Friday, February 27, 2009

... and AGAIN.


So India apparently suck at Twenty20.

Startled by the inexplicability of the statement, I picked it up. Prodded. Examined. Dissected. Peeled off a cross-section and examined under the microscope. Made sketches. Notes.

And yet?

I'm left with more questions than answers. And a firmer conviction that this ain't gonna be a pretty tour for the Indians.

Also? I think I know what the other side feels like now. Remember the 2nd final of the CB series? Where Irfan, who was bowling utter crap, was given the final over where Australia required 13 runs to win? And he went on to bowl a superb over which not only fetched him two wickets but sealed a historically monumental win for India?

And this time around?

Irfan was bowling beautifully, 12 runs required to win off the last over, only 4 runs from the first 4 balls, and then?


The Brendon of McCullum hits two consecutive fours off the last two balls and New Zealand win and I die.

Reminds you of a lot of the Great Escapes that India has managed to pull off over the last year, yes? (The greatest of them being the World Twenty20 final, which was, ow. Unbelievable.)

Now I grit my teeth as I read people like Iain O'Brien go "It's wonderful to have beaten the world champions", (yeah, champ, why don't you have a cookie now) and the NZ newspapers go, "omg India is in such great form, they are clearly the favourites", and at this point I'm seriously wishing for them to tell us how crappy India really are, Aussie-style, because that never fails to rile the Men in (now a terrible shade of) Blue up and inspire them into spectacular performances.

Only tthree things console me now:

1. India've always been crappy starters on overseas tours, and going into this one with zero NZ experience, zero practice matches, a two week layoff after the SL tour where they vacationed, partied, and constantly had people telling them how great they were? Yeah, for them to be hitting the ground running would've expecting too much. Also, the performance in the second Twenty20 was a marked improvement from the first. I'm expecting better and better performances in the ODIs and Tests.

2. India, world Twenty20 champions, national team of the home of the IPL, chock-full of cricketing superstars, losing to hardworking, efficient and understated New Zealand? Hopefully it's enough of a slap in the face to shake off the last dregs of complacency and over-confidence.

(And also, Dhoni? Please to be shaking off your rustiness. It be painful to watch.)

((And who asked you not to play domestic cricket in the interim between SL and NZ, huh, HUH? Sheesh. ))

3. Remember South Africa's immensely successful tour of Australia recently? One of their few major blips was losing both their Twenty20s comprehensively to the Aussies. But they comfortably took both the ODI and Test series, and no prizes for guessing which was the happier team at the end of the tour. So, India? Hint there, hello!

Watching the team lose is a much harder pill to swallow now than before. What have you done to me, team?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

So we lost.

There's this Twenty20 the Indian team was supposed to be playing that kicked off their tour of New Zealand, right? Apparently we lost it. By 7 wickets.

Hm. Deep breath. Close your eyes, brace yourself.


Fine. I think I've been spoiled quite a bit by India's winning streak, so despite my predictions of Doom and Gloom for the Indian team in New Zealand, I was kind of expecting them to win anyway, deep within. Apparently they had plenty of chances to do so, too - judging by the text-message updates a sick friend at home was kind enough to send me while I was in class. Oh, and they were entertaining text updates, too, my favourites being:

"dhoni has lost all his batting skills, i guess... what kind of a shot was that?"

"raina nails it! awesome 50. 162 for 8"

"ha ha, take that jesse ryder! 2 for 1 after 1"

"Ishant is throwin the match away 2 no balls seriously what is WRONG with him"

"India has lost major ground! nz 53/1 in 5.5! Recovery, we need recovery!"

"17 off yuvi's over, 39 req off 30. What is Dhoni SMOKING, bringing yuvi into the attack NOW?"

"28 req off 4"

"12 off 12"

Then, finally:

"4 off 10"

and the messages stopped. Um, I got the hint.

