really had to look out for the drama. The moments just come out of the blue, and keeps your mind occupied until the next one comes and hits you upside the head. Classic stuff. This Border-Gavaskar tussle has created so much hype, and the matches so often live up to it and so often impossibly transcend the hype, that this is looked upon as an Ashes without the century-old history and the lack of competition. Because, competition? Intense.
The first over of the day - Zaheer Khan charging in and swinging the ball and generally bowling well, Hayden a little circumspect. Third ball of the day, he has a go at a Zaheer delivery outside off - or so it seems. The ball appears close to the edge, the edge appears close to the pad, and it's all generally confusing, but Dhoni collects centimetres from the ground and goes up in appeal along with the bowler and the slip cordon. Asad Rauf thinks about it for some time, decides Hayden did nick it, and lifts the dreaded finger. Out! Australia, 0 for 1! Hayden, Aus's Superman in India, out for a third-ball duck! Couldn't have asked for a more exhilarating first over for the series.
Ishant and Zaheer Khan bowled brilliantly in the first one hour, and troubled both Ponting and Katich (the other opener), both of whom survived several close lbw calls. After that, though, the two settled in, particularly with the advent of the spinners (whom Ponting played very well, so much for the much-anticipated Bhajji vs Ponting battle). The going was still slow, though - the run-rate almost never crossed 3 runs an over. Track was a little low, but appeared great for batting, as after the morning start that assisted the seamers, the bowlers hardly ever appeared threatening.
Australia reached Lunch at 75 for 1 - the rebuilding process well underway. It continued in the second session. The outfielding continued to be hopeless, and Katich and Ponting ran athletically and intelligently between the wickets. They turned on the juice a little this time - while the first session the run-rate was just a little over two, the run-rate here actually touched three. Both Ponting and Katich reached their half-centuries and seemed to be batting almost effortlessly. Zaheer and Ishant bowled well without getting the breakthroughs and Kumble and Harbhajan seemed singularly ineffective. Before Tea though, after a mammoth 166 run partnership, Ishant bagged Katich, caught behind by Dhoni. Ponting was joined by Mike Hussey, and as the teams went to Tea, Ponting had 94 next to his name and looking good for a ton.
After Tea, Ponting did get his century, and what a moment it was ! Hats off to you, mate. I'm not particularly fond of Ponting, but even I had to stand up and applaud. After all the bull-crap that's been talked about before this series about Ponting's dismal average in India, his struggles against spin and in particular Harbhajan, and the fact that his highest score here was 60, and all that he's had to endure, the pressure, the criticism and such-like, him grabbing the first opportunity he got and making the best use of it and proving a point to his critics was a great spectacle.
There was more drama to come when Kumble was bowling. Hussey was looking decidedly shifty at the crease as Kumble went through an inspired spell, and at one stage, with the scoreboard reading 201 for 2, Ponting played one back to the bowler that looked mighty close to being caught and bowled. Kumble appealed raucously accompanied by Dhoni and the close-in fielders to a lesser extent, but Koertzen was unmoved. Slow-mo replays showed that Ponting had indeed scooped back one to the bowler, and Ricky? Was lucky. And Rudi? Was given the Kumble Glare of Doom. An over or two after that, Anil appealed for a close lbw against Ricky, and was turned down by Koertzen again. But seriously, that appeal? Kumble looked so angry and desperate and almost ready to burst into tears, and Koertzen, annoyed by the over-the-top vociferousness (that is totally a word!) of the appeal, frowned and placed his hands on his hips, and I didn't know whether to laugh or to groan or to just magically teleport to Bangalore and give Kumble a hug as he turned away in despair and disgust.
