Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fleeting Impressions and Post-Mortems

A week or so ago, inspired by the kazillion 'looking-back-on-2008's-cricket' articles to come, I sat down to write one of my own. It never got finished, distracted as I was by South Africa's exhilarating campaign in Australia, Bangladesh's attempts at renaissance against Sri Lanka, some entertaining domestic cricket, and the Gayle-show on as the Kiwis faced the Windies. Cricket squeezed the most it could out of even the very last days of the year, and right now, looking at the half-finished draft, I couldn't help but think, 'ah, chuck this'. The game transcends any attempt I could possibly make to sum it up, and 2008 was a more tumultuous year than most for this beautiful game. The normal Powers That Be on the cricket field are all out of whack, and therefore 2009 promises to be an exciting year for the game. I can only provide my fleeting impressions of how cricket this year affected me, because that's all my spectrum is limited to. I don't even play the game (hell, the only sport I took up seriously was tennis, and even that fell to the wayside for academics), but I adore it with an inexplicable passion, and therefore I sit here and type, despite the sleep tugging at my eyes.

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:

Virender Sehwag
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)
Kevin Pietersen
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?)
Zaheer Khan
Dale Steyn
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

Virender Sehwag
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.
Andrew Flintoff
Daniel Vettori
Zaheer Khan
Nathan Bracken
Ajantha Mendis

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

Seriously, I do.

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

Ahem, ignore lameness of title, kplzthnx.

Yeah, so the second Test match at Mohali ended in a tame, plodding draw, and yeah these 'farcical finishes' don't help the already-dwindling stadium attendances (uh, really?), the negative stuff 'kills the spirit of the game' (seriously?), and blah, blah, blah, but guess what made it worth it ALL? The moment where the plodding-along-knowing-the-result-anyway became a prelude to the BEST moment of the match??

Dhoni taking the ball to bowl the last over of the match.

Call me insane if you like, I'd've paid through my frickin' nose to watch him bowl (except it'd be mucous-covered and stuff, cos I'm so ill I don't know how I'm typing this crap).

All the inanity and Dhoni-Love aside, this Test ended with not much to go with it - except for the Dravid Comeback and Gambo scoring his usual truckload - and the over-snipping at the beginning and end of every day didn't help matters. India had a real chance of winning yesterday, though, rolling over England's last four for barely 20 runs in the morning. For some reason they indulged in a tortuous plod that did nobody any good - least of all the batsmen themselves, as two of them even got run-out (well, who asked you to go at 2 an over in the first place?), and by the time Yuvraj Singh came in toward the end of day 4 and started smacking the ball around (like I'd freakin expected the rest of them to, well, okay, not Dravid, but still) the match had already been killed - like had a stake driven through its metaphorical heart, players metaphorically dancing in its metaphorical blood, repeatedly flaying its metaphorical corpse, while not-so-metaphorically scoring more runs and damn if I'm not tired of metaphors by now. Yuvraj and Gambo entertained for a bit in the morning (ha ha, I came the closest I'd ever come to liking Yuvraj when he hit Prior - unintentional, yeah, but I loved it) then got out within a few runs of their centuries leaving several people (not least their generous declaration-delaying captain) rolling their eyes.

And then! England came and had some televised batting practice before the Moment of the Match happened, and then it was all handshakes and presentations and stuff (Zaheer Khan got the man of the series, by the way, and that was a pleasant surprise).

India win the series 1-0. I'm actually kinda disappointed Dhoni's 100% win record had to end. I'm spoilt, I say! Spoilt!

So the Indians wanted to make sure they could hold on to their 1-0 lead and not draw the series 1-1 in a bout of foolish bravado, sure, that's perfectly justified, but still. Like I said before: two Test series? Me no likey. This could've made for a wonderful five match series.

It's kind of disappointing for England to go home with absolutely no silverware at all, because they actually performed extremely well in the Tests - considering they'd been steamrollered in the ODIs and the disturbances and uncertainty that came in between. They don't deserve going home without even a single win to their name, to be fair, but India made sure it won the moments that mattered, while England floundered. (Plus, we have Dhoni. Unfair advantage much?)

So! All in all? A tame end to a frickin awesome year for the Indian team (other than the whole being decimated in Sri Lanka and the Asia Cup final by Mendis part, and oh, the infamous Ahmedabad Massacre by the Saffers), and I would so say more about this, except I'm worn out by illness and exams and stuff (kinda why the post is crazier than usual), so I'll spare the torture.

Oh, and a Merry Christmas to the precious few who actually happen to read this blog (I love you all, I do).
Oh, oh, oh, and!!!!

.... I... I... there're no words. Just.... just none. *dies*

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yum, Test Cricket

It's been an interesting couple of days at Mohali.

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.

Against Australia.

HA HA. Post-McGrath&Warne is starting to bite Ponting's rear, hard, you may say.

I agree.

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.

Just awesome.

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.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Grind away, boys (or, you know, don't)

Day 1 at Mohali, and the proverbial Northern Winter (proverbial cos the most North I've ever been to is Hyderabad. Or Goa. Whichever is Northier. >.>) meant that only 71 overs were bowled because of poor light. A delay in the morning, and then a premature end to the day as well.

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.

Uh, seriously.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chennai, miracles, and the Team That Can Do Anything

HOKAY. I'm so full of adrenaline I can hear it sloshing around inside. With an Internal Exam of Doom scheduled for tomorrow I thought I'd do this tomorrow night but this can't wait, it can't.

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.

Abso-freakin-lutely brilliant.

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)

Lord Viru hath spoken.

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

Nah, England haven't won. Yet.

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)

At the end of day 3, the Test match looks like this:

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)

Formalities, formalities.

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.

Oh, ma.

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

For a change, this post ain't going to be snarky, or about fangirling.

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.