Oh well. I was predicting it anyway. I expect more of the same in the rest of the tour. (So prove me wrong, boys! )

Plus, plus, I'm delighted anyway because A R Rahman won both of his Oscars, (ahahaha, Chennaiite, people! "Ellam pugazhum Eraivanuke!" My heart burst with joy that moment, I swear!) and Jared Padalecki from Supernatural has suddenly risen up to Number Two on my all-time obsessive fangirling list, right after MSD. Mmm hmm.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Of cows, stocks and other such delightful things

Another year. Another February. Another day where cricketers sold like stocks. Or "cows". (Don't worry, Gilly, keep at it and one of those fanatic pro-Hindutva groups will come and save you from the eeevil IPL.)

The amounts of money being tossed around this time - defying global concerns over the Economic Recession - didn't startle me as much as it did last time 'round. I'm rather looking forward to this year's edition of the IPL. I had my fill of some spectacular Test cricket late last year, some good ODI cricket now, and I can't wait for the Twenty20 season to come. I generally don't get why some people can be so anti-Twenty20, pro-this, anti-that. I'm probably going to sound naive, but it's all cricket, each format requiring an unique set of skills. And as far as I know, the glamour never hurt anybody, least of all the cricketers themselves. Plus, it's a great way to attract new fans to the game. I know a lot of people who started watching not just T20, but also Tests and ODIs after the IPL last year.

... But that's an argument for another time.

So. Let's have a look at the teams post-auction.

Bangalore Royal Challengers

Kevin Pietersen - 1.55 million
Jesse Ryder - 160,000

Well, obviously. The 'Test team' of the IPL was going to need a whole lot of big hitters - especially now with Misbah's contract terminated - and Vijay Mallya must've made a steady beeline for KP. I have my doubts about whether he's worth that much, though. I mean, yeah, he's flamboyant, in-form, destructive hitter and everything, but seems too much money for a batsman who can't add any other attributes to his kitty.

Veritable bargain as far as Ryder is concerned.

Chennai Super Kings

Andrew Flintoff - 1.55 million
Thilan Thushara - 140,000
George Bailey - 50,000

\o/ - was my immediate reaction when I heard that Chennai had bagged Flintoff. We were in desperate need of an incisive pacer - with the added bonus of being an all-rounder - and he fits the bill perfectly. I believe he's worth every paise of his price - provided he doesn't get injured along the way. I remember Thushara as a good bowler with a penchant for big hits down the order - very nearly won the man of the series award in the ODI series against India last year - but I would've preferred Kulasekara ahead of him. The George Bailey fellow I've never heard of, but I took a look at his profile - Tasmania vice-captain, T20 strikerate of over 150 - fine by me.

Deccan Chargers

Fidel Edwards - 150,000
Dwayne Smith - 100,000

Ah, DC, DC, DC. Fidel Edwards is a good up-and-coming pacer - could be the surprise package of the IPL. Dwayne Smith... well, okay, he's a good fielder, fairly good batsman... well, okay, yeah. Not got much to say. Hopefully they perform better than they did last time 'round.

Delhi Daredevils

Owais Shah - 275,000
Paul Collingwood - 275,000

... Okay, so I've been rather fascinated by Delhi's moves the whole of last year. They've made some pretty smart moves, others not-so-smart (you're giving up Shikhar Dhawan? Are you, like, nuts?) Owais Shah can be a good buy, whereas Paul Collingwood? Wait, let me check my imagination.

Yep, it boggles.

Kings XI Punjab

Ravi Bopara - 450,000
Jerome Taylor - 150,000

Sensible pick-ups, both of them. Taylor could turn out to be the bargain of the IPL. Kings XI looking like one of the most well-rounded teams of the IPL.

Kolkata Knightriders

Mashrafe Mortaza - 600,000

... Okay. Mortaza has always been one of my most favourite Bangladeshi players - a good pacer and a useful big-hitter down the order, but buying him for 120 times his base price? Seems like a little too much. I'm not even that sure he'll make an adequate replacement for Umar Gul. Come on, KKR, I thought you were smarter than that.

Mumbai Indians

JP Duminy - 950,000
Kyle Mills - 150,000
Mohammad Ashraful - 75,000

Surely the effect of the recently concluded South African tour of Australia, where JP Duminy was the undisputed star. I think it's a great buy. Fantastic batsman in the form of his life, great fielder and useful part-time bowler. Kyle Mills I don't know much of and can't be bothered with finding out, but wow is that a bargain for Ashraful or what.