Virender Sehwag bowled beautifully, late as he was brought into the attack, and got the elusive Turn and Bounce. Harbhajan who had rarely troubled Ponting through the day, finally confirmed to us that he still had Ricky's number - he had merely misplaced it till then - by bagging his wicket lbw when Ponting was on 123. Still, Bhajji, would've appreciated it if it had come, say, 100 runs earlier, yeah? Hussey and Clarke continued to plod on, though, but Zaheer Khan, in the last over the day, seemed determined to end it on the terms with which he had begun: he trapped Michael Clarke in front of the stumps with an absolute peach of a delivery. It was a dramatic end to the day, and took away a bit of sheen of the Australian innings, leaving the match better balanced.
... Okay, so general assessment? The Indian seamers bowled well today, but the spinners were mostly ineffective, the outfielding in general was not great, the field placements at times allowed too many easy singles... yet, the Aussies finished the day with an overall run-rate of much less than three, which surprised me. I mean, the cautious stuff in the morning was understandable, having received a setback so early. But why the diffidence throughout? Weren't the Aussies the ones to have made going at 3.5-4 an over in Tests the norm? Why couldn't they have pressed the accelerator at a time when they had India on the mat? In being so defensive, they allowed India to peg back a few before too much damage had been done to the host's chances in the game. Amazingly, despite Ponting's century and his big partnerships with Katich and Hussey, India go into day 2 with the slightest of advantages. Only 254 runs have been piled on, the inexperienced middle and lower-middle order has been exposed (Watson, judging by his IPL performance might be depended upon, but he's got precious little match-practice recently and Tests are a different ball game from Twenty20; Haddin the Batsman I'm not so sure about, but he did play well in the ODI series in India last year, but then again, he has proven problems against spin; White is an unknown commodity, he'll be hoping to pull off a Clarke; the lower order of Lee, Johnson and Clark looks strong; despite all of this, Aussies are so gonna miss Symmo and Gilly) and the second new ball is only 2 overs old. Come morning, and you can expect Ishant and Zaheer to be very dangerous, especially against a tentative seeming Hussey, and a brand-new-at-the-crease Watson.
I'm a little concerned about Kumble. I haven't the authority to judge his captaincy, but I just wonder. Does it really suit him? As in, on the field? He gets so angry and frowny everytime he bowls and he, IMO, just kinda sends out a bad vibe. Also, his Glares of Doom (that make even me squirm, even though I'm watching on TV hundreds of kilometres away) everytime somebody makes a mifield or fumbles a chance is something I don't like. You aren't that great a fielder yourself, you know, Anil.
Aanyway, so things are positioned for a cracker tomorrow. Early wickets are KEY, 'cause anything above 350, and the Indian Middle Order, already under so much pressure, would have to face much more. Let's see what happens, though.
... Oh, and there was a shot between overs that showed Dhoni thoughtfully chewing at his glove's webbing. Adorable! And can I just say that he looks incredibly cute in Test whites? With his uber-cool shades and sweaty and tousled hair and the nonchalant way in which he collected and passed the ball to slips? I'm SO fangirling him now.
... You know, because there just wasn't enough fangirling in this post.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Omg yay, cricket!
Ricky has won the toss (Dhoni and Kumble suck at winning the toss, except Dhoni's lucky star has taken steps to remedy that recently - very busy, that star of his) and has elected to bat first on a veritable batting beauty. India have to bat fourth, but what the hell. Cameron White makes his debut ahead of Jason Krejza, and one has to actually say that Ponting has done Krejza a favour - the way the Board President's XI tore apart Krejza in the practice match, the senior team's handling would've probably left him scarred for life. But then again, I remember White more as a batting all-rounder, so it's an unenviable choice that Ponting has made. Let's see if White can pull off a Clarke, though.
The final elevens for the Test:
Pretty much predictable line-ups otherwise. It's going to be a good match - hopefully India'll get rid of the bad habit of starting a series badly and hit the ground running this time!
Let the cricket begin!
R-Word: Strike One!
