Sunday, March 29, 2009

Jedi Mind Tricks

I usually don't muck around much with reading a lot of match previews, which could possibly be the only reason I managed to miss this gem:

"The day before the game, we'll practice, one good hard session, and we're ready for the game," Dhoni said. "Whatever suits the team."
Dhoni took it a step further. "Mentally we are right there. When it comes to the mind it depends on what you're feeding into the mind. The mind doesn't know if it's Napier or what you're feeding. You come and say 'this is Napier', and it believes it's Napier. If you see, it's an abstract. When people say 'he's in form', nobody has seen form. It's a state of mind where you are confident and you think very positively and everything you think about, you think it's very achievable. It's about how you treat the mind. One day here, one day there doesn't really make a difference. Preparation-wise, we are up to the mark."

Give the man a chocolate, he's talking philosophy. A couple dozen. Maybe a tonne. The whole frickin' chocolate factory.

Because, this? This is gold. And I'm not being sarcastic. Honest.

(Although the repeated use of 'abstract' to me indicates a bit of Kirstenisation and Uptonisation to Dhoni's theory.)

I love the way he explains it. It's interesting, and for an armchair geek like me, a welcome departure from the redundant cliches that seem to envelop the game like a shroud. Now that the Test hasn't (isn't) gone (at) all India's way, the whole thing's open to criticism, but one can't deny that it makes some sense. A lot of things are said to be "just in the mind" and Dhoni has always stressed on mental readiness and composure to be able to face the pressures of international cricket to go along with the actual cricket, because if you're good enough to get into the national team, you're pretty freakin good, but developing a frame of mind that's able to deal with a billion plus expectations, the pressures, the attention and the tribulations? That has to be learnt anew.

I'm just wondering if Dhoni ever tried it on himself re his injury. Wonder if he thought he could go out there, and tell his mind, "I'm perfectly fine, my back's feeling great, the sights and sounds of Ranchi are all around me, and oh look! There's my neighbour's son coming in to bowl as usual. Wonder when he dyed his hair blond."

OH that explains it all! Poor thing wasn't able to make the mantra work on the morning of the first day, it would seem.

DHONI'S MIND: I'm perfectly fine, my back...
DHONI'S MIND: ... feeling gr-- Huh?
DHONI'S MIND: Enough what, exactly?
DHONI'S BODY: Are we even connected anymore these days? Wake up, smell the coffee. It's cold, it's windy. That's a six foot blond New Zealander barelling in to get us out, and the back--
DHONI'S MIND: Bother me not with these trifles. I still have to ponder upon the Meaning of Life after this, you know.
DHONI'S BODY: ... suit yourself.
DHONI: ack! *spasm*

Yep, that's definitely what happened.

(Inspired by the decidedly funnier kroki-refur)

Now. Regarding the match itself? Finally a day where India get their butts into it, with Dravid and Gambhir and later Gambhir and Tendulkar digging and sprouting roots and growing leaves. Oh, and they batted a bit in between, too. I think Tendulkar did, anyway.

Four days in and we have not acted like one of the world's best Test sides. If the catching and fielding (Yuvraj + slip = DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT) let the team down after whittling NZ down to 23/3 in the first innings and allowed the Black Caps to post 619 (*gasp!*) on the board, the batting decided to complete the job and got bowled out for 305, after which the NZers ask us to follow on. Yes, quite a bitchslap to the face that must've been for a team that beat the same opposition like flicking a speck of dust out of its eye a week ago and was expected to do the same here. (mild irritation, but nothing at all harmful)

I cannot possibly comment on Sehwag's captaincy, not having seen the match live myself, but sending Ishant in as nightwatchman in the first innings? Not one of his brighter ideas.

Leaving aside Sehwag getting out early (again) the Indians are chugging along okay enough in the follow-on innings, with Gambhir reaching his first overseas Test century off 260-odd balls, at a strike rate in the mid-30s. If you thought that was slow, I took a look at Dravid's strike rate: 28. Yeowch. Still, it's all for the team, right? Incredibly important innings, if and when we go on to draw this.

The NZers have done great, they really have. The batting rode on terrific innings from Ryder and Taylor to post 600+, and the bowlers have been disciplined, tireless and for the first time in a long time, backed up by a truckload of runs from their batsmen.