Rajasthan Royals

Shaun Tait - 375,000
Tyron Henderson - 650,000

With the glamour quotient cranked up considerably with the entry of Shilpa Shetty, I think RR have acquitted themselves well here. Shaun Tait can be super-dangerous provided Warney toughens him up mentally, and I remember Henderson plays for Middlesex and was one of the key reasons they won the Twenty20 cup last year (oh, that final was amazing). Maybe a wee too much paid for him, perhaps.

Unsold Players: Stuart Clark, Brad Haddin, Chamara Kapugedara, Ashwell Prince, Phil Jaques, Andre Nel, Luke Wright, Nuwan Kulasekara, Samit Patel, Shakib Al Hasan, Morne van Wyk, Steven Smith, Ashley Noffke, Gulam Bodi, Daren Powell, Tamim Iqbal, Jon Moss, Bryce McGain, James Franklin, Aiden Blizzard, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Michael Klinger, Kaushalya Weeraratne, Prasanna Jayawardene, Dominic Thornley, Yusuf Abdulla, Daniel Harris, Kemar Roach, Aaron Bird, Michael Dighton, Michael Hill and Brett Geeves.

That's a whole lot of unsold players.

The people I cannot believe have remained unsold to any team have been italicised. With special emphasis on Shakib-al-Hasan. How in the world can you not take this kid? He's the sole reason Bangladesh have done reasonably well this year! Number one in the all-rounder rankings! Smoking hot form! I couldn't believe my eyes.

... Anyway. Things are being set up for an exciting Twenty20 season ahead. Will try to follow it as much as I can, cheer for the Chennai Super Kings as much as I can, though it'll be tough with final exams coming around the same time. There's this contest going on to search for the next bunch of CSK cheerleaders and when I expressed a desire to participate, I received the Collective Withering Look of Doom from my family.

Whatever do you think they meant? ;)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bee-yoo-ti-full stuff!

... Okay. So I spent the last few minutes of the match trying to come up with a witty name for the ecstatic, puppy-on-a-high blog post I was going to write, but in that cycle-gap between the end of the match and the presentation ceremony, Radhakrishnan Sreenivasan, cricket anchor for Neo Sports for as long as I can remember, made up my mind for me: "Bee-yoo-ti-full" he said. The game, the win, the venue, it was all simply bee-yoo-ti-full. He reminded me of a little kid caught in a stuffy suit in a boring studio with a boring-er Javagal Srinath and Dilip Vengsarkar (dude, wasn't he a selector, like, four months ago? No time to waste when it comes to making easy money) who wanted nothing more than to jump about and hoot and dance and scream. His voice trembled on the 'sensational's, his breathy 'phenomenal's had me raise my eyebrows, partly amused, partly wary. I love the guy's enthusiasm, despair for his obviously-wide but sparingly used vocabulary ("at this... point in time...") but honestly? I'm missing Harsha Bhogle. Now there's a guy who knows how to be enthusiastic about the game without sounding young. Plus, he uses the most delicious metaphors. The writer in me loves listening to his commentary.

... But I digress.

So we won the fourth ODI. Yay.

I'm not going to talk through the match, since I didn't see it live throughout, but apparently India won the toss (again, despite Dhoni changing his call out of some vague pity for Mahela) and elected to bat. Before this match, Dhoni had talked very clearly about how the team intended to try out the reserves, having the series won already. I assumed he would rest one of the centurions of the previous game (presumably Yuvraj), Zaheer Khan and possibly Yusuf Pathan, and replace them with Rohit Sharma, Irfan and Balaji. What I did not expect to see was Sachin's name missing from the XI, to make way for Rohit. Zaheer was rested to accomodate Irfan Pathan, and that was all the changes that were made to the team. Confusing, because I'd expected Sachin raring to go out and play and prove that it'd take more than a bunch of incompetent umpires to bring him down.