I was expecting this for sometime, but the timing of the announcement took me aback, and for the briefest of moments, even made me a teensy bit emotional. I mean, yeah, barely a couple of days ago I wrote a uber-long post which, among other things, criticised Ganguly's selection in the team, but now, actually faced with the fact that the next (I think) four Tests will be his last? I feel weird and almost... guilty. (Though that could be because of the truckload of articles and features that've popped up over the last 24 hours eulogising his career, his captaincy and even making almost-affectionate references to his arrogance and calling it a way to get his 'team together and against opponents'.)
Still! Not so long ago (and even now, to an extent) I was a huge fan of his, and I sincerely hope that, a month from now, he goes off with a bang, a few centuries under his belt, the glint of the Nagpur sun on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy nestled in Kumble's arms reflecting off his contact lenses (under which secret tears will be welling, and my sickeningly romantic soul will be imploding, and oh! the possibilities!).
... Okay. So what do I remember of Ganguly's career?
Yeah, I've heard/read all the comments about how only 'God can play better than Ganguly in the off-side' (seriously, Dravid, you're such a geek) - and maybe I started watching him too recently (2004-ish) to agree/disagree with that statement (and I know bat-shit about the inner technicalities of cricket, like any good fangirl) but I don't know, I've seen him place some truly awesome boundaries through insanely packed offside fields - it's like he guides the ball with his hands, his bat away from the body, feet barely moving at all (which makes it look ungainly for me - I've always preferred the overall fluency of a Raina or a Yuvraj, even if they aren't as great with placement and fine timing, or the sweet precision of a Rahul Dravid or a Tendulkar, or the sublime 'ah! wow!' elegance of a Laxman).
Still, a century on Test debut at Lord's, nearly 7000 runs in Tests, more than 10,000 in ODIs, the honour of being the second-most successful Indian ODI batsman ever after Tendulkar, his wonderful ability to pitch in with his deceptive medium-pace bowling... he was a pretty good cricketer, even minus the captaincy, you know? Sure, he is a horrendous runner between the wickets, has a tendency tp get all selfish-like when he senses a century or a personal milestone, and the less said about his fielding, the better (though he still has the tendency to pull off a great catch or a boundary-saving effort, that has everybody going gaga and Robin Singh actually laughing and blushing in embarassment)... but still. You know.
Still, what has everybody going really gaga over him for? Oh yeah. The fact that he is the most successful Indian captain (so far!).
From what I've read/seen/heard, Ganguly took over the mantle of Indian captaincy (already a freakin' tough job) during a testing time: right after the match-fixing scandal, which saw some great players like Azharuddin exit the game in a cloud of shame. The Indian team, even then, was chock-full of some expectionally talented players - Dravid, Tendulkar, Srinath, Kumble, and such-like - and what's more, all of them were in the prime of their youth and form. With Ganguly in freakishly good form himself, it was a damn good team to inherit - on paper. Somebody needed to pull this team full of talented individuals together, and get them to start pulling their collective weight - not just at home, but also the elusive overseas. And it turned out that hard-nosed, arrogant Ganguly was the right man for the job.
I suppose his arrogance and his tendency to rub opposition players up the wrong way to show them that they weren't boss (oh, I wish I'd watched the '01 series against the Aussies! Ganguly making an irritated Waugh wait for him at the toss must've been hilarious!) was a welcome departure from the usual Indian timidity. It sure did get his teammates fired up and instilled in them a belief that hey, we're playing this game to win, not to make sure we don't lose (both of which are totally not the same thing). And that? That inspired some truly magical performances (a la the Epic Kolkata Comeback against the Aussies in '01, or the Awesome Adelaide Win against the Aussies in '03), overseas victories, and some of the most enduring and captivating memories that the modern Indian cricket fan treasures. And guess what? He contributed in them, too.