Tomorrow could be an interesting day. India still trail by 62 runs, 8 wickets in hand, Gambhir and Tendulkar looking comfortable (enough) at the crease, all this points to a draw, but who knows? A collapse, a tiny target-chase, an innings defeat, even?

Also? I kinda whooped and cheered when Dinesh Kaarthick got out for single-figures in the first innings. Does that make me a bad person?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

This is TRAGEDY.


No, it's not New Zealand recovering from a delicious 23/3 to post 351/4 at almost 4 an over at the end of the day.

It's not Jesse Ryder scoring another century.

It's not Mr. Twenty20 (although that might be a slightly unfair nickname) Ross Taylor smashing 151 golden runs.

It's not the Indian bowlers and fielders unable to push on after smashing the New Zealand top-order like a coconut at the stone feet of the Supreme Diety for Early Wickets.


It's Dhoni, injured, being unable to play this game.

This is what I call supremely tragic.

What made it all the more painful was how unexpected it was. Nobody outside the team management had any inkling at all that Dhoni had injured his back. Nosir. Not in the slightest.

So, this morning, I woke at 3, right? Annoyed my fellow hostelites, but assured them I was only going to study (which was partly true, anyway) and flipped open my laptop, coffee brewing on the table. At 3:30, I accessed cricinfo, which informed me brightly: "Dhoni out, NZ elect to bat."


I went on to discover that Dhoni was indeed out of the Test match with a bad back (and he even had to have an MRI taken, good lord) and that Sehwag was captaining in his place, and that his wicketkeeping slot was to be usurped, ahem, I mean, taken care of until his return by Dinesh Kaarthick (whom I still dislike, by the way.)

I gazed at the screen numbly, mouth slightly gaping, sipping every now and then from a mug full of the most tasteless coffee I'd ever had, going down like liquid ashes down my throat. Watched the commentary as Zaks and Ishi made a bright start, prying out McIntosh, How and Guptill in quick succession, and yet I couldn't find it in myself to celebrate. One reason was, of course, the shock, and number two, the real New Zealand batting order started only from number 5 (which is quite a clever ploy actually. Have the opposition preening over getting the 'top order' out quickly while the real batsmen make merry).

Jesse Ryder joined Ross Taylor, after which a succession of big black FOURs started coming up on screen, with no sight of an OUT, so I finally snapped out of my daze and shut my laptop down and got back on with my life.

I'm actually rather ashamed that my attachment to one player can throw me off an entire game, but that's the honest truth. I don't feel like I want to follow this match anymore. It's terrible of me, and really, I don't deserve to call myself a cricket fangirl.

Anyhow, great stuff from the NZers - a wonderful comeback after they'd been written off completely by all and sundry. All those over-the-top articles and speculation about how obvious it is that India is going to steamroller X, Y or Z team makes me queasy because it almost always results in something like this. Still, four days to go, you know? Let's see what happens.

Until then: Dhoni, rest up, get better, COME BACK.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Agony and the Ecstasy

The last one week has been replete with epiphanies.

Most of them are of a personal sort, and all of them seem to have led me round an expansive and emotionally difficult circle and eventually I find myself exactly where I started. It’s not such a bad thing, though, and I hope I’m wiser after all that’s happened.

The one epiphany that’s relevant here happened last Sunday, as I was reading the literature on the web regarding the series win in New Zealand. It struck me suddenly just how much cricket was out there, just how much the game had been consuming precious hours of my life, and how difficult it was balancing being a medical student (which, hello, is pretty damn tough) and a cricket fan, not to mention various other social and familial commitments. An inexplicable panic started crawling up the back of my throat like some sort of insect, and I decided enough was enough.

So I tried a little experiment. I locked up my laptop at home and boldly went back to college, no TV for miles around. I knew I was missing the final ODI. I knew I was missing the first Test. I knew I had been waiting and waiting to follow this Test series, but I had to be strong, right? Priorities, priorities.

The first couple of days weren’t so bad. I still had the occasional mobile phone update, and am actually kind of glad I missed the final ODI, for obvious reasons. I still remember asking a friend in class for the score update that day, and this was how the conversation went:

ME: Score, score, score please!

FRIEND: (raising an eyebrow) Um, pardon me?