Plus, Balaji didn't get to play. Dhoni being Dhoni, escapes my wrath. Just about. Although, MS? He'd better be part of the XI on Sunday. Or... or.... I don't know. I just want to see Balaji play again and feel happy about it 'kay? 'Kay.

The batting performance seemed like a photographic negative of the previous one's. Sehwag, Yuvraj and Yusuf Pathan, who had contributed to the bulk of the scoring on Tuesday, fell cheaply today, while Gambhir, Dhoni and Raina, who weren't substantial last time 'round, had a field day today.

I must admit I was both ecstatic and a little surprised to see Dhoni walk in at number three. Ecstatic because it's been such a long time since I've seen him bat at that position and play a long innings, surprised because it eventually forced Rohit Sharma too low down the order to have any substantial time at the crease - which I thought had the been the point of the whole 'giving the reserves a chance' exercise.

Oh well.

After Sehwag fell early, Dhoni and Gambhir had a huge 188 run partnership for the third wicket - not the first time they're involved in Huge Partnerships of Doom, and certainly not the last - involving some intelligent running straight out of the top drawer, and some lusty hitting toward the end. I know I've complained about the apparent disappearance of the old hard-hitting Dhoni and this was a refreshing reassurance to not only us, but also his IPL bosses. I prayed and hoped for a Dhoni century, and was coming home from college when he was in his 90s. I was barely minutes from the nearest TV when the friend accompanying me received a text informing us that Dhoni had just gotten out for 94. Unfortunately, she told me immediately with an infuriatingly smug grin on her face (she'd been taunting me about the very possibility throughout the hour-long bus ride) and I saw red and boxed her ear and spent the rest of the Indian innings apologising and grovelling (what have you done to me, Dhoni).

Gambhir put up yet another huge score, Raina smashed 49 valuable runs at the end. Gambhir became the 503rd record-breaking wicket for Muralitharan, and although the immediate celebrations were muted because of the sorry position Sri Lanka were in at that stage of the match, it is nothing short of a fantastic acheivement. Muttiah Muralitharan is now the highest wicket-taker in Tests and ODIs, with an astonishing total of 1272 international wickets, and that, at the end of the day, proved to be Sri Lanka's sole reason to celebrate that night.

Praveen and Irfan opened the bowling as India proceeded to defend the 332/5 that they had scored. Praveen bowled tidily enough, but Irfan was simply ripped apart by both Jayasuriya and Dilshan. He finally did get Sanath's wicket, and his first spell figures went something like this: 5-0-45-1. Yeowch. There were parts in the early stages of the Sri Lankan reply when Irfan was being carted around that my gut twisted in trepidation and the sandwich I was eating moved almost warily toward my gullet, like a gate-crasher about to be thrown out by an angry host. I'm not sure why we're even persisting with Irfan anymore. I can't remember the last time he had a good ODI with the national team. If you're gonna nurture him as someone to come up in a say, Andrew Flintoff mould, you might as well give him proper opportunities, not just let him tag along, refusing to let go of something precious that you already spoiled beyond recognition a few years back.

Dilshan left playing the mother of all Stupid and Irresponsible Shots, and although Jayawardene and Sangakkara threatened briefly, the spinners came in and tied down the Sri Lankans so much they were never able to recover - Pragyan Ohja in particular bowled beautifully and the left arm spinner deserved more wickets in his eventually tally of 1 for 34 - and eventually folded up for 265, 67 runs short of the Indian total. There was a brief disruption in play as Dhoni led his team off the field in the middle after someone in the crowd apparently threw stones at Indian fielders fielding in the deep. Not the first time there've been similar complaints of crowd trouble on this tour, and it is most surprising and mildly disturbing, as Sri Lanka has always been touted as a great place to watch and play cricket.

And so the Indians completed a record 9th consecutive win, under Dhoni's captaincy. I love that this team shows no complacency and goes from match to match with the same insatiable thirst for runs, wickets, and eventually victory, the intensity and energy never flagging. Keep it going, guys!

Bee-yoo-ti-full times, indeed.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

So. Much. Joy.