My favouritest (what? that's totally a word!) memory of Ganguly has got to be one of my earliest of cricket, and also one of my more exhilarating memories: 2002, the NatWest ODI series final against the Nasser Hussain-led England. I was barely 12 then, just starting to watch the odd cricket match or two to find out what all the fuss was about, but found myself riveted until way past midnight, with my totally cool and equally cricket crazy grandmother giving me company. India had allowed England to pile up more than 300 in the first innings, and those being the good old days where 300 was actually considered a tough total to chase, my grandmother (even though I credit her for invoking my interest in cricket, she's quite the pessimist when it comes to the Indian team) was already declaring that England had won. We decided to watch the chase, however, and though my memory of the details of the match is hazy at best, we'd lost too many wickets for less runs than was acceptable, and young Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif, barely out of their teens but strongly Ganguly-backed (I loved that youngster-spotting and backing quality of his captaincy too) and playing for the national team were just stringing together a rearguard partnership. Just when it looked like they would take us out of jail and to victory, Yuvraj got out. Once again the pessimisstic!granny struck, but I remember continually assuring her that we would win somehow and forcing her to stay on till the end (though if I was as worldly-wise as I am now, I'd've probably put off the TV and gone to bed). And to our delight, Kaif hung on with the lower order, and secured victory! We had secured out first overseas win in such a freakin' long time, it wasn't funny! There was much high-fiving between me and my grandmother (and a lot of delirious "I told you so!"s from me).
Now we come to the most important part of the memory (yeah, yeah, I'm a backstory freak): the camera panning to the dressing room balcony, focussing on Ganguly screaming his lungs out (he's got pretty teeth. Just saying.), bare-chested (ooh), whirling his shirt violently in the air above him, his many chains and whatever else he has around his neck, bouncing up and down on his hairy chest. No sooner had I finished gaping at this image than he was running onto the field (shirt unfortunately, ahem, I mean, miraculously back on) crashing into a tired Kaif who was making his way slowly back to the pavilion, hugging him to the ground. The rest of the team had apparently caught the captain's delirium, and fell collectively on top of the two, and it was a sight like I'd never seen before (until of course, the Twenty20 World Cup came around, and I saw Dhoni's shirt removing at an age where I could... well, better appreciate it...).
Ahem, the thing is, this is one of my earliest and precious memories of watching cricket. Ganguly sort of reached his high point in '03-'04 -- what with leading the team to the finals of the '03 World Cup, making Australia struggle for a series draw in their own backyard, and acheiving dramatic Test and ODI series wins in a much-hyped tour of Pakistan in '04. After that, though, things began to go downhill -- and how! He was undergoing a prolonged form slump, and seemed to think he deserved to be in the team for his captaincy alone. He plumped for Greg Chapell as coach, not foreseeing that that would be the cause of the most trying period in his cricketing career.
Cricket took a backseat for me in 2004 and most of 2005, so I didn't really pay much attention to the Chappell-Ganguly spat -- it was only much later that I read up on the sordid affair -- that finally led to him losing his captaincy to Rahul Dravid, and getting booted out of the team. Almost the whole of 2006 he was out of contention for a spot in the nation, and I seemed the only person that I knew who held any hope that he would return to play for India. I remember so many times I defended Sourav even as my friends joked about him becoming a commentator/umpire/coach to try and get back on the field.
And guess what, guys? He came back! And right in time for the World Cup, too!
After his Famous Comeback, however, I began to feel more and more critical of him. I don't know, I feel his batting has a selfish tinge to it. I mean, that fifty against Bangladesh in the World Cup that took more than 100 balls? I mean, what the hell? Is he just happy to see a 50 or a 100 next to his name, and assumes that puts him above criticism, even if the team loses? And also, in late 2007 in the Nagpur chase against the Aussies. He entered the 80s, the chase was going along well, and suddenly his pace slows down. The innings slows down. By the time somebody comes and forces the pace, it is too little, too late. We lose a match that we were actually winning for the most part. What, Sourav? Wanted a century? Whatever happened to settled batsman forcing the pace and running hard when a new partnership had to be built in a tough chase?