ME: (waving a futile hand in the air) Today! ODI! New Zealand! Score!

F: Oooooh. Gimme a second.

(checks on mobile phone and looks up and smiles)

F: 115 for 7.

ME: Uh... New Zealand, right?

F: (checks) Uh, no, actually. It’s India.

ME: (laughing) No, no, that’s impossible. Check that little space before the score. I’m sure it says N-Z, not I-N-D.

F: (starting to get annoyed) M--, it’s India batting. Rohit Sharma. Zaheer Khan. Partnership. LOOK.

(proceeds to thrust mobile phone screen at my face, where the letters IND 115/7 gleam
mockingly in all their digital glory)

ME: Stupid freakin’ – how in the world – what’s wrong – demonic possession – alien invasion – (fades away into incoherent muttering which may – or may not – have contained a string of profanity toward the Indian team)

But I didn’t really care about the result, which didn’t really mean anything, aside from a slightly disturbing tendency for the team to get off the boiler once the series has been won. That ain’t the stuff of truly dominating World Champions.

But the Test?

Seven different kinds of agony.

I was rather looking forward to watching this particular series, to the truly unique experience of waking up at 2:30 in the morning to watch Test cricket, tiptoeing around sleeping family members, settling down in front of the TV, blinking sleep desperately out of my eyes, smelling of mosquito-repellent cream, sipping from a mug of hot coffee in my hands. This time around, though, it was only the mobile phone updates, and the digital scores against the glowing background didn’t tell me anything. How many catches did Dhoni drop? (Only one, as I found out later. Keep at it, Mahi!) How did each four of Tendulkar’s look like? Was Dravid getting back into groove? Had somebody managed brainwash Laxman into thinking he was playing against Australia? (tough one, I know). Had the bowlers gotten their act together, or were they lucky? How was the pitch playing? Easy, or was it just the brilliance of the batsmen? How was the catching?

I knew none of the answers. To my horror, it was killing me.

So I took my first opportunity to get back home, and immediately lurched toward the laptop and the TV and was generally pleased with what I saw/read.

Sachin Tendulkar was awesome, as per usual.

Dravid... um. I’ll just shut up now. Dude, retire whenever you want to.

Schizophrenic!Munaf managed to put in a good performance, and Bhajji!! Dude, 6-63? Come on! :D

Dhoni continued to chip in with his batting, and his keeping seemed tidy for the most part. (Ha ha, go ahead and laugh at my conceit, I know I am.)

There were a couple of annoying lower-order partnerships that were allowed to build in the NZ innings, and as much as I adore Dan Vettori and the Brendon of McCullum, I’ve got to say: guys, seriously?

I am not going to make the mistake of leaving behind all this again. ‘Cause, seriously? Not worth it. What’s life if not a constant balancing act anyway?

So – 1 up in the series, with 2 Tests to go. Judging by the way they played this match, one would think anything less than a 2-0, maybe even a 3-0 win would be sacrilege, but let’s see. ‘Sides, India has never handled being overwhelming favourites well, and it’s all for India to lose from here.

Speaking of New Zealand, the Women’s World Cup concluded recently, with England winning their final against New Zealand. These two were easily the two strongest teams of the tournament, and a hearty congratulations to all of the women who were part of the final. Also, India managed to beat Australia (second time this tournament, ha!) for the third place. Which, considering that last year when the Indian women toured Australia, Karen Rolston and co. wiped the floor with them? Is pretty sweet.


... Oof. I need to apply for some sort of rehabilitation. Suggestions, anyone?

Addendum of EPIC DOOM: It’s happened.

The IPL cannot be held in India this year.

What the hell, people. What. The. Hell.

My immediate reaction was if the IPL can’t be held in India, then leave it. Cancel it. Holding it in another country? Hello, desperation! The primary lure of the IPL for me and so many people I know was the joy of crowding up the stadiums and the TV rooms and watch international cricket stars play some exhilarating Twenty20. For us. (In a way, you know, okay??)

If it has to be relocated, then the obvious choice would be South Africa.

But --- damn. This sucks, just so damn much.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sweetest form of carnage

Dear Men in Blue,

Congratulations on the series win. Also? This time might actually be one of the few times I've thoroughly enjoyed being proved wrong. Although the Men in White might prove to be a different proposition, so. you know.