The buzz, the adrenaline, the expletives, the jumping, the screaming, the restless pacing, the constant assessment of match situations, the rapidfire math going on in the head... people, I just realised how much I missed all of it today. Online commentary and surreptiously checking out mobile phone updates in the middle of class... can't compare. Only thing better is going to the stadium. Of course, it helped that we won today.

And how!

So Dhoni won the toss (yet again - this is getting funny, poor Mahela looked so helplessly frustrated and MS so adorably bemused), elected to bat and I had to laugh at Dhoni's line about checking for superglue on the bails, considering they hardly seemed to move in the previous match. That's right, MS. Keep smiling like a kid in a candy store, you beautiful boy.

The first half hour was Weirdness. Kulasekara bowled a tight opening over and then Dilhara Fernando, (coming off an injury layoff I think, replacing Thilan Thushara) sent down his obligatory no-balls. I might've whooped and laughed at that point, but I think I was too distracted by his ear-stud (mm). Free hit was hit out of the ground by Tendulkar - most unexpected, I nearly fell out of my chair. Didn't score much after that, though - last ball of the over Fernando extracted revenge, and Sachin was out lbw... or was he? Ball was full, hit him low on the pads as he tried and failed to work it to the onside, but surely it looked like it was going down leg? Too much doubt to give? Hawkeye later showed that it was indeed missing leg stump, and by some way too, so this is the third time in as many matches that Tendulkar has been wrongly adjudged lbw early on. Unlucky much? Not really. Incompetence from the umpires? Perhaps.

Gambhir came over and began to bat in this pseudo-aggresive way, trying too much too soon. As it was, he was dropped on 0, and was lbw off a no-ball, and my friend watching the match elsewhere in the city was texting "has something crawled into Gambhir's head and crapped there?" and I was inclined to agree. Finally, just as he looked to be settling down, Gauti was run-out in the most unfortunate manner - a delivery hit straight back by Sehwag brushed Fernando's fingers and crashed into the stumps at the non-striker's end before Gambhir, who was backing up too far, could get back in time. 24/2, and I was huffing. Yuvraj walked in, scratched round a bit - some thick edges falling short of slip - but soon settled in.

Cue for chaos.

The cricketing excellence of the whirlwind 221 run partnership likely has been and will be well-documented by souls better at the stuff than me, so I'm going to talk about the pure joy that partnership caused me. I haven't jumped on a sofa since I was eight, and ten years later, I found myself doing the same, cackling in joyous disbelief as Sehwag and Yuvraj picked up boundaries at will. Maybe it's because I haven't watched live cricket in a long time. Maybe this much awesomeness in one go after such a long lay-off was too much to take. I don't know. But it was a brilliant feeling.

The bowling powerplay (overs 12-16) fetched 40+ runs, and Dhoni surprised me by taking the batting powerplay immediately. The five overs fetched more than 50 runs, though, and it was that period where India really damaged Sri Lanka. It was a good move in retrospect, and served the basic principle behind a batting powerplay - make the most out of two settled batsmen having the time of their lives in the middle, rather than take it late with too much pressure and the fall of wickets. Yuvi and Viru were helped tremendously by bouts of wayward and Wholly Crappy Bowling from the Sri Lankans, of course. Farveez Maharoof started his spell well enough, but later on seemed determined to keep bowling a horrible leg-stump line, which the two batsmen - especially Yuvi - made the most of. Strike rates and bowling economies bloated to unseemly figures, and when all the powerplays were done with at the end of 21 overs, the scoreboard read 167/2, and I proceeded to pick up my dislocated jaw from the floor. None of the SL bowlers seemed determined in bowling to a field, and stuff predictably went downhill for them.

Yuvraj, amazingly, reached his century before Viru - not that Sehwag was too far behind. After the powerplays, the run-rate lessened and the two batsmen went into consolidation mode - that is, if scoring at 7.5 an over instead of 10 an over can be called that. When Yuvraj finally cut Murali to point - fetching him his world-record-equalling 502nd wicket in the process - the partnership had 221 runs in 160-odd balls. Sri Lankan fielding sucked, too - Sehwag was dropped thrice (late into his innings, mind) - by Maharoof, Fernando and Jayasuriya. Gambhir was dropped. Run-out chances were muffed. Just chaos.