... Oh well. This post wasn't supposed to be critical, but that's Ganguly for you: he induces a veritable mixture of emotions and reactions in you. But you know what? He was an awesomely colourful character, and the Attitude of the Indian team today owes something to him. The fact that we are winning overseas today also owes something to him. Superstar Indian cricketers of today, like Dhoni and Zaheer and such-like also owe him something for his unrelenting backing of them, and getting them their successful international breaks.
So, yeah. Four more Tests, and against the one opponent he has annoyed the most. One final, royal snub, eh, Dada? And... I hear retired life ain't so bad - you've got a few businesses running home already. Politics might not be a bad option, you're unbelievably popular in your state, or so we hear (and see!). Just one thing: no commentating, okay? There're enough ex-players annoying viewers world-wide already as it is.
Monday, October 6, 2008
India: Bravado, Confusion and the R-Word
Yeah, so just two days left now, so let's get right into it, shall we?
There's been a lot of talk about how vulnerable this Australian team looks (comparitively, of course, these blokes are still an awesome team), and how India is totally going to smear them all across the proverbial wall and reclaim the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. Okay, that's not all that the talk's been about, but this is the general first impression that people get, comparing the two sides purely on paper. (Of course, by just records, stats and sheer weightage of talent, India would've almost always won on paper).
However the Indian team is going through tough times of its own, and the number one question on everybody's lips is: What of the Middle Order?
The Sri Lankan tour was a confusing one for most Indian cricket fans to endure. The magical triumverate (Ganguly, Dravid, Sachin -- I so totally don't believe in the Fab Four nonsense, 'cause Laxman still has so much to offer) totally flopped in the Test series against the Sri Lankans, mainly due to the wiles of an amazing rookie spinner, and the wily older one, who only grew more effective in the befuddling aura cast by his younger colleague, rather than being stifled by it. These two guys bowled in tandem, and the Middle Order was blown away. The Review System didn't help, sure, but nobody expected such an abject, collective failure. Their inability to handle the spinners (and looking totally undeserving of their 'best players of spin in the world' tag) was further accentuated by the successes of Sehwag (who was, who was, who was... can I say "brilliant"? *worships* ), Gambhir (Mr. Consistency, yo), and hell, even the likes of Harbhajan, Zaheer and Ishant (who is the best number eleven India's had in a long time)! While catches were dropped and the body language drooped, Kumble seemed uninspiring as captain on the field. He toiled and toiled, but wasn't producing many results (and he obviously couldn't match Jayawardene in shrewdly and carefully using the Review System). He was the least successful spinner in a series where all other bowlers thrived. End result? Series lost, 2-1. And then what happens? Dhoni and his merry band waltz in to play the ODI series against SL, the ODI squad containing only two of the Test eleven (Zaheer, Gambhir), and they win, 3-2. Not that they didn't have their problems, but at least most of them seemed to be able to put their hands up to work out the problem in times of need (headed admirably by the captain), made maximum use of the dollops of luck that came their way, and eventually took the trophy home.
Why this recap of what most Indian cricket fans will be familiar with anyway, you ask? Well, every drama needs a backstory, dunnit?
The R-Word (ahem, retirement) struck with full force, and the Middle Order, all of whom are well past the wrong side of 30, were being asked to 'gracefully hang up their boots' (which is a weird metaphor, if you think about it). They, of course, don't want to, and nor do their endless legions of fans. And so the debate raged. Have we allowed the batting order to grow old together? Is it too late to start blooding replacements? Are there any suitable ones? Or can they never be replaced (because, you know, people seem to think they're, like, cricketing gods or such-like)? Are the youngsters worthy, or are they all hankering after Twenty20, quick bucks and such-like, and refusing to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Test Cricket (please)? What about Anil Kumble? After all his Dignified Awesomeness in Australia, was he finally starting to feel the pinch of captaincy? Wasn't his own form dipping? With the dip in form, was he actually a good leader? Didn't he depend on the whole 'leading-from-the-front' stuff? Wasn't he 38, for Pete's sake? Was it time to let Dhoni take over the Test mantle as well? Or is Dhoni's not-so-impressive Test record going to work against him? Wasn't Dhoni burdened enough with roles of 'keeper, and saviour of the innings, ahem, I mean, lower middle order batsman? Is Sehwag a better candidate, or would it affect his game at a time we have finally hit upon a solid Test opening pair?