And, God help me, I'm getting used to the new colour.

Yours in confused congratulation,

Dear Peter McGlashan,

Forget the Pathans and the Husseys and the McCullums, you and your sister are the coolest pair of siblings in international cricket. 'Nuff said.

Yours in enthusiasm,

Dear Indian bowlers,

Please to be getting your backs into it. At least, you know, in the Tests - where you know, batting's not always going to be around to save the day.

And also, Ishant? Please to be watching where you land that front foot of yours.

Munaf? The pitch is 22 yards. Not 25.

Yours in some concern,

Dear Dhoni,

You know that thing aside from captaincy and batting that you are pencilled into the team for? Yeah, that one. The one that's been steadily deteriorating over the past six months.

Please to be regaining the pretty skills with the gloves. The team can't afford you not to.

Yours in rare admonishment,

Dear Daniel Vettori,

You may be the coolest New Zealander I know (and I know a surprising number of New Zealanders), but the Indian batsmen are now riding a whole new different level of Cool. It might be a whole new world of Cool. A different parallel universe of Cool. An astral plane of...

Now I forgot what I really wanted to say.

Yours in supposed sympathy,

Dear Sehwag,

Please to be continuing with your awesomeness. Anything else I can say only cheapens the joy of watching you tear the opposition attack to pieces, chew them, spit them on the sidewalk and then grind them into the cement with steel-tipped boots for good measure.

Yours in speechless awe,

Dear VirunGauti,

You are not an opening pair anymore, you are a phenomenon. Please to be occuring more often.

Yours in exhilarating anticipation,

Dear Mithali Raj,

To have scored 75* in a team total of 137/7 in a World Cup game - which the team went on to win by 35 runs, by the way - makes you about seven and a half different kinds of awesome. Please to be continuing lifting the India Women's batting.

Yours in deep appreciation,

Dear Person who's managed to read this far,

Thank you for bearing with this drivel.

Yours in deep, deep gratitude,

Here's to an ODI whitewash and a Test series win in Downer Under!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don't sit on them, South Africa

'Cos, those laurels? Are pretty damn fragile. You know, all the leaves and whatever.

Just heard that Australia defeated South Africa to take an unassailable lead in the Test series. In South Africa. This, people, be a comeback of monumental proportions. Just two months ago, having suffered abject humiliation at the hands of the Saffers in their own backyard, a slew of retirements, losses, Boneheaded selection and equally Boneheaded captaincy, the Aussies looked to be in ultimate Decline. Hell, they even struggled to defeat New Zealand at home a month ago.

Now, though?


This Hughes dude is scoring two Test centuries in only his second Test, Mitchell Johnson is making the South African batsman quake in their boots, and the entire Australian team with its much-maligned captain, 'out-of-form' stars, posse of greenhorned debutants, is making the so-much-more fancied South Africans pay.

This be Epic, people. While I have never actually thought that Aussies couldn't bounce back to a semblance of their old selves, I never even imagined that it would be this soon, and against South Africa, the very team that not so long ago was responsible for brutally stripping away the Aussie Aura of Invincibility that the Indians had already started to peel away. Poetic justice, even.

Congratulations, Ricky Ponting, to you and your mates. I would so place that laurel on your head right now, but it seems to be have been crushed by quite a few South African rears. Oh well, I'm sure you'll be just as happy with the shiny mace that the ICC wants to give you.

I've not wanted to be a lot of things in my life, and right now, a South African cricket fan is one of them.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Happy Birthday, Parthiv!

... So I have a confession to make.

Back in 2003, as a hormonal 13 year old fledgling, I'd just begun to take to cricket. For some reason, right from the beginning, even before I was fully aware of what a wicketkeeper did, my favourite player in any team would be the wicketkeeper (all English keepers were and are exceptions). Always.

So there was this dude who was keeping for the Indian team, right? The little one, all of 17, who looked remarkably like he could be my classmate, and as I grew a few years older, he could be my little brother's classmate? Well, I fell for him, chubby cheeks, Wide Eyed Innocent Stare of Doom, adorably diminutive stature and all.

Parthiv Patel was my first celebrity crush.

And this happens to be the first time I'm admitting that publicly, by the way.