Also Mendis later picked up a wicket - that of Raina - but went for more than 7 an over. Has the "Mendis code been cracked" finally? Hard to say without seeing him being played in a Test scenario, but was he walloped today! He bowled a lot of rubbish deliveries as well - come on, buck up, Mendis! But it was beautiful to see how disdainfully Yuvi handled his biggest nemesis - gone from bunny to freakin' Godzilla!

After Sehwag was run-out and Raina was stumped, Yusuf Pathan joined Dhoni in the middle. Dhoni seemed extra-sedate - even played out a freakin' maiden in the 40th - and that disappointed me a bit. Don't get me wrong - I've always been a strong supporter of the 'new' Dhoni, the Dhoni that stabilises the innings, guides the team through middle overs and so on and so forth, but sometimes I yearn to see the Dhoni of old, at least in situations like this. Just to remind everybody that the Dhoni who could tear apart bowling attacks with his trademark helicopter shots, the Dhoni who could hit near-perfect yorkers for six is not buried so deep that he can't show every now and again and thrill like he used to. Luckily, however, we've now got in Yusuf Pathan a man who can come in at seven and biff a few and do the job that used to be pre-captaincy Dhoni's, like he did yesterday, dominating a quickfire 85 run partnership with his captain, scoring a 33-ball 50 in the process. India finished at 363/5, way, way ahead of the previous best totals at the Premadasa.

Obviously if Sri Lanka were to make a fist of things, they had the perfect two men opening - Sanath Jayasuriya and Tillekeratne Dilshan, both of them in good form. Happily for the Indians, however, Jayasuriya was bowled for a golden duck by Praveen Kumar in the second over by a ball that swung in a bit. Forget happy, they were ecstatic. Understandably so. Sangakkara joined Dilshan, and the latter decided to take a leaf out of the Indians' books and began to counterattack. He played some super-shots before becoming too ambitious and was clean-bowled by an accurate Zaheer Khan, leaving SL 51/2. The till-now out-of-form Jayawardene joined Kumara Sangakkara, and started the only session of play that even hinted at threatening the Indians. The bowling powerplay (overs 11-15) fetched close to 40 runs with both Mahela and Kumara playing some scintillating shots. However the runs that came in that Powerplay had more 'good shots' involved rather than 'bad balls'. After 15, SL was 95/2, a very similar position to India at the same stage. So the difference had to be then. India had to bowl better than the Lankans did at the same stage. Mahela decided to ape Dhoni by taking the batting Powerplay (go trendsetter Dhoni! \o/) immediately, but those 5 overs fetched only 26 runs as Praveen and Zaks did an excellent job. Plus, Jayawardene's wicket was taken then, and with him gone, all chances of Lanka running India close were too. Kandamby looked good only to fall to Sehwag. Pragyan Ohja, despite an expensive start, did not lose heart or confidence and finally ended up with 4-38 at the end of his spell - excellent. Sangakkara tried valiantly with an 83, but there wasn't a single moment where it looked like the bright smile was going to disappear from Dhoni's face. Eventually SL was bowled out for 216, and India won by a whopping 147 runs, sealing the series win in the process.

I'm not one for pseudo-psychoanalyses made based on what we see of the players on TV, but even I couldn't deny that there was something infectious about the camaraderie that the players shared on the field. The perennial grin on Sehwag's face, in particular, was contagious and had me grinning like a maniac, with an inexplicably overwhelming love for humanity and everything concerned with it. I love the togetherness of this team, how it is so obvious that they like and support each other, without having to say it in cliche-ridden press conferences.

Uh... sorry for the uber-long ramble, but I enjoyed this game so much, I really did. I probably won't be able to watch another live match after this series gets over for another couple of months at least, so I'm extra glad that the boys made it extra-special so it stays an evergreen memory (because, obviously, the world revolves around me :p ).

Plus, Balaji can bowl in the next couple of one-dayers!!!!!!!!!!!!!! *dances*

Monday, February 2, 2009

Great tidings \o/

Third ODI today and I'm ecstatic for two reasons:

a. After six months, I finally get to see a whole day of live cricket on TV today (can'twaitcan'twait)

b. Lakshmipathy Balaji is back to international cricket! After three frickin' years, Bals is back! YES!!

Go ahead India, seal the series today and have Balaji bowl in the next two, go on now!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Scramble for the light

So after a month, I'm finally back home - mostly because of all the unrest that's going on here related to the war and unrest in Sri Lanka. I feel a strange kind of disconnect and even guilt, though, as the only Sri Lanka-related news I'm interested in catching up on is the progress of the national cricket team playing (yet another, yet another) ODI series there, and not on the lives lost, the mistrust and the unholy mess that is the decades-old conflict that is supposed to (so they say, with fiery, graphic forwards and demonstrations) involve me by proxy, as a Tamilian. I'm not even sure why I feel this, since neither the ODI series nor the war is anything I can do something about, so what I choose to follow is entirely my own, no baggage involved.

... Anyway.

The first ODI played - Dambulla, day match and I fretted briefly remembering the last two matches that were played there between the two sides, but finally I had nothing to worry about. It wasn't all that easy to bat on, but the Evergreen and Always Rocking Jayasuriya blasted a century anyway - and India won anyway. Rather comfortably, actually - aided by good, steady batting from everybody, intelligent bowling and captaincy, and lapses of concentration and incompetence from the Lankans. Plus, the last two times the two faced off in Dambulla? Ajantha Mendis still held his magical sway over the Indian batsmen that had them trooping off to the dressing room one after the other as if in a spell, while Zaheer Khan was experiencing an amazingly rich vein of form - probably the best he'll ever have in his career. Result? Not once did either team cross 150 in the four innings. This time around, however, not only did the pitch behave different, Mendis and Zaks were both out of their Magical Zones and it was back to the usual stuff needed to win ODIs. And this Indian team goes about that business with the precision and efficiency that reminds one of a machine. Strange that watching a machine could make you so excited - but I am, I love what this Indian team promises, I am so looking forward to seeing their ambition blossom into fruition.

Also I was impressed by how quickly the Indian team got themselves back on track, seemingly picking up from where they left against England, despite the long lay-off from international cricket. Traces of rustiness was present, but nothing glaringly obvious or match-costing.

But really, the best thing about that ODI? Ajantha Mendis's bowling figures: 10-0-47-0.

That's right, people. No wickets. Oh, have I been waiting for the day. Sure, the kid's allowed a temporary slump, as new as he is to international cricket, and the Indians have come a long, long way since the Asia Cup Final 6 for 13 nightmare days - had to have, just had to - but I would often point out, almost bitterly, that come hell or high weather, win or loss, jaffas or crappy bowling, Mendis always gets a wicket. Always. Now, though? The Mendis is not Elusive. He is still Spendid (due courtesy to Damith of flyslip for the term), with potential to become Splendider, but he has to work harder for his wickets now. No more a flick of the middle finger and the batsman scurries off to the pavilion. This be Good, but for there was nothing more that annoyed me than the willing way the Indian batsmen capitulated to his so-called 'mystery bowling' last time they faced him, especially in the Test series. Guts, innovation, confidence, positivity - and suddenly Mendis is blinking.

Then the focus shifted to the second ODI in Premadasa, and it's a day-nighter. Again, fret-inducing memories of playing daynighters in Sri Lanka from last time around, and how the ball seems to do strange things under lights, but again, the effect this time wasn't as drastic as the last time around. India won the toss, batted first (predictably enough) and after a superb start, suffered a few brain-fades in between, coupled with some excellent Powerplay bowling by Maharoof, and ended up 256/9, which while on its own was an excellent total to defend in the Premadasa, was at least 30-35 runs short of where the Indians should've been considering their start, all the batsmen who got out after settling, and the sheer superiority of their batting lineup, with no offence to the Sri Lankan lineup. We started our defence well enough, too, ripping quickly through the SL top-order, but then lost focus in some of the Powerplay overs, allowed Kandamby of The Few International Matches and Jayawardene Of the Bad Form to climb on top of our nerves (in their own paint-drying-on-a-wall way) and set up things for a last-ditch attempt to overhaul the Indian total, which ultimately failed, as Ishant bowled magnificently at the death, choked the Lankans, run-outs abounded, and the Indians emerged victorious by 15 runs, while Ishi deservedly captured the MoM award for his four-fer.

"India clinch thriller" the headlines announced. "Survive Kandamby scare." And then: "Dhoni admits to losing his cool" as if that was an incredible thing. Dude's human, people.

What interested me was Dhoni's response to his team's performance in the ODI. Any other captain would've primarily just been pleased, especially considering that Kandamby was threatening to take the game away from the Indians at one point, but Dhoni instead chose to focus on the areas that had put them in the spot of bother in the first place. He's not just satisfied with winning - he wants to win well. With 100% commitment from each and every player. He admitted that there was no clear planning about bowling in the Powerplays, and the confusion caused Dhoni to lose his cool briefly, and Expose his Wrath. This attitude seems to have rubbed off on his teammates as well, with Ishant Sharma admitting that it was not one of his better performances even while collecting the Man of the Match award. Personally? I think it's a great attitude to have, and Dhoni's constant warnings against complacency have great arguments backing them. Sure, the Indians hadn't played an ODI before this for 2 months, it's easy to dismiss the lapses, even Dhoni's expressiveness as traces of rustiness, but they aren't hiding behind excuses. Not anymore. It's about identifying problems, and rectifying them immediately. It's about striving toward perfection, a scramble for a light they probably will never reach, but will kick up a lot of glorious dust doing so (and damn if I'm not hot on the metaphors today).

This is one of the many reasons I adore MSD.

I make no bones of the fact that I fangirl Dhoni more than anybody else in the world, but my adoration of the man goes beyond his good-looks, cricket, style, money and all that good stuff. He's a polar opposite to me, and therefore everything I strive to be: focussed, uncomplicated, accepting responsibilities as they come, hard-working, humble and open. Proving that if you are focussed enough on what you do, you will be successful. He had never clamoured for captaincy, never expressed a desire to do so, and had never captained a team in his life before. And yet, when the ultimate responsibility is thrust on him out of the blue - the job they call second-most difficult to that of the Prime Minister's - he took to it without complaint or gloat, all dedication and focus. A neat segregation of duties. On-field: cricket. Off-field: No cricket, all the good stuff, ads, movies, bonding. No mixing of the two, no distraction. It's just about everything I want to be, put into a neat nutshell: I was so unsure whether I was fit to take the profession I'm studying for, so unsure of the responsibilities and of my responses to various situations, but hey, if Dhoni's focus and self-belief can take him through, why can't mine? Focus, one game after the other. Focus, one study topic after the other. I can make it through.

So MSD's more than awesome fangirl-material. He is Inspiration. More than Tendukar, or the Middle Order. More than Amitabh Bachchan, or Abhinav Bindra, or Shah Rukh Khan, or any of the other usual suspects.

... Um. Yeah. But I'm feeling melancholy and emotional, and this had to be told.

So. MSD and co.? Keep perfecting yourselves. Keep up the scrambling. Keep making us proud(er).

Whatever happens next ODI (which I have a sneaking feeling SL will win. >.>).

Addendum: I'm not going to say A WORD about South Africa whupping the Aussies 4-1 in the ODI series. Nope. Except: Hee! *glee* \o/

And New Zealand? Geez, how difficult can you make a chase after your bowlers did all the good work?

Shoaib Malik, you poor thing. I used to like you once. And I don't like Younis Khan becoming captain. He was offered the job after Inzi's retirement, but acted so precious and refused the job. Right now, if I had the power? I'd say "Eff you all" and appointed Misbah as the captain, Salman Butt his deputy. And not just because they happen to be the only two good-looking men in the Pakistani team (honestly, I swear!). Aside from the occasional brain-fades after working his team into a winning position, Misbah looks like a sensible, well-liked person, not prone to dramatic gestures or parroting the same-old same-old flabby cliches (yes, Shoaib Malik, I'm looking at YOU).

... Oof.