Whew! That's a lot of questions, there, people. So yeah, the Indian state of affairs are not exactly ideal, either.
My thoughts on the whole thing? Well, I'm not for a mass retirement or anything like that, but I feel if the Test team is to reinvent itself and not stagnate, like the ODI team did just about a year ago, then a transition has to take place, and I believe Dravid and Ganguly ought to be the first to go. Definitely Ganguly, for mine. Sure, he played some good innings last year and stuff, but his fielding, running, and even his footwork at the crease have all gone a little more rusty. Dravid seems to be going through one prolonged confidence crisis, and seems determined to stagnate at the crease (dude, I know he's called "The Wall", but in his heyday, he at least used to rotate the strike regularly!), but he's still the country's best slip fielder, and Kumble would never ever agree to the droppage of Dravid. So it had to be Ganguly. Right?
The Vengsarkar-led selection committee seemed to agree, and in their last act, dropped Ganguly from the Rest of India team for the Irani Trophy, which was supposed to a "virtual Test team". Surely, this was the end of Ganguly's career, 'cause at 36, even Sourav couldn't manage the Famous Comeback. Right?
Krishnamachari Srikkanth waltzed in with the new selection committee, and promptly selected Ganguly for the first two Tests against Aus, and somewhere in front of a TV my jaw clattered to the floor. I suppose he didn't want to disturb the team dynamics too much before such an important series, but seriously. Kris? Where did you hide your famous backbone?
But then again, maybe this might be a chance for the magical triumverate to retire in a blaze of glory, and gallop toward the setting sun, and other such cheesy cliches I'm embarrassed to admit my cheesy, romantic soul revels in. For one, I'm dead-certain Kumble will throw in the towel latest by the end of the Test series against England at the end of the year, after which Dhoni getting the Test captaincy should be a mere formality. I know it's a big burden, but I think he can handle it. Also, if he can pick up his Test batting skills and get a couple or so centuries under his belt this series, that'd really help in acheiving that end. The fact that Dhoni's Test record does not match up to his prolific ODI one has been the number one (and sometimes only) point of contention for his critics. I hope Dhoni destroys that bit of their leverage with this series. Sehwag is an option, true, but I feel it might affect his game. The key for India is for Sehwag to play with that seeming abandon, that simple philosophy of 'see ball, will hit'. We don't want his mind clouded with other stuff, and another prolonged form slump, do we? Just when VirunGauti were starting to become a phenomenon! (Besides, tactics isn't Sehwag's strong suit, either. Just saying.)
One thing I loved about the selection was that Badrinath was picked. Seriously, this guy's proverbial kuckles must be raw from knocking on the proverbial selectors' door all these years. He didn't impress in the Irani Trophy, or the BP XI match against the Aussies, though, and that worries me. Hello, totally bad time for bad form to hit! But the general consensus is that Badrinath would one day prove to the ideal replacement for Dravid and such-like, and we know that he has the full support of Dhoni and co., so here's hoping Badri, you know, becomes something like an Indian Mike Hussey. Because that'd be totally cool.
Yuvraj, Rohit and Raina, who weren't deemed good enough have totally impressed in the practice matches against the Aussies, though, and Hello! Awkward for the selectors.
Also, this whole thing about youngsters not being able to 'match up to the seniors' is starting to get on my nerves. Fine. Let's compare Badrinath's and Dravid's Test records, shall we? Or Rohit's and Tendulkar's? Wait a second! Rohit and Badrinath don't have Test records! So how in the whole wide world would we (dude, that was an impressive alliteration) know how they would perform as replacements without giving them a chance? And it's not like we're going to have a choice soon enough are we? I mean, yeah, Kumble and the Middle Order have given us some wonderful memories, and are among the finest players of their generation, but they're getting past it, and it's time to deal with it in a professional manner, like the Australians do. If the nostalgia becomes overwhelming, instead of cursing a youngster who 'has the audacity to think he can fill the boots of the wonderful/magnificent/godly Dravid/Tendulkar/Ganguly' (or something to that effect), go see a counsellor, okay?
Also, when the Middle Order made their first appearance together, I'm pretty sure they didn't hit their stride immediately. Give the new guys some time and patience too, yeah?
Bowling looks healthy with in-form Zaheer, Ishant and Munaf making up the pace attack. (I seriously doubt RP will get a game). Kumble is a tireless performer, and will no doubt only be fired up more after all the criticism, and Bhajji has got so much to play for, and of course, some bunnies (*cough* Ponting *cough*) to net. Amit Mishra's selection intrigued me - I thought Chawla/Ohja were the heirs apparent? However, I'm glad his domestic record and stints with the India A team have been recognised - I remember him being a very good lower order batsman too, so it's all good.
So, at the end of the uber long post, what do I mean to say? Things look mighty interesting at the Indian end of the spectrum, and the implications of this Test series on the national team could be more far-reaching than it appears superficially.
... Now, didn't that sound impressive?
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Getting on the frontfoot
A real cricket fangirl.
A few things, though. Firstly, I'm not going to be overly technical. I can't. I can't go on about seam positions and hand grips and middle stump guards and top-spinners and crumbling pitches and such-like. What I can do, however, is offer a perspective. A reasonably knowledgable one. I don't know whether it'll be unique or any such thing, but hey, like everybody, I get opinions, and also, like everybody, I like expressing them at every possible opportunity.
Like every devoted fangirl, I manage to dock a bit of time everyday for catching up on everything cricket. One thing I have noticed about general commentary on the game is how freakin' pessimistic people seem to get while talking about the state of the game. How nostalgia seems to exude out of the computer screen and hit me like a tidal wave. Well, you know what? I'm not like that. I only started following cricket in 2003, and seriously fangirling it only from 2005. So, yeah. I don't remember the 'Tendulkar-is-our-only-God' era, or the pre-match-fixing era, or the Ganguly's-awesome-start-as-captain era. Or even much of the Great Middle Order era (though some of Dravid's innings in Australia and Pakistan still cling in my mind as vestiges of a magnificent memory). I started following the Indian team as it is HERE AND NOW. And I'm excited! (Mind you, I still have no love lost for the ICC or the BCCI. >.<)
There're a lot of things I love and hate about the game and everybody involved in it, so this blog came to life. Everything needs a start, though, and what better way to start this baby than the Australian tour of India this year? First Test starts just 3 days from now, and the hype... well, it's been magnificent. There're a lot of things that're being said, and predicted, and such-like, but the excitement this time is rather... understated. Both teams are what experts like to call 'in a state of flux' and what I'd like to call 'having their personal shitload of problems', and how they overcome that, or whether they will it all, is something nobody is sure of - not even the players themselves. So there's nothing unnecessarily acidic flying around - both countries are too busy criticising their own teams.
The imminent retirement of the Middle Order Plus Spinner-Captain, whether Badrinath gets the Opportunity, the performance of Amit Mishra and the pace attack, whether Dhoni finally gets some Big Test Innings under his belt and seals his candidature for Test captaincy as well, whether Ricky Ponting will finally find the form that always deserts him in India, whether Krejza or White turn overnight Warnes or get ripped apart at the seams by the Middle Order, the Harbhajan vs Australia fights, probable verbal spats, delicious controversy... I could go on. There is just so much to look forward to.
I love, I mean, ahem, hate cricketing cliches, but dudes, seriously. Test cricket is so alive.
... If only Bangladesh weren't getting their asses handed over to them each and every time.
I'm going to look forward to blogging about this obsession of mine. Then what's the "life" and "fantasy", you ask? They're there because they sounded good.