I remember being furious when he was dropped after a patch where his wicketkeeping deteriorated into atrocious levels, to be replaced by the likes of Dinesh Kaarthick and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Nobody could replace Parthiv, I fumed. These replacements will be no good.

Of course, exactly six months later, my affections were firmly centered around a certain long-haired stocky wicketkeeper, but hey. It was bound to happen, right? And I was fourteen.

I still follow Parthiv's exploits now, though; like a big sister I know how to be I feel proud of his achievements, pray for his continued success. Come on. Just look at that face. You can practically feel those parental/older-sibling instincts shooting up.

You can imagine how insanely delighted I was when I learnt that both Dhoni and Parthiv would be playing for Chennai Super Kings. I honestly would never consider atheism again, as obviously there is Somebody up there listening to my secret, coveted desires.

Why this confession? Well today, the little dude turns 24. Tomorrow, he celebrates his first wedding anniversary.

Happy birthday and best wishes for your continued success, Parthu!

Saturday, March 7, 2009


NZ 156/0 after 20 overs in their chase of 393.

Two easy chances dropped.

Ryder and McCullum batting like they're playing against Bermuda 'A's reserves' 2nd XI.

Misfields galore.

Poor bowling.


This team doesn't deserve its line-up of surreally good batsmen.

Good Lord

Sachin Tendulkar.

Now I truly get why so many adore you. Not really before.

Please to be batting forever.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Couldn't even imagine

... that it would come to this.

Following the Lahore attack, there is now a distinct possibility that the IPL might not happen this year, with several foreign players and officials expressing their discomfort at the security situation in the subcontinent. It's not just about Lahore either, apparently. The unease existed right from the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.

Now even the 2011 World Cup, scheduled to be held in the subcontinent, is under doubt.

I want to be cynical of the players expressing their doubts, I want to assert that something like Lahore can never happen in India, I want to sneer and laugh and pray. But yesterday's incident proved that cricket is far from immune to terrorism, and I still get the chills everytime I involuntarily imagine the Indian team in the Sri Lankans' position. Could this sort of thing happen in India? Maybe maybe yeah. Well.

Hell yeah.

Already there was talk of an IPL postponement before all of this, with the Home Minister suggesting the IPL clashing with the general elections might be a bad thing. While methinks he may have a point, I merely laughed and laughed when I first heard of it, because hello? Postponement of IPL might as well be translated into cancellation of the season, and that? Was so not going to happen.

Except now it actually might.

The players' attitudes (outside of India, particularly outside the subcontinent) regarding the IPL have always baffled, amused and mostly irritated me (because, hello, gleefully signing up for large amounts of money on one hand, and then taking some sort of perverse pleasure in extolling the Evils of Indian Money in Cricket on the other? So not on), and with this thrown into the mix, things have gotten a whole lot more complicated.

I can only somehow naively hope for restoration of some normalcy, because, dammit I want to see some IPL action this summer. I don't want to see cricket as a whole suffering from this, because the subcontinent? A pretty large chunk of land providing a pretty large chunk of cricket watching and playing population.

I don't even know anymore, and damn if I'm not getting overly melodramatic.

Not for the first time, I follow and love this game way more than I should be.

But... damn.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

And so it happens

We won today. Dhoni top-scored, man of the match, NZ steam-rollered. I should be ecstatic, but I'm not.


LAHORE, Pakistan, March 3 (Reuters) - Six members of the Sri Lankan cricket squad were wounded when around a dozen gunmen attacked their bus as it drove under police escort on Tuesday to a stadium in the Pakistani city of Lahore, witnesses and officials said.

Lahore Police chief Habib-ur-Rehman said five people were killed in the attack by the unidentified gunmen, who fired AK 47s and rockets and hurled grenades as the team bus drove to the 60,000-seater Gaddafi stadium in the eastern city.

Sri Lanka's sports minister said five players and an assistant coach were wounded, two of whom were being treated in hospital.

Horrible. The Sri Lankan team went to Pakistan when nobody else was willing to, as a gesture of peace, to prove to the rest of the world that Pakistan was indeed a safe place to play cricket. And this is what they get. Sick.

Thankfully none of the players were seriously wounded, but six policemen died, taking the brunt of the attack.

Nobody's going to think of setting foot in Pakistan for cricket for some time now.

Just, just. So sad. And so sick.

My prayers are with those